Airwallex raises $200M at a $4B valuation to double down on business banking

Business, now more than ever before, is going digital, and today a startup that’s building a vertically integrated solution to meet business banking needs is announcing a big round of funding to tap into the opportunity. Airwallex — which provides business banking services both directly to businesses themselves, as well as via a set of APIs that power other companies’ fintech products — has raised $200 million, a Series E round of funding that values the Australian startup at $4 billion.

Lone Pine Capital is leading the round, with new backers G Squared and Vetamer Capital Management, and previous backers 1835i Ventures (formerly ANZi), DST Global, Salesforce Ventures and Sequoia Capital China, also participating.

The funding brings the total raised by Airwallex — which has head offices in Hong Kong and Melbourne, Australia — to date to $700 million, including a $100 million injection that closed out its Series D just six months ago.

Airwallex will be using the funding both to continue investing in its product and technology, as well as to continue its geographical expansion and to focus on some larger business targets. The company has started to make some headway into Europe and the UK and that will be one big focus, along with the U.S.

The quick succession of funding, and that rising valuation, underscore Airwallex’s traction to date around what CEO and co-founder Jack Zhang describes as a vertically integrated strategy.

That involves two parts. First, Airwallex has built all the infrastructure for the business banking services that it provides directly to businesses with a focus on small and medium enterprise customers. Second, it has packaged up that infrastructure into a set of APIs that a variety of other companies use to provide financial services directly to their customers without needing to build those services themselves — the so-called “embedded finance” approach.

“We want to own the whole ecosystem,” Zhang said to me. “We want to be like the Apple of business finance.”

That seems to be working out so far for Airwallex. Revenues were up almost 150% for the first half of 2021 compared to a year before, with the company processing more than US$20 billion for a global client portfolio that has quadrupled in size. In addition to tens of thousands of SMEs, it also, via APIs, powers financial services for other companies like GOAT, Papaya Global and Stake.

Airwallex got its start like many of the strongest startups do: it was built to solve a problem that the founders encountered themselves. In the case of Airwallex, Zhang tells me he had actually been working on a previous start-up idea. He wanted to build the “Blue Bottle Coffee” of Asia out of Hong Kong, and it involved buying and importing a lot of different materials, packaging and of course coffee from all around the world.

“We found that making payments as a small business was slow and expensive,” he said, since it involved banks in different countries and different banking systems, manual efforts to transfer money between them and many days to clear the payments. “But that was also my background — payments and trading — and so I decided that it was a much more fascinating problem for me to work on and resolve.”

Eventually one of his co-founders in the coffee effort came along, with the four co-founders of Airwallex ultimately including Zhang, along with Xijing Dai, Lucy Liu and Max Li.

It was 2014, and Airwallex got attention from VCs early on in part for being in the right place at the right time. A wave of startups building financial services for SMBs were definitely gaining ground in North America and Europe, filling a long-neglected hole in the technology universe, but there was almost nothing of the sort in the Asia Pacific region, and in those earlier days solutions were highly regionalized.

From there it was a no-brainer that starting with cross-border payments, the first thing Airwallex tackled, would soon grow into a wider suite of banking services involving payments and other cross-border banking services.

“In last 6 years, we’ve built more than 50 bank integrations and now offer payments 95 countries payments through a partner network,” he added, with 43 of those offering real-time transactions. From that, it moved on the bank accounts and “other primitive stuff” with card issuance and more, he said, eventually building an end-to-end payment stack. 

Airwallex has tens of thousands of customers using its financial services directly, and they make up about 40% of its revenues today. The rest is the interesting turn the company decided to take to expand its business.

Airwallex had built all of its technology from the ground up itself, and it found that — given the wave of new companies looking for more ways to engage customers and become their one-stop shop — there was an opportunity to package that tech up in a set of APIs and sell that on to a different set of customers, those who also provided services for small businesses. That part of the business now accounts for 60% of Airwallex’s business, Zhang said, and is growing faster in terms of revenues. (The SMB business is growing faster in terms of customers, he said.)

A lot of embedded finance startups that base their business around building tech to power other businesses tend to stay arm’s length from offering financial services directly to consumers. The explanation I have heard is that they do not wish to compete against their customers. Zhang said that Airwallex takes a different approach, by being selective about the customers they partner with, so that the financial services they offer would never be the kind that would not be in direct competition. The GOAT marketplace for sneakers, or Papaya Global’s HR platform are classic examples of this.

However, as Airwallex continues to grow, you can’t help but wonder whether one of those partners might like to gobble up all of Airwallex and take on some of that service provision role itself. In that context, it’s very interesting to see Salesforce Ventures returning to invest even more in the company in this round, given how widely the company has expanded from its early roots in software for salespeople into a massive platform providing a huge range of cloud services to help people run their businesses.

For now, it’s been the combination of its unique roots in Asia Pacific, plus its vertical approach of building its tech from the ground up, plus its retail acumen that has impressed investors and may well see Airwallex stay independent and grow for some time to come.

“Airwallex has a clear competitive advantage in the digital payments market,” said David Craver, MD at Lone Pine Capital, in a statement. “Its unique Asia-Pacific roots, coupled with its innovative infrastructure, products and services, speak volumes about the business’ global growth opportunities and its impressive expansion in the competitive payment providers space. We are excited to invest in Airwallex at this dynamic time, and look forward to helping drive the company’s expansion and success worldwide.”

#airwallex, #articles, #asia, #asia-pacific, #australia, #bank, #banking, #blue-bottle-coffee, #cloud-services, #dst-global, #economy, #embedded-finance, #enterprise, #europe, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #goat, #hr, #lone-pine-capital, #melbourne, #north-america, #papaya-global, #salesforce, #salesforce-ventures, #sequoia-capital-china, #series-d, #startup-company, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #veem

As offices come back, ATMO launches air monitoring device claiming to give COVID-risk score

Way back in 2015 we covered the launch of the Atmotube, a small, innovative, portable air quality monitor which went on to receive a number of awards, post its CES debut.

Since rebranding as ATMO, the company, co-founded by Vera Kozyr, is now launching the Atmocube, an indoor air quality monitoring system for businesses and enterprises. This new product is positioned far more for the Post-COVID era, where air quality inside offices is going to be vital, and this time, instead of being small and portable (although that earlier product is still sold), the Atmocube will be prominent and visible in order to give office workers peace of mind that their air quality is good.

The key to this is measuring CO2 levels which the Atmocube displays on its screen along with other metrics.

The device has up to 14 sensors measuring various environmental parameters such as CO2, formaldehyde NO2, PM1 (small airborne particles), PM2.5, ozone, and others, and other environmental parameters such as relative humidity, temperature, atmospheric pressure, ambient noise, light levels, and color temperature.

The company says this new device also calculates the Airborne Virus Transmission Score — based on the levels of particulate matter, humidity, and CO2, and says it comes up with a “score” that estimates the probability of transferring virus diseases in closed spaces. Obviously, that’s probably something that would need independent testing to verify, but it is the case that the WHO advises that COVID-19 can be transmitted in poorly ventilated and/or crowded indoor settings.

Kozyr said: “Air pollution is dangerous because it can affect you and your health even if you don’t notice it. We aim to help people know what they’re breathing and make changes as a result. As businesses return to the office, they need a tool to make information about indoor air quality transparent and accessible to their employees. Most air quality monitors are designed to be hidden away, so we set out to create a device with a more transparent interface that would highlight HVAC performance safety and create trust between occupants and building owners”.

ATMO is by no means the only player in the space of course, as it’s joined by AirThings, Awair Omni and Kaiterra.

#air-pollution, #airthings, #articles, #europe, #player, #pollution, #tc, #vera-kozyr, #world-health-organization

FTC says health apps must notify consumers about data breaches — or face fines

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has warned apps and devices that collect personal health information must notify consumers if their data is breached or shared with third parties without their permission.

In a 3-2 vote on Wednesday, the FTC agreed on a new policy statement to clarify a decade-old 2009 Health Breach Notification Rule, which requires companies handling health records to notify consumers if their data is accessed without permission, such as the result of a breach. This has now been extended to apply to health apps and devices — specifically calling out apps that track fertility data, fitness, and blood glucose — which “too often fail to invest in adequate privacy and data security,” according to FTC chair Lina Khan.

“Digital apps are routinely caught playing fast and loose with user data, leaving users’ sensitive health information susceptible to hacks and breaches,” said Khan in a statement, pointing to a study published this year in the British Medical Journal that found health apps suffer from “serious problems” ranging from the insecure transmission of user data to the unauthorized sharing of data with advertisers.

There have also been a number of recent high-profile breaches involving health apps in recent years. Babylon Health, a U.K. AI chatbot and telehealth startup, last year suffered a data breach after a “software error” allowed users to access other patients’ video consultations, while period tracking app Flo was recently found to be sharing users’ health data with third-party analytics and marketing services.

Under the new rule, any company offering health apps or connected fitness devices that collect personal health data must notify consumers if their data has been compromised. However, the rule doesn’t define a “data breach” as just a cybersecurity intrusion; unauthorized access to personal data, including the sharing of information without an individual’s permission, can also trigger notification obligations.

“While this rule imposes some measure of accountability on tech firms that abuse our personal information, a more fundamental problem is the commodification of sensitive health information, where companies can use this data to feed behavioral ads or power user analytics,” Khan said.

If companies don’t comply with the rule, the FTC said it will “vigorously” enforce fines of $43,792 per violation per day.

The FTC has been cracking down on privacy violations in recent weeks. Earlier this month, the agency unanimously voted to ban spyware maker SpyFone and its chief executive Scott Zuckerman from the surveillance industry for harvesting mobile data on thousands of people and leaving it on the open internet.

#articles, #artificial-intelligence, #babylon-health, #chair, #data-breach, #digital-rights, #flo, #government, #identity-management, #lina-khan, #open-internet, #security, #security-breaches, #social-issues, #spyfone, #terms-of-service

Ireland probes TikTok’s handling of kids’ data and transfers to China

Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) has yet another ‘Big Tech’ GDPR probe to add to its pile: The regulator said yesterday it has opened two investigations into video sharing platform TikTok.

The first covers how TikTok handles children’s data, and whether it complies with Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation.

The DPC also said it will examine TikTok’s transfers of personal data to China, where its parent entity is based — looking to see if the company meets requirements set out in the regulation covering personal data transfers to third countries.

TikTok was contacted for comment on the DPC’s investigation.

A spokesperson told us:

“The privacy and safety of the TikTok community, particularly our youngest members, is a top priority. We’ve implemented extensive policies and controls to safeguard user data and rely on approved methods for data being transferred from Europe, such as standard contractual clauses. We intend to fully cooperate with the DPC.”

The Irish regulator’s announcement of two “own volition” enquiries follows pressure from other EU data protection authorities and consumers protection groups which have raised concerns about how TikTok handles’ user data generally and children’s information specifically.

In Italy this January, TikTok was ordered to recheck the age of every user in the country after the data protection watchdog instigated an emergency procedure, using GDPR powers, following child safety concerns.

TikTok went on to comply with the order — removing more than half a million accounts where it could not verify the users were not children.

This year European consumer protection groups have also raised a number of child safety and privacy concerns about the platform. And, in May, EU lawmakers said they would review the company’s terms of service.

