Logistics startup Stord raises $90M in Kleiner Perkins-led round, becomes a unicorn and acquires another company

When Kleiner Perkins led Stord’s $12.4 million Series A in 2019, its founders were in their early 20s and so passionate about their startup that they each dropped out of their respective schools to focus on growing the business.

Fast-forward two years and Stord — an Atlanta-based company that has developed a cloud supply chain — is raising more capital in a round again led by Kleiner Perkins.

This time, Stord has raised $90 million in a Series D round of funding at a post-money valuation of $1.125 billion — more than double the $510 million that the company was valued at when raising $65 million in a Series C financing just six months ago.

In fact, today’s funding marks Stord’s third since early December of 2020, when it raised its Series B led by Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, and brings the company’s total raised since its 2015 inception to $205 million.

Besides Kleiner Perkins, Lux Capital, D1 Capital, Palm Tree Crew, BOND, Dynamo Ventures, Founders Fund, Lineage Logistics and Susa Ventures also participated in the Series D financing. In addition, Michael Rubin, Fanatics founder and founder of GSI Commerce; Carlos Cashman, CEO of Thrasio; Max Mullen, co-founder of Instacart; and Will Gaybrick, CPO at Stripe, put money in the round.

Founders Sean Henry, 24, and Jacob Boudreau, 23, met while Henry was at Georgia Tech and Boudreau was in online classes at Arizona State (ASU) but running his own business, a software development firm, in Atlanta.

Over time, Stord has evolved into a cloud supply chain that can give companies a way to compete and grow with logistics, and provides an integrated platform “that’s available exactly when and where they need it,” Henry said. Stord combines physical logistics services such as freight, warehousing and fulfillment in that platform, which aims to provide “complete visibility, rapid optimization and elastic scale” for its users.

About two months ago, Stord announced the opening of its first fulfillment center, a 386,000-square-foot facility, in Atlanta, which features warehouse robotics and automation technologies. “It was the first time we were in a building ourselves running it end to end,” Henry said.

And today, the company is announcing it has acquired Connecticut-based Fulfillment Works, a 22-year-old company with direct-to-consumer (DTC) experience and warehouses in Nevada and in its home state.

With FulfillmentWorks, the company says it has increased its first-party warehouses, coupled with its network of over 400 warehouse partners and 15,000 carriers.

While Stord would not disclose the amount it paid for Fulfillment Works, Henry did share some of Stord’s impressive financial metrics. The company, he said, in 2020 delivered its third consecutive year of 300+% growth, and is on track to do so again in 2021. Stord also achieved more than $100 million in revenue in the first two quarters of 2021, according to Henry, and grew its headcount from 160 people last year to over 450 so far in 2021 (including about 150 Fulfillment Works employees). And since the fourth quarter is often when people do the most online shopping, Henry expects the three-month period to be Stord’s heaviest revenue quarter.

For some context, Stord’s new sales were up “7x” in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the same period last year. So far in the third quarter, sales are up almost 10x, according to Henry.

Put simply, Stord aims to give brands a way to compete with the likes of Amazon, which has set expectations of fast fulfillment and delivery. The company guarantees two-day shipping to anywhere in the country.

“The supply chain is the new competitive battleground,” Henry said. “Today’s buying expectations set by Amazon and the rise of the omni-channel shopper have placed immense pressure on companies to maintain more nimble and efficient supply chains… We want every company to have world-class, Prime-like supply chains.”

What makes Stord unique, according to Henry, is the fact that it has built what it believes to be the only end-to-end logistics network that combines the physical infrastructure with software.

That too is one of the reasons that Kleiner Perkins doubled down on its investment in the company.

Ilya Fushman, Stord board director and partner at Kleiner Perkins, said even at the time of his firm’s investment in 2019, that Henry displayed “amazing maturity and vision.”

At a high level, the firm was also just drawn to what he described as the “incredibly large market opportunity.”

“It’s trillions of dollars of products moving around with consumer expectation that these products will get to them the same day or next day, wherever they are,” Fushman told TechCrunch. “And while companies like Amazon have built amazing infrastructure to do that themselves, the rest of the world hasn’t really caught up… So there’s just amazing opportunity to build software and services to modernize this multitrillion-dollar market.”

In other words, Fushman explained, Stord is serving as a “plug and play” or “one stop shop” for retailers and merchants so they don’t have to spend resources on their own warehouses or building their own logistics platforms.

Stord launched the software part of its business in January 2020, and it grew 900% during the year, and is today one of the fastest-growing parts of its business.

“We built software to run our logistics and network of hundreds of warehouses,” Henry told TechCrunch. “But if companies want to use the same system for existing logistics, they can buy our software to get that kind of visibility.”

#atlanta, #cloud, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #funding, #fundings-exits, #ilya-fushman, #kleiner-perkins, #logistics, #ma, #recent-funding, #startup, #startups, #stord, #supply-chain, #venture-capital

Please stop adding more lanes to busy highways—it doesn’t help

The intersection of Interstates 10 and 610 in Houston, Texas, during evening rush hour.

Enlarge / The intersection of Interstates 10 and 610 in Houston, Texas, during evening rush hour. (credit: Getty Images)

You often hear people say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I bring this up because of an interesting—if infuriating—thread I read this morning about Texas’ plan to widen I-35 as it cuts through the heart of Austin.

Unsurprisingly, the state wants to build more lanes, which it thinks will ease congestion. At some points, this could leave I-35 as much as 20 lanes wide; this will require bulldozing dozens of businesses along the way. An alternative that would have buried 12 lanes of the highway in two levels of underground tunnels was apparently considered too costly.

But it would be wrong to single out this 8-mile proposal as an outlier. In Houston, the state plans to widen I-45 despite plenty of opposition, including from the Federal Highway Administration. And you don’t have to look far to see other state governments wanting to build new roads to reduce congestion.

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Austin-based Fetch Package secures $60M in equity & debt after tripling ARR in 2020

Fetch Package, a last-mile package delivery company for apartment communities, has raised $50 million in a Series C round of funding and closed on a $10 million venture debt facility.

Michael Patton founded Fetch in May 2016 after being frustrated by having packages lost at the apartment community in which he was living. 

“I took the time to research how communities were handling packages. What I found was that some communities are receiving up to 300 to 400 packages a week and trying to manage that volume manually, adding a significant time burden on the team,” he told TechCrunch. “I knew there had to be a better way and that solution needed to be one that could easily handle the future of package delivery as e-commerce was gaining significant traction.”

Fetch launched its operations in Dallas in February of 2017 with the goal of solving “the package problem” for apartment communities. The startup, which later moved its headquarters to Austin, has seen impressive growth.

By the end of 2017, the SaaS company was servicing approximately 2,000 apartments in the Dallas area. Over the next three years that number grew to almost 150,000 doors being serviced out of 25 warehouses in 15 markets, including Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Orlando, Portland, Phoenix, Arizona and Seattle.

Fetch currently has just over 200,000 doors, or around 700 communities, across the country under contract. It says it works with seven of the top 10 nationally recognized apartment management companies in the country, in addition to “a majority of the largest owners and developers.” Last December, it inked a national preferred vendor agreement with management giant Greystar. Fetch delivered about 3.5 million packages in 2020, and hit the 2.5 million mark for volume in June 2021. The company says it’s currently on track to deliver more than 8 million packages by the end of the year. 

While the company would not disclose hard revenue figures, Patton says it tripled its year-over-year ARR (annual recurring revenue) in 2020 and GAAP revenue grew 6x year-over-year. Over the last two years, Fetch has seen “record sales,” he added, and is on pace to surpass 300,000 units by year’s end. Austin-based Ocelot Capital led its Series C round, which also included participation from Greenpoint Partners, Alpaca VC and Rose Park Advisors. Existing backers Iron Gate Capital, Signal Peak Ventures, Venn Ventures, Pando Ventures and Seamless also put money in the round. 

In addition to the equity raise, Signature Bank provided the company with a $10 million venture debt facility. The latest financing brings Fetch’s total funding to more than $92 million, and triples its valuation from its $18 million Series B raise last August.

Andrew Townsend, managing member at Ocelot Capital, believes that Fetch is “solving for a major bottleneck within the supply chain that is often overlooked.”

“We expect e-commerce delivery volume to continue to grow for the foreseeable future and Fetch is the only scalable solution available to multifamily operators,” he said. 

What makes Fetch stand out, in his view, is that the company can “efficiently” manage the fluctuations in package volume in ways that traditional parcel storage solutions cannot. It also provides apartment residents with the “unique convenience of on-demand doorstep delivery that aligns with the varied schedules of apartment dwellers,” Townsend added.

All packages at Fetch’s client communities are sent to the company’s facilities using a unique code identifier. The company then coordinates scheduled, direct-to-door delivery with residents directly via its app in a time frame that it says “works best for their schedule.”

“This takes the property out of the package management business and provides residents with a convenient amenity,” Patton said.

Fetch works with a mix of W2 employees as well as 1099 contractors to fulfill their service. On the W2 side, Fetch has had a 50% increase in total employees since the middle of last year, with about 350 employees today. This is in addition to the “thousands” of independent contractors/gig economy workers who also serve as drivers in all their markets.

Looking ahead, Fetch will use its new capital primarily to expand into new markets, with plans to launch in South Florida, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Nashville, Minneapolis and a “few other markets” over the next two quarters. Over the next 18 months, the company intends to launch around 20 new markets. The money will also go toward investing in its tech stack and operational infrastructure, Patton said.

#apps, #atlanta, #austin, #e-commerce, #fetch, #fetch-package, #funding, #fundings-exits, #houston, #logistics, #minneapolis, #ocelot-capital, #package-delivery, #phoenix, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #saas, #seamless, #series-c, #signal-peak-ventures, #startup, #startups, #supply-chain, #venture-capital

Wayflyer raises $76M to provide ‘revenue-based’ financing to e-commerce merchants

Wayflyer, a revenue-based financing platform for e-commerce merchants, has raised $76 million in a Series A funding round led by Left Lane Capital.

“Partners” of DST Global, QED Investors, Speedinvest and Zinal Growth — the family office of Guillaume Pousaz (founder of Checkout.com) — also put money in the round. The raise comes just after Wayflyer raised $100 million in debt funding to support its cash advance product, and 14 months after the Dublin, Ireland-based startup launched its first product.

