Synthego raises $110 million to make gene editing technologies more accessible

Paul Dabrowski, the chief executive officer of Synthego, which provides genetically engineered cells to scientists and researchers, worries about a future where access to the genetic technologies that will reshape the world are only available to the few who can afford them. To hear him tell it, that’s why Dabrowski began working on Synthego in […]

Paul Dabrowski, the chief executive officer of Synthego, which provides genetically engineered cells to scientists and researchers, worries about a future where access to the genetic technologies that will reshape the world are only available to the few who can afford them.

To hear him tell it, that’s why Dabrowski began working on Synthego in the first place — to democratize access to the new technologies that will give scientists, researchers, and consumers new ways to rewrite the code that has defined human existence.

“People talk about access to the tools, but the question is access to the therapies,” Dabrowski said. “We’re talking about the basis of what does it mean to be human not right now, but in the next 100 years.”

Now, the company has a fresh $110 million in cash from new investors at Founders Fund and the company’s previous backers — 8VC and Menlo Ventures — to try and drive costs down.

“This new funding allows us to expand our reach and build out of our full stack platform capabilities at a perfect time,” said Dabrowski, co-founder and CEO, Synthego, in a statement. “Biological medicines are on the cusp of a revolution with the coming curative cell and gene therapies, and we are proud to support this industry.”

While Dabrowski said the financing will be used for further research and development — and bringing new services to market — in the near term the funding will be used to expand two main areas of interest for the company. One is the creation of CRISPR kits that can create different genetic lines based on the requests from researchers and scientists, and the other is creating materials that are “clinical-grade”, which means that they can be used in clinical trials on animal (and potentially human) subjects.

“In general the demand for these products is quite high. Building capacity and building out the informatics models for the predictability on the CRISPR research side. 

In all, the Redwood City, Calif.-based company has raised $166 million in funding to develop its technology that makes research and development using the gene editing tool known as CRISPR more economical and faster for researchers. Synthego claims that  by offering researchers one-click access to engineered cells with guaranteed edits in their desired target, the company can slash the time it takes to conduct experiments by months, enabling predictable and rapid outcomes in cell and gene therapy research and development. 

As we’d written previously, Synthego launched its first CRISPR offerings to the market earlier this year.

There are two basic functions that people use CRISPR for, said Dabrowski. The first is to remove a gene or function and the second is adding a function to genetic material.

Both of those processes involve three (very complicated) steps. First scientists have to identify the gene that they want to target and then understand what genetic material within that gene they want to target for removal. Then a research team would need to identify and procure the reagents and components they need to edit a gene. Finally, the team would need to figure out whether the edit was made successfully and watch for results when the edited genetic material is cultivated.

Synthego’s first set of products were designed to simplify the process for identifying and designing genetic material for experimentation. This next set of tools are supposed to help scientists by providing them with the material they want to observe or experiment with.

“Our vision is a future where cell and gene therapies are ultimately as accessible as vaccines, so that everyone can benefit from next-generation cures,” said Dabrowski in a statement. “Synthego will continue to innovate to help researchers redefine the boundaries of transformative medicines.”

Synthego raises $110 million to make gene editing technologies more accessible

Paul Dabrowski, the chief executive officer of Synthego, which provides genetically engineered cells to scientists and researchers, worries about a future where access to the genetic technologies that will reshape the world are only available to the few who can afford them. To hear him tell it, that’s why Dabrowski began working on Synthego in […]

Paul Dabrowski, the chief executive officer of Synthego, which provides genetically engineered cells to scientists and researchers, worries about a future where access to the genetic technologies that will reshape the world are only available to the few who can afford them.

To hear him tell it, that’s why Dabrowski began working on Synthego in the first place — to democratize access to the new technologies that will give scientists, researchers, and consumers new ways to rewrite the code that has defined human existence.

“People talk about access to the tools, but the question is access to the therapies,” Dabrowski said. “We’re talking about the basis of what does it mean to be human not right now, but in the next 100 years.”

Now, the company has a fresh $110 million in cash from new investors at Founders Fund and the company’s previous backers — 8VC and Menlo Ventures — to try and drive costs down.

“This new funding allows us to expand our reach and build out of our full stack platform capabilities at a perfect time,” said Dabrowski, co-founder and CEO, Synthego, in a statement. “Biological medicines are on the cusp of a revolution with the coming curative cell and gene therapies, and we are proud to support this industry.”

