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Pine Brook is a New York-based private equity firm that makes equity investments in new and growing energy and financial services businesses. Pine Brook partners with experienced entrepreneurs and talented management teams to build sustainable, profitable businesses.

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Amazon might start competing with Instacart on grocery delivery

Dec 14, 2021

Ashley Kosak, a former engineer at SpaceX's facility in Florida, published an essay today claiming that SpaceX ignored multiple alleged incidences of sexual harassment and that Elon Musk fosters a culture of misogyny and abuse at the company. The former mission integration engineer, now an engineer at Apple, wrote in the essay that she was harassed repeatedly by her male coworkers, including coworkers who groped her, came to her house, and messaged her on her Instagram account to ask her out. Kosak said that she reported each incident to human resources and was told that a company training would be held, rather than anyone having conversations with the accused perpetrators. Musk "bears a remarkable similarity to the behavior of a sadistic and abusive man," Kosak wrote, claiming that his constant shifting of goalposts, failure to hold himself accountable, and threatening messages created a misogynistic, distrustful culture. "Elon uses engineers as a resource to be mined rather than a team to be led," she said. Her allegations of misogyny, distrust, and cultural chaos at SpaceX parallel some of those made about SpaceX competitor Blue Origin's culture by many former employees, as well as widespread allegations about sexism and racism at Musk's Tesla. Workers at all three of these companies, as well as other private space engineering ventures, have spoken to Protocol about an industry-wide failing to address sexism and racism in the workplace, exacerbated by CEO leadership focused entirely on getting products built as quickly as possible. After Kosak became increasingly frustrated with the process of filing complaints with human resources and being ignored, she submitted a complaint to a supposedly anonymous ethics and compliance tipline that failed to protect her identity. She then met with Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell and Head of Human Resources Brian Bjelde, who claimed they had never heard of her harassment allegations and asked her to submit solutions to them directly, according to the essay. Kosak resigned from the company in 2021, after her psychiatrist recommended she take medical leave. SpaceX did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Keep ReadingShow less A majority of 70 workers at vigilante crime-reporting app Citizen have voted to form a union with the Communication Workers of America in an official election, becoming the latest in a string of tech companies to unionize in 2021. The union organizers successfully won their election Monday and will next engage in negotiating a union contract through collective bargaining if the National Labor Relations Board certifies the election results, according to a CWA spokesperson. The successful election follows a year of organizing that was spurred in part by employee anger after Citizen CEO Andrew Frame personally pushed for a bounty to find someone allegedly responsible for a setting a wildfire in California, according to a Motherboard report. When Citizen workers first filed a petition to unionize in September, the company's leadership called the union "meddling." Citizen did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Keep ReadingShow less Historically, Adobe's software was made for the pros. Applications like Photoshop, Illustrator and Premiere Pro all require a paid Creative Cloud subscription and a certain level of expertise. But with Monday's launch of Creative Cloud Express, Adobe is targeting anyone who might find graphic design useful: small businesses, students and social media influencers. Creative Cloud Express is a free app allowing users to more easily create graphics, edit photos, trim videos and perform other basic design edits. It comes with Adobe templates, fonts and stock images. People can drag and drop different design components, and use AI shortcuts to remove photo backgrounds or turn videos into GIFs. “With Creative Cloud and Creative Cloud Express, we are meeting the demands of all creators and catalyzing the creator economy,” said David Wadhwani, chief business officer and executive vice president of Digital Media at Adobe. This is Adobe's answer to template-builder Canva . Canva's always been explicit about going after non-professional designers, and has seen tremendous success: It's worth $40 billion as of September. It has recently introduced new products in order to attract the enterprise, where it can earn paid users. Adobe's situated firmly in the enterprise with its expensive product suite (and sometimes, a hefty cancellation fee ). But with tools like Canva and more powerful edit capabilities in apps like TikTok, there's a huge demand for easily-accessible editing software. Adobe is a staple in the creative industry, which not only includes professional designers or filmmakers, but also the 86% of young Americans who want to become influencers. Every platform is creator-focused, even document apps like Coda . "From side hustles on Etsy/Patreon, artists painting and minting, millions of small businesses founded during the pandemic, to every student and office worker looking to stand out