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(Updated at 2:30 p.m.) Channeling the energy of an iPhone launch, Amazon unveiled its new line of AI-powered gadgets in Arlington on Wednesday.

While a September product launch is typical for the tech giant, this event was the first major unveiling Amazon has hosted at its new HQ2 in Pentagon City — and the top brass went all out for the occasion.

Inside the 2.1-million-square-foot complex, which wrapped up its first phase of construction in June, Amazon employees ushered attendees to their seats in the airy auditorium. Caterers served hors d’oeuvres, kombucha and cold-pressed juice. Pop music from the likes of Dua Lipa and Ellie Goulding played in the background.

Then, an ethereal voice put an end to the bustling activity, leading the crowd in a countdown and asking everyone to “silence their cellphones.”

Amazon Senior Vice President of Devices and Services David Limp took the stage first, making arguably the most consequential announcement of the day. He explained how generative AI — the buzzy tech that people use to create anything from raps to digital illustrations — will shape the future of Amazon’s products.

Limp demonstrated Alexa’s new enhanced AI-powered capabilities talking to the the company’s forthcoming $150 Echo Show 8, highlighting the smart home device’s capacity to comprehend complex requests and engage in more human-like interactions.

“We’ve studied what it takes to make a great conversation over the past nine years. It’s not just words, it’s body language. It’s understanding who you’re addressing. It’s eye contact, it’s gestures,” Limp said.

To create “much more conversational experiences” with Alexa, Limp said Amazon combined the sensors in an Echo — including its camera and ability to detect someone’s presence — with its newest Large Language Models. These “talk to” humans by processing large amounts of text on the Internet and predicting the right response.

After Limp, a cadre of Amazon executives introduced new products such as the $50 Echo Pop Kids smart speaker, the $180 Echo Hub Home, a control panel for managing smart devices, and a more aesthetic upgrade to its smart glasses, the $270 Echo Frames.

Each announcement sparked a flurry of keyboard activity from tech journalists in attendance — with resulting headlines in Engadget, The Verge and elsewhere — as well as applause from employees and stakeholders.

Before inviting the audience to try out demo devices, Limp said he believes this new technology can “redefine” the way people “interact” with their homes.

“Customers have now connected over 400 million devices to their Alexa Smart Home and they’re using Alexa to control those devices hundreds of millions of times each week,” he said.

Most devices will start shipping in October. Customers can pre-order through Amazon’s website.

The full list of products announced is below.


Morning Poll: Ban TikTok?

TikTok on a phone (Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash)

Virginia’s Attorney General has authored an amicus brief supporting the ban of TikTok on a statewide level.

The short-form video app, which is especially popular with younger users, is set to be banned next year in Montana. In response to a federal lawsuit challenging the ban, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares — joined by 17 other GOP state attorneys general — says the ban should be legal as it amounts to a “garden variety consumer protection statute.”

More from a press release:

Attorney General Jason Miyares filed an amicus brief, joined by 17 other state attorneys general, in support of the State of Montana’s law banning the popular app ‘TikTok.’ Montana’s action protects its citizens’ privacy from TikTok’s relationship with China and the Chinese Communist Party, and its citizens’ wellbeing from the proven physical and mental health detriments the app has on young children.

“Montana’s elected officials voted to ban TikTok, and Montanans voted to elect their representatives. This legislation is a result of the will of the Montana voters,” said Attorney General Jason Miyares. “We know TikTok poses a threat to our privacy and security because of its connection to the Chinese Communist Party, and study after study shows the app harms our children’s mental health – especially young girls. Montana has the right to protect its citizens.”

In March, Attorney General Miyares joined 45 states and the District of Columbia in asking a state court to order social media company TikTok, Inc. to fully comply with an ongoing investigation into whether the company violated consumer protection laws. As part of the multistate investigation, the state attorneys general sought to review internal TikTok communications to determine whether the company engaged in deceptive, unfair, and unconscionable conduct that harmed the mental health of TikTok users, particularly children and teens.

