Tradewind Bioscience attacks the physiology of tumors to treat cancer

Cancer remains the one counterpoint to the march of medical progress that has scored human history over the last 200 years.

Last year 600,920 people in the U.S. died from cancer, and another 1.7 million received an initial diagnosis of the disease. Globally, one in six people die from cancer, according to the World Health Organization.

In the past decade, research in the field has expanded the possible treatments of the disease from surgery (which was the only option until the 20th century), radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormonal therapy.

Among the most promising of these new treatments are those which attack the functions of the tumor itself. New epigenetic therapies, therapeutic viruses, novel nanoparticles, and immune therapies look at external responses to cancerous growths — sequencing out mutations that can lead to cancerous growths; creating new pathogens that only attack cancer cells; building new particles that attack cancer cells; or boosting the ability of the body’s natural immune system to attack cancer cells. By contrast these treatments look to stop the growth of tumors by focusing on inhibiting the biological processes that encourage that growth.

Tradewind Bioscience, which is launching today at Y Combinator’s winter demo day, is taking this approach.

While research on these new potential therapies is only now making its way into scientific journals (with most studies published within the past three months), Tradewind co-founders Dr. Thaddeus Allen and Dr. Ron Buckanovich have mostly kept their research under wraps after having studied different cancers for more than a decade.

Non-small cell lung cancer in a 54 year-old woman. Photo courtesy of Flickr/Oregon State University

Allen began his research roughly 14 years ago at the University of California, San Francisco under the tutelage of the Nobel Prize-winning cancer researcher Dr. J. Michael Bishop, where he was studying the way a certain protein, EGFL6, affected the growth of lung cancer cells.

Bishop’s lab was one home for novel cancer research, but UCSF wasn’t alone in breaking new ground on cancer research. Half a continent away, Buckanovich was doing his own studies on the role that the same protein played in the growth of ovarian cancer cells in his lab at the University of Michigan .

“He had filed a patent through the University of Michigan,” Allen says of how he first came across Buckanovich’s research. “I found him on Google patents and I found the patent first. I contacted the tech transfer office and they put me in touch with [him]. Probably the best thing I’ve done in the course of this adventure was to form that relationship with Ron and the University of Michigan.”

Buckanovich published his research on the link between ovarian cancer and the EGFL6 protein in 2016, and it was the jolt that Allen needed to reach out and begin work on Tradewind in earnest.

“I thought long and hard about how we proceed,” Allen says. “This protein is incredibly important in how cancers survive and spread around the body. I had that idea four years ago… and it took me that time to get the courage to say okay let’s get this together.”

In the interim, Allen had been quietly amassing a body of research of his own on how the protein may affect lung cancer cells. “I wanted to keep things secret until things had progressed to a certain point. A point of inevitability,” he says. “I really want to be the one to make this work.”

Serous carcinoma. Photo courtesy of Flickr/Ed Uthman

That Tradewind’s therapy is potentially able to treat two very different kinds of cancer is remarkable because cancer is considered to be a very unique disease. It’s a parasite that’s specific to the genetic makeup of its host. In fact, the specificity of cancer to an individual is what makes the disease so difficult for the body to fight.

“We’re taking on the possibility that they’ve really hit on something that — as opposed to going after some downstream things — are in the physiology of these cancers,” says Diego Rey, Y Combinator’s visiting partner focused on healthcare and biotech startups. “When you go downstream in these [treatment] processes it’s a little bit like whack a mole,” says Rey. 

Rather than attack the cancer, Tradewind’s therapy tries to attack the root of the disease. How it grows and spreads through the body.

“We’ve been able to tease out [some] main things that [the protein] does,” says Allen. “It regulates cancer stem cels… the ones that allows the cancer to grow… And it plays a really prominent role in the survival of cells.”

In primary tumors — the initial cancerous mutations — Allen and Buckanovich discovered that the protein they identified plays a major role in controlling stem cells which allow the tumor to grow. That same protein is important in keeping cancers alive as they spread through the body.

