Top startup news for Thursday, March 16, 2023: Circle, Google, Kraken, Microsoft, Poolz, and Climate Choice


Good evening! Below are some of the top tech startup news stories for Thursday, March 16, 2023.

Microsoft unveils new AI office “Copilot” for Microsoft 365 in a race with Google

On Tuesday, we wrote about Google after the search giant added a fresh range of AI-powered tools to its cloud, collaboration, Gmail, and Google Docs. In an announcement, Google said it is experimenting with several AI products and offering them to a select group of Workspace users, which comprises Google’s productivity tools and Gmail. The company also unveiled what it called a ‘magic wand’ to draft documents as the AI race tightens.

Fast forward two days later, Microsoft today shared its latest plans to put artificial intelligence into the hands of more users, its answer to Google’s Tuesday launch. Microsoft said the new AI office, dubbed Copilot, will be available in some of the company’s most popular business apps including Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, and Outlook emails.

The Copilot, which is first open to some 20 enterprises for testing, will offer a draft in these applications, speeding up content creation and freeing up workers’ time, Microsoft said.

“We believe this next generation of AI will unlock a new wave of productivity growth,” Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, said in an online presentation.

“Today marks the next major step in the evolution of how we interact with computing, which will fundamentally change the way we work and unlock a new wave of productivity growth,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement. “With our new copilot for work, we’re giving people more agency and making technology more accessible through the most universal interface — natural language.”

Berlin-based tech startup The Climate Choice raises $2M in funding to decarbonize industrial supply chains

Climate change is one of the biggest threats of our time. According to some estimates, losses due to weather-related events have increased nearly ten-fold over the last four decades, from a ten-year global average of $12 billion in 1980 to $119 billion in recent years.

One of the biggest contributors to global warming and carbon emission is the supply chain sector. According to the World Economic Forum, Scope 3 emissions, or CO2 in supply chains can make up as much as 90% of a company’s carbon footprint and worldwide more than 50% of all emissions can be traced back to only 8 supply chains. However, companies are struggling to reduce these emissions.

It’s for this reason that Berlin-based tech startup The Climate Choice is on a mission to help decarbonize industrial supply chains. Decarbonization is the process of eliminating or reducing the carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions that contribute to climate change from energy sources and through the use of low-carbon power sources, and the conversion to an economic system that sustainably reduces and compensates for the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO₂).

To help address the increase in legislation and challenges for companies around Scope 3 emissions in the U.S. and E.U., The Climate Choice announced today it has raised $2 million in pre-seed funding. The round was led by Gutter Capital along with Possibilian Ventures, with participation from existing investors West Tech Ventures and Business Angels.

The Climate Choice will use the fresh capital infusion to further the development and expansion of its Climate Intelligence Platform, which helps companies understand climate performance, comply with reporting requirements, and take actions to realize climate transformation in the supply chain.

Crypto investors withdraw $3 billion from stablecoin USDC in just 72 hours following the collapse of SVB

In days leading up to the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), venture capital firms and tech startups scrambled to withdraw their deposits. But the fallout was widespread. Stablecoin USDC also lost its peg, falling as low as $0.88 on the same day of the bank’s collapse but later returned to $1 on Monday, according to data from CoinGecko data.

That’s not all. Circle, the company behind the USDC, also said in a blog post that crypto investors pulled around $3 billion overall from the stablecoin USDC in just three days as investors rushed to redeem their holdings in the wake of the bank’s collapse.

From Monday to Wednesday, Circle said it processed $3.8 billion of USDC redemptions (investors swapping their tokens back into U.S. dollars) and created $0.8 billion more of the token. This means that investors pulled around $3 billion overall in the three days. The withdrawal was even bigger in the past week. According to CoinGecko data, investors have pulled a net $6 billion from USDC stablecoin in the last seven days.

“Since Monday morning, Circle has redeemed $3.8 billion USDC and minted $0.8 billion USDC. The events of the past week have impacted the liquidity operations for USDC. Circle has worked tirelessly to re-initiate services with alternative banking partners, particularly payment and USDC redemption services. We would like to thank our customers for their patience during these unprecedented times,” Circle wrote.

With the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, Circle said it would allow automatic USDC redemption through a new banking relationship, with Cross River Bank.