Earlier this year Virginia banned TikTok and some other apps of Chinese origin from state-owned devices and networks, including on college campuses.

While a total ban does not appear likely in Virginia, would you support a ban if one was proposed?

Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash


Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring Three Ballston Plaza

As more modern conveniences and critical infrastructure connect to the internet, increasingly commonplace objects — like electric vehicles — can be hit with cyberattacks.

In this ever-changing landscape, Ballston-based cybersecurity company Fend has put forward a new piece of technology to protect large systems and small devices alike from offenses launched by alleged thieves, cybercriminals and nation state actors.

It recently patented a microchip that allows Fend to protect a wider variety of goods. Any manufacturer can embed the chip into small-scale products, such as medical devices and delivery drones, to keep them secure.

“We’re talking about cars, power plants, and other machines that keep the economy going,” CEO and founder Colin Dunn said in a press release. “Our users will be able to feed data into next-generation AI tools while permanently keeping attackers out.”

Like its first product — a “data diode” that looks like an internet modem — the new chip dictates how devices “talk” to the internet, such that hackers cannot find a way to wrest control.

“Because we maintain that physically applied, one-way data flow, that means nobody from the outside can ever hack in, and that’s a bold claim but it’s the sort of thing that our infrastructure needs,” Dunn told ARLnow.

Amid reports of continued attacks on national infrastructure, he said, governments also have to protect their older systems, such as energy plants, which have been retrofitted for internet connectivity.

“These are folks that have big, important equipment that makes modern life possible, whether it’s making the goods in our homes or bringing clean water to our neighborhoods,” Dunn said. “And they also have a big target on their back as well from those who would like to disrupt their operations.”

This is Fend’s fifth year in Arlington. The company is in the midst of fundraising, with the goal of expanding further.

“We’re excited to have the opportunity here to — really from almost the very beginning — do this in Arlington, and make a contribution to the security of our country and around the world right here from home,” Dunn said.

An engineer works on Fend’s data diodes (courtesy of Bryant Cox)

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring Three Ballston Plaza

A Green Valley-based nonprofit is encouraging kids to dream about working in tech the same way they dream of being a doctor or lawyer one day.

To help launch them into those career paths, MySecureKid — which also educates families about internet safety — connects children and teens with programming, apprenticeships and mentors.

Since founding the organization in 2018, Quiana Gainey and JaLisa Johnson have focused on supporting children from underrepresented backgrounds. While cybersecurity and technology are projected to grow more than 13%, they say a “knowledge gap” is holding back Black and Hispanic people, as well as people with disabilities, from riding that job growth wave.

“We were the first IT apprenticeship in D.C., and we were servicing a population that was what they consider disenfranchised. We just said that they’re undiscovered,” Gainey said.

Gainey and Johnson have both founded for-profit companies in cybersecurity and healthcare tech, respectively. Using that experience, plus their backgrounds in government contracting and military service, the duo say they created curricula for students to bridge that knowledge gap.

“We want them to see that there’s a shortage in cybersecurity [and that] our infrastructure, our country needs this,” Gainey said. “So let’s start with building that into the curriculum, building partnerships with community, with nonprofits like ourselves, so that we can help the next generation realize their dreams and also help them not go into all traditional [careers].”

Co-founders Quiana Gainey (left) and JaLisa Johnson (right) (courtesy of Quiana Gainey)

MySecureKid offers apprenticeship programs for teens as well as summer cyber camps and after-school programs for younger children. They pair high school students with mentors and provide scholarships to those pursuing education in IT, emerging technologies, healthcare, cybersecurity and entrepreneurship.

It also has worked with Arlington Public Schools for three years and has plans to partner with their apprenticeship program in the fall.

With these programs, Johnson says she hopes that students gain hands-on skills over time — similar to a trade school.