With an e-commerce boom fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, Wayflyer is the latest in a group of startups focused on the space that has attracted investor interest as of late. The company aims to help e-commerce merchants “unlock growth” by giving them access to working capital (from $10,000 up to $20 million) so they can improve cash flow and drive sales. For example, more cash can help these merchants do things like buy more inventory in bulk so they can meet customer demand and save money. 

In a nutshell, Wayflyer uses analytics and sends merchants cash to make inventory purchases or investments in their business. Those merchants then repay Wayflyer using a percentage of their revenue until the money is paid back (plus a fee charged for the cash advance). So essentially, the merchants are using their revenue to get financing, hence the term revenue-based financing. The advantage, Wayflyer says, is that companies make repayments as a percentage of their sales. So if they have a slow month, they will pay back less. So, there’s more flexibility involved than with other mechanisms such as traditional bank loans.

Co-founder Aidan Corbett believes that in a crowded space, Wayflyer’s use of big data gives it an edge over competitors.

Corbett and former VC Jack Pierse spun Wayflyer out of a marketing analytics company that Corbett had also started, called Conjura, in September 2019.

“Jack came to me and said, ‘You should stop using our marketing analytics engine to do these big enterprise SaaS solutions, and instead use them to underwrite e-commerce businesses for short-term finance,’ ” Corbett recalls.

And so he did.

“We just had our heads down and started repurposing the platform for it to be an underwriting platform,” Corbett said. It launched in April 2020, doing about $600,000 in advances at the time. In March of 2021, Wayflyer did about $36 million in advances.

“So, it’s been a pretty aggressive kind of growth,” Corbett said.

Over the past six months alone, the company has seen its business grow 290% as it has deployed over $150 million of funding across 10 markets with a focus on the U.S., the United Kingdom and Australia. About 75% of its customers are U.S. based.

Wayflyer plans to use its new capital toward product development and global expansion with the goal of entering “multiple” new markets in the coming months. The company recently opened a sales office in Atlanta, and also has locations in the U.K., the Netherlands and Spain.

To Corbett, the company’s offering is more compelling than buy now, pay later solutions for consumers for example, in that it is funding the merchant directly and able to add services on top of that.

“There’s a lot more opportunity for companies like ourselves to differentiate because essentially, we focus on the merchants. And when we underwrite the merchant by getting data from the merchant, there’s a lot of additional services that you can put in on top,” Corbett explained. “Whereas with buy now, pay later, you get information on the consumer, and there’s not as much room to add additional services on top.”

For example, if a business requests an advance and either is not approved for one, or doesn’t choose to take it, Wayflyer’s analytics platform is free to anybody who signs up to help them optimize their marketing spend.

“This is a critical driver of value for e-commerce businesses. If you can’t acquire customers at a reasonable price, you’re not going to be around very long. And a lot of early-stage e-commerce businesses struggle with that,” Corbett said.

It also can pair up a merchant with a marketing analytics “specialist” to analyze its marketing performance or an inventory “specialist” to look at the current terms and price a business is getting from a supplier.

“Our focus from the very beginning is really supporting the merchants, not just providing them with working capital,” Corbett said.  

Another way the company claims to be different is in how it deploys funds. As mentioned above, merchants can pay the money back at varied terms, depending on how sales are going. The company makes money by charging a principal on advances, and then a “remittance rate” on revenues until the total amount is paid back.

“We tend to be more flexible than competition in this way,” Corbett said. “Also, some competitors will pay invoices on merchants’ behalf or give them a pre-charged card to use on advertising spend,” Corbett said. “We always give cash into a merchant’s account.” 

Wayflyer recently inked an agreement with Adobe Commerce, a partnership it said would provide a new channel to further amplify its growth with the goal of funding 8,000 e-commerce businesses in the first year of the partnership.

For his part, Left Lane Capital Partner Dan Ahrens said that his firm was impressed by Wayflyer’s “nuanced understanding of what will drive value for their clients.”

“The team’s focus, specialization, and deep analytical expertise within the e-commerce market also drives superior underwriting,” he told TechCrunch. “Their explosive growth has not come about by taking on undue risk. We are big believers that their underwriting will only improve with scale, and that Wayflyer will be able to compound its competitive advantages over time.”

As mentioned, this is an increasingly crowded space. Earlier this month, Settle announced it had raised $15 million in a Series A funding round led by Kleiner Perkins to give e-commerce and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies access to non-dilutive capital.

#adobe, #atlanta, #australia, #bank, #checkout-com, #distribution, #dst-global, #dublin, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #economy, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #guillaume-pousaz, #ireland, #kleiner-perkins, #left-lane-capital, #merchant, #netherlands, #qed-investors, #recent-funding, #spain, #startup, #startups, #tc, #underwriting, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #wayflyer

Collab Capital closes $50 million debut fund to back Black founders

A decade before investing outside of San Francisco and New York became trendy, entrepreneurs Jewel Burks, Justin Dawkins and Barry Givens were betting on Atlanta. Each experienced first-hand the biases that disproportionately hurts Black founders – while also being living proof of the wave of Black innovation and opportunity in their city.

Last year, the trio saw opportunity in that disconnect and launched Collab Capital, a firm designed to invest explicitly in Black founders. It debuted with $2 million in capital and a massive end target: $50 million. Today, the firm announced that it has met that goal, with backers such as Apple, Goldman Sachs, Google, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Mailchimp, and PayPal, making it one of the largest funds closed from an entirely Black-led firm solely committed to Black founders.

“We really wanted to build a fund that was appropriate for the opportunity that we see [in Black founders],” Burks said. “And honestly I would say, it’s a small fund out there relative to the number of Black-led companies out there that are looking and seeking funding.”

With the new fund, Collab Capital plans to invest in 50 companies over a three-to-five-year period with check sizes between $500,000 and $750,000. The firm has also reserved up to $2 million per investment for follow-on bets. It is targeting ownership between 10% to 15% in each deal. To date, Collab Capital has backed six companies in the healthcare, edtech, and future of work spaces, including Music Tech Works and Hairbrella.

Internally, the team plans to stay based in Atlanta. Burks, who founded Atlanta-based PartPic, a TC Battlefield company that sold to Amazon, said that reinvesting in the community has always been a part of Collab Capital’s intention. Case in point? The firm’s first three deals were in Atlanta. As Zoom investing became more popular in the wake of the coronavirus, the team invested in startups from Kansas City, Washington, D.C., and Miami, as well.

“We’re excited to be able to support founders anywhere in the United States, but we’re really focused on cities that have a high concentration of Black innovators and a lower concentration of capital,” she said.

The world before June

While part of Collab’s focus is avoiding coastal cities, network matters. The firm’s ability to secure heavyweight investors such as Apple and PayPal gives it a key signal that validates its bet on Black founders.

Burks thinks part of the reason that investors might be more intentional about backing firms such as hers is the result of the racial injustice that was highlighted in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black people at the hands of police.

After Floyd and Taylor were murdered, there was a global movement spearheaded by Black Lives Matter in response to police brutality and racism in the United States. Burks says that Collab Capital had only raised a few million at that time, but then witnessed “a shift in the hearts and minds of capital allocators.”

Burks noted that when Collab Capital was first raising its fund, potential investors told them to have a “wider perspective” on what kinds of entrepreneurs to back. Some thought they should create a fund around underrepresented founders or multicultural founders. With general VC volatility in the early months of the pandemic, Collab Capital saw some of its LPs pull back or delay commitments.

“We were very adamant that the most important thing we wanted to solve was the funding gap for Black founders, so we were not willing to broaden the spectrum there because we saw that there were so many firms out there for diverse founders, and even in some of those, Black founders were still marginalized.”

While the majority of venture dollars are still managed by white men, Black-led venture capital firms are having quite the year. Collab Capital’s news is preceded by Harlem Capital, which closed a $134 million seed fund earlier this year, Cleo Capital, which set a $20 million target for Fund II, and MaC VC landing $103 million for its inaugural fund.

Beyond a broader understanding of the importance of diversity in tech, Burks pointed to Zoom as a value unlock.

“If you’d asked me a year ago [if] I think we’d be successful in raising $50 million over Zoom meetings, I would have said absolutely not,” she said. “But you can build meaningful relationships with people and not even have to be in person. That’s a big surprise — and, oh, the realization that you don’t have to travel so much.”

#apple, #atlanta, #collab-capital, #diversity, #jewel-burks, #paypal, #tc

Workrise, once known as RigUp, raises $300M at a $2.9B valuation

Workrise, which has built a workforce management platform for the skilled trades, announced today that it has raised $300 million in a Series E round led by UK-based Baillie Gifford that values the company at $2.9 billion.

New investor Franklin Templeton joined existing backers including Founders Fund, Bedrock Capital, Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), Moore Strategic Ventures, 137 Ventures and Brookfield Growth Partners in putting money in the round. WIth this latest financing, Workrise has now raised over $750 million.

You may know Austin-based Workrise better as its former name, RigUp. The company changed its name earlier this year to reflect a new emphasis on industries other than just oil and gas after the industry took a beating in recent years.

In 2020, Workrise laid off one-quarter of its corporate employees as the industry took an even bigger hit from the COVID-19 pandemic. It currently has over 600 employees in 25 offices.

Despite the rocky start to the year, Workrise apparently ended up rebounding. Its gross revenue has tripled since 2018, going from just under $300 million to about $900 million to close out 2020.

Workrise was founded in 2014 as a marketplace for on-demand services and skilled labor in the energy industry. In October 2019, it raised a $300 million Series D round led by Andreessen Horowitz(a16z) that valued the company at $1.9 billion.

Since then, Workrise has broadened its reach to include wind, solar, commercial construction and defense industries. In a nutshell, it connects skilled laborers with infrastructure and energy companies looking to staff and manage projects efficiently. Workrise’s online platform matches workers with over 500 companies in its network, manages payroll and benefits and provides access to training.

The company plans to use its new capital to continue to expand into new markets.

“The shift to clean energy and a redoubling of investment in infrastructure are opening up jobs that are desperately in need of filling,” said Workrise co-founder and CEO (and former energy investor) Xuan Yong in a statement. “Our platform makes it easier for skilled workers to find work and for companies to hire in-demand workers.”

Dave Bujnowski, investment manager at Baillie Gifford, points out that Workrise’s online management platform is “disrupting a sector that’s so far been slow to adopt new technologies.”

Workrise now serves more than 70 metro areas in the U.S., including Atlanta, where the company is matching trade workers with commercial construction companies, and in Broomfield, CO where the company trains and matches workers to jobs across the U.S. wind industry. 

