UK-based startup Sylvera is using satellite, radar and lidar data-fuelled machine learning to bolster transparency around carbon offsetting projects in a bid to boost accountability and credibility — applying independent ratings to carbon offsetting projects.
The ratings are based on proprietary data sets it’s developed in conjunction with scientists from research organisations including UCLA, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and University College London.
It’s just grabbed $5.8M in seed funding led by VC firm Index Ventures. All its existing institutional investors also participated — namely: Seedcamp, Speedinvest and Revent. It also has backing from leading angels, including the existing and former CEOs of NYSE, Thomson Reuters, Citibank and IHS Markit. (It confirms it has committed not to receive any investment from traditional carbon-intensive companies when as ask.) And it’s just snagged a $2M research contract from Innovate UK.
The problem it’s targeting is that the carbon offsetting market suffers from a lack of transparency.
This fuels concerns that many offsetting projects aren’t living up to their claims of a net reduction in carbon emissions — and that ‘creative’ carbon accountancy is rather being used to generate a lot of hot air: In the form of positive sounding PR which sums to meaningless greenwashing and more pollution as polluters get to keep on pumping out climate changing emissions.
Nonetheless the carbon offset markets are poised for huge growth — of at least 15x by 2030 — as large corporates accelerate their net zero commitments. And Sylvera’s bet is that that will drive demand for reliable, independent data — to stand up the claimed impact.
How exactly is Sylvera benchmarking carbon offsets? Co-founder Sam Gill says its technology platform draws on multiple layers of satellite data to capture project performance data at scale and at a high frequency.
It applies machine learning to analyze and visualize the data, while also conducting what it bills as “deep analytical work to assess the underlying project quality”. Via that process it creates a standardised rating for a project, so that market participants are able to transact according to their preferences.
It makes its ratings and analysis data available to its customers via a web application and an API (for which it charges a subscription).
“We assess two critical areas of a project — its carbon performance, and its ‘quality’,” Gill tells TechCrunch. “We score a project against these criteria, and give them ratings — much like a Moody’s rating on a bond.”
Carbon performance is assessed by gathering “multi-layered data” from multiple sources to understand what is going on on the ground of these projects — such as via multiple satellite sources such as multispectral image, Radar, and Lidar data.
“We collate this data over time, ingest it into our proprietary machine learning algorithms, and analyse how the project has performed against its stated aims,” Gill explains.
Quality is assessed by considering the technical aspects of the project. This includes what Gill calls “additionality”; aka “does the project have a strong claim to delivering a better outcome than would have occurred but for the existence of the offset revenue?”.
There is a known problem with some carbon offsets claimed against forests where the landowner had no intention of logging, for example. So if there wasn’t going to be any deforestation the carbon credit is essentially bogus.
He also says it looks at factors like permanence (“how long will the project’s impacts last?”); co-benefits (“how well has the project incorporated the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals?); and risks (“how well is the project mitigating risks, in particular those from humans and those from natural causes?”).
Clearly it’s not an exact science — and Gill acknowledges risks, for example, are often interlinked.
“It is critical to assess these performance and quality in tandem,” he tells TechCrunch. “It’s not enough to simply say a project is achieving the carbon goals set out in its plan.
“If the additionality of a project is low (e.g. it was actually unlikely the project would have been deforested without the project) then the achievement of the carbon goals set out in the project does not generate the anticipated carbon goals, and the underlying offsets are therefore weaker than appreciated.”
Commenting on the seed funding in a statement, Carlos Gonzalez-Cadenas, partner at Index Ventures, said: “This is a phenomenally strong team with the vision to build the first carbon offset rating benchmark, providing comprehensive insights around the quality of offsets, enabling purchase decisions as well as post-purchase monitoring and reporting. Sylvera is putting in place the building blocks that will be required to address climate change.”
5 tips for brands that want to succeed in the new era of influencer marketing
If I told you a decade ago that a spin bike would be a social community, you’d have had a good laugh. But that’s precisely what Peloton is: A spin bike with a social community where the instructors are the influencers.
Peloton is just one example of how social is being integrated into every aspect of the customer experience in an increasingly digital world. Whether it’s considering a new restaurant to check out, a movie to see or a product to buy, most people look at reviews before making a final decision. They want social proof as an indicator of quality and relevance.
Influencers are a natural byproduct of this desire for social validation, and as social permeates the customer journey, creators have become an essential source of validation and trust.
Influencers are a natural byproduct of this desire for social validation, and as social permeates the customer journey, creators have become an essential source of validation and trust. Indeed, social validation is what social platforms are built on, so it’s a significant component of how we derive relevance online — and the deeper integration of social is changing the dynamic between brands and digital creators.