“We make things fun but challenging,” Johnson said.

She and Gainey also make sure parents have opportunities to learn about tech issues, such as internet safety.

“I always tell parents, when you give your childhood phone, it’s like leaving them in the middle of the intersection, and telling them to find themselves their way home,” Gainey said. “Now, you wouldn’t do that, right. So when you give them that cell phone, it’s time to have that conversation.”

Their space in Green Valley, which they call the “360XP Zone,” is self-sufficient, powered with renewable energy and connected to its own water supply. It features learning, retail and event spaces and is equipped with a full-service kitchen and bar. Small businesses can even rent these spaces and benefit MySecureKid in the process.

Calling on her healthcare background, Johnson designed the space to include clinics that she says meet Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards.

“We always say, ‘I don’t wait for someone else to do something. You can be the change you want to see,” Gainey said.

Inside one of the learning pods at MySecureKid’s facility in Green Valley (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring Three Ballston Plaza

The Courthouse-based hospitality commerce startup GoTab raised $18 million earlier this month.

Truist Ventures led the Series A funding round, per a press release. This milestone marks the startup’s first fundraising round after nabbing smaller seed investments a few years ago.

Founded by Tim McLaughlin in 2016, GoTab makes it possible for guests at restaurants, hotels, resorts and stadiums to order and pay from kiosks or phones — without needing to download an app — while streamlining order fulfillment.

“We have been incredibly intentional with the solutions we develop for our customers, and this latest capital injection will help us further enhance our existing solutions, while also helping us continue to scale the business across sectors and geographies,” McLaughlin said in a statement.

That includes going outside the U.S. and breaking into other industries. Last year, the startup announced its plans to expand into Canada and equip hotels with its solutions.

Already, GoTab says, hotels and resorts that use its platform see an average increase in sales of 28% and a 14% decrease in costs.

It attributes greater profits and deeper savings to its platform, which makes it easier to split checks, place multiple orders and communicate with the back of house. Participating vendors can combine GoTab with  other services, such as the reservation platform OpenTable.

GoTab Founder and CEO Tim McLaughlin (courtesy of GoTab)

Meanwhile, the company is focused on making its platform easy to use for people who are colorblind or have other impairments, per a recent interview McLaughlin gave to Forbes.

This commitment to improving the experiences of customers and staff is one reason Truist Ventures said it led the startup’s fundraising round.

“Truist Ventures seeks out companies that drive innovation, deliver impactful solutions, and support their communities; this investment in GoTab is a testament to these values,” Truist said in a statement.

Twenty-eight Arlington-based companies made the 2023 Inc. 5000 (via Inc. 5000)

A total of 28 Arlington-based companies are featured in this year’s Inc. 5000 list, which ranks the nation’s fastest-growing privately owned companies.

Several Arlington-based firms that made the list specialize in technology such as AI, machine learning, cybersecurity and cloud computing. Others perform various professional services for the federal government, including information technology, financial consulting and engineering.

For the second year running, Piedmont Global Language Solutions took the top Arlington spot at No. 424 — 37 places up from last year. The firm specializes in translation and language training and is located in Ballston on N. Glebe Road.

Although the numbers have fluctuated in recent years, Arlington added five more companies to the list compared to last year. Thirty Arlington companies made the list in 2021 and 2020, and 34 in 2019. Notably, only 10 of the companies on this year’s list were also featured in 2022.

Below is the list of all Arlington-based companies included on this year’s Inc. 5000 list.