The company also offers trade workers access to training that equips them for energy and infrastructure jobs that are on the rise. Last year, Workrise placed more than 4,500 workers, or nearly a third of all its workers placed in 2020, in renewable-energy jobs. 

Specifically, the company says in total, it placed 8,000 unique workers in jobs in 2019 with 13% in renewables. That number jumped to 15,000 in 2020.

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Upsie’s direct-to-consumer swing at the warranty space nets $18.2M

Upsie, a consumer warranty startup, has raised $18.2 million in a Series A round led by True Ventures. 

The financing brings the total raised for the St. Paul, Minnesota-based startup to $25 million since its 2015 inception.

A large group of investors participated in the round, including Concrete Rose VC, Avanta Ventures, Kapor Capital, Samsung Next, Massive, Backstage Capital, Awesome People Ventures, Draft Ventures, Matchstick Ventures, M25, Silicon Valley Bank and Uncommon VC, among others. A number of angels also put money in the round. 

Clarence Bethea (pictured below) founded Upsie after realizing the significant markup that retailers were placing on warranties.

His goal was to focus not on the retailer, but rather the end user and making the process more transparent, more affordable and simpler. For example, Upsie claims that it saves its customers anywhere from 50% to 90% compared to competitor warranty plans. Most other companies in the space, such as SquareTrade, offer warranties at the point of sale via retailers.

Image Credits: Upsie

“I’m sure you’ve walked into a Best Buy or a Target, and when you’re checking out somebody at the register is offering you a warranty. But what most customers don’t know is that you’re paying as much as 900% more for that warranty than you should,” Bethea said. “There’s no transparency at the register and you never get to ask what’s covered and what’s not covered, or what should you do if you need to make a claim.”

Just like many other companies, Upsie saw a bump in business last year thanks to the COVID-pandemic and resulting increase in consumer electronics sales (17%, according to the NPD Group Retail Tracking Service). In particular, there was a spike in demand for laptops, desktops and tablets for distance learning and remote work. As a result, Upsie’s revenue surged by 2.5x over the past 12 months, although Bethea declined to reveal hard revenue figures.

“With people working from home, devices were no longer a luxury but a necessity,” he told TechCrunch.

Rather than at the point of sale, Upsie gives consumers an opportunity to purchase a warranty for a product via its website or mobile app after the transaction has taken place. The company offers protection for thousands of devices — from smartphones to appliances to gaming consoles to lawn and garden tools — or about 60% of the warranty market, according to Bethea.

Consumers have up to 120 days to purchase smartphone protection, 11 months to purchase appliance, TV and fitness equipment protection and up to 60 days for other consumer electronics. All warranty information, including a copy of the product receipt, is stored and accessible on demand. Upsie says it also aims to offer same-day repairs on many devices.

The process, according to Bethea, is straightforward. Consumers need only upload an image of their receipt and provide purchase price and serial/IMEA numbers. When they need to file a claim, it’s a matter of pressing a button. And to make the process even easier, it will give consumers the ability to say, take their items directly to the Apple store for repair, and then get reimbursed afterwards by Upsie.

“We want more people to be able to protect what they buy with their hard-earned money,” Bethea said. “Removing the worry around paying out of pocket to repair, say, your kid’s laptop is huge for families who have had to go with remote learning when the system doesn’t make this easy for everyone.”

Upsie plans to use its new capital to increase customer awareness and continue building out its warranty product offerings and verticals, as well as to double its current headcount of 15.

“We want to continue to grow our presence online through digital channels such as Facebook and Google, for one thing,” Bethea told TechCrunch.

Puneet Agarwal, partner at True Ventures, says his firm doubled down on its investment in Upsie after witnessing its solid growth over the years. (True Ventures led the startup’s $5 million seed round in April of 2019.)

True Ventures was initially attracted to the sheer size of the warranty industry (estimated at $100 billion globally) and “how broken it was from the consumer experience perspective.” The firm also viewed Bethea as a “very special entrepreneur” who “exudes authenticity,” which must be refreshing to VCs who get inundated with pitches.

“We love to invest in old, staid industries where companies can disrupt from a business model and product perspective,” Agarwal said. “Upsie has done that in a big way.”

He went on to describe Bethea’s move to go direct to consumer in the warranty space as “bold.”

“Upsie is the only one doing that, and it’s the biggest swing to take in this type of industry,” Agarwal said. “We believe he’s cracked the code and that’s why we doubled down.”

Bethea’s background is not the same as a “typical” startup founder, which also was viewed as an advantage by True Ventures.

“He came from the streets of Atlanta, Georgia, and had to overcome so much in his life,” Agarwal told TechCrunch. “Clarence is the type of person that when we started True, we wanted to fund. We admire his perseverance and grit to come to this point.”

#allstate, #apple-store, #apps, #atlanta, #backstage-capital, #consumer-electronics, #distance-learning, #economy, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #georgia, #google, #kapor-capital, #large, #matchstick-ventures, #minnesota, #puneet-agarwal, #recent-funding, #samsung, #silicon-valley-bank, #smartphone, #smartphones, #squaretrade, #st-paul, #startup, #startups, #target, #tc, #true-ventures, #upsie, #venture-capital, #warranty

How did Atlanta become a top breeding ground for billion-dollar startups in the Southeast?

Over the past five years, the Southeastern region, led by Atlanta, has gone from being “one of the best kept secrets” in tech, to a vibrant ecosystem teeming with a herd of the billion dollar tech businesses that are referred to in the investment world as “unicorns” (thanks to their supposed rarity).

In those five years venture capital investments surged to $2.1 billion in the region, with $1 billion invested in the last year alone, according to Lisa Calhoun, a partner with the Atlanta based investment firm, Valor Ventures.

It’s indicative of the entrepreneurial talent coming from the network of private and public schools across the region like Georgia Tech, the University of Alabama, Auburn, the University of Georgia, Vanderbilt, Emory, and the historically black colleges and universities like Morehouse, Spelman, and Xavier. And it’s also a sign of a reinvestment in local entrepreneurship — a decades-long campaign to turn Atlanta into the center of a hub-and-spoke network of startup cities that spans Miami to Atlanta, with stops in Birmingham, Nashville, New Orleans,

“Atlanta is what a next generation, global, post-Silicon Valley tech hub looks like. Our demographics are ten years ahead of the U.S.’s transformation into a majority minority society,” wrote Calhoun in an email. “With over 40% of the U.S. population in the Southeast, the greatest density of founders and executives of color, rafts of tech companies like AirBnB locating here, and our own legacy of top tech and talent, Atlanta sets the tone for what’s next. We have the growing, diverse population base all strong founders need to scale.”

There’s still a lot of work to be done for the region to establish itself as one of the next engines of economic return for the venture capital and investment business, though.

“The Southeast is 24% of the US GDP, but only accounts for 7% of the venture investment,” noted Blake Patton, the founder and general partner of the Atlanta-based investment firm, Tech Square Ventures. “With the recent momentum in the region, that is changing and investors are taking notice and backing local managers who in turn are investing the region’s best and brightest entrepreneurs.”

The Internet boom and bust in Atlanta

In the years after the 1996 Olympics, Atlanta was a high-flying contender for the title of one of the next big startup hubs in the United States.

The Olympics had put the city on the world’s stage, and seeing the wave of activity, excitement, and investment that came with the advent of internet companies like Virginia’s America Online, Atlanta’s city council and mayor were making a push for the city to become a telecom and startup hub in the early days of the first Internet boom.

“Something happened in the mid-90s driven by the Olympics where Atlanta hit the map worldwide. It wasn’t just that we were a supply and logistics hub. In the late 90s as the dot-com boom really evolved, things happened underground that aren’t as transparent as they should be. Atlanta Gas Light had the largest dark fiber ring in the country surrounding Atlanta. That was built solely with the olympics in mind. We had Georgia Tech working on the next generation of aerospace, and they added computer engineering,” said Christy Brown, the founder of the Atlanta based non-profit Launchpad2X and a serial entrepreneur and executive with deep ties to the Atlanta ecosystem.  

Atlanta also had its fair share of early successes — high flying telecom and networking companies that were critical to the evolution of the first dot com era whose later years were either mired in scandal or who were acquired by much larger entities. These are companies like MCI Worldcom and Airtouch Cellular, which was gobbled up by Singular Wireless and would eventually become part of a restructured AT&T.

“There were all kinds of tech things happening in the city. A lot of these founders were getting venture on paper which evolved into the dot-bomb,” said Brown. “All of this was happening mid to late nineties, when the dot-bomb happened there was a lot of failure in the Atlanta area.”

The implosion of early internet companies that came with the bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000 reverberated through Atlanta’s tech ecosystem, erasing the early gains that companies made and setting the stage for a decade-long period of reconstruction punctuated by a few successes from holdouts that managed to make their way through the wreckage.

 

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Through the lean years

One of those companies was MailChimp. Launched in 2001, in the early aftermath of the bursting of the tech bubble, the privately held email marketing startup was one of a number of projects at Ben Chestnut’s and Dan Kurzius’ web development firm.

The two men met at Cox Interactive Media to work on an early MP3 product. When that fizzled both men eventually lost their jobs and went into business together. They built MailChimp off of revenue, bootstrapping the business without venture capital in a model that many other tech founders in the area would seek to replicate.

A few years later, in 2003, another entrepreneur named John Marshall began installing internet hotspots at hospitality businesses, eventually expanding his Wandering WiFi service to include monitoring and managing other kinds of network infrastructure. This foray into startup land would eventually create another big Atlanta tech exit in AirWatch.

For the first six years MailChimp remained a side hustle, a product that the two co-founders continued to work on, but didn’t devote themselves to full time. It wasn’t until 2007, when the service hit 10,000 users, that the company became the full-time job for both founders.

Their once-scrappy startup turned them into billionaires. A 2018 Forbes profile put the company’s valuation at $4.2 billion on roughly $600 million in revenue.

If there was a starting gun for the Atlanta tech renaissance, it might be 2006, a few years before the global financial crisis and a time when the broader tech industry was finding itself a less financially precarious prospect for investors. Internet Security Systems, an Atlanta area dot-com darling that held an initial public offering in the late 90s sold to IBM for $1.3 billion that year.

Tom Noonan and Chris Klaus, the co-founders at Internet Security Systems, had an equally long road. What had started out as a company built when Klaus lived above Noonan’s garage in Atlanta in the mid-90s, morphed into a company pulling in $400 million in annual revenue before its acquisition by IBM.

