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The Week in Tech: It’s Not Easy Being a Unicorn

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For the largest, most valuable start-ups in Silicon Valley, many of which plan to prove themselves and their unprofitable business models to the world by going public, there could not be a worse moment for that to happen. If Uber can’t go public, what does it mean for all the “Uber for X” companies that followed its lead?

Cracks are beginning to show. This week, two high-flying start-ups experienced a reality check in their fund-raising. WeWork sought to raise $16 billion in new funding from SoftBank, its main backer. The company wound up raising just $2 billion — still an enormous pile of cash, but a steep step down from its original plan.

And Bird, a two-year-old scooter company that was so sought-after by investors last summer that they doubled the company’s valuation in just a few weeks, is now raising funding at a flat valuation, according to Axios.

Some venture capital investors say they welcome a downturn, as I wrote this week. They’re hoarding cash and making “downturn lists” of companies to invest in once valuations become more reasonable. And some companies have seen the venture-fueled madness and decided it’s not for them.

Elsewhere this week:

■ Economists and investors are clashing over the health of the American economy. No one is debating the health of the Chinese economy, with concerns spreading to non-tech companies including Ford, FedEx, Starbucks and Tiffany, Matt Phillips writes.

■ Apple’s biggest issue is not the Chinese economy, it’s that people like the columnist Kevin Roose’s mother don’t feel the need to replace their phones every two years anymore.

■ That may explain the surprising news from CES that Apple struck deals with a number of hardware companies, including Vizio, Samsung, Sony and LG, to use its software. The deals — something the company has resisted in the past — show Apple’s ambition to make more money from content and services, as sales of its cash cow, the iPhone, slow down, Brian X. Chen writes.

■ When the government asked Palantir and Oracle to share the number of women and minorities it employs, the companies tried to hide the numbers, citing them as “trade secrets.” According to a report from Reveal News, the numbers are abysmal. (Palantir has no female executives and just one female manager.) The publication sued to obtain the letters the companies sent justifying their privacy around the issue. The Palantir letter cited fears that competitors would steal their lone female manager.

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More groups join in support of women in STEM program at Carleton

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OTTAWA — Major companies and government partners are lending their support to Carleton University’s newly established Women in Engineering and Information Technology Program.

The list of supporters includes Mississauga-based construction company EllisDon.

The latest to announce their support for the program also include BlackBerry QNX, CIRA (Canadian Internet Registration Authority), Ericsson, Nokia, Solace, Trend Micro, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, CGI, Gastops, Leonardo DRS, Lockheed Martin Canada, Amdocs and Ross.

The program is officially set to launch this September.

It is being led by Carleton’s Faculty of Engineering and Design with the goal of establishing meaningful partnerships in support of women in STEM.  

The program will host events for women students to build relationships with industry and government partners, create mentorship opportunities, as well as establish a special fund to support allies at Carleton in meeting equity, diversity and inclusion goals.

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VR tech to revolutionize commercial driver training

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Serious Labs seems to have found a way from tragedy to triumph? The Edmonton-based firm designs and manufactures virtual reality simulators to standardize training programs for operators of heavy equipment such as aerial lifts, cranes, forklifts, and commercial trucks. These simulators enable operators to acquire and practice operational skills for the job safety and efficiency in a risk-free virtual environment so they can work more safely and efficiently.

The 2018 Humboldt bus catastrophe sent shock waves across the industry. The tragedy highlighted the need for standardized commercial driver training and testing. It also contributed to the acceleration of the federal government implementing a Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) program for Class 1 & 2 drivers currently being adopted across Canada. MELT is a much more rigorous standard that promotes safety and in-depth practice for new drivers.

Enter Serious Labs. By proposing to harness the power of virtual reality (VR), Serious Labs has earned considerable funding to develop a VR commercial truck driving simulator.

The Government of Alberta has awarded $1 million, and Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) is contributing an additional $2 million for the simulator development. Commercial deployment is estimated to begin in 2024, with the simulator to be made available across Canada and the United States, and with the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) helping to provide simulator tests to certify that driver trainees have attained the appropriate standard. West Tech Report recently took the opportunity to chat with Serious Labs CEO, Jim Colvin, about the environmental and labour benefits of VR Driver Training, as well as the unique way that Colvin went from angel investor to CEO of the company.

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Next-Gen Tech Company Pops on New Cover Detection Test

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While the world comes out of the initial stages of the pandemic, COVID-19 will be continue to be a threat for some time to come. Companies, such as Zen Graphene, are working on ways to detect the virus and its variants and are on the forefronts of technology.

Nanotechnology firm ZEN Graphene Solutions Ltd. (TSX-Venture:ZEN) (OTCPK:ZENYF), is working to develop technology to help detect the COVID-19 virus and its variants. The firm signed an exclusive agreement with McMaster University to be the global commercializing partner for a newly developed aptamer-based, SARS-CoV-2 rapid detection technology.

This patent-pending technology uses clinical samples from patients and was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The test is considered extremely accurate, scalable, saliva-based, affordable, and provides results in under 10 minutes.

Shares were trading up over 5% to $3.07 in early afternoon trade.

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