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Virus exposes the good and bad of tech

Google has not been doing so well in the UK. A High Court battle between Foundem and Google, which has been ongoing since 2006, has reached an interesting stage. The issue is ranking algorithms. Readers will remember that I’ve written about this subject in the past. Foundem had asked the court to approve a review of Google’s ranking algorithms by an independent expert. Their claim is that Google demoted Foundem in favour of paid adverts because Foundem is a commercial rival. Google was given the offer to withdraw their evidence that only a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) engineer could understand and when they refused, a choice was made to let an expert examine an unredacted version of the evidence and comment on it. This puts Google in an interesting place. If they withdraw their redacted evidence, it could indicate they are trying to hide something and if they refuse expert analysis, it could indicate the same thing. Their claim is that if an expert looks at the code, they will lose their competitive advantage. Yes, the judge saw through this one as well. The case is currently on hold amid the current Covid-19 situation.
– There are some claims that Covid-19 has been caused or exacerbated by 5G networks. This has even led to some 5G towers being torched. I wrote about this in an earlier article. 5G uses the same frequencies previously used by other services like TV and data transmission for decades. It is at the lower end, lower energy part of the RF (radio frequency) spectrum. The only study indicating any potential issue comes from the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which concluded that along with coffee and talc-based powder, RF radiation could be “possibly carcinogenic”. Other studies used exposure levels far higher than what people experience even with very high cell phone use. In conclusion, based on current evidence claims about 5G and RF dangers should be put in the same category as other conspiracy theories. As a general rule, however, don’t sleep with your cell phone under your head or in your sporran.
– Online ordering sounds like a good idea until you order something from overseas. With the current lockdowns, overseas mailing is much slower because the number of routes from there to here is a lot lower. I ordered a small item from the US and the tracking system reported seven days later that it had arrived at a Jamaican distribution centre. At the time of writing, it has been three days with no status change. Pre-Covid, it would have taken less than a week in total. I’m guessing it is waiting for possible routing options to open up. I have another item sitting in Hong Kong since March 23 but that one is understandable as well. If you want it fast, order from the country you’re in.
– If you are looking to get into drawing on your computer or tablet, then you might want to check out Inkscape. It has been around for a while — since 2003 — and it is close to version 1.0. It is free, fully-featured and if you are looking to get started then it is an option to look at. Its release is scheduled for May 1st but a release candidate is available now.
– I was involved in my first Zoom meeting recently with over a dozen participants using video and it worked a lot better than Skype ever has for me. It was a family gathering to celebrate a birthday, something that social distancing does not allow to take place in-person these days. I know there are some current security issues with Zoom but for this kind of thing, it works very well.
– In related news, the Microsoft Teams product saw users accumulate 2.9-billion meeting minutes in March with April looking to surpass that as more people work from home. As I pointed out to a Thai friend and business owner that as people get better at using such tools and being productive from home, it opens up the opportunity to give workers more work at home opportunities. This could start with say a Wednesday work from home schedule which breaks up the week and removes travel time for the day. If this works, the days can be extended. The technology exists to make this happen but will require networks in some places to be improved and expanded. Some organisations will fight this but the benefits to each side are there. What the Covid-19 situation has done is highlight just how important those IT teams are and how a good IT setup can potentially even save a business.
– If you have an interest in music and want to see what is possible using technology then check out Richie Castellano’s Multi-Camera Rock Show on YouTube that was released on April 13th. As a one-man show, with some remote support, his use of technology for a video blog is truly impressive. It would have taken quite an amount of preparation but the result is excellent.

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March home sales drop 8.5% as sellers take properties off the market – and the coming months look worse

Prospective home buyers arrive with a realtor to a house for sale in Dunlap, Illinois.
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Sales of existing homes fell a wider than expected 8.5% in March compared with February to an annualized pace of 5.27 million units, according to the National Association of Realtors’ seasonally adjusted index.
Sales were just 0.8% higher than in March 2019. 

These sales figures are based on closings that represent contracts signed mostly in late January and February, before the coronavirus shut down so much of the economy.
“We saw the stock market correction in late February,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the NAR. “The first half of March held on reasonably well, but it was the second half of March where we saw a measurable decline in sales activity.” 
Yun indicated sales could fall as much as 30% to 40% in the coming months. 
Regionally, sales fell across the nation but hardest in the West, down 13.6% month-to-month. Sales fell 9.1% in the South, 7.1% in the Northeast and 3.1% in the South. 
The supply of homes for sale fell a sharp 10.2% annually. Toward the end of the month, some sellers de-listed their properties, not wanting potential buyers touring their homes in person. Other measures showed a sharp drop in the number of new listings in March, reflecting fear in the market among both buyers and sellers.