with their creativity rather than their productivity, the future is in the hands of creators," Adobe Chief Product Officer Scott Belsky tweeted. New product today crossing the starting line to help bring creativity to all, but first some perspective:\n\nCreativity is more central than ever. The future of most industries - not just creative/marketing industries - depends on the ideas and collabs of creative minds. — scott belsky (@scott belsky) 1639413361 "Creativity can't be hard," as Belsky tweets. Adobe wants to be embraced by the design amateurs everywhere. Keep ReadingShow less This story contains mention of sexual assault. The Alibaba employee who accused her manager of raping her on a business trip in August told the Chinese newspaper Dahe Daily last Friday that she had been fired by the Chinese ecommerce giant in November. In the dismissal notice that the woman, surnamed Zhou, received on Nov. 25 and shared with Dahe Daily, Alibaba said her spreading of “false information” about being raped by a supervisor and her claim the company did not promptly handle her case brought “bad influence” to the company. Alibaba said Zhou’s behavior had violated company rules. Zhou’s rape allegation against her then-boss, Wang Chengwen, made international headlines back in the summer and sparked a major backlash against Alibaba. In a detailed account of her experience first posted on Alibaba’s internal BBS, the accuser wrote that she had attempted to communicate with company management and HR about her grievance and requests, to no avail. After these allegations spread to the wider internet and caused a public uproar, Alibaba chairman Daniel Zhang came out to promise workers that the company would establish an anti-sexual harassment policy with "zero tolerance for sexual misconduct." Within days, Alibaba announced progress in instituting measures to prevent workplace sexual misconduct, including drafting an internal Sexual Harassment Prevention Code of Conduct. If you or a loved one needs help: Call RAINN's sexual assault hotline at 1-800-656-4673, 24 hours a day. Keep ReadingShow less Beijing has granted the first batch of nonprofit online tutoring licenses to five ed-tech companies, nearly five months after it handed down sweeping rules to regulate the private tutoring market. China’s national database of registered nonprofit organizations shows that the five online learning companies registered their after-school tutoring services targeting students below 10th grade as nonprofit organizations on Dec. 3, 2021. These five organizations are business units that belong to ed tech unicorns Zuoyebang and Yuanfudao, NYSE-listed TAL Education Group, Youdao Inc. (a subsidiary of NetEase) and New Oriental Education & Technology Group. They are supervised by the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education. The ed-tech companies can run their other businesses on a for-profit basis. On Monday, China’s Ministry of Education announced on its website that local education authorities are in the process of evaluating more nonprofit online tutoring licenses. Before they finish, the MOE has ordered subject-based online learning apps removed from app stores. Once the companies obtain licenses to offer online tutoring courses to primary school and junior-high school students, they can submit applications to their respective provincial education authorities for their apps to be back in service. Keep ReadingShow less Twitch co-founder Justin Kan is getting back into gaming with the announcement of Fractal, a marketplace for gaming-related non-fungible tokens. Kan and his three co-founders want Fractal to be a destination for the launch of new NFT collections, as well as a place for prospective sellers to find interested buyers. Many of the fastest-growing tech startups today are companies facilitating the buying and selling of NFTs like OpenSea, home to popular projects like the Bored Ape Yacht Club and Chain Runners, and Dapper Labs, the creator of the official NBA Top Shot marketplace. Yet those sites and many others are geared toward mainstream art and entertainment, Kan told Protocol in an interview last week, whereas he and his co-founders want Fractal to become associated with gaming as the industry slowly but surely adapts to new blockchain technologies. "Everybody in gaming that I know, if they weren't working on an NFT game already, are thinking about how they'd do it or are pivoting hard to it right now," Kan said. "I think there's a component of the NFT market that is very speculative. But I'm really interested in the programmable experience that people are going to be able to have in the metaverse and how we can support that." That's why Kan is excited about gaming NFTs in particular — because of the utility that can have as in-game items or collectibles instead of just as an asset with ever-shifting monetary value, as well as the prospect of forming partnerships and creating tools that allow NFTs created for one game to be used in another. Kan and his team are pitching Fractal not just as a buying and selling marketplace, but also as a kind of blockchain infrastructure company. Kan said they want to help facilitate the lending and scholarship model, as popularized by games like Axie Infinity, to make blockchain gaming more accessible. "It feels like in 2007 and 2008 when we were starting Justin.tv," Kan said of his live-broadcasting startup, which later became Twitch. "It feels like that with Web3 ... How do we people interact with these ideas of value on the internet?" As