While Dabrowski said the financing will be used for further research and development — and bringing new services to market — in the near term the funding will be used to expand two main areas of interest for the company. One is the creation of CRISPR kits that can create different genetic lines based on the requests from researchers and scientists, and the other is creating materials that are “clinical-grade”, which means that they can be used in clinical trials on animal (and potentially human) subjects.

“In general the demand for these products is quite high. Building capacity and building out the informatics models for the predictability on the CRISPR research side. 

In all, the Redwood City, Calif.-based company has raised $166 million in funding to develop its technology that makes research and development using the gene editing tool known as CRISPR more economical and faster for researchers. Synthego claims that  by offering researchers one-click access to engineered cells with guaranteed edits in their desired target, the company can slash the time it takes to conduct experiments by months, enabling predictable and rapid outcomes in cell and gene therapy research and development. 

As we’d written previously, Synthego launched its first CRISPR offerings to the market earlier this year.

There are two basic functions that people use CRISPR for, said Dabrowski. The first is to remove a gene or function and the second is adding a function to genetic material.

Both of those processes involve three (very complicated) steps. First scientists have to identify the gene that they want to target and then understand what genetic material within that gene they want to target for removal. Then a research team would need to identify and procure the reagents and components they need to edit a gene. Finally, the team would need to figure out whether the edit was made successfully and watch for results when the edited genetic material is cultivated.

Synthego’s first set of products were designed to simplify the process for identifying and designing genetic material for experimentation. This next set of tools are supposed to help scientists by providing them with the material they want to observe or experiment with.

“Our vision is a future where cell and gene therapies are ultimately as accessible as vaccines, so that everyone can benefit from next-generation cures,” said Dabrowski in a statement. “Synthego will continue to innovate to help researchers redefine the boundaries of transformative medicines.”

Investors like Walmart and Microsoft back Team8’s cybersecurity venture studio with $85 million

The Israeli cybersecurity venture studio Team8 has raised $85 million in new financing from a clutch of new and returning strategic investors including Walmart, Airbus, SoftBank, and Microsoft’s investment arm, M-12. The studio’s plans to raise a larger fund were first reported by PEHub in May. Team8 has long believed that by combining the strengths and security […]

The Israeli cybersecurity venture studio Team8 has raised $85 million in new financing from a clutch of new and returning strategic investors including Walmart, Airbus, SoftBank, and Microsoft’s investment arm, M-12.

The studio’s plans to raise a larger fund were first reported by PEHub in May.

Team8 has long believed that by combining the strengths and security interests of strategic corporate partners it could develop better cybersecurity solutions (or companies) that would be attractive to its investors and clients.

Indeed, that was the thesis behind the $23 million that Team8 raised in 2016 when it was still proving out the model.

The company’s previous rounds of funding managed to bring Cisco Investments, Bessemer Venture Partners, Innovation Endeavors and Alcatel-Lucent into the fold. Now banks like Scotiabank and Barclays, ratings agencies like Moody’s, and insurers like Munich Re are coming on board to add their voices to the chorus of wants and needs that keep the crack cybersecurity experts from Team8 churning out new companies.

This model, of partnering with the corporate clients who will become the customers of the startups that Team8 creates isn’t confined to the security industry, but it’s where the idea has already created successful outcomes for all parties.

Earlier this month, Temasek (also a Team8 investor) acquired Sygnia, a company from the venture studio’s portfolio that had only emerged from stealth a year ago, for $250 million.

As we’d written at the time, Sygnia was typical of a Team8 investment. The company had only secured $4.3 million in funding and it was staffed by elite security specialists from Israel. Shachar Levy (who was the chief executive), Ariel Smoler, Arick Goomanovsky and Ami Kor, with its chairman Nadav Zafrir, the co-founder and CEO of Team8 and a former commander of Unit 8200.

Zafrir and Sachar are both full-time members of Team8 along with Israel Grimberg, Liran Grinberg, Assaf Mischari, a former technology leader in Unit 8200, and Lluís Pedragosa, former partner at Marker LLC.

The Tel Aviv-based company has invested in four companies that are currently selling their wares on the open market and has another four that are still operating in stealth mode. IN all, the group has raised $260 million to date, and employs 370 people around the world.

