After our entry last week, highlighting a relatively quiet week in Canadian equity markets funding, this past week was perhaps one the busiest we can recall. We counted around ten different transactions in public equity markets, totaling close to a billion dollars. From our previous sell side equity research coverage list, we noted very significant developments with Mogo acquiring a stake in Coinsquare, and a share consolidation in the theScore, ahead of a potential US listing. In the USA, we would keep an eye out for Coupang and Rivian’s public market debuts, we expect both to perform well. Amongst our client list, Sophic client, Luckbox (LUCK-TSXV) announced a meaningful addition to the company’s management team, with the appointment of former Dunder, Mr Green and Electronic Arts executive Mr. Thomas Rosander as Chief Customer Officer.

Canadian Technology Capital Markets & Company News

 WELL Health (WELL-TSX) announces major expansion into U.S. market with proposed acquisition of CRH Medical and concurrent $295.5 million equity offering led by Mr. Li Ka-Shing at a 25% premium to market.

NYSE and TSX listed small cap stock CRH Medical or “CRH” generates a revenue run-rate that is greater than US$120 million with approximately 40% operating EBITDA margins and more than 25% free cash flow margins. Significant financial accretion anticipated for WELL, including approximately 120% on a revenue per share basis and 800% on an EBITDA per share basis in 2021. Proposed acquisition of CRH represents a significant opportunity for WELL to provide digital tools, tech-enablement and data protection to 69 Ambulatory Surgery Centers or “ASCs” and GI (Gastroenterologist) Clinics located in 13 U.S. states and thousands of GI partners in all 48 lower US states. Meaningfully enhances WELL’s free cash flow profile, enabling future reinvestment, capital compounding, and capital allocation opportunities across other attractive healthcare and healthcare-technology segments. Fully-funded via: (i) $295.5 million non-brokered private placement led by Mr. Li Ka-shing and leading Canadian and US based financial institutions at $9.80, a 25% premium to WELL’s 5-day VWAP; (ii) committed credit facilities from the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce as lead arranger and joint bookrunner along with HSBC Bank Canada; and (iii) WELL’s existing cash on hand. http://bit.ly/376YqFP

Lightspeed (LSPD-TSX, LSPD-NYSE) announces launch of marketed public offering of subordinate voting shares.

A total of 7,000,000 subordinate voting shares will be offered by Lightspeed for sale under the offering, which will be conducted through a syndicate of underwriters led by Morgan Stanley, Barclays and BMO Capital Markets, as joint lead book-running managers, with Credit Suisse and RBC Capital Markets as joint-bookrunners, and CIBC Capital Markets, KeyBanc Capital Markets, National Bank Financial Inc., Raymond James and TD Securities as co-managers. The offering will be priced in the context of the market with the price and total size of the offering to be determined at the time of entering into an underwriting agreement for the offering. Lightspeed and certain members of the Company’s management including Dax Dasilva will also grant the Underwriters an over-allotment option, exercisable for a period of 30 days from the date of the closing of the offering, to purchase up to 1,050,000 additional subordinate voting shares, representing in the aggregate 15% of the total number of subordinate voting shares to be sold pursuant to the offering. Lightspeed will not receive any of the proceeds of the sale of subordinate voting shares by the selling shareholders. http://bit.ly/2MYmpjQ

Voyager (VYGR-CSE) announces private placement.

The company announced it has increased the size of the previously announced best efforts private placement with Stifel GMP where the Company shall be offering for sale common shares of the Company (the “Shares”) for aggregate proceeds of approximately US$100 million at a price of US$13.10 per Share (equivalent C$17.00 per share) (the “Treasury Offering”). Contemporaneous with the Treasury Offering certain shareholders of the Company intend to sell approximately up to US$44 million in Shares (the “Secondary Offering”) at the same price as Shares sold in the Treasury Offering, of this amount approximately forty percent is being sold by an insider of the Company. http://yhoo.it/3pdWKAS & http://bit.ly/3pfadbA

Loop Energy Inc. files preliminary prospectus for Initial Public Offering.

The company filed, and obtained a receipt for, a preliminary long-form prospectus for the proposed initial public offering of common shares of the Company (the “Offering”) with the securities regulatory authorities in each of the provinces in Canada. The gross proceeds of the Offering are expected to be $100 million. National Bank Financial Inc. is acting as lead underwriter and sole bookrunner, with a syndicate of underwriters comprised of CIBC World Markets Inc., Raymond James Ltd., Canaccord Genuity Corp. and Cormark Securities Inc. Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP is acting as legal counsel to the Company, KPMG LLP are the auditors for the Company, and Goodmans LLP is acting as legal counsel to the underwriters. http://bit.ly/3aa2wit

Payfare files preliminary prospectus for its Initial Public Offering.

The company filed a preliminary prospectus with the securities regulatory authorities in each of the provinces and territories of Canada in connection with the proposed initial public offering of its common shares (the “Offering”). The Offering is expected to be made through a syndicate of underwriters led by Stifel GMP. http://bit.ly/2OwsHaR

GameSquare Esports (GSQ-CSE) announces upsizing of bought deal private placement led by Canaccord Genuity.

The Underwriters have agreed to purchase on a bought deal private placement basis, 16,700,000 subscription receipts of the Company (“Subscription Receipts”) at a price of $0.42 per Subscription Receipt, for aggregate gross proceeds of $7,014,000. GameSquare is a micro-cap stock listed on the Canadian Securities Exchage that focuses on esports. http://bit.ly/2MVMQXz

Leaf Mobile (LEAF-TSX) graduates to TSX after completing $159m acquisition of East Side Games.

