Boston Tech Watch: Uber Bill, Noncompetes, Layoffs, & Expansions
This week in Boston, we’re tracking the latest tech legislation on Beacon Hill, layoffs at startups and big companies, and announcements of new companies, products, and offices. Read on for details.
On the hill
—Massachusetts lawmakers are once again considering regulations for ride-hailing app companies like Uber and Lyft. Under a new bill backed by House Speaker Robert DeLeo, drivers would undergo background checks conducted by both the companies and the state; they would have to display identifying markers on the outside of their vehicles; and they would not be allowed to pick up riders at taxi stands, Logan Airport, or the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, the Boston Globe reported. Uber and Lyft wouldn’t be allowed to charge “surge prices” during weather emergencies, among other provisions.
The bill does not require the fingerprinting of drivers, something taxi companies and Boston’s police commissioner have sought.
—In other news from Beacon Hill, DeLeo promised legislation that would place limits on noncompete agreements in Massachusetts. The broad strokes of DeLeo’s proposal—which reportedly drew early support from noncompete advocate EMC—would limit noncompetes to 12 months, ban them for lower-wage workers, and require employers to inform prospective hires if signing a noncompete agreement would be required of them.
Past efforts to curtail or enact an outright ban of noncompetes in Massachusetts have stalled in recent years. Reactions to the latest proposal were mixed. Some local tech startup leaders—who view noncompetes as roadblocks to entrepreneurship—saw it as progress, while many others don’t think the proposal goes far enough.
—Boston sports app startup Fancred has laid off its entire 14-person staff and is seeking a buyer for the company, BetaBoston reported. The company had raised $4.5 million from investors, but it reportedly was unable to snag additional venture capital to keep the business afloat. The app didn’t build a big enough user base to appeal to advertisers, CEO Hossein Kash Razzaghi told BetaBoston.
—Burlington, MA-based Avid Technology (NASDAQ: AVID), best known for its video and audio editing software, is cutting an unspecified number of jobs and shuttering some of its offices as part of a $68 million cost-savings plan.
—Boston-based Affectiva is bringing its emotion-sensing technology to video games. It struck a partnership with video game studio Flying Mollusk, which is integrating webcams and Affectiva software with its psychological thriller “Nevermind.” The webcam will track players’ facial expressions, and as they get more nervous or scared, the game’s difficulty level will increase.
—Tom DeVesto, founder of Cambridge SoundWorks and Tivoli Audio, is back with his third Boston-based audio technology company, Como Audio. DeVesto isn’t revealing much yet, but he told BetaBoston that Como’s products will have something to do with improving the experience of streaming music.