“The secreted protein feeds back on the cells and allows them to live as they exit the tumor and find new homes in different tissues,” says Allen. “What the antibody can do… it can bind to the secreted protein and now the protein can not feed back on the cancer cell and bind to the receptors that it’s supposed to bind to. So now it can’t provide that survival signal to the cancer cell.”

The expression of this protein in a patient can also be a useful indicator of the potential to develop cancer. “If you have lots of this protein it’s very likely that you will succumb to a cancer,” says Allen. “[And] it’s really the highly metastatic cancers. These are the deadliest. These are the ones that will spread around the body to different tissues.”

For Allen and Buckanovich, the development of their therapy means that patients could one day get an intravenous infusion of antibodies that would inhibit the production of the protein they identified, rather than getting a bolus of incredibly toxic chemotherapy or undergoing radiotherapies.

“That is actually what Y Combinator has urged us to refocus on,” Allen said. “We’ve been so busy trying to convince people that the target is fantastic.”

Once out of Y Combinator Allen predicts that his new company will need between $7 million and $10 million to get to a first stage of clinical trials within the next three years.

Both he and Buckanovich think that the treatment could be effective beyond their fields of expertise in lung cancer and ovarian cancer.

“Tumors use EGFL6 to tell the cancer cells to migrate and then divide. You’re telling the cancer cells to metastasize,” says Buckanovich. “[But] we have also shown that it helps cancer cells to initiate.”

Buckanovich says that’s the key to what he and Allen are trying to do. “The protein is made not only by the tumor cells but it is made by the host,” he says. “Think of it like soil. If cancer is the seed… if we can prevent there from being a fertile soil for any of these seeds to grow. It may be more applicable than just the subset of cancers that make this protein… In an ideal world this drug would be preventative. We might be able to treat [cancer] with a benign course of antibodies.”

Toyota pauses automated driving testing on U.S. roads following Uber accident

Automaker Toyota has temporarily ceases its public road testing of its fully autonomous ‘Chauffeur’ system in the U.S. after an accident earlier this week saw an Uber self-driving test vehicle strike a pedestrian, which ultimately resulted in her death.

Police have stated that initial findings suggest the accident would’ve been extremely difficult to avoid regardless of whether a human or an AV system was in control at the time, because of how quickly the victim crossed in front of the moving vehicle (outside of a crosswalk), but Toyota has indicated to Bloomberg that it’s stopping testing for now due to the potential “emotional effect on [its] test drivers.”

Toyota spokesperson Brian Lyons noted that the automaker couldn’t speculate on the cause of the crash or its implications for the future of the self-driving industry, which is a fairly standard line I’ve heard across automakers and others involved in the industry thus far, and which suggests a fair reluctance to make any lasting material decisions before all information is available regarding the Uber incident.

Toyota has been working on both its ‘Chauffeur’ fully automated driving system, as well as ‘Guardian,’ an advanced-driver assist system that is designed to institute fail-safes for intervening to prevent accidents when a human driver’s behavior puts themselves or others in danger.

Japan’s government is providing nearly $1B to boost homegrown space startups

Japan wants to formally encourage domestic startups to pursue the growing opportunities in commercial space. The Japanese government has earmarked around $1 billion in public funds to startups working on space solutions. At the same time, the government revealed that it’s working on a legal path towards establishing commercial development on the moon.

This is a big injection in the private space race, and the funds will be allocated both as investments and as loans, spanning five years and beginning during this fiscal year. The goal is to boost the Japanese space business, hoping to help amplify its growth and propel it to a 2.4 trillion yen ($22.5 billion) market by the beginning of the 2030s, per the Nikkei.

Startups that qualify will be able to receive aid of up to 10 million yen per company, or around $100,000 U.S., for things like research costs and the price of applying for patents.