As capital started flowing into Atlanta and the city regained some of its footing in the tech world, founders who had exited their companies began to reinvest money locally. And the city moved to create more events to foster entrepreneurship. 2006 saw the launch of Venture Atlanta, a conference designed to showcase early talent and startups coming from the region that served as a launchpad for several entrepreneurs that would shape the future of the city’s technology industry.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Setting a new scene

If 2006 was a big year for exits in Atlanta, it also proved to be the year that opened the floodgates on new entrepreneurial activity, which would give rise over the next decade to what’s now a thriving startup scene, pumping out a record number of billion dollar tech businesses.

It was the year that David Cummings and Adam Blitzer founded Pardot, a marketing and sales automation software developer that grew quickly and attracted the attention of big industry players like ExactTarget. It was also the year that Manhattan Associates executive Alan Dabbiere joined Marshall and Wandering WiFi became AirWatch, a company providing management and security tech for mobile enterprise networks.

Over the next few years MailChimp would become more active; Cloud Sherpas, founded by the entrepreneurs Michael Cohn and Sean O’Brien (who are now founders of the investment firm Overline Ventures) would launch and so would companies like the video streaming tech developer, ClearLeap (bought by IBM in 2015 and valued at over $110 million); the security company Damballa would launch (later acquired by Atlanta neighbor Core Security); and the service powering many of the major banks customer rewards programs, Cardlytics (now trading on the Nasdaq with a $4 billion market cap).

Buoyed by these emerging tech companies, other entrepreneurs would join the fray, with Kabbage (acquired for $850 million), Calendly (a $3 billion business as of this year) and the voice identification technology developer Pindrop (which raised $90 million back in 2018) emerging onto the scene at around the same time.

These companies set the table for what would become a buffet of startups focused primarily on payments and financial services, cloud-based business solutions, and internet security. Gone were the hardware heavy telecom companies and networking companies like Scientific Atlanta, whose business is compared to Hewlett Packard for having brought a high tech industry to the city in the 1950s — much like HP did in Silicon Valley.

Meanwhile, a new generation of investor was moving into the Atlanta orbit, presaged by the 2006 launch of BIP Capital — an event that also proved meaningful for the city’s budding entrepreneurs.

Staking claims for Atlanta’s future

The rising tide of entrepreneurs coming out of Atlanta also served to revitalize the city’s moribund investment community. Hit hard by the bursting of the dot-com bubble, the Atlanta-area firms that managed to survive the crash began to look to later stage businesses and outside of the Atlanta tech ecosystem for startups to back, according to data from CrunchBase and several interviews with investors and founders.

Noro-Moseley Partners, for instance, is by far the most active investor hailing from Atlanta. Over it’s long history the firm has done over 123 deals according to Crunchbase, but in the last five years, data indicates only four investment from the firm were made into Atlanta-based companies.

By contrast, the arrivistes at BIP have been deploying capital and raising successively larger funds since they first came to town. Over the last five years the firm has invested in at least 15 Atlanta-area deals, and now, under the moniker of Panoramic Ventures, the firm is targeting a $300 million early stage fund to invest across the southeast and midwest.

“Traditionally, access to capital was challenging for founders in Atlanta and the Southeast. In the past, it was considered a disadvantage for a tech business to be based outside of the traditional innovation hubs [in] Silicon Valley or the Northeast because it was more difficult to secure investment capital. This was because the large funds were located inside the hubs and had plenty of opportunities right on their doorsteps for investment,” wrote Mark Buffington, the co-founder and chief executive of BIP Capital, in an email to TechCrunch. “While the traditional hubs are still key in terms of aggregate capital, the requirement for startups to also be inside the hubs has changed. Increasingly, venture funds are locating themselves in other areas of the country where innovation is occurring. At the same time, the amount of capital available from local and regional investors is growing, in large part due to the influx of dollars into the private markets.”

Another member of the new school of investors that’s changing Atlanta’s investment scene is Patton; whose work with Tech Square Ventures and Engage, the corporate venture capital investment firm and startup initiative harnessing the power of a number of the biggest companies in Atlanta, also galvanized entrepreneurship and the newfound interest in startup tech companies.

“The recent momentum in the region is driven by increased connectivity across the innovation ecosystem and a critical mass of entrepreneurs and talent coming out of the region’s many successful startups. With corporations focused on digital transformation and innovation, all large companies have to a degree become tech companies and that drives connectivity as talent moves across both startups and tech companies,” Patton said. “Perhaps our greatest strength is our diversity and being home to four leading HBCUs, and I hope in the next 5 years the Southeast will emerge as a leader in producing successful startups founded by diverse entrepreneurs and built with diverse teams. It’s not just a moral imperative – with half the nation’s black population, the Southeast must succeed in engaging under-served entrepreneurs to lead – and you can’t tackle diversity nationally without tackling it in the Southeast.”

Still, other ingredients were needed for the resurgence of startup activity in the city. These would be co-workings spaces like David Cummings’ launch of the Atlanta Tech Village in 2012; the continuing relevance of the Atlanta Tech Development Center; the Venture Atlanta conference and the co-working space around Hypepotamus — which remains the go-to publication for Southern startup activity.

Every entrepreneur and investor mentioned Cummings’ decision to reinvest in the city and launch the Tech Village near Atlanta’s tony suburb of Buckhead as one of the biggest sparks for the city’s renewed entrepreneurial fervor. Soon after Cummings sold Pardot he and David Lightburn established Atlanta Tech Village as a co-working spot for entrepreneurs. It attracted a number of new startup founders whose businesses would become the next wave of big startups. “When David Cummings sold Pardot he wanted a place for entrepreneurs to have community,” said one longtime player in the Atlanta tech community. “They would do these startup chow down lunches and really support entrepreneurs building businesses.”

And just as key was the longtime hub for Georgia Tech-affiliated startups, the Atlanta Tech Development Center, the entrepreneurs and investors noted. Venture Atlanta had a role to play as well, bringing investors from every corner of the country to the city to showcase top talent. Together with CreateX, and the Venture Atlanta program, the four initiatives and workspaces for early stage entrepreneurs planted a number of seeds that would soon blossom into companies like PartPic, Greenlight Financial (which is now worth $2.3 billion), Kabbage, FullStory and Pindrop.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

A haven for diverse founders and investors

During those early days of the Atlanta startup ecosystem, there was one spot more welcoming than most for diverse and women-led founders — the co-working space and offices for Hypepotamus.

Serial entrepreneur Monique Mills was there. So was Jewel Burks Solomon, who sold her company, PartPic, to Amazon in 2016 and is now the Head of Google for Startups in the U.S.

“My first office was at Hypepotamus because they offered free space,” Burks Solomon recalled. “And at the time I didn’t have much money. Then when I raised some money the next major one was at ATDC — the state of Georgia’s incubator. They offered subsidized space and they had an entrepreneur in residence and they had a whole program to help Atlanta-based startups with some kind of technology.”

It was the Hypepotamus space, and subsequent venues like Opportunity Hub and The Gathering Spot that catalyzed the Black entrepreneurial community in Atlanta, according to several founders and investors.

And if the Hypepotamus space, carved out by National Builder Supply, was one of the catalysts, then the angel investor, Mike Ross, was the other.

“Mike has funded many successful Black-led startups in the Atlanta ecosystem and we wouldn’t be where we are today without him,” entrepreneur Candace Mitchell Harris told UrbanGeekz in a recent profile. “When many have faced the run around of false promises or flat out rejections, Mike confidently put his money in and pushed our founders further.”

Ross, a Morehouse College alumnus, who made his wealth as a consultant in the construction and contracting industry has backed Black founders and investors including: Luma, Partpic, Monsieur, Axis Replay, Myavana, TechSquare LabsOpportunity Hub, and The Gathering Spot.

Investors like Paul Judge and entrepreneurs like Joey Womack, Barry Givens, and Mitchell Harris, all benefited from Ross’ investment largesse.

“Mike was the catalyst for our company’s success as our very first angel investor,” says Mitchell Harris, co-founder and CEO of beauty tech startup Myavana, told UrbanGeekz. “I still remember meeting him for the first time at the Black Founders Conference in June 2012, inquisitive and eager to get behind the movement that was beginning in Atlanta in the tech startup scene.”

And Ross blazed a trail for other investors like the Fearless Fund, a group of women investors led by Arian Simone, Ayanna Parsons, and Keshia Knight Pulliam, who launched their first fund in 2019, and Collab Capital, which launched last year (and is led by Burks Solomon, Justin Dawkins, and Barry Givens) — close to a decade after Ross first began investing.

“Right now women of color are the most founded but the least funded entrepreneurs,” Simone said. “Atlanta is a mecca of black entrepreneurship for us to have a venture capital and tech presence here.. I will charge the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia and the banks that they need to back what we’re doing here.. It is needed.”

Not only is it needed, but it’s working. Of the 36 venture capital firms identified as part of TechCrunch’s research as having a focus on early stage investments in the Atlanta area, 41% met one or more of the following criteria: identification as having a diversity focus across investments, identification as having a diverse fund management team, or both, according to data from Crunchbase.

And through a sample size of 158 startups spanning Pre-Seed, Seed, or Series A in the Atlanta area, which were included in TechCrunch’s research, 48% met one or more of the following criteria: identification as having a sex-diverse founding team, identification has having a racially-diverse founding team, or both. In many instances, founding teams did not self identify, so the number of diverse founders may be greater than currently documented based on publicly available data.

As UrbanGeekz noted, about 25% of the employees in Atlanta’s tech industry are black. In San Francisco, by contrast, that figure is 6%.

“Ten years ago [the Black tech startup ecosystem] was just starting out,” Ross told UrbanGeekz. “Now Atlanta is one of the top tech hubs in the country and the ecosystem is probably one of the most diverse.”

Looking ahead

“I’m really excited about what’s happening now. It’s much more diverse in terms of the people that have the ability to deploy capital. I’m optimistic about what is to come in the tech space,” said Burks Solomon.

She’s not alone. New firms like Cohn and O’Brien’s Overline Ventures, Panoramic, and Outlander Labs, the firm launched by the former Los Angeles investors Paige and Leura Craig are all signs of investors’ long-term belief in the health of the Atlanta startup ecosystem.