  • 424. Piedmont Global Language Solutions (PGLS), 1,363% — A Ballston-based company founded by a first-generation Somali-American that provides language services and training.
  • 691. Echo Five Group, 853% — A government services company located at 4717 Old Dominion Road.
  • 938. Black Cape, 628% — A veteran-owned software company that offers machine learning and artificial intelligence solutions to help government and commercial clients. The company is based in Ballston.
  • 1,205. C3 Integrated Solutions, 489% — An IT firm that offers cyber-security to government contractors. The company announced in November 2022 it would merge with Massachusetts-based Steel Root. C3 is based in Clarendon.
  • 1,233. MarginEdge, 478% — A restaurant management software company located along Fairfax Drive in Ballston.
  • 1,391. Green Powered Technology, 420% — A veteran-owned green energy technology firm that provides policy analysis and support services in sustainable energy for businesses and government agencies. The company is based in Courthouse.
  • 1,549. PhoenixTeam, 370% — A technology company that “specializes exclusively in the design, delivery, and care of mortgage technology solution in the federal and commercial spaces.” The company is based in Ballston.
  • 1,807. Simatree, 309% — A human resources business consulting firm located in Ballston.
  • 1,827. HUNGRY, 307% — A corporate catering company located along Fairfax Drive in Ballston.
  • 1,867. Competitive Innovations, 301% — A technology services and consulting firm serving federal government agencies. The company is based in in Buckingham.
  • 1,874. Elite Strategy Global, 300% — A security consulting and risk management firm located in Ballston.
  • 1,952. Interos, 287% — A financial technology firm based in Ballston involved in supply chain risk management. The company is the first private Arlington startup to reach a billion dollar valuation in 2020.
  • 2,098. Lovelytics, 267% — A data visualization company located in Courthouse that helps clients gather, organize and visualize their data. The company was featured last year by ARLnow for doubling its staff.
  • 2,242. Allied Title & Escrow, 247% — A real estate company headquartered in Clarendon.
  • 2,343. Blake Willson Group, 236% — A veteran-owned business located in Courthouse that provides technology services, such as accounting, IT and cybersecurity , t0 the federal government.
  • 2,647. Nuvitek, 203% — A digital platform company in Rosslyn that provides cloud computing services to the federal government.
  • 2,721. Spartan Shield Solutions, 197% — A veteran-owned accounting and finance outsourcing firm
    Financial Services located in Clarendon.
  • 2,899. Fors Marsh Group, 182% — A research and communications firm based in Ballston.
  • 2,967. Level Access, 176% — A business management consulting company located in Courthouse.
  • 2,989. Organizational Development Resource Group, 174% — A woman-owned company based in Rosslyn that provides “professional services to the federal government.”
  • 3,117. Clarendon Partners, 166% — A woman-owned financial consultancy firm located in Clarendon.
  • 3,177. Matlock, 162% — A woman-owned software company headquartered in Clarendon that provides information technology services for the federal government.
  • 3,614. Aminad Consulting, 135% — A management consulting firm that provides “dedicated to generating realistic and implementable change” for federal agencies, specifically the Department of Defense. The company is based in Ballston.
  • 3,772. Bullpen Strategy Group, 126% —  A public affairs advocacy and strategic advisory firm that has offices in Rosslyn.
  • 3,901., 120% — A company that describes itself on its website “we are a forward-thinking company that the Federal Government turns to in order to…#GetS***Done.” It’s based in Crystal City.
  • 4,205. STEMBoard, 106% — A woman-owned engineering firm that provides “professional services and technologies” to the federal government and businesses. The company is headquartered in Clarendon.
  • 4,712. Royce Geo, 85% — A tech company that provides geospatial intelligence, training and data modeling for the defense and intelligence community. The company is located in Ballston.
  • 4,852. Erickson Immigration Group, 79% — A law firm that “focuses exclusively on providing legal guidance on strategic corporate immigration.” The company is located in Courthouse.

An Arlington Tech robotics team has an unusual strategy for building camaraderie and raising money ahead of competition season: yard work.

Every fall, members of the Koibots weed, rake and landscape around 40 yards in Arlington. Money funds the cost to pay for robot parts and travel and lodging when competitions start in March.