Japanese space startup ispace applauded the move in a statement provided to TechCrunch.

“Not only will this move improve the competitiveness of the Japanese private space sector, but it will have positive implications for the sector globally. We believe this will be remembered as a turning point for our burgeoning industry,” wrote ispace founder and CEO Takeshi Hakamada. “Further, investments in the space industry ultimately benefit society on Earth through the vast number of innovations that develop as a result.”

Ford’s new SmartLink connected upgrade for older vehicles will be available mid-2018

Ford is finally detailing availability of its FordPass SmartLink accessory, an OBD II plug-in device with Verizon 4G LTE on board which can add connected car features to model year 2010 to 2017 Ford vehicles that don’t already have native connectivity built in.

The FordPass accessory will be available across the U.S. sometime in the middle of this year, with dealer enrolment now open. Dealers will provide the device to end users, providing installation for the add-on hardware, which will then cost users $16.99 per month for 24 months to get telematics services including remote key fob (via smartphone), car location and vehicle health alerts. The Verizon 4G LTE hotspot feature is an additional cost, but users will get a free trial for 30 days or until they reach 1GB of data usage.

This is a way for Ford to build up its data business even on existing vehicles out in the market, even while it also aims to have 100 percent of its new car lineup shipping with connectivity built-in by next year. Data is the new oil, so to speak, when it comes to the automaker value chain, and having as many customers as possible feeding that funnel is the best way for car companies and anyone in transportation to prepare for the future.

On the consumer side, the value proposition is a bit more questionable. Owners of older vehicles are probably less likely to value connected features, and the ones that are included with the base $17 per month subscription fee over the course of two years (so $408 in total) include nice-to-have, but definitely not essential benefits. The Wi-Fi hotspot is the real carrot, but it’s an additional cost in monthly data service over and above the base fee.

 

SearchInk rebrands as omni:us, aims its hand-writing reading AI at insurance industry

Back in 2016 a startup called SearchInk, launched out of Berlin with the aim of combining machine learning with handwriting recognition. The upshot would be the ability to semantically label handwritten documents. Pretty nifty. It went on to raise €4.2 million in seed funding, but after developing this AI to read hard-written documents, it went in search of a market and business model. Not an easy thing to do. After all, what industry needs hand-written documents read at scale, when so many documents today are born digital in the first place? It turns out there was one after-all: the insurance industry.

In that sector, claims forms, emails and invoices are currently processed manually. But CEO and co-founder Sofie Quidenus-Wahlforss realised that her company’s technology could significantly reduce the time and cost spent on administrative tasks, as well as the risk of human error.

So today, SearchInk rebrands as omni:us, a next generation AI service with two main products aimed squarely at the insurance industry: omni:us Claim and omni:us Policy. The idea is to be able to process digital documents, some of which contain handwriting, by classifying them and extracting the valuable data.

Omni:us is launching these products first in the DACH region, and claims to be working with over half of the top 10 insurance providers. It also says it can deploy its claims management and policy extraction products into an organisation within a matter of weeks. It’s now raise a total of $6.5 million from individual angels and VC, including Anthemis.

Quidenus-Wahlforss said: “Industry predictions show that insurance data will grow by 94% in 2018, 84% of which will be in highly variable documentation. However, in the future, there is also huge potential to apply omni:us technology to many other diverse industries such as finance, manufacturing, transportation and healthcare.”

She added that “We see customers improving their claims turn around time by 80% and all of that at 75% of the original costs. Why is this the case? Fundamentally, because with omni:us manual interventions can be reduced to a minimum, due to the supervised machine learning approach. One of our clients could speed up the comparison by an average 90% at only 80% of the costs.”

Furthermore, the AI could analyze policies with an annual value of only 250 Euro, which normally be a waste of a human being’s time and effort.

Omni:us is now in the process of raising a further funding round this year, opening an office in the US and growing its team.