On children’s data, the GDPR sets limits on how kids’ information can be processed, putting an age cap on the ability of children to consent to their data being used. The age limit varies per EU Member State but there’s a hard cap for kids’ ability to consent at 13 years old (some EU countries set the age limit at 16).

In response to the announcement of the DPC’s enquiry, TikTok pointed to its use of age gating technology and other strategies it said it uses to detect and remove underage users from its platform.

It also flagged a number of recent changes it’s made around children’s accounts and data — such as flipping the default settings to make their accounts privacy by default and limiting their exposure to certain features that intentionally encourage interaction with other TikTok users if those users are over 16.

While on international data transfers it claims to use “approved methods”. However the picture is rather more complicated than TikTok’s statement implies. Transfers of Europeans’ data to China are complicated by there being no EU data adequacy agreement in place with China.

In TikTok’s case, that means, for any personal data transfers to China to be lawful, it needs to have additional “appropriate safeguards” in place to protect the information to the required EU standard.

When there is no adequacy arrangement in place, data controllers can, potentially, rely on mechanisms like Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs) or binding corporate rules (BCRs) — and TikTok’s statement notes it uses SCCs.

But — crucially — personal data transfers out of the EU to third countries have faced significant legal uncertainty and added scrutiny since a landmark ruling by the CJEU last year which invalidated a flagship data transfer arrangement between the US and the EU and made it clear that DPAs (such as Ireland’s DPC) have a duty to step in and suspend transfers if they suspect people’s data is flowing to a third country where it might be at risk.

So while the CJEU did not invalidate mechanisms like SCCs entirely they essentially said all international transfers to third countries must be assessed on a case-by-case basis and, where a DPA has concerns, it must step in and suspend those non-secure data flows.

The CJEU ruling means just the fact of using a mechanism like SCCs doesn’t mean anything on its own re: the legality of a particular data transfer. It also amps up the pressure on EU agencies like Ireland’s DPC to be pro-active about assessing risky data flows.

Final guidance put out by the European Data Protection Board, earlier this year, provides details on the so-called ‘special measures’ that a data controller may be able to apply in order to increase the level of protection around their specific transfer so the information can be legally taken to a third country.

But these steps can include technical measures like strong encryption — and it’s not clear how a social media company like TikTok would be able to apply such a fix, given how its platform and algorithms are continuously mining users’ data to customize the content they see and in order to keep them engaged with TikTok’s ad platform.

In another recent development, China has just passed its first data protection law.

But, again, this is unlikely to change much for EU transfers. The Communist Party regime’s ongoing appropriation of personal data, through the application of sweeping digital surveillance laws, means it would be all but impossible for China to meet the EU’s stringent requirements for data adequacy. (And if the US can’t get EU adequacy it would be ‘interesting’ geopolitical optics, to put it politely, were the coveted status to be granted to China…)

One factor TikTok can take heart from is that it does likely have time on its side when it comes to the’s EU enforcement of its data protection rules.

The Irish DPC has a huge backlog of cross-border GDPR investigations into a number of tech giants.

It was only earlier this month that Irish regulator finally issued its first decision against a Facebook-owned company — announcing a $267M fine against WhatsApp for breaching GDPR transparency rules (but only doing so years after the first complaints had been lodged).

The DPC’s first decision in a cross-border GDPR case pertaining to Big Tech came at the end of last year — when it fined Twitter $550k over a data breach dating back to 2018, the year GDPR technically begun applying.

The Irish regulator still has scores of undecided cases on its desk — against tech giants including Apple and Facebook. That means that the new TikTok probes join the back of a much criticized bottleneck. And a decision on these probes isn’t likely for years.

On children’s data, TikTok may face swifter scrutiny elsewhere in Europe: The UK added some ‘gold-plaiting’ to its version of the EU GDPR in the area of children’s data — and, from this month, has said it expects platforms meet its recommended standards.

It has warned that platforms that don’t fully engage with its Age Appropriate Design Code could face penalties under the UK’s GDPR. The UK’s code has been credited with encouraging a number of recent changes by social media platforms over how they handle kids’ data and accounts.

#apps, #articles, #china, #communist-party, #data-controller, #data-protection, #data-protection-commission, #data-protection-law, #data-security, #encryption, #europe, #european-data-protection-board, #european-union, #general-data-protection-regulation, #ireland, #italy, #max-schrems, #noyb, #personal-data, #privacy, #social, #social-media, #spokesperson, #tiktok, #united-kingdom, #united-states

BitSight raises $250M from Moody’s and acquires cyber risk startup VisibleRisk

BitSight, a startup that assesses the likelihood that an organization will be breached, has received a $250 million investment from credit rating giant Moody’s, and acquired Israeli cyber risk assessment startup VisibleRisk for an undisclosed sum.

Boston-based BitSight says the investment from Moody’s, which has long warned that cyber risk can impact credit ratings, will enable it to create a cybersecurity risk platform, while the credit ratings giant said it plans to make use of BitSight’s cyber risk data and research across its integrated risk assessment product offerings.

The investment values BitSight at $2.4 billion and makes Moody’s the largest shareholder in the company.

“Creating transparency and enabling trust is at the core of Moody’s mission,” Moody’s president and CEO Rob Fauber said in a statement. “BitSight is the leader in the cybersecurity ratings space, and together we will help market participants across disciplines better understand, measure, and manage their cyber risks and translate that to the risk of cyber loss.”

Meanwhile, BitSight’s purchase of VisibleRisk, a cyber risk ratings joint venture created by Moody’s and Team8, brings in-depth cyber risk assessment capabilities to BitSight’s platform, enabling the startup to better analyze and calculate an organization’s financial exposure to cyber risk. VisibleRisk, which has raised $25 million to date, says its so-called “cyber ratings” are based on cyber risk quantification, which allows companies to benchmark their cyber risk against those of their peers, and to better understand and manage the impact of cyber threats to their businesses.

Following the acquisition, BitSight will also create a risk solutions division focused on delivering a suite of critical solutions and analytics serving stakeholders including chief risk officers, C-suite executives, and boards of directors. This division will be led by VisibleRisk co-founder and CEO Derek Vadala, who previously headed up Moody’s cyber risk group.

Steve Harvey, president and CEO of BitSight, said the company’s partnership with Moody’s and its acquisition of VisibleRisk will expand its reach to “help customers manage cyber risk in an increasingly digital world.”

BitSight was founded in 2011 and has raised a total of $155 million in outside funding, most recently closing a $60 million Series D round led by Warburg Pincus. The startup has just shy of 500 employees and more than 2,300 global customers, including government agencies, insurers and asset managers. 

#articles, #boston, #computer-security, #cyberattack, #cybercrime, #cyberwarfare, #leader, #risk, #risk-analysis, #risk-management, #safety, #security, #team8, #warburg-pincus

Vector.ai’s productivity platform for freight forwarders raises $15M A round led by Bessemer

With supply chains under constant stress because of the pandemic, freight forwarding has become one of the hottest startup sectors in the last two years. Indeed, International freight forwarding is now a $199 billion market. And the evidence is mounting.

In November last year, digital freight forwarder Forto raises another $50M in a round led by Inven Capital. In April this year, Nuvocargo raised $12M to digitize the freight logistics industry. In May, Zencargo, with a freight forwarding platform, raised $42 million. In June, freight forwarder sennder raised $80M at a $1B+ valuation. In July Freightify landed $2.5M to make rate management easier for freight forwarders.

And today, Vector.ai, which says it helps freight forwarders improve productivity via its AI platform, has raised $15 million in a Series A led by US VC Bessemer Venture Partners. It was joined by existing investors Dynamo Ventures and Episode 1. Bessemer’s investment is yet another sign that US VC continues to make incursions into the UK and European tech scene.

Vector now plans to accelerate its international expansion plans as an automated system for freight forwarders.

The problem it’s tackling is this: Freight forwarders lose time to repetitive administrative tasks as they execute shipments, such as hunting through customer emails etc, rather than concentrating on higher-value activities. Vector.ai says it’s machine learning platform can automate these tasks.

Its customers now include Fracht, EFL, NNR Global Logistics, The Scarbrough Group, Steam Logistics and Navia Freight, as well as other top-10 freight forwarders.

James Coombes, Co-Founder, and CEO of Vector.ai, commented: “Most employees within freight forwarders spend the majority of their time communicating with the 10-25 different entities that might be associated with a given shipment and coordinating freight movement and documentation. Communication usually runs through email and attachments… The volume of freight continues to rise globally – and with the added burden of Brexit and pandemic disruptions such as the recent port closure in China – freight forwarders are facing staffing shortages, steep wage increases, and shipping delays that continue to cost companies money in lost revenue and spoiled goods. They cannot afford to keep wasting time on low-level processing, which is why we created the technology to automate basic tasks.”

Mike Droesch, Partner at Bessemer Venture Partners, said: “Vector.ai is one of the early leaders in an emerging category of freight forwarding workflow automation and digitization tools. It has built an intuitive and industry-focused product – which is already winning over some of the largest freight forwarders.”

Vector competes with Shipamax out of the UK which has raised $9.5M, RPA Labs out of the US which has raised $1.2M and slync.io also in the US which has raised $75.9M.

#articles, #bessemer-venture-partners, #china, #europe, #goods, #inven-capital, #logistics, #machine-learning, #mike-droesch, #partner, #tc, #transport, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #vector

Rezilion raises $30M help security operations teams with tools to automate their busywork

Security operations teams face a daunting task these days, fending off malicious hackers and their increasingly sophisticated approaches to cracking into networks. That also represents a gap in the market: building tools to help those security teams do their jobs. Today, an Israeli startup called Rezilion that is doing just that — building automation tools for DevSecOps, the area of IT that addresses the needs of security teams and the technical work that they need to do in their jobs — is announcing $30 million in funding.

Guggenheim Investments is leading the round with JVP and Kindred Capital also contributing. Rezilion said that unnamed executives from Google, Microsoft, CrowdStrike, IBM, Cisco, PayPal, JP Morgan Chase, Nasdaq, eBay, Symantec, RedHat, RSA and Tenable are also in the round. Previously, the company had raised $8 million.

Rezilion’s funding is coming on the back of strong initial growth for the startup in its first two years of operations.

Its customer base is made up of some of the world’s biggest companies, including two of the “Fortune 10” (the top 10 of the Fortune 500). CEO Liran Tancman, who co-founded Rezilion with CTO Shlomi Boutnaru, said that one of those two is one of the world’s biggest software companies, and the other is a major connected device vendor, but he declined to say which. (For the record, the top 10 includes Amazon, Apple, Alphabet/Google, Walmart and CVS.)

Tancman and Boutnaru had previously co-founded another security startup, CyActive, which was acquired by PayPal in 2015; the pair worked there together until leaving to start Rezilion.

There are a lot of tools out in the market now to help automate different aspects of developer and security operations. Rezilion focuses on a specific part of DevSecOps: large businesses have over the years put in place a lot of processes that they need to follow to try to triage and make the most thorough efforts possible to detect security threats. Today, that might involve inspecting every single suspicious piece of activity to determine what the implications might be.

The problem is that with the volume of information coming in, taking the time to inspect and understand each piece of suspicious activity can put enormous strain on an organization: it’s time-consuming, and as it turns out, not the best use of that time because of the signal to noise ratio involved. Typically, each vulnerability can take 6-9 hours to properly investigate, Tancman said. “But usually about 70-80% of them are not exploitable,” meaning they may be bad for some, but not for this particular organization and the code it’s using today. That represents a very inefficient use of the security team’s time and energy.