What is seemingly unprecedented is the level of cooperation among organizations with the Team8 organizations to identify threats and develop technologies that can respond to them.

According to a statement announcing the fund’s launch, companies investing into Team8 will be required to contribute insights from their Chief Information, Technology, Data and Security Officer to identify problems, develop solutions, and work on sales and marketing services for these new businesses.

“Rogue states, hackers, terrorists and criminals are intent on wreaking physical, financial and societal havoc and catastrophic damage on governments, corporations and individuals,” said Eric Schmidt, Founding Partner of Innovation Endeavors, a lead investor in Team8, in a statement. “As data continues to proliferate and our technical capabilities expand, cyber attacks and wars will increase in number and intensity.”

Vector of Internet Security Systems

Team8 investors are required to nominate a “senior champion” from their business unit in addition to the corporate venture capital or corporate development team, to guide the partnership and provide executive mindshare for the mutual work together.

As shared owners in Team8 companies, these investors are deeply invested in ensuring only the best ideas, technologies and companies are created. Besides meeting in person and as a group throughout the development process of new companies, strategic investors bring their chief executives to Israel as well as host Team8 and its portfolio companies for workshops at their headquarters for continuous knowledge-sharing and strategy building, according to a Team8 spokesperson.

And the company will be expanding its focus beyond just cyberdefense thanks to its latest funding and its new partners.

“Going forward, we will continue to focus on the enterprise, but not necessarily just defense,” a spokesperson for the company wrote in an email. “The indirect impact of cyber on the enterprises are the missed opportunities to experiment, integrate and onboard new technologies because of security, compliance and fear of exposure. We’re currently working on zero-trust networks for multi-cloud environments, secure on-ramping of blockchain, safe collaboration on sensitive data; and rethinking how machine learning can significantly impact the business. These are designed with built in security, data science, and intelligence, to allow companies to prosper and not be inhibited by security controls.”

Investors like Walmart and Microsoft back Team8’s cybersecurity venture studio with $85 million

The Israeli cybersecurity venture studio Team8 has raised $85 million in new financing from a clutch of new and returning strategic investors including Walmart, Airbus, SoftBank, and Microsoft’s investment arm, M-12. The studio’s plans to raise a larger fund were first reported by PEHub in May. Team8 has long believed that by combining the strengths and security […]

The Israeli cybersecurity venture studio Team8 has raised $85 million in new financing from a clutch of new and returning strategic investors including Walmart, Airbus, SoftBank, and Microsoft’s investment arm, M-12.

The studio’s plans to raise a larger fund were first reported by PEHub in May.

Team8 has long believed that by combining the strengths and security interests of strategic corporate partners it could develop better cybersecurity solutions (or companies) that would be attractive to its investors and clients.

Indeed, that was the thesis behind the $23 million that Team8 raised in 2016 when it was still proving out the model.

The company’s previous rounds of funding managed to bring Cisco Investments, Bessemer Venture Partners, Innovation Endeavors and Alcatel-Lucent into the fold. Now banks like Scotiabank and Barclays, ratings agencies like Moody’s, and insurers like Munich Re are coming on board to add their voices to the chorus of wants and needs that keep the crack cybersecurity experts from Team8 churning out new companies.

This model, of partnering with the corporate clients who will become the customers of the startups that Team8 creates isn’t confined to the security industry, but it’s where the idea has already created successful outcomes for all parties.

Earlier this month, Temasek (also a Team8 investor) acquired Sygnia, a company from the venture studio’s portfolio that had only emerged from stealth a year ago, for $250 million.

As we’d written at the time, Sygnia was typical of a Team8 investment. The company had only secured $4.3 million in funding and it was staffed by elite security specialists from Israel. Shachar Levy (who was the chief executive), Ariel Smoler, Arick Goomanovsky and Ami Kor, with its chairman Nadav Zafrir, the co-founder and CEO of Team8 and a former commander of Unit 8200.

Zafrir and Sachar are both full-time members of Team8 along with Israel Grimberg, Liran Grinberg, Assaf Mischari, a former technology leader in Unit 8200, and Lluís Pedragosa, former partner at Marker LLC.