for the skeptics eyeing NFTs and blockchain gaming as just one big grift to siphon more money away from unsuspecting customers, Kan said it's going to take some for the public to accept new digital norms, just as it did in the days of early massively multiplayer online games like Ultimate Online and World of Warcraft that first established ideas around digital goods and currency that had real-world value. "Well before Twitch was even an idea, when I was still in high school, I sunk a full-time job's worth of time into Ultima Online," Kan said. "That idea is an old idea — value around virtual stuff — but people were incredulous that the stuff could be wroth anything." That's still the case, with massive backlash last week to Ubisoft's launch of its first NFT collection within the game Ghost Recon Breakpoint. But Kan said he believes people will eventually come to accept that digital goods, when combined with ideas like virtual scarcity and the blockchain, are going to transform how we think about online life. "Like clothing in the real world, if you get a really awesome jacket. They made more than one of those and other people have them," he said. "But you have a story. It was in New York, in Brooklyn, and you saw it waking down the street. You buy it and then it's awesome and maybe you give it to a friend. It's an item with a whole story and it means something to you. Digital items are the same way and that's something that I didn't expect, but it's really cool." Keep ReadingShow less Six workers died inside an Amazon delivery facility in Edwardsville, Illinois after a tornado ripped through the building on Friday, according to a statement from Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker. The death toll was raised to six after search and rescue workers declared there were no more missing persons reports. The tornado reportedly formed in the parking lot of the facility and directly hit one of the two shelter areas where workers took cover after the tornado warning went off. Amazon calculated approximately 11 minutes passed between the first warning of the tornado and the direct hit on the facility. Amazon is the country's second-largest private employer and on track to surpass Walmart for the top spot in the next few years. Most of the workers at the Edwardsville facility are hired by contracting companies to work for Amazon, according to a New York Times report . The company was initially unable to confirm the total number of people inside the warehouse at the time the storm struck because of the various subcontracted jobs and people moving in and out of the warehouse for delivery, though Pritzker confirmed that 45 people escaped the facility alive. While Amazon has instituted a ban on cell phones in delivery areas in the past, that ban was lifted as a pandemic precaution and has not been reinstated in most facilities, including this one. Some workers across the country have said they feel especially strongly that the no-phones policy should never return, given the importance of communications during emergencies. Amazon CEO Andy Jassy and Jeff Bezos, now Amazon executive chairman, both shared their thoughts and prayers and said in statements on Twitter that Amazon is working with first responders. Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the governor's initials. This story was updated on Dec. 13, 2021. Keep ReadingShow less Security researchers and officials, including the director of cybersecurity at the National Security Agency, are sounding the alarm about a critical bug that could allow hackers to take remote control of targets' devices. The bug stems from a widely used logging tool called log4j, used in applications made by some of the largest technology companies in the world. The flaw was first detected in Minecraft, which is owned by Microsoft, but could also extend to companies including Apple, Twitter, and more, researchers say. “Log4j is a very popular logging package for Java. It is very powerful and flexible and, even from my own experience, is used in almost every Java application that I have ever encountered ... The exploit is actually unbelievably simple — which makes it very, very scary at the same time," Bojan Zdrnja, senior instructor at SANS Institute, told Vice. Logging tools record almost all activity that occurs when software is running, which allows developers to go back and fix the inevitable problems that crop up. This particular vulnerability could allow a remote attacker to craft specific messages that once logged, direct the computer to download code giving them complete control of the system. "The log4j vulnerability is a significant threat for exploitation due to the widespread inclusion in software frameworks, even NSA’s GHIDRA," NSA cybersecurity director Rob Joyce tweeted Friday, referring to an NSA open-source software project. Security company CloudFlare determined the log4j bug was "so bad" that CEO Matthew Prince said the company is rolling out protections to all CloudFlare users by default. "But, no matter what we are able to do, we will not be able to fully protect against all exploits of #Log4J because there are so many ways things can get logged," Prince tweeted Friday. "Critical to patch your Log4J systems. Correction: This story has been updated to correct the names of Bojan Zdrnja and Matthew Prince. This correction was made Dec. 10, 2021. This story has been updated to clarify how the vulnerability can be exploited. Keep ReadingShow less Carolyn Everson is stepping down as Instacart's president, just