“Eight of out ten patches tend to be a waste of time,” Tancman said of the approach that is typically made today. He believes that as its AI continues to grow and its knowledge and solution becomes more sophisticated, “it might soon be 9 out of 10.”

Rezilion has built a taxonomy and an AI-based system that essentially does that inspection work as a human would do: it spots any new, or suspicious, code, figures out what it is trying to do, and runs it against a company’s existing code and systems to see how and if it might actually be a threat to it or create further problems down the line. If it’s all good, it essentially whitelists the code. If not, it flags it to the team.

The stickiness of the product has come out of how Tancman and Boutnaru understand large enterprises, especially those heavy with technology stacks, operate these days in what has become a very challenging environment for cybersecurity teams.

“They are using us to accelerate their delivery processes while staying safe,” Tancman said. “They have strict compliance departments and have to adhere to certain standards,” in terms of the protocols they take around security work, he added. “They want to leverage DevOps to release that.”

He said Rezilion has generally won over customers in large part for simply understanding that culture and process and helping them work better within that: “Companies become users of our product because we showed them that, at a fraction of the effort, they can be more secure.” This has special resonance in the world of tech, although financial services, and other verticals that essentially leverage technology as a significant foundation for how they operate, are also among the startup’s user base.

Down the line, Rezilion plans to add remediation and mitigation into the mix to further extend what it can do with its automation tools, which is part of where the funding will be going, too, Boutnaru said. But he doesn’t believe it will ever replace the human in the equation altogether.

“It will just focus them on the places where you need more human thinking,” he said. “We’re just removing the need for tedious work.”

In that grand tradition of enterprise automation, then, it will be interesting to watch which other automation-centric platforms might make a move into security alongside the other automation they are building. For now, Rezilion is forging out an interesting enough area for itself to get investors interested.

“Rezilion’s product suite is a game changer for security teams,” said Rusty Parks, senior MD of Guggenheim Investments, in a statement. “It creates a win-win, allowing companies to speed innovative products and features to market while enhancing their security posture. We believe Rezilion has created a truly compelling value proposition for security teams, one that greatly increases return on time while thoroughly protecting one’s core infrastructure.”

#agile-software-development, #alphabet, #amazon, #apple, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #automation, #ceo, #cisco, #computer-security, #crowdstrike, #cto, #cyactive, #devops, #ebay, #energy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #financial-services, #funding, #google, #ibm, #jp-morgan-chase, #kindred-capital, #maryland, #microsoft, #paypal, #security, #software, #software-development, #startup-company, #symantec, #technology

Commercetools raises $140M at a $1.9B valuation as ‘headless’ commerce continues to boom

E-commerce these days is now a major part of every retailer’s strategy, so technology builders and platforms that are helping them compete better on digital screens are seeing a huge boost in business. In the latest turn, Commercetools — a provider of e-commerce APIs that larger retailers can use to build customized payment, check-out, social commerce, marketplace and other services — has closed $140 million in funding, a Series C that CEO Dirk Hoerig has confirmed to me values the company at $1.9 billion. 

The funding is being led by Accel, with previous investors Insight Partners and REWE Group also participating. Munich, Germany-based Commercetools spun out of REWE — a giant German retailer, and also a customer — and announced $145 million in investment led by Insight in October 2019.

This latest round represents a huge hike on its valuation since then, when Commercetools was valued at around $300 million.

Part of the reason for the big bump, of course, has been the wave of interest in digital transactions from shopping online. E-commerce was already growing at a steady pace before 2020, by some estimates representing more than half of all commerce transactions. The Covid-19 pandemic turbo-charged that proportion, with many retailers switching exclusively to internet sales, and consumers stuck at home happy to shop with a click.

While companies like Shopify have addressed the needs of smaller retailers, providing them with an alternative or complement to listing on third-party marketplaces like Amazon’s, Commercetools has built its business around catering to larger retailers and the many specific, large-scale needs and investment budgets that they may have for building their digital commerce solutions.

It provides some 300 APIs today around some nine “buckets” of services, and a wide network of integration partners, Hoerig said, and powers some $10 billion of sales annually for its customers, which include the likes of Audi, AT&T, Danone, Tiffany & Co., John Lewis and many others.

“Our main focus is the retailer with more than $100 million in gross merchandise value,” Hoerig said. “This is when it becomes interesting.” But he added that the force of market growth is such that Commercetools is also seeing a lot of business from smaller companies that are simply needing more functionality to address their fast growth. “So we also sometimes have customers that start at $5 million in GMV and quickly go to $50 million. With that scale, they also have specific requirements, so the lines get a bit blurry.” (And that also explains why investors are so interested: there is a lot of evidence of the market growing and growing; and by capturing smaller retailers on big trajectories, that represents a lot more scale for Commercetools.)

Hoerig is sometimes credited with being the person who first coined the term “headless commerce”, which basically means APIs that can be used by a company, or its team of strategists, developers and designers, to build their own customized check-out and other purchasing experiences, rather than fitting these into templates provided by the tech company powering the checkout.

But as the API economy has continued to grow, and the world of non-tech companies that use tech continues to mature, that has taking on a mass-market appeal, and so Commercetools is far from being the only one in this area. In addition to Shopify (which has its own version targeting larger businesses, Shopify Plus), others include SprykerSwellFabricChord and Shogun.

Commercetools will be using the funding both to continue organically expanding its business, but also to make some acquisitions to bolt on new customers, and new technology, tapping into some of the scaling and consolidation that is taking place across e-commerce as a whole. What will be interesting to see is where consolidation will happen, and which startups will be raising money to scale on their own: right now there is a lot of enthusiasm around the space because it is so buoyant, and that will spell more money being funneled to more startups.

Case in point: when I first got wind of this funding round, Commercetools told me it was in the middle of a deal to acquire a company. In the end, that company decided to stay independent and take some more investment to try to grow on its own. Hoerig said it’s now pursuing another target.

Indeed, that is also the bigger force that has brought Commercetools to where it is today.

“The chance to invest in a fast-growing, innovative commerce platform was one we could not pass up,” said Ping Li, the partner at Accel who led on this deal, said in a statement. “Commercetools provides e-commerce enterprises the technology necessary to capture revenue in the rapidly growing global e-commerce market.”

#accel, #api, #articles, #att, #audi, #business, #ceo, #commercetools, #content-management-systems, #danone, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #economy, #europe, #germany, #headless-commerce, #insight-partners, #munich, #ping-li, #shopify, #social-commerce

Iceland’s Crowberry Capital launches $90M Seed and Early-stage fund aimed at Nordics

Crowberry Capital, operating in Reykjavik and Copenhagen, has launched Crowberry II: a $90 million seed and early-stage fund aimed at startups in the Nordic region. A second close – bringing in an additional $40 million – is planned for July 2022.

The EIF (European Investment Fund) is the lead LP on the fund, after putting in €20 million from the EU’s “InnovFin Equity” program. This is InnovFin Equity’s first VC fund in Iceland.

Other investors include Icelandic Pension funds, several family offices, and angels including David Helgason, founder of Unity Technologies.

Crowberry II, which claims to be the largest VC fund operating out of Iceland, is headed up by three women founders, Hekla Arnardottir, Helga Valfells, and Jenny Ruth Hrafnsdottir.

The Crowberry I fund (a $40m fund launched in 2017), invested in startups in the areas of Gaming, SaaS, Healthtech, and Fintech.

Hekla Arnardottir said: “An incorrect assumption is that because we are women, we are only interested in supporting female founders. As our investment record shows, we support companies because they are game changers, irrespective of the gender of their senior team members. However, we also benefit, as an all-female team, from a circumspection which means that we can see potential in businesses and sectors which are typically overlooked by others in our space.”

She added: “Inclusivity is good for business, and through being open and approachable, your deal-flow multiplies in parallel to your talent pool, and businesses are built with a broader potential user base. It’s crazy that in 2020, female-led startups received just 2.3% of VC Funding, yet Crowberry considers this to be an opportunity: where the Nordics lead in gender equality on a societal level, we want to show that the region can also show the way in terms of inventive venture support.”

Crowberry’s previous fund (Crowberry I) featured 15 companies, of which 33% had female CEOs.

#articles, #copenhagen, #crowberry-capital, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #european-investment-fund, #european-union, #flo, #founder, #healthtech, #iceland, #private-equity, #startup-company, #tc, #unity-technologies

Microsoft acquires TakeLessons, an online and in-person tutoring platform, to ramp up its edtech play

Microsoft said in January this year that Teams, its online collaboration platform, was being used by over 100 million students — boosted in no small part by the Covid-19 pandemic and many schools going partly or fully remote. Now, it’s made another acquisition to continue expanding its position in the education market.

The company has acquired TakeLessons, a platform for students to connect with individual tutors in areas like music lessons, language learning, academic subjects and professional training or hobbies, and for tutors to book and organize the lessons they give, both online and in person.

Terms of the deal have not been disclosed but we are trying to find out. San Diego-based TakeLessons had raised at least $20 million from a range of VCs and individuals that included LightBank, Uncork Capital, Crosslink Capital and others. TakeLessons posted a short note in the form of a Q&A confirming the deal on its site. The note said that it will continue operating business as usual for the time being, with the intention of taking its platform to a wider global audience.

It’s not clear how many active students and tutors TakeLessons had on its platform at the time of acquisition, but for some context, another big player in the area of online one-to-one tutoring, GoStudent out of Europe, raised $244 million in funding earlier this year that valued it at $1.7 billion. Others in online tutoring like Brainly are also seeing valuations in the hundreds of millions.

Given the relatively modest amount raised by TakeLessons, it’s likely this was a much lower valuation. Yet the acquisition is still one that gives Microsoft the infrastructure and beginnings of setting up a much more aggressive play in mass-market online education, potentially to go head-to-head with these and other big platforms.

TakeLessons today offers instruction in a wide variety of areas, including music lessons (which was where it had gotten its start) through to languages, academic subjects and test prep, computer skills, crafts and more. It has been around since 2006 and got its start first as a platform for people to connect with tutors local to them for in-person lessons, before progressing into online lessons to complement that business.

The pandemic has precipitated a shift to a much bigger wave of the latter, with online tutoring apparently the majority of what is offered on TakeLessons platform today. These lessons continue to be offered on a one-on-one basis, but additionally students can take part in group lessons online via the startup’s Live platform.

The shift to online education that we’ve seen take hold around the world is likely why Microsoft sees a big opportunity here.

On the heels of many schools around the world scrambling for better online learning platforms to manage remote learning during lockdowns and quarantines, educators, families and students have been using (and paying for) a variety of different tools. Within that, Microsoft has been pushing hard to make Teams a leader in that area.

That was built on years of traction already in the market (and a number of other investments and acquisitions that Microsoft has made over the years).

But it also comes amid a new insurgence of competition arising from the current state of affairs. That includes adoption of Google Classroom, as well as a wide variety of more targeted point solutions for specific purposes like video lessons (Zoom figures big here); apps for lesson planning and homework planning; online on-demand tutorials in specific areas like math or languages or science to bolster in-class learning experiences; and more.

The Microsoft way is to bring as many features into a platform as possible to make it more sticky and less likely that users will turn to other apps, providing more value for money around the Microsoft offer. In other words, I’d expect to see Microsoft do more deals and launch more features to cover all of the services that it doesn’t already provide through its educational tools.