“We’re kids, we all we have the ability to go out and break our backs for four hours on a weekend, shoveling, raking leaves and whatnot,” says rising senior Madeline Florio. “It is a service that people do need and we are able to provide it. Our customers are pretty loyal.”

The team’s coach, engineering teacher Steve Nystrom, says yard work hones their ability to communicate and work together, which comes in handy during the building phase.

“So when you start making the robot, you need to know, who can I depend on? Who can I count on? Who has the skill sets?” he said. “Ironically, you can build a lot of that and know a lot of those answers by going out on yard jobs.”

This kind of fundraising makes the Koibots an anomaly, says rising junior Anna Litwiller. Most teams get large sums of money from Boeing, Lockheed Martin and sometimes the Dept. of Defense.

The yard work might provide the team a competitive advantage, especially considering how well they’ve performed in their short existence.

Despite being in existence for just five years and having constructed only three robots, the team has twice made the cut-offs for districts — where the top 50% of teams in D.C., Virginia and Maryland compete in the spring.

This year, the Koibots came in 36th out 0f 60 and won an award for its design and branding, which leans heavily into its quirky culture influenced by marine life.

Nystrom said he chose the name “Koibots” because Arlington Tech’s Frisbee team is called “The Kois.” After naming their second robot “Sharkbait,” the aquatic theme stuck.

“We try to do as much as we can send her around the fish, and the IKEA shark, and all sorts of aquatic things,” says rising junior Shangwen Cheng. “We highly encourage our team members to get a shark because they’re wonderful but it really brings together our team in a way that you really can’t from the engineering alone.”

“Obviously, we’re here to encourage a love of STEM and building things and learning all things technical, but it’s also a lot of fun and you get to throw sharks around at people,” she continued.

Read More

A frustrated technology user (by Jane Michelle Sayson for ARLnow)

For the sixth year in a row, Arlington County has been named the No. 1 Digital County for 2023 for counties of comparable size.

The accolade highlights Arlington’s progress toward moving its operations onto the cloud — which Arlington County Chief Information Officer Norron Lee says makes county processes safer, greener and easier — as well as its broadband access study and the priority placed on customers.

These achievements exist alongside the reality that many residents have reported not-so-seamless experiences interacting with certain county processes online. Perhaps this happens once a year when the sign their kids up for camp or apply for a residential parking permit or more frequently, for instance when builders interact with Permit Arlington.

System crashes, delayed launches and slow service have made local news headlines over the past few years. While not headline grabbing, other issues linger: having separate logins for various county systems, minimal online-based support, and — in at least one recent case, for a specific business tax — a requirement to receive mail or make phone calls in order to register for a new “paperless” system.

One issue, according to multiple interviews conducted by ARLnow over the past month, is a highly siloed approach to technology at the county level, with departments making their own tech decisions despite limited expertise.

“I think we started to deviate from best practice when, in other parts of the world, technology was more of a component of every other department’s daily life, not a separate entity unto itself,” says Aneesh Chopra, a longtime resident, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama to be the first Chief Technology Officer of the U.S.

Arlington may have world-class broadband but, he says, “when it comes to these applications that are effectively run by different departments, it feels like they stopped innovating since the 1990s.”

Arlington County Board members and the County Manager’s Office say they are aware of the frustrations their constituents face and envision a day when technology does a better job of streamlining bureaucratic processes, freeing up staff for complex issues, and houses all government interactions in one place.

“We are in a good place, in my opinion, but I do think — instead of trying to adopt a relatively bureaucratic system with a digital face or front — we have to think about how those processes can be streamlined,” County Board member Takis Karantonis said, when talking about Permit Arlington. “This is a work in progress, still.”

He and County Board Chair Christian Dorsey say Arlington needs a one-stop shop for people to take care of all the ways they interact with government.

“There ought to be some… seamless way to [respond to bureaucratic needs] in a central web portal that’s also optimized for mobile use as well, where people can do this with a minimum of user names passwords to recall,” said Dorsey.