Regulators in the UK are also calling for more hearings into Facebook and Cambridge Analytica

As more details emerge about Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook data in the U.S. presidential election, members of Parliament in the UK are joining congressional leadership in the U.S. to call for a deeper investigation and potential regulatory action.

The Chair of parliamentary committee investigating “fake news”, the conservative MP Damian Collins, accused both Cambridge Analytica and Facebook of misleading his committee’s investigation in a statement early Sunday morning indicating that both companies would be called in for more questioning.

Alexander Nix denied to the Committee last month that his company had received any data from the Global Science Research company (GSR). From the evidence that has been published by The Guardian and The Observer this weekend, it seems clear that he has deliberately mislead the Committee and Parliament by giving false statements,” Collins wrote in a statement to the press. “We will be contacting Alexander Nix next week asking him to explain his comments, and answer further questions relating to the links between GSR and Cambridge Analytica, and its associate companies.”

On Friday, Facebook announced that it had suspended the account of Cambridge Analytica for violating the social media company’s terms and conditions by obtaining user data from a third party source without users’ permissions.

The announcement, made late Friday night, was designed to preempt reports published by The New York Times and The Guardian that would have exposed the fact that Cambridge Analytica had obtained information on 50 million Facebook users — and that Facebook had known about the improper availability of that user data for two years.

The use or abuse of that data by Cambridge Analytica in work that it had done with Donald Trump’s campaign for President in 2016 and potentially for other businesses in the run up to the election is at the heart of Donal

Before basically verifying the accuracy of the story, Facebook had threatened both The Times and The Guardian with legal action to try and kill it.

The company’s response to the reports aren’t impressing anyone — and could land more than just its chief counsel in the hot seat.

Facebook Chief Legal Officer Colin Stretch

“We have repeatedly asked Facebook about how companies acquire and hold on to user data from their site, and in particular whether data had been taken from people without their consent. Their answers have consistently understated this risk, and have also been misleading to the Committee,” Collins wrote.

He went on to accuse Facebook of “deliberately answering straight questions from the committee” and failing to supply the Committee with evidence relating to “the relationship between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.” Evidence that had been promised when members of Parliament went to Washington to quiz Facebook about its role in various political campaigns in the UK.

“I will be writing to Mark Zuckerberg asking that either he, or another senior executive from the company, appear to give evidence in front of the Committee as part our inquiry. It is not acceptable that they have previously sent witnesses who seek to avoid asking difficult questions by claiming not to know the answers. This also creates a false reassurance that Facebook’s stated policies are always robust and effectively policed,” Collins wrote.

“We need to hear from people who can speak about Facebook from a position of authority that requires them to know the truth. The reputation of this company is being damaged by stealth, because of their constant failure to respond with clarity and authority to the questions of genuine public interest that are being directed to them. Someone has to take responsibility for this. It’s time for Mark Zuckerberg to stop hiding behind his Facebook page.”

Here are the top states and cities for startups in the South

The American South may not be the first region that comes to mind when you hear the phrase “hotbed of tech entrepreneurship,” but, slightly misguided perceptions aside, it’s home to a diverse and growing collection of startups.

Here, we’re going to take a deep dive into the startup funding data for the region.

What is “the South?”

Just like it’s a common pastime for many city dwellers to argue about the precise boundaries of neighborhoods, there’s often some disagreement about the exact contours of the U.S.’s various regions. To quash rabble-rousing from the get-go, we’re using the U.S. Census Bureau’s definition of “the South” on its official map of the United States. Below, we display a map of the states we’re going to look at today.

Much like barbecue, the South is not a monolithic concept. So to incorporate some regional flavor into the following analysis, we’re also going to use the same regional divisions that the U.S. Census Bureau uses.

By doing this, we’ll be able to get a better idea of the relative contribution states from each sub-region make to startup activity in the South overall.

