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The latest founders Q&A — a series that TechCrunch reporter Rebecca Bellan helped us kick off nearly a year ago — gives an inside look at what it’s like running a startup in Ukraine right now.
Daniel Tonkopi and Serhiy Denysenko, co-founders of Delfast Bikes — a Ukraine-U.S. startup that I’ve mentioned in the newsletter before — spoke to Bellan about the day-to-day operations, their biggest challenges and conditions on the ground. Remarkably, the company has developed a new bike prototype during this time. This is worth a read.
Tier Mobility has been on a shopping spree lately. Its most recent buy is Fantasmo, a computer vision-powered scooter parking startup. The acquisition will bring Fantasmo’s Camera Positioning Technology (CPS) in-house.
CPS relies on a combo of mapping and positioning to understand where a scooter has been parked in relation to its environment. It pretty much only handles the problem of parking, whereas other scooter ADAS tech, like Superpedestrian’s location-based system or Drover AI’s camera-based system, also solve the problem of poor riding behavior.
Tier has done some tests with Luna, another camera-based scooter ADAS company, and Drover, through its Spin acquisition. The company said on Wednesday that it is testing some tech that will address inappropriate riding, as well. Presumably, Fantasmo’s CPS will take point on this one, and will be expanded through additional R&D to achieve what Tier has promised.
In other shared operator news…
As NYC’s DOT expands its e-scooter pilot, Bird, Lime and Veo are growing with it, doubling the amount of shared e-scooters they each will have on city streets. Bird is also scaling its e-mobility service in Washington, D.C. by more than 20%.
Voi, Tier and Bolt won the tender to rent e-scooters in Oslo, Norway, with Voi taking the lead in first place.
Bolt is inviting Berliners to ditch cars and take them up on a €2,500 credit to spend on Bolt services like shared scooters or ride-hail.
Beam has teamed up with Drover AI to pilot tech that can adjust the speed of e-scooters based on road surfaces.
HumanForest is expanding its e-bikes into West London, specifically Hammersmith and Fulham.
If the pandemic brought about the great e-bike boom, will rising gas prices see a massive rise in e-scooter sales? A recent article by WSJ suggests it will. Companies like Fluidfreeride and Bird reported that sales increased in March both YoY and month to month, and that website traffic is way up.
Finally, we’re getting to the point of recycling perfectly good e-bikes. Cake, Swedish e-motorbike maker, announced re:CAKE, its program that offers certified pre-owned bikes to customers.
Barq, a light EV maker supplying the Middle East and North Africa, has revealed a prototype electric scooter for last-mile delivery. The Rena Max looks like it’ll be a sturdy moped-type of two-wheeler, with a top speed of 120 km/h, a swappable battery and, interestingly, cold handlebar grips.
Head Bike USA has some new e-bike models in the U.S. available for viewing, riding and preorder. There’s the unisex step-through called Groove-E that costs $2,999, the E-UP2 at $3,300, and a sporty, do-it-all bike with wide tires called E-Terrain that’s priced at $3,800.
Aventon has launched its new Pace 500 and 350 e-bikes with updates like an integrated battery pack, color LCD display screen and new app functions.
By the way… The U.S. Trade Representative’s office has reinstated 352 expired product exclusions that affected bike products, including e-bikes, from China that are now no longer subjected to a 25% tariff that’s been in effect since January 1, 2021. With gas prices so high, it’s a great time to consider a healthier, more eco-friendly mode shift.
— Rebecca Bellan
Deal of the week
Another day, another SPAC company hits a public exchange. This time it’s mass transit and shared mobility provider Swvl.
As TechCrunch reporter Tage Kene-Okafor reports, this is a landmark moment for Egyptian and Middle Eastern tech ecosystems and a test for the company going public despite a market that’s been unfriendly toward combinations with special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, of late.
Swvl is the first company launched from Africa and the second Middle Eastern company to list on the Nasdaq via a SPAC merger. Anghami, an Abu Dhabi-based music streaming platform, did so in February when it listed with Vistas Media Acquisition at a $220 million valuation.
The Egypt-born and Dubai-based company listed its shares at $10 on the Nasdaq through a merger with U.S. women-led blank check company Queen’s Gambit Growth Capital. The planned merger, which will see Swvl offer 20% to 30% of its total shares, was announced last July.
Other deals that got my attention this week…
Dispatch, a Bloomington, Minn.-based B2B last-mile delivery platform, raised $50 million in a Series C funding round led by PeakSpan Capital. The capital will be used to expand into 50 additional markets across the U.S. while further developing its delivery management software.
Flux Marine is joining the likes of Pure and Zin in trying to convert some of our waterways’ gas-guzzling outboards to cleaner, quieter battery powered ones, and the company just raised $15.5 million ahead of a planned summer shipping date.
Ideanomics closed its deal with Energica Motor Company, acquiring 70% of the electric motorcycle brand. Energica is now delisted from Borsa Italiana, the Italian Stock Exchange, and is now solely trading as part of Ideanomics on the Nasdaq.
ESG tech company mCloud Technologies reached an agreement with Carbon Royalty, a financing firm for climate solutions, to fund the installation of advanced solar and battery storage solutions for EV charging stations at 30 U.S. auto dealerships.