Leaf Mobile Inc. debuted on the Toronto Stock Exchange Wednesday (February 10) after having completed the $159-million acquisition of Vancouver’s East Side Games Inc. (ESG) the preceding Friday. “The ability to have a certain size and scale provides a definitive … competitive advantage for you in the space. And that’s everything from improved costing due to scale across everything from servers to UA [user acquisition] to the ability to draw talent,” Leaf Mobile CEO Darcy Taylor told BIV. Completion of the acquisition was contingent on the TSX allowing the gaming company to list on the senior market. ESG owned more than 20% of Leaf’s shares prior to the $159-million deal, which paid out $19 million in cash and the remainder in stock — a shift from the $150-million deal announced in October that would have paid out $50 million in cash and the remainder in stock. http://bit.ly/3u763pU

EV Battery Tech (ACDC-CSE) announces oversubscribed non-brokered private placement.

Extreme Vehicle Battery Technologies Corp. announced that, further to its news release dated January 18, 2021, it has now over-subscribed, its non-brokered private placement for gross proceeds of approximately $3 million. http://bit.ly/3jFDRpe

Lite Access Technologies (LTE) announces $750,000 private placement.

The company announced a private placement financing of up to 3 million units (each a “Unit”) at $0.25 per Unit for gross proceeds of up to $750,000 (the “Offering”). Each Unit consists of one common share of the Company and one share purchase warrant (each a “Warrant”), with each Warrant entitling the holder to purchase one additional common share for a period of one year from the date of the issue at an exercise price of $0.35 per share.  The Company may pay a finder’s fee in cash and/or share purchase warrants in connection with the Offering. http://bit.ly/3jHzJVP

exactEarth announces conversion of 2023 debentures.

The Company announces that the holders of the Company’s $13 million principal amount of outstanding convertible unsecured subordinated debentures due December 13, 2023 have given notice to the Company that they are converting the Debentures. In connection with conversion, the Company is issuing 2,000 common shares for each $1,000 principal amount of Debentures resulting in an aggregate of 26 million Common Shares issued in satisfaction of $13 million principal amount. As provided in the terms of the Debentures, the Company has elected to satisfy accrued and unpaid interest on the Debentures through the issue of Common Shares at a price equivalent to $1.2597 per common share. The accrued and unpaid interest as of the Conversion Date is $1,725,260 resulting in the issue of 1,369,585 common shares. An aggregate of 27,369,585 common shares will be issued in connection with the conversion of the Debentures and the satisfaction of the accrued and unpaid interest thereon. Following the conversion and satisfaction of the Debentures, the Company will have 49,418,225 common shares outstanding on a non-diluted basis and 53,297,591 on a fully-diluted basis. http://bit.ly/36XVgEA

Mogo (MOGO-TSX, MOGO-NASDAQ) announces strategic investment in Coinsquare, Canada’s leading digital asset trading platform.

The company announced its investment in Coinsquare Ltd. (“Coinsquare”), Canada’s leading digital asset trading platform, including the execution of a definitive agreement (the “Agreement”) for Mogo to acquire 19.99% ownership of Coinsquare’s outstanding common shares on a post-transaction basis for total consideration of approximately $56.4 million. The Agreement also includes rights for Mogo to acquire an additional 20% ownership interest in Coinsquare through purchases of shares from current shareholders and the exercise of warrants under certain conditions, for consideration based on a pre-money valuation of Coinsquare ranging from $250-350 million. This strategic investment builds on a multi-year relationship between the two companies. Coinsquare acts as the trading platform for MogoCrypto, a service Mogo launched in 2018 to allow its members an easy and convenient way to buy and sell bitcoin. http://bwnews.pr/3jHkufv

theScore (SCR-TSX) announces share consolidation.

“This share consolidation is a significant step that positions us for the potential U.S. stock exchange listing we have been considering,” said John Levy, Founder and CEO, theScore. “We believe a U.S. listing would benefit our business and shareholders as we seek to further execute on the growing opportunity in the rapidly developing North American sports betting market. As the only fully integrated mobile sports media and gaming company in North America, theScore is uniquely positioned to grow our footprint and capitalize on the expansion of legalized sports betting and iGaming across the U.S. and Canada.” http://bit.ly/3perZM5

Fraction Technologies announces $289 million in debt, equity financing as it looks to disrupt reverse mortgages.

Fraction is a startup at the intersection of FinTech and Proptech, focused on providing what it calls “socially conscious financial solutions.” With the announcement of its funding, Fraction is coming out of “stealth mode” with the launch of its initial product, the Fraction Appreciation Mortgage, which allows customers to convert up to 40 percent of their home equity into tax-free cash. The equity portion of the financing, which represents seed capital for the company, was closed in November. Venture capital investors included Impression Ventures, Primetime Partners, Global Founders Capital, and Panache Ventures. http://bit.ly/3rN2KSz

Symend eyes global markets with $54 million Series B extension led by Inovia.

Fuelled by growing demand for its customer engagement platform for financially at-risk customers, Calgary-based Symend has secured a $54 million Series B extension to satisfy telecommunications and financial institutions globally. The round comes eight months after Symend secured $73 million as part of its original Series B round, which clocked-in as one of the largest such rounds in recent Alberta history. The extension furthers that narrative, with Symend’s Series B now totalling $127 million. The new financing brings Symend’s total funding to date to around $130 million. Symend refused to disclose any investors outside of its lead, but did note a mix of returning and new investors. Previous Symend investors include Ignition Partners, Impression Ventures, BDC Capital’s Women in Technology Fund, Mistral Venture Partners, Telus Ventures, BMO Capital Partners, and angel investors including Plenty of Fish founder Markus Frind. Joshaghani told BetaKit around 10 to 15 percent of the extension included secondary capital that went to buying out some angel investors. http://bit.ly/3aakh1c

Fonds de solidarité FTQ, Investissement Québec and EDC invest $19 million in District M to support its growth strategy.

