Boston Tech Watch: Polaris, GE, DataRobot, Facial Recognition Woes

[Updated 8:50 am, 6/21/19. See below.] Two weeks-worth of Boston tech news coming your way that covers new cash, executive moves, wary public sentiment on facial recognition, a mega-merger, and more.

—Venture capital firm Polaris Partners is looking to raise $400 million for its ninth fund, according to an SEC filing. Polaris has placed bets on life science, healthcare, and tech startups since its founding in 1996, including names like Akamai, Editas, LogMeIn, Drizly, Imprivata, Adimab, ClearSky Data, Gossamer Bio, Iora Health, Rapid7, Trulia, and Veracode. Polaris raised $435 million for its eighth fund in 2017. Xconomy has reached out to Polaris for more info on the new fund and will update this when more details are available.

—PredictiveHR, a human resources software startup in Boston, has raised $1 million from angel investors, the company says. The startup gathers and normalizes unstructured employee data from across company systems and uses machine learning software to track talent trends and predict financial impacts.

—Machine learning startup DataRobot has acquired Santa Clara, CA-based ParallelM, which specializes in machine learning operations. Terms for the acquisition were not disclosed. DataRobot says it plans to add ParallelM’s machine learning management offering to its existing platform and also open a second office in the San Francisco Bay area. ParallelM is the fourth company DataRobot has acquired in about two years.

—IRobot has acquired educational robot company Root Robotics, maker of a robot that teaches coding to children as young as four years old. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. The Root robot was initially developed at the Wyss Institute at Harvard University. [Added.]

—Online payments company BlueSnap expanded its Waltham, MA, office space by 12,000 square feet. The B2B and B2C payments technology company has 65 of its 165 employees in the Massachusetts office, and it plans to fill the expanded space with 40 more employees by the end of next year.

—Critical event security company Everbridge (NASDAQ: EVBG) has named a new CEO. David Meredith, former chief operating officer at Rackspace, is set to take the corner office at the Burlington, MA, company in mid-July, according to a press release. Everbridge’s current CEO, Jaime Ellertson, will transition to the role of executive chairman of the company’s board.

—Nine in 10 Massachusetts voters say the government should regulate its use of facial recognition technologies, according to a poll released this week by ACLU Massachusetts. Nearly eight in 10 voters say there should be a moratorium on the government’s use of facial recognition. The public safety applications of facial recognition are clear, but there’s real fear that the technology could also provide the government with immense surveillance powers that impinge on civil rights. Seventy-six percent of the voters polled by the ACLU say the government shouldn’t be able to monitor and track people with facial recognition.

—Former Kiva Systems and Amazon Robotics executive Amy Villeneuve has joined the board of directors of Humatics, a micro-location technology startup working with autonomous vehicles, industrial automation, and smart cities. Villeneuve oversaw the growth of Kiva’s warehouse robotics business, which lead to Amazon acquiring the company in 2012 for $775 million. She is also on the board of 6 River Systems, another logistics robotics company, and Ori Systems, a robotic furniture startup.

—General Electric is reportedly looking to offload its corporate venture arm, GE Ventures, amid the company’s broad turnaround plan under CEO Larry Culp that has already resulted in a handful of other business units being spun off. CNBC reports GE Venture’s portfolio has stakes in more than 100 startups and has been shopping itself for several months. GE Ventures has hired Lazard to manage the sale, CNBC reports, citing unnamed sources.

—Wellesley, MA-based Truvideo has raised $1.6 million, according to a SEC filing. The company’s technology connects mechanics at auto service shops with customers via video to walk them through vehicle repairs or issues.

—Telehealth company American Well is working with Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO) on a project to bring hospital resources to older patients at home by using their in-home television sets. The announcement comes on the heels of federal approval for telehealth coverage for Medicare Advantage plans, which cover 20 million people, or about a third of all Medicare beneficiaries, according to American Well.

—Defense contractor Raytheon (NYSE: RTN) has agreed to merge with Connecticut-headquartered aerospace firm United Technologies (NYSE: UTX) in an all-stock deal. The new company, Raytheon Technologies, will be based out of Raytheon’s current headquarters in Waltham, MA. The combined company would have $74 billion in sales this year, a research and development budget of $8 billion, and 60,000 engineers. The deal needs approvals from regulators and the shareholders of both public companies.

—Alyce, a Boston company that lets corporate marketers and sales reps send personalized “swag” to potential customers, has raised an $11.5 million Series A funding round led by Manifest Investment Partners and joined by General Catalyst, Boston Seed Capital, Golden Ventures, Morningside Ventures, and Victress Capital. The startup says its software is powered by artificial intelligence and gives recipients of a gift the option to accept or exchange the gift, or donate the value of the gift to their preferred charity.

—Fixed wireless internet service provider Starry won 104 licenses for spectrum as part of a recent Federal Communications Commission auction. The licenses cover 51 areas in 25 states, Starry says. With the added coverage area, Starry could offer its services to 60 million people in 25 million households in new markets including Chicago; San Francisco; Houston; Dallas; Seattle; Detroit; Atlanta; Indianapolis; Philadelphia; Miami; Memphis; Phoenix; Minneapolis; Manchester, NH; Portland, OR; and Sioux Falls, SD. Starry launched in Boston in 2016.

—Insurance tech startup Hi Marley has landed $8.7 million from True Ventures and Underscore VC to extend its conversational AI tools to help people buy and manage their policies. The Boston company says it is also working with insurance broker Aon (NYSE: AON) to move into more complicated sectors of business insurance through a strategic partnership. Hi Marley has built a platform for insurance companies that lets them send some claim work to chatbot-type AI systems.

—Cybersecurity startup Edgewise Networks has raised $11 million in a venture funding round from a trio of early-stage investors in the Boston area: .406 Ventures, Accomplice, and Pillar. Burlington, MA-based Edgewise was founded in 2016 by Peter Smith, a veteran of Endeca and Harvard Business School’s IT department, and Harry Sverdlove, former chief technology officer of Carbon Black. Edgewise previously raised $7 million, in July 2017.

Brian Dowling is a Senior Editor at Xconomy, based in Boston. You can reach him at bdowling [at] xconomy.com. Follow @be_d

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