“We think that the Southeast and especially Atlanta has the opportunity to become a key hub for tech startups in the next 5 years. It feels a lot like Los Angeles five years ago. The talent is here but historically the issue has been lack of mentorship, early stage capital, and the later stage capital as they grow and scale,” wrote Outlander co-founder Leura Craig, in an email. “However that is all changing given the fact that so many investors are now moving to all parts of the country and are open to investing in areas that they never invested in before. Covid dramatically accelerated the flight from California and New York and the Southeast’s tech scene is going to be a huge winner as a result of this migration. ”

Major tech companies are also showing their faith in Atlanta’s startup scene through significant investments into the ecosystem. Most recently, Apple has committed nearly $100 million to new projects including the Propel Center, a $25 million bid designed to encourage diversity and entrepreneurship at a site to be built near Atlanta’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

It is going to be both a virtual platform and a physical campus in the Atlanta University Center.

Students will be able to follow different educational tracks focused on artificial intelligence, agricultural technologies, social justice, entertainment, app development, augmented reality, design and creative arts and entrepreneurship. This isn’t just a monetary investment for Apple, as employees will help develop curricula and provide mentorship as well. There will be internship opportunities for students.

Apple isn’t the only big tech company to commit to Atlanta’s thriving tech community. Facebook is building out a massive, multi-billion dollar extension to data center facilities near the city, and Google committed that the Atlanta area would receive some fo the planned $9 billion investment in job growth across the U.S.

The current growth that Atlanta’s startup scene is experiencing can serve as a model for other urban areas on the rise. The recipe seems to be a strong technical college, an investment in collaborative startup resources, a network of willing investors to reinvest in the local community, the support of city government through non-profit and promotional activities, and finally an embrace of the diverse history of the city itself. There’s no need to remake Silicon Valley, but the tools of Silicon Valley can be used to make burgeoning tech communities better.

With reporting assistance from TechCrunch analyst Kathleen Hamrick

Some rising stars of the new Atlanta ecosystem

 

 

#atlanta, #atlanta-city-spotlight, #startups, #tc

Kids-focused fintech Greenlight raises $260M in a16z-led Series D, nearly doubles valuation to $2.3B

Greenlight, the fintech company that pitches parents on kid-friendly bank accounts, has raised $260 million in a Series D funding round that nearly doubles its valuation to $2.3 billion.

The funding comes just months after the Atlanta-based startup landed $215 million in funding at a $1.2 billion valuation. With the latest round, Greenlight has now raised over $550 million.

Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) led its Series D, which also included participation from return backers TTV Capital, Canapi Ventures, Wells Fargo Strategic Capital, BOND, Fin VC, Goodwater Capital, as well as new investors Wellington Management, Owl Ventures and LionTree Partners.

Since it launched its debit cards for kids in 2017, the company has managed to set up accounts for more than 3 million parents and children, who have saved more than $120 million through the app. That’s up from 2 million parents and kids having saved $50 million at the time of its September 2020 raise.

Overall, Greenlight says it has “more than tripled” YoY revenue, more than doubled the number of parents and kids on its platform and doubled the size of its team within the past year. 

“Greenlight has quickly emerged as a leader in the family finance category,” said Andreessen Horowitz general partner David George, who will join Greenlight’s board of directors, in a written statement. “Greenlight was built to help parents raise financially-smart kids, and with its breakthrough combination of easy-to-use money management tools and educational resources, the company is well-positioned to become one of the most loved and trusted brands for families around the world.”

The company pitches itself as more than just a debit card, with apps that give parents the ability to deposit money in accounts and pay for allowance, manage chores and set flexible controls on how much kids can spend. In January, Greenlight introduced its educational investing platform for kids — Greenlight Max. Through that platform, kids can research stocks with analysis from Morningstar and actually make real investments in companies like Apple, Tesla, Microsoft and Amazon as long as their parents approve.

As TechCrunch previously reported, it’s a potentially massive business that can lock in a whole generation to a financial services platform, which is likely one reason why a whole slew of companies have launched with a similar thesis. There’s Kard, Step, Till Financial and Current pitching similar businesses in the U.S. and Mozper recently launched from Y Combinator to bring the model to Latin America. (Step and Current also announced big rounds today, while Till Financial announced its seed round last week. Notably, a16z also led Current’s raise).

“Our vision at Greenlight is to create a world where every child grows up to be financially healthy and happy,” said Tim Sheehan, co-founder and CEO of Greenlight. “Today’s financing will enable us to bring even more value to families as we continue to introduce new innovative products that shine a light on the world of money.”

 Greenlight says it will use the new capital to accelerate product development to add more financial services to its platform as well as to invest further in strategic distribution partnerships and geographic expansion. It also plans to hire another 300 employees over the next two years, with an emphasis on engineers.

 

#amazon, #andreessen-horowitz, #apple, #apps, #atlanta, #canapi-ventures, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #fundings-exits, #goodwater-capital, #greenlight, #kard, #latin-america, #leader, #microsoft, #morningstar, #owl-ventures, #recent-funding, #series-d, #startup, #startups, #tc, #tesla, #ttv-capital, #united-states, #venture-capital, #wellington-management, #y-combinator

Saltbox raises $10.6M to help booming e-commerce stores store their goods

E-commerce is booming, but among the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs of online businesses are finding a place to store the items they are selling and dealing with the logistics of operating.

Tyler Scriven, Maxwell Bonnie and Paul D’Arrigo co-founded Saltbox in an effort to solve that problem.

The trio came up with a unique “co-warehousing” model that provides space for small businesses and e-commerce merchants to operate as well as store and ship goods, all under one roof. Beyond the physical offering, Saltbox offers integrated logistics services as well as amenities such as the rental of equipment and packing stations and access to items such as forklifts. There are no leases and tenants have the flexibility to scale up or down based on their needs.

“We’re in that sweet spot between co-working and raw warehouse space,” said CEO Scriven, a former Palantir executive and Techstars managing director.

Saltbox opened its first facility — a 27,000-square-foot location — in its home base of Atlanta in late 2019, filling it within two months. It recently opened its second facility, a 66,000-square-foot location, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that is currently about 40% occupied. The company plans to end 2021 with eight locations, in particular eyeing the Denver, Seattle and Los Angeles markets. Saltbox has locations slated to come online as large as 110,000 square feet, according to Scriven.

The startup was founded on the premise that the need for “co-warehousing and SMB-centric logistics enablement solutions” has become a major problem for many new businesses that rely on online retail platforms to sell their goods, noted Scriven. Many of those companies are limited to self-storage and mini-warehouse facilities for storing their inventory, which can be expensive and inconvenient. 

Scriven personally met with challenges when starting his own e-commerce business, True Glory Brands, a retailer of multicultural hair and beauty products.

“We became aware of the lack of physical workspace for SMBs engaged in commerce,” Scriven told TechCrunch. “If you are in the market looking for 10,000 square feet of industrial warehouse space, you are effectively pushed to the fringes of the real estate ecosystem and then the entrepreneurial ecosystem at large. This is costing companies in significant but untold ways.”

Now, Saltbox has completed a $10.6 million Series A round of financing led by Palo Alto-based Playground Global that included participation from XYZ Venture Capital and proptech-focused Wilshire Lane Partners in addition to existing backers Village Capital and MetaProp. The company plans to use its new capital primarily to expand into new markets.

The company’s customers are typically SMB e-commerce merchants “generating anywhere from $50,000 to $10 million a year in revenue,” according to Scriven.

He emphasizes that the company’s value prop is “quite different” from a traditional flex office/co-working space.

“Our members are reliant upon us to support critical workflows,” Scriven said. 

Besides e-commerce occupants, many service-based businesses are users of Saltbox’s offering, he said, such as those providing janitorial services or that need space for physical equipment. The company offers all-inclusive pricing models that include access to loading docks and a photography studio, for example, in addition to utilities and Wi-Fi.

Image Credits: Saltbox

Image Credits: Saltbox

The company secures its properties with a mix of buying and leasing by partnering with institutional real estate investors.

“These partners are acquiring assets and in most cases, are funding the entirety of capital improvements by entering into management or revenue share agreements to operate those properties,” Scriven said. He said the model is intentionally different from that of “notable flex space operators.”

“We have obviously followed those stories very closely and done our best to learn from their experiences,” he added. 

Investor Adam Demuyakor, co-founder and managing partner of Wilshire Lane Partners, said his firm was impressed with the company’s ability to “structure excellent real estate deals” to help them continue to expand nationally.

He also believes Saltbox is “extremely well-positioned to help power and enable the next generation of great direct to consumer brands.”

Playground Global General Partner Laurie Yoler said the startup provides a “purpose-built alternative” for small businesses that have been fulfilling orders out of garages and self-storage units.

Saltbox recently hired Zubin Canteenwalla  to serve as its chief operating offer. He joined Saltbox from Industrious, an operator co-working spaces, where he was SVP of Real Estate. Prior to Industrious, he was EVP of Operations at Common, a flexible residential living brand, where he led the property management and community engagement teams.

#atlanta, #business, #dallas, #denver, #e-commerce, #logistics, #los-angeles, #marketing, #model, #online-shopping, #palantir, #palo-alto, #paul, #playground-global, #proptech, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #saltbox, #seattle, #self-storage, #startups, #supply-chain-management, #tc, #techstars, #village-capital, #warehouse, #wilshire-lane-partners

Google spinoff Cartken and REEF Technologies launch Miami’s first delivery robots

Self-driving and robotics startup Cartken has partnered with REEF Technologies, a startup that operates parking lots and neighborhood hubs, to bring self-driving delivery robots to the streets of downtown Miami.

With this announcement, Cartken officially comes out of stealth mode. The company, founded by ex-Google engineers and colleagues behind the unrequited Bookbot, was formed to develop market-ready tech in self-driving, AI-powered robotics and delivery operations in 2019, but the team has kept operations under wraps until now. This is Cartken’s first large deployment of self-driving robots on sidewalks.

After a few test months, the REEF-branded electric-powered robots are now delivering dinner orders from REEF’s network of delivery-only kitchens to people located within a 3/4-mile radius in downtown Miami. The robots, which are insulated and thus can preserve the heat of a plate of spaghetti or other hot food, are pre-stationed at designated logistics hubs and dispatched with orders for delivery as the food is prepared.

“We want to show how future-forward Miami can be,” Matt Lindenberger, REEF’s chief technology officer, told TechCrunch. “This is a great chance to show off the capabilities of the tech. The combination of us having a big presence in Miami, the fact that there are a lot of challenges around congestion as Covid subsides, still shows a really good environment where we can show how this tech can work.”