A Montréal online advertising firm, district m has secured total investments of $19 million from the Fonds de solidarité FTQ ($7 million), Investissement Québec ($7 million) and EDC ($5 million) to support its international growth strategy and new technology development. district m has designed a transparent, flexible programmatic ecosystem aimed at connecting advertisers and publishers online. The company is currently one of the top 10 programmatic ad exchanges in the world. District M has grown exponentially since its inception in 2013: revenue has increased as has the number of employees, and the company now also has offices in Toronto and New York. http://bit.ly/2LNbF7m

Briza raises $10.2 million to address growing demand for insurance carrier APIs.

Toronto-based insurtech Briza has raised a $10.2 million Series A round as the startup aims to meet significant demand for its insurance carrier integrations. Briza’s Series A financing, which consisted entirely of equity, closed at the beginning of October. It was led by Investment Group of Santa Barbara, and saw participation from existing investors, including 500 Startups. The new capital brings Briza’s total funding to date to $13.9 million. http://bit.ly/3jGPtIF

Ledn raises $3.4 million to accelerate the growth of its Bitcoin-backed lending platform.

Toronto-based FinTech startup Ledn has raised $3.4 million in seed funding, as the company looks to fuel the expansion of its digital asset savings and credit platform amid a steadily growing rise in registered users. Founded in 2018, Ledn offers Bitcoin and U.S. Dollar Coin (USDC) savings accounts and Bitcoin-backed loans (USDC is a stablecoin backed by Coinbase and pegged to the US dollar). The startup claims to have issued the first Bitcoin-backed loan in Canadian dollars in 2018. The round was led by White Star Capital as part of its Digital Asset Fund. White Star Capital is a New York City-based venture capital and private equity firm that focuses on early growth-stage tech companies. Ledn’s round also saw participation from Darrow Holdings, Coinbase Ventures, Global Founders Capital, CMT Digital, and Kingsway. The $3.4 million brings Ledn’s total funding to date to $4.7 million. http://bit.ly/3rNEa3Y

Mortgage startup Homewise secures $3 million, sees “substantial” growth during pandemic.

Homewise, a Toronto-based proptech startup that aims to help homebuyers secure a mortgage through its online platform, has secured an oversubscribed $3 million seed round of financing. The startup’s goal is to replace the traditional brokerage process, which Homewise CEO and co-founder Jesse Abrams described as “archaic.” With this new funding, the startup has raised $3.8 million to date. The round was led by existing investor Clanton Capital, and included new investors MaRS IAF and Epstein Enterprises. A number of angel investors also participated, including Joe Canavan, principal of Canavan Capital. https://bit.ly/2OxetGK

Brookfield pursues $7.5 billion fund devoted to ‘net-zero’ shift.

Brookfield Asset Management Inc. plans to raise at least $7.5 billion for a new climate-focused fund, as the Canadian investment firm builds out an ESG business led by former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney. The Brookfield Global Transition Fund seeks to take advantage of accelerating interest in solutions to the global climate crisis, with a focus on renewable power and other investments that help cut carbon emissions. It would be one of the largest — if not the largest — funds in a sector that’s attracting a flood of new capital. http://bloom.bg/377f9Jp

Canada approves first bitcoin ETF, raising hopes that the US SEC will soon follow.

Canada’s financial regulator approved the first publicly traded bitcoin ETF in North America, according to records published Thursday. The Purpose Bitcoin ETF will seek to replicate the performance of the price of bitcoin, minus the ETF’s fees and expenses, according to a fact sheet posted by Canada-based asset manager Purpose Investments. It will trade on the Toronto stock exchange under the ticket “BTCC.” http://bit.ly/2Zd5oES

DraftKings and NFL expand fantasy sports partnership to Canada.

With the Canadian federal government weighing up moves to regulate single-event sports betting, the expanded deal further deepens the relationship between the two organizations in Canada as the NFL season approaches its conclusion with this weekend’s Super Bowl LV. “The relationship we share with the NFL is important for DraftKings to provide customers a great experience,” said DraftKings chief business officer Ezra Kucharz. “This expanded agreement gives us a unique opportunity in the Canadian market, and we look forward to working with the team at NFL Canada as we continue to shape the modern fan experience.”  NFL Canada director of corporate partnerships Gavin Kemp commented: “The popularity of daily fantasy in Canada continues to rise, providing a great point of connectivity for our fans to engage with the NFL. https://bit.ly/3qlnTmy

Real Luck Group Ltd. (Sophic Client, LUCK-TSXV): Real Luck Group Ltd. appoints former Dunder, Mr Green and Electronic Arts executive Thomas Rosander as Luckbox’s Chief Customer Officer.

“Having a CCO like Thomas, who has the industry experience and relationships is crucial as Luckbox executes on its customer acquisition strategy,” commented Quentin Martin, CEO at Real Luck Group Ltd. “The Luckbox team comprises a mix of igaming and esports experience and Thomas fits in perfectly with that ethos, as his resume will testify. We have big plans for growth in 2021 and beyond, and Thomas will play a leading role in helping us deliver on our targets. This is a key role in growing our business and I am delighted to have someone of Thomas’s caliber on board.” https://bit.ly/3qiiEnS

Global Markets: IPOs, Venture Capital, M&A

Bumble climbs 9% following its 64% post-IPO rally.