three months after she left Facebook for the role, according to CNBC. She's expected to leave at the end of the year. Among other divisions, Everson led the company's advertising unit, which Instacart said over the summer is one of its fastest-growing areas. It's not her only brief stint at a tech company; prior to joining Facebook, where she worked for over a decade, Everson spent eight months at Microsoft. Instacart CEO Fidji Simo said the decision was made by both Everson and the company. “We believe it’s the right decision for both the company and Carolyn based on our priorities and the role she was looking for at this point in her career," she told CNBC. For a while, Instacart was on a hiring spree , picking up dozens of people from companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook. Everson joined Instacart just a few weeks after Simo, another top Facebook exec, was named Instacart CEO. The company was heading toward an IPO, but Instacart said last month that it's pushing back plans to go public. It's unclear where Everson is heading. She wrote in a Facebook post that she'll take time off before moving to other work. Keep ReadingShow less At an all-hands meeting on Tuesday focused on Google's 2022 strategy, executives announced they won't be raising pay company-wide to match inflation. The topic came about after an employee submitted a question in the company's internal forum, Dory, which received more than 400 "upvotes": “With the U.S. inflation rates being as high has 7%, some companies are doing blanket salary adjustment to cover just the inflation. Is there any plans for Google to do the same thing?” CEO Sundar Pichai read the question out loud during the all-hands and then ceded the stage to Frank Wagner, the company's VP of Compensation. According to CNBC , which first reported the exchange and obtained audio of the meeting, Wagner said, “As I mentioned previously in other meetings, when we see price inflation increasing, we also see increases in the cost of labor or market pay rate. Those have been higher than in the recent past and our compensation budgets have reflected that.” In justifying the decision to not do any "across-the-board type adjustment," Wagner said the company prefers to adjust pay "by performance" rather than giving "smaller increments to everybody." Inflation jumped 6.2% in October, the biggest surge in more than 30 years and essentially wiping out wage increases for workers across the country. The Labor Department said in a report that real wages after inflation fell 0.5% from September to October. Meanwhile, Google's parent company Alphabet has seen a meteoric rise in advertising revenue this year: up 43% in the third quarter with its stock price up 68% year over year. Across the board, U.S.-based companies are setting aside record proportions of their payroll budget to raises in 2022. A November survey of 240 U.S.-based businesses (half of which employ more than 10,000 workers) from the Conference Board found a 3.9% jump in wage costs for firms in 2022, the highest rate since 2008. Businesses are setting aside more for raises and feeling the pressure to compete on retention and hiring in one of the hottest job markets in years. Keep ReadingShow less Facebook and Instagram users have complained for years that when they are locked out of their accounts, there is no phone number to call to get help fixing the problem. Now Meta is finally running a small test of a live-chat program to help users who can't access their accounts because they have been locked out for unusual activity or for potentially violating the community standards. The initial test will only be available to a limited number of English-speaking users, according to today's announcement. Meta is also releasing new content moderation tools for creators on their platforms, including more refined abilities to hide unwanted comments and block specific words or phrases and iterations of those words used to get around blockers. The company has also created a moderation assistant tool that will allow creators to set specific moderation rules in order to automate some of the process. Keep ReadingShow less WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will likely be extradited from the United Kingdom to the United States to face trial under the Espionage Act after losing an appeal to prevent his forced removal in a U.K. high court today. Today's ruling overturned a lower court judge's decision to prevent extradition on the basis that threats to Assange's mental health — and risk of death by suicide — would dramatically increase once he was forcibly returned to the United States. U.S. government officials earned the ruling by promising that Assange's mental health would be protected and that he would not be subject to solitary confinement or imprisoned at the ADX Florence supermax jail in Colorado. Assange was first officially charged under the Espionage Act in 2019 and then with a second superseding indictment in 2020, both charges that have drawn fierce criticism from free-speech advocates in the U.S. and human rights watch groups like Amnesty International. Though Assange published leaked material in 2010, the charges were not unsealed until 2019 because Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London from 2012 to 2019. After Assange was forced to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy after disputes with its government, U.K. authorities immediately arrested him on behalf of the United States. "Julian's life is once more