(Case in point: my children’s school uses Teams for online lessons, in part because it already uses Outlook for its email system. Now, the school has announced that it will no longer be using a different third-party app for homework planning; instead, teachers will be assigning homework and managing it via Teams. For a cash-strapped state school like ours, it makes sense that it would opt out of paying for two apps when it can get the same features in just one of them. The kids are not happy about this! This is what Microsoft leverages with its platform play.)

NextLessons is somewhat adjacent to that school-focused education strategy. Yes, there will be a big audience of students and their families who might represent a good cross-selling opportunity for tutoring, but NextLessons represents also a more mass-market offering, open to anyone who might want to learn something, not just those already using Microsoft Education products.

So the interest here is likely not just students who want to supplement their online learning — there is a big audience for online tutoring — but any lifelong learner, as well as the many consumers or professionals out there who have gotten interested in learning something new, especially in the last 1.5 years of spending more time alone and/or at home.

And with that, there are other potential opportunities for NextLessons in the Microsoft universe.

Just yesterday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Ryan Roslansky, the CEO of Microsoft-owned LinkedIn, held an online presentation about what work will look like in the future. Education — specifically professional development — figured strongly in that discussion, with the conversation coinciding with LinkedIn launching a new Learning Hub.

LinkedIn has not only been working for years on building out its education business, but it has also long been looking for a more sticky inroad into doing more with video on its platform.

Something like NextLessons could, interestingly, kill those two birds with one stone. While LinkedIn’s education content up to now has not been something specifically tied to “live” online lessons, you could imagine a bridge between Microsoft’s latest acquisition and what LinkedIn might consider next, too.

#articles, #ceo, #crosslink-capital, #e-learning, #education, #europe, #google, #leader, #learning, #lightbank, #linkedin, #ma, #microsoft, #online-education, #online-learning, #online-tutoring, #ryan-roslansky, #san-diego, #satya-nadella, #takelessons, #teaching, #tutoring, #uncork-capital

Nuula raises $120M to build out a financial services ‘superapp’ aimed at SMBs

A Canadian startup called Nuula that is aiming to build a superapp to provide a range of financial services to small and medium businesses has closed $120 million of funding, money that it will use to fuel the launch of its app and first product, a line of credit for its users.

The money is coming in the form of $20 million in equity from Edison Partners, and a $100 million credit facility from funds managed by the Credit Group of Ares Management Corporation.

The Nuula app has been in a limited beta since June of this year. The plan is to open it up to general availability soon, while also gradually bringing in more services, some built directly by Nuula itself and but many others following an embedded finance strategy: business banking, for example, will be a service provided by a third party and integrated closely into the Nuula app to be launched early in 2022; and alongside that, the startup will also be making liberal use of APIs to bring in other white-label services such as B2B and customer-focused payment services, starting first in the U.S. and then expanding to Canada and the U.K. before further countries across Europe.

Current products include cash flow forecasting, personal and business credit score monitoring, and customer sentiment tracking; and monitoring of other critical metrics including financial, payments and eCommerce data are all on the roadmap.

“We’re building tools to work in a complementary fashion in the app,” CEO Mark Ruddock said in an interview. “Today, businesses can project if they are likely to run out of money, and monitor their credit scores. We keep an eye on customers and what they are saying in real time. We think it’s necessary to surface for SMBs the metrics that they might have needed to get from multiple apps, all in one place.”

Nuula was originally a side-project at BFS, a company that focused on small business lending, where the company started to look at the idea of how to better leverage data to build out a wider set of services addressing the same segment of the market. BFS grew to be a substantial business in its own right (and it had raised its own money to that end, to the tune of $184 million from Edison and Honeywell).  Over time, it became apparent to management that the data aspect, and this concept of a super app, would be key to how to grow the business, and so it pivoted and rebranded earlier this year, launching the beta of the app after that.

Nuula’s ambitions fall within a bigger trend in the market. Small and medium enterprises have shaped up to be a huge business opportunity in the world of fintech in the last several years. Long ignored in favor of building solutions either for the giant consumer market, or the lucrative large enterprise sector, SMBs have proven that they want and are willing to invest in better and newer technology to run their businesses, and that’s leading to a rush of startups and bigger tech companies bringing services to the market to cater to that.

Super apps are also a big area of interest in the world of fintech, although up to now a lot of what we’ve heard about in that area has been aimed at consumers — just the kind of innovation rut that Nuula is trying to get moving.

“Despite the growth in services addressing the SMB sector, overall it still lacks innovation compared to consumer or enterprise services,” Ruddock said. “We thought there was some opportunity to bring new thinking to the space. We see this as the app that SMBs will want to use everyday, because we’ll provide useful tools, insights and capital to power their businesses.”

Nuula’s priority to build the data services that connect all of this together is very much in keeping with how a lot of neobanks are also developing services and investing in what they see as their unique selling point. The theory goes like this: banking services are, at the end of the day, the same everywhere you go, and therefore commoditized, and so the more unique value-added for companies will come from innovating with more interesting algorithms and other data-based insights and analytics to give more power to their users to make the best use of what they have at their disposal.

It will not be alone in addressing that market. Others building fintech for SMBs include Selina, ANNA, Amex’s Kabbage (an early mover in using big data to help loan money to SMBs and build other financial services for them), Novo, Atom Bank, Xepelin, and Liberis, biggies like Stripe, Square and PayPal, and many others.

The credit product that Nuula has built so far is a taster of how it hopes to be a useful tool for SMBs, not just another place to get money or manage it. It’s not a direct loaning service, but rather something that is closely linked to monitoring a customers’ incomings and outgoings and only prompts a credit line (which directly links into the users’ account, wherever it is) when it appears that it might be needed.

“Innovations in financial technology have largely democratized who can become the next big player in small business finance,” added Gary Golding, General Partner, Edison Partners. “By combining critical financial performance tools and insights into a single interface, Nuula represents a new class of financial services technology for small business, and we are excited by the potential of the firm.”

“We are excited to be working with Nuula as they build a unique financial services resource for small businesses and entrepreneurs,” said Jeffrey Kramer, Partner and Head of ABS in the Alternative Credit strategy of the Ares Credit Group, in a statement. “The evolution of financial technology continues to open opportunities for innovation and the emergence of new industry participants. We look forward to seeing Nuula’s experienced team of technologists, data scientists and financial service veterans bring a new generation of small business financial services solutions to market.”

#articles, #atom-bank, #banking, #business, #canada, #ceo, #economy, #edison-partners, #enterprise, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #fintech, #funding, #general-partner, #head, #honeywell, #innovation, #kabbage, #nuula, #paypal, #smb, #sme, #stripe, #united-kingdom, #united-states

Two UK tech figures plan to row the Atlantic for charity supporting minority entrepreneurs

Two UK tech figures are to row across the Atlantic Ocean to raise money for a charity that funds social entrepreneurs from minority backgrounds.

Guy Rigby, founder and now Chair of the Entrepreneurial Services Group at Smith & Williamson, and entrepreneur, investor David Murray will raise money for UnLtd which has supported over 15,000 social entrepreneurs in the UK.

The pair have so far secured around £350,000 for UnLtd, with support from the UK’s Tech Nation, Founders Forum, and London Tech Week. You can donate to their fund-raising efforts on the ‘The Entrepreneur Ship’ here., will also be part of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. Other tech orgs are invited to sponsor their efforts.

UnLtd has previously backed startup firms including Patchwork Hub which built an accessible employment platform run by disabled people, as well as EduKit, which developed an app to help school staff understand and address the mental health needs of their students.

Over the last year, UnLtd supported 662 social entrepreneurs, 42% of whom identified as being from a Black, Asian, or minority ethnic background and/or having a disability.

Rigby and Murray will row the 3,000 miles in December 2021 from the Canaries to Antigua, which they hope to reach in February 2022, rowing individually, 2 hours on, 2 hours off, around the clock for the duration of the crossing.

#articles, #business, #economy, #entrepreneur, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #social-entrepreneurship, #startup-company, #tc, #united-kingdom

UK’s Marshmallow raises $85M on a $1.25B valuation for its more inclusive, big-data take on car insurance

Marshmallow — a U.K.-based car insurance provider that has made a name for itself in the market by providing a new approach to car insurance aimed at using a wider set of data points and clever algorithms to net a more diverse set of customers and provide more competitive rates — is announcing a milestone today in its life as a startup, as well as in the bigger U.K. tech world.

The London company — co-founded by identical twins Oliver and Alexander Kent-Braham and David Goaté — has raised $85 million in a new round of funding. The Series B valuation is significant on two counts: it catapults Marshmallow to a “unicorn” valuation above $1 billion — specifically, $1.25 billion; and Marshmallow itself becomes one of a very small group of U.K. startups founded by Black people — Oliver and Alexander — to reach that figure.

(To be clear, Marshmallow describes itself as “the first UK unicorn to be founded by individuals that are Black or have Black heritage”, although I can think of at least one that preceded it: WorldRemit, which last month rebranded to Zepz, is currently valued at $5 billion; co-founder and chairman Ismail Ahmed has been described as the most influential Black Briton.)

Regardless of whether Marshmallow is the first or one of the first, given the dearth of diversity in the UK technology industry, in particular in the upper ranks of it, it’s a notable detail worth pointing out, even as I hope that one day it will be less of a rarity.

Meanwhile, Marshmallow’s novel, big-data approach and successful traction in the market speak for themselves. When we covered the company’s most recent funding round before this — a $30 million raise in November 2020 — the startup was valued at $310 million. Now less than a year later, Marshmallow’s valuation has nearly quadrupled, and it has passed 100,000 policies sold in its home country, growing 100% over the last six months.

The plan now, Oliver told me in an interview, will be to deepen its relationships with customers, in part by providing more engagement to make them better drivers, but also potentially selling more services to them, too.

In this, the startup will be tapping into a new approach that other insurtech startups are taking as they rethink traditional insurance models, much like YuLife is positioning its life insurance products within a bigger wellness and personal improvement business. Currently, the average age of Marshmallow’s customers is 20 to 40, Oliver said — and there are thoughts of potentially new products aimed at even younger users. That means there is long-term value in improving loyalty and keeping those customers for many years to come.

Alongside that, Marshmallow will also use the funding to inch closer to its plan to expand to markets outside of the UK — a strategy that has been in the works for a while. Marshmallow talked up international expansion in its last round but has yet to announce which markets it will seek to tackle first.

Insurance — and in particular insurance startups — are often thought of together with fintech startups, not least because the two industries have a lot in common: they both operate in areas of assessing and mitigating risk and fraud; they are in many cases discretionary investments on the part of the customers; they are both highly regulated and require watertight data protection for their users.

Perhaps because so much of the hard work is the same for both, it’s not uncommon to see services built to serve both sectors (FintechOS and Shift Technology being two examples), for fintech companies to dabble in insurance services, and so on.

But in reality, insurance — and specifically car insurance — has seen a massive impact from Covid-19 unique to that industry. Separate reports from EY and the Association of British Insurers noted that 2020 actually saw a lift for many car insurance companies: lockdowns meant that fewer people were driving, and therefore fewer were getting into accidents and making less claims.

2021, however, has been a different story: new pricing rules being put into place will likely see a number of providers tip into the red for the year. And the Chartered Insurance Institute points out that will also be worth watching to see how the low use of cars in one year will impact use going forward: some car owners, especially in urban areas where keeping a car is expensive, will inevitably start to question whether they need to own and insure a car at all.