Outgo, a finance software startup that helps small trucking companies manage invoice processing and payment collection, came out of stealth with $3.4 million in a funding round co-led by Neo and PSL Ventures. Jeff Bezos’ investment firm, Convoy CEO Dan Lewis, Uber Eats founder Jason Droege, Simon Data CEO Jason Davis and other angel investors also participated. Convoy and Uber veterans founded the company.
Parcelly, a U.K.-based logistics tech platform, raised $6.7 million in a Series A funding round led by Scania Growth Capital. The funding will be used to expand in the U.S. and continental Europe and accelerate its product development.
Plus is thinking about listing its non-China businesses in a U.S. initial public offering, Bloomberg reported, citing people familiar with the matter. The self-driving-truck startup scrapped a merger with a blank check, or special purpose acquisition, company last year.
Notable news and other tidbits
Aurora released the second version of its autonomous driver, nicknamed Aurora Driver Beta 2.0, which has new autonomy capabilities, like navigating in complex construction zones, the startup says. It’s got upgraded cameras with higher resolution, and a new commercial route between Fort Worth and El Paso supported by daily map updates.
EasyMile revealed it has launched a pilot project to test its TractEasy autonomous tow tractor at the Daimler AG truck assembly plant in Wörth, Germany. The autonomous tow tractor is transporting production parts outdoors.
FedEx CEO Fred Smith told CNBC’s Jim Cramer the company will make an enormous effort toward autonomous vehicle progress this summer. Lest you forget, FedEx started in fall 2021 to use self-driving trucks to haul goods between Dallas and Houston as part of a pilot program with autonomous vehicle startup Aurora and heavy-duty vehicle manufacturer Paccar.
The Partnership for Transportation Innovation and Opportunity has released a workforce policy agenda that’s designed to prepare workers for autonomous vehicle technology. The recommendations include investments in up-skilling initiatives and community partnerships that provide career entry points into the emerging industry.
Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving vehicle unit, started offering its San Francisco-based employees fully autonomous rides. This means there are no human safety operators behind the wheel. It’s a milestone, but not quite a public service. Waymo must obtain a “driverless deployment permit” from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Waymo has already scored a “driverless testing permit”, under which the company will be ferrying its employees sans human safety operator, and it secured a “drivered deployment permit” in autumn 2021.
Electric vehicles & batteries
BrightDrop, GM’s commercial EV unit, is renaming its first two flagship electric delivery vehicles. Instead of the BrightDrop EV600 and BrightDrop EV410, the vehicles will now be called by the even more memorable names of BrightDrop Zevo 600 and BrightDrop Zevo 400.
Coreshell, a startup based in California, has developed thin film technology that its co-founders say improve the lifespan and capacity of batteries. The company recently raised $12 million and notably, its tech is showing up in an all-electric Meyers Manx dune buggy prototype.
Faraday Future is the latest EV SPAC to be investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Several executives at EV company Faraday Future have been subpoenaed by the SEC as part of an investigation into inaccurate statements made to investors.
Lotus unveiled a battery-electric “hyper” SUV called the Eletre — the first of a trio of EVs Lotus plans to launch over the next four years. The vehicle’s design and luxury interior features are notable. But it’s some of the vehicle’s tech, including a whopping four lidar sensors that pop out when needed, that provides the best glimpse of what Lotus has in store for the future.
President Joe Biden will trigger the Defense Production Act to secure U.S. sources of critical minerals and materials like lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite and manganese that are used to make batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage. The order is in response to spiking gas prices and supply chain constraints caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Speaking of EVs and the Biden administration … The U.S. Department of Transportation announced a dramatic change to domestic fuel economy standards, a crucial step toward putting more electric vehicles on the road while reducing dependence on other countries.
Sono is teaming up with Munich to deploy the company’s solar panel tech into the city’s electric bus fleet. Sono estimates the solar bus will save 2,500 liters of diesel per year and at least 6.5 metric tons of CO2 per bus per year.
Tesla delivered more than 305,000 electric vehicles in the first quarter, a record-breaking figure that was inline with analyst expectations even as production suffered due to supply chain constraints and COVID-related factory shutdowns. Last month, Tesla idled production at its factory in Shanghai.
VinFast, the Vietnamese automaker under Vingroup, will build its first U.S. factory in North Carolina as part of its previously stated plans to invest and expand in the country. The company will spend about $2 billion in the first phase of construction, which is expected to be completed by July 2024. The first phase will have the capacity to produce 150,000 electric vehicles annually.
Future of flight
FedEx said it has partnered with Elroy Air, which is developing a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) cargo drone, to transport packages between sorting centers via autonomous flights.
Nearly half of Uber and Lyft drivers in the U.S. have quit or are driving less due to high gas prices caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine, despite temporary fuel surcharges added to fares by those ride-hailing companies, according to a survey shared with TechCrunch.
BMW Financial Services NA said Birgit Boehm will succeed Stefan Richman as the CEO of BMW Group Financial Services in the U.S. and Region Americas, effective April 1.
Factorial appointed Michael Bly, a senior VP who heads global propulsion systems at Stellantis, to their board of directors. He joins as part of the strategic investment Stellantis has made in Factorial.
Hagerty, the automotive lifestyle brand and specialty insurance company, hired David Pattillo as senior vice president of commercial partnerships.