Lindenberg said Miami is a great place to start, but it’s just the beginning, with potential for the Cartken robots to be used for REEF’s other last-mile delivery businesses. Currently, only two restaurant delivery robots are operating in Miami, but Lindenberger said the company is planning to expand further into the city and outward into Fort Lauderdale, as well as other large metros the company operates in, such as Dallas, Atlanta, Los Angeles and eventually New York.

Lindenberger is hoping the presence of robots in the streets can act as a “force multiplier” allowing them to scale while maintaining quality of service in a cost-effective way.

“We’re seeing an explosion in deliveries right now in a post-pandemic world and we foresee that to continue, so these types of no-contact, zero-emission automation techniques are really critical,” he said.

Cartken’s robots are powered by a combination of machine learning and rules-based programming to react to every situation that could occur, even if that just means safely stopping and asking for help, Christian Bersch, CEO of Cartken, told TechCrunch. REEF would have supervisors on site to remotely control the robot if needed, a caveat that was included in the 2017 legislation that allowed for the operation of self-driving delivery robots in Florida.

“The technology at the end of the day is very similar to that of a self-driving car,” said Bersch. “The robot is seeing the environment, planning around obstacles like pedestrians or lampposts. If there’s an unknown situation, someone can help the robot out safely because it can stop on a dime. But it’s important to also have that level of autonomy on the robot because it can react in a split second, faster than anybody remotely could, if something happens like someone jumps in front of it.”

REEF marks specific operating areas on the map for the robots and Cartken tweaks the configuration for the city, accounting for specific situations a robot might need to deal with, so that when the robots are given a delivery address, they can make moves and operate like any other delivery driver. Only this driver has an LTE connection and is constantly updating its location so REEF can integrate it into its fleet management capabilities.

Image Credits: REEF/Cartken

Eventually, Lindenberger said, they’re hoping to be able to offer the option for customers to choose robot delivery on the major food delivery platforms REEF works with like Postmates, UberEats, DoorDash or GrubHub. Customers would receive a text when the robot arrives so they could go outside and meet it. However, the tech is not quite there yet.

Currently the robots only make it street-level, and then the food is passed off to a human who delivers it directly to the door, which is a service that most customers prefer. Navigating into an apartment complex and to a customer’s unit is difficult for a robot to manage just yet, and many customers aren’t quite ready to interact directly with a robot. 

“It’s an interim step, but this was a path for us to move forward quickly with the technology without having any other boundaries,” said Lindenberger. “Like with any new tech, you want to take it in steps. So a super important step which we’ve now taken and works very well is the ability to dispatch robots within a certain radius and know that they’re going to arrive there. That in and of itself is a huge step and it allows us to learn what kind of challenges you have in terms of that very last step. Then we can begin to work with Cartken to solve that last piece. It’s a big step just being able to do this automation.”

#artificial-intelligence, #atlanta, #automotive, #cartken, #ceo, #chief-technology-officer, #dallas, #doordash, #driver, #fleet-management, #florida, #food, #google, #grubhub, #los-angeles, #machine-learning, #miami, #new-york, #postmates, #reef-technologies, #robot, #robotics, #self-driving-car, #tc, #transportation

Atlanta’s early stage investment renaissance continues with Overline’s $27 million fund close

Michael Cohn became a celebrity in the Atlanta startup ecosystem when the company he co-founded was sold to Accenture in a deal valued somewhere between $350 million and $400 million nearly six years ago.

That same year, Sean O’Brien also made waves in the community when he helped shepherd the sale of the  collaboration software vendor, PGi, to a private equity firm for $1.5 billion.

The two men are now looking to become fixtures in the city’s burgeoning new tech community with the close of their seed-stage venture capital firm’s first fund, a $27.4 million investment vehicle.

Overline’s first fund has already made commitments to companies that are expanding the parameters of what’s investible in the Southeast broadly and Atlanta’s startup scene locally.

These are companies like Grubbly Farms, which sells insect-based chicken feed for backyard farmers, or Kayhan Space, which is aiming to be the air traffic control service for the space industry. Others, like Padsplit, an Atlanta-based flexible housing marketplace, are tackling America’s low income housing crisis. 

“Our business model is very different from that of a traditional software startup, and the Overline team’s unique strengths and operator mindset have been invaluable in helping us grow the company,” said Sean Warner, CEO and co-founder of Grubbly Farms. 

That’s on top of investments into companies building on Atlanta’s natural strengths as a financial services, payments and business software powerhouse.

For all of the activity in Atlanta these days, the city and the broader southeastern region is still massively underfunded, according to O’brien and Cohn. The region only received less than 10 percent of all the institutional venture investments that were committed in 2020. Indeed, only seven percent of Atlanta founders raise money locally when they’re first starting out, an Overline survey suggested.

“The data reflects what we have seen throughout our careers building, growing, and investing in startups. There is no shortage of phenomenal founders and businesses coming out of Atlanta and the Southeast, but they often struggle to find institutional capital at their earliest stages,” said O’Brien, in a statement. “Overline will lead as the first institutional check for these companies and be a true partner to the Founders throughout their lifecycle—supporting them on the strategic and operational business initiatives and decisions that are critical to a company’s success.” 

The limited partners in Overline’s first fund also reflects the firm’s emphasis on regional roots. The privately held email marketing behemoth Mailchimp anchored the fund, which also included partners like Cox Enterprises, Social Leverage,

Overline is supported by a bench of impressive partners that reflects the firm’s roots in the Southeast. Anchored by marketing platform, Mailchimp, additional partners include Cox Enterprises, Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Social Leverage, Wilmington, Del.-based Hallett Capital, and Atlanta Tech Village founder David Cummings, along with Techstars co-founder David Cohen. 

“At Mailchimp, we love our hometown of Atlanta, and are proud of the robust startup ecosystem that’s growing in our city. The Overline founding team’s vision of deploying smart, local capital into startups in Atlanta and the Southeast aligns with our goals of promoting and advancing local innovation,” said Rick Lynch, CFO, Mailchimp, in a statement.

The firm expects to make investments of between $250,000 to $1.5 million into seed stage companies and has already backed 11 companies including, Relay Payments, a logistics fintech company that has raised over $40 million from top-tier investors. 

“When we set out to build Atlanta Tech Village almost a decade ago, one of our primary goals was to help Atlanta develop into a top 10 startup city, where all entrepreneurs would thrive. We’re making tremendous strides as a community, as evidenced by the number of newly minted unicorns,” said serial entrepreneur and Atlanta Tech Village founder David Cummings. “I believe in Overline’s thesis that value-add institutional early-stage capital is critical to the ecosystem’s continued development. Since the early days, Michael and Sean have been an active presence in our community in a way that goes far beyond being a source of capital—as mentors, advisors, and champions of Atlanta founders. I am proud to be one of their first investors.”

#accenture, #advisors, #america, #arizona, #atlanta, #cfo, #co-founder, #collaboration-software, #corporate-finance, #cox-enterprises, #david-cohen, #delaware, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #financial-services, #mailchimp, #money, #private-equity, #serial-entrepreneur, #social-leverage, #startup-company, #tc, #techstars, #venture-capital

With an ARR topping $250 million, LA’s vertical SAAS superstar ServiceTitan is now worth $8.3 billion

Who knew building a vertical software as a service toolkit focused on home heating and cooling could be worth $8.3 billion?

That’s how much Los Angeles-based ServiceTitan, a startup founded just eight years ago is worth now, thanks to some massive tailwinds around homebuilding and energy efficiency that are serving to boost the company’s bottom line and netting it an unprecedented valuation for a vertical software company, according to bankers.

The company’s massive mint comes thanks to a new $500 million financing round led by Sequoia’s Global Equities fund and Tiger Global Management.

ServiceTitan’s backers are a veritable who’s who of the venture industry, with longtime white shoe investors like Battery Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners and Index Ventures joining the later stage investment funds like T. Rowe Price, Dragoneer Investment Group, and ICONIQ Growth.

In all, the new $500 million round likely sets the stage for a public offering later this year or before the end of 2022 if market conditions hold.

ServiceTitan now boasts more than 7,500 customers that employ more than 100,000 technicians and conduct nearly $20 billion worth of transactions providing services ranging from plumbing, air conditioning, electrical work, chimney, pest services and lawn care.

If Angi and Thumbtack are the places where homeowners go to find services and technicians, then ServiceTitan is where those technicians go to manage and organize their own businesses.

Based in Glendale, Calif., with satellite offices in Atlanta and Armenia, ServiceTitan built its business to solve a problem that its co-founders knew intimately as the children of parents whose careers were spent in the HVAC business.

The market for home services employs more than 5 million workers in the US and represents a trillion dollar global market.

Despite the siren song of global expansion, there’s likely plenty of room for ServiceTitan to grow in the U.S. Home ownership in the country is at a ten-year high thanks to the rise of remote work and an exodus from the largest American cities accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A focus on energy efficiency and a desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will likely cause a surge in residential and commercial retrofits which will also boost new business. Indeed these trends were already apparent in the statistic that home improvement spending was up 3 percent in 2020 even though the broader economy shrank by 3.5 percent.

“We depend on the men and women of the trades to maintain our life support systems: running water, heat, air conditioning, and power,” said Ara Mahdessian, co-founder and CEO of ServiceTitan. “Today, as both homeownership rates and time spent at home reach record highs, these essential service providers are facing rising demand from an increasingly tech-savvy homeowner. By providing contractors with the tools they need to deliver a great customer experience and grow their businesses with ease, ServiceTitan is enabling the hardworking men and women of the trades to reach the level of success they deserve.”

#armenia, #atlanta, #battery-ventures, #bessemer-venture-partners, #california, #chase-coleman, #dragoneer-investment-group, #energy-efficiency, #finance, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #iconiq-growth, #investment, #los-angeles, #sequoia, #servicetitan, #software, #t-rowe-price, #tc, #thumbtack, #tiger-global-management, #united-states

Big banks rush to back Greenwood, Killer Mike’s Atlanta-based digital bank for underrepresented customers

Before even taking its first deposit, Greenwood, the digital banking service targeting Black and Latino individuals and business owners, has raised $40 million — only a few months after its launch.

Coming in to finance the new challenger bank are six of the seven largest U.S. Banks and the payment technology developers Mastercard and Visa.