All of this, ironically, actually plays into the hand of a company like Marshmallow, which is providing a more flexible approach to customers who might otherwise be rejected by more traditional companies, or might be priced out of offerings from them. Interestingly, while neobanks have definitely spurred more traditional institutions to try to update their products to compete, the same hasn’t really happened in insurance — not yet, at least.

“We started with the idea of the power of data and using a wider range of resources [than incumbents], and using that in our pricing led us to be able to offer better rates to more people,” Oliver said, but that hasn’t led to Marshmallow seeing sharper competition from older incumbents. “They are big companies and stuck in their ways. These companies have been around for decades, some for centuries. Change is not happening quickly.”

That leaves a big opportunity for companies like Marshmallow and other newer players like Lemonade, Hippo and Jerry (not an insurance startup per se but also dabbling in the space), and a big opening for investors to back new ideas in an industry estimated to be worth $5 trillion.

“The traction the team has achieved demonstrates the demand for a new kind of insurance provider, one that focuses more on consumer experience and uses the latest technology and data to give fair prices,” said Eileen Burbidge, a partner at Passion Capital, in a statement. “We’ve been proud to support the team’s ambitions since the start, and now look forward to its next chapter in Europe as it continues its mission to change the industry for the better.”

#articles, #automotive, #car-insurance, #eileen-burbidge, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #finance, #financial-technology, #funding, #hippo, #insurance, #ismail-ahmed, #jerry, #life-insurance, #london, #marshmallow, #money, #oliver, #private-equity, #shift-technology, #startup-company, #tc, #unicorn, #united-kingdom, #worldremit

Seqera Labs grabs $5.5M to help sequence Covid-19 variants and other complex data problems

Bringing order and understanding to unstructured information located across disparate silos has been one of more significant breakthroughs of the big data era, and today a European startup that has built a platform to help with this challenge specifically in the area of life sciences — and has, notably, been used by labs to sequence and so far identify two major Covid-19 variants — is announcing some funding to continue building out its tools to a wider set of use cases, and to expand into North America.

Seqera Labs, a Barcelona-based data orchestration and workflow platform tailored to help scientists and engineers order and gain insights from cloud-based genomic data troves, as well as to tackle other life science applications that involve harnessing complex data from multiple locations, has raised $5.5 million in seed funding.

Talis Capital and Speedinvest co-led this round, with participation also from previous backer BoxOne Ventures and a grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Mark Zuckerberg and Dr. Priscilla Chan’s effort to back open source software projects for science applications.

Seqera — a portmanteau of “sequence” and “era”, the age of sequencing data, basically — had previously raised less than $1 million, and quietly, it is already generating revenues, with five of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies part of its customer base, alongside biotech and other life sciences customers.

Seqera was spun out of the Centre for Genomic Regulation, a biomedical research center based out of Barcelona, where it was built as the commercial application of Nextflow, open-source workflow and data orchestration software originally created by the founders of Seqera, Evan Floden and Paolo Di Tommaso, at the CGR.

Floden, Seqera’s CEO, told TechCrunch that he and Di Tommaso were motivated to create Seqera in 2018 after seeing Nextflow gain a lot of traction in the life science community, and subsequently getting a lot of repeat requests for further customization and features. Both Nextflow and Seqera have seen a lot of usage: the Nextflow runtime has been downloaded over 2 million times, the company said, while Seqera’s commercial cloud offering has now processed more than 5 billion tasks.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a classic example of the acute challenge that Seqera (and by association Nextflow) aims to address in the scientific community. With Covid-19 outbreaks happening globally, each time a test for Covid-19 is processed in a lab, live genetic samples of the virus get collected. Taken together, these millions of tests represent a goldmine of information about the coronavirus and how it is mutating, and when and where it is doing so. For a new virus about which so little is understood and that is still persisting, that’s invaluable data.

So the problem is not if the data exists for better insights (it does); it is that it’s nearly impossible to use more legacy tools to view that data as a holistic body. It’s in too many places, and there is just too much of it, and it’s growing every day (and changing every day), which means that traditional approaches of porting data to a centralized location to run analytics on it just wouldn’t be efficient, and would cost a fortune to execute.

That is where Segera comes in. The company’s technology treats each source of data across different clouds as a salient pipeline which can be merged and analyzed as a single body, without that data ever leaving the boundaries of the infrastructure where it already exists. Customised to focus on genomic troves, scientists can then query that information for more insights. Seqera was central to the discovery of both the alpha and delta variants of the virus, and work is still ongoing as Covid-19 continues to hammer the globe.

Seqera is being used in other kinds of medical applications, such as in the realm of so-called “precision medicine.” This is emerging as a very big opportunity in complex fields like oncology: cancer mutates and behaves differently depending on many factors, including genetic differences of the patients themselves, which means that treatments are less effective if they are “one size fits all.”

Increasingly, we are seeing approaches that leverage machine learning and big data analytics to better understand individual cancers and how they develop for different populations, to subsequently create more personalized treatments, and Seqera comes into play as a way to sequence that kind of data.

This also highlights something else notable about the Seqera platform: it is used directly by the people who are analyzing the data — that is, the researchers and scientists themselves, without data specialists necessarily needing to get involved. This was a practical priority for the company, Floden told me, but nonetheless, it’s an interesting detail of how the platform is inadvertently part of that bigger trend of “no-code/low-code” software, designed to make highly technical processes usable by non-technical people.

It’s both the existing opportunity, and how Seqera might be applied in the future across other kinds of data that lives in the cloud, that makes it an interesting company, and it seems an interesting investment, too.

“Advancements in machine learning, and the proliferation of volumes and types of data, are leading to increasingly more applications of computer science in life sciences and biology,” said Kirill Tasilov, principal at Talis Capital, in a statement. “While this is incredibly exciting from a humanity perspective, it’s also skyrocketing the cost of experiments to sometimes millions of dollars per project as they become computer-heavy and complex to run. Nextflow is already a ubiquitous solution in this space and Seqera is driving those capabilities at an enterprise level – and in doing so, is bringing the entire life sciences industry into the modern age. We’re thrilled to be a part of Seqera’s journey.”

“With the explosion of biological data from cheap, commercial DNA sequencing, there is a pressing need to analyse increasingly growing and complex quantities of data,” added Arnaud Bakker, principal at Speedinvest. “Seqera’s open and cloud-first framework provides an advanced tooling kit allowing organisations to scale complex deployments of data analysis and enable data-driven life sciences solutions.”

Although medicine and life sciences are perhaps Seqera’s most obvious and timely applications today, the framework originally designed for genetics and biology can be applied to are a number of other areas: AI training, image analysis and astronomy are three early use cases, Floden said. Astronomy is perhaps very apt, since it seems that the sky is the limit.

“We think we are in the century of biology,” Floden said. “It’s the center of activity and it’s becoming data-centric, and we are here to build services around that.”

Seqera is not disclosing its valuation with this round.

#alpha, #articles, #barcelona, #big-data, #bioinformatics, #ceo, #chan-zuckerberg-initiative, #computing, #data-analysis, #databases, #dna-sequencing, #enterprise, #europe, #funding, #health, #machine-learning, #mark-zuckerberg, #north-america, #pharmaceutical, #priscilla-chan, #science, #talis-capital, #tc

Fractory raises $9M to rethink the manufacturing supply chain for metalworks

The manufacturing industry took a hard hit from the Covid-19 pandemic, but there are signs of how it is slowly starting to come back into shape — helped in part by new efforts to make factories more responsive to the fluctuations in demand that come with the ups and downs of grappling with the shifting economy, virus outbreaks and more. Today, a businesses that is positioning itself as part of that new guard of flexible custom manufacturing — a startup called Fractory — is announcing a Series A of $9 million (€7.7 million) that underscores the trend.

The funding is being led by OTB Ventures, a leading European investor focussed on early growth, post-product, high-tech start-ups, with existing investors Trind VenturesSuperhero CapitalUnited Angels VCStartup Wise Guys and Verve Ventures also participating.

Founded in Estonia but now based in Manchester, England — historically a strong hub for manufacturing in the country, and close to Fractory’s customers — Fractory has built a platform to make it easier for those that need to get custom metalwork to upload and order it, and for factories to pick up new customers and jobs based on those requests.

Fractory’s Series A will be used to continue expanding its technology, and to bring more partners into its ecosystem.

To date, the company has worked with more than 24,000 customers and hundreds of manufacturers and metal companies, and altogether it has helped crank out more than 2.5 million metal parts.

To be clear, Fractory isn’t a manufacturer itself, nor does it have no plans to get involved in that part of the process. Rather, it is in the business of enterprise software, with a marketplace for those who are able to carry out manufacturing jobs — currently in the area of metalwork — to engage with companies that need metal parts made for them, using intelligent tools to identify what needs to be made and connecting that potential job to the specialist manufacturers that can make it.

The challenge that Fractory is solving is not unlike that faced in a lot of industries that have variable supply and demand, a lot of fragmentation, and generally an inefficient way of sourcing work.

As Martin Vares, Fractory’s founder and MD, described it to me, companies who need metal parts made might have one factory they regularly work with. But if there are any circumstances that might mean that this factory cannot carry out a job, then the customer needs to shop around and find others to do it instead. This can be a time-consuming, and costly process.

“It’s a very fragmented market and there are so many ways to manufacture products, and the connection between those two is complicated,” he said. “In the past, if you wanted to outsource something, it would mean multiple emails to multiple places. But you can’t go to 30 different suppliers like that individually. We make it into a one-stop shop.”

On the other side, factories are always looking for better ways to fill out their roster of work so there is little downtime — factories want to avoid having people paid to work with no work coming in, or machinery that is not being used.

“The average uptime capacity is 50%,” Vares said of the metalwork plants on Fractory’s platform (and in the industry in general). “We have a lot more machines out there than are being used. We really want to solve the issue of leftover capacity and make the market function better and reduce waste. We want to make their factories more efficient and thus sustainable.”

The Fractory approach involves customers — today those customers are typically in construction, or other heavy machinery industries like ship building, aerospace and automotive — uploading CAD files specifying what they need made. These then get sent out to a network of manufacturers to bid for and take on as jobs — a little like a freelance marketplace, but for manufacturing jobs. About 30% of those jobs are then fully automated, while the other 70% might include some involvement from Fractory to help advise customers on their approach, including in the quoting of the work, manufacturing, delivery and more. The plan is to build in more technology to improve the proportion that can be automated, Vares said. That would include further investment in RPA, but also computer vision to better understand what a customer is looking to do, and how best to execute it.

Currently Fractory’s platform can help fill orders for laser cutting and metal folding services, including work like CNC machining, and it’s next looking at industrial additive 3D printing. It will also be looking at other materials like stonework and chip making.

Manufacturing is one of those industries that has in some ways been very slow to modernize, which in a way is not a huge surprise: equipment is heavy and expensive, and generally the maxim of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies in this world. That’s why companies that are building more intelligent software to at least run that legacy equipment more efficiently are finding some footing. Xometry, a bigger company out of the U.S. that also has built a bridge between manufacturers and companies that need things custom made, went public earlier this year and now has a market cap of over $3 billion. Others in the same space include Hubs (which is now part of Protolabs) and Qimtek, among others.

