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Big Tech is finally warming to cannabis and the cannabis industry



This article was contributed by Paul Dunford, cofounder and director of program development at Green Check Verified.

The tweet and the issue

On February 13, 2021, actor and cannabis farmer Jim Belushi posted on Twitter:

“So sick of Facebook / Instagram. They shadow banned my farms [sic] Facebook page Belushi’s Farm and our Instagram. PLUS, they constantly take down our content. Don’t they know canabis [sic] is a medicine?”

This tweet highlighted one of the lesser-known issues faced by the cannabis industry — an antagonistic relationship with “Big Tech.” In addition to social media outlets like Facebook and Instagram (both owned by Zuckerberg’s Meta), cannabis-specific content has previously been aggressively (but inconsistently) suppressed by companies like Apple and Google. In the latter’s case, the search giant prohibits advertisements for “substances that alter mental state for the purpose of recreation or otherwise induce ‘highs,’” a frustrating restriction that has led to a cottage industry of marketers offering clever workarounds.

However, some of this was relaxed in 2021. For example, at last check the Facebook page for Belushi’s Farm is up, and in July Apple adjusted their App Store Review Policies to exempt “legal cannabis dispensaries” from their prohibition against apps that “[facilitate] the sale of controlled substances,” providing a streamlined mobile experience for delivery services like Leafly. While some companies continue to dig in their heels — Google has clarified that apps that “facilitate the sale or marijuana or marijuana products, regardless of legality” are not welcome in the Google Play store — the tide is clearly starting to turn.

A critical turning point for the cannabis industry

Notably, in 2021, one of the largest tech companies in the world, Amazon (ranked higher on the Fortune 500 list than Apple) made a series of bold moves in support of the cannabis industry. In June’s “Update on our vision to be Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work,” the company made two significant announcements.

  • First, they adjusted their standard drug testing policy and “will no longer include marijuana in our comprehensive drug screening program for any positions not regulated by the Department of Transportation.”
  • Second, they expressed their support for the recently introduced Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. This legislation would “legalize marjuana at the federal level, expunge criminal records, and invest in impacted communities.”
  • Further, they expressed the “hope that other employers will join us, and that policymakers will act swiftly to pass the law”. They followed up in September with a letter to Senators Schumer, Wyden, and Booker, expressing their support for the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (still in draft form).
  • Finally, they’ve put their money where their proverbial mouth is and have lobbied on Capitol Hill in support of federal marijuana reform. The company disclosed that some part of their $4.7 million lobbying spend in Q3 2021 was dedicated to “[issues] related to […] cannabis reform, including the MORE Act of 2021 (H.R. 3617) and the Cannabis Administration & Opportunity Act (draft form – no bill numbers).”

Why is this important?

It’s important to remember that Amazon doesn’t just sell tangible goods like laundry detergent and video games – it’s a technology company that, through their cloud computing platform Amazon Web Services, essentially runs a large chunk of the internet (as was highlighted during the recent AWS outage). Beyond that, Amazon’s portfolio is stuffed with significant assets in all areas of physical and ecommerce, from grocery store Whole Foods Market to streaming site Twitch and even the online pharmacy PillPack. Some of the more optimistic industry voices even suggest that the purchase of a virtual pharmacy is evidence that Amazon is laying the groundwork for selling marijuana online once cannabis is fully legalized at the federal level.

The role of reputation risk

Any company that provides banking compliance software for financial institutions banking the marijuana industry should be acutely aware of the role that reputation risk plays in the decision-making process that banks and credit unions must go through when making the decision to offer services to state-legal cannabis businesses. Some are concerned that they will lose business if the public finds out they’re a “weed bank,” but it is important to remind them that Amazon, like Apple, isn’t in the business of taking unnecessary risks. Clearly, they’ve evaluated the current conflict between state and federal law and made the decision that endorsing or accommodating cannabis on their platforms doesn’t pose enough of a reputation risk that they’re going to ignore the market opportunity provided by the growing legal marijuana industry.

Looking to the cannabis industry future

Long-standing concerns about potential consumer backlash, or even fears that the federal government might one day abruptly shift their hands-off approach to state-legal cannabis businesses and start shutting these programs down, become less likely when the largest companies in the world have some skin in the game. State-legal marijuana isn’t going away soon, and big tech’s embrace of the industry should provide financial institutions with evidence — and some reassurance — of that.

Paul Dunford is the cofounder and director of program development at Green Check Verified.

