Project Ubin, the Singaporean money authority’s blockchain initiative, moves closer to commercialization

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and state investment firm Temasek announced today that Project Ubin, its blockchain-based multi-currency payments network, has proven its commercial potential after tests with more than 40 companies.

The initiative was launched in 2016. A prototype developed by Temasek and J.P. Morgan began undergoing testing last year to see how well it would integrate with commercial blockchain applications.

A report released today, commissioned by MAS and Temasek, said Project Ubin’s prototype was validated through workshops with more than 40 financial and non-financial firms. Its potential uses include faster, less costly cross-border transactions; foreign currency exchange; and smart contracts for escrow and trade.

The report also said that Project Ubin’s prototype can potentially pave the way to enable more collaborations with central banks and other financial institution to build better cross-border payments networks.

In a statement, Chia Song Hwee, Temasek’s deputy chief executive officer, said “This validates Temasek’s efforts in exploring and building blockchain solutions focusing on digital identity, digital currencies and financial asset tokenization. We look forward to supporting commercialization efforts emanating from Project Ubin and other application areas, with a view to drive greater adoption of blockchain technology.”

Project Ubin, the Singaporean money authority’s blockchain initiative, moves closer to commercialization

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and state investment firm Temasek announced today that Project Ubin, its blockchain-based multi-currency payments network, has proven its commercial potential after tests with more than 40 companies.

The initiative was launched in 2016. A prototype developed by Temasek and J.P. Morgan began undergoing testing last year to see how well it would integrate with commercial blockchain applications.

A report released today, commissioned by MAS and Temasek, said Project Ubin’s prototype was validated through workshops with more than 40 financial and non-financial firms. Its potential uses include faster, less costly cross-border transactions; foreign currency exchange; and smart contracts for escrow and trade.

The report also said that Project Ubin’s prototype can potentially pave the way to enable more collaborations with central banks and other financial institution to build better cross-border payments networks.

In a statement, Chia Song Hwee, Temasek’s deputy chief executive officer, said “This validates Temasek’s efforts in exploring and building blockchain solutions focusing on digital identity, digital currencies and financial asset tokenization. We look forward to supporting commercialization efforts emanating from Project Ubin and other application areas, with a view to drive greater adoption of blockchain technology.”

Tesla lowers the starting price of its Model Y electric SUV

Tesla has lowered the price of another vehicle. This time it’s the Model Y, an electric SUV the company started shipping in March. The long-range all-wheel drive version of the car is now listed with a purchase price of $49,990, or $3,000 less than what it was before. The car’s new pricing was first reported by Electrek over the weekend.

In May, Tesla cut prices for several of its electric cars, including high-end vehicles like the Model S sedan and the Model X SUV. The new pricing comes as U.S. automakers try to attract buyers despite the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The traditional big three U.S. automakers, Ford, GM and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, are offering 0% financing rates, in addition to deferred or longer-term payment options, while other automakers have also announced incentives and payment plans to appeal to new buyers and keep existing owners from defaulting on loans.

At the beginning of this month, Tesla said it delivered 90,650 vehicles in the second quarter, a 4.8% decline due to the pandemic and suspension of production at its main U.S. factory for several weeks, but still better than analysts’ expectations. Most of the deliveries, or 80,050, were Model 3 and Model Y, while the remaining 10,600 were its higher-end Model S and Model X.

WeWork’s chairman says it expects to have positive cash flow in 2021

After aggressive cost-cutting measures, including mass layoffs and selling several of its businesses, WeWork’s chairman expects the company to have positive cash flow in 2021. Marcelo Claure, who became WeWork’s chairman after co-founder Adam Neumann resigned as chief executive officer last fall, told the Financial Times that the co-working space startup is on target to meet its goal, set in February, of reaching operating profitability by the end of next year.

Claure is also chief operating officer of SoftBank Group, which invested $18.5 billion in the co-working space, according to leaked comments made by Claure during an October all-hands meeting.

