A young entrepreneur is building the Amazon of Bangladesh

At just 26, Waiz Rahim is supposed to be involved in the family business, having returned home in 2016 with an engineering degree from the University of Southern California. Instead, the young entrepreneur is plotting to build the Amazon of Bangladesh.

Deligram, Rahim’s vision of what e-commerce looks like in Bangladesh, a country of nearly 180 million, is making progress, having taken inspiration from a range of established tech giants worldwide, including Amazon, Alibaba and Go-Jek in Indonesia.

It’s a far cry from the family business. That’s Rahimafrooz, a 65-year-old conglomerate that is one of the largest companies in Bangladesh. It started out focused on battery manufacturing, but over the years its businesses have branched out to span power and energy and automotive products while it operates a retail superstore called Agora.

During his time at school in the U.S., Rahim worked for the company as a tech consultant whilst figuring out what he wanted to do after graduation. Little could he have imagined that, fast-forward to 2019, he’d be in charge of his own startup that has scaled to two cities and raised $3 million from investors, one of which is Rahimafrooz.

Deligram CEO Waiz Rahim [Image via Deligram]

“My options after college were to stay in U.S. and do product management or analyst roles,” Rahim told TechCrunch in a recent interview. “But I visited rural areas while back in Bangladesh and realized that when you live in a city, it’s easy to exist in a bubble.”

So rather than stay in America or go to the family business, Rahim decided to pursue his vision to build “a technology company on the wave of rising economic growth, digitization and a vibrant young population.”

The youngster’s ambition was shaped by a stint working for Amazon at its Carlsbad … Read the rest

Famed founder Daphne Koller tells it straight: “With most drugs, we do not understand why they work”

Daphne Koller doesn’t mind hard work. She joined Stanford University’s computer science department in 1995, spending the next 18 years there in a full-time capacity before cofounding the online education giant Coursera, where she spent the following four years and remained co-chairman until last month. Koller then spent a little less than two years at Alphabet’s longevity lab, Calico, as its first chief computing officer.

It was there that Koller was reminded of her passion for applying machine learning to improve human health. She was also reminded of what she doesn’t like, which is wasted effort, something that the drug development industry — slow to understand the power of computational methods for analyzing biological data sets — has been plagued by for years.

In fairness, those computational methods have also gotten a whole lot better more recently. Little wonder that last year, Koller spied the opportunity to start another company, a drug development company called Insitro that has since raised $100 million in Series A funding, including from GV, Andreessen Horowitz and Bezos Expeditions, among others. As notably, the company recently partnered with Gilead Sciences to find medicines to treat a liver disease called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) because of all the related human data that Gilead has amassed over time.

Later, Insitro may target even bigger epidemics, including perhaps Alzheimer’s disease or Type 2 diabetes. Certainly, it has reason to feel optimistic about what it can accomplish. As Koller told a group of rapt attendees at an event hosted by this editor a few days ago, “We’re now at a moment in history where a confluence of technologies emerged all at around the same time allow really large and interesting and disease-relevant data sets to be produced in biology. In parallel, we see  . . . machine learning technologies … Read the rest

What will save crypto?

Cryptocurrency technology has been on a tumultuous journey since its creation in 2009. According to a recent New York Times article, bitcoin enthusiasts in the U.S. wrongly predicted the involvement of Wall Street institutions and investors in cryptocurrency, which would have given it legitimacy. Instead, the opposite effect has taken place: big investors have avoided crypto because of its volatility, as shown by bitcoin’s devastating drop in price last year.

Elsewhere in the world, particularly in the Middle East and among major Muslim communities, there is a growing curiosity surrounding cryptocurrency — and a call for regulation that deals with the stigmas against it. There are about 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide, and the global Islamic economy with the inclusion of crypto tools, services and products could equate to approximately US$3 trillion by 2021. If we are able to work through the challenges and implement crypto for a Muslim audience, the addressable market for crypto could increase exponentially. 

But since its inception, Muslim leaders and communities have debated on whether or not cryptocurrencies should be deemed halal or haram, permissible or forbidden. Shariah-compliant finance is a fundamental part of Islamic tradition, and it’s the primary reason why Islamic countries have been so dubious of the new currency.

The challenge of Shariah compliance

Shariah compliance refers to finances and investments that adhere to Islamic law. This includes prohibiting riba, or charged Read the rest

Udacity, Mercedes-Benz create sensor fusion nanodegree as demand for self-driving car engineers rises

Udacity and Mercedes-Benz’s North American R&D lab have developed curriculum for a sensor fusion nanodegree, the latest effort by the online education startup to meet high demand for skills related to autonomous vehicles and to duplicate the success it has had with its self-driving car engineer program.

Enrollment for the sensor fusion degree opened up Tuesday.

Udacity specializes in “nanodegrees” on a range of technical subjects that include AI, deep learning, digital marketing, VR and computer vision.

The new sensor fusion nanodegree is one of the recent additions and changes enacted by Udacity’s co-founder Sebastian Thrun as part of a larger turnaround plan aimed at bring costs in line with revenue without hurting growth.

The sensor fusion program is made up of four courses and is intended to take about four months to complete. Students will learn about lidar obstacle detection, radar obstacle detection, camera and lidar data fusion, and Kalman Filters. Those who finish the degree should be able to work with lidar, radar, and cameras — sensors that are used on the vast majority of autonomous vehicles.

A group of MBRDNA employees are enrolled in the self-driving car program as part of an Enterprise training pilot.

“There’s no such thing as self-driving car generalists,” Thrun told TechCrunch. “Companies are looking for something specific. And the hottest thing around right now is sensor fusion.”

And despite the AV industry dipping into the “trough of disillusionment” Thrun said there is still a lot of demand for skilled workers.

“It’s easier to get a job right now than raise money from investors,” Thrun said. “All of these companies like Zoox and Aurora, Waymo, Cruise and Tesla are hiring like crazy.”

For instance, GM’s self-driving car unit Cruise announced in March plans to hire hundreds of employees through the … Read the rest

DefinedCrowd offers mobile apps to empower its AI-annotating masses

DefinedCrowd, the Startup Battlefield alumnus that produces and refines data for AI-training purposes, has just debuted iOS and Android apps for its army of human annotators. It should help speed up a process that the company already touts as one of the fastest in the industry.

It’s no secret that AI relies almost totally on data that has been hand-annotated by humans, pointing out objects in photos, analyzing the meaning of sentences or expressions and so on. Doing this work has become a sort of cottage industry, with many annotators doing it part time or between other jobs.

There’s a limit, however, to what you can do if the interface you must use to do it is only available on certain platforms. Just as others occasionally answer an email or look over a presentation while riding the bus or getting lunch, it’s nice to be able to do work on mobile — essential, really, at this point.

To that end, DefinedCrowd has made its own app, which shares the Neevo branding of the company’s annotation community, that lets its annotators work whenever they want, tackling image or speech annotation tasks on the go. It’s available on iOS and Android starting today.

It’s a natural evolution of the market, CEO Daniela Braga told me. There’s a huge demand for this kind of annotation work, and it makes no sense to restrict the schedules or platforms of the people doing it. She suggested everyone in the annotation space would have apps soon, just as every productivity or messaging service does. And why not?

The company is growing quickly, going from a handful of employees to over a hundred, spread over its offices in Lisbon, Porto, Seattle and Tokyo. The market, likewise, … Read the rest