“Homes are still selling fast, we just don’t have enough inventory,” added Yun, saying that real estate agents do report some interest and have ramped up virtual tours as well as live virtual showings.
Price growth was still strong in March, with the median existing home price hitting $280,600, an 8% annual increase. 
“Going forward, we’ve seen both homebuyers and sellers report feeling less confident and many are making adjustments to the process,” said Danielle Hale, chief economist with realtor.com. “Already, sellers are getting less aggressive with asking price growth, and we’re seeing roughly half as many new listings come up for sale this year versus last year.”
Fewer home sales over the coming months will likely mean slower price growth, and in some of the harder hit markets, where hospitality and leisure drive the local economies, prices could fall.  

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Facebook is launching a dedicated gaming app to take on Twitch and YouTube

Facebook Gaming is the social network’s answer to streaming platforms like Twitch and YouTube.
Facebook

Facebook is making a big push into gaming at a time when the space is seeing a huge boom in demand thanks to the coronavirus lockdowns.
On Monday, the social media giant will launch a dedicated mobile app called Facebook Gaming worldwide, where people will be able to create and watch live gameplay. The move sees Facebook taking on the likes of Amazon’s Twitch, Google’s YouTube and Microsoft’s Mixer.

The news was originally reported by The New York Times and later confirmed to CNBC.
The app has already been available for testing in Southeast Asia and Latin America for the past 18 months. It offers a similar experience to the Gaming tab on Facebook’s website, which lets users broadcast themselves or watch a streamer playing games instead.

Facebook Gaming will also feature a function called “Go Live,” which lets users livestream mobile games directly from their smartphone to Facebook. This precludes the need for dedicated third-party software and hardware which people usually require to broadcast themselves playing games on platforms like Twitch.
For now, Facebook isn’t including ads in the app and monetization is pretty limited. It does however let people earn money with so-called “stars” which let fans make one-time payments. The company says it will explore more monetization options over time. 
The app will initially be available on the Google Play app store, with an iOS version in the works for a later date. 

Facebook lags behind Twitch and YouTube when it comes to live video game broadcasts. In the first three months of 2020, the firm’s game streaming platform clocked almost 554 million hours of viewing time, compared to 1.1 billion for YouTube and 3.1 billion for Twitch, according to research from Streamlabs and Stream Hatchet.
But the company says over 700 million of its users already interact with gaming content on the main Facebook app. It’s hoping to gain considerable traction through Facebook Gaming, especially as the coronavirus pandemic and government lockdowns have forced people around the world to shelter in place.
Watch: This billionaire gamer built a pandemic-proof business

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New York City businesses are staying open by pitching into coronavirus relief efforts and going virtual

A worker at NYC-based tech company Adafruit makes a face shield during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
Adafruit.com

Across New York City, businesses hardly resemble their pre-pandemic operations. Fashion designers are sewing face masks instead of garments, restaurants have transformed into grocery stores and distilleries are making alcohol that’s too strong to drink.
Kings County Distillery in Brooklyn is one of those businesses. It began making hand sanitizer after the federal regulators gave the OK in late March.  

“We kind of were playing around with the idea of doing it and it just felt in bad taste for a while,” said the distillery’s co-founder Colin Spoelman. “But then all the sudden things got so serious that in fact everyone got serious about it in a way that it was clear it would be helpful.”
To meet medical standards, the distillery had to make much higher-proof alcohol than the whiskey it was used to producing. That meant changing up the distilling process and slowing it down, Spoelman said. 
But the demand was there. Kings County produced 1,000 bottles of hand sanitizer in its first batch and sold out in four hours, according to Spoelman.
Business owners like Spoelman have been pinpointing the places demand has shifted during the Covid-19 crisis and figuring out ways to move their businesses along with it. For many New Yorkers, it’s a feeling that calls back to 9/11, when the entire city was thrust into a new reality and neighbors worked to figure out how to help one another. This time, New Yorkers are rebuilding from a safe distance apart and often over the internet.

Digital expansion

In addition to making hand sanitizer, Kings County Distillery recently started selling whiskey and “virtual tastings” online, after the New York state agency regulating alcohol sales loosened its restrictions on online transactions. 

“We had to pivot from being a government-mandated analog business to a government-mandated virtual business,” Spoelman said.

