Starry launches pilot program with Boston Housing Authority to expand affordable internet access

Internet service provider Starry announced today the launch of its Starry Connect program with a pilot through Boston Housing Authority (BHA) to help provide free access to internet for residents living in one of the city’s public housing apartment complexes. The Boston-based startup launched in 2016 with a plan to provide internet access through a […]

Internet service provider Starry announced today the launch of its Starry Connect program with a pilot through Boston Housing Authority (BHA) to help provide free access to internet for residents living in one of the city’s public housing apartment complexes.

The Boston-based startup launched in 2016 with a plan to provide internet access through a spoke-and-wheel system of transmitters and access points. This point-to-multipoint system uses a phased array laser on top of a city building to send a 5G signal out that users can connect to via Starry Points that can be installed at a window or personal roof.

“Access to high-speed broadband is critical for education, communication, and personal and professional development, and yet today, many people still lack access to a basic, affordable, and reliable internet connection,” said Chet Kanojia, co-founder and CEO, in a statement. “That’s why we’re excited to partner with the Boston Housing Authority to devise creative solutions to help get more of their residents online and engaged with the critical services they need.”

With the program Starry launched today, residents of the public housing apartment building will be able to access free Wi-Fi in the building’s common area, hallways and new computer lab.

Virginia Lam Abrams, Starry senior vice president of communications and government relations, told TechCrunch that some residents may also be able to access the signal in their rooms, but the primary focus for this installation is to provide common area access for these primarily elderly and disabled residents.

Because Starry Connect’s pilot launch in the BHA building is part of the Boston public housing system, residents will receive free connection, but Starry also has plans to provide low-cost pricing options for residents living in affordable housing, as well.

The program has no set end date, says Abrams, but the company has plans to check in with residents in a few months to see where the program is succeeding and where it can be improved. Following this initial pilot launch, Abrams says that Starry has hopes to expand into other BHA communities, as well as public and affordable housing in other U.S. cities.

Since its launch, the startup has expanded into Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., and following a $100,000 million funding round it closed this July, has plans to scale and expand into more cities in the coming year, including Houston, Chicago, San Francisco and Portland, Ore.

Boston-area startups are on pace to overtake NYC venture totals

Boston has regained its longstanding place as the second-largest U.S. startup funding hub. After years of trailing New York City in total annual venture investment, Massachusetts is taking the lead in 2018.

Boston has regained its longstanding place as the second-largest U.S. startup funding hub.

After years of trailing New York City in total annual venture investment, Massachusetts is taking the lead in 2018. Venture investment in the Boston metro area hit $5.2 billion so far this year, on track to be the highest annual total in years.

The Massachusetts numbers year-to-date are about 15 percent higher than the New York City total. That puts Boston’s biotech-heavy venture haul apparently second only to Silicon Valley among domestic locales thus far this year. And for New England VCs, the latest numbers also confirm already well-ingrained opinions about the superior talents of local entrepreneurs.

“Boston often gets dismissed as a has-been startup city. But the successes are often overlooked and don’t get the same attention as less successful, but more hypey companies in San Francisco,” Blake Bartlett, a partner at Boston-based venture firm OpenView, told Crunchbase News. He points to local success stories like online prescription service PillPack, which Amazon just snapped up for $1 billion, and online auto marketplace CarGurus, which went public in October and is now valued around $4.7 billion.

Meanwhile, fresh capital is piling up in the coffers of local startups with all the intensity of a New England snowstorm. In the chart below, we look at funding totals since 2012, along with reported round counts.

In the interest of rivalry, we are also showing how the Massachusetts startup ecosystem compares to New York over the past five years.

Who’s getting funded?

So what’s the reason for Boston’s 2018 successes? It’s impossible to pinpoint a single cause. The New England city’s startup scene is broad and has deep pockets of expertise in biotech, enterprise software, AI, consumer apps and other areas.

Still, we’d be remiss not to give biotech the lion’s share of the credit. So far this year, biotech and healthcare have led the New England dealmaking surge, accounting for the majority of invested capital. Once again, local investors are not surprised.

“Boston has been the center of the biotech universe forever,” said Dylan Morris, a partner at Boston and Silicon Valley-based VC firm CRV. That makes the city well-poised to be a leading hub in the sector’s latest funding and exit boom, which is capitalizing on a long-term shift toward more computational approaches to diagnosing and curing disease.

Moreover, it goes without saying that the home city of MIT has a particularly strong reputation for so-called deep tech — using really complicated technology to solve really hard problems. That’s reflected in the big funding rounds.

For instance, the largest Boston-based funding recipient of 2018, Moderna Therapeutics, is a developer of mRNA-based drugs that raised $625 million across two late-stage rounds. Besides Moderna, other big rounds for companies with a deep tech bent went to TCR2, which is focused on engineering T cells for cancer therapy, and Starry (based in both Boston and New York), which is deploying the world’s first millimeter wave band active phased array technology for consumer broadband.

Other sectors saw some jumbo-sized rounds too, including enterprise software, 3D printing and even apparel.

Boston also benefits from the rise of supergiant funding rounds. A plethora of rounds raised at $100 million or more fueled the city’s rise in the venture funding rankings. So far this year, at least 15 Massachusetts companies have raised rounds of that magnitude or more, compared to 12 in all of 2017.

Exits are happening, too

Boston companies are going public and getting acquired at a brisk pace too this year, and often for big sums.

At least seven metro-area startups have sold for $100 million or more in disclosed-price acquisitions this year, according to Crunchbase data. In the lead is online prescription drug service PillPack . The second-biggest deal was Kensho, a provider of analytics for big financial institutions that sold to S&P Global for $550 million.

