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Brighteye Ventures’ Alex Latsis talks European edtech funding in 2020



Brighteye Ventures, the European edtech venture capital firm, recently announced the $54 million first close of its second fund, bringing total assets under management above $112 million. Out of the new fund, the 2017-founded VC will invest in 15-20 companies over the next three years at the seed and Series A stage, writing checks up to $5 million.

Described as a thesis-driven fund investing in startups that “enhance learning” within the context of automation and other new technologies, coupled with changes in the way we live, Brighteye plans to disrupt the $7 trillion global education sector “as educators and students are adapting to distance learning en masse and millions of displaced workers are seeking to upskill,” according to a press release.

The firm’s investments to date include Ornikar, an online driving school in France and Spain serving more than 1.6 million students; Tandem, a Berlin-based peer-to-peer language learning platform with over 10 million members; and Epic!, a reading platform said to be used in more than 90% of U.S. schools.

To dig deeper into Brighteye’s thesis and the edtech sector more broadly, I caught up with managing partner Alex Latsis. We also discussed some of the findings in the firm’s recent European edtech funding report and how more venture capital than ever is set to flow into educational technology.

TechCrunch: Brighteye Ventures backs seed and Series A startups across Europe and North America that “enhance learning.” Can you elaborate a bit more on the fund’s remit, such as subsectors or specific technologies and what you look for in founders and startups at such an early stage?

Alex Latsis: We invest in startups that use technology to directly enable learning, skills acquisition or research as well as companies whose products address structural needs in the education sector. For example, Zen Educate addresses the systemic issue of teacher supply shortages in the U.K. via an on-demand platform that saves schools money whilst allowing educators to earn more. Litigate is an AI-driven coach and workflow tool improving results for legal associates, while Ironhack, the largest tech bootcamp in Europe and Latin America, gives young professionals the skills needed to enter the innovation economy and connects them to employers with a 90% job placement rate.

As education is a complex field we always seek to establish a degree of founder market fit, but more importantly that the founding teams themselves are a good fit internally. No startup succeeds on the merits of a founder alone, even if they may be driving the momentum.

In “The European EdTech Funding Report 2020,” you note that Europe is gaining momentum with a healthy increase in VC investments in local edtech startups. Specifically, you say that edtech VC investment has experienced 9.2x growth between 2014 and 2019 in terms of money invested. What is driving this and how does Europe compare to other major tech regions for edtech, such as Silicon Valley/U.S. or China?

Both Europe and the U.S. saw about 2% of venture capital invested in edtech in 2019. Growth in edtech investment in these markets to date has been driven largely by increased willingness to pay for training that is unavailable, unengaging or too expensive in legacy institutions and to a lesser extent by increased digital penetration in schools and universities that has enabled SaaS products to scale.

Given the rapid evolution of online education in the face of the pandemic, we expect funding for edtech will trend closer to 3%-5% of venture funding in the coming years on both sides of the Atlantic. This will mean billions in incremental investment, hundreds of new promising companies and incredible learning opportunities, particularly for those looking to upskill/reskill. In countries like India and China where school and university student populations are growing more rapidly, we expect 5%+ of VC funding to go into edtech as there is more growth in core demand.


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NASA’s robot just landed on Bennu after 2 years — but its mission has only just begun



Relief showed clearly on the faces of the team of NASA scientists and engineers as they were told: “Touchdown is complete”. Then applause a few seconds later for “back away burn complete”. The most hazardous part of the mission was over – and seemingly successful, although we will have to wait for a few more days to hear the scale of the success.

OSIRIS-REx (for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer)) was launched in September 2016, arriving at its target asteroid 101955 Bennu in December 2018. The purpose of the mission was to characterize the asteroid, then bring some of it back for study on Earth.

The spacecraft spent two years circling Bennu, making detailed maps of its surface, learning as much as possible about the asteroid before the next phase of the mission: looking for somewhere safe to land. Or, rather, not to land, but to make a very rapid “touch-and-go” visit to the surface – where it would collect fragments of material to return to Earth. It was completion of the touch-and-go manoeuvre that prompted the clapping and cheering in mission control.

Why Bennu? And why the relief? After all, this is not the first asteroid that a spacecraft has visited – and it is not the first small body that has been landed on. That record is held by the NEAR spacecraft that made a controlled crash-landing on Asteroid 433 Eros in 2001. And I still remember the emotion in the control room when Philae landed on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014.

The relief was because Bennu is small – only about 500 meters across – a fact that was known when it was selected as a target. But it is oddly shaped and active – two things that were not known. It looks a bit like an old-fashioned spinning top, or a rough diamond, pointed at the top and bottom and fatter in the middle. Because it is so small it was assumed that Bennu would be quiescent – it wouldn’t, for instance, be behaving like a comet and ejecting bursts of gas and rocks.

But because nothing in the solar system is simple, when OSIRIS-Rex got close to Bennu, it found that the asteroid was throwing small amounts of material from its surface. The particles were less than a centimeter across, and most of them landed back on the asteroid – generally closer to the equator than the poles, which changed its shape over time.

Image of Bennu taken by OSIRIS-REx in 2018.
Image of Bennu taken by OSIRIS-REx in 2018. NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

One of the consequences of the activity – explained by changes in temperature fracturing larger boulders and breaking up the rocks – is that the surface of Bennu is completely covered in rubble, much more than had been expected. This made selecting a site for sample collection more difficult.