under grave threat, and so is the right of journalists to publish material that governments and corporations find inconvenient. This is about the right of a free press to publish without being threatened by a bullying superpower," WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said in a statement. Keep ReadingShow less Vishal Garg, the head of Better.com who fired hundreds of employees over an online call last week, is "taking time off" from the company, according to an email by the company's board that was obtained by Vice. The company also tapped a third-party contractor to conduct a leadership and cultural assessment, according to the email. "We have much work to do and we hope that everyone can refocus on our customers and support each other to continue to build a great company and a company we can be proud of," the email wrote. It's unclear whether the decision to step back was made by Garg, or if the company's board made the call. Representatives from Better.com did not return requests for comment. Garg has faced backlash in the past week over his handling of the layoffs, which took place over a virtual town hall and informed 900 employees that they had lost their jobs. After three company executives quit and Better.com pushed its planned IPO, Garg apologized for his handling of the firings. The CEO's attitude has been an issue before. Garg reportedly called Better's top investor "sewage," a "miserable miser" and other names after he and other investors expressed concern over going public through a SPAC. Keep ReadingShow less Horizon Worlds, a multiplayer virtual reality hub, opened to adult users in the U.S. and Canada on Thursday. Meta's first metaverse app is two years in the making , operating in invite-only beta in 2020. Accessed through Oculus headsets and a Facebook account, Horizon Worlds is both a gaming and social platform. Meta, formerly Facebook, announced in July 2021 that it wanted to be a "metaverse company." Thus, the name change , the metaverse product group and the over-$10-billion in metaverse spending . Horizon Worlds is an early representation of its vision of becoming the builder of a 3D embodied internet where people can hang out or where they can work . It can host up to 20 people in one space, and lets users build the worlds and items they want. It's a place you can play laser tag, host movie nights or meditate. The central gathering place is called "the Plaza." The company plans to release more templates for guidance in the future. Horizon Worlds will have to closely monitor harassment and conduct violations . Behavior is often abhorrent on the internet, but VR particularly is ripe for violating behavior. According to The Verge , one early beta tester said, "Sexual harassment is no joke on the regular internet, but being in VR adds another layer that makes the event more intense. Not only was I groped last night, but there were other people there who supported this behavior which made me feel isolated in the Plaza.” Keep ReadingShow less The steady drumbeat of legislation forcing companies to audit algorithms they supply or use is getting stronger. The latest example comes from Washington, D.C., where Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and the district's Attorney General Karl Racine introduced a bill on Thursday aiming to protect people from discriminatory decisions made by algorithmic tech. D.C.’s Stop Discrimination by Algorithms Act of 2021 runs through a litany of potential requirements for entities using algorithmic systems to determine eligibility for employment or things like access to credit, housing or loans. “This act seeks to protect individuals and classes of individuals from the harm that results when algorithmic decision-making processes operate without transparency, rely on protected traits and other personal data that are correlated with those traits, or disproportionately limit access to and information about important life opportunities,” according to the legislation. If passed, the D.C. bill would prohibit use of algorithmic tech to determine eligibility based on someone’s race, color, religion, familial status, source of income or other information in a way that discriminates against them “or otherwise makes important life opportunities unavailable to an individual or class of individuals.” It also would demand entities like data brokers or technology and service providers conduct audits of algorithmic systems they use or provide to determine eligibility. Notably, audits would require the data employed to train an eligibility algorithm as well as the algorithm itself, in addition to the data used to make an eligibility decision and where that data comes from. The bill also calls for annual impact assessments of those systems. Yes, there would be penalties for violators. Not only could the AG bring civil penalties of “not more than $10,000 for each violation,” but individuals could bring their own civil actions. D.C.’s detailed bill stands in contrast with a slim New York City law requiring audits of algorithmic hiring technologies that passed recently but provides little detail on what an audit should entail. Keep ReadingShow less If billions of dollars weren’t fueling a massive data market serving businesses, arguably, there wouldn’t be a productized data stream for law enforcement to tap easily. But there is, and they do. A new report out Thursday from the Center for Democracy and Technology dug deep into documents showing requests from law enforcement and intelligence agencies for data broker