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United States Will Welcome Up to 100,000 Ukrainian Refugees

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With European nations under stress from three million new refugees, the United States said it would substantially increase admissions of people fleeing Russia’s invasion.
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Miriam JordanZolan Kanno-Youngs and
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BRUSSELS — Bowing to domestic and international pressure, President Biden said on Thursday the United States would accept up to 100,000 refugees fleeing Ukraine and donate $1 billion to help European countries facing a humanitarian crisis not seen on the continent since the end of World War II.

The announcement came as countries scrambling to house and provide services to millions of Ukrainian refugees have sought assistance from the United States, which is already absorbing thousands of people evacuated from Afghanistan.
“This is not something that Poland or Romania or Germany should carry on their own,” Mr. Biden said during a news briefing in Brussels. “This is an international responsibility.”
The war in Ukraine has displaced millions of people in a matter of weeks as Russian forces bombard cities and towns, leaving much of the country without power, heat and water. Mr. Biden’s announcement significantly increases the role of the United States in trying to mitigate the crisis.

U.S. officials have repeatedly said they expected that most Ukrainian refugees would want to stay in Europe, close to their homes and adult male family members, who have been prohibited from leaving the country. So far, some three million Ukrainians have fled their homeland. But millions more have been internally displaced and may also need to find safe haven in other countries.

White House officials said that the refugees would be received through “the full range of legal pathways,” including the U.S. refugee admissions program, which leads to permanent residence, or a green card. Others may be granted visas or “humanitarian parole,” a temporary form of entry offered to displaced people in wartime and other emergencies.

The initiative would focus on Ukrainians who have family members in the United States. However, the United States is not considering airlifting Ukrainians into the country, as it did during the military withdrawal from Afghanistan, White House officials said.

Mr. Biden’s announcement won praise from some immigration advocates, as well as Ukrainians still in Europe seeking refuge. Oleksandr Berezhnyi, a 32-year-old stuck in Bucha, Ukraine, hoped it would increase the chances for his pregnant wife and 4-year-old daughter to resettle in the United States. They fled to Slovakia weeks ago and have family in New Jersey.
“There is nothing left for them other than now looking at this new program,” Mr. Berenzhnyi said through a translator in a phone interview on Thursday.

But welcoming thousands of new refugees when the administration is still struggling to process tens of thousands of Afghans through an underresourced immigration system will not be easy. Deciding how many vulnerable immigrants — and from which countries — the United States should accept has been a constant political struggle for Mr. Biden, particularly at the southwest border, where officials have encountered more than 13,000 migrants a day in recent weeks, according to documents obtained by The New York Times.

While there is mostly bipartisan support for welcoming Afghan and Ukrainian refugees escaping war, migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border fleeing poverty and violence have received far less sympathy. And many Republicans criticized efforts to welcome nearly 21,000 refugees from Syria from 2015 through 2018.

“Without a doubt, we need to resettle large numbers of Ukrainians through various means, but I hope our commitment to Ukrainians also deepens our commitment to other groups of refugees who are in need of protection,” said Jenny Yang, vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief, one of the nonprofits contracted by the government to help resettle refugees.
About 75,000 Afghans have been brought in through the humanitarian parole program. But many of them have struggled to navigate an immigration system that U.S. officials concede was unprepared to help them. They contend with years of interviews and red tape, and while they have been granted work authorization, they cannot apply for a green card or bring in spouses or children left behind. Thousands remain parked in a handful of American-run processing centers overseas, waiting to come to the United States.

“Right now Ukraine’s people can go freely to European countries, but where do we flee?” said Najeeb, a former interpreter for U.S. forces for five years who preferred to go by his first name for fear of retribution.

Some refugee experts also feared that the administration would not have an efficient long-term plan for the Ukrainian families who are allowed into the United States. Even when the refugee resettlement system is working smoothly, it is not designed to provide immediate relief during emergencies. It takes several years for people to be admitted, a process that requires interviews, medical exams and background checks.

It also takes many years for family members sponsored by green card holders or American citizens to be approved.

But with the devastation being wrought on Ukraine under the Russian bombardment, it is unlikely that many of those seeking refuge in the United States would be able to return home anytime soon.