Kings County Distillery has shifted its whiskey production to hand sanitizer during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
Kings County Distillery

At Swerve, a New York-based spin studio, bringing together sweaty bodies in small classrooms felt untenable by the end of the second week of March, according to the studio’s founders. The business decided to shut its doors shortly before the city mandated gym closures.
These days, Swerve looks less like SoulCycle and more like Peloton, having rented out all 150 of its (sanitized) bikes to customers who agreed to pay $325 per month for the equipment and unlimited access to streamed classes. For customers who don’t have access to a stationary bike, Swerve is also offering home workouts that don’t require equipment. For those, users can choose what they pay starting at $10 per class, with most of the fee going to the instructors, the founders said.
The crisis has given Swerve an opportunity to experiment with a new idea without sacrificing resources from its core business, and customers have been forgiving as Swerve has ramped up an entirely new product over just a few weeks, said co-founder Chelsea Kocis.
“It kind of forced us to try something that we didn’t really have the bandwidth to think about in the past,” Kocis said.
“We probably wouldn’t have entertained this as soon as we did if it wasn’t for the pandemic,” agreed co-founder JH McNierney. “It forces us to be nimble and try things that we hadn’t done in the past and receive feedback from riders.” 
Junzi Kitchen has also expanded its reach during the crisis, delivering far beyond its Manhattan-based locations into the outer boroughs. The Chinese fast-casual chain served to a lunch crowd of students and office workers, but now is delivering bulk ingredients that customers can put together themselves, or combine with whatever they have in their pantry to stretch out their meals.
Junzi co-founder and CEO Yong Zhao said he looked at how his friends in China were getting their meals shortly before the virus reached the tipping point in New York that forced residents to retreat to their homes. Those friends said they were placing larger orders to feed their families. 
“Home eating is a totally different experience,” Zhao said. 
Junzi has also rolled out a series called “Distance Dining,” converting its regular in-person chef-led dining experiences to an online experience. Junzi sends three-course meals to participants who later follow the chef’s plating instructions and stories over a livestream on Instagram. In its first couple weeks, the program sold out even after expanding its supply to 125 meal kits in its second week.

Junzi Kitchen has introduced its Distance Dining series during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, where a chef directs plating instructions over a livestream on Instagram.
Junzi Kitchen

Junzi is also giving customers the option to buy a meal for a hospital worker, which has allowed the company to maintain delivery work for its catering staff.
“Every day it’s tiring because of all the new things we need to do, but at the same time we’re kind of excited… to help make our contribution to society more than before because right now we have the capacity to make the changes,” Zhao said. “Now it’s kind of [like] all these side projects have become the main project and the main projects before have become the side project.”

Making essential supplies

Some small businesses in New York have shifted nearly their whole operations to creating supplies needed by hospital workers or other essential services.
Adafruit is one of those businesses. The tech company had already been deemed an essential service because it manufactures a computer component used in medical devices like ventilators, but it has since begun producing face shields as well. Of the company’s 100 New York-based employees, it has about 10 on the factory floor at a time, though it says it has retained all its staff.
For workers whose jobs don’t require them showing up to the office, Adafruit is encouraging them to take part in skills-building and learning various internal systems.
“You know how companies say, ‘well, if we only had time to train everyone to do everything?'” said Managing Director Phillip Torrone. “Well, we do.”
Some employees are even developing an internal app so Adafruit workers can do their own contact tracing to keep track of where they have been in case they were near the source of an outbreak. Torrone said the company wanted to create a privacy-centric app so its employees wouldn’t have to rely on a product from companies like Apple or Google, which have since announced plans to jointly launch tools to track the spread of the virus.
Brooklyn and Staten Island-based crafting workshop MakerSpace has shifted its business to making face shields as well. The business typically conducts educational programs and maintains a membership of artists and craftsmen who rely on the facilities’ industrial tools. Executive Director Scott Van Campen said 15% to 20% of their revenue usually comes over the next few months from educational programs which have since been suspended.
In the meantime, like Adafruit, MakerSpace has been coordinating with the New York City Economic Development Corporation to manufacture face shields. The work has allowed them to maintain about half of its 10 or so shop tech staff and managers, according to Van Campen.

Workers at MakerSpace in New York City make face shields to assist with relief efforts during the coronavirus pandemic.
MakerSpace