The ebb and flow of deal and dollar volume

As is the case with most of the country, the South appears to be experiencing a shift in startup funding as we move toward the latter half of a bull run in entrepreneurial activity. The chart below shows a divergence in overall deal and dollar volume over time.

Much like in the rest of the U.S., reported deal and dollar volume are heading in different directions. Part of this may be due to reporting delays — it can sometimes take a few years for seed and early-stage rounds to get added to databases like Crunchbase’s . Nonetheless, there is a slow and generally upward creep in round sizes at most stages of funding. And that’s not just a Southern thing; it’s a country-wide trend.

Let’s disaggregate these figures a bit. We’ll start with deal counts and move on to dollar volume from there.

A closer look at southern venture deal and dollar volume

In the chart below, you’ll see venture deal volume broken out by sub-region.

Over the past several years, reported venture deal volume has been on the downswing. From a local maximum in 2014 through the end of 2017, it’s down almost 35 percent overall. But that’s not the whole picture. The relative share of deal volume has changed, as well.

Although it’s not immediately clear just by looking at the chart above, startups in the South Atlantic sub-region have accounted for an increasingly large share of the funding rounds. For example, in 2012, South Atlantic startups attracted 54 percent of the deal volume. In 2017, that grows to 64 percent. Startups in the West South Central sub-region have pretty consistently pulled in between 28 and 30 percent of the deals, so where’s the loss coming from? Startups headquartered in Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama pulled in just 8 percent of deals in 2017, compared to 18 percent in 2012.

It’s a similar story with dollar volume.

In general, dollar volume follows the same pattern, albeit with a bit more variability. Regardless, startups in the South Atlantic sub-region are hoovering up an ever-larger share of venture dollars, and there’s little to indicate that trend will reverse itself any time soon.

Where are the regional hotspots for deal-making in the south?

Let’s see which states accounted for most of the deal volume. The chart below shows the geographic distribution of deal-making activity by startups in each Southern state from the beginning of 2017 through time of writing. It should come as no surprise that much of the activity is concentrated in states with higher populations.

And here’s the distribution of dollar volume among southern states.

Despite some variation in which states are at the top of the ranks, the share of deal and dollar volume raised by startups in the top three states is remarkably similar, coming in at between 52 and 53 percent for both metrics.

The top startup cities in the south

We started by looking at the South as a whole and then drilled into its sub regions and states. But there’s one layer deeper we can go here, and that’s to rank the top startup cities in the South.

In the interest of keeping our rankings fresh and timely, we’re covering activity from the past 15 months or so, from the start of 2017 through mid-March 2018. But before highlighting some of the more notable hubs, let’s take a look at the numbers.

In the chart below, you’ll find the top 10 metropolitan areas where Southern startups closed the most funding rounds.

The chart below shows reported dollar volume over the same period of time.

Much like we saw at the state level, the top five startup cities — ranked by both deal and dollar volume — are the same, although there’s some variation between where each one ranks. In order, the D.C., Austin and Atlanta metro areas rank in the top three for each metric, while Dallas and Raleigh, NC switch off between fourth and fifth place.

Startups capitalize on the nation’s capital

To be frank, Washington, D.C.’s top-shelf ranking was a bit of a surprise. It may be the fact that Austin, TX plays host to South By Southwest, a somewhat more relaxed culture and/or a preponderance of excellent breakfast taco and barbecue joints, but to many — ourselves included — the city feels like it would have a more active startup scene than the nation’s capital. But that’s not exactly the case. The D.C. metro area had more venture deal and dollar volume than Austin for seven out of the last 10 years, and startups based in the nation’s capital have raised more than twice as much money so far in 2018.

D.C.-area startups have recently raised some notable rounds. Just a couple of weeks prior to the time of writing, Viela Bio raised $250 million in a Series A round (in late February 2018) to continue funding research and testing of its treatments for severe inflammation and autoimmune diseases. And on the later-stage end of things, education technology company Everfi raised $190 million in a Series D round that had participation from Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, former Alphabet executive Eric Schmidt and Medium CEO Ev Williams. Other D.C. companies, including Mapbox, Upside.com, Afiniti and ThreatQuotient, have all raised late-stage rounds within the past 15 months.