Secrets of the solar system

Bennu is a Near Earth Asteroid – it has a one-in-2700 chance of colliding with the Earth in about 170 years’ time. It is also believed to be rich in the type of organic compounds that might have seeded the Earth to enable life to arise.

Another surprising find that came from the mapping campaign was that Bennu was not only rich in clay minerals, but that veins of carbonate were present. Clay and carbonates require water – lots of it – so these minerals must have formed when Bennu was part of a larger asteroid. There is no running water there now – but there might be small pockets of ice below the surface. While this ice will not be collected by OSIRIS_Rex, the effects of water should be seen in the material it’s gathered.

Studying these materials will help us understand the primitive dust from which the solar system grew, and the range of organic compounds present. It will also tell us the physical properties of something that might hit the Earth, potentially helping us stop it.

It was always going to be tricky to collect material from the surface – any attempt to land would be unlikely to succeed, because the low gravitational pull of Bennu would not grab onto a lander and hold it in place. A lander would bounce off, back into space. This is why NASA used the touch-and-go approach – the spacecraft approached the asteroid very slowly, hovering only a meter or so from its surface, while an arm was extended to touch the surface to collect a sample.

It did this by blowing a jet of nitrogen gas onto the surface, which was sufficiently powerful to throw material into the collection canister. The slow approach to the surface took several nail-biting hours, while the collection operation took a matter of seconds. Collection over, and the spacecraft backed away – hence the relief at mission control at the “back away, burn complete” message, showing that OSIRIS-Rex was moving away from the surface.

We don’t yet know how much material was blown into the canister – and we won’t know until it arrives back on Earth in September 2023. It might be 60 grams – which is the target – or it might be as much as a kilogram. An attempt will be made later this week to see how the moment of inertia of the spacecraft – its uniform motion in a straight line – has changed, which should give a first approximation of the amount collected.

When the sample comes back to Earth, it will be analyzed by an international team of scientists who will measure all aspects of the material’s composition and structure, especially the organic and water contents of the soil.

This is when we’ll get some answers, which will tell us about our own origins as much as about the origin of asteroid Bennu.

This article is republished from The Conversation by Monica Grady, Professor of Planetary and Space Sciences, The Open University under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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Airbnb recruits ex-Apple design honcho Jony Ive



Next time you stay in an Airbnb you better expect some aluminium sides, some polished and laminated leathers, and, potentially, the most innovative flat you’ve ever stayed in. That’s right people, Airbnb has brought on Jony Ive, the ex-Chief Head of Design at Apple.

If you’re unfamiliar with Jony Ive, he’s the man behind lots of your favorite thingsHe left Apple last year after almost 30 years at the company. During that time, he oversaw the development of almost any modern Apple product or service you want to name, from the iPod to the Apple Stores themselves. Even more importantly, he helped build the design team that’s still pumping out quality shit to this very day.

Anyway, after Ive left Apple, he formed his own company: LoveFrom, an organization so exclusive it doesn’t appear to even have its own web page. I assume this is the internet rich dude version of a bar with no sign.

The reason I mention LoveFrom is because that’s who Airbnb has made a deal with, not Ive directly.

The flat-sharing accommodation chain’s CEO — Brian Chesky — announced this collaboration in on its blog. Chesky wrote that Airbnb and LoveFrom will be “engaging in a special collaboration,” working together through a “multi-year relationship.”

The goal? Well, that’d be to “design the next generation of Airbnb products and services” and help “develop its internal design team.”

What this actually means — according to the Financial Times — is that Ive will overhaul Airbnb‘s app and website, one element of this being revamping the site’s rating system for guests and hosts.

All this is exciting, but a shame if you were expecting a fleet of swanky new Airbnb complexes that are an engineering feat, managing to distill the essential form of humanity into a relevant architectual mechanism. You’ll have to make do with a new website instead.

Airbnb has been hit hard by the pandemic (bookings were down by 80%), but it is bound to survive. Which is a little bit of a shame because it has been a driving force behind gentrification, rising rents, and the housing crisis. Why can nothing useful also be moral?

Obviously Ive going there is unlikely to make the company change (which is a shame), but it will probably improve the service (which is good). So maybe it’s a net neutral for everyone.

Well, aside from Airbnb‘s current Chief Design Officer, Alex Schleifer, who is “stepping down” following this news. I’ll pour one out for you, pal.

For more gear, gadget, and hardware news and reviews, follow Plugged on Twitter and Flipboard.

Published October 22, 2020 — 07:45 UTC


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Adobe’s new AI experiment syncs your dance moves perfectly to the beat



TikTok has made on-beat dances and movements mainstream. But what if you went offbeat or the video you recorded had some lag to your perfect dance moves. Adobe can fix that for you.

The company showed off an AI-powered experiment at its Adobe Max conference that syncs your off-beat movement to the beat of the music. Researchers used computer vision to follow the body movement of the person in the video. As shown below, the algorithm also analyzes dance moves through popping orange circles to determine the time of movements.

[Read: How Photoshop’s new Neural Filters harness AI to generate new pixels]

The researchers also mark beats of the music track with orange lines and plot them against the orange dots to determine if dance moves are in sync with the music.

[embedded content]

Adobe uses this analysis to match beats of the song with corresponding movements to make a perfectly synced video. The company said that the algorithm can take random videos of people dancing and sync them with a track, making it look like they’re dancing to the same song.

While this is just an experiment, it could be handy for creators to video editors. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see such functionality making it to TikTok or Instagram Reels in a few years.

Published October 22, 2020 — 07:04 UTC


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