Bumble rose as much as 8.8% on Friday, extending gains after its massive post-IPO rally. The dating app made its trading debut Thursday afternoon and quickly surged as investors rushed to the offering. Bumble stock gained as much as 85% at intraday highs and closed roughly 64% above the offering price of US$43 a share. The company raised US$2.2 billion on Wednesday with its 50-million-share offering. Bumble’s offering price was upsized twice since filing for its IPO in January: once from its initial range of US$28 to US$30 a share, and again to US$37 to US$39 a share. The company reported having about 42 million monthly active users across its dating apps as of September 30. About 2.4 million of those users paid for premium features such as Bumble Boost or Bumble Premium, according to a regulatory filing. Apart from the app of the same name, Bumble also owns Badoo, another location-based social discovery app. http://bit.ly/3phZddv

Coupang files for mega US IPO.

South Korean e-commerce and delivery giant Coupang filed to go public in the United States. As a private company, Coupang has raised billions, including capital from American venture capital firm Sequoia and Japanese telecom giant SoftBank and its Vision Fund. Coupang’s revenue growth is nothing short of fantastic. Coupang’s offering, coming amidst the public debut of a number of well-known technology brands, will be a massive affair. Its first S-1 filing indicates that its IPO will raise capital in the range of US$1 billion, far larger than the US$100 million placeholder that is more common. But the company’s scale makes its lofty IPO fundraising goals reasonable. Coupang is huge, with revenues north of US$10 billion in 2020 and in improving financial health as it scales. And its revenue growth has accelerated. Perhaps that explains why the company is reportedly targeting a valuation of US$50 billion. http://tcrn.ch/3jUahMU

Tesla competitor Rivian seeking an IPO as soon as September that would value it at US$50 billion, report says.

Rivian Automotive Inc, an electric vehicle startup considered one of the highest-profile potential competitors to Tesla, is seeking an IPO at a valuation of about US$50 billion, according to Bloomberg. Rivian is looking to go public as soon as September, but the listing could be pushed to later in 2021 or even into 2022, Bloomberg reported, citing people familiar with the matter who wished not to be identified. The electric vehicle maker has raised more money than any other private EV startup, and has also signed deals with Amazon and Ford to supply them with delivery trucks and an EV platform, respectively. Rivian’s latest funding round was a US$2.65 billion investment led by T. Rowe Price Associates in January. The electric vehicle startup has now raised more than US$8 billion since the start of 2019. https://bit.ly/3jKsNav

Flying taxi company Archer is going public with backing from United Airlines.

Every time you hear a bell ring, does another flying taxi company get its wings? Well, not quite, but every time the New York Stock Exchange opening bell rings these days, another next-generation aviation startup seems to be getting its listing on the Big Board. The latest is Archer, a Palo Alto–based company that is one of hundreds around the world working on newfangled electric-powered aircraft that can take off and land vertically. It announced today that it will secure a public listing through a reverse merger with Atlas Crest Investment Corp., a NYSE-listed special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC. https://bit.ly/2Z4dBvh

Goldman Sachs is creating an auto-tech joint venture amid a SPAC boom for EV and lidar companies.

Goldman Sachs is forming an investment-banking joint venture that will specialize in automotive technology, Bloomberg reported on Friday. The move will combine Goldman’s team that focuses on industrial and technology companies with its media and communications team, Dave Friedland, who leads Goldman’s Americas cross-markets group, told Bloomberg. “It will lead to greater collaboration, greater dedication of resources, more efficient execution on opportunities, and more internal institutional support,” Friedland said. Auto technology has provided plenty of dealmaking and underwriting opportunities for Wall Street banks in recent years, as there have been a number of high-profile acquisitions and public listings involving electric-vehicle, autonomous-vehicle, and ride-hailing companies. Some of the biggest moves last year included Amazon’s purchase of the robotaxi startup Zoox, Uber’s acquisition of Postmates, and the electric-truck startup Nikola’s merger with the special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) VectoIQ. http://bit.ly/2Zg6MGU

Hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer’s Elliott Management is looking to raise over US$1 billion to fund a SPAC, report says.

US hedge fund Elliott Management, known for its activist leaning, has been meeting with bankers to raise more than US$1 billion to create a special-purpose acquisition company, the Wall Street Journal reported. The process is in early stages and plans could still change, the Journal said. Billionaire Paul Singer’s 44-year-old firm could use the funds to buy a company worth double-digit billions based on the targets with which similarly sized SPACs have joined forces, according to the report. It isn’t clear which industries Elliott is seeking to target. Many hedge fund competitors have already raised their own blank-check firms, and until now Singer’s absence from the SPAC boom had been conspicuous. http://bit.ly/2NlWoec

Reddit has raised $250 million and doubled its valuation to US$6 billion following the GameStop trading saga.

Reddit has nabbed US$250 million in funding, doubling its valuation to US$6 billion, as it rides the r/Wallstreetbets wave. Reddit told the Wall Street Journal the late-stage funding round was led by venture capital firm Vy Capital. The company’s last fundraise was in February 2019, when it raised US$300 million at a US$3 billion valuation. CEO Steve Huffman told the Journal there was a “good market to fundraise” at the moment. “Valuations are very high right now. It never hurts to raise money when there’s an opportunity to do so and Reddit had a strong year,” he added. He did not mention Reddit’s role in the mass trading of GameStop and other so-called “meme stocks,” a story that dominated the news cycle after a group of Redditors banded together to buy heavily-shorted stocks. http://bit.ly/3peHLq8

Applied UV stock rockets four-fold in volatile trading after closing Airocide System purchase.