Some Ukrainians may be offered humanitarian parole, like the Afghan evacuees. But that does not open a direct path to legal residency, since it is intended for temporary stays. In order to stay permanently, those refugees would have to apply for asylum, which involves navigating a system that is badly overstretched already.

A new phase of the war. Russia declared that its offensive for control over Ukraine’s industrial heartland was underway as it bombarded targets across the sprawling eastern front. Ukrainian officials said they were mounting a spirited defense.

In Mariupol. About 2,000 people were trapped at a large steel factory in Mariupol along with Ukrainian forces that are waging what appears to be the last defense of the city. Russia is seeking to take the city as part of a strategically important “land bridge” to occupied Crimea.
Possible banned weapons. Based on evidence reviewed by The Times, it is likely that Ukrainian troops used cluster munitions in an eastern village that they were attempting to retake from Russian forces. The weapons are banned by many countries for the harm they can cause to civilians.

Russia’s economy. While President Vladimir V. Putin boasted that the Russian economy is holding up under Western sanctions, his central bank chief warned that the consequences were only beginning to be felt, and Moscow’s mayor said that 200,000 jobs are at risk in the capital alone.

“We welcome the administration’s announcement, but we hope the United States commits to admitting Ukrainians in a permanent legal status so that they regain some control over their lives,” said Melanie Nezer, a senior vice president at HIAS, another resettlement agency.
“By definition, we are talking about many people with family and support networks here,” she said.

The United States is home to about a million people of Ukrainian descent, with substantial communities in New York, Pennsylvania, California and Washington State. Thousands are evangelical Christians who began arriving in the 1990s, after Congress passed a law allowing persecuted religious minorities to come to the United States as refugees. The early arrivals have continued to sponsor relatives to join them, and about 7,000 were in the pipeline before the Russian invasion.

The administration has faced intensifying pressure to help those fleeing Ukraine, including from European allies assisting most of the refugees.

In Europe, Poland, Moldova and Romania have opened makeshift shelters to accommodate displaced Ukrainians. The European Union earlier this month enacted the Temporary Protection Directive, a collective protection for Ukrainian refugees that allows them to remain in the region for a year, with the possibility of extension.

Outside the European Union, Britain and Canada have created private sponsorship programs.
There also has been growing support in the United States for helping Ukrainians. Human rights groups, American citizens and the Slavic immigrant community have been clamoring to take in refugees, and websites have been matching willing hosts with Ukrainian families. But without official approval, only those with U.S. tourist or business visas can legally enter the country.

Hundreds of Ukrainians have resorted to taking roundabout journeys to Mexico and crossing the southern border into the United States, where they are seeking the same protection as migrants from Central America and other nations. From there, they are placed in deportation proceedings, and some adults have been held in immigration detention facilities for weeks before being released. Those with sponsors in the United States who agree to provide housing and support are permitted to travel onward to cities across the country.

U.S. consular offices in Europe, meanwhile, are inundated with applications, and securing any visas now has become extremely difficult, because applicants must prove they do not intend to stay. Tim Skripkin, a 35-year-old from Dallas, Texas, said his family has tried calling the State Department and embassies overseas for weeks to get his 60-year-old mother law out of Ukraine.

He said Mr. Biden’s commitment to welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians, when millions have fled the Russian assault, gave him little hope.

“It’s basically a drop in the bucket,” Mr. Skripkin said, adding that he planned to travel to Ukraine in the coming weeks to escort his mother-in-law to Poland. “These people are not asking for help, they need the help because they were forced into this situation.”
Miriam Jordan reported from Los Angeles, Zolan Kanno-Youngs from Washington, and Michael D. Shear from Brussels. Eileen Sullivan contributed reporting from Washington, Christina Goldbaum from Dubai, and Najim Rahim from Houston. Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.


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Rally bags $12M to build the future of e-commerce checkout

E-commerce had a moment during the global pandemic, but not only have things chilled since then, it’s gotten downright competitive as the economy cooled in the past year, according to Jordan Gal, co-founder and CEO of Rally.

“Founders in this space used to speak of optimism, but that has turned into realism, and people are more careful,” Gal told TechCrunch. “The pie seems to have stopped growing, and there’s more ferocious competition for what’s left in that pie.”