The NYCEDC has helped connect businesses that are looking to help, identifying companies with the space or the resources to produce important supplies. 
“Our supply chains across the country have gone a little bit haywire so we’re relying on our partners to produce the raw materials to create these goods,” said James Patchett, president and CEO of the group, which has been coordinating with the city’s department of health to figure out which supplies are in the most demand. He said the ability to give New Yorkers work and create essential materials is “a rare win-win at these times.”
So far, the NYCEDC has contracts with eight NYC-based companies making 200,000 face shields per week with the goal to ramp up to 600,000 per week by the end of April. Fashion and garment workers are sewing face masks for health care providers as well and the NYCEDC is planning to build a new supply chain to make up to 50,000 test kits for the coronavirus per week beginning in May.
Lindsay Clinton, an executive vice president at the NYCEDC who has led the sourcing initiatives for these supplies, said part of the reason the city has been able to stand up these projects is due to the diversification efforts the group undertook after the 2008 financial crisis to create more sectors outside of financial services.
“New York City is now a very tech-driven economy but we also have a very strong computer and life sciences sector now,” among others, Clinton said. “That focus on diversification ten years ago set us up well for right now.”
Van Campen is still uncertain about MakerSpace’s future, knowing it could take a while to gain back his roughly 250 members and bring them to gather in a physical space. The team has been applying to grant and loan programs for small businesses, including the one from the U.S. Small Business Administration, for which Van Campen said the paperwork itself was “a full-time job.” His wife worked on the application while he sourced supplies for face masks, but the SBA program ran out of money on Thursday. 
For now, small businesses are doing what they can to maintain at least some of their workforce and assist the recovery effort.
“I just wish I could make coronavirus testing kits,” said Spoelman of the Kings County Distillery. “But I can’t. I can make hand sanitizer, so I’ll do that.”
WATCH: Bakery closing permanently due to COVID-19 making cakes for NYC hospital workers

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Amazon employees plan 'online walkout' to protest firings and treatment of warehouse workers

Environmentalists protesting outside Amazon’s shareholder meeting
Paayal Zaveri | CNBC

A group of Amazon corporate employees is calling on colleagues to stage an “online walkout” to demand that the company reinstate fired workers, and to protest its treatment of warehouse workers during the coronavirus outbreak. 
To participate in the walkout, slated for April 24, workers would all take a personal day off at the same time. It’s being organized by employee advocacy group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. Last week, Amazon fired two leaders of the group, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, who were previously user experience designers at the company and who have been outspoken critics of Amazon’s climate stance and its labor policies.

Amazon said it fired Costa and Cunningham for “repeatedly violating internal policies.” A spokesperson previously told CNBC that the company supports every employee’s right to criticize their employer’s working conditions, “but that does not come with blanket immunity against any and all internal policies.” 
Amazon Employees for Climate Justice announced the walkout during a virtual panel on Thursday. The panel was intended to spur dialogue between warehouse workers and nearly 400 Amazon tech workers on the call, the group said. Previously, Costa said Amazon attempted to intervene in the group’s efforts to organize the panel by deleting invitations sent to other workers internally, which the group claims were accepted by more than 1,500 employees.
“We want to tell Amazon that we are sick of all this – sick of the firings, sick of the silencing, sick of pollution, sick of racism and sick of the climate crisis,” Costa said during the panel. “We ask you to consider the stories that you’ve just heard, the deleted invitation to this event – is that okay with you, or would you rather be able to have this conversation, or the next conversation like it, openly?”
An Amazon spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. 
By staging a virtual walkout, the group wants to pressure Amazon to change how it responds to workers who speak out against its policies, including reinstating any workers who were fired “based on selective enforcement of policies and behavior guidelines.” The group wants Amazon to change its external communications policy, which prohibits employees from speaking about the company’s business without approval from management. 

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice has had some success with making its demands heard in the past. At Amazon’s shareholder meeting last year, Cunningham called for Amazon to reduce its use of fossil fuels. The group is widely credited for influencing Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ decision to announce a sweeping climate change plan last September. 
The employees are also calling for Amazon to make permanent the benefits changes and pay increases it instituted for warehouse workers during the pandemic, including the $2 hourly pay increase, longer breaks. They also want Amazon to provide a public list of “confirmed and probable” coronavirus cases at its facilities across the country. 
Amazon workers from at least three facilities have staged protests to call for the company to close facilities where there are positive cases of the virus. The company recently fired two warehouse workers from Minnesota and Staten Island facilities who had spoken out about Amazon’s treatment of warehouse workers. Amazon has denied that it fired the workers in retaliation for speaking out.

Featured
Amazon employees plan 'online walkout' to protest firings and treatment of warehouse workers

Environmentalists protesting outside Amazon’s shareholder meeting
Paayal Zaveri | CNBC

A group of Amazon corporate employees is calling on colleagues to stage an “online walkout” to demand that the company reinstate fired workers, and to protest its treatment of warehouse workers during the coronavirus outbreak. 
To participate in the walkout, slated for April 24, workers would all take a personal day off at the same time. It’s being organized by employee advocacy group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. Last week, Amazon fired two leaders of the group, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, who were previously user experience designers at the company and who have been outspoken critics of Amazon’s climate stance and its labor policies.