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BharatPe claims over Rs 88 Cr in damages from Ashneer Grover and family



The Delhi High court on Thursday issued a notice and summons to Ashneer Grover, former Managing Director of BharatPe, and his family members, in a suit filed by the company seeking orders to restrain them from making defamatory statements against the company. 

Meanwhile, the fintech unicorn has also slapped a lawsuit against former head of controls and wife of Ashneer Grover, Madhuri Jain, under Section 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property), said various media reports. Besides the couple, the other defendants in the suit are Grover’s brother-in-law, father-in-law, and mother-in-law.

The couple has been granted two weeks time to file their response to BharatPe’s application seeking interim relief. BharatPe has sought:

  • Disclosure of assets of Grover and his family members
  • Interim injunction against the defendants restraining them from making defamatory/derogatory statements concerning BharatPe, its directors, employees and/or publicising the same
  • Direction to defendants to delete/remove within a period of five days all statements, tweets, social media posts, books, re-tweets, hashtags, videos, press conferences, interviews, comments, etc., made against the company
  • Orders granting liberty to BharatPe to approach all social media platforms, media organisations, publications, websites, blogs, etc., to seek deletion/removal of all such material. 

The matter will next be heard in January 2023.

During the hearing, which took place on Thursday, Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, representing BharatPe, pointed out various tweets made by Grover after his resignation earlier this year.

As per the reports by LiveLaw, Rohatgi said that Grover should be restrained from running a “vicious campaign” against the fintech company. He cited various tweets posted by Grover and his family members following his ouster. 

“These are all his family. They were sacked from the company. We have suit for damages as well.”

Counsel for Grover claimed that the suit was not served on his client, said Bar and Bench report, to which Rohatgi responded, “We didn’t serve them because the moment he knows about it, he will again go on a rampage.”

Further, Rohatgi said that while being the former Managing Director, Grover brought in his entire family.

“To fleece the company, they (defendants) created fictitious vendors from Panipat who were paid 50-60 crores and nothing was purchased. The vendors don’t exist,” Rohatgi submitted, adding that there was a massive hiring of employees, said LiveLaw. 

BharatPe has also claimed damages of over Rs 88 crore from Grover, his wife, and his brother. This includes a claim for payment made against the invoices of non-existent vendors, amounting to Rs 71.7 crore; a claim for penalty paid to GST authorities amounting to Rs 1.66 crore; payments made to vendors purportedly providing recruitment services totalling Rs 7.6 crore; payments of Rs 1.85 crore made to a furnishings company; payments for personal expenditures of Ashneer and Madhuri Jain Grover amounting to Rs 59.7 lakh and Rs 5 crore damages for loss of reputation to the company caused by tweets and other statements made by Grover and his family members.

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Sigfox owner UnaBiz doubles its Series B funding to $50 million • TechCrunch



UnaBiz, the Massive Internet of Things service provider and owner of Sigfox, announced today it has raised another $25 million in Series B funding. This doubles the round’s total amount to $50 million, after the first tranche was announced in October 2021. UnaBiz, which is based in Singapore, has now raised $60 million in total.

The funding was led by SPARX Group, an investment company based in Tokyo, with participation from G K Goh Holdings and Optimal Investment, all returning investors. A UnaBiz representative told TechCrunch that the new capital will prepare UnaBiz for its next stage of growth so it can focus on driving commercial activities and delivery to customers in 2023, regardless of economic conditions.

UnaBiz acquired Sigfox in April after the French IoT startup filed for bankruptcy protection. The acquisition doubled UnaBiz’s office locations and tripled its headcount to more than 240 employees. The UnaBiz representative said it has closed down SigFox’s loss-making entities and brought in new executives, including a chief customer officer to focus on pipeline and revenue streams, a chief operating officer to oversee operations stability and cost optimization and a chief technology officer. Its goal is to consolidate its business more quickly.

UnaBiz plans to invest in four verticals (utilities, security, facilities management and supply chain and logistics) across Latin America, APAC and EMEA. The funding will also be used on research and development for the company’s 0G capabilities and expand its product portfolio to include more LPWAN and satellite tech.

In a statement about its investment in UnaBiz, SPARX Group president and CEO Shuhei Abe said, “As the technology owner of the most energy-efficient LPWAN technology available on the market, UnaBiz is in a prime position to champion the convergence of Massive IoT communication technologies (from 0G to 5G) to help enterprises achieve their digitalization and sustainability goals.”