products. In its research, CDT found 30 awards for data contracts valued at approximately $86 million in total. Think mobile location data, real-time social media data, information gathered through license-plate readers and more. Agencies such as the FBI, ICE, CBP, the Marine Corps and Defense Intelligence Agency have contracted with companies including location data provider Venntel and license-plate reader data supplier Vigilant Solutions, owned by Motorola Solutions, to access information to conduct what some call “big data policing.” Documents show the agencies use those requests for things like pre-investigative inquiries, intelligence gathering, crime prevention or criminal investigations. Because law enforcement agencies can pay commercial data suppliers for information, the report says, they can circumvent the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Fourth Amendment, which protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. For example, the report mentions a five-year $2.1 million ICE contract with government contractor Barbaricum, a partner of Palantir. The goal was to gather real-time data from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Tumblr, YouTube, Flickr and Pinterest to “identify whether a user has deleted messages and provide content from deleted accounts and/or deleted messages where applicable,” said the CDT report. Non-public information such as deleted messages should require a warrant to obtain, the report emphasized. “Government agencies have been able to purchase sensitive data from brokers in an end run around otherwise applicable legal requirements,” it states. The report urged Congress to close the legal loopholes, and one thing it said would help do that? Passing Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden’s Fourth Amendment is Not for Sale Act . Keep ReadingShow less Meta's crypto efforts have shapeshifted wildly in the past couple of years. Novi is a rebrand of Meta's first digital wallet attempt, Calibra. Calibra and Meta's early crypto plans faced pressure from regulators and a loss of partnerships. Initially, Meta was all in on stablecoin Diem (formerly Libra) . When Novi launched, Marcus said Meta's "support for Diem has not changed." But the wallet uses USDP instead, a stablecoin from blockchain company Paxos in partnership with Coinbase. As with most stablecoins, USDP is linked to the value of the U.S. dollar, a contrast with cryptocurrencies like bitcoin whose value can fluctuate wildly. Keep ReadingShow less China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced Thursday that it had ordered a total of 106 apps to be removed across app stores for violating user privacy. The MIIT said that it had required apps that were collecting unnecessary user information to “rectify” themselves on Nov. 3, just two days after China’s national privacy law, the Personal Information Protection Law, went into effect. The regulator ordered app stores to remove the designated 106 apps because they didn’t carry through their respective rectifications under the PIPL and the Cybersecurity Law. Among the punished apps is Douban, a popular Chinese social media platform that still allows a certain level of free speech. Douban, though not as ubiquitous as WeChat and Weibo, has been under close regulatory scrutiny. On Dec. 1, China’s cyberspace regulator fined Douban for insufficient content moderation — the 20th time this year. The Cyberspace Administration of China revealed that it had fined Douban a total of $1.4 million throughout 2021. Keep ReadingShow less The European Commission wants to give gig workers the same protections as employees , including minimum wage where necessary, collective bargaining, paid leave and more. The commission's proposal also outlines plans to increase transparency around how workers are managed through algorithms, including the ability for workers to push back on automated decisions. It would also require platforms to provide data about "their activities and the people who work through them" to national authorities. Ride-hailing and delivery companies like Uber and and Bolt aren't thrilled with the proposal, but that's not surprising. Companies have long resisted employment rights for gig workers, saying it would risks jobs for delivery workers and drivers. In U.S. states like Massachusetts and California , the fight between gig workers and the companies they work for has been particularly contentious, with labor activists pushing for gig workers to be classified as employees. So far, the companies have largely won those fights. There will surely be a heated debate over this new proposal, and however it ends it'll take a while to be implemented. The proposal will first be discussed by the European Parliament and Council, then if and when adopted, member states have two years to make the proposal into national law. If in fact the proposal is finalized and the new rules are implemented, it could have a ripple effect for the way gig workers are treated in other parts of the world. Keep ReadingShow less We’ve all seen TV commercials and gotten that sneaking suspicion that the voice in the spot doesn’t belong to the person mouthing the sales pitch. And, sure we’re used to talking back to robotic voice bots when getting our checking account balances. But we’re bound to get that feeling at work, too, now that AI avatar startup Synthesia has closed a $50 million Series B round of funding, as reported by TechCrunch. Synthesia is not a medical condition, though its technology could