Amazon said it fired Costa and Cunningham for “repeatedly violating internal policies.” A spokesperson previously told CNBC that the company supports every employee’s right to criticize their employer’s working conditions, “but that does not come with blanket immunity against any and all internal policies.” 
Amazon Employees for Climate Justice announced the walkout during a virtual panel on Thursday. The panel was intended to spur dialogue between warehouse workers and nearly 400 Amazon tech workers on the call, the group said. Previously, Costa said Amazon attempted to intervene in the group’s efforts to organize the panel by deleting invitations sent to other workers internally, which the group claims were accepted by more than 1,500 employees.
“We want to tell Amazon that we are sick of all this – sick of the firings, sick of the silencing, sick of pollution, sick of racism and sick of the climate crisis,” Costa said during the panel. “We ask you to consider the stories that you’ve just heard, the deleted invitation to this event – is that okay with you, or would you rather be able to have this conversation, or the next conversation like it, openly?”
An Amazon spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. 
By staging a virtual walkout, the group wants to pressure Amazon to change how it responds to workers who speak out against its policies, including reinstating any workers who were fired “based on selective enforcement of policies and behavior guidelines.” The group wants Amazon to change its external communications policy, which prohibits employees from speaking about the company’s business without approval from management. 

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice has had some success with making its demands heard in the past. At Amazon’s shareholder meeting last year, Cunningham called for Amazon to reduce its use of fossil fuels. The group is widely credited for influencing Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ decision to announce a sweeping climate change plan last September. 
The employees are also calling for Amazon to make permanent the benefits changes and pay increases it instituted for warehouse workers during the pandemic, including the $2 hourly pay increase, longer breaks. They also want Amazon to provide a public list of “confirmed and probable” coronavirus cases at its facilities across the country. 
Amazon workers from at least three facilities have staged protests to call for the company to close facilities where there are positive cases of the virus. The company recently fired two warehouse workers from Minnesota and Staten Island facilities who had spoken out about Amazon’s treatment of warehouse workers. Amazon has denied that it fired the workers in retaliation for speaking out.

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Microsoft lands a deal with the NBA to use Azure and Surface starting with the 2020-21 season

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
Simon Dawson | Bloomberg via Getty Images; Stacy Revere | Getty Images

The National Basketball Association will adopt Microsoft’s Azure cloud to enhance the online experience for fans, and will use Microsoft Surface tablets in unspecified ways, starting in the league’s 2020-21 season, the parties announced Thursday. The duration and terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The deal comes as the NBA is on hiatus — the league suspended the current season on March 11 to limit coronavirus exposure, and other sports leagues have made similar moves. Given that teams could be holding games without crowds for some time, he said, it’s even more important that the league’s engineers start assembling the new system.

“I think the fact that we are announcing it in the middle of this pandemic is a testament to how important it is that we move forward with this deal,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told CNBC in an interview on Wednesday. “Time is of the essence here.”
An NBA spokesperson said the league could use Microsoft’s technology to add new features to its website and apps, such as delivering games in fans’ native languages, letting them chat during games, displaying the best camera angle for the moment and showing relevant stats about favorite players. The league also wants to draw on archive videos to augment what people see while watching and roll highlight clips of favorite players.
Silver said that fans may prefer courtside seats over anything else to witness games, but the new digital capabilities are meant to bring them as close as possible.
“How can you replace that experience?” Silver said. “Maybe we can come close to it.”
On a technical level, the NBA will move some key workloads to Azure from its on-premises data centers for its website and mobile apps, and will use Azure tools for indexing events in footage, encoding video feeds and consolidating disparate data sources in a single virtual place, a Microsoft spokesperson explained. Azure will be the exclusive cloud partner for the NBA’s direct-to-consumer service.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella noted that the company has worked with the NBA for a long time. The new work came about because the NBA envisioned becoming a first-class provider of digital services, and the league went searching for a company with which it could have a trusted relationship and that has modern cloud and artificial intelligence capabilities, Nadella said.
“It’s a pretty unique partnership for us,” Nadella said.
In previous years the company has announced cloud deals with firms like AT&T, Gap, Salesforce and Walmart, and it beat out market leader Amazon Web Services for a prominent defense contract, which Amazon is contesting in federal court. Nadella once ran Microsoft’s cloud business, and in his six years as CEO he has made cloud a greater focus.
Now he has an answer for what today’s Microsoft can do in the sports world, after his predecessor Steve Ballmer scored a multiyear deal with the National Football League in 2013 that put Surface tablets into the hands of coaches and players — and gave Surface a prominent spot in NFL broadcasts. It is not yet clear if the NBA deal will include similar product placement. (Ballmer, who left Microsoft in 2014, is now owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers.)
The deal also shows how Microsoft is still advancing big projects even while employees stay separated. Microsoft and the NBA began discussing the effort before the company sent home nonessential workers to prevent further spread of the coronavirus, Nadella said.
“It’s pretty amazing what productivity has been in the context of work from home,” he said. “In fact, our teams have been meeting, talking, getting the deal specifics done. That is a host of job functions and work and productivity and economic activity that continue.”
WATCH: CNBC’s full interview with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