One selling point that Fractory has been pushing is that it generally aims to keep manufacturing local to the customer to reduce the logistics component of the work to reduce carbon emissions, although as the company grows it will be interesting to see how and if it adheres to that commitment.

In the meantime, investors believe that Fractory’s approach and fast growth are strong signs that it’s here to stay and make an impact in the industry.

“Fractory has created an enterprise software platform like no other in the manufacturing setting. Its rapid customer adoption is clear demonstrable feedback of the value that Fractory brings to manufacturing supply chains with technology to automate and digitise an ecosystem poised for innovation,” said Marcin Hejka in a statement. “We have invested in a great product and a talented group of software engineers, committed to developing a product and continuing with their formidable track record of rapid international growth

#3d-printing, #aerospace, #articles, #business, #cad, #economy, #emerging-technologies, #enterprise, #entrepreneurship, #estonia, #europe, #fractory, #funding, #hardware, #industrial-design, #laser, #manchester, #manufacturing, #maryland, #metal, #outsourcing, #series-a, #startup-company, #startup-wise-guys, #tc, #telecommuting, #united-angels-vc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #xometry

Sphere raises $2M to help employees lobby for Green 401(k) plans

In the United States, a 401(k) plan is an employer-sponsored defined-contribution pension account. However, with legacy institutional investing, most of these have at least some level of fossil fuel involvement and let’s face it, very few of us really know. Now a startup plans to change that.

California-based startup Sphere wants to get employees to ask their employers for investment options that are not invested in fossil fuels. To do that it’s offering financial products that make it easier – it says – for employers to offer fossil-free investment options in their 401(k) plans. This could be quite a big movement. Sphere says there are over $35 trillion in assets in retirement savings in the US as of Q1 2021.

It’s now raised a $2M funding round led by climatetech-focused VC Pale Blue Dot led the investment round. Also participating were climate-focused investors including Sundeep Ahuja of Climate Capital. Sphere is also a registered ‘Public Benefit Corporation’ allowing it to campaign in public about climate change.

Alex Wright-Gladstein, CEO and founder of Sphere said: “We are proud to be partnering with Pale Blue Dot on our mission to reverse climate change by making our money talk. Heidi, Hampus, and Joel have the experience and drive to help us make big changes on the short 7 year time scale that we have to limit warming to 1.5°C.” Wright-Gladstein has also teamed up with sustainable investing veteran Jason Britton of Reflection Asset Management and BITA custom indexes.

Wright-Gladstein said she learned the difficulty of offering fossil-free options in 401(k) plans when running her previous startup, Ayar Labs. She tried to offer a fossil-free option for employees, but found out it took would take three years to get a single fossil-free option in the plan.

Heidi Lindvall, General Partner at Pale Blue Dot said: “We are big believers in Sphere’s unique approach of raising awareness through a social movement while offering a range of low-cost products that address the structural issues in fossil-free 401(k) investing.”

#articles, #ayar-labs, #california, #ceo, #climate-change, #corporate-social-responsibility, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #general-partner, #heidi-lindvall, #pale-blue-dot, #private-equity, #sphere, #startup-company, #tc, #united-states

TikTok’s new Creator Marketplace API lets influencer marketing companies tap into first-party data

TikTok is making it easier for brands and agencies to work with the influencers using its service. The company is rolling out a new “TikTok Creator Marketplace API,” which allows marketing companies to integrate more directly with TikTok’s Creator Marketplace, the video app’s in-house influencer marketing platform.

On the Creator Marketplace website, launched in late 2019, marketers have been able to discover top TikTok personalities for their brand campaigns, then create and manage those campaigns and track their performance.

The new API, meanwhile, allows partnered marketing companies to access TikTok’s first-party data about audience demographics, growth trends, best-performing videos, and real-time campaign reporting (e.g. views, likes, shares, comments, engagement, etc.) for the first time.

They can then bring this data back into their own platforms, to augment the insights they’re already providing to their own customer base.

TikTok is not officially announcing the API until later in September, but it is allowing its alpha partners to discuss their early work.

One such partner is Capitv8, which tested the API with a NRF top 50 retailer on one of their first TikTok campaigns. The retailer wanted to discover a diverse and inclusive group of TikTok creators to partner with on a new collaboration and wanted help with launching its own TikTok channel. Captiv8 says the branded content received nearly 10 million views, and the campaign resulted in a “significant increase” in several key metrics, which performed about the Nielsen average. This included familiarity (+4% above average), affinity (+6%), purchase intent (+7%) and recommendation intent (+9%).

Image Credits: TikTok Creator Marketplace website

Capitv8 is now working with TikTok’s API to pull in audience demographics, to centralize influencer offers and activations, and to provide tools to boost branded content and monitor campaign performance. On that last front, the API allows the company to pull in real-time metrics from the TikTok Creator Marketplace API — which means Capitv8 is now one of only a handful of third-party companies with access to TikTok first-party data.

Another early alpha partner is Influential, who shared it’s also leveraging the API to access first-party insights on audience demographics, growth trends, best-performing videos, and more, to help its customer base of Fortune 1000 brands to identify the right creators for both native and paid advertising campaigns.

One partner it worked with was DoorDash, who launched multiple campaigns on TikTok with Influential’s help. It’s also planning to work with McDonald’s USA on several new campaigns that will run this year, including those focused on the chain’s new Crispy Chicken Sandwich and the return of Spicy McNuggets.

Other early alpha partners include Whalar and INCA. The latter is currently only available in the U.K. and its integration stems from the larger TikTok global partnership with WPP, announced in February. That deal provided WPP agencies with early access to new advertising products marketing API integrations, and new AR offerings, among other things.

Creator marketplaces are now common to social media platforms with large influencer communities as this has become a standard way to advertise to online consumers, particular the younger generation. Facebook today offers its Brands Collabs Manager, for both Facebook and Instagram; YouTube has BrandConnect; while Snapchat recently announced a marketplace to connect brands with Lens creators. These type of in-house platforms make it easier for marketers to work with the wider influencer community by offering trusted data on metrics that matter to brands’ own ROI, rather than relying on self-reported data from influencers or on data they have to manually collect themselves. And as campaigns run, marketers can compare how well their partnered creators are able to drive results to inform their future collaborations.

TikTok isn’t making a formal announcement about its new API at this time, telling TechCrunch the technology is still in pilot testing phases for the time being.

“Creators are the lifeblood of our platform, and we’re constantly thinking of new ways to make it easy for them to connect and collaborate with brands. We’re thrilled to be integrating with an elite group of trusted partners to help brands discover and work with diverse creators who can share their message in an authentic way,” said Melissa Yang, TikTok’s Head of Ecosystem Partnerships, in a statement provided to select marketing company partners.

 

#advertising-tech, #alpha, #api, #apps, #articles, #bytedance, #developer, #doordash, #elite, #head, #partner, #software, #tiktok, #united-kingdom, #wpp

Offchain Labs raises $120 million to hide Ethereum’s shortcomings with its Arbitrum product

As the broader crypto world enjoys a late summer surge in enthusiasm, more and more blockchain developers who have taken the plunge are bumping into the blaring scaling issues faced by decentralized apps on the Ethereum blockchain. The popular network has seen its popularity explode in the past year but its transaction volume has stayed frustratingly stable as the network continues to operate near its limits, leading to slower transaction speeds and hefty fees on the crowded chain.

Ethereum’s core developers have been planning out significant upgrades to the blockchain to rectify these issues, but even in the crypto world’s early stages, transitioning the network is a daunting, lengthy task. That’s why developers are looking to so-called Layer 2 rollup scaling solutions, which sit on top of the Ethereum network and handle transactions separately in a cheaper, faster way, while still recording the transactions to the Ethereum blockchain, albeit in batches.

The Layer 2 landscape is early, but crucial to the continued scalability of Ethereum. As a result, there’s been quite a bit of passionate chatter among blockchain developers regarding the early players in the space. Offchain Labs has been developing one particularly hyped rollup network called Arbitrum One, which has built up notable support and momentum since it beta-launched to developers in May, with about 350 teams signing up for access, the company says.

They’ve attracted some high-profile partnerships including Uniswap and Chainlink who have promised early support for the solution. The company has also quickly piqued investor interest. The startup tells TechCrunch it raised a $20 million Series A in April of this year, quickly followed up by a $100 million Series B led by Lightspeed Venture Partners which closed this month and valued the company at $1.2 billion. Other new investors include Polychain Capital, Ribbit Capital, Redpoint Ventures, Pantera Capital, Alameda Research and Mark Cuban.

Offchain Labs co-founders Felton, Goldfeder and Kalodner

It’s been a fairly lengthy ride for the Arbitrum technology to public access. The tech was first developed at Princeton — you can find a YouTube video where the tech is first discussed in earnest back in early 2015.  Longtime Professor Ed Felton and his co-founders CEO Steven Goldfeder and CTO Harry Kalodner detailed a deeper underlying vision in a 2018 research paper before licensing the tech from Princeton and building out the company. Felton previously served as the deputy U.S. chief technology officer in the Obama White House, and — alongside Goldfeder — authored a top textbook on cryptocurrencies.

After a lengthy period under wraps and a few months of limited access, the startup is ready to launch the Arbitrum One mainnet publicly, they tell TechCrunch.

This team’s scaling solution has few direct competitors — a16z-backed Optimism is its most notable rival — but Arbitrum’s biggest advantage is likely the smooth compatibility it boasts with decentralized applications designed to run on Ethereum, compared with competitors that may require more heavy-lifting on the developer’s part to be full compatibility with their rollup solution. That selling point could be a big one as Arbitrum looks to court support across the Ethereum network and crypto exchanges for its product, though most Ethereum developers are well aware of what’s at stake broadly.

“There’s just so much more demand than there is supply on Ethereum,” Goldfeder tells TechCrunch. “Rollups give you the security derived from Ethereum but a much better experience in terms of costs.”

#arbitrum, #articles, #blockchain, #blockchains, #cardano, #chief-technology-officer, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cto, #decentralization, #ethereum, #joseph-lubin, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #offchain-labs, #pantera-capital, #polychain-capital, #redpoint-ventures, #ribbit-capital, #tc, #technology, #uniswap, #united-states, #white-house

Peak raises $75M for a platform that helps non-tech companies build AI applications

As artificial intelligence continues to weave its way into more enterprise applications, a startup that has built a platform to help businesses, especially non-tech organizations, build more customized AI decision making tools for themselves has picked up some significant growth funding. Peak AI, a startup out of Manchester, England, that has built a “decision intelligence” platform, has raised $75 million, money that it will be using to continue building out its platform as well as to expand into new markets, and hire some 200 new people in the coming quarters.

The Series C is bringing a very big name investor on board. It is being led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2, with previous backers Oxx, MMC Ventures, Praetura Ventures, and Arete also participating. That group participated in Peak’s Series B of $21 million, which only closed in February of this year. The company has now raised $118 million; it is not disclosing its valuation.

(This latest funding round was rumored last week, although it was not confirmed at the time and the total amount was not accurate.)

Richard Potter, Peak’s CEO, said the rapid follow-on in funding was based on inbound interest, in part because of how the company has been doing.

Peak’s so-called Decision Intelligence platform is used by retailers, brands, manufacturers and others to help monitor stock levels, build personalized customer experiences, as well as other processes that can stand to have some degree of automation to work more efficiently, but also require sophistication to be able to measure different factors against each other to provide more intelligent insights. Its current customer list includes the likes of Nike, Pepsico, KFC, Molson Coors, Marshalls, Asos, and Speedy, and in the last 12 months revenues have more than doubled.