be used some day in an ad for a drug to cure it. The “synthetic media” company helps enterprises such as Ernst & Young create customized video messages featuring their AI-based avatars. Rather than merely sending an emailed pitch, a sales lead might receive a video message featuring a human-like avatar asking for a coffee meeting. People can upload video or voice files to use as the foundation for an avatar-hosted presentation, or use the company’s ready-made “free-to-use AI presenters.” The company’s off-the-shelf avatars are based on real-life paid actors who consented to use of their likenesses. “The base video footage is then taken through our AI system which creates new videos from text,” according to a Synthesia FAQ. If you needed any indication that all-things-AI are hot, Synthesia already scored an earlier Series A round of $12.5 million just this April. And, there are similar startups out there vying for attention from enterprise customers. D-ID, which lets people turn still photos into “speaking portraits” has already worked with companies such as consumer packaged goods giant Mondelez . Keep ReadingShow less The tale of Vishal Garg and Better.com keeps getting worse. Garg, CEO of the controversial real estate tech startup, disparaged the company's top investor in an email months prior to firing more than 10% of his staff, Vice reported . Amid the company's plan to go public through a SPAC merger, Garg reportedly called Howard Newman of the investment firm Pine Brook Capital Partners "sewage" on the "rocket ship" of his company after he and other Pine Brook investors shared their concerns about not going public through a traditional public offering. Along with reportedly calling Newman a "ingrate and a thug" and a "miserable miser," Garg asked him to divest from the company. Pine Brook had owned around 7% of Better.com. Pine Brook later sued Better.com over the terms of the SPAC in a case that was settled in November . According to Bloomberg , the company has since decided to delay its public debut. The news comes as Garg apologized for the way he handled the company's mass layoffs , which affected 900 people. Keep ReadingShow less The municipal government of Beijing is rolling out a centralized ed-tech platform for middle schoolers. It aims to meet the still-high demand for academic tutoring after China’s July ban on private tutoring. The platform has been tested in nine school districts in Beijing but will expand to nine more — covering more than 330,000 students across the entire city — by Jan. 1, 2022. It allows middle school students to access the platform through laptops or smartphones and connect with public school teachers every weekday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. All tutoring activities on this platform will take one of four forms: one-on-one tutoring, live group classes, a Q&A platform that offers automatic replies and human replies and recorded lessons. Some of the features, like the Q&A platform that allows students to upload a photo of an exam question and searches it in an academic database, closely resemble the ed-tech product provided by Chinese companies like Yuanfudao. Both students and teachers are participating on a voluntary basis. Theoretically, a teacher can be compensated up to 100,000 yuan (about $15,760) in a school year, even though the number isn’t particularly appealing considering how well-paid private tutors were before the ban. Keep ReadingShow less Beijing is planning to come up with a blacklist designated to limit the primary way in which Chinese companies have raised funds abroad, effectively making it more challenging for China’s tech firms to list overseas, The Financial Times reported on Tuesday. The blacklist will include Chinese startups in sectors that handle sensitive data or trigger national security concerns that plan to go public in overseas stock exchanges through the so-called variable interest entities (VIEs) scheme. Chinese authorities could release the negative list as early as this month, according to the FT. Companies that are already listed abroad using the VIEs scheme won’t be affected. The VIE is a legal structure many Chinese companies — including giants like Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent — have used for decades to evade foreign investment restrictions on overseas listings. Stateside, the SEC is also looking to restrict Chinese VIEs. The upcoming negative list is Beijing’s latest regulatory move to rein in China’s tech industry. China’s central securities regulator on Sunday denied a Bloomberg report that claimed China was seeking to block VIEs from listing overseas, adding that it was also not pushing companies using the structure to delist from U.S. exchanges. Keep ReadingShow less When asked by her attorney if she ever intentionally misled investors in failed blood-testing startup Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes confidently responded, "Never." The assertion was the final question put to her on the stand, highlighting an overarching theme of her defense that Theranos was something she believed in , and that others had reason to believe in it too. After seven days, Holmes' lawyers rested their case Wednesday in the disgraced CEO's criminal fraud trial, in which she's facing 11 counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. As the government won't bring rebuttal witnesses, closing arguments from each side are up next, which would likely start on Dec. 16, U.S. District Judge Edward Davila said. Keep ReadingShow less