SoftBank said in April that it would lose $24 billion on investments, with one of the main reasons being WeWork’s implosion last year. The company’s financial and management issues brought its valuation down from as much as $47 billion at the beginning of 2019 to $2.9 billion in March, according to a May report by CNBC.

In addition to the layoffs, WeWork sold off businesses including Flatiron School, Teem and its share of The Wing. Claure told the Financial times that WeWork also cut its workforce from a high of 14,000 last year to 5,600.

Neumann resigned as CEO in September, reportedly at the behest of SoftBank, over concerns about the company’s financial health and his behavior. Then the company postponed its IPO filing. The next month, SoftBank took ownership of WeWork as part of a financing package.

Claure is credited with orchestrating a turnaround at Sprint, cutting losses and increasing its stock price in 2015, three years after it was acquired by SoftBank. He has served as SoftBank Group’s COO since 2018.

Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many people to work from home, Claure said that companies have been leasing spaces from WeWork to serve as satellite offices close to where employees live. But he also said that revenues were flat during the second-quarter because many tenants terminated their leases or stopped paying rent.

WeWork’s chairman says it expects to have positive cash flow in 2021

After aggressive cost-cutting measures, including mass layoffs and selling several of its businesses, WeWork’s chairman expects the company to have positive cash flow in 2021. Marcelo Claure, who became WeWork’s chairman after co-founder Adam Neumann resigned as chief executive officer last fall, told the Financial Times that the co-working space startup is on target to meet its goal, set in February, of reaching operating profitability by the end of next year.

Claure is also chief operating officer of SoftBank Group, which invested $18.5 billion in the co-working space, according to leaked comments made by Claure during an October all-hands meeting.

SoftBank said in April that it would lose $24 billion on investments, with one of the main reasons being WeWork’s implosion last year. The company’s financial and management issues brought its valuation down from as much as $47 billion at the beginning of 2019 to $2.9 billion in March, according to a May report by CNBC.

In addition to the layoffs, WeWork sold off businesses including Flatiron School, Teem and its share of The Wing. Claure told the Financial times that WeWork also cut its workforce from a high of 14,000 last year to 5,600.

Neumann resigned as CEO in September, reportedly at the behest of SoftBank, over concerns about the company’s financial health and his behavior. Then the company postponed its IPO filing. The next month, SoftBank took ownership of WeWork as part of a financing package.

Claure is credited with orchestrating a turnaround at Sprint, cutting losses and increasing its stock price in 2015, three years after it was acquired by SoftBank. He has served as SoftBank Group’s COO since 2018.

Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many people to work from home, Claure said that companies have been leasing spaces from WeWork to serve as satellite offices close to where employees live. But he also said that revenues were flat during the second-quarter because many tenants terminated their leases or stopped paying rent.

California reportedly launches antitrust investigation into Google

According to a report in Politico, California has become the 49th state to launch an antitrust investigation into Google.

California and Alabama were the only states that did not participate in an antitrust investigation by 48 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, that began in September and is focused on Google’s dominance in online advertising and search.

It is still unclear what aspects of Google’s business the reported California investigation will focus on.

The Justice Department is also currently conducing its own antitrust investigation into Google, and working with the multi-state probe. It is expected that the investigations will result in lawsuits against Google.

Google is among several big tech companies, including Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon, that are currently being scrutinized by state and federal legislators and agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission, over alleged antitrust issues.

In 2011, California, four other states (Texas, New York, Oklahoma and Ohio) and the Federal Trade Commission launched an antitrust investigation into allegations that Google unfairly favored its own products over competitors in search results. That investigation was closed in 2013.

TechCrunch has contacted Google and the office of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra for comment.

 

U.S. government may finalize ban on federal contractors using equipment from Huawei this week

The Trump administration is set to finalize regulations this week that ban the United States government from working with contractors who use technology from five Chinese companies: Huawei, ZTE, Hikvision, Dahua and Hytera Communications, according to a Reuters report.

The ban was first introduced as a provision in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act that prevents government agencies from signing contracts with companies that use equipment, services and systems from Huawei, ZTE, Hytera, Hikvision and Dahua, or any of their subsidiaries and affiliates, citing national security concerns.