The opportunity that Peak is addressing goes a little like this: AI has become a cornerstone of many of the most advanced IT applications and business processes of our time, but if you are an organization — and specifically one not built around technology — your access to AI and how you might use it will come by way of applications built by others, not necessarily tailored to you, and the costs of building more tailored solutions can often be prohibitively high. Peak claims that those using its tools have seen revenues on average rise 5%; return on ad spend double; supply chain costs reduce by 5%; and inventory holdings (a big cost for companies) reduce by 12%.

Peak’s platform, I should point out, is not exactly a “no-code” approach to solving that problem — not yet at least: it’s aimed at data scientists and engineers at those organizations so that they can easily identify different processes in their operations where they might benefit from AI tools, and to build those out with relatively little heavy lifting.

There have also been different market factors that have also played a role. Covid-19, for example, and the boost that we have seen both in increasing “digital transformation” in businesses, and making e-commerce processes more efficient to cater to rising consumer demand and more strained supply chains, have all led to businesses being more open to and keen to invest in more tools to improve their automation intelligently.

This, combined with Peak AI’s growing revenues, is part of what interested SoftBank. The investor has been long on AI for a while, but it has been building out a section of its investment portfolio to provide strategic services to the kinds of businesses that it invests in. Those include e-commerce and other consumer-facing businesses, which make up one of the main segments of Peak’s customer base.

“In Peak we have a partner with a shared vision that the future enterprise will run on a centralized AI software platform capable of optimizing entire value chains,” Max Ohrstrand, senior investor for SoftBank Investment Advisers, said in a statement. “To realize this a new breed of platform is needed and we’re hugely impressed with what Richard and the excellent team have built at Peak. We’re delighted to be supporting them on their way to becoming the category-defining, global leader in Decision Intelligence.”

Longer term, it will be interesting to see how and if Peak evolves to be extend its platform to a wider set of users at the organizations that are already its customers.

Potter said he believes that “those with technical predispositions” will be the most likely users of its products in the near and medium term. You might assume that would cut out, for example, marketing managers, although the general trend in a lot of software tools has precisely been to build versions of the same tools used by data scientists for these tell technical people to engage in the process of building what it is that they want to use. “I do think it’s important to democratize the ability to stream data pipelines, and to be able to optimize those to work in applications,” he added.

#ai, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #automation, #business-process-management, #ceo, #e-commerce, #enterprise, #europe, #funding, #kfc, #manchester, #mmc-ventures, #nike, #partner, #peak, #peak-ai, #pepsico, #science-and-technology, #series-b, #softbank-group, #softbank-vision-fund, #software-platform, #tc, #united-kingdom, #vodafone

Bright raises $15M for its live video platform that lets you Zoom with top creators

Bright, a live video platform that lets fans Zoom with their favorite creators and celebs, has raised $15 million in new funding, the company announced today. The round was co-led by co-founder and talent manager Guy Oseary’s Sound Ventures, the fund he founded with Ashton Kutcher. RIT Capital and Regah Ventures also co-led.

Other investors in the new round include Marc Benioff’s TIME Ventures, Globo Ventures, Norwest Venture Partners, Shawn Mendes & Manager Andrew Gertler’s AG Ventures, as well as Jeff Lawson, CEO and co-founder of Twilio.

In addition, a number of artists, performers, actors and other celebrities also invested, Bright says, including Rachel Zoe, Drew and Jonathan Scott, Judd Apatow, Ashton Kutcher, Amy Schumer, Bethenny Frankel, and Ryan Tedder. Meanwhile, Jessica Alba, Kane Brown and Maria Sharapova are joining the company as advisors.

Bright, which first debuted in May, was co-founded by Madonna and U2 talent manager Guy Oseary along with early YouTube product manager Michael Powers, who had previously launched the YouTube Channels feature while at Google. The startup’s premise is to tap into the growing creator economy in a way that allows creators to better monetize their success outside of ad-supported networks, like YouTube, so they can grow their own business.

The platform itself is built on top of Zoom — a choice that not only saves Bright from starting from scratch for its real-time video technology, but also one that leverages the broad adoption Zoom has since seen due to the pandemic.

At launch, Bright announced a lineup that included over 200 prominent creators who were set to host ticketed online events where they share their stories or expertise, engage in interviews, offer advice and more. Today, Bright says now over 300 notable names have joined the service to engage with fans and continue to build their brand. The list includes Madonna, Naomi Campbell, D-Nice, the D’Amelio Sisters, Laura Dern, Deepak Chopra, Lindsey Vonn, Diego Boneta, Jason Bolden, Yris Palmer, Cat & Nat, Ronnie2K, and Chef Ludo Lefebvre, and others. Even more are on board to host future sessions.

Unlike social media creator tools, Bright is focused on knowledge-sharing rather than just gaining likes or follows. For example, one the first sessions featured actor Laura Dern speaking about personal growth, while another featured streamer and online creator Ronnie2K hosting a series about building a career in gaming. In other words, Bright doesn’t only showcase Hollywood entertainment or top artists — it’s open to anyone whose fan base would be willing to pay to hear them talk.

Today, there are sessions across a variety of interests and topics, organized into areas like craft, home, money, culture, body and mind.

Image Credits: Bright session example

Bright itself generates revenue by taking a 20% commission on creator revenue, which is somewhat lower than the traditional marketplace split of 30/70 (platform/creator) but higher than some of the newer platforms available today, like Clubhouse and its commission-free direct payments.

The startup says the funding is being used to help roll out Creator Studio, a new suite of creator tools for managing learning sessions, audience communication, and revenue performance. These sorts of analytics and tools are aimed at serving creators who are working to build a business through live sessions, in addition to growing their fan base. The funds will also help Bright to add new interactive features, like instant polls and the ability to share learning materials with attendees, it says.

These features could potentially help Bright to stand out from a growing number of competitors looking to serve online creators, which today includes major tech companies, like YouTube, Facebook, TikTok and Twitter. However, Oseary’s ability to leverage his personal network to pull in big names is, for now, the more notable differentiator.

“As a believer in lifelong learning, I’m proud to be investing in a platform like Bright, offering audiences the unique opportunity to learn directly from the artists and experts they admire the most,” said new investor, director and producer, Judd Apatow, in a statement. “Through Bright, I can directly connect and share my knowledge with fellow writers, aspiring directors and lovers of comedy,” he added.

“It’s inspiring to have the support of incredible investors as well as these notable artists and entrepreneurs. All our partners share Bright’s vision that people want to level up their lives by learning directly from those they admire,” Bright CEO Michael Powers said, in an announcement. “Through Bright, talent can better engage authentically with audiences by sharing their own knowledge and bringing their many interests and passions to the foreground. We are excited to roll out our new features to continue elevating our platform and mission” he said.

#advisors, #amy-schumer, #apps, #articles, #ashton-kutcher, #chef, #creator-studio, #creator-tools, #deepak-chopra, #google, #guy-oseary, #jeff-lawson, #jessica-alba, #marc-benioff, #media, #michael-powers, #norwest-venture-partners, #online-creators, #online-events, #product-manager, #recent-funding, #social, #social-media, #software, #startups, #time-ventures, #twilio, #twitter, #video-hosting, #youtube

BreachQuest emerges from stealth with $4.4M to modernize incident response

BreachQuest, an early-stage startup with a founding team of cybersecurity experts building a modern incident response platform, has emerged from stealth with $4.4 million in seed funding.

The investment was raised from Slow Ventures, Lookout founder Kevin Mahaffey, and Tinder co-founders Sean Rad and Justin Mateen, who described BreachQuest as having a “disruptive vision and a world-class team.”

The latter is certainly true. BreachQuest is made up of former U.S. Cyber Command, National Security Agency, and Department of Defense employees that it sees as its biggest competitive advantage. The second is its Priori platform, which the Texas-based company believes will re-engineer the incident response process and move incident preparedness into the future.

Currently, it takes most organizations thereabouts 280 days to detect a breach, the startup says, and the slow recovery process that typically follows means this largely manual process costs the average U.S. business just shy of $4 million. The startup’s Priori platform uses aims to improve on what the team sees as “unacceptable industry standards,” enabling organizations to detect intrusions and compromises far faster. That allows companies to near-instantly respond and contain the compromise, the startup says.

BreachQuest’s co-founder and CTO is Jake Williams, a former NSA hacker and founder of Rendition Infosec, an Augusta, Ga.-based cybersecurity company that was acquired by BreachQuest. Williams told TechCrunch that while most other incident response firms are focused on preventing incidents, BreachQuest is focusing on preparing for the inevitable.

“It’s a reality that determined adversaries will get into your network regardless of what tools you put in place to keep them out,” he says. “That’s not [fear, uncertainty and doubt], it’s just a reality that if you’re targeted you’re going to be compromised. That’s what our mission is all about: preparation to facilitate response.”

BreachQuest, which will also assess the cybersecurity risks posed to an organization by potential mergers and acquisitions, believes it has little competition in the market right now because incident preparation is a tough market.

“We continuously see statistics about how IT managers think their security controls will prevent them from being breached, so selling incident response preparation tools and services to those organizations is a hard sell,” Williams said. “But given the landscape of ransomware and other cybersecurity threats being regular front-page news, we think the market is ready.”

BreachQuest will use its $4.4 million seed investment to accelerate the rollout and development of its Priori platform, with future plans to speed up its forensic evidence collection processes and improve response coordination across its disparate team members.

“Incident response is chaotic and it’s hard for people who infrequently work in these situations to address all the issues identified throughout the investigation,” Williams said. “Fundamentally, the problem is a combination of the difficulties getting the right evidence in a timely manner and understanding the status of the response.”

Read more:

#articles, #computer-security, #cybercrime, #funding, #lookout, #malware, #security, #texas, #tinder

Google says geofence warrants make up one-quarter of all US demands

For the first time, Google has published the number of geofence warrants it’s historically received from U.S. authorities, providing a rare glimpse into how frequently these controversial warrants are issued.

The figures, published Thursday, reveal that Google has received thousands of geofence warrants each quarter since 2018, and at times accounted for about one-quarter of all U.S. warrants that Google receives. The data shows that the vast majority of geofence warrants are obtained by local and state authorities, with federal law enforcement accounting for just 4% of all geofence warrants served on the technology giant.

According to the data, Google received 982 geofence warrants in 2018, 8,396 in 2019, and 11,554 in 2020. But the figures only provide a small glimpse into the volume of warrants received, and did not break down how often it pushes back on overly broad requests. A spokesperson for Google would not comment on the record.

Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP), which led efforts by dozens of civil rights groups to lobby for the release of these numbers, commended Google for releasing the numbers.

“Geofence warrants are unconstitutionally broad and invasive, and we look forward to the day they are outlawed completely.” said Cahn.

Geofence warrants are also known as “reverse-location” warrants, since they seek to identify people of interest who were in the near-vicinity at the time a crime was committed. Police do this by asking a court to order Google, which stores vast amounts of location data to drive its advertising business, to turn over details of who was in a geographic area, such as a radius of a few hundred feet at a certain point in time, to help identify potential suspects.

Google has long shied away from providing these figures, in part because geofence warrants are largely thought to be unique to Google. Law enforcement has long known that Google stores vast troves of location data on its users in a database called Sensorvault, first revealed by The New York Times in 2019.