Startup ecosystems in Southern cities may pale in comparison to places like New York and San Francisco, but it wouldn’t be wise to discount the region entirely. A large number of interesting companies call the lower half of the Lower 48 home, and as the cost of living continues to rise on the east and west coasts, don’t be surprised if many current and would-be founders opt to stay down home in the South.

Late-blooming startups can still thrive

It seems like startup news is full of overnight success stories and sudden failures, like the scooter rental company that went from zero to a $300 million valuation in months or the blood-testing unicorn that went from billions to nearly naught.

But what about those other companies that mature more gradually? Is there such a thing as slow and successful in startup-land?

To contemplate that question, Crunchbase News set out to assemble a data set of top late-blooming startups. We looked at companies that were founded in or before 2010 that raised large amounts of capital after 2015, and we also looked at companies founded a least five years ago that raised large early-stage funds in the last year. (For more details on the rules we used to select the companies, check “Data Methods” at the end of the post.)

The exercise was a counterpoint to a data set we did a couple of weeks ago, looking at characteristics of the fastest growing startups by capital raised. For that list, we found plenty of similarities between members, including a preponderance of companies in a few hot sectors, many famous founders and a lot of cancer drug developers.

For the late bloomers, however, patterns were harder to pinpoint. The breakdown wasn’t too different from venture-backed companies overall. Slower-growing companies could come from major venture hubs as well as cities with smaller startup ecosystems. They could be in biotech, medical devices, mobile gaming or even meditation.

What we did find, however, was an interesting and inspiring collection of stories for those of us who’ve been toiling away at something for a long time, with hopes still of striking it big.

Pivots and patience

Even youthful startups have been known to make a major pivot or two. So it’s not surprising to see a lot of pivots among late bloomers that have had more time to tinker with their business models.

One that fits this mold is Headspace, provider of a popular meditation app. The company, founded in 2010 by a British-born Buddhist monk with a degree in circus arts, started as a meditation-focused events startup. But it turned out people wanted to build on their learning on their own time, so Headspace put together some online lessons. Today, Santa Monica-based Headspace has millions of users and has raised $75 million in venture funding.

For late bloomers, the pivot can mean going from a model with limited scalability to one that can attract a much wider audience. That’s the case with Headspace, which would have been limited in its events business to those who could physically show up. Its online model, with instant, global reach, turns the business into something venture investors can line up behind.

Sometimes your sector becomes hip

They say if you wait long enough, everything comes back in style. That mantra usually works as an excuse for hoarding ’80s clothes in the attic. But it also can apply to entrepreneurial companies, which may have launched years before their industry evolved into something venture investors were competing to back.

Take Vacasa, the vacation rental management provider. The company has been around since 2009, but it began raising VC just a couple of years ago amid a broad expansion of its staff and property portfolio. The Portland-based company has raised more than $140 million to date, all of it after 2016, and most in a $103 million October round led by technology growth investor Riverwood Capital.

CloudCraze, which was acquired by Salesforce earlier this week, also took a long time to take venture funding. The Chicago-based provider of business-to-business e-commerce software launched in 2009, but closed its first VC round in 2015, according to Crunchbase records. Prior to the acquisition, the company raised about $30 million, with most of that coming in just a year ago.

Meanwhile, some late bloomers have always been fashionable, just not necessarily as VC-funded companies. Untuckit, a clothing retailer that specializes in button-down shirts that look good untucked, had been building up its business since 2011, but closed its first venture round, a Series A led by VC firm Kleiner Perkins, last June.

Slow-growing venture-backed startups are still not that common

So yes, there is still capital available for those who wait. However, the truth of the matter is most companies that raise substantial sums of venture capital secure their initial seed rounds within a couple years of founding. Companies that chug along for five-plus years without a round and then scale up are comparatively rare.