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Batteries, fusion, and hydropower: Meet the 24 clean-energy startups that Bill Gates is backing

Bluefield Technologies
Microsoft cofounder and former CEO Bill Gates is the second richest person in the world, with a net worth over $100 billion. 
He’s invested a sizeable chunk of cash into clean-energy companies, largely through a billion-dollar fund he spearheads called Breakthrough Energy Ventures. 
Most of the startups he funds address three solutions Gates says are necessary for the clean-energy transition: Long-duration storage, nuclear energy and carbon capture, and power transmission. 
Business Insider compiled a list of the 24 clean-energy companies that Gates has invested in, using data from PitchBook. 
Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Bill Gates is rich. His net worth is on the order of $100 billion, according to Forbes’ real-time billionaires list, making him the second-wealthiest person on the planet. 
He’s also one of the most generous, as measured by how much money he’s given away. Through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates and his wife have dished out about $50 billion since 1994 to support public health, education, and development. 
But what Gates receives less attention for is his investments in startups — of which there are dozens. Many of them fall into the category of clean energy. 

“What’s needed are affordable ways to bring clean energy to nearly a billion people who deserve more access to electricity,” Gates said in a video that’s part of his personal blog, Gates Notes. “That’s why I’m making investments in clean, affordable, and reliable ways to generate electricity, and I’m encouraging others to do the same.” 
Gates’ most public venture vehicle is a $1 billion fund he spearheaded with a coalition of other extremely high-net-worth individuals called Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV). Richard Branson, Michael Bloomberg, Ray Dalio, and Vinod Khosla are all investors in BEV, one of the world’s most active clean-energy venture funds. 
Read more: The top funds making bets on the clean-energy industry
“Our goal is to generate a financial return on our investments, each of which will have the potential of significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” the fund’s website says.
Gates has also invested in startups through other funds including Gates Ventures, Cascade Investments, and Village Global, according to the startup finance database PitchBook.

Most startups he backs are working on one of three solutions that Gates says the world needs “for the transition to clean electricity,” according to his blog. 
The first is long-duration energy storage — essentially, big batteries that can store power for days or months. 
“Finding ways to store that energy to use after the sun sets and the wind stops blowing is a big challenge we need to solve,” he wrote in a blog post. 
The second is a mix of nuclear energy and carbon capture, a seemingly unusual pairing. Citing an MIT study, he said that if the energy transition includes nuclear power and carbon capture and storage technologies — which can reduce emissions from fossil fuel plants — it would “make carbon-free electricity up to 62 percent cheaper than using renewables alone.”
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Finally, he says we also need high-voltage, long-distance power lines that can send direct current from renewable energy sources to areas of demand. 
“Connecting our renewable energy supply with demand will require us to build transmission lines that can handle large amounts of power over very long distances,” he said. 
Business Insider compiled a list of clean-energy startups that received investment from Gates or one of his investment funds, according to data from PitchBook and company statements.
The startups below are listed by how much total capital they’ve raised in increasing order. 
Bluefield Technologies — $2 million
Year founded: 2017
What it is: The startup measures methane emissions using imagery gathered by backpack-sized satellites. “Our sensor detects the spectral signature of methane in sunlight that is reflected off the ground. We then use machine vision algorithms to further enhance the optically rich data our sensor captures,” the company’s website states. 
Total raised: Over $2 million, the company said in a statement 
Other notable investors: Sequoia Capital and former Microsoft executive Charlie Songhurst, according to the company
Seaborg — $6 million
Year founded: 2014
What it is: Denmark-based Seaborg is developing compact molten salt nuclear reactors  designed to limit waste. The startup is planning to have commercial reactors by 2027. 
Total raised: About $6 million in equity. That doesn’t include an additional $2 million in grants, the company said in a statement. 
Other notable investors: PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel, according to PitchBook

Quidnet Energy — $8 million
Year founded: 2015
What it is: A startup that develops a pumped-hydro energy storage technology. Water is pumped into an underground cavern, where it becomes pressurized, and then released to power energy-generating turbines.  
Total raised: About $8 million, the company said

Other notable investors: Clean Energy Venture Group and the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation, according to PitchBook
Heliogen — $9 million
Year founded: 2013 
What it is: The startup’s system uses a mosaic of mirrors to concentrate sunlight, which generates extreme heat necessary for industrial processes like cement or steel manufacturing. The technology could eventually replace fossil fuels in those processes, as Business Insider previously reported. 
Total raised: About $9 million, per PitchBook. A company spokesperson declined to share the total capital raised and mentioned that Heliogen is preparing to announce new funding. 