Sensorvault is said to have the detailed location data on “at least hundreds of millions of devices worldwide,” collected from users’ phones when they use an Android device with location data switched on, or Google services like Google Maps and Google Photo, and even Google search results. In 2018, the Associated Press reported that Google could still collect users’ locations even when their location history is “paused.”

But critics have argued that geofence warrants are unconstitutional because the authorities compel Google to turn over data on everyone else who was in the same geographic area.

Worse, these warrants have been known to ensnare entirely innocent people.

TechCrunch reported earlier this year that Minneapolis police used a geofence warrant to identify individuals accused of sparking violence in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd last year. One person on the ground who was filming and documenting the protests had his location data requested by police for being close to the violence. NBC News reported last year how one Gainesville, Fla. resident whose information was given by Google to police investigating a burglary, but was able to prove his innocence thanks to an app on his phone that tracked his fitness activity.

Although the courts have yet to deliberate widely on the legality of geofence warrants, some states are drafting laws to push back against geofence warrants. New York lawmakers proposed a bill last year that would ban geofence warrants in the state, amid fears that police could use these warrants to target protesters — as what happened in Minneapolis.

Cahn, who helped introduce the New York bill last year, said the newly released data will “help spur lawmakers to outlaw the technology.”

“Let’s be clear, the number of geofence warrants should be zero,” he said.

#android, #articles, #computing, #databases, #florida, #george-floyd, #google, #google-maps, #law-enforcement, #minneapolis, #new-york, #privacy, #security, #spokesperson, #technology, #the-new-york-times, #united-states, #warrant

OnlyFans’ porn ban is crypto’s opportunity of a lifetime

Today, OnlyFans dropped the massive bombshell that it will be banning “sexually explicit content” from the app later this year. This is obviously a wildly seismic shift for OnlyFans, which completely disrupted the adult content industry and gave performers a path towards greater independence by allowing them to connect directly with their fans via subscriptions. This shutdown is also the opportunity of a lifetime for the crypto industry which could capitalize on the shutdown and a recent wave of increasingly consumer-friendly crypto payments infrastructure products to create a platform that won’t crumble under the influence of payment providers.

OnlyFans, which has been trying to raise at a unicorn valuation and running into plenty of trouble doing so despite huge revenues, didn’t mince words on the reasoning for today’s fundamental change. “These changes are to comply with the requests of our banking partners and payout providers,” a statement on the news from OnlyFans partially read.

Despite popular culture’s ongoing destigmatization of sex work and adult content, banking institutions are still fundamentally conservative and wary to handle money flowing through these platforms. Most of the operators of these platform are forced to deal with constant uneasiness of knowing their platforms might one day lose favor among these providers and instantly lose everything. All the while, “vice clauses” present in plenty of venture capital firms’ underpinnings keep them from operating in these spaces as well and prevent these platforms from accessing growth capital. It’s clear that adult content platforms are probably never going to have a friendly relationship with these financial institutions and it’s likely time for the platforms — and the creators using them — to move on.

In a lot of ways, OnlyFans dumping porn seems like an outright betrayal of their creator network and one those creators will be sure to remember when embracing whatever copycats spring up in their wake. They are likely going to look at new platforms with renewed skepticism in how they’ll handle payment provider standoffs, but there likely isn’t going to be a different outcome for ambitious platforms looking to grow. That would likely be a different situation for crypto native platforms, but given the tiny adoption, it’s still a substantial risk for creators to embrace a platform their fans might not know how to pay for content on.

The porn industry has been embracing crypto payments, albeit slowly. In 2018, Pornhub first announced that they would begin accepting cryptocurrency payments, fast forward to 2020 when Visa and MasterCard dumped the platform, now crypto payments and ACH bank transfers are the only ways to pay for its premium subscription service. There are already a few crypto platform players in this space like CumRocket and SpankChain catering to niche audiences (and probably in need of rebranding), but with the OnlyFans juggernaut out of the way, there might actually be a space for an existing or upstart player to innovate and capture this market.

The real challenge is in making it simple to onboard new users to both a new platform and potentially their first crypto wallet — while staying compliant with regulatory guidelines — at a time when more conventional web payment structures have gotten so streamlined and free adult content is just as prolific as ever. Know your customer (KYC) guidelines that push users to upload their passport or driver’s license to verify crypto purchases probably aren’t the easiest onboarding ask for a new crypto porn site, but as the market matures a bit and the challenges of a user setting up their first wallet are decoupled from the onboarding process for the platform, there are plenty of benefits to be realized.

Porn has always been a launchpad of sorts for new technologies. While the popularity of crypto has surged in recent months and nearly eclipsed $2 trillion in total assets, crypto penetration among the apps that people are actually using remains extremely low. As new solutions and startups pop up aiming to demystify buying and sending crypto, it feels like there’s a chance the industry could be in the perfect place to fill the void left by OnlyFans’ exit and build a more innovative platform in its image that goes all-in on crypto.

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UIPath CEO Daniel Dines is coming to TC Sessions: SaaS to talk RPA and automation

UIPath came seemingly out of nowhere in the last several years, going public last year in a successful IPO during which it raised over $527 million. It raised $2 billion in private money prior to that with its final private valuation coming in at an amazing $35 billion. UIPath CEO Daniel Dines will be joining us on a panel on automation at TC Sessions: Saas on October 27th.

The company has been able capture all this investor attention doing something called Robotic Process Automation, which provides a way to automate a series of highly mundane tasks. It has become quite popular, especially to help bring a level of automation to legacy systems that might not be able to handle more modern approaches to automation involving artificial intelligence and machine learning. In 2019 Gartner found that RPA was the fastest growing category in enterprise software.

In point of fact,  UIPath didn’t actually come out of nowhere. It was founded in 2005 as a consulting company and transitioned to software over the years. The company took its first VC funding, a modest $1.5 million seed round in 2015, according to Crunchbase data.

As RPA found its market, the startup began to take off, raising gobs of money including a $568 million round in April 2019 and $750 million in its final private raise in February 2021.

Dines will be appearing on a panel discussing the role of automation in the enterprise. Certainly, the pandemic drove home the need for increased automation as masses of office workers moved to work from home, a trend that is likely to continue even after the pandemic slows.

As the RPA market leader, he is uniquely positioned to discuss how this software and other similar types will evolve in the coming years and how it could combine with related trends like no-code and process mapping. Dines will be joined on the panel by investor Laela Sturdy from Capital G and ServiceNow’s Dave Wright where they will discuss the state of the automation market, why it’s so hot and where the next opportunities could be.

In addition to our discussion with Dines, the conference will also include Databricks’ Ali Ghodsi, Salesforce’s Kathy Baxter and Puppet’s Abby Kearns, as well as investors Casey Aylward and Sarah Guo, among others. We hope you’ll join us. It’s going to be a stimulating day.

Buy your pass now to save up to $100. We can’t wait to see you in October!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: SaaS 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

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InfoSum raises $65M Series B as organizations embrace secure data sharing

InfoSum, a London-based startup that provides a decentralized platform for secure data sharing between organizations, has secured a $65 million Series B funding round led by Chrysalis Investments.

The investment comes less than a year after InfoSum closed a $15.1 million Series A round co-led by Upfront Ventures and IA Ventures. Since, the data privacy startup has tripled its revenue, doubled its employee base, and secured more than fifty new customers, including AT&T, Disney, Omnicom and Merkle.

Its growth was boosted by businesses that are increasingly focused on data privacy, largely as a result of the mass shift to remote working and cloud-based collaboration necessitated by the pandemic. InfoSum’s data collaboration platform uses patented technology to connect customer records between and amongst companies, without moving or sharing data. It helps organizations to alleviate security concerns, according to the startup, and is compliant with all current privacy laws, including GDPR.

The platform was bolstered earlier this year with the launch of InfoSum Bridge, a product which it claims significantly expands the customer identity linking capabilities of its platform. It is designed to connect advertising identifiers along with its own “bunkered” data sets to better facilitate ad targeting based on first-party data.

“The technology that enables companies to safely and securely compare customer data is thankfully entering a new phase, driven by privacy-conscious consumers and companies focused on value and control. InfoSum is proud to be leading the way,” said Brian Lesser, chairman and CEO of InfoSum. “Companies are looking for solutions to help resolve the existing friction and inefficiencies around data collaboration, and InfoSum is the company to drive this growth forward.”

The company, which says it is poised for “exponential growth” in 2021 as businesses continue to embrace privacy-focused tools and software, will use the newly raised investment to accelerate hiring across every aspect of its business, expand into new regions, and further the development of its platform.

Nick Halstead, who previously founded and led big data startup DataSift, founded InfoSum (then called CognitiveLogic) in 2015 with a vision to connect the world’s data without ever sharing it. The company currently has 80 employees spread across offices in the U.S., the U.K., and Germany.

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xentral, an ERP platform for SMBs, raises $75M Series B from Tiger Global and Meritech

Enterprise Resource Planning systems have traditionally been the preserve of larger companies, but in recent years the amount of data small medium sized businesses can generate has increased to the point where even SMEs/SMBs can get into the world of ERP. And that’s especially true for online-only businesses.

At the beginning of the year we covered the $20 million Series A funding of Xentral, a German startup that develops ERP for online small businesses, but it clearly didn’t plan to stop there.

It’s now raised a $75 million Series B funding from Tiger Global and Meritech, following up from existing investors Sequoia Capital, Visionaries Club (a B2B-focused VC out of Berlin), and Freigeist.

The cash will be used to enhance product, hire staff and expand the UK operation towards a more global ERP market, which is expected to reach $32 billion by 2023.

Speaking to me over a call, Benedikt Sauter, founder and CEO of central, said: “We hook into Shopify, eBay, Amazon, Magento, WooCommerce, and also CRM systems like Pipedrive to collect the software together in one place, and try to do it all automatically in the background so that companies can really focus. Our goal is that a business owner who decides on Friday that they need a flexible ERP can implement and configure xentral over the weekend and hand it over to their team on Monday.”

The German startup covers services like order and warehouse management, packaging, fulfillment, accounting, and sales management, and, right now, the majority of its 1,000 customers are in Germany. Customers include the likes of direct-to-consumer brands like YFood, KoRo, the Nu Company and Flyeralarm.

John Curtius, Partner at Tiger Global, said: “Our diligence has uncovered a delighted customer base at xentral and a product offering that has evolved into a true mission-critical platform for ecommerce merchants globally. We are excited to partner with such product visionaries as Benedikt and Claudia as the business scales to serve customers not only in Europe but around the globe in the future.”

Xentral was Sequoia’s first investment in Europe since officially opening for business in the region this year. Sequoia backed other European startups before, including Graphcore, Klarna, Tessian, Unity, UiPath, n8n, and Evervault — but all of those deals were done from the US. Sequoia and its new partner in Europe, Luciana Lixandru, is understood to be joining Xentral’s board along with Visionaries’ Robert Lacher.

Alex Clayton, General Partner at Meritech said: “Meritech invested in NetSuite in 2008 with the vision of bringing ERP to the cloud… We believe that xentral will bring automation to hundreds of thousands SME businesses, dramatically improving multi-channel processes and data management in an ever-growing e-commerce market.”

Sauter and his co-founder Claudia Sauter (who is also his wife) built the early prototype of central originally for their first business in computer hardware sales.

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