Gal went on to explain that merchants are having to make harder decisions, including whether they can afford to invest in software.

That’s why Rally, a composable checkout platform for e-commerce merchants, has broken up its business into two segments: the first to meet merchants where they are with integrations to commerce tools, like Salesforce Commerce Cloud, Magento and BigCommerce; the second to offer merchants a “headless” ecosystem.

The term “headless” refers to the ability to change the front end or back end of a website without affecting the other. Gal said he was not able to provide details just yet, but said Rally is close to announcing a partnership with companies specializing in front end and back end to offer headless-as-a-service.

Gal started Rally with Rok Knez to create checkout tools for merchants outside of the Shopify ecosystem. Both were previously involved with another checkout company, CartHook, and led the company to process nearly $3 billion in transactions for Shopify merchants before selling to Pantastic in 2021, Gal said.

Rally, which is working with 50 e-commerce merchants currently, provides one-click checkout with payment processing and tools for post-purchase offers that turns the purchase into a multi-revenue channel by allowing the merchant to inject offers after the checkout. For example, rather than going right to a “thank you” page, consumers would be offered the option of upgrading to a subscription or purchasing additional similar products in a way that doesn’t interrupt the payment flow.

Implementing the post-purchase offer has helped merchants increase revenue by over 12% on average, Gal said.

Meanwhile, over the past 12 months, Rally has doubled the size of its team and is “doing millions in monthly GMV (gross merchandise volume),” Gal said.

TechCrunch previously profiled the company when it raised $6 million in seed funding. Today, the company announced additional funding of $12 million in Series A funding. It was led by March Capital, which was joined by Felix Capital, Commerce Ventures, Afore Capital, Alumni Ventures and Kraken Ventures. The new investment, which closed in the first quarter of 2023, gives Rally $18 million in total venture-backed capital.

Gal plans to focus the new funding on go-to-market, including entering new markets, like enterprise and international, and expanding integrations beyond Swell, BigCommerce and others, including Salesforce Commerce Cloud, commercetools, Affirm and AfterPay. Rally will also focus on strengthening its fraud protection offering and build out web3 features, starting with allowing merchants to accept cryptocurrencies in their checkout.

“We want to establish a reputation as the best choice when a merchant is looking to either upgrade their checkout or build a new site without having to build their own checkout,” Gal said. “You can’t just build it and leave it alone, so merchants are looking for a partner that they can trust so they can focus on what they’re best at.”

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So you want to launch an AI startup

t seems like it’s the best of times for founders thinking about launching an AI startup, especially with OpenAI releasing ChatGPT to the masses, as it has the potential to really put AI front and center in business and perhaps everything we do technologically. Who wouldn’t want to launch a startup right now with the energy and hype surrounding the industry?

But it also could be the worst of times for founders thinking about launching an AI startup, especially one that can grow and be defensible against incumbents in a fast-changing environment. And that’s a real problem for companies thinking about this area: AI is evolving so rapidly that your idea could be obsolete before it’s even off the ground.

How do you come up with a startup idea that can endure in such a challenging and rapidly evolving landscape? The bottom line is that the same principles that apply to previously successful startups apply here, too. It just may be a bit harder this time because of how quickly everything is moving.

A bunch of successful founders and entrepreneurs spoke last week at the Imagination in Action conference at MIT. Their advice could help founders understand what they need to do to be successful and take advantage of this technological leap.

What’s working?
CB Insights compiled data from 2021 and 2022 to understand where VC investment money has been going when it comes to generative AI startups. Given the recent hype around this area, it’s reasonable to think that the volume of investment will increase, and perhaps the allocation will be different, but this is what we have for now.

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New Zealander without college degree couldn’t talk his way into NASA and Boeing—so he built a $1.8 billion rocket company

This story is part of CNBC Make It’s The Moment series, where highly successful people reveal the critical moment that changed the trajectory of their lives and careers, discussing what drove them to make the leap into the unknown.

In early 2006, Peter Beck took a “rocket pilgrimage” to the U.S.

The native New Zealander always dreamed of sending a rocket into space. He even skipped college because of it, taking an apprenticeship at a tools manufacturer so he could learn to work with his hands, tinkering with model rockets and propellants in his free time.