Dorsey alluded to “an articulation of way forward” before he leaves the Board this December.

“We can easily articulate what we need to be doing but getting there needs resources the Board has felt uneasy committing while we’ve had other pressing priorities,” such as the response to Covid, he said.

The county does not have someone whose sole responsibility is inter-departmental technology integration. The effort instead falls to the County Manager’s Office and the Dept. of Technology Services, which is guiding a cooperative effort across 26 county departments that have staff with varying technological literacy.

For Deputy County Manager Aaron Miller, the county’s “federated” structure has its pluses, like staff who are more responsive when there are problems, but there are downsides.

“When we do have to have centralized discussions it takes a lot of time to get everyone on the same page,” he said. “It’s a lot of time to pull everyone together… What we want to do is make sure that we are implementing systems that get the best experience but, sometimes, that comes with trade offs. When you look to centralize those systems, you essentially can water down functionality that might be important.”

Striking that balance and reaching this goal is fraught technological and legal hurdles, Miller says, but the county is motivated by hiccups people experienced getting permits and signing up for camp.

Already, the Dept. of Technological Services has stepped up its vetting of technology vendors for other departments. Miller says vendors often come “promising us that they can solve all of our problems,” but it can be difficult for someone without a technical background to evaluate a vendor’s ability to actually deliver on their promises.

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring Three Ballston Plaza.

International startup accelerator ZEBOX is using Arlington office to help bridge the gap between startup companies and large corporations around the world.

ZEBOX connects startup companies with one another and provides them with a space to collaborate and expand within one office building, explained Elizabeth Ward, head of the company’s American operation.

“ZEBOX acts as a connective tissue between large corporations and the supply chain to innovative startups. We want to create new pathways between startup organizations that can benefit by doing business together,” Ward said.

Since its hub in Crystal City opened last spring, the incubator — headquartered in Marseille, France — has opened locations in western Africa, Singapore and the Caribbean, with plans to open a hub in England.

ZEBOX originated from the global company CMA CGM, after ZEBOX’s current CEO found that the gap between startups and large corporate organizations could be at least partially closed by housing startup companies together.

“The facilities are designed as a place for startups to work, but more importantly as a place for companies and startups to co-innovate. We are new to the area, but we view it as a prime spot for a lot of future innovation to take place,” Ward said. “Arlington is opening a lot of doors for ZEBOX to collaborate within our community. A lot of the team has been surprised by the innovation going on in the county.”

ZEBOX America Vice President Charles Dehoney, left, and Chief Operating Officer Patrick Duffy, right (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The accelerator’s local hub in Crystal City recently started the process of housing its fourth startup. That process is expected to be complete by September.

ZEBOX supports more than 60 startups in the U.S.

The ZEBOX office in Crystal City has hosted several fireside chats, as well as the French American Chamber of Commerce and members of the French embassy.

These events exemplify how Arlington is an ideal place for global innovation, Ward told ARLnow.

“Arlington made a lot of sense. There are so many innovative companies moving into the area with the state of Virginia doing a lot to entice young companies and startups to come to Arlington and set up their businesses here,” Ward said.

ZEBOX is now looking for ways the Crystal City office can better connect startups with federal government resources, to bolster their growth.

Members of the French American Chamber of Commerce, the French Embassy and more at an event hosted at ZEBOX’s Arlington office (photo via Elizabeth Ward)

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring Three Ballston Plaza.

Cybersecurity company Shift5 is experiencing rapid growth as it develops technology to safeguard the world’s military fleets, plane and train systems.

The Rosslyn-based startup has been steadily raising money, including $33 million last month, adding to $50 million raised last year. Shift5 has ridden this wave of investor interest, using it to expand its office space, add employees and, most recently, launch a new program to predict and avoid failures in military, rail and aviation technology.