Contractors were given until August 13, 2020 to comply, but immediately began voicing concerns over the ambiguity of the law.

More recently, the National Defense Industrial Association, a trade group, asked the government to extend the deadline because it said many contractors are currently dealing with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, reported Defense News.

Another challenge for federal contractors is that the companies on the blacklist are global market leaders in their respective categories, making it harder to find alternatives. For example, Huawei and ZTE are two of the largest telecom equipment providers in the world; Dahua and Hikvision are two of the biggest providers of surveillance equipment and cameras; and Hytera is a market leader for two-way radios.

The ban is one of many entanglements Huawei has had with the U.S. government since it was first identified as a national security threat, along with ZTE, in a 2012 Congressional report.

In May 2019, Huawei filed a legal motion against the provision in the National Defense Authorization Act, with the company’s chief legal officer stating that “politicians in the U.S. are using the strength of an entire nation to come after a private company.”

The United States, however, is not the only country with national security concerns about Huawei. On Thursday, for example, Reuters reported that Telecom Italia (TIM) decided to exclude Huawei from its tender for 5G equipment in Italy and Brazil, as the Italian government deliberates whether to bar Huawei’s tech from the country’s 5G network. Huawei told Reuters that “the security and development of digital Italy should be based on an approach grounded in facts and not baseless allegations.”

The United Kingdom is also reportedly considering a similar ban on Huawei in its 5G network.

U.S. government may finalize ban on federal contractors using equipment from Huawei this week

The Trump administration is set to finalize regulations this week that ban the United States government from working with contractors who use technology from five Chinese companies: Huawei, ZTE, Hikvision, Dahua and Hytera Communications, according to a Reuters report.

The ban was first introduced as a provision in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act that prevents government agencies from signing contracts with companies that use equipment, services and systems from Huawei, ZTE, Hytera, Hikvision and Dahua, or any of their subsidiaries and affiliates, citing national security concerns.

Contractors were given until August 13, 2020 to comply, but immediately began voicing concerns over the ambiguity of the law.

More recently, the National Defense Industrial Association, a trade group, asked the government to extend the deadline because it said many contractors are currently dealing with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, reported Defense News.

Another challenge for federal contractors is that the companies on the blacklist are global market leaders in their respective categories, making it harder to find alternatives. For example, Huawei and ZTE are two of the largest telecom equipment providers in the world; Dahua and Hikvision are two of the biggest providers of surveillance equipment and cameras; and Hytera is a market leader for two-way radios.

The ban is one of many entanglements Huawei has had with the U.S. government since it was first identified as a national security threat, along with ZTE, in a 2012 Congressional report.

In May 2019, Huawei filed a legal motion against the provision in the National Defense Authorization Act, with the company’s chief legal officer stating that “politicians in the U.S. are using the strength of an entire nation to come after a private company.”

The United States, however, is not the only country with national security concerns about Huawei. On Thursday, for example, Reuters reported that Telecom Italia (TIM) decided to exclude Huawei from its tender for 5G equipment in Italy and Brazil, as the Italian government deliberates whether to bar Huawei’s tech from the country’s 5G network. Huawei told Reuters that “the security and development of digital Italy should be based on an approach grounded in facts and not baseless allegations.”

The United Kingdom is also reportedly considering a similar ban on Huawei in its 5G network.

Singaporean startup Karana raises $1.7 million for meat substitutes made from jackfruit

Singaporeans have a growing appetite for plant-based meat substitutes. In fact, demand for products from companies like Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and Quorn have grown during the pandemic, partly because consumers are making more health-conscious decisions, according to the Straits Time. Now there is a new entrant to the market. Headquartered in Singapore, Karana announced today it has raised $1.7 million in seed funding and plans to launch its first product, a pork substitute made from jackfruit, this year.

