• Samuel Poon

Aquifer Tech Snapshot: Week of June 1-5

Updated: Jun 12, 2020

What would happen if you censored the most powerful administration on the planet? Last week, we found out.

On May 26th, Twitter slapped a pair of Trump’s tweets about mail-in ballots with a warning sign for false information for the first time, starting a feud between the President and his most-read platform. Trump was quick to punch back, threatening to add additional regulations around social media companies as a whole and accusing Twitter for “stifling free speech.” By Thursday, an executive order was signed targeting Section 230, initiating a long-expected battle between the most influential companies and the most influential man in the U.S.

Tensions only seemed to get worse this week as Facebook and Snapchat were forced into the action. Facebook, who historically was reluctant to engage in political affairs, came under fire as employees staged a virtual walkout to protests the company’s lack of response to Trump’s posts about the killing to George Floyd on Tuesday. The controversy seemed to stem from Trump’s use of a racially charged phrase in a post on both Twitter and Facebook. Snapchat opted for a hardline stance and announced Wednesday morning that they would no longer promote Trump’s content in its Discover tab. All this is adding fuel to the fire as the elections approach this November and fears of a second wave continue to mount.

George Floyd’s murder has sent shockwaves throughout the world and the hypocrisy from technology is finally starting to come to light. SoftBank announced recently that they would launch the Opportunity Growth Fund, a $100 million portfolio dedicated to investing in entrepreneurs of color. This, however, shortly followed the resignation of Banjo’s (one of SoftBank-backed companies) CEO after investigative reporting revealed associations with him and the KKK. Zoom also faced backlash on Wednesday after pledging to work with law enforcement by offering weaker encryption for free calls on its platform, a day after releasing Q1/F21 results that showed 169% year-over-year revenue growth.

One thing that’s for sure is that silence is no longer an option. Silicon Valley is now under more pressure than ever to act, and companies that preferred to stay on the sidelines will see the brunt of the damage.

LanzaJet: LanzaTech announced Tuesday the launch of LanzaJet, Inc., a spin-out of the firm’s aviation segment that produces sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). Suncor and Mitsui pledged to invest $15 million and $10 million, respectively, to establish the company, which will be used to build a demonstration plant that will produce 10 million gallons per year of SAF and renewable diesel. Production is expected to begin in early 2022.

Vention: Vention, a Canadian startup focused on manufacturing automation, announced on Tuesday that it had raised C$38 million in a Series B funding round. The proceeds will be used to fund its cloud-based platform, grow its library of plug-and-play automation components, and continue international expansion. The round was led by Georgian Partners.

Tovala: Chicago-based startup Tovala announced that it had raised $20 million in a Series B round led by Finistere Ventures on Tuesday. Tovala’s flagship product is a delivery service that aims to cut down on cooking time through the use of its Smart Oven. The company claims that it has seen an uptick in demand since COVID-19 began as stay-at-home orders drove subscriber growth of more than 20% since mid-March.

ZoomInfo’s hotly anticipated IPO finally happened Thursday, as the company raised $935 million with the stock doubling its IPO price at the opening bell. The shares closed up 62%, reigniting investor enthusiasm for tech IPOs after less-than-stellar listings for Uber, Lyft, and Slack, and the collapse of WeWork in 2019. The market’s message is clear: Tech is still not dead and we still have a long way ahead to go.

Separately, rumours yesterday circulated that Amazon was placing a bid for a 5% stake in Bharti Airtel, the third-largest telecom operator in India. Neither Airtel nor Amazon confirmed the transaction. The rumours follow a $5.7 billion investment into Jio Platforms from Facebook just over a month ago, its largest deal since it agreed to acquire WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014. As the Indian economy continues to expand, tech firms are clearly eyeing the country’s telecom market for opportunities, and we will be watching closely for further developments in the space.

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Research contributed by Samuel Poon.

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