IPOs are huge, too. A total of 17 Boston-area venture-backed companies have gone public so far this year, of which 15 are life science startups. The largest offering was for Rubius Therapeutics, a developer of red cell therapeutics, followed by cybersecurity provider Carbon Black.

Meanwhile, many local companies that went public in the past few years have since seen their values skyrocket. Bartlett points to examples including online retailer Wayfair (market cap of $10 billion), marketing platform HubSpot (market cap $4.8 billion) and enterprise software provider Demandware (sold to Salesforce for $2.8 billion).

New England heats up

Recollections of a frigid April sojourn in Massachusetts are too fresh for me to comfortably utter the phrase “Boston is hot.” However, speaking purely about startup funding, and putting weather aside, the Boston scene does appear to be seeing some real escalation in temperature.

Of course, it’s not just Boston. Supergiant venture funds are surging all over the place this year. Morris is even bullish on the arch-rival a few hours south: “New York and Boston love to hate each other. But New York’s doing some amazing things too,” he said, pointing to efforts to invigorate the biotech startup ecosystem.

Still, so far, it seems safe to say 2018 is shaping up as Boston’s year for startups.

Siemens acquires low-code platform Mendix for $700M

Siemens, the giant German technology company, today announced that it has acquired Mendix, the popular low-code application development platform, for €0.6 billion (or about $700 million). Mendix, which was founded in the Netherlands but now has its headquarters in Boston, will continue to operate as usual and keep its name, but Siemens notes that it […]

Siemens, the giant German technology company, today announced that it has acquired Mendix, the popular low-code application development platform, for €0.6 billion (or about $700 million). Mendix, which was founded in the Netherlands but now has its headquarters in Boston, will continue to operate as usual and keep its name, but Siemens notes that it will also use the company’s technology to accelerate its own cloud, IoT and digital enterprise ambitions.

“As part of our digitalization strategy, Siemens continues to invest in software offerings for the Digital Enterprise. With the acquisition of Mendix, Siemens continues to add to its comprehensive Digital Enterprise and MindSphere IoT portfolio, with cloud domain expertise, cloud agnostic platform solutions and highly skilled people,” said Jan Mrosik, CEO of Siemens’ Digital Factory Division.

Mendix’s service is already deeply integrated into IBM’s, SAP’s and Pivotal‘s cloud services. Mendix co-founder and CEO Derek Roos notes that his company and Siemens first discussed a strategic partnership, but as those talks progressed, the two companies moved toward an acquisition instead. Roos argues that the two companies’ visions are quite similar and that Siemens is committed to helping accelerate Mendix’s growth, extend the company’s platform and combine it with Siemens’ existing MindSphere IoT system.

“If you’ve ever wondered which low-code platform will have the viability to invest and win in the long term, you no longer have to guess,” Roos writes. “This commitment and investment from Siemens will allow us to accelerate R&D and geo-expansion investments significantly. You’re going to see faster innovation, more reach and an even better customer experience from us.”

Over the course of the last few years, “low-code” has become increasingly popular as more and more enterprises try to enable all of their employees to access and use the data they now store. Not every employee is going to learn how to program, though, so tools like Mendix, K2 and others now make it easy for non-developers to quickly build (mostly database-backed) applications.

Siemens also today announced a new company structure, dubbed Vision 2020+. The details of that aren’t all that interesting, but the company does note that it was to strengthen its growth portfolio through investments in fields like IoT integration services. The Mendix acquisition is part of that, but I’m sure we’ll see a few similar moves in the near future.

Ahead of today’s acquisition, Mendix had raised about $38 million from investors like Battery Ventures, Prime Ventures and HENQ Invest.

Boeing’s new R&D center focuses on autonomous flight

Flying cars are BS. But there is actually a chance that we’re on the cusp of a revolution in general aviation as startups and major players like Airbus are looking to modern technology to allow more people to take flight without having to first learn how to steer a Cessna 152 down a short runway […]

Flying cars are BS. But there is actually a chance that we’re on the cusp of a revolution in general aviation as startups and major players like Airbus are looking to modern technology to allow more people to take flight without having to first learn how to steer a Cessna 152 down a short runway (though that’s a good skill to have, too). Boeing, which is not currently a player in general aviation, clearly doesn’t want to be left behind. The company today announced that it is opening a new R&D office in Boston that will focus on designing, building and flying autonomous aircraft.

Perkins + Will (PRNewsfoto/Boeing)

The new office will be staffed by Boeing engineers and employees of its Aurora Flight Sciences subsidiary, which it acquired last year. Unsurprisingly, the company also plans to work with the boffins at MIT, which is the landlord of the company’s new offices in Kendall Square.

“Boeing is leading the development of new autonomous vehicles and future transportation systems that will bring flight closer to home,” said Greg Hyslop, Boeing’s chief technology officer, in today’s announcement. “By investing in this new research facility, we are creating a hub where our engineers can collaborate with other Boeing engineers and research partners around the world and leverage the Cambridge innovation ecosystem.”

There’s obviously plenty left to be figured out with regards to autonomous flights — or even just giving people access to semi-autonomous aircraft that would fall under the FAA’s ultralight designation so that the pilot wouldn’t need a pilot’s license.

Right now, the rules are pretty clear about what’s possible and what isn’t — and most ideas around “urban air transportation” (at least in the U.S.) aren’t feasible under today’s rules. But those rules were written for an aviation system that handles fewer than 250,000 small general aviation aircraft, most of which feature very little in terms of automation. The FAA has shown some ability to act relatively fast when new technology comes along (see: drone regulations), so maybe that’ll be the case here, too. By 2020, the average Cessna you see puttering about in the sky above you will be close to 50 years old, but who knows, maybe we’ll see sleek electrified personal Boeing drones zooming 500 feet above our heads instead.