Other notable investors: Energy giant NRG Energy and Brad Feld, cofounding partner of Foundry Group, according to PitchBook
Arnergy — $9 million
Year founded: 2013
What it is: Nigeria-based Arnergy sells distributed energy solutions, such as rooftop solar and storage, in emerging markets. 
Total raised: About $9 million, the company said

Other notable investors: Norfund, a private-equity fund founded by the Norwegian government, according to PitchBook
Fervo Energy — $11 million
Year founded: 2017
What it is: California-based Fervo Energy is a geothermal energy startup. Geothermal energy typically refers to using the heat stored in the Earth’s crust to power turbines or heat homes. 
Total raised: About $11 million, per PitchBook

CarbonCure — $11 million
Year founded: 2007
What it is: CarbonCure sells a technology that enhances concrete using recycled carbon dioxide, or CO2. The company pumps CO2 into wet concrete while it’s being mixed, at which point the gas reacts with water and calcium ions in the cement, forming solid limestone. The carbon is stuck in the limestone indefinitely. What’s more, is that this mineralization process makes ready-mix concrete slightly stronger than some alternatives, according to the company. 
Total raised: About $11 million, per PitchBook. That amount does not include recent, undisclosed funding. The company declined to share the total capital it’s raised. 
Read more: The 5 buzziest startups working to bring carbon capture and storage technology to market

SparkMeter — $14 million
Year founded: 2013
What it is: SparkMeter designs and sells smart meters and other equipment to utilities in developing markets. The startup’s technology “enables utilities operating in remote locations to access a range of features  — prepaid billing, customer communications, and remote monitoring and control — that improve their operations and help them achieve financial sustainability,” the company’s website says. 
Total raised: About $14 million, according to the company
Other notable investors: Clean Energy Ventures, Powerhouse Ventures, and energy giant Total’s venture arm, Total Carbon Neutrality Ventures, according to PitchBook

Lilac Solutions — $24 million
Year founded: 2016
What it is: Lilac developed a technique to extract the element lithium — used to make lithium-ion batteries, which power electric cars — in a more efficient and cost-effective way, the company says.
Total raised: About $24 million, according to the company
Read more: Inside the $1 billion race to develop breakthrough batteries that could store up to 40% more energy and revolutionize our phones, cars, and planes

75F — $25 million
Year founded: 2012
What it is: 75F is a smart-building startup that sells various tools to make commercial buildings more energy-efficient. The company says it can cut costs by up to 50%. 
Total raised: $25 million, according to the company 
Other notable investors: A funding coalition led by executives in the oil and gas industry known as the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, and the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator, per PitchBook

Malta — $26 million
Year founded: 2018
What it is: Incubated at Alphabet’s secretive X, known formerly as Google X, Malta develops a long-duration energy storage technology. The startup turns surplus electricity into thermal energy — both heat and cold, which are stored separately — which it can then convert back into electricity. 
Total raised: $26 million, the company said in a statement 
Boston Metal — $30 million
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Year founded: 2012
What it is: MIT spin out Boston Metal uses a process called molten oxide electrolysis to turn raw metals into molten products used by various industries, such as steel production. The startup says the process produces far less carbon dioxide emissions. 
Total raised: $30 million, according to the company
Other notable investors: Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, per PitchBook
Varentec — $37 million
Year founded: 2009
What it is: The Silicon Valley startup sells hardware and software to optimize the electric grid. The technology can reduce the “voltage volatility” by as much as 72% and prevent watt loss, the company says. 
Total raised: About $37 million, per PitchBook
Other notable investors: 3M Ventures and Khosla Ventures, according to a public statement
Natel Energy — $48 million
Year founded: 2009
What it is: California-based Natel Energy is a hydropower startup that is developing fish-friendly turbines, which the company says are cheaper to build and easier to permit. Natel also works with developers to design sustainable hydropower projects. 
Total raised: About $48 million, per PitchBook
Other notable investors: Schneider Electric Ventures, according to a public statement
ESS Inc. — $47 million
Year founded: 2011
What it is: ESS manufactures flow batteries. Unlike a traditional cell, flow batteries store an electrical charge in two tanks of liquid electrolyte. In this case, the electrolyte contains a mixture of iron, salt, and water. When the battery is plugged in, charged atoms called ions flow between the two tanks, generating an electric current.
Total raised: About $47 million, according to the company
Other notable investors: Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator, per PitchBook
Form Energy — $51 million
Year founded: 2017
What it is: Form Energy, a storage startup run by a Tesla veteran, is developing a handful of different electrochemical batteries designed for grid-scale storage. According to the company, its batteries will last for hundreds of hours. And at that duration, they’ll be far cheaper than Li-ion alternatives, the company said. 
Total raised: About $51 million, per PitchBook
Other notable investors: Eni Next, Macquarie Asset Management, and Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, according to PitchBook
Read more: A startup run by a Tesla veteran and backed by Bill Gates is promising to build a long-duration battery that’s 50 to 100 times cheaper than lithium-ion