The shifting economy of creator monetization
Brand sponsorships are the holy grail for creators hoping to monetize their online influence. According to an eMarketer report, brand partnerships are still the No. 1 source of revenue for most digital creators.
However, digital creators have a lot more monetization options to choose from, thanks to Patreon, affiliate platforms, paid content platforms and platform revenue sharing, making it easier to earn a living without relying so heavily on brand sponsorships.
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As a result, creators are diversifying their revenue streams, which, for some creators, allows them to be more selective about the brands they work with. What’s more, creators aren’t reliant on just one channel or one form of revenue.
YouTube creators probably have the most diversified revenue, often combining brand sponsorships, subscription models, affiliate deals, tipping/donations, their line of branded products and revenue share. However, it’s important to note that not all monetization options apply to every creator. But with so many options to choose from, making a living as a digital creator is more accessible than ever.
Here are a few of the ways online creators can monetize their content:
Ad revenue sharing: Advertising is the most traditional form of revenue for online creators. With this model, ads are injected into and around the creator’s content, and they make a certain percentage of revenue based on impressions. However, the revenue split can vary based on the platform, and some platforms have a specific threshold creators must hit before they can participate in ad revenue sharing.
Affiliate marketing: Similar to advertising or a brand sponsorship, affiliate marketing is an agreement for a share of revenue based on products sold. This kind of arrangement generally works best when the creator has a blog, website or YouTube account. Affiliate links allow the influencer to proactively choose the products they want to talk about and earn from, rather than having to wait for a brand deal to come their way.
Lordstown Motors reverses claims about ‘binding orders’ for electric pickup truck
Lordstown Motors does not have binding orders from customers for its electric Endurance pickup truck — a reversal from claims made earlier this week by company executives in an effort to restore confidence in the troubled company, according to a regulatory filing released Thursday.
Lordstown Motors interim CEO Angela Strand and President Rich Schmidt made a series of statements Tuesday at an Automotive Press Association event that drove up shares in the company, including that it has enough “binding orders” from customers to fund limited production of its electric pickup truck through May 2022. Those comments came just a day after an executive shakeup that included the resignation of the company’s CEO and CFO.
It appears those “binding orders” were more like agreements to maybe lease or buy, according to a document Lordstown filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The filing has caused shares of Lordstown to fall more than 4%.
The document reads:
To clarify recent remarks by company executives at the Automotive Press Association online media event on June 15, although these vehicle purchase agreements provide us with a significant indicator of demand for the Endurance, these agreements do not represent binding purchase orders or other firm purchase commitments. As previously disclosed in our Form 10-K/A for the year ended December 31, 2020, filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on June 8, 2021, to date, we have engaged in limited marketing activities and we have no binding purchase orders or commitments from customers.
Lordstown notes in the SEC filing that an important aspect of its sales and marketing strategy involves pursuing relationships with specialty upfitting and fleet management companies. For instance, in March 2021. Lordstown announced an agreement with ARI, a fleet management affiliate of Holman Enterprises. Under the agreement, ARI “would use reasonable efforts to facilitate orders from its leasing clients for the Endurance over a three-year time period on the terms set forth in the agreement.”
Lordstown has also entered into vehicle purchase agreements with additional specialty upfitting and fleet management companies as a component of that strategy, the company explained. This might sound like a binding order, but it’s not, as the following language in the SEC doc makes more clear.
“These vehicle purchase agreements generally include a projected buyer order schedule over the 3- to 5-year life of the agreement, and may be terminated by either party at will on 30 days’ notice,” the filing from Lordstown reads. “They do not commit the counterparties to purchase vehicles, but we believe that they provide us with a significant indicator of demand for the Endurance.”
The reversal from Lordstown is just the latest in a string of issues at the newly public company. Lordstown Motors is an offshoot of the now former CEO Steve Burns’ other company, Workhorse Group, a battery-electric transportation technology company that is also publicly traded. Workhorse holds a 10% stake in Lordstown Motors. Lordstown Motors went public after merging with special purpose acquisition company DiamondPeak Holdings Corp.
In March, Hindenburg Research, the short-seller firm whose report on Nikola Motor led to an SEC investigation and the resignation of its founder, said it had taken a short position on Lordstown Motors, causing shares to plummet 21%. Hindenburg said at the time that its short position was based on a company that has “no revenue and no sellable product, which we believe has misled investors on both its demand and production capabilities.”