Shares of Applied UV Inc. soared more than four-fold in volatile, active trading Tuesday, after the New York-based company, which applies ultraviolet light to destroy airborne pathogens, announced the closing of an acquisition of almost all of the assets of Akida Holdings LLC. The acquisition, by Applied UV’s subsidiary SteriLumen Inc., includes all of the rights to make and sell the Airocide System of air disinfection and purification technologies. The stock skyrocketed 305.8% in morning trading, to pace all gainers on major U.S. exchanges, on volume of 33.6 million shares, which compares with the full-day average of about 326,000 shares over the past 30 days. The stock has already been halted briefly for volatility four times since the open. When Applied UV first announced its intent to buy the Airocide System from Akida on Nov. 9, the stock rose 1.3% on volume of about 630,000 shares that day. The latest data show that short interest of 28,070 shares was about 1% of the public float. The stock, which started trading on Aug. 31, 2020, has now rallied 229.0% over the past three months while the S&P 500 has gained 10.2%. http://on.mktw.net/3agdzH7

Microsoft tried to buy Pinterest.

Microsoft tried to buy Pinterest in recent months, according to the Financial Times, although the report said there were no active talks and implied Pinterest was not interested. A deal would cost north of US$60 billion at Pinterest’s current share price. The software giant’s approach reflected a strategy of building a portfolio of online communities to run on Microsoft’s cloud platform, the FT said. Last year Microsoft had made an unsuccessful offer to buy TikTok when the popular app’s Chinese parent ByteDance was under pressure from the Trump administration to divest it. Microsoft ultimately lost out to Oracle, which agreed to buy a minority stake, although that deal is on hold. Word of Microsoft’s interest in Pinterest follows a stunning rally in Pinterest shares over the past few months, accompanying an acceleration of the company’s growth rate. Revenue rose 76% in the fourth quarter, a sign that advertisers are growing more comfortable in Pinterest’s online scrapbook and social media service, which has also attracted more users during the pandemic. http://bit.ly/37esvU3

Electronic Arts buys Glu Mobile, maker of ‘Kim Kardashian: Hollywood’.

Electronic Arts Inc. said Monday it is acquiring Glu Mobile Inc. in a US$2.4 billion deal aimed at expanding an area of business in which the videogame giant has had mixed success. The all-cash deal, which is expected to close in the June-ended quarter, will bring Glu’s mobile games such as “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood,” “Diner Dash” and “MLB Tap Sports Baseball” to EA. Glu shareholders will receive US$12.50 a share, representing a 36% premium to Glu’s closing price Friday, EA said. Glu shares rose 34% to $12.56 in extended trading Monday. “We did this deal because we believe mobile is the fastest-growing platform on the planet” for videogames, EA Chief Executive Andrew Wilson said. “The combination of these two companies creates a market leader in lifestyle and sports.” http://on.wsj.com/37pK8k7

Emerging Technologies

Facebook is secretly building a smartwatch and planning to sell it next year.

Facebook is building a smartwatch as part of its ongoing hardware efforts, according to a new report from The Information. The device is said to be an Android-based smartwatch, though the report does not say whether Facebook intends for the device to run Google’s Wear OS. It also says Facebook is working on building its own operating system for hardware devices and that future iterations of the wearable may run that software instead. The smartwatch would have messaging, health, and fitness features, the report says, and would join Facebook’s Oculus virtual reality headsets and Portal video chat devices as part of the social network’s growing hardware ecosystem. Facebook is also working on branded Ray-Ban smart glasses to come out later this year and a separate augmented reality research initiative known as Project Aria, which is part of the company’s broader AR explorations it’s been working on for some time now. http://bit.ly/37d3jxk

Unreal Engine’s next job.

Epic Games, makers of the Unreal Engine that has powered two decades’ worth of triple-A video games, on Wednesday announced another leading-edge development tool: MetaHuman Creator, an application that can create distinctive and lifelike human characters for video games in a fraction of the time it currently takes. “One of the most arduous tasks in 3D content creation has been constructing truly convincing digital humans,” Vladimir Mastlovic, Epic’s vice president for Digital Humans Technology, said in a statement. Epic says the character-creation process, which seasoned animators and illustrators spend days or weeks getting right, can be reduced “to less than an hour” using MetaHuman Creator’s browser-based application. The video above shows the process at work. https://bit.ly/3rDdanG

Apple doubled California self-driving test miles in 2020, disengagement rate improves.

Each year, the California Department of Motor Vehicles publishes detailed information from the companies testing self-driving cars in the state. This year’s data has just been made public, and it reveals that Apple completed 18,805 miles of self-driving car testing in California during 2020 — more than double what was reported in 2019.  Here is how Apple’s self-driving testing in California has progressed over the last three years: 2020: 18,805 miles, 6.91 disengagements per 1,000 miles, 2019: 7,544 miles, 8.35 disengagements per 1,000 miles, 2018: 79,745 miles, 871.65 disengagements per 1,000 miles. http://bit.ly/2MZxnFJ

Toyota will debut its first mass-market EVs in the US this year.

Toyota will finally introduce its first mass-market all-electric vehicles in the United States later this year, the world’s leading automaker announced Wednesday, though it offered no further details about vehicle type or pricing. Toyota has previously said it’s developing an electric SUV on a new flexible platform that can power multiple EVs, following in the footsteps of Volkswagen, General Motors, and others. The two new EVs will be announced alongside an unspecified Toyota hybrid. Still, it’s a popular line of thinking at Toyota; the company’s own billionaire CEO, Akio Toyoda, said in December that he believes electric vehicles are overhyped in part because of power plant emissions — a statement that must have been music to the oil industry’s ears since it’s been one of its favorite pieces of misinformation. http://bit.ly/2MRVZAp

Media, Streaming, Gaming & Sports Betting

Mark Cuban launching new ‘next-gen’ podcasting app and platform later this year.