By the time of his pilgrimage, he’d built a steam-powered rocket bicycle that traveled nearly 90 mph. He hoped his experiments were enough to convince NASA or companies like Boeing to hire him as an intern. Instead, he was escorted off the premises of multiple rocket labs.

“On the face of it, here’s a foreign national turning up to an Air Force base asking a whole bunch of questions about rockets — that doesn’t look good,” Beck, now 45, tells CNBC Make It.

Still, he learned that few companies were actually building what he wanted to build: lightweight, suborbital rockets to transport small satellites. On the flight back to New Zealand, he plotted his future startup, even drawing a logo on a napkin.

Convincing investors to back someone without a college degree in an industry where he couldn’t even land an internship wouldn’t be easy. Failure would push him even further away from his lifelong dream.

Beck launched the company, Rocket Lab, later that same year. In 2009, it became the Southern Hemisphere’s first private company to reach space. Today, it’s a Long Beach, California-based public company with a market cap of $1.8 billion. It has completed more than 35 space launches, including a moon-bound NASA satellite last year.

Here, Beck discusses how he turned his disappointment into opportunity, the biggest challenges he faced, and whether he ever regrets his decision to create Rocket Lab.

CNBC Make It: When you didn’t land an aerospace job in the U.S., you immediately started thinking about launching your own company. Why?

Beck: One of the things I’m always frustrated with is how long everything takes. Ask anybody who works around me: There’s a great urgency in everything. I don’t walk upstairs, I run upstairs. As we’ve grown as a company, it’s always a sprint.

I wish things would get faster. I’m always battling time.

How do you recognize a window of opportunity opening, and when is it worth the risk to jump through it?

Back your intuition and go for it.

I would classify my job as taking an enormous risk and then mitigating that risk to the nth degree. Given that, you have to see windows of opportunity and run into them.

The challenge is that, especially within this industry, you have to poke your head into the corner but not commit too deeply. Otherwise, you’ll get your head cut off. I start by being very analytical: “OK, we’re here. What happened for us to get here? And how do we get out of here?”

Sometimes, you can take big risks. Sometimes, you need to be very safe and methodical about how to back out of situations. Control the things you can control and acknowledge the things you can’t control.

Running a rocket company is kind of like that scene in “Indiana Jones,” where he’s getting chased by that giant ball. You have to flawlessly execute, because the moment that you don’t, the consequences can be terminal for the company pretty quickly.

What do you wish you’d known when you decided to start your own rocket company?

At the end of the day, I probably wouldn’t change anything. There were plenty of errors and failures along the way, but ultimately, those things create the DNA of a company.

Getting your first rocket to orbit is the easiest part. On rocket No. 1, you’ve got all your engineers and technicians poring over one rocket for a large period of time. Now, there’s one rocket that rolls out of that production line every 18 days. That’s just immensely more difficult.

Sometimes, it’s really good to have a bit of a bad day. Not during a flight, obviously, but during testing. Just when you think things are going good, you’re reminded of how hard this business really is. Every time that you take too much of a breath, you’ll be humbled very quickly.

What’s the biggest challenge you faced getting started?

Nothing happens without funding in this business. When I first started Rocket Lab, I ran around Silicon Valley trying to raise $5 million.

At that time, that was an absurd amount of money for a rocket startup. A rocket startup was absurd [in general], it was only SpaceX then. A rocket startup from someone living in New Zealand was even more absurd.

We grew up and tried to raise really small amounts of funding. That really shaped us about being ruthlessly efficient and absolutely laser-focused on execution. The hardest thing [we did] is actually the thing that shaped the company into the most successful form it could be.

When do you feel the most pressure?

The most terrifying thing I’ve ever done is the staff Christmas party. That’s the moment you realize that your decisions are responsible for these people’s livelihoods. As a public company, I take that even more seriously. It’s a tremendous amount of pressure.

On top of that, you have a customer. That can be a national security customer, where lives are depending on you delivering that asset to orbit. It can be a startup, and there can be hundreds of people at a company that you can destroy just by putting the payload into the ocean.

So I absolutely hate launch days. Now that we’ve done 35 launches, I’m not puking in the toilet like I used to. But man, I still really don’t enjoy it, because there’s just so much invested in each launch. So much responsibility.

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