Sierra Energy — $63 million
Year founded: 2004
What it is: Sierra Energy is commercializing a gasification technology that can turn municipal waste into valuable products like diesel and hydrogen gas.
Total raised: About $63 million, including $30 million the startup received through its parent company, Sierra Railroad Company, the company said
Read more: Meet Sierra Energy, a Bill Gates-backed startup that’s raised $90 million to turn your trash into fuel

Ambri — $80 million
Year founded: 2010
What it is: MIT spin out Ambri is developing a liquid metal battery for long-duration storage. 
Total raised: About $80 million, according to the company
Other notable investors: Khosla Ventures and Total Carbon Neutrality Ventures, according to the company

Carbon Engineering — $84
Year founded: 2009
What it is:Technology designed by Carbon Engineering pulls CO2 directly out of the air. A large fan (or array of fans) essentially pulls in enormous quantities of air and passes it through a chemical solution that reacts with CO2, sucking the gas out of the air.
The solution, now loaded with carbon, is then mixed with another chemical called calcium oxide to produce pellets of limestone.
Finally, those pellets are heated to create what’s called quicklime, a substance that, if heated to even higher temperatures, will produce a stream of pure CO2 that can be used to make synthetic fuel, among other things.

Total raised: About $84 million, not including government grants, the company said
Other notable investors: Oil and gas giants Chevron, BHP, and Occidental, according to PitchBook
Commonwealth Fusion Systems — $115 million
Year founded: 2017
What it is: MIT spin out Commonwealth Fusion Systems is developing a compact reactor to generate nuclear fusion, a source of clean energy. 

Total raised: $115 million, according to the company
Other notable investors: Khosla Ventures and Eni, per PitchBook
Read more: A fusion startup backed by Jeff Bezos just raised another $65 million, signaling that investors are still betting on this ‘Holy Grail’ technology.
Mainspring Energy — $133 million
Year founded: 2010

What it is: Formerly known as EtaGen, Mainspring Energy develops a technology called a linear generator, which uses a reaction between air and fuel to move magnets through copper coils and generate electricity. The company says it’s efficient and produces “near-zero” nitrogen oxide emissions. 
Total raised: $133 million, according to the company
Other notable investors: Norwegian oil major Equinor and Khosla Ventures, per the company
TerraPower — $178 million
Year founded: 2006

What it is: Founded by Bill Gates himself, TerraPower is developing various nuclear technologies including a modular reactor that uses molten chloride instead of water as a coolant, as Business Insider previously reported. TerraPower believes the design will be safer and more efficient than today’s reactors.
Total raised: $178 million, per PitchBook
Other notable investors: Khosla Ventures, according to PitchBook
1366 Technologies — $107 million
Year founded: 2007

What it is: The Boston-based startup makes wafers for solar panels directly from molten silicon. 
Total raised: About $107 million, the company said
Other notable investors: Solar energy giant First Solar and General Electric, per PitchBook
QuantumScape — $296 million
Year founded: 2010

What it is: Stanford spin-out QuantumScape is trying to develop solid-state batteries — which, unlike lithium-ion batteries, rely on solid-not-liquid electrolytes — in partnership with Volkswagen. Volkswagen says solid-state batteries would more than double the range of its electric e-Golf care.
Total raised: $296 million, according to PitchBook
Investors: Volkswagen, Khosla, and Kleiner Perkins, per PitchBook 
Read more: These are the top 21 clean-tech startups to watch that are set to transform the energy industry

Featured
America’s mortgage market sickens

AMERICA’S $19trn commercial and residential mortgage market is jittery as investors begin to fear that laid-off workers and shut-down firms will struggle to repay their debts. Plenty of investors—such as real-estate investment trusts—are highly leveraged. As the value of mortgage-backed securities has dropped sharply they have begun to face margin calls on their debt from their bankers. Some have warned investors that they are unable to meet cash calls. Demand for new residential mortgages is likely to suffer, too. Lockdowns and economic uncertainty have stopped homebuyers looking.■
This article appeared in the Finance and economics section of the print edition under the headline “America’s mortgage market sickens”
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