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Dutch uni spinout gets $1.2M for its zero ink printing tech

Tocano, a spinout from Delft Technology University in the Netherlands which is working on an inkless printing technology, has closed a €1 million angel round to fund the next stage of its tech development and move a step closer to building its first commercial product.

The startup began as the graduate student project of co-founder Venkatesh Chandrasekar who, along with fellow student Van der Veen, founded the business in 2015, gaining early backing from the university.

The team now consists of eight employees and is part of the business incubator Yes!Delft.

Now it’s true there are already some ‘inkless’ printing technologies in use commercially. One we covered back in 2009 is Zink: A color printer which doesn’t require ink cartridges in the actual printer; but does require special Zink photo paper which has colored ink embedded in it. So an ‘inkless printer’, technically, but not actually ink-less technology.

Tocano’s tech — which it is branding Inkless — has a much cleaner claim to the name because it doesn’t involve having to use ink-saturated paper. Nor any other type of special paper, such as thermal-coated paper — which is another type of inkless printing already in use (such as for receipts).

Rather they are using an infrared laser to burn the surface of the paper — so carbonization is being used as the printing medium.

And they claim their technique is able to produce black and white printing with blacks as dark and stable as ink-based prints. Though, clearly, they’re still early in the development process.

Here’s a photo of their current prototype, alongside a sample of text printed with it:

The angel funding will be used to try to reach what they dub “a competitive printing performance”. After which they say they’ll need to raise more money to build the first product — so they’re already planning the next financing round (for the end of the year).

“With this money we can make our technology ‘development-ready’, which means that we can meet the required quality and speed performance requirements so that we can begin with the development of our first product”, says co-founder and CEO Arnaud van der Veen in a statement.

“[The] next round will either be financed by strategic partners or venture capitalists. The first meetings have already taken place.”

If they can successfully productize their laser carbonization technique the promise is printing without the expense, waste and limits imposed by ink refills plus other consumables.

“I always compare this to the transition from the analogue camera to the digital camera,” says van der Veen.  “Suddenly people were able to make unlimited photos and it was not needed to replace the films. Likewise, with our printing solutions, refill and replacement of ink and consumables will not be needed.”

Though quite how expensive the next-gen laser printer machines themselves will be if/when they arrive on shop shelves remains to be seen.

Tocano says its first product will be aimed at industrial users for packaging and labelling use cases — such as printing barcodes, shelf life data and product codes on packages and labels.

Its ambition is to range out after that, bringing additional printer products to market targeting other business users — and eventually even the consumer market.

“Our first product will fit [the packaging/labelling] market but after that we will make the technology accessible for production printers, office printers, consumer printers and receipt printers. In all these market we can offer the same advantages, a cheaper and more sustainable printer without any hassle with ink, cartridges or toners,” he adds.

SpaceX has authorized new shares that could value it at $24B

SpaceX has authorized a new Series I round for 3 million shares in a new round that will be worth up to $507 million, according to a certificate of incorporation document filed in Delaware.

If all shares in this round are issued, the new round would value SpaceX at around $23.7 billion, according to the new filing provided by Lagniappe Labs, creator of the Prime Unicorn Index. We’ve previously reported that SpaceX was planning to raise around $500 million in a financing round led by Fidelity, helping provide a lot of liquidity for the company as it begins to ramp up its plans to grow its ambitious launch schedule. While the filing does not confirm that it has raised the full $500 million, it serves as another data point to support that the company has picked up an additional huge influx of cash. The 3 million shares are priced at $169, in the range that we previously reported mid March.

The FCC in March gave SpaceX the green light to launch a network of thousands of satellites to blanket the globe with broadband access. Each additional flight offers SpaceX an opportunity to not only prove out its efficiency as a launching company, but also that it can provide a wide array of companies with a potentially cheaper option to get equipment into orbit for purposes like providing broadband. SpaceX already runs plenty of missions to the International Space Station. SpaceX also won a $290 million contract with the U.S. Air Force to launch three GPS satellites.

SpaceX isn’t the only company that may end up providing a new generation of orbital launches, like Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. Virgin Galactic also successfully tested its rocket-powered spacecraft for the first time since 2014 earlier this week, and while the details on that launch are still very slim it shows that there’s a wide variety of companies that see potential in figuring out a lower-cost way to get equipment into orbit.

We also previously reported that there could be a secondary offering that could also total up to $500 million in shares. That would run through special purpose vehicles, according to what we’re hearing, which would give investors an opportunity to get some liquidity in the company as it looks to remain private a little longer with the new financing.

We reached out to SpaceX for a comment and will update the story when we get back.