That said, our data set, which looks at venture and seed funding, does not come close to capturing the full ecosystem of slow-growing startups. For one, many successful bootstrapped companies could raise venture funding but choose not to. And those who do eventually decide to take investment may look at other sources, like private equity, bank financing or even an IPO.

Additionally, the landscape is full of slow-growing startups that do make it, just not in a venture home run exit kind of way. Many stay local, thriving in the places they know best.

On the flip side, companies that wait a long time to take VC funding have also produced some really big exits.

Take Atlassian, the provider of workplace collaboration tools. Founded in 2002, the Australian company waited eight years to take its first VC financing, despite plentiful offers. It went public two years ago, and currently has a market valuation of nearly $14 billion.

The moral: Those who take it slow can still finish ahead.

Data methods

We primarily looked at companies founded in 2010 or earlier in the U.S. and Canada that raised a seed, Series A or Series B round sometime after the beginning of last year, and included some that first raised rounds in 2015 or later and went on to substantial fundraises. We also looked at companies founded in 2012 or earlier that raised a seed or Series A round after the beginning of last year and have raised $30 million or more to date. The list was culled further from there.

Facebook suspends Cambridge Analytica, the data analysis firm that worked for the Trump campaign

Facebook announced late Friday that it had suspended the account of Strategic Communication Laboratories, and its political data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica — which used Facebook data to target voters for President Donald Trump’s campaign in the 2016 election.

In a statement released by Paul Grewal, the company’s vice president and deputy general counsel, Facebook explained that the suspension was the result of a violation of its platform policies.

Cambridge Analytica apparently obtained Facebook user information without approval from the social network through work the company did with a University of Cambridge psychology professor named Dr. Aleksandr Kogan. Kogan developed an “thisisyourdigitallife” that purported to offer a personality prediction that would be “a research app used by psychologists”.

Apparently around 270,000 people downloaded the app and gave Kogan access to both geographic information, content they had liked, and limited information about users’ friends.

That information was then passed on to Cambridge Analytica and Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies.

Facebook said it first identified the violation in 2015 and took action — apparently without informing users of the violation. The company demanded that Kogan, Cambridge Analytica and Wylie certify that they had destroyed the information.

Over the past few days, Facebook said it received reports (from sources it would not identify) that not all of the data Cambridge Analytica, Kogan, and Wylie collected had been deleted. While Facebook investigates the matter further, the company said it had taken the step to suspend the Cambridge Analytica account.

The UK-based Cambridge Analytica played a pivotal role in the U.S. presidential election, according to its own chief executive’s admission in an interview with TechCrunch late last year.

In the interview, Cambridge Analytica’s chief executive Alexander Nix said that his company had detailed hundreds of thousands of psychographic profiles of Americans throughout 2014 and 2015 (the time when the company was working with Sen. Ted Cruz on his campaign).

…We used psychographics all through the 2014 midterms. We used psychographics all through the Cruz and Carson primaries. But when we got to Trump’s campaign in June 2016, whenever it was, there it was there was five and a half months till the elections. We just didn’t have the time to rollout that survey. I mean, Christ, we had to build all the IT, all the infrastructure. There was nothing. There was 30 people on his campaign. Thirty. Even Walker it had 160 (it’s probably why he went bust). And he was the first to crash out. So as I’ve said to other of your [journalist] colleagues, clearly there’s psychographic data that’s baked-in to legacy models that we built before, because we’re not reinventing the wheel. [We’ve been] using models that are based on models, that are based on models, and we’ve been building these models for nearly four years. And all of those models had psychographics in them. But did we go out and rollout a long form quantitive psychographics survey specifically for Trump supporters? No. We just didn’t have time. We just couldn’t do that.