That’s right, Bank of America, PNC, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Truist, are backing a bank co-founded by a man who declared, “I’m with the revolutionary. I’m with the radical policy,” when stumping for then Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Joining the financial services giants in the round are FIS, a behind-the-scenes financial services tech developer; along with the venture capital firms TTV Capital, SoftBank Group’s SB Opportunity Fund, and Lightspeed Venture Partners. Sports investors Quality Control and All-Pro NFL running back Alvin Kamara also came in to finance the latest round.

Atlanta-based Greenwood was launched last October by a group that included former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young and Bounce TV founder, Ryan Glover.

“The net worth of a typical white family is nearly ten times greater than that of a Black family and eight times greater than that of a Latino family. This wealth gap is a curable injustice that requires collaboration,” said \ Glover, Chairman and Co-founder of Greenwood, in a statement. “The backing of six of the top seven banks and the two largest payment technology companies is a testament to the contemporary influence of the Black and Latino community. We now are even better positioned to deliver the world-class services our customers deserve.”

Named after the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Okla., which was known as the Black Wall Street before it was destroyed in a 1921 massacre, the digital bank promises to donate the equivalent of five free meals to an organization addressing food insecurity for every person who signs up to the bank. And every time a customer uses a Greenwood debit card, the bank will make a donation to either the United Negro College FundGoodr (an organization that addresses food insecurity) or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In addition, each month the bank will provide a $10,000 grant to a Black or Latinx small business owner that uses the company’s financial services.

“Truist Ventures is helping to inspire and build better lives and communities by leading the Series A funding round for Greenwood’s innovative approach to building greater trust in banking within Black and Latino communities,” said Truist Chief Digital and Client Experience Officer Dontá L. Wilson who oversees Truist Ventures, in a statement. “In addition to the opportunity to work with and learn from this distinguished group of founders, our investment in Greenwood is reflective of our purpose and commitment to advancing economic empowerment of minority and underserved communities.”

So far, 500,000 people have signed up for the wait list to bank with Greenwood.

#andrew-young, #atlanta, #bank, #bank-of-america, #banking, #bernie-sanders, #challenger-bank, #companies, #finance, #financial-services, #fis, #greenwood, #jpmorgan-chase, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #mastercard, #mayor, #national-football-league, #nfl, #oklahoma, #softbank-group, #tc, #tulsa, #united-states, #venture-capital-firms, #visa, #wells-fargo

Nigeria’s Plentywaka gets backing from Techstars, plans expansion to Canada

Plentywaka, a Nigerian bus-booking platform, today announced that it has been accepted into the Techstars Toronto accelerator program.

It will join nine other startups in the class of 2021 and secure funding from the accelerator as it sets its sights on global expansion.

The Lagos-based company, founded by Onyeka Akumah, Johnny Ena, John Shaibu and Afolabi Oluseyi, operates an ‘Uber-for-buses’ model connecting commuters with buses via an app.

Plentywaka launched in September 2019, and in the first two months, moved an average of six people daily, according to CEO Akumah. By its sixth month, this number increased to about 1,500 daily, and the company completed more than 100,000 rides within that timeframe.

Then in March 2020, the pandemic-induced lockdown hit businesses across Lagos and other states within Nigeria. Due to the nature of its business, Plentywaka had to make a slight pivot and began transporting essential services across Lagos, especially food items. It also opened a logistics service.

As the lockdown eased across the city and commuting resumed, the company moved 60% capacity while the operational cost remained the same. Although growth was steady and picking up, the company started seeking external investment. It received $300,000 pre-seed from its parent company, EMFATO and other early-stage investors like Microtraction and Niche Capital in August.

Backed with the new funding, Plentywaka has since doubled down on its core offering — transporting people via buses. The logistics arm that it launched, as well as a car service, have since been shuttered.

Akumah says the focus on a primary offering has paid a dividend. The company has expanded its intrastate services into two other cities in Nigeria including the country’s capital city, Abuja and has moved about 300,000 people. Following this announcement though, there are immediate plans to launch an interstate service across different cities in Nigeria.

This service will see Plentywaka partner with some major bus travel companies, which collectively have more than 2000 buses and ply over 100 routes in the country. Plentywaka acts as an aggregator, and commuters can see options of various transport companies, compare fares, and book on its platform.

“Plentywaka is getting to a point where we’re now becoming more like an aggregator as we onboard transportation companies on our platform. Interstate travel in Nigeria is data insufficient, and we want to be the first company to solve this.” Ena, co-founder and president of Plentywaka, said to TechCrunch. 

In addition to this and the new capital from Techstars, Plentywaka is looking to scale its platform across Africa and North America. Akumah says this global expansion plan will start with a city in Canada, most likely Toronto, on or before Q4 2021.

Sunil Sharma, the managing director of Techstars Toronto, confirmed this to TechCrunch. According to Sharma, Techstars is backing the Nigerian mobility startup because it’s solving a massive problem in Nigeria that can be likened to urban transportation challenges in other populated cities worldwide.

“We know that Western cities have legacy transportation systems. However, there are many transportation challenges, even in a city like Toronto,” he said. “And we think that Plentywaka’s technology and approach in improving the lives of citizens and their daily commute needs can be brought over to cities in the West just as they are in Africa.”

Plentywaka plans to launch its intracity service first after engaging the country’s necessary stakeholders before introducing the intercity model. Sharma thinks that most cities in Canada aren’t well serviced by buses, leading to a broken intercity transit infrastructure. Plentywaka’s presence will bring the much-needed option the city deserves, he says.

“Cities and towns here should have bus connectivity, but they quite simply don’t have it, and my view is that the arrival of Plentywaka will be an immediate option to the status quo. It will also resonate with people as a way to supplement existing transportation options,” he said.

Techstars’ relationship with Akumah also proved crucial in Plentywaka’s acceptance into the accelerator. A second-time Techstars-backed founder, Akumah co-founded Farmcrowdy, a Nigerian digital agriculture platform in 2016. Having gone through the accelerator’s Atlanta program four years ago with the agritech startup, Akumah is doing the same with Plentywaka. He doubles as CEO at both companies

The serial founder said the relationship with Techstars is one reason the company is expanding to Canada instead of neighbouring African countries.

“If the opportunity we have in Toronto right now to expand was similar to what we had in Ghana or South Africa, of course we’ll be having those conversations already. But when we have the support system from Techstars, Sunil, and regulators in Toronto without even putting feet on the ground, I mean that makes it exciting for us to expand to Canada,” the CEO remarked.

Nigerian or African startups, in general, rarely make their way into Canada. Plentywaka is on the verge of doing so, and it will be looking to close a seed round from investors to carry out these expansion plans and further improve its technology.

#africa, #atlanta, #canada, #funding, #lagos, #nigeria, #south-africa, #startups, #tc, #techstars, #techstars-toronto, #toronto, #transportation

Atlanta startups have another venture fund to tap as Silicon Road Ventures closes on $31 million

Atlanta startups can now add another name to their rolodexes of venture firms operating out of the Big Peach with the close of Silicon Road Ventures new $31 million fund.

Silicon Road invests across the U.S. from its base in Atlanta, the firm said with a focus on e-commerce, retail, and consumer packaged goods.

The firm said it’s focused on in-store retail and technology for shoppers, the multi-channel commerce world, supply chain and logistics technologies and financial technologies and payments.

Founded two years ago, the fund invested in ten startups over the course of 2020 and is targeting another twenty for its first fund.

The firm hopes that entrepreneurs find its “corporate connect” program to be a key differentiator, which relies on founder and managing partner Sid Mookerji’s experience in e-commerce, retail and consumer packaged goods to link corporations to relevant startups and research, according to a statement.

Silicon Road is already working with the upstart retail chain Citizen Supply, which provides a highly curated marketplace to showcase new consumer brands.

Mookerji previously founded Software Paradigms International Group, which was one of the first retail IT companies offering a suite of products designed to optimize omni-channel strategies. The company’s clients included Macy’s, Walmart, Carrefour, and NAPA.

Joining Mookerji is managing director and partner, Ross Kimbel, a former co-founder of Be Curious Partners and a global director of innovation and entrepreneurship at The Coca-Cola Company. curated engagements between portfolio companies and major retailers and brands.

The company’s current portfolio includesPerchToucan AIWeStockSoftWear AutomationPatronPull LogicTurnSymTrainEveryware, and Wripple.

#atlanta, #carrefour, #co-founder, #e-commerce, #entrepreneurship, #macys, #managing-partner, #private-equity, #retail, #retailers, #startup-company, #supermarkets, #supply-chain, #supply-chain-management, #tc, #united-states, #walmart

With Atlanta rising as a new hub for tech, early stage firm Tech Square Ventures gets a new partner

Atlanta is coming up in the tech world with several newly minted billion-dollar businesses hailing from the ATL and the city’s local venture capital community is taking notice.

Even as later stage firms like the newly minted BIP Capital rebrand and  with increasingly large funds, earlier stage firms like Tech Square Ventures are staffing up and adding new partners.

The firm’s latest hire is Vasant Kamath, a general partner who joins the firm from Primus Capital, a later stage investment vehicle based out of Atlanta. Before that, he was managing investments for the private office of the Cox family.

Originally from Augusta, Ga. Kamath left the south to attend Harvard and then went out west for a stint at Stanford Business School.

In between his jaunts North and West Kamath spent time in Atlanta as an investment banker with Raymond James in the early 2000s, the beginnings of a lifelong professional career in technology. Before business school, Kamath worked at Summit Equity Partners in Boston investing in later stage technology companies.

Kamath settled in Atlanta in 2010 just as a second wave of technology companies began making their presence felt in the city.

The new Tech Square Village general partner pointed to Atlanta’s underlying tech infrastructure as one reason for the move to early stage. One pillar of that infrastructure is Georgia Tech itself. The school, whose campus abuts the Tech Square Ventures offices, is one of the top engineering universities in the country and the breadth of talent coming out of that program is impressive, Kamath said.

There’s also the companies like Airwatch, MailChimp, Calendly and others that represent the resurgence of Atlanta’s tech scene, Tech Square Ventures’ newest general partner said.

Not only are young companies reinvesting in the city, but big tech giants and telecom players like T-Mobile, Google, and Microsoft are also establishing major offices, accelerators, and incubators in Atlanta.

“There’s a lot of momentum here in early stage and i think it’s building. It’s the right time for a firm like TSV to take advantage of all of the things,” Kamath said. 