Mark Cuban is planning to enter the podcasting industry as soon as this year. According to a new report from the Verge, Cuban is planning to launch a new podcast app that allows hosts to “talk to fans live and monetize their conversations.” The report explains that Cuban will work alongside Falon Fatemi on the startup. Fatemi previously cofounded and sold the AI customer relations service Node. http://bit.ly/2Z7FZg2

Disney says it now has 94.9 million Disney+ subscribers.

Disney announced Thursday that its streaming platform surpassed 94.9 million subscribers. The company announced the number as part of its earnings report for the December quarter. The company’s stock was up about 2% after hours on the news. Disney+ exceeded the company’s initial subscriber goal of 60 million to 90 million by 2024 back in November, forcing it to reforecast. The company now expects Disney+ will have 230 million to 260 million subscribers by 2024. http://cnb.cx/2LIR43U

More people are going back to theaters to game, not to watch movies.

It’s no secret the pandemic has taken a huge toll on the theater industry, but some chains are getting clever to offset some of these losses. BBC reports that CGV, the largest cinema company in South Korea, has been allowing gamers to rent its screens for two-hour chunks, costing US$90 before 6PM, then going up to US$135 later in the evening. That’s a lot of money, especially since gamers need to come bearing their own consoles, controllers, and games. But hey, where else can you play games on a screen that’s at least 20 feet long with bombastic sound quality? The report also points out that US theater company Malco Theaters, which owns 36 cinemas in southern states, has been allowing people to rent screens for gaming or private viewing. It has a name for this service, called Malco Select Gaming, and pricing is set at US$100 for two hours or US$150 for three hours. http://bit.ly/3pg8IcU

Adtech, Privacy & Regulatory

Zuckerberg tells staff to ‘inflict pain’ on Apple as privacy battle intensifies.

As the battle between Facebook and Apple intensifies, The Wall Street Journal is out with a new report detailing Facebook’s anger at Apple. The report explains that one of the turning points in the battle was an interview Tim Cook did in 2018 amid Facebook’s Cambridge Analytics scandal. In the interview, Cook proclaimed that Apple would have never found itself in such a position, and he called for “well-crafted regulation” to prevent similar situations from occurring in the future. Zuckerberg fired back in public, calling Cook’s comments “glib” and untruthful. In private, today’s report says that Zuckerberg has been even harsher. “We need to inflict pain,” he has reportedly told his team at Facebook. Late in 2020, Facebook reportedly “deliberated” joining Epic Games in its legal battle against Apple. While the company ultimately decided to stay on the sidelines, it has agreed to provide documents to Epic and assist when necessary. Recent reporting has suggested that Facebook is plotting its own antitrust lawsuit against Apple. http://bit.ly/3jPR9zE

How Europe’s new privacy rules survived years of negotiations, lobbying and drama.

It took four years, but European governments have at last agreed on new privacy rules. EU deputy ambassadors on Wednesday signed off on the e-Privacy Regulation, which aims to protect the privacy of online communications by regulating how telecom operators, tech companies and the online advertising industry use personal data. https://politi.co/3qbWdk6

Clubhouse users in China say service appears to be blocked.

Users of red-hot social media platform Clubhouse in China said they were unable to use the app on Monday, after an explosion of discussions over the weekend on taboo topics from Taiwan to Xinjiang. Reports of users being unable to use the invite-only, audio-based app appeared on other social-media platforms such as Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat and Sina Corp.’s microblogging platform Weibo. On Twitter, which is blocked in China, users claiming to be in the country posted screenshots of Clubhouse’s home screen saying that an error had occurred and that a secure connection to the server could not be made. https://bloom.bg/2N4Nfq9

Twitter relents in its standoff with Indian government over farmer protest tweets.

The Indian government’s efforts to clamp down on social media and Internet activity related to the months-long farmer protests against pro-market agricultural reforms have extended to Twitter, which on Wednesday blocked hundreds of Twitter accounts in India on government orders. The account restrictions are the latest development in a standoff between Twitter and the Indian government that began at the start of the month over tweets related to the protests. https://bit.ly/3qcqS0K

Twitter’s Jack Dorsey wants to build an app store for social media algorithms.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey imagines a future where you get to choose what you see on social media by picking out your favorite recommendation algorithm, rather than relying on a single controlling company to get it exactly right. On a call with investors today, Dorsey expanded on his vision of how a decentralized social network might work — and why Twitter would want to create a network that’s beyond the control of itself or any other company. Dorsey said Twitter would benefit by having access to “a much larger corpus of conversation” from which it can surface relevant content to users. “That’s where we will be competitive,” he said. Dorsey said Twitter is “excited to build” features that will give people more choice over what they see. “You can imagine an app-store-like view of ranking algorithms that give people ultimate flexibility in terms of” what posts are put in front of them, Dorsey said on the call. http://bit.ly/3b6gWiL

Facebook is reportedly working on a Clubhouse copy.

Facebook, a company known for ripping its ideas from competitors, has reportedly set its sights on social audio. The New York Times reports that the company is working on a copycat of Clubhouse, the buzzy invite-only social audio startup. The Times reports the product is in the “early stages of development,” so it’s unclear if and when it might launch. The news comes only five days after CEO Mark Zuckerberg joined Clubhouse and participated in a room to talk about the future of augmented and virtual reality. His presence on the app was shocking, given it’s a new social network, so the fact that Facebook might now be cloning Clubhouse is no surprise. The company has already done so with multiple other apps, including, most infamously, Stories, which it took from Snapchat, and Reels, its TikTok competitor that launched last year. Twitter is also working on a Clubhouse competitor called Spaces, which is in beta at the moment. Its team acquired social podcasting company Breaker, seemingly for its expertise in social audio, to help beef up its efforts. Meanwhile, Mark Cuban is also at work on a live audio app called Fireside, which The Verge reported on earlier this week. Clearly, lots of people in tech think audio will be an important format for communicating in the future, and they’re rapidly trying to get in on it before the trend dies out. http://bit.ly/3qliLPh

eCommerce

TikTok is reportedly prepping a live-streamed shopping feature, and it could be like QVC for Gen-Z.