The Tel Aviv-based company has invested in four companies that are currently selling their wares on the open market and has another four that are still operating in stealth mode. IN all, the group has raised $260 million to date, and employs 370 people around the world.

What is seemingly unprecedented is the level of cooperation among organizations with the Team8 organizations to identify threats and develop technologies that can respond to them.

According to a statement announcing the fund’s launch, companies investing into Team8 will be required to contribute insights from their Chief Information, Technology, Data and Security Officer to identify problems, develop solutions, and work on sales and marketing services for these new businesses.

“Rogue states, hackers, terrorists and criminals are intent on wreaking physical, financial and societal havoc and catastrophic damage on governments, corporations and individuals,” said Eric Schmidt, Founding Partner of Innovation Endeavors, a lead investor in Team8, in a statement. “As data continues to proliferate and our technical capabilities expand, cyber attacks and wars will increase in number and intensity.”

Vector of Internet Security Systems

Team8 investors are required to nominate a “senior champion” from their business unit in addition to the corporate venture capital or corporate development team, to guide the partnership and provide executive mindshare for the mutual work together.

As shared owners in Team8 companies, these investors are deeply invested in ensuring only the best ideas, technologies and companies are created. Besides meeting in person and as a group throughout the development process of new companies, strategic investors bring their chief executives to Israel as well as host Team8 and its portfolio companies for workshops at their headquarters for continuous knowledge-sharing and strategy building, according to a Team8 spokesperson.

And the company will be expanding its focus beyond just cyberdefense thanks to its latest funding and its new partners.

“Going forward, we will continue to focus on the enterprise, but not necessarily just defense,” a spokesperson for the company wrote in an email. “The indirect impact of cyber on the enterprises are the missed opportunities to experiment, integrate and onboard new technologies because of security, compliance and fear of exposure. We’re currently working on zero-trust networks for multi-cloud environments, secure on-ramping of blockchain, safe collaboration on sensitive data; and rethinking how machine learning can significantly impact the business. These are designed with built in security, data science, and intelligence, to allow companies to prosper and not be inhibited by security controls.”

Local venture capital fund formation is on the rise in Africa, led by Nigeria

Jake Bright Contributor Jake Bright is a writer and author in New York City. He is co-author of The Next Africa. More posts by this contributor E-moto startup Alta Motors reportedly powers down African financial technology startups move beyond payment services Africa’s VC landscape is becoming more African with an increasing number of investment funds […]

Africa’s VC landscape is becoming more African with an increasing number of investment funds headquartered on the continent and run by locals, according to data from Crunchbase.

The study also tracked the emergence of homegrown corporate venture arms and more Africans in top positions at outside funds. These results derived from a year-long project to boost Crunchbase’s Africa data capture and increase awareness of its platform across the continent’s tech ecosystem.

Drawing on its database and primary source research, Crunchbase identified 51 “viable” Africa-focused VC funds globally—defining viable as formally established entities with 7-10 investments or more in African startups, from seed to series stage.

Those who made the list with 7 investments indicated they would reach 10 by early 2019.  

Of the 51 funds investing in African startups, 22 (or 43 percent) were headquartered in Africa and managed by Africans.

Of the 22 African managed and located funds, 9 (or 41 percent) were formed since 2016 and 9 are Nigerian.

Four of the 9 Nigeria located funds were formed within the last year: Microtraction, Neon Ventures, Beta Ventures, and CcHub’s Growth Capital fund.

The research prioritized organizational viability and number of investments over fund and round size. Therefore, the range in typical investment values across the group was wide, with some offering $25K seed investments, and others doing $1 to $10 million rounds at the series A and B stage.

In the group of 51 total funds, TPG’s Growth Fund led the largest round on the continent in 2018 (so far):  $47.5 million to Kenyan fintech startup Cellulant.

This has only been topped by the $52 million round to South Africa’s Jumo, but that was led by Goldman Sachs—which (by the information we have) hasn’t invested significantly in African startups, aside from Jumia.   

The Nigerian funds with the most investments were EchoVC (20) and Ventures Platform (23).

Notably active funds in the group of 51 included Singularity Investments (18 African startup investments) Ghana’s Golden Palm Investments (17) and Musha Ventures (36).