Sophia Amoruso, Carbon’s Dr. Joseph DeSimone, and Adidas’ Eric Liedtke to crash Disrupt SF

Disrupt lands in San Francisco this September, and the agenda is shaping up to be absolutely amazing.

With new digs at Moscone West and expanded capacity, we expect Disrupt SF (September 5-7) to be the biggest and best conference TechCrunch has ever had. And, in large part, that’s credited to our incredible guests.

Today, we’re pleased to announce that GirlBoss Media CEO Sophia Amoruso, as well as Carbon CEO Dr. Joseph DeSimone and Adidas CMO Eric Liedtke, will be joining us on the Disrupt stage.

Sophia Amoruso

It’s been four years since GirlBoss Sophia Amoruso graced the Disrupt stage.

A lot has changed since then. Amoruso stepped down as CEO of Nasty Gal, which soon after filed for bankruptcy. She exposed her personal life, and faced harsh criticism, on a brief Netflix original series called GirlBoss.

But Amoruso is neither down nor out. The serial entrepreneur has started another venture by a familiar name. Amoruso described GirlBoss to investors as “Oprah for millennials and Supreme with boobs.”

Inspired by Amoruso’s memoir #GirlBoss, GirlBoss Media aims to motivate women to take action in their lives.

There’s something spectacular about falling off the horse and getting back up again, and we’re extremely excited to hear Amoruso tell her story in her own words on the Disrupt SF stage in September.

Bonus: We’re bringing in former TechCrunch co-editor Alexia Tsotsis to conduct the interview, four years after she interviewed Amoruso at Disrupt NY 2014. Tsotsis is now the founder of an SF-based seed-stage fund called Dream Machine.

Dr. Joseph DeSimone and Eric Liedtke

You might not equate sneakers with technological advancement, but Carbon and Adidas could quickly prove you wrong.

Carbon, the 3D printing startup that has raised more than $420 million, has fundamentally changed manufacturing by creating a proprietary CLIP tech that speeds up the process of additive manufacturing by leaps and bounds.

Looking for proof of concept? Look no further than Adidas, who has invested in Carbon to help manufacture its 3D-printed Futurecraft sneakers. Carbon’s 3D printers (in relatively small numbers) are able to build out particularly impressive mid-soles, which feature 20,000 struts, a feat that would be far more difficult and exhaustive to accomplish through traditional manufacturing.

That said, Carbon is scaling quickly, with the duet planning to print shoes in the ‘hundreds of thousands of pairs’ this year, jumping to the millions by 2019.

Carbon co-founder and CEO Dr. Joseph DeSimone (winner of the $500K Lemelson-MIT prize in 2008) and Adidas Executive Board Member (global brands) Eric Liedtke (named 2017 CMO of the year in Germany) will join us on stage to discuss a range of topics, from upending traditional manufacturing to the relationship between incumbents and disruptive startups.

Disrupt SF runs from September 5 to September 7 at Moscone West. Passes to attend are now available at Super Early Bird pricing.

Foundation is a touching documentary series on tech entrepreneurs

A year and a half ago, Station F and Le Studio Next teamed up for a documentary series about building a startup — and the result is called Foundation. It’s a personal and honest documentary series and I had a lot of fun watching it.

You might be familiar with Shark Tank, HBO’s Silicon Valley, Apple’s Planet of Apps (ahem) and countless of other TV content that covers startups.

Foundation is nothing like that.

A video team followed five entrepreneurs working for four startups through their work issues, their personal life and their emotional reactions. You’ll feel like you know them after watching the series.

All those entrepreneurs have one thing in common — they’re currently based in the ginormous startup campus Station F in Paris. But other than that, you’ll discover four very different startups — Meet My Mamma, Recast.AI, Torq Labs and Les Sherpas.

So without further ado, here’s Foundation:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8

ServiceTitan is LA’s least likely contender to be the next billion-dollar startup

The city of Glendale, Calif. seems like an unlikely place to grow one of the next billion-dollar startups in the booming Los Angeles tech ecosystem.

Located at the southeastern tip of the San Fernando Valley, the Los Angeles suburb counts its biggest employers as the adhesive manufacturer Avery Dennison; the Los Angeles industrial team for the real estate developer CBRE; the International House of Pancakes; Disney Consumer Products; DreamWorks Studios; Walt Disney Animation and Univision. “Silicon Beach” this ain’t.

But it’s here in the (other) Valley’s southernmost edge that investors have found a startup they consider to be the next potential billion-dollar “unicorn” that will come out of Los Angeles. The company is ServiceTitan, and its market… is air conditioners.

More specifically, it’s the contractors that service equipment like the heating, ventilation and cooling systems at commercial and residential properties across the U.S.

