Back in March, startup studio Betaworks announced that was partnering with James Murdoch’s Lupa Systems to create a new program called Betalab, which would fund and mentor early-stage startups that would try to “Fix the Internet.”
In the initial announcement, Betaworks CEO John Borthwick, “While migrating our social lives to the internet allowed us to share our lives and interact with people we never could have before, we are also fragmenting our experiences and relationships as data-driven businesses and governments are tracking almost every inch of our existence.” He also noted that online technologies are being “weaponized to target, fragment, tribalize and disenfranchise citizens, to overwhelm us and our society with disinformation.”
Now Betaworks is unveiling the first four startups selected. Danika Laszuk, general manager of the Betalab program, said that this will be the firm’s first virtual startup program — and for that reason, they deliberately kept it smaller than a standard Betaworks Camp cohort.
“This is the first itme we’ve done this, so I want to see everyone’s face on one Zoom screen,” Laszuk told me.
At the same time, Betalab has kept its applications open and plans to welcome a new cohort of startups in the new year.
There’s an obvious sense of worry in the Betalab mission — a hard-to-dispute belief that the internet has eroded privacy and spread misinformation — but Laszuk argued that the team is looking to tackle these problems with “the optimism of technologists” and the belief there are “a lot of people with great ideas and the wherewithal to build them and fix things in the world.”
How can a startup hope to solve these big problems? Laszuk said that p the Betalab approach focuses, in part, on properly aligning incentives: “We are biased towards the product being the thing that technologist are building. We’re not excited about businesses collecting data to figure out what to do with it later.”
In addition, it sounds like she’s interested in a more pragmatic view towards the big internet platforms.
“We’re looking to invest in a generation of companies that acknowledges Google’s not going anywhere, Facebook’s not going anywhere,” Laszuk said. “People get tons of benefits out of those products. I don’t think we stand in the camp where if we could, we’d snap our fingers and destroy them all tomorrow.”
The goal, she continued, is to support “the internet as it exists today and get all the benefit of the internet” while also providing “a way to safeguard our privacy, to try to incentivize civil discourse as opposed to clickbait and incendiary behavior.”
With all of that said, here are the startups:
- Savepoint is a mobile games company that uses game mechanics improve players’ lives. (Laszuk acknowledged that the is a bit vague description, and she promised more details once the startup leaves stealth.)
- International Persuasion Machines is a cybersecurity company building tools to assess and, when necessary, combat algorithmic manipulation and other forms of platform abuse.
- Synthetaic is a data company trying to eliminate edge cases by “growing” high quality data for machine learning.
- Nth Party allows customers to exchange encrypted data sets without decrypting them, with the goal of enabling collaboration and personalization without sacrificing privacy.
Forests protect the earth’s delicate ecological balance and are remarkable carbon sinks. Wildfires, that consume forests, have been occurring on Earth since ages, but of late the frequency and amplitude of these occurrences have drastically increased. The wildfires in California have burned more than 4M acres (1.6 million hectares) in 2020. According to a report, this year, as of October 1, 2020, over 44,000 wildfires have burned nearly 7.7 million acres in the US. Also, the Amazonian wildfires of 2019 cannot be forgotten.
Forest fire is, therefore, one of the important and prevalent types of disasters that need to be addressed as soon as possible. These events not only contribute to air pollution but also cause a great imbalance disturbing the biodiversity, the ecology, and the environment of a region.
Early detection is the key
One key method of preventing forest fires from getting out of control is early detection. Detecting the wildfire earlier enables a rapid response to minimise the spread. However, the problem, in this case, is that forests are usually in remote, unmanaged areas filled with trees, parched wood, and dried leaves that are combustible. To fight out the forest fires, different solutions from various startups across the world are being employed throughout the years. One such startup is Dryad.
Environmental IoT startup raised €1.8M
Dryad, a startup based in Berlin-Brandenburg is developing a large-scale IoT network that allows public and private forest owners to monitor, analyse, and protect the world’s largest, most remote forests.
Recently, the environmental IoT startup has secured seed funding of €1.8M to develop a large-scale IoT network for the ultra-early detection of wildfires under 60 minutes.
The four investors participating in the seed round are STIHL Digital, the corporate venture arm of the STIHL Group; German energy firm LEAG; impact investor ISAR AG; and the VC firm Brandenburg Kapital, a subsidiary of Brandenburger Förderbank ILB.
Digitising forest for more efficiency
The German company’s vision is to digitise the forest and help protect and regrow the world’s largest carbon sinks. The solution includes insights into the health, micro-climate, and growth of their forests to manage forests more efficiently and profitably.
The Dryad Networks solution comprises of — Solar-powered sensors using AI (To detect gases emitted from wildfires as well as temperature, humidity, and air pressure), Patent-pending distributed mesh network architecture (an extension to the LoRaWAN open standard for long-range radio IoT networks), and a cloud-based dashboard to analyse and monitor various factors and alert forest managers.
Covers vast area even without mobile network
Unlike existing LoRaWAN gateways which cover just 12km, Dryad’s gateways interconnect in a multi-hop mesh network that covers very large forests, making it viable to build a communications network, even if there is no mobile network. Dryad border gateways at the edge of the network connect to a wireless (LTE/NB-IoT), satellite, or wired internet to access the Dryad cloud platform.
The idea for Dryad Networks was conceived by Brinkschulte and co-founder Marco Bönig when the devastating fires ripped through the Amazon rainforest in 2019. It’s worth mentioning that the team successfully tested a minimum viable product in a forest in Germany in May 2020, and has since secured ten letters of intent from forest owners in Germany and Africa.
Main image credits: My Photo Buddy/ Shutterstock