“On Tuesday, March 14, we went live with a new transaction banking partner for domestic U.S. wires in and out. Today, we went live with that same partner for international wires to and from 19 countries. We also went live today with an existing transaction banking partner for international wires. We expect to bring more capabilities back online tomorrow,” Circle said in a blog post.

Poolz Finance bolsters its security, announces a restructuring plan to shore up user safety following a token exploit

On Tuesday, hackers exploited Poolz Finance’s decentralized IDO platform and made away with $390k just days after a $180 million Euler Finance exploit. However, within hours of the attack, the Poolz team wasted no time and immediately flagged the hacker’s address. And in just two hours, the token was no longer available for trading. Following the security incident, Poolz also disclosed a set of measures it has taken to mitigate the effects of the exploit.

Poolz Finance Hack: What Happened and What We Know

On March 15th, a hacker was able to exploit the token contract for the POOLZ vesting system. They were able to get their hands on some of the tokens that were supposed to be given to the public, and they sold them illegally. The Poolz team acted fast and made sure the token was no longer available for trading within two hours. They also put together a team to prevent any further damage from occurring and to make sure this type of attack wouldn’t happen again.

An initial analysis by blockchain security firm PeckShield found that the vulnerability was caused by an arithmetic overflow issue, which is exploited to drain funds from the contract.

In computer programming, an arithmetic overflow is a problem that happens when a math calculation produces a number that is too big to be stored in the computer’s memory. For example, if a 16-bit integer has a maximum value of 32767 and you attempt to add 1 to that number, an overflow occurs, and the result will be a negative number, or it may cause a system crash or unexpected behavior in the program.

In addition, PeckShield also discovered a repeat pattern by the same sender on the Token Vesting contract.

“Our initial analysis shows the @Poolz__hack is due to a classic arithmetic overflow issue, which is exploited to drain funds from the contract — Poolz: Token Vesting,” PeckShield tweeted.

Kraken launches its own digital asset bank following the fallout of Silvergate and Silicon Valley Bank

The past few weeks have seen tech-focused banks offering services to startups and crypto-friendly VCs run into financial difficulties. Silicon Valley Bank, the 16th largest bank in the US, collapsed last week after a run on deposits left the bank with over $2 billion shortfall. The sudden collapse sent shockwaves to thousands of startups and venture capital firms. Surprisingly, the panic was caused by the very venture capital community that SVB was created to serve and cared for.

A week earlier, Silvergate Capital, the crypto-focused bank at the center of the crypto industry crisis, also shut down its operation days after the bank liquidated its assets at a huge loss to cover over $8 billion in withdrawals amid the broader crypto market meltdown.

The collapse will have far-reaching implications on U.S. venture-backed startups and the broader tech ecosystem for many years to come. The fallout also created opportunities for a new tech and crypto-friendly bank to cater to startups, VCs, and crypto investors displaced by Silvergate and Silicon Valley Bank. Now, one crypto exchange Kraken is stepping up to the plate and making its foray into the banking industry with the launch of a bank to support users in the crypto industry.

Today, Kraken announced the launch of Kraken Bank, a digital asset bank aimed at providing banking services for digital currencies and digital asset holders. Kraken said Kraken Bank was designed for digital currencies via the Wyoming Special Purpose Depository Institution (SPDI) framework, which is meant to help the bank to put asset custody and safety first.

“We’re building a better kind of crypto & Bitcoin bank for our clients,” said the exchange on its website. The Wyoming, USA-based bank is called Kraken Financial, but “due to overwhelming demand, it will be known as Kraken Bank,” it said.

Kraken added that all SPDI banks must keep their reserves full, meaning user money cannot be lent out without user permission. In its FAQ, the exchange further explained that an SPDI is a bank overseen by the Wyoming Division of Banking.

“We’re looking into products like deposit accounts in USD and crypto assets (ex. Bitcoin), multiple funding and payments options, institutional custody products (qualified custody for advisors and broker dealers), IRAs and many more.”

In addition, the crypto exchange also claimed it can maintain strict regulatory oversight, security standards, and data protection, arguing,

“We’re willing to bet we’re more secure than your current bank.”

But unlike traditional banks, Kraken said the investments will not be insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), but all assets will be available as cash or the least risky, most liquid cash equivalents, meaning that there will not be an insolvency risk the FDIC is intended to safeguard.

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