Founded by Ara Mahdessian and Vahe Kuzoyan in 2012, ServiceTitan is very much an up-and-coming billion-dollar business that’s a family (minded) affair.

Mahdessian and Kuzoyan met on a ski trip organized by the Armenian student associations at Stanford and the University of Southern California back when both men were in college.

Both programmers, the two reconnected after doing stints as custom developers during and after college, and then when they were developing tools for their families’ businesses as residential contractors in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale.

The two men built a suite of services to help contractors like their fathers manage their businesses. Now following a $62 million round of funding led by Battery Ventures last month, the company is worth roughly $800 million, according to people with knowledge of the investment, and is on its way to becoming Los Angeles’ next billion-dollar business.

Battery isn’t the only marquee investor to find value in ServiceTitan’s business developing software managing day labor.

Iconiq Capital, the investment firm managing the wealth of some of Silicon Valley’s most successful executives (the firm counts Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, and senior staff like Dustin Moskovitz and Sheryl Sandberg; Twitter chief Jack Dorsey; and LinkedIn founder and chief executive Reid Hoffman among its clients, according to a 2014 Forbes article), has also taken a shine to the now-gargantuan startup from Glendale.

It was Iconiq that put a whopping $80 million into ServiceTitan just last year — and while the 2017 cash infusion may have been larger, the company’s valuation has continued to rise.

That’s likely due to a continually expanding toolkit that now boasts a customer relationship management system, efficient dispatching and routing, invoice management, mobile applications for field professionals and marketing analytics and reporting tools.

“ServiceTitan’s incredibly fast growth is a testament to the brisk demand for new mobile and cloud-based technology that is purpose-built for the tradesmen and women in our workforce,” said Battery Ventures general partner Michael Brown — who’s taking a seat on the ServiceTitan board.

What distinguishes the ServiceTitan business from other point solutions is that they’ve taken to targeting not mom-and-pop small businesses but franchises like Mr. Rooter and George Brazil. Gold Medal Service, John Moore Services, Hiller Plumbing, Casteel Air, Baker Brothers Plumbing and Air Conditioning and Bonney may not be household names, but they’re large providers of contractors who work under those brands.

The company counts 400 employees on staff, and will look to use the money to continue to grow out its suite of products and services, according to a March statement announcing the funding.

And as Battery Ventures investor Sanjiv Kalevar noted in a blog post last year, the opportunity for software companies serving blue-collar workers is huge.

For people sitting at our desks and working behind laptops on programs like Microsoft Office, it can be easy to overlook the large, sometimes forgotten, workforce out there in construction, manufacturing, transportation, hospitality, retail and many other multi-billion dollar industries. Indeed, more than 60% of U.S. workers and even more globally fall into these “blue collar” industries.

By and large, these workers have not benefitted much from recent technology improvements available to office-based workers—think new email and workplace-collaboration technologies, or advanced sales and HR systems. Never mind the long-term opportunities for companies in these sectors from technologies like artificial intelligence, drones, and virtual or augmented reality; hourly and field workers are dealing with much more basic on-the-job challenges, like finding work, getting their jobs done on time and getting paid. These more basic needs can be solved with seemingly simple technologies—software for billing, scheduling, navigation and many other business workflows. These kinds of technologies, unlike AI, don’t automate away workers. Instead, they empower them to be more efficient and productive.

Bubblz lets you collaborate on painful processes

Meet Bubblz, a French startup that wants to optimize all the boring processes that slow you down. If you’re trying to hire someone, if you need to collect information from many people, if you regularly put together marketing campaigns, you can use Bubblz to automate all the steps and collaborate with your coworkers.

Many people use Trello or another kanban-based tool to manage potential new hires and all sorts of processes that require multiple steps. Bubblz uses the same metaphor but with a few extra tricks.

Setting up a process is going to take some thinking and a bit of time. But the idea is that you’ll save a lot of time once you have created a process in Bubblz.

Each step is represented as a column. You can then configure some actions based on each step. For instance, if you’re trying to hire someone, your first step could be an online form to collect information and upload files.

After that, you can review each application and configure multiple buttons. If you click yes, it can move the application to the next column. If you click no, it can send a rejection email and archive the application.

If you decide to hire someone, you can track that the person has signed their contract or automatically send an email to the IT department to make them aware of the new hire. You can define a short todo list for each step.

This is just an example but you can use Bubblz for other painful processes. You can create a new process from scratch or import one from the process library. I don’t think it makes sense to use Bubblz for everything, but it’s the kind of services that can make sense for some very specific issues and departments.

Bubblz uses a software-as-a-service approach. You can create a basic account for free, and the company also offers paid monthly plans for advanced features.