At least one corporate venture arm—Safaricom’s Spark Venture Fund—made Crunchbase’s list of 51. The research also tracked a rise in corporate venture funding and acquisition activity. MTN has invested in African startups and Standard Bank added $1 million to Founders Factory’s new African accelerator. Fintech firm Interswitch has been in the acquisition market and established its E-growth Fund to invest in startups.

Cellulant CEO Ken Njoroge indicated recently his company will likely go acquisition shopping for local startups in the near future.

During the course of Crunchbase’s research sources speaking on background flagged the pending launch of three new African corporate venture arms within the next 12 to 16 months.

In addition to tracking more funds on the continent, another emerging trend point was Africans in senior positions at those located elsewhere—including the three that raised the most capital over the last 24 months.

Former Nigerian ICT minister Omobola Johnson is a senior partner at TLcom Capital’s $40 million fund. Yemi Lalude is Managing Partner of TPG Growth’s Africa fund, which announced $2 billion in its coffers last year. And at French firm Partech—which raised $70 million for its Africa fund—Tidjane Deme is General Partner.

Crunchbase’s overall findings come as a several recent articles (and a heap of Twitter debate) have expressed concern about possible outsized influence of external actors in Africa’s tech ecosystem — primarily East Africa — and bias among VC investors toward non-African founders.

More accurate data on Sub-Saharan Africa’s VC could help better inform these discussions.

Pinning down solid stats on the region’s nascent startup scene is a budding exercise. The core growth in Sub-Saharan Africa’s tech sector has occurred over the last 5-7 years so there’s less accompanying infrastructure—i.e., analyst reporting, long-term databases, and robust media coverage—than other markets

Some VC firms have taken stabs at quantifying the value of VC investment over select timeframes. In 2017, Village Capital did a report tracking fintech funding in East Africa.

The last two years, Partech and media firm Disrupt Africa have done reports on Africa’s annual VC values. Their diverging numbers demonstrate the continued challenges to producing confident stats. Partech’s study tallied 2017 funding to African startups at $560 million, while Disrupt Africa came up with $195 million for the same year.

For its part, Crunchbase aims to create as accurate a VC representation for Africa as it does for other global markets. In addition to tracking stats on African funds, the platform has extended its  Venture Program—which allows partners to directly update their Crunchbase data and investments.

To date, Crunchbase has added 33 African focused Venture Program partners including Greenhouse Capital, TLcom Capital, Draper Darkflow, Silvertree Internet Holdings, Naspers, Orange Digital Ventures, and Accion Venture Lab.

Local venture capital fund formation is on the rise in Africa, led by Nigeria

Jake Bright Contributor Jake Bright is a writer and author in New York City. He is co-author of The Next Africa. More posts by this contributor E-moto startup Alta Motors reportedly powers down African financial technology startups move beyond payment services Africa’s VC landscape is becoming more African with an increasing number of investment funds […]

Africa’s VC landscape is becoming more African with an increasing number of investment funds headquartered on the continent and run by locals, according to data from Crunchbase.

The study also tracked the emergence of homegrown corporate venture arms and more Africans in top positions at outside funds. These results derived from a year-long project to boost Crunchbase’s Africa data capture and increase awareness of its platform across the continent’s tech ecosystem.

Drawing on its database and primary source research, Crunchbase identified 51 “viable” Africa-focused VC funds globally—defining viable as formally established entities with 7-10 investments or more in African startups, from seed to series stage.

Those who made the list with 7 investments indicated they would reach 10 by early 2019.  

Of the 51 funds investing in African startups, 22 (or 43 percent) were headquartered in Africa and managed by Africans.

Of the 22 African managed and located funds, 9 (or 41 percent) were formed since 2016 and 9 are Nigerian.

Four of the 9 Nigeria located funds were formed within the last year: Microtraction, Neon Ventures, Beta Ventures, and CcHub’s Growth Capital fund.

The research prioritized organizational viability and number of investments over fund and round size. Therefore, the range in typical investment values across the group was wide, with some offering $25K seed investments, and others doing $1 to $10 million rounds at the series A and B stage.

In the group of 51 total funds, TPG’s Growth Fund led the largest round on the continent in 2018 (so far):  $47.5 million to Kenyan fintech startup Cellulant.

This has only been topped by the $52 million round to South Africa’s Jumo, but that was led by Goldman Sachs—which (by the information we have) hasn’t invested significantly in African startups, aside from Jumia.   

