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We are living in a golden age of electric cargo bikes



It’s a great time to be shopping for an electric cargo bike. 

Not only are there a bunch of great, modestly priced models that have just been released from an assortment of really interesting companies, but there are also a growing number of states offering incentives to curious shoppers that could help bring the cost down even further. 

It feels as if the industry and the government have simultaneously woken up to the enormous potential of cargo e-bikes to replace car trips and improve the environment, and honestly, it’s about time. 

The planet-and-community-saving superpower of cargo e-bikes is widely known. They’ve been shown to decrease car dependency, save people money, reduce carbon emissions, and speed up delivery times for businesses. That probably explains why they’re so dang popular, selling at a more rapid clip than traditional bikes and even other electrified models. 

The planet-and-community-saving superpower of cargo e-bikes is widely known

That’s also why every company under the sun is tripping over themselves to release new cargo e-bikes. In just the last month alone, we’ve seen new models introduced by legacy bike makers, like Trek and Specialized, as well as newer direct-to-consumer brands like Aventon, Rad Power Bikes, and Lectric. 

As more brands pile into the space, the knock-on effects for prices and the secondary market increase. Bikes get cheaper, more used bikes go on sale, and, in general, cargo e-bikes are more available and get more exposure, which in turn has positive implications for infrastructure and the overall reduction of car trips. 

Previously, cargo bikes only represented a small sliver of the used bike market, according to Puneeth Meruva, a senior associate at Trucks VC and author of the truly great Flywheel newsletter that’s all about the secondary e-bike market. (Seriously, it’s a great newsletter. You should sign up for it.)

Consider this snapshot of January 2022, in which cargo bikes represented only 2.77 percent of the used e-bikes posted to Craigslist that month. Not a huge amount, but that predates the flurry of activity we’ve seen in the last few months, with new, less expensive models hitting the road. 

Form factors of used e-bikes sold in major US regions since January 2022
Image: Flywheel

According to Meruva, bike makers are waking up to several salient points about cargo e-bikes; most notably, they’re ridden a lot more than other types of e-bikes. Used cargo bikes clock an average mileage of 766.5 miles, almost double that of commuter, sport, or, performance e-bikes, Meruva found. 

Another interesting point worth noting is that this surge of interest in cargo e-bikes isn’t being led by the legacy bike companies, but rather the direct-to-consumer brands, who, from the beginning, have crafted a marketing strategy that targets non-cyclists and seeks to convert them to the world of two-wheels with a wide swath of utility and cargo-influenced models. 

The mean mileage of used e-bikes listed in major US regions since January 2022, broken down by form factor
Image: Flywheel

“When you look at the DTC brands, like Rad Power or Aventon and a few others, their utility-focused bikes have always traditionally done really well because those brands started off by selling to people that never really rode bikes before,” Meruva told me. “Whereas Specialized or Trek, they’re selling e-bikes to the people that were already road biking in their spandex.”

Legacy bike makers have wrestled more with the question over how much to emphasize the potential to replace car trips. It’s never been a central message for most of those companies, and it makes sense that they wouldn’t embrace it as quickly as the DTC brands. It’s confrontational, especially as politicians and media types wring their hands about a “war on cars” — as if cars haven’t been waging war on cyclists and pedestrians for decades prior. 

“Those brands started off by selling to people that never really rode bikes before”

Of course, it helps that electrification and hauling lots of heavy cargo are positively a match made in heaven. If you’ve ever tried lugging around a couple of kids or a couple hundred bucks worth of groceries on a non-electric cargo bike, it’s not easy. But slap on a battery and a decent rear-hub motor, and those errands become so simple, so effortless, you wonder why you ever used a car in the first place. 

“When you think about people that are actually thinking about riding a bike for their utility, and not just because it’s fun. You need these types of features,” Meruva said. “And so I think it’s about time. I’m honestly a little surprised it took this long for a lot of these companies to release cargo bikes, but I’m really excited by it.”

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Zoom is adding new features to compete with Slack, Calendly, Google and Microsoft



Weeks after laying off 1,300 people (or 15% of the staff), Zoom is introducing new features to compete with numerous companies including Slack, Calendly, Google, and Microsoft. These features include AI-powered meeting summaries, prompt-based email responses, and whiteboard generation along with video “Huddles” and a meeting scheduler.

The company wants you to shift more of your work tasks to its tools. To that end, Zoom is opening up its email and calendar clients to everyone. The video conferencing company started testing these tools last year in a big explore area beyond meetings. There are also hosted email and calendar services on offer with end-to-end encryption protection and custom domains for paid users. Companies could use these services as an alternative to Microsoft Exchange and Google Workspace.

These days it’s difficult to spend a few hours without a company announcing generative AI features. Zoom is expanding its Zoom IQ assistant to provide AI-powered summaries and “ask further questions” even when you join a meeting midway. Once the meeting ends, the bot will post a summary to Zoom’s team chat feature. The assistant can also summarize the chat threads in the team chat.

Until now, Zoom IQ had the ability to record highlights, divide a meeting into chapters, and list action items automatically. Last year, the company also launched Zoom IQ for Sales aiming to provide insights from video calls for sales teams.

