Inside Skip’s plan to appeal San Francisco’s scooter permit decision

Electric scooter operator Skip is gearing up to appeal San Francisco’s decision to not grant it a permit to operate in the city. When the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) announced the permit grantees in September, it came as a surprise to Skip, which had previously received a permit to operate as part of the city’s pilot program.

Ahead of the appeal hearing last Thursday, TechCrunch caught up with Skip CEO Sanjay Dastoor to learn about the company’s game plan and why he thinks it can prevail in a battle that other electric scooter providers have lost.

Prior to the city’s decision last year to grant permits to Lime, Uber’s JUMP, Bird’s Scoot and Ford’s Spin, Skip was one of only two companies operating shared electric scooter services in San Francisco. Leading up to the new permitting application process, Skip said it had been working to ensure its electronic locks would be fully integrated by the beginning of the new permit period, Dastoor told TechCrunch. The company did this with guidance from the SFMTA, so when Skip was denied a permit, the team was caught off guard.

“It was a huge surprise,” Dastoor said. “We found out basically the same time as the press did that we didn’t get that permit, so it was pretty surprising to all of us.”

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Industrial technologies get a big backer with Anzu Partners’ new $190 million fund

Advances in biology, biochemistry, sensors and automation have the potential to reshape the ways manufacturing in America is done and a relatively new firm called Anzu Partners has just raised $190 million to invest in companies turning these scientific achievements into new products and services.

Far from Silicon Valley, Anzu is investing in technology companies coming from places as disparate as Durham, Omaha, and Santa Fe, in addition to the traditional technology hub of Boston and its surrounding area.

“We started in early 2016 with a focus on venture capital and early stage private equity,” says firm managing partner Whitney Haring-Smith. “The majority of the transactions that we do are minority, but there are a subset that are control.”

One of those acquisitions, for the optical electronics equipment manufacturer Axsun Technologies, yielded one of the firm’s early exits when the Massachusetts-based company was sold to Excelitas in a roughly $80 million transaction. The firm saw at least one other exit last year when Siemens bought its portfolio company MultiMechanics in November.

Co-founded and managed by former Boston Consulting Group leadership David Seldin and David Michael, the leadership team has expanded to include another BCG, alum, John Ho, who was just named partner with the close fo the fund.

Anzu Partners writes checks in the $3 million to $8 million range and follows that capital with commitments of up to $15 million, according to Haring-Smith.

“We focus today on investing in the technologies that enable tomorrow’s industries,” Haring-Smith said of the firm’s thesis. “We don’t know whether this biologic drug or that biologic drug will succeed but we know that all biologic drugs will need certain things.”

Examples include the company’s investment in the Santa Fe-based NTX Bio, which was made not because the startup manufactures particular biologics for the pharmaceutical industry, but because it makes technology which can produce lower cost, higher purity and higher stability biologics. “It doesn’t make vaccines, but makes vaccine manufacturing more cheap and efficient,” says Haring-Smith. 

The firm has already made six investments from its new fund since it first began fundraising efforts last April.

Portfolio companies include the Durham-based BioSkryb, which makes technologies to improve gene sequencing; Boston Microfluidics, which develops blood collection devices; GelSight, which makes 3D imaging systems to improve quality control in manufacturing; immunoSCAPE, which profiles immune systems to provide better data on potentially applicable therapeutics for patients; Sofregen, which tissue support and regeneration products based on a novel process for manufacturing silk proteins, and Solchroma Technologies, which uses a unique manufacturing process to make digital displays.

Anzu operates from offices in Tampa, San Diego, Washington, and Boston and Haring-Smith believes that the geographic diversity gives the company a leg up on deals.

With the new fund, the firm expects to expand its geographic footprint to other under-capitalized regions around the U.S.

 

 

 

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Google’s new experimental apps focus on reducing screen time — including one that uses a paper envelope

In October, Google debuted experimental apps focused on digital wellbeing, including one that offered a notification mailbox, another that tracked how long you went between phone unlocks, and even one that let you print out the information you needed from your phone for the day so you wouldn’t have to use it, to name a few. Now, Google has added three more apps to its unique collection with the launch of a Screen Stopwatch for tracking screen time, another that lets you visualize your phone usage as bubbles, and a third which lets you put your phone in an envelope…wait, what?

Envelope is not a joke, as it turns out, but rather the latest bit of creativity from London-based design studio, Special Projects. The group had already created the phone info printout app, Paper Phone, which arrived when Google’s Digital Wellbeing Experiments platform first launched last year.

The team’s new Envelope app helps you to still use your phone for basic functions, like making or receiving calls or using the camera to take photos. But all this is done from inside a paper envelope custom-designed for your phone. To wrap up your phone, there’s a printable PDF for Google Pixel 3a phones which you print at full scale, then cut, fold and glue. The end result is a paper phone sleeve that leaves room for the camera and offers a numberical keypad on the front, in case you need to make calls.

The app, meanwhile, helps to make the buttons light up to be seen through the paper.

Envelope is clearly more of a design experiment rather than a practical tool. While touchscreens do work through paper, wrapping your phone up for the day will certainly complicate things — like when you need to get someone’s phone number (because no one memorizes these anymore!) or to look up directions, among other things. But it would allow you to challenge yourself to see how long you could make it before ripping the envelope open, we suppose.

Another new app, Activity Bubbles, creates a new bubble for each phone unlock during the day. The bubble then grows larger the longer you use your device. Your bubbles can be set as a live wallpaper so you can continually keep track of your screen time.

Screen Stopwatch tracks how long you’ve been on your phone each day by counting the hours, minutes and seconds of screen time with every unlock. This, too, can be set as a live wallpaper so you can see your phone usage grow throughout the day.