The Nigerian funds with the most investments were EchoVC (20) and Ventures Platform (23).

Notably active funds in the group of 51 included Singularity Investments (18 African startup investments) Ghana’s Golden Palm Investments (17) and Musha Ventures (36).

At least one corporate venture arm—Safaricom’s Spark Venture Fund—made Crunchbase’s list of 51. The research also tracked a rise in corporate venture funding and acquisition activity. MTN has invested in African startups and Standard Bank added $1 million to Founders Factory’s new African accelerator. Fintech firm Interswitch has been in the acquisition market and established its E-growth Fund to invest in startups.

Cellulant CEO Ken Njoroge indicated recently his company will likely go acquisition shopping for local startups in the near future.

During the course of Crunchbase’s research sources speaking on background flagged the pending launch of three new African corporate venture arms within the next 12 to 16 months.

In addition to tracking more funds on the continent, another emerging trend point was Africans in senior positions at those located elsewhere—including the three that raised the most capital over the last 24 months.

Former Nigerian ICT minister Omobola Johnson is a senior partner at TLcom Capital’s $40 million fund. Yemi Lalude is Managing Partner of TPG Growth’s Africa fund, which announced $2 billion in its coffers last year. And at French firm Partech—which raised $70 million for its Africa fund—Tidjane Deme is General Partner.

Crunchbase’s overall findings come as a several recent articles (and a heap of Twitter debate) have expressed concern about possible outsized influence of external actors in Africa’s tech ecosystem — primarily East Africa — and bias among VC investors toward non-African founders.

More accurate data on Sub-Saharan Africa’s VC could help better inform these discussions.

Pinning down solid stats on the region’s nascent startup scene is a budding exercise. The core growth in Sub-Saharan Africa’s tech sector has occurred over the last 5-7 years so there’s less accompanying infrastructure—i.e., analyst reporting, long-term databases, and robust media coverage—than other markets

Some VC firms have taken stabs at quantifying the value of VC investment over select timeframes. In 2017, Village Capital did a report tracking fintech funding in East Africa.

The last two years, Partech and media firm Disrupt Africa have done reports on Africa’s annual VC values. Their diverging numbers demonstrate the continued challenges to producing confident stats. Partech’s study tallied 2017 funding to African startups at $560 million, while Disrupt Africa came up with $195 million for the same year.

For its part, Crunchbase aims to create as accurate a VC representation for Africa as it does for other global markets. In addition to tracking stats on African funds, the platform has extended its  Venture Program—which allows partners to directly update their Crunchbase data and investments.

To date, Crunchbase has added 33 African focused Venture Program partners including Greenhouse Capital, TLcom Capital, Draper Darkflow, Silvertree Internet Holdings, Naspers, Orange Digital Ventures, and Accion Venture Lab.

Richard Branson steps down as chairman of Virgin Hyperloop One

Richard Branson has reportedly stepped down from the chairman role of Virgin Hyperloop One. In a statement, cited by Reuters, Branson said that the company would require a more time than he could devote to the company. “At this stage in the company’s evolution, I feel it needs a more hands-on Chair, who can focus on […]

Richard Branson has reportedly stepped down from the chairman role of Virgin Hyperloop One.

In a statement, cited by Reuters, Branson said that the company would require a more time than he could devote to the company.

“At this stage in the company’s evolution, I feel it needs a more hands-on Chair, who can focus on the business and these opportunities. It will be difficult for me to fulfill that commitment as I already devote significant time to my philanthropic ventures and the many business within the Virgin Group.”

What wasn’t mentioned was the cancellation of a planned project with Saudi Arabia after Branson criticized the kingdom and suspended negotiations around an intended $1 billion investment from the nation’s Public Investment Fund into Virgin’s space operations.

Branson is one of several business leaders who have cut ties with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia following the alleged assassination and dismemberment of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Virgin Hyperloop’s largest investor is the United Arab Emirates shipping and logistics company DP World. Earlier this year, the two companies launched a logistics joint venture that would bring hyperloop technologies to the industry. DP World first invested in what is now Virgin Hyperloop back in 2016.

Earlier this month, Virgin Hyperloop released the results of a feasibility study conducted with Black & Veatch of the company’s planned route through Missouri to link St. Louis and Kansas City.