Zoom Mail client Image Credits: Zoom

Zoom is promising a generative future with Zoom IQ helping users compose chats, emails, and whiteboard sessions, creating meeting agendas. The company is inviting users next month to try these features out with plans for a wider rollout later. The company said it is partnering with OpenAI for the AI features, but it didn’t specify if the partnership includes just API usage or more.

A demo of composing a message with Zoom IQ Image Credits: Zoom

The company introduced some non-AI-focused products as well. It launched Zoom Scheduler in public beta — a Calendly-like tool to share availability to book appointments. Zoom also introduced virtual coworking spaces called Zoom Huddles where people can drop in or drop out at any time. This feature is similar to the Slack Huddles feature, which was introduced in 2021 to have a quick voice or video-based real-time conversations.

Zoom seems to be fighting many battles here. On one hand, it is introducing generative AI features to create emails, meeting agendas, and whiteboards to fight the onslaught of Microsoft and Google. Both of which have announced new generative AI features for workplaces. On the other hand, it is fighting a battle to be a relevant workplace tool beyond meetings that rivals Slack, Calendly, and Otter.

Recently, Slack announced a ChatGPT bot in collaboration with OpenAI. Meanwhile, the transcription tool Otter launched the OtterPilot assistant that automatically summarizes meetings. But that’s not it. Plenty of other meeting-related tools have been launching AI-powered summarization features in different formats.

Zoom’s stock has tanked more than 40% in the last 12 months. The company faced its first quarterly loss of $108 million since 2018 in the fourth quarter results for the 2023 financial year. It expects slowed growth of 1.1% this fiscal year with expected revenue between $4.435 billion to $4.455 billion.

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Venti raises $29M for autonomous vehicle tech designed for industrial and logistics hubs



We are still likely many years away from wide-scale deployment — let alone adoption — of fully autonomous vehicles on our streets, but in the meantime autonomous vehicle companies focusing on closed-campus environments continue to raise funding and make headway in building self-driving on a smaller scale. In the latest, a startup called Venti Technologies is announcing that it has raised $28.8 million, a Series A that it plans to use to continue building out its software, partner with third parties for hardware (that is, vehicles), and to secure more deals.

Its target customer comes from the wide range of supply chain businesses that operate across warehouses, ports and other shipping and logistics environments where vehicles — currently driven by humans — are central to operations. Venti’s bet is that even with the high prices associated with self-driving vehicles, industrial customers will pay because longer term it will pay off for them.

“If you have a big logistics facility where you run vehicles, the largest cost is human capital — drivers,” Heidi Wyle, Venti’s founder and CEO, said in an interview. “Our customers are telling us that they expect to save over 50% of their operations costs with self-driving vehicles. Think they will have huge savings.”

LG Technology Ventures, the VC arm of the LG Group, is leading this round, with Safar Partners, UOB Venture Management, and previous investors Alpha JWC and LDV Partners also participating. Venti last raised $8 million, in the summer of 2021. Valuation is not being disclosed.

Venti is coming at the industrial market having had its fingers burned a little from its initial ambitions in the consumer market, where it worked on SUVs and a robo-taxi strategy, among other things, but discovered that the complexity of the scenarios was ultimately insurmountable.

“What I’ve seen is that “robo-taxi” is an extremely difficult problem to solve,” she said. “All of the chaos of the world is sitting in those city streets. Industrial environments are utterly different. It’s not a sexy space but the global supply chain is huge and it got whacked in Covid. They are still digging themselves out of that and we enable them to work better [now], and if another thing like Covid comes along.”

LG — an industrial giant itself both as a primary business and as a supplier to industrial businesses — is not a strategic partner currently, but Wyle said that this is the long-term hope.

“Venti is solving real-world problems for large customers in huge markets with technology that has proven safe, mature and capable of near-term driverless deployment,” said Anshul Agarwal, MD at LG Technology Ventures, in a statement. “We are impressed not only by the technology, which is more complete and rapidly able to provide value to end customers, but also by the world-class team.”

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Fusion startup Type One Energy gets $29M seed round



The oversubscribed round is yet another sign of fusion’s maturity

One fusion startup is betting that a 70-year-old idea can help it leapfrog the competition, so much so that it’s planning to skip the experimental phase and hook its prototype reactor up to the grid.

The decades-old concept, known as a stellarator, is deceptively simple: design a fusion reactor around the quirks of plasma, the superheated particles that fuse and generate power, rather than force the plasma into an artificial box. Easier said than done, of course. Plasma can be fickle, and designing “box” around the fourth state of matter is fiendishly complex.

That’s probably why stellarators spent years in the fusion-equivalent of the desert while the simpler doughnut-shaped tokamak ate everyone’s lunch, and nearly all of their research funding.

But not all of it. Type One Energy is the brainchild of a handful of physicists steeped in the stellarator world. One built the HSX stellarator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, two more performed experiments on it, and a fourth worked on the Wendelstein 7-X reactor, the world’s largest stellarator.

Together, they founded Type One in 2019 and nudged forward their approach to fusion at a steady pace. The company wasn’t in stealth — TechCrunch+ identified it as a promising fusion startup last year — but it was operating on a slim budget.

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