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India offers $2.46B incentive to boost domestic production of batteries



India’s cabinet on Wednesday approved Department of Heavy Industry’s proposal to provide incentives to boost domestic production of batteries with advanced energy storage, the latest in a series of efforts by New Delhi to make the world’s second largest internet market less reliant on other nations for various electronics goods and shrink its trade deficit.

The government’s new $2.46 billion plan, dubbed “National Programme on Advanced Chemistry Cell (ACC) Battery Storage,” is aimed at cutting the nation’s import volume, said Prakash Javadekar, India’s Minister of Heavy Industry and Public Enterprises, in a news conference.

“All the demand of the ACCs is currently being met through imports in India. The National Programme on Advanced Chemistry Cell (ACC) Battery Storage will reduce import dependence,” the ministry said in a statement.

The government, which said it will conduct a transparent competitive bidding process and disburse incentives over a course of five years, aims to achieve the manufacturing capacity of 50GWh of ACC and 5GWh of “Niche” ACC, it said.

The ministry said the firms that are granted the incentives will be expected to set up manufacturing facilities in India, conduct research and development to achieve high energy sensitive and cycles, invest around $6.1 billion in ACC battery storage manufacturing projects, and facilitate demand creation for battery storage in the country.

The initiative will also help bring down the “oil import bill and help in earning green energy credentials. Besides powering electric vehicles, it will also generate clean energy for domestic consumption,” said Manish Sharma, Chair FICCI Energy Storage Committee and CEO of Panasonic India, in a statement.

“The manufacturing of ACCs will facilitate demand for EVs [Electric Vehicles], which are proven to be significantly less polluting. As India pursues an ambitious renewable energy agenda, the ACC program will be a key contributing factor to reduce India’s GreenHouse Gas (GHG) emissions which will be in line with India’s commitment to combat climate change,” the ministry said.

Wednesday’s announcement follows similar incentives New Delhi has approved in recent quarters. In February, India approved $1 billion plan to boost local manufacturing and exports of laptops, tablets, and PCs. In October, India offered smartphone manufacturers incentives of 4% to 6% over five years on sales of some products made in India. Reuters reported earlier this year that India was also considering giving cash incentives of more than $1 billion to each firm that sets up chip fabrication unit in the country.

The nation, whose economy has been hit hard by the pandemic, has in recent years tried a combination of tariffs and perks to persuade companies to produce more in India, which also creates local jobs.

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Private Equity

To sustain diversity, investors must tune into their unconscious biases



When the pandemic struck last year, the fundraising world turned upside down. Due to shifting priorities, investors had to commit to taking care of their portfolio companies, the majority of which were led by white men.

Any funding opportunities we had in the pipeline evaporated. This was especially true for investors considering attempts to reach new and underrepresented founders.

But the fundraising market came back pretty quickly in 2020 — for some. And though we are thrilled to have closed a $1.5 million pre-seed round in the middle of a pandemic, the challenges we faced in the past continued. The spotlight only turned back on minority founders after the Black Lives Matter movement took off last summer, and we began to pursue fundraising again in late 2020. We could tell by how investors interacted with our pitch deck or asked us questions that they already had preconceived ideas about us and our business.

We were in our second year of running Handsome and had traction similar to, if not better than, other male-centric startups that were getting funded, yet we still ran into friction when fundraising. The hard part was that we didn’t have any concrete evidence as to why, or the extent to which, fundraising was harder for minority and female teams outside of our apparent challenges and personal experiences. Men are allowed to have a vision or an idea on the back of a cocktail napkin, while women need to have fully established businesses and revenue streams.

The evidence is in the analytics

DocSend, a tool that we and thousands of other startups use to send out pitch decks to investors, analyzed how investors interact with pitch decks. A recent DocSend study confirmed our hunch, finding that investors do indeed scrutinize the decks of businesses founded by women and minorities differently.

For instance, their data showed investors spent 20% longer on the business model section of decks from all-female teams at the pre-seed stage than all-male teams. While more time spent on a particular section of a deck may seem to indicate more interest, it can actually be a sign of greater scrutiny and skepticism.

We could tell by how investors interacted with our pitch deck or asked us questions that they already had preconceived ideas about us and our business.

