Boston Tech Watch: IKEA and Ori, Skyworks and Huawei & Massport and Turo
[Updated 6/7/19, 9:50 am. See below.] Quite a range of topics in this week’s batch of Boston technology news: robot furniture, male fertility, airport car rental spats, as well as the usual deals and acquisitions. Read on for more:
—Boston-headquartered robotics startup Ori Living and IKEA are collaborating on a line of furniture for small living spaces. The line, called Rognan, is built on Ori’s robotic platform and claims to be able to free up 8 square meters of additional living space by transforming a bedroom into a closet, a workspace and a living room, the companies say. “Instead of making the furniture smaller, we transform the furniture to the function that you need at that time. When you sleep, you do not need your sofa. When you use your wardrobe, you do not need your bed etc.,” says IKEA product developer for new innovations Seana Strawn. IKEA says the furniture line will launch in Hong Kong and Japan in 2020.
—Woburn, MA-based chipmaker Skyworks (NASDAQ: SWKS) says the US ban on Chinese tech giant Huawei will erase $60 million in sales for the next quarter and slash per-share earnings by 10 percent. Skyworks says it relied on Huawei for 12 percent of its sales in the first half of the fiscal year. The US Commerce Department on May 16 banned US companies doing business with Huawei due to the company being “involved in activities contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests.” The decision follows months of unfruitful trade negotiations between the US and China and the arrest in Canada of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou.
—Legacy, a male fertility startup based at Harvard Innovation Labs that analyzes and cryogenically freezes sperm, has raised $1.5 million in funding from Bain Capital Ventures. Legacy offers customers the ability to have their sperm tested and frozen without visiting a clinic or consulting a doctor. Legacy arranges for testing samples to be picked up from users by a shipping partner.
—Blockchain startup Algorand says it will auction off its first batch of Algo tokens later this month, marking the official launch of its network. The Boston-based company says it will operate a Dutch auction on June 19 to set the price for the 25 million tokens it will distribute. The auction is being held from Singapore. The company—which raised $62 million from investors in February—warns that people in nine countries, including the US and Canada, are unable to participate in the auction due to legal issues.
—Another blockchain startup Voatz has raised $7 million in a Series A funding round led by Overstock.com’s Medici Ventures and Techstars. The Boston company says its mobile voting and civil engagement app is built on blockchain-infrastructure and identity verification using fingerprints or facial recognition. (How secure its online voting system is has been the focus of some criticism.) Most recently, Voatz’s platform was used in March by the County of Denver, CO, for absentee voting for deployed military and overseas US citizens. Voatz was also used in West Virginia during the 2018 midterm elections. [Added.]
—Car-sharing company Turo is being sued by the Massachusetts agency that oversees Boston Logan Airport for offering vehicles curbside at the airport as well as in its parking garages without approval. In a lawsuit filed this week, Massport says California-based Turo has ignored two letters demanding the company stop offering car rentals outside of the airport’s existing rental regulations and without collecting fees. Turo says the agency filed suit because it “caved into pressure from Enterprise Rent-a-car,” and the startup says Massport “is wrong in asserting that Turo is a rental car company and is wasting taxpayer dollars while depriving consumers of choice and economic opportunity.”
—The venture arm of the US intelligence and defense community In-Q-Tel is investing in Cambridge, MA-based artificial intelligence company Forge.AI. The company did not disclose the size of the investment. Jim Crowley, Jack Crowley, and Jennifer Lum founded Forge.AI in 2017 to help machine learning algorithms process unstructured data like social media text, news articles, financial reports, and regulatory filings. The company raised $11 million in new funding in December 2018. Retired Lt. Gen. John Mulholland is joining the company’s board of advisors as part of the strategic investment.
—Insurer MassMutual is donating a floor of its new office building in Boston’s Seaport neighborhood to startup accelerator MassChallenge once construction is finished in 2021. MassMutual started working with MassChallenge last year as a founding partner for its Boston-based fintech program.
—Apps Associates, an Acton, MA-based cloud migration company focused on Oracle (NYSE: ORCL) database and infrastructure systems, is acquiring Austin, TX-based SmartDog Services for an undisclosed sum. SmartDog offers consulting services for Oracle systems.
—Fincura, a startup developing AI for business lending, has reported raising $5.2 million of a prospective $7.2 million funding round, according to an SEC filing. The startup is developing a machine learning engine to parse unstructured data from private companies to make the lending process for businesses more efficient. The startup was a member of the first MassChallenge fintech cohort.