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Pixyle AI wants to make visual search more intuitive for online retailers • TechCrunch



When Svetlana Kordumova was studying for her doctorate in AI and computer vision, she grew frustrated by the process of looking for items to buy online. Search results were often inaccurate, and she knew the tech she was learning could improve the experience. Pixyle AI was launched in 2019 to improve product discovery on e-commerce sites and today announced a €1 million seed round (about $1.05 million USD) from South Central Ventures.

The startup, which has offices in Amsterdam and North Macedonia, now works with over 20 clients, including Depop, Otrium and Minto. Over the past three years, it has tagged more than 250 million images and says its increased conversions for its retail customers by 10% on average.

Pixyle AI’s neural networks train its visual AI algorithms to not only identify fashion items in an image, but also categorize them by attribute, like color or pattern, that match the keywords shoppers use when searching for an item. The goal is to “see” images as a human would. For example, someone searching for a “short summer dress with flower print in pink and purple” would get results with all those attributes.

Kordumova, who earned her PhD from the University of Amsterdam, first created a visual search app for consumers before pivoting to B2B in 2019. She told TechCrunch that one of the biggest challenges faced by online retailers is cart abandonment, often because of poor site search and product discovery. Research from Google Cloud shows that even though more people than ever are shopping online because of the pandemic, 52% abandon their cart and go to another site if there is only one item they can’t find.

Pixyle AI's team on a green mountain top

Pixyle AI’s team on a green mountain top

The reason for search results is usually bad data. Retailers often get incomplete and inaccurate product data from brands of people listing secondhand items for sale, which means items don’t show up in search results. Many retailers deal with that problem by manually entering better product data, but that process is labor-intensive, expensive and prone to human errors.

“Take the example of color attributes, what one person might assess as yellow, another person might find to be more orange,” said Kordumova. “In the case of secondhand marketplaces with millions of products being uploaded on the platform, it’s simply an impossible task to manually add attributes to the metadata.”

Pixyle AI automates the process of extracting detailed attributes from pictures, and now has a growing fashion taxonomy that already clocks in at more than 20,000 attributes, with the goal of covering all possible search queries about clothing.

The startup’s customers include online marketplaces, brick and mortar retailers and fashion tech startups like wardrobe cataloging app Whering, virtual fitting solution Virtusize and live shopping marketplace Galaxy. Pixyle AI has helped brands that moved from brick-and-mortar stores to “phygital,” or an omnichannel strategy that blends e-commerce with physical retail points, by automating product tagging. This increases the speed at which they are able to digitize their shopping experience.

Some examples of how Pixyle AI’s tech has been used include automating manual product entry and catalog standardization at Otrium. The end-of-season fashion marketplace had previously been manually tagging and processing product attributes, but was unable to keep up with their growing inventory. Kordumova says Otrium was able to improve its productivity by 65% after implementing Pixyle AI to automate color detection for its inbound logistics team.

For consumers, Pixyle AI offers a visual search tool that lets them upload an image of what they are looking for and get similar results. Kordumova says sustainable fashion marketplace Project Cece reported a 50% higher conversion rate to product outlinks after adding Pixyle AI’s visual search tool to its site.

Other companies that have developed visual AI-powered product discovery tools include Syte, Visenze, Vue.AI and Google, which recently launched a multi-search tool that lets people search using text and images at the same time. Kordumova says Pixyle AI differentiates by focusing on product data enrichment with detailed attributes, and giving its clients a high level of customization and tagging flexibility.

“In orders to make product data enrichment really work for each specific situation of our clients, we first let our teams align on what we’re trying to achieve, and make sure to set the right configurations before our AI models get to work,” she says. “This means we map taxonomies, configure cloud architectures and deploy customer and technical support teams to the exact needs of our customers, ensuring a successful implementation and usage of our platform to help them achieve long-term business goals.”

Pixyle AI plans to use its new funding to enhance its product offering, expand in the United States and Europe and move into new verticals. It will add new suites for industry segments and new offerings like product description generation and label detection using OCR tech that recognizes brands, material composition and size. It will also add “shop the look” and “multi-modal” search to its visual discovery product. For verticals, Pixyle AI plans to move into homeware and furniture by the last quarter of 2023.

In a statement about the investment, South Central Ventures managing partner Jan Kobler said, “A pivotal part of engaging online shoppers is product search, being able to find what you want easily and quickly. However, search has been hugely underserved and remains an unmet need for retailers and shoppers until now. Pixyle AI is laser focused on this opportunity and is already moving the dial with more sales for retailers. They have built a robust tech stack, which has been tried and tested in the market and is ready to scale.”

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