When you look at the makeup of the average VC you are pitching to, it is likely a middle-aged white man. When pitching Handsome — something that’s reimagining the education and community of the beauty industry — you can imagine that most VCs don’t understand the value and opportunity at hand. Although beauty is a $190 billion global industry ($60 billion alone in the U.S.), investors who don’t follow this industry might have a hard time understanding how big it is, how the industry works, and how our business fits into this thriving market. Even further, investors might completely discredit our business because of the “beauty” label.

All these factors can lead to more time spent analyzing the business model — and its viability — articulated in our pitch deck. In reality, VCs are busy, and if they’re spending more time on the fundamentals of your business, they don’t understand it. It’s more likely they are looking for ways that your business won’t work. And, frankly, we are not business school graduates or Stanford alumni, so investors who want to de-risk their portfolios will spend more time looking at our deck to gauge if we know how to build a business.

More than goodwill is needed for lasting change

Despite all this, we believe that most of the time, investors don’t even know they are acting on these biases. They don’t realize they may have already written you off, which is part of the problem. Awareness of a subconscious bias is the first step toward making positive change. Investors may think they’re widening the funnel simply by taking a meeting or providing mentorship over coffee when, subconsciously, they’ve already counted you out.

Even though the barriers are being lowered, minority founders just starting out still have a hard time getting their foot in the door. Most underrepresented founders don’t have an established network, making it difficult to get even an initial introduction. That’s why these founders aren’t getting meetings. So even with more investor goodwill, founders are still unable to access the capital they need to grow their businesses.

It takes time and effort to enact meaningful changes. Truly committed people are going to work on these issues over the coming years and decades. It’s only on a longer time scale that we’re going to be able to tell whether investors promising change have delivered. Changing the demographics of the founders you fund requires year in, year out consistency, again and again and again.

Only then will we see a time when the future of great ideas is not hindered by the demographics of the people building businesses out of those ideas.

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An internal code repo used by New York State’s IT office was exposed online



A code repository used by the New York state government’s IT department was left exposed on the internet, allowing anyone to access the projects inside, some of which contained secret keys and passwords associated with state government systems.

The exposed GitLab server was discovered on Saturday by Dubai-based SpiderSilk, a cybersecurity company credited with discovering data spills at Samsung, Clearview AI and MoviePass.

Organizations use GitLab to collaboratively develop and store their source code — as well as the secret keys, tokens and passwords needed for the projects to work — on servers that they control. But the exposed server was accessible from the internet and configured so that anyone from outside the organization could create a user account and log in unimpeded, SpiderSilk’s chief security officer Mossab Hussin told TechCrunch.

When TechCrunch visited the GitLab server, the login page showed it was accepting new user accounts. It’s not known exactly how long the GitLab server was accessible in this way, but historic records from Shodan, a search engine for exposed devices and databases, shows the GitLab was first detected on the internet on March 18.

SpiderSilk shared several screenshots showing that the GitLab server contained secret keys and passwords associated with servers and databases belonging to New York State’s Office of Information Technology Services. Fearing the exposed server could be maliciously accessed or tampered with, the startup asked for help in disclosing the security lapse to the state.

TechCrunch alerted the New York governor’s office to the exposure a short time after the server was found. Several emails to the governor’s office with details of the exposed GitLab server were opened but were not responded to. The server went offline on Monday afternoon.

Scot Reif, a spokesperson for New York State’s Office of Information Technology Services, said the server was “a test box set up by a vendor, there is no data whatsoever, and it has already been decommissioned by ITS.” (Reif declared his response “on background” and attributable to a state official, which would require both parties agree to the terms in advance, but we are printing the reply as we were not given the opportunity to reject the terms.)

When asked, Reif would not say who the vendor was or if the passwords on the server were changed. Several projects on the server were marked “prod,” or common shorthand for “production,” a term for servers that are actively use. Reif also would not say if the incident was reported to the state’s Attorney General’s office. When reached, a spokesperson for the Attorney General did not comment by press time.

TechCrunch understands the vendor is Indotronix-Avani, a New York-based company with offices in India, and owned by venture capital firm Nigama Ventures. Several screenshots show some of the GitLab projects were modified by a project manager at Indotronix-Avani. The vendor’s website touts New York State on its website, along with other government customers, including the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Department of Defense.

Indotronix-Avani spokesperson Mark Edmonds did not respond to requests for comment.