Karana’s seed investors include Henry Soesanto, the CEO of Monde Nissin Group, which acquired Quorn Foods in 2015; agtech investment firms Big Idea Ventures and Germi8; and angel investors Kevin Poon and Gerald Li, both Hong Kong entrepreneurs with experience in the food and beverage industry. Karana said the round also included participation from an undisclosed leading Asia-based FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) distributor.

Karana’s jackfruit is sourced from Sri Lanka, where jackfruit is already a common meat substitute. What Karana’s processing method does is create a texture that replicates minced and shredded pork more closely, making it easier to use in dishes like dumplings, char siu bao or bahn mi.

Founded in 2018 by Dan Riegler and Blair Crichton, Karana turns organic jackfruit into a pork substitute by using a proprietary mechanical technique that the company says does not use any chemical processing. Its pork substitute will be available in restaurants this year, before arriving in retail stores at the beginning of next year.

Riegler and Crichton told TechCrunch in an email that Karana uses jackfruit because it not only has a “naturally meaty texture,” but is an environmentally-friendly crop. It is usually grown intercropped (or with other produce, in the same field), has a high yield and low water usage. But about 60% of jackfruit harvested currently goes to waste, they added. “There is a lot of room for further commercialization, which means additional income streams for farmers.”

Karana’s founders started with pork because it is the most frequently consumed meat in Asia. Its seed funding will be used on research and development to launch new products and the company currently talking to strategic partners in other Asian markets. Future Karana products will use other crops grown in Asia to create new meat substitutes.

“Karana is a whole-plant meat company, our focus is on leveraging what nature has given us and enhancing these amazing biodiverse ingredients to create delicious products. In the future, we will launch products using other regional ingredients that will enable us to expand beyond pork,” the founders said. “This is a real differentiator from other companies that are by-and-large relying on commodity crops in processed forms.”

Singaporean startup Karana raises $1.7 million for meat substitutes made from jackfruit

Singaporeans have a growing appetite for plant-based meat substitutes. In fact, demand for products from companies like Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and Quorn have grown during the pandemic, partly because consumers are making more health-conscious decisions, according to the Straits Time. Now there is a new entrant to the market. Headquartered in Singapore, Karana announced today it has raised $1.7 million in seed funding and plans to launch its first product, a pork substitute made from jackfruit, this year.

Karana’s seed investors include Henry Soesanto, the CEO of Monde Nissin Group, which acquired Quorn Foods in 2015; agtech investment firms Big Idea Ventures and Germi8; and angel investors Kevin Poon and Gerald Li, both Hong Kong entrepreneurs with experience in the food and beverage industry. Karana said the round also included participation from an undisclosed leading Asia-based FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) distributor.

Karana’s jackfruit is sourced from Sri Lanka, where jackfruit is already a common meat substitute. What Karana’s processing method does is create a texture that replicates minced and shredded pork more closely, making it easier to use in dishes like dumplings, char siu bao or bahn mi.

Founded in 2018 by Dan Riegler and Blair Crichton, Karana turns organic jackfruit into a pork substitute by using a proprietary mechanical technique that the company says does not use any chemical processing. Its pork substitute will be available in restaurants this year, before arriving in retail stores at the beginning of next year.

Riegler and Crichton told TechCrunch in an email that Karana uses jackfruit because it not only has a “naturally meaty texture,” but is an environmentally-friendly crop. It is usually grown intercropped (or with other produce, in the same field), has a high yield and low water usage. But about 60% of jackfruit harvested currently goes to waste, they added. “There is a lot of room for further commercialization, which means additional income streams for farmers.”

Karana’s founders started with pork because it is the most frequently consumed meat in Asia. Its seed funding will be used on research and development to launch new products and the company currently talking to strategic partners in other Asian markets. Future Karana products will use other crops grown in Asia to create new meat substitutes.

“Karana is a whole-plant meat company, our focus is on leveraging what nature has given us and enhancing these amazing biodiverse ingredients to create delicious products. In the future, we will launch products using other regional ingredients that will enable us to expand beyond pork,” the founders said. “This is a real differentiator from other companies that are by-and-large relying on commodity crops in processed forms.”