Hindenburg disputes that the company has booked 100,000 pre-orders for its electric pickup truck, a stat shared by Lordstown Motors in January. The short seller says that “extensive research reveals that the company’s orders appear largely fictitious and used as a prop to raise capital and confer legitimacy.” The firm goes further and alleges that Lordstown founder and CEO Steve Burns paid consultants for every truck pre-order as early as 2016 while he was leading Workhorse.
Two months later, Lordstown reported in its first-quarter earnings that production volumes of the Endurance would likely be half — from around 2,200 vehicles to just 1,000 — due to a lack of funding. The statements made by Lordstown execs Tuesday appeared to be an attempt, which backfired, to assuage investors.
China launches 3 astronauts to its new space station core module
Three Chinese astronauts have docked at China’s space station core module, named Tianhe, for the first time.
The three astronauts flew to space as part of the Shenzhou 12 mission, China’s first crewed mission since 2012. They will call the core module of the Tiangong space station home until September, making it the longest crewed space mission in China’s history.
The three men, Commander Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo, arrived to their final destination just over seven hours after taking off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. Nie had been to low Earth orbit twice before: once on the Shenzhou 6 mission in 2005 and again aboard the Shenzhou 10 eight years later. Boming has also been to space, once in 2008.
The men will be busy during their tenure in orbit. Their mission marks the third of a series of eleven planned launches through 2022, all aimed at getting China’s first space station up and running. The goal of the Shenzhou 12 is to bring the core module into service, test its systems and ensure it is ready for subsequent stages of station assembly. Of the eight remaining launches, three more are expected to be crewed.
Building its own space station is a logical step for China, a country that has not been shy about its space ambitions in the recent years. It especially makes sense considering that China is barred from boarding the International Space Station after Congress passed a law in 2011. However, that does not mean that China’s space station will always be for its own exclusive use, country officials said during a news conference Wednesday.
Ji Qiming, an assistant director with the Shenzhou program, said that China “welcome[s] co-operation in this regard in general,” the BBC reported. “It is believed that, in the near future, after the completion of the Chinese space station, we will see Chinese and foreign astronauts fly and work together,” he said.
As part of its burgeoning space program, the Chinese rover Zhurong touched down on Mars last month, making China the only country besides the United States to land a robot on the planet.
Amazon’s Appstore lowers its cut of developer revenue for small businesses, adds AWS credits
Amazon is following in the footsteps of app store giants, Apple and Google, with this week’s introduction of its Amazon Appstore Small Business Accelerator Program. The new program will reduce the commissions Amazon takes on app developer revenues for qualifying smaller businesses. Previously, Amazon’s Appstore took a 30% cut of revenue, including that from in-app purchases. Now, it will take only 20% from developers who earned up to $1 million in the prior calendar year. The program will additionally offer AWS credits.
This program’s structure is similar to Apple’s App Store Small Business Program, announced in late 2020, which reduced Apple’s cut to 15% for developers who earn up to a $1 million threshold, after which they’re moved to the higher 30% standard rate. This rate then continues as they enter the following year. Google, more recently, took a slightly different course, by lowering the commissions to 15% on the first $1 million of developer revenue earned through the Play billing system each year.
Amazon’s cut remains larger at 20%, but that’s because it’s offering developers a different type of perk: AWS credits.
The company says developers with less than $1 million in Appstore revenue in a calendar year will receive 10% of their revenue as promotional credit for AWS services. This includes infrastructure technologies like compute, storage, and databases–to emerging technologies, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, data lakes and analytics, and Internet of Things, notes Amazon. This brings total program benefits up to an equivalent of 90 percent of revenue, Amazon says.
If the developer’s revenue exceeds $1 million during the current year, they’ll revert to the standard royalty rate and no longer receive the AWS credits for the rest of the year.
And if the developer’s revenue in a future year drops below $1 million, they’ll become eligible for the Small Business program again in the next calendar year.
“By helping small businesses get started with AWS through credits, we are making it easier for them to build and grow their app businesses,” noted Amazon Appstore Director, Palanidaran Chidambaram, in an announcement. “AWS gives developers easy access to a broad range of technologies so they can innovate faster and build nearly anything they can imagine,” he added.
The changes to app store commission structures come at a time when tech giants are seeing increasing regulatory pressure over the nature of their businesses, which larger app publishers, including Basecamp, Spotify, Epic Games and others have argued are anticompetitive. Epic is also suing Apple over its app store fees, in a potentially precedent-setting case. In response, Apple and Google lowered fees for smaller businesses as a gesture of goodwill — and one that wouldn’t significantly impact their own app store platform revenues.
Amazon says the new program will launch in Q4 2021, and more details about how to participate will be provided at that time.
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