These latter two apps were put out by Google Creative Lab, as were many of the first apps launched last fall.

Google explained at the time the goal with its Digital Wellbeing Experiments is to inspire designers and developers to keep digital wellbeing at top of mind when building technology. While some of the experiments may be “out there” — like envelopes for the phone — the overall goal is not to make these mainstream apps, but rather to get people thinking about our phone and app addictions. Major tech companies, Google included, are increasingly focused on what they can do better in this area — adding features like “take a break” reminders, alerts that tell you when you’re “all caught up” with your feed, or rolling out tools to help reduce screen time, like app limits or the ability to turn off distracting notifications. 

The Digital Wellbeing Experiments platform is open to contributions, but new additions are reviewed before they’re added to the site, a process that could take weeks. The apps themselves will work on recent Android handsets.

 

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Small Door, the OneMedical for pets, launches NYC location

Small Door, a veterinary services membership startup, today announced the grand opening of its NYC location at 15 Seventh Ave. Small Door soft-launched the space in November of 2019.

The vet startup first came onto the scene in April of 2019 with a $3.5 million seed round led by Lerer Hippeau Ventures, with participation from Primary Venture Partners and Brand Foundry Ventures. Flatiron Health founders Nat Turner and Zach Weinberg, Warby Parker cofounders Dave Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal, and Sweetgreen founders on Neman, Nic Jammet, and Nat Ru also invested.

The company is taking a fresh approach to veterinary services by offering a membership program, not unlike One Medical.

Part of the problem with vet services is that veterinary practices are often overworked and underpaid. This can translate to long waits for patients, short visits, and a low quality of professional life for veterinarians themselves. Through a membership model, Small Door believes it can give vets more time with their pet patients and decrease wait times considerably for patients and their owners.

The company has also rethought healthcare space itself. For example, the waiting room is spread out and designed with little nooks to keep animals happy and unthreatened by their fellow patients while waiting.

Different membership tiers get users access to different features. For dogs, the base tier ($12/month) offers same or next-day appointments, priority access to specialists, and 24/7 virtual care. The Premium tier ($75/month) offers two annual exams, core vaccinations, an annual blood panel, and other preventative care like deworming, heartworm screening, etc. The Premium Plus Tier ($89/month) offers everything in the premium package alongside a 12-month supply of both flea and tick preventative treatment as well as a 12-month supply of heartworm preventative treatment.

For cats, plans range from $8/month to $74/month with similar offerings.

Small Door was set up as a Public Benefit Corporation, identifying Small Door vets and pets as key stakeholders in the business. Suicide is a growing problem among vets, who often deal with mounting debt, compassion fatigue, difficult hours and even more difficult customers.

Since its soft launch, 55 percent of Small Door customers are millennials and 70 percent of customers are women, according to founder Josh Guttman.

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UN calls for investigation after Saudis linked to Bezos phone hack

United Nations experts are calling for an investigation after a forensic report said Saudi officials “most likely” used a mobile hacking tool built by the NSO Group to hack into the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ phone.

Remarks made by U.N. human rights experts on Wednesday said said the Israeli spyware maker’s flagship Pegasus mobile spyware was likely used to exfiltrate gigabytes of data from Bezos’ phone in May 2018, about six months after the Saudi government first obtained the spyware.

It comes a day after news emerged, citing a forensics report commissioned to examine the Amazon founder’s phone, that the malware was delivered from a number belonging to Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. The forensics report, carried out by FTI Consulting, said it was “highly probable” that the phone hack was triggered by a malicious video sent over WhatsApp to Bezos’ phone. Within hours, large amounts of data on Bezos’ phone had been exfiltrated.

U.N. experts Agnes Callamard and Davie Kaye, who were given a copy of the forensics report, said the breach of Bezos’ phone was part of “a pattern of targeted surveillance of perceived opponents and those of broader strategic importance to the Saudi authorities.”

But the report left open the possibility that technology developed by another mobile spyware maker may have been used.

The Saudi government has rejected the claims, calling them “absurd.”

NSO Group said in a statement that its technology “was not used in this instance,” saying its technology “cannot be used on U.S. phone numbers.” The company said any suggestion otherwise was “defamatory” and threatened legal action.

Forensics experts are said to have began looking at Bezos’ phone after he accused the National Enquirer of blackmail last year. In a tell-all Medium post, Bezos described how he was targeted by the tabloid, which obtained and published private text messages and photos from his phone, prompting an investigation into the leak.

The subsequent forensic report, which TechCrunch has not yet seen, claims the initial breach began after Bezos and the Saudi crown prince exchanged phone numbers in April 2018, a month before the hack.

The report said several other prominent figures, including Saudi dissidents and political activists, also had their phones infected with the same mobile malware around the time of the Bezos phone breach. Some whose phones were infected including those close to Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi critic and columnist for the Washington Post — which Bezos owns — who was murdered five months later.

U.S. intelligence concluded that bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s death.

“The information we have received suggests the possible involvement of the Crown Prince in surveillance of Mr. Bezos, in an effort to influence, if not silence, The Washington Post’s reporting on Saudi Arabia,” the U.N. experts said.

The U.N. experts said the Saudis purchased the Pegasus malware, and used WhatsApp as a way to deliver the malware to Bezos’ phone.

WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, filed a lawsuit against the NSO Group for creating and using the Pegasus malware, which exploits a since-fixed vulnerability in the the messaging platform. Once exploited, sometimes silently and without the target knowing, the operators can download data from the user’s device. Facebook said at the time more than the malware was delivered on more than 1,400 targeted devices.

The U.N. experts said they will continue to investigate the “growing role of the surveillance industry” used for targeting journalists, human rights defenders, and owners of media outlets.

Amazon did not immediately comment.

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