The independent report, authored by global infrastructure solutions company Black & Veatch, analyzes a proposed route through the I-70 corridor, the major highway traversing Missouri, and verifies the favorable safety and sustainability opportunities this new mode of transportation offers.

“A feasibility study of this depth represents the first phase of actualization of a full-scale commercial hyperloop system, both for passengers and cargo in the United States,” said chief executive Rob Lloyd, at the time. “We are especially proud that Missouri, with its iconic status in the history of U.S. transportation as the birthplace of the highway system, could be the keystone of a nation-wide network. The resulting socio-economic benefits will have enormous regional and national impact.”

In the U.S. Colorado and Ohio are also examining feasibility studies for Virgin Hyperloop technologies, while other projects are underway in India and the United Arab Emirates.

Hyperloop technology developers like Virgin Hyperloop One, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, all get their inspiration from early plans drawn up by Elon Musk.

As we wrote at the time:

The Hyperloop features tubes with a low level of pressurization that would contain pods with skis made of the SpaceX alloy inconel, which is designed to withstand high pressure and heat. Air exiting those skis through tiny holes would create an air cushion on which the pods would ride, and they’d be propelled by air jet inlets. And all of that would cost only around $6 billion, according to Musk.

We’ve reached out to a spokesperson from Virgin Hyperloop One for comment and will update when we hear back.

Richard Branson steps down as chairman of Virgin Hyperloop One

Richard Branson has reportedly stepped down from the chairman role of Virgin Hyperloop One. In a statement, cited by Reuters, Branson said that the company would require a more time than he could devote to the company. “At this stage in the company’s evolution, I feel it needs a more hands-on Chair, who can focus on […]

Richard Branson has reportedly stepped down from the chairman role of Virgin Hyperloop One.

In a statement, cited by Reuters, Branson said that the company would require a more time than he could devote to the company.

“At this stage in the company’s evolution, I feel it needs a more hands-on Chair, who can focus on the business and these opportunities. It will be difficult for me to fulfill that commitment as I already devote significant time to my philanthropic ventures and the many business within the Virgin Group.”

What wasn’t mentioned was the cancellation of a planned project with Saudi Arabia after Branson criticized the kingdom and suspended negotiations around an intended $1 billion investment from the nation’s Public Investment Fund into Virgin’s space operations.

Branson is one of several business leaders who have cut ties with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia following the alleged assassination and dismemberment of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Virgin Hyperloop’s largest investor is the United Arab Emirates shipping and logistics company DP World. Earlier this year, the two companies launched a logistics joint venture that would bring hyperloop technologies to the industry. DP World first invested in what is now Virgin Hyperloop back in 2016.

Earlier this month, Virgin Hyperloop released the results of a feasibility study conducted with Black & Veatch of the company’s planned route through Missouri to link St. Louis and Kansas City.

The independent report, authored by global infrastructure solutions company Black & Veatch, analyzes a proposed route through the I-70 corridor, the major highway traversing Missouri, and verifies the favorable safety and sustainability opportunities this new mode of transportation offers.

“A feasibility study of this depth represents the first phase of actualization of a full-scale commercial hyperloop system, both for passengers and cargo in the United States,” said chief executive Rob Lloyd, at the time. “We are especially proud that Missouri, with its iconic status in the history of U.S. transportation as the birthplace of the highway system, could be the keystone of a nation-wide network. The resulting socio-economic benefits will have enormous regional and national impact.”

In the U.S. Colorado and Ohio are also examining feasibility studies for Virgin Hyperloop technologies, while other projects are underway in India and the United Arab Emirates.

Hyperloop technology developers like Virgin Hyperloop One, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, all get their inspiration from early plans drawn up by Elon Musk.

As we wrote at the time:

The Hyperloop features tubes with a low level of pressurization that would contain pods with skis made of the SpaceX alloy inconel, which is designed to withstand high pressure and heat. Air exiting those skis through tiny holes would create an air cushion on which the pods would ride, and they’d be propelled by air jet inlets. And all of that would cost only around $6 billion, according to Musk.

We’ve reached out to a spokesperson from Virgin Hyperloop One for comment and will update when we hear back.