It’s likely that some of that psychographic data came from information culled by Kogan. The tools that Cambridge Analytica deployed have been at the heart of recent criticism of Facebook’s approach to handling advertising and promoted posts on the social media platform.

Nix, from Cambridge Analytica, acknowledged that advertising was ahead of most political messaging and that the tools used for creating campaigns could be effective in the political arena as well.

There’s no question that the marketing and advertising world is ahead of the political marketing the political communications world. And there are some things that I would definitely [say] I’m very proud of that we’re doing which are innovative. And there are some things which is best practice digital advertising, best practice communications which we’re taking from the commercial world and are bringing into politics.

Advertising agencies are using some of these techniques on a national scale. For us it’s been very refreshing, really breaking into the commercial and brand space… walking into a campaign where you’re basically trying to educate the market on stuff they simply don’t understand. You walk into a sophisticated brand or into an advertising agency, and the conversation [is sophisticated] You go straight down to: “Ah, so you’re doing a programmatic campaign, you can augment that with some linear optimized data… they understand it.” They know it’s their world, and now it comes down to the nuances. “So what exactly are you doing that’s going to be a bit more effective and give us an extra 3 percent or 4 percent there.” It’s a delight. You know these are professionals who really get this world and that’s where we want to be operating.

 

 

Abra adds twenty cryptocurrencies to its wallet app

Abra, a global currency wallet that was the belle of the early Bitcoin ball, has just added twenty cryptocurrencies and fifty fiat currencies, a feature that allows you to top up and send cash and cryptocurrencies from inside the wallet.

“Bitcoin, Ether, Litecoin, Ripple, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum Classic, Dash, Zcash, Bitcoin Gold, Stellar Lumens, DigiByte, Dogecoin, Golem, OmiseGO, Qtum, Augur, Status, Stratis, Vertcoin and 0x are the initial 20 cryptocurrencies,” the company wrote.

“Abra developed a first-of-its kind smart contract investing platform that uses bitcoin technology to allow users to hold exposure to cryptocurrencies and fiat currencies on a smartphone much the same way Fidelity allows you to buy an ETF in the old world,” said founder Bill Barhydt. “With this model, we can enable exposure to any asset – Abra has only started with crypto and fiat.”

The system allows you to convert between currencies with “no transaction fees, at any time with no limitations.” It seems to work similarly to Shapeshift, another solution that allows nearly instant conversions between currencies.

There are also a few tricks up Abra’s sleeve including the clever use of smart contracts to reduce the volatility associated with currency trades. They write:

Consumers can add money to their wallets using a bank account, an American Express credit card in the United States or using bitcoin purchased outside Abra from anywhere in the world. They can then invest in any of the 20 cryptocurrencies offered on the Abra app, quickly, easily and safely. To develop the new wallet and integrated exchange, Abra built a first-of-its-kind platform using price-stabilized crypto tokens, called stablecoins, that facilitates holding both fiat coins as well as cryptocurrencies through a combination of litecoin and bitcoin based smart contracts. This unique multi-sig smart contract based investment platform uses Pay To Script Hash scripts on the litecoin and bitcoin blockchains that simulate investment contracts the way a gold ETF is a contract based on USD. Abra acts as the counter-party (i.e. the other signatory) to the P2SH scripts, enabling the company to now run a market making operation that hedges away its counter-party risk on these scripts.

In short, Abra is trying mightily to ensure that buys and sells won’t drastically change due to volatility.

Abra has raised $40 million in funding to date following its Series B round at $16 million in October 2017. Investors include Foxconn Technology Group, Silver8 Capital, Ignia, Arbor Ventures, American Express Ventures, Jungle Ventures, Lerer Hippeau, and RRE Ventures.

“In addition to the 50 fiat currencies, Abra previously supported Bitcoin and Etherium, but found that their users wanted the ability to invest in alternate cryptocurrencies in an easy and quick manner – without the hassle of multiple transactions and fees,” said Barhydt.