“This [funding] has allowed us to invest in not just our employees, but also the greater Arlington community,” Shift5 CEO Josh Lospinoso told ARLnow. “Our expanding presence in Arlington enables us to continue driving the pace of technology outside the Silicon Valley while keeping an active pulse on the decisions being made at the Pentagon to improve and advance critical infrastructure.”

Lospinoso says Shift5 nabbed the extra $33 million because investors are interested in its stability and connections.

Shift5 CEO Josh Lospinoso (via Shift5)

“We’ve seen tremendous benefit from strategic investor involvement and wanted to expand their participation. Shift5 has eliminated bottom-line risk, found strategic points of connection with other industry leaders and brought them into our Series B funding,” Lospinoso said.

The most recent fundraising round, led by Moore Ventures with contributions from JetBlue Ventures, Booz Allen Ventures and Teamworthy Ventures, brings its total Series B fundraising to $83 million.

Within weeks of the funding news, the company had another announcement: a new program that will use artificial intelligence to improve maintenance and the operational intelligence services Shift5 provides, a spokeswoman said.

“Fleets generate enormous amounts of data that can be game-changing for how they’re maintained and secured, but most operators only have access to a small fraction of this data,” a press release said. “Shift5’s module will unlock this data, arming operators with the insights and context needed to secure their assets, improve performance and prevent system failures.”

While the company has racked up investors, in the last year it has also more than doubled its annual recurring revenue and number of customers representing the military and private companies.

Lospinoso said the additional $33 million will go toward making sure the company can meet the needs of its growing customer base.

“It will help us double down on our mission to unlock onboard data and increase observability for rail, aviation and military systems operators,” he said. “More specifically, as customer demand increases this extension funding will provide Shift5 additional runway to innovate for our customers and invest in our business and team.”

Shift5 founders deploy their product on a train during COVID-19 (courtesy of Shift5)

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring Three Ballston Plaza

A local startup is providing younger generations with a new way to understand banking and finances.

Wellthi is a software tool that grants financial advice on a social media-like platform. It can be used through its independent app that is available to download, or within mobile apps of participating banks.

“Think of it as a Facebook or LinkedIn within a mobile banking app,” founder and CEO Fonta Gilliam said. “We are helping banks rethink their mobile banking experience.”

Fonta Gilliam and Nneka Ukpai of Wellthi (via Wellthi)

The company, initially named Invest Sou Sou, officially launched in 2021. Since then, it has formed partnerships with Mastercard, Discover Card, Galileo Financial Technologies and IDology. Citizens Bank recently became the first banking partner to launch with Wellthi, Gilliam said.

She aims to bridge the gap between the financial services banks provide and the places younger generations turn for finance tips: social media.

“We found that a lot of banks don’t know how to talk to millennials and Gen Z. 80% of us get our financial advice not from our branch managers or a financial advisor but from places like Reddit, TikTok and Facebook,” Gilliam said. “Wellthi gives users an experience that feels like say Reddit or TikTok but in a space where users can talk to certified financial advisors versus random influencers on social media.”

Wellthi received funding from Virginia Venture Partners (VVP), an equity investment program within the Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation. The funds given to Wellthi from VVP were partially through the U.S. Treasury Department’s State Small Business Credit Initiative for a confidential amount.

She hinted at a few other undisclosed partnerships with banks.

The VPP funding follows on a seed funding round in December worth $2.1 million, Washington Business Journal reported. Gilliam says she moved her startup from D.C. to Arlington to take advantage of the various types of support available for startups, as well as the county’s hub of tech companies.

“Arlington had incredible incentives. I was looking for a [place] that could provide venture capital for early-stage companies like mine,” Gilliam said. “I was excited about the growth happening right now in Northern Virginia from Amazon’s HQ2 to the welcoming business feel the area gives.”

She says she hopes that this proximity will turn into more interest from local consumers and small businesses in the near future.

Wellthi promo (via Wellthi/Instagram)

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