Pine Brook Investments

26 Investments

Pine Brook has made 26 investments. Their latest investment was in Better.com as part of their Series C - IV on August 8, 2019.

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Pine Brook Investments Activity

investments chart

Date

Round

Company

Amount

New?

Co-Investors

Sources

8/19/2019

Series C - IV

Better.com

$65M

No

4

1/31/2019

Series C

Better.com

$70M

No

1

12/15/2017

Private Equity

ATX Energy Partners

$780M

Yes

1

3/31/2017

Line of Credit

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$99M

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10

3/24/2017

Private Equity

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10

Date

8/19/2019

1/31/2019

12/15/2017

3/31/2017

3/24/2017

Round

Series C - IV

Series C

Private Equity

Line of Credit

Private Equity

Company

Better.com

Better.com

ATX Energy Partners

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Amount

$65M

$70M

$780M

$99M

New?

No

No

Yes

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Co-Investors

Sources

4

1

1

10

10

Pine Brook Portfolio Exits

7 Portfolio Exits

Pine Brook has 7 portfolio exits. Their latest portfolio exit was Fair Square Financial on October 21, 2021.

Date

Exit

Companies

Valuation
Valuations are submitted by companies, mined from state filings or news, provided by VentureSource, or based on a comparables valuation model.

Acquirer

Sources

10/21/2021

Acquired

$99M

13

5/10/2021

Acq - Pending

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$99M

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10

1/20/2021

Acquired

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$99M

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10

5/10/2018

IPO

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$99M

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10

4/23/2018

Acq - Fin

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10

Date

10/21/2021

5/10/2021

1/20/2021

5/10/2018

4/23/2018

Exit

Acquired

Acq - Pending

Acquired

IPO

Acq - Fin

Companies

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Valuation

$99M

$99M

$99M

$99M

Acquirer

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Sources

13

10

10

10

10

Pine Brook Acquisitions

5 Acquisitions

Pine Brook acquired 5 companies. Their latest acquisition was Talcott Resolution on February 19, 2020.

Date

Investment Stage

Companies

Valuation
Valuations are submitted by companies, mined from state filings or news, provided by VentureSource, or based on a comparables valuation model.

Total Funding

Note

Sources

2/19/2020

$99M

Acq - Fin

1

12/6/2017

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$99M

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10

3/30/2017

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$99M

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10

2/25/2011

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$99M

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10

1/1/1970

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$99M

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0

Date

2/19/2020

12/6/2017

3/30/2017

2/25/2011

1/1/1970

Investment Stage

Companies

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Valuation

$99M

$99M

$99M

$99M

$99M

Total Funding

Note

Acq - Fin

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Sources

1

10

10

10

0

Pine Brook Fund History

3 Fund Histories

Pine Brook has 3 funds, including Pine Brook Capital Partners II.

Closing Date

Fund

Fund Type

Status

Amount

Sources

2/14/2014

Pine Brook Capital Partners II

Buyouts & Acquisitions

Closed

$2,430M

1

12/16/2009

Pine Brook Essent Co-Invest LP

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$99M

10

3/31/2009

Pine Brook Road Partners LP

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$99M

10

Closing Date

2/14/2014

12/16/2009

3/31/2009

Fund

Pine Brook Capital Partners II

Pine Brook Essent Co-Invest LP

Pine Brook Road Partners LP

Fund Type

Buyouts & Acquisitions

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Status

Closed

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Amount

$2,430M

$99M

$99M

Sources

1

10

10

Pine Brook Team

24 Team Members

Pine Brook has 24 team members, including current Chief Executive Officer, President, Howard H. Newman.

Name

Work History

Title

Status

Michael E. Mcmahon

Founder

Current

William Spiegel

Founder

Current

Howard H. Newman

Chief Executive Officer, President

Current

Howard Newman

Morgan Stanley & Co.

Chief Executive Officer

Current

Annie Sloyer

Chief Financial Officer

Current

Name

Michael E. Mcmahon

William Spiegel

Howard H. Newman

Howard Newman

Annie Sloyer

Work History

Morgan Stanley & Co.

Title

Founder

Founder

Chief Executive Officer, President

Chief Executive Officer

Chief Financial Officer

Status

Current

Current

Current

Current

Current

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