Free societies face emerging, existential threats from technology

Bilal Zuberi Contributor Share on Twitter Bilal Zuberi is a partner at Lux Capital, and is on the boards of Evolv Technology, CyPhy Technologies, and Nozomi Networks, among others. Silicon Valley is currently, and correctly, under fire for the failure of leading platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter to protect against the spread of […]

Silicon Valley is currently, and correctly, under fire for the failure of leading platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter to protect against the spread of disinformation, hate speech and efforts to disrupt our elections. I don’t know why these companies behaved as they did.

But whatever the reason – naiveté, excessive focus on near-term profits, or simply a lack of proper attention on mind-numbingly complex problems – it’s clear they have to do a better job of making sure technology makes our world safer, freer and more stable rather than the opposite.

But it’s not just these big companies that need to up their game. As venture capitalists, we need to do more to find, fund and help a new generation of technology companies that build the infrastructure and applications to deal with technology-based threats to stability and security. Yes, Facebook and Twitter must deal with unintended consequences of their massive platforms. But if history is any guide, it will be new companies that come up with the bold new visions and business models to address fundamental, once-in-a-generation challenges.

I don’t use the word fundamental lightly. Just think about all security failures you now take for granted, that once would have been unthinkable. Our PCs and other devices are patched every few hours or days, rather than every few months. We are routinely warned by merchants—sometimes even credit agencies!—to change our passwords because they’ve been hacked. We are relieved, rather than annoyed, when the credit card company calls to verify our recent purchases.

We feel abused when we read how our online identity has been monetized without our knowledge or used to micro-target us with ads by groups seeking to polarize our politics. And there are deeper-seated concerns, like the nagging fear of a terror attack or a lone-wolf gunman when we enter an airport or let our teenage kid go to a concert. Our physical and cyber selves feel threatened on a regular basis. Like it or not, we are too often under attack, as individuals, consumers and as citizens. But like the proverbial frog in a pot, we don’t seem to notice the rising water temperature.

If we stick with the status quo, that water is only going to get hotter. We already know the Russians (and the Iranians, and the North Koreans) are again targeting U.S. voting systems in advance of the midterm elections, and the Russians also have the ability to shut down large parts of our electric grid. It hasn’t happened yet, but will Americans start worrying about congregating in public spaces, whether it is to protest, attend large rallies, or go to concerts? I grew up in Pakistan, where horrific gun and bomb attacks on civilians are more common. I can’t help fear the same scourge will come to our shores.

If this sounds like scare-mongering, so be it. There is no getting around the fact that more people have more ways to do large-scale damage than ever before. Thankfully there are technologists and entrepreneurs working diligently to find ways to defend us from such harm.

Our portfolio company Evolv Technology, for example, is using advanced sensors and AI in weapons detection systems that can screen hundreds of people per hour  without making them slow down or empty their pockets and purses. Companies like ShieldAI, Convexxum, Echodyne and others are using machine vision and advanced radars/lidar technologies to prevent people from being put in harm’s way by drone-type attacks.

A drone flying and filming over Dubai

Funding such companies can be different than the deals Silicon Valley VCs are used to.  In most cases, these firms must collaborate with trusted government actors, intelligence agencies and enforcement organizations–not to mention comply with their regulations. To be successful, they need to share information with other companies, including competitors.

But I’m betting the trouble will be well worth it. History tells us that companies that overcome big obstacles to create new markets often enjoy years of rapid growth, and few competitors.

Most of all, I believe a nervous world is ready to reward companies that make it feel safer. Just as Uber and Airbnb caught the front edge of the sharing economy boom, companies whose mission is aligned with a change in the societal zeitgeist can create huge value.

Investors are already doing their part. DCVC recently invested in Fortem Technologies, and Shasta Ventures in AirSpace, which make Star Wars-ish systems of AI-based drones whose only role is to automatically detect, identify, and slam into drones that wander into unauthorized airspace — say, over a private estate, or a factory.

General Catalyst invested in Mark43, which makes a cloud platform to help police departments and their detectives investigate crimes more quickly and effectively.

While these mission-oriented companies may not provide the fastest or steepest ramp to riches, the best of these mission-oriented companies will create technology that affects each of us every day, and businesses that will be resilient to economic cycles, fads and fashion. For investors, it’s a twofer of enlightened self-interest — both as investors, and as citizens. To paraphrase JFK, we should invest in such companies “not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”