Read more:

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Snap makes a deal with Universal Music Group, adding its catalog to Sounds



Snap today announced a multi-year deal with Universal Music Group, one of the largest music companies in the world. From Queen to Justin Bieber, users can clip songs from the expansive UMG catalog to use in their Snaps and on Spotlight, the app’s TikTok competitor.

This announcement comes after Snapchat added its Sounds feature in October, which lets users enhance their Snaps with music that Snap has licensed. Snap says that since then, over 521 million videos have been created using Sounds, which have been viewed over 31 billion times.

Of course, Snapchat’s investment in music is a direct response to the growth of music on TikTok. Last year, Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 album “Rumours” re-entered the Billboard charts after “Dreams,” a song on the record, went viral on TikTok. Dance trends also often go viral on TikTok, which can correlate with a boost in sales for the artist whose song is featured. So, the more music that’s licensed by apps like TikTok and Snapchat, the more opportunity there is for another Nathan Apodaca moment, which means free publicity for the platform.

Already, gen Z artists like Olivia Rodrigo have leveraged these social platforms to promote their new music. On Snap, over 10 million videos were created using her song “Driver’s License,” Snap reports. Rodrigo was also the first artist to use AR Lenses on Snapchat to promote her record-breaking debut “Sour,” but to be fair, she also shared AR effects on Instagram.

Olivia Rodrigo sings about “deja vu” on her new album, and you might also be getting deja vu from Snap’s announcement. TikTok also struck a deal with UMG in February. And before that, in November, TikTok announced a new licensing agreement with Sony. Meanwhile, Snap’s portfolio of music partners include Warner Music Group, Sony Music Publishing, and more.

These deals aren’t exclusive — you can make a video with “deja vu” on Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram alike. When it comes to deals like these, it’s a constant battle of reactionary one-upmanship. If TikTok makes a deal with UMG, Snapchat needs to strike a deal with UMG as well to remain competitive, which is what we’re seeing today. As our friend Olivia would say, it’s brutal out here.

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5 takeaways from BuzzFeed’s SPAC deck



Digital media outfit BuzzFeed announced today that it will go public via a SPAC, or blank check company. BuzzFeed also disclosed that it will purchase Complex, another media company, for $300 million in cash and shares in BuzzFeed itself; the SPAC deal will help finance its purchase of Complex.

The transaction will see BuzzFeed merge with 890 Fifth Avenue Partners Inc., a public company, with the combined entity sporting an enterprise valuation of around $1.5 billion after its completion.

BuzzFeed’s SPAC partner is bringing $288 million in cash to the table, and BuzzFeed intends to raise another $150 million in a convertible debt offering.

In raw numbers, BuzzFeed is a large company with hundreds of millions of dollars in yearly revenue and a roughly break-even business in recent years.

In raw numbers, BuzzFeed is a large company with hundreds of millions of dollars in yearly revenue and a roughly break-even business in recent years. The company’s investor presentation anticipates a return to growth after a mostly flat 2020, and rising profitability over time.

So let’s get into the company’s investor presentation. We want to know about its historical growth, anticipated growth, revenue mix and profitability, as well as how the company thinks about its news division. Let’s go!

I’ve broken each of our points into its own minisection, so if you want to skate ahead to any particular point, feel free!

Historical revenue growth

Why is BuzzFeed buying Complex? In part, because it adds audience scale to its platform, a key to the company’s expected future advertising revenue growth (more on that in a moment). But also because Complex adds a lot of revenue to its overall top-line picture.

For example, in BuzzFeed’s historical revenue figures we see the following numbers:

  • 2019: $425 million.
  • 2020: $421 million.

But the company’s historical results are inclusive of Complex. Here’s the breakdown of the company’s historical revenues (gray) and Complex’s own (black). The combined figures are what BuzzFeed notes in its trailing metrics:

Image Credits: BuzzFeed SPAC deck

From this breakdown, we can see that BuzzFeed anticipates 19% growth from Complex in 2021, and just under 23% growth from the group it’s acquiring in 2022.

Per a later slide, BuzzFeed grew 4% in 2019, inclusive of historical Complex numbers. That figure fell to -1% in 2020.

Our read of the company’s historical revenue growth is that it weathered a turbulent 2020 in reasonable health; digital advertising took a huge hit in the first half of the year, likely impacting BuzzFeed’s operating results. To see it manage an essentially flat revenue result last year feels pretty OK.

Future revenue growth

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