TikTok is moving further into e-commerce as it rolls out new features like livestreamed shopping and product catalogs, the Financial Times reported. The video app, owned by China’s ByteDance, said its new livestreamed shopping feature is similar to traditional TV shopping channels — but for mobile, the FT said. Users can purchase products with a few clicks after watching a quasi-infomercial. Though some social media apps have slowly added in-app shopping capabilities, traditional TV shopping channels like QVC and HSN have been moving to digital video commerce for years, adding to their popularity. TikTok’s other new e-commerce features include a tool that allows companies to display catalogs and another feature that allows users with a big following to link to products and earn money off sales. TikTok confirmed its plans to explore new tools such as product links and catalogs, in an emailed statement to Insider, though it did not comment on plans for the livestreamed function. http://bit.ly/3p9oBC4

Fintech, Blockchain & Cryptocurrency

Mastercard to allow some cryptocurrencies in digital asset boom.

Mastercard Inc. will begin allowing cardholders to transact in certain cryptocurrencies on its network, becoming the latest company to embrace digital assets. The firm is also “actively engaging” with central banks around the world on their plans to launch new digital currencies, according to a Mastercard blog post on Wednesday. The company will prioritize consumer protections and compliance in its own plans, Raj Dhamodharan, executive vice president of digital asset and blockchain products and partnerships, said in the post. https://bloom.bg/3qnQojq

Bitcoin evangelist Michael Saylor says this is the ‘year of institutional investment’ in cryptocurrency following Tesla’s groundbreaking move.

Noted bitcoin bull Michael Saylor said that 2021 is the “year of institutional investment” in cryptocurrency in an interview with Ran Neuner, the former host of CNBC’s “Crypto Trader,” on Tuesday. With fiat currencies depreciating, Saylor said, “the simple most value-creating thing” companies can do is convert cash from “analog money into a digital asset like bitcoin.” According to the bitcoin evangelist, there were “1,000 companies” that “went through this transformation” in 2020 alone. Saylor, who is the CEO of the business intelligence firm MicroStrategy, has been pushing corporate moves into bitcoin for some time. His company MicroStrategy owns over 71,079 bitcoins worth US$3.35 billion at current prices. https://bit.ly/2NiJ8qA

Tesla discloses US$1.5 billion purchase of bitcoin in latest SEC filing.

Tesla has purchased US$1.5 billion in bitcoin, according to its latest SEC filing on Monday. The electric car company made the purchase sometime since January 2021, though the filing doesn’t say what price the company locked into. http://bit.ly/3b2TOBY

Twitter is considering adding bitcoin to its balance sheet, CFO says.

Twitter has considered whether to add bitcoin to its balance sheet, though no changes have been made yet, according to CFO Ned Segal. Segal said in a CNBC interview Wednesday that the social media giant continues to “study and look at” incorporating bitcoin into its finances. “We’ve done a lot of the upfront thinking to consider how we might pay employees should they ask to be paid in bitcoin, how we might pay a vendor if they asked to be paid in bitcoin and whether we need to have bitcoin on our balance sheet should that happen,” said the CFO. “We want to be thoughtful about it over time, but we haven’t made any changes yet.” http://bit.ly/377F0Rg

Jim Cramer says it’s ‘almost irresponsible’ for companies not to own bitcoin as the cryptocurrency soars to new highs.

Jim Cramer told investors it’s “almost irresponsible” for companies not to own bitcoin in an interview with CNBC’s Andrew Sorkin on Tuesday. “As far as a way to be able to have a pastiche of things to do with your cash, I’m all for it.” the host of “Mad Money” and former hedge fund manager told Sorkin.  “I think it’s almost irresponsible not to include it. Every treasurer should be going to boards of directors and saying should we put a small portion of our cash in bitcoin.” Cramer argued the currency could be used as a hedge against an equity portfolio or inflation, saying, “it seems to be an interesting way to hedge against the rest of the environment, nice hedge against fiat currency.” http://bit.ly/3aXiVG9

Morgan Stanley’s investment arm is reportedly considering a US$150 billion bitcoin investment.

An investment unit under Morgan Stanley is exploring a US$150 billion bitcoin buy, according to Bloomberg. Bloomberg reported Morgan Stanley Investment Management’s Counterpoint Global unit was looking into the investment, citing people familiar with the investment. Bloomberg reported the investment would require regulatory approval. The investment would be one of several high-profile moves into cryptocurrency from well-established companies, banks, and investment firms. Bank of New York Mellon, the country’s oldest financial institution, planned to offer bitcoin transactions, according to The Wall Street Journal. Mastercard on Thursday said it would allow merchants to accept select cryptocurrencies. http://bit.ly/3rR4Voq

Michael Novogratz sees bitcoin at US$100,000 with ‘every’ company adopting.

Michael Novogratz, the founder of cryptocurrency investment firm Galaxy Digital, sees Bitcoin more than doubling to $100,000 by the end of the year, spurred higher as more companies allow customers to use the token to make purchases. “You’re going to see every company in America do the same thing,” Novogratz said Monday in a Bloomberg Television interview. Between corporations adding Bitcoin to treasury funds and the city of Miami also considering adding the cryptocurrency to its balance sheet, “It doesn’t have to be a lot. It’s the messaging that matters, you’re seeing the herd here, and it’s coming.” Novogratz said Tesla CEO Elon Musk was a “genius” in his decision to “listen to the people,” or weighing the interests of a rising generation. “One of the things that connect Bitcoin, and Tesla and solar stocks and ESG investing is millennials and Gen Z, young people are buying into the future, and they see cryptocurrencies — Bitcoin and other cryptos — as their currencies,” he said. http://bloom.bg/3tO6JjI

Elon Musk says in a tweet that he bought dogecoin for his son, sparking a 16% surge in the ‘meme’ token.

Elon Musk sparked another surge in Dogecoin on Wednesday after he tweeted to his 46 million followers that he bought some for his 9-month old son, X Æ A-Xii. Dogecoin surged as much as 16% following the tweet, spiking from US$0.069 to US$0.08.This isn’t the first time an Elon Musk tweet sparked a rally in the cryptocurrency. Nor is it the second time. Dogecoin is a shiba inu meme-inspired cryptocurrency that was started as a joke in 2013. http://bit.ly/3rTolch

Semiconductors

The Biden administration is working to help address global semiconductor chip shortage.

The White House has pledged to help address the ongoing global semiconductor shortage, with President Joe Biden said to be signing an executive order to conduct a supply chain review along with developing a long-term strategy to avoid future shortages, via Bloomberg. The cause of the current shortage is due to a mixture of factors: spikes in demand for consumer electronic products like laptops due to changes in lifestyle caused by the COVID-19 pandemic; slowdowns in chip production also caused by the pandemic; a business model in the semiconductor industry that sees most companies outsource chip production to firms like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) instead of building the parts themselves; and lingering effects from former President Donald Trump’s trade war with China that made it harder for US companies to work with Chinese chip producers. The shortage impacts everything from PS5s to Ford F-150s. The result is companies like Apple, Qualcomm, Sony, and AMD have all cited shortages in recent weeks, with effects ranging from part shortages for iPhones to the incredibly hard-to-find nature of the PlayStation 5 or AMD’s newest CPUs and GPUs. http://bit.ly/3jGWOYJ

Apple partners with TSMC to develop ultra-advanced displays.

Apple is collaborating with its longtime chip supplier TSMC because micro OLED displays are not built on glass substrates like the conventional LCD screens in smartphones and TVs, or OLED displays used in high-end smartphones. Instead, these new displays are built directly onto wafers — the substrates that semiconductors are fabricated on — allowing for displays that are far thinner and smaller and use less power, making them more suitable for use in wearable AR devices, according to sources familiar with the projects. The project represents a further deepening of Apple’s relationship with TSMC, the sole supplier of iPhone processors, even as the U.S. tech giant works to reduce its reliance on other major suppliers. The Taiwanese chipmaking giant is also helping Apple build its in-house designed central processors for Mac computers. http://s.nikkei.com/2N1s8Fp

ESG

Macquarie raises almost US$2 billion for renewable energy fund.

Macquarie Group Ltd.’s green investment arm raised 1.6 billion euros (US$1.94 billion) for a renewable energy fund. The company’s Green Investment Group Renewable Energy Fund 2 closed after exceeding its target of 1 billion euros and received commitments from 32 pension funds and insurers from largely the U.K. and Germany, as well as from some sovereign wealth funds, according to a statement. Renewables and the green transition has been identified as one of the biggest areas for global economic growth. Everyone from niche technology companies to energy majors are stepping into the field, as countries around the world pledge to reach net-zero. http://bloom.bg/3rJqaZd

Santa Barbara launches on-demand solar permitting.

In an effort to improve local energy resiliency, the City is further streamlining the permitting process for both solar and solar with battery energy storage systems through On-Demand Permitting (ODP). ODP eliminates the plan check phase in permitting and issues a permit immediately, as long as the proposed project meets minimum requirements. https://bit.ly/3aS7W0R

BP splashes out with huge bet on wind farms in the Irish Sea.

BP will pay more than £900 million for rights to build offshore wind farms after bidding the highest price in a Crown Estate auction that could deliver billions of pounds to the Treasury and the Queen. The oil major made its first move into UK offshore wind by bidding with EnBW, of Germany, to secure two seabed leases in the Irish Sea at prices that far surpassed industry expectations. http://bit.ly/3d9JCKu

Elon Musk wants clean power.

But Tesla’s carrying bitcoin’s dirty baggage. Tesla boss Elon Musk is a poster child of low-carbon technology. Yet the electric carmaker’s backing of bitcoin this week could turbo-charge global use of a currency that’s estimated to cause more pollution than a small country every year. Bitcoin production is estimated to generate between 22 and 22.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year, or between the levels produced by Jordan and Sri Lanka, according to a 2019 study in scientific journal Joule. The landmark inclusion of the cryptocurrency in Tesla’s investment portfolio could complicate the company’s zero-emissions ethos, according to some investors, at a time when ESG – environmental, social and governance – considerations have become a major factor for global investors. “We are of course very concerned about the level of carbon dioxide emissions generated from bitcoin mining,” said Ben Dear, CEO of Osmosis Investment Management, a sustainable investor managing around US$2.2 billion in assets that holds Tesla stock in several portfolios. http://reut.rs/3aaEGTQ 

Sophic Capital Client Insights

Real Luck Group Ltd. (Sophic Client, LUCK-TSXV): 2020 was a banner year for video gaming & sports betting.

Increased consumer spending and the record number of hours streamed on Twitch and Facebook firmly established video games as real and growing pastimes as we exited 2020. esports prize pools now rival those offered by some traditional sports. These trends benefit esports betting & Sophic Capital client Luckbox. http://bit.ly/3qkx5Yy

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