Another selling point for making the jump to early stage investing was the relationship that Kamath had established with Tech Square Ventures founder, Blake Patton. A serial entrepreneur who’s committed to building up Atlanta’s startup ecosystem, Patton has been the architect of Tech Square Ventures’ growth through two separate initiatives.

In all, the firm has $90 million in assets under management. What began with a small pilot fund, Tech Square Ventures Fund 1, (a $5 million investment vehicle) has expanded to include two larger funds raised in conjunction with major industrial corporate partners like AT&T, Chick-Fil-A, Cox Enterprises, Delta, Georgia-Pacific, Georgia Power, The Home Depot, UPS, Goldman Sachs, and Invesco, under the auspices of a program called Engage. Those funds total $54 million in AUM and the firm is halfway toward closing a much larger second flagship fund under the Tech Square Ventures name with a $75 million target.

All this activity has led to a blossoming entrepreneurial community that early stage funds like Tech Square Ventures hopes to tap.

“We see a fair number of folks from these large corporations spinning out and starting things themselves,” said Kamath. “For a decade plus, you have multiple entrepreneurs doing really well and increasing acceleration in terms of climate and exits.”

And more firms from outside of the region are beginning to take notice.

“I think that is happening,” said Kamath. “You might seen investment from outside the region. At the seed stage it’s harder you do need to have feet on the ground right when they’re starting and building their business. Once they’ve been vetted and had that early round of investment you will definitely see a lot of activity. We’re seeing more investment at the Series A and B from out of town. That’s the strategy.”

It all points to a burgeoning startup scene that’s based in a collaborative approach, which should be good not only for Tech Square Ventures, but the other early stage funds like Atlanta Ventures, Outlander Labs, BLH Ventures, Knoll Ventures and Overline, that working to support the city’s entrepreneurs, Kamath said.

#airwatch, #att, #atlanta, #bip-capital, #boston, #calendly, #chick-fil-a, #corporate-finance, #cox-enterprises, #delta, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #georgia, #goldman-sachs, #google, #harvard, #invesco, #investment-banker, #knoll-ventures, #mailchimp, #microsoft, #money, #private-equity, #serial-entrepreneur, #t-mobile, #tc, #tech-square-ventures, #technology, #venture-capital

Atlanta area gets a 5G incubator courtesy of T-Mobile and Georgia Tech

The Atlanta area is getting a new incubator for startups working with 5G technology courtesy of T-Mobile and Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center, the companies announced today.

It’s an expansion of the T-Mobile Accelerator program and part of the big carrier’s efforts to boost 5G innovation.

Located in the Atlanta adjacent exurb of Peachtree Corners’ technology development park, which is already equipped with T-Mobile’s 5G services, the incubator will help developers build and test 5G use cases including autonomous vehicles, robotics, industrial drone applications, mixed reality training and entertainment, remote medical care and personal health, the company said.

Startups working with the 5G Connected Future program will work directly with folks at T-Mobile’s accelerator, Georgia Tech, and Curiosity Lab, an initiative in the Peachtree Corners campus.

“In addition to the normal startup concerns, entrepreneurs in the 5G space face a unique set of challenges such as regulatory issues at the state and local levels, network security, and integration testing,” said ATDC Director John Avery.

Peachtree Corners’ setup may help folks navigate that roll out. As part of its involvement ATDC will offer programing, recruit and evaluate startups, and hire staff to manage the vertical in Peachtree Corners, the organization said.

“This collaboration is a great opportunity for ATDC and Georgia Tech, the city of Peachtree Corners and Curiosity Lab, and T-Mobile, a Fortune 50 company, to create a unique collection to work with these companies, refine their ideas into scalable companies, and bring these solutions to market more quickly,” Avery said.

 

Such a partnership underscores “Georgia Tech’s commitment to enabling tomorrow’s technology leaders, which remains as strong as when ATDC was founded 41 years ago,” said Chaouki T. Abdallah, Georgia Tech’s executive vice president for research. “Innovation cannot take place in a vacuum, which is why entrepreneurs and startups require the knowledge and resources provided through partnerships such as ours.”

#5g, #atlanta, #director, #georgia-tech, #science-and-technology, #startup-company, #t-mobile, #tc, #technology, #telecommunications

Launching Panoramic Ventures, Atlanta’s BIP Capital adds a new partner and plans $300 million new VC fund

The Atlanta-based BIP Capital has a new name for its venture capital operations (Panoramic Ventures); a new partner (Paul Judge); and is launching a $300 million new fund in its bid to plant a flag as the premier venture fund among the rising startup cities across the country.

Miami may have grabbed headlines recently as a new hub for venture capital and technology startups, but like other cities across the Southeast it’s lacked venture funds of a significant size since the early days of the dot-com bubble. Panoramic wants to be the fundraising destination for entrepreneurs outside of traditional tech hubs like Boston, Silicon Valley and New York as these new tech hubs emerge.

Atlanta, which already boasts several startup companies that have achieved billion-dollar valuations including Greenlight Financial and Calendly, has an equally burgeoning startup scene and an opportunity to become the central hub for venture capital investment in a region that encompasses several other rising tech hubs in the Southeast like Birmingham, Miami, Nashville, and New Orleans.

It’s a strategy similar to the one that Drive Capital has employed to become a leading fund in the Midwest and across the U.S.

Under the new partnership, which will include famed early stage Atlanta investor, Paul Judge, BIP Capital’s venture activities will operate under the Panoramic Ventures brand.

Should the firm manage to raise the $300 million it has targeted for Panoramic’s inaugural investment vehicle it would become the largest venture fund in the Southeast.

“It’s important to have a fund at that scale,” said Mark Buffington, a co-founder of BIP Capital and Panoramic Ventures. “You see the venture activity that is increasing in the region [and] one thing that’s been missing is a really active venture fund that can scale up as companies grow.”

Panoramic intends to be active at the seed stage while having the capacity to make investments in later stage venture backed companies as well, according to the two co-founders. And the firm will also try to focus on a more diverse group of entrepreneurs, thanks to the addition of Paul Judge.

Judge, a Black serial entrepreneur and investor, was the co-founder of the Atlanta-based voice recognition tech developer Pindrop, the Wi-Fi startup Luma Home, and security tech developer Purewire.  He’s also an investor several startups across the Southeast through his own venture initiatives, including Techsquare Labs and Judge sits on the investment committee for the SoftBank Opportunity Fund, focused on Black, Hispanic and Native American founders. His portfolio includes companies like LeaseQuery, Cove.tool, OncoLens and Eventeny.

About $125 million has already been soft-circled for the new Panoramic Ventures fund, which expects to work closely with some of the other investment firms that have cropped up or established a presence in the Southeast. That includes firms like Outlander Labs, founded by the husband and wife investment team of Paige and Leura Craig, and the LA-based firm, Mucker Labs, which has an investment partner working out of Nashville.

“There’s been an absence of this type of energy and this type of heft in a venture fund in Atlanta,” said Judge. “That’s the hole that we’ve been aiming to fill.”

Panoramic will invest in Seed, Series A, and Series B funding rounds, the company said in a statement. Investment areas will focus on include business-to-business software as a service companies, healthcare software, financial technologies, digital media, cybersecurity, and frontier technologies. 

#atlanta, #bip-capital, #boston, #business-incubators, #business-software, #calendly, #co-founder, #corporate-finance, #digital-media, #drive-capital, #economy, #energy, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #judge, #louisiana, #miami, #money, #mucker-labs, #nashville, #new-orleans, #new-york, #paige, #pindrop, #private-equity, #softbank-opportunity-fund, #startup-company, #tc, #techsquare-labs, #united-states, #venture-capital, #venture-capital-investment, #voice-recognition

Voice recognition features return to TiVo through a partnership with Atlanta-based Pindrop

TiVo devices are getting new voice recognition capabilities thanks to a partnership with the Atlanta-based startup Pindrop, which is now offering its voice recognition and personalization technologies for consumer devices.

The new voice recognition capabilities replace TiVo’s discontinued use of the Alexa voice recognition service, which happened with little fanfare last year.

TiVo made a big push with its Alexa integration a little over two years ago, but the switch to Pindrop’s services shows that there’s a robust market for voice-enabled services and providers are moving from different markets to compete on Amazon and Google’s home turf.

Through the integration with Pindrop’s services, TiVo homeowners will now be able to search for shows and control their devices using their voice. But Pindrop’s tech, which was developed initially as an anti-fraud technology for financial services firms and big business customers, goes beyond basic voice recognition.

Pindrop’s tech can tell the difference between different speakers, setting up opportunities for the personalization of programming with each user being able to call up their individual account for Netflix, Amazon or other services with simple voice commands.

“Beyond just understanding what was said, we want to understand the context of the situation to drive intelligent system behavior in the moment,” said Jon Heim, Senior Director of Product & Conversation Services at TiVo. “The ability to distinguish between different members of a household based on their voice is an example of this contextual awareness, enabling us to provide an unprecedented level of personalization through an experience tailored to that specific person.”

It’s cool.

When different users say the “What should I watch?” prompt, TiVo devices can now pull up personalized content they are most likely to want to watch. If another member of the household says the same command, the device will display different results.

The technology requires user opt-in, and while Pindrop’s tech can differentiate between speakers, the identity of the speaker is anonymized. 

It’s a service that Pindrop has already rolled out to eight of the ten largest banks in the U.S., according to Pindrop co-founder and chief executive Vijay Balasubramanian. And the foray into consumer devices through the TiVo partnership is just the beginning.

The company has also integrated with SEI Robotics devices, the white label manufacturer of Android devices.

Pindrop has plenty of cash in the bank to finance its push into the world of consumer devices. The company’s profitable and is looking at an annual run rate just shy of $100 million, according to Balasubramanian.

For its next trick, the company intends to roll out its voice recognition service in cars and other networked consumer devices, according to Balasubramanian.

“[We’re] working with OEMS for auto… they’re in the proof of concept phase,” he said. 

#amazon, #android, #atlanta, #bank, #computing, #digital-video-recorders, #director, #netflix, #operating-systems, #personalization, #pindrop, #pindrop-security, #speaker, #tc, #tivo, #united-states, #voice-recognition

Atlanta-based gaming controller peripheral seller KontrolFreek has been bought by SteelSeries

After nearly a decade selling gaming and console peripherals to gamers looking to spice up their systems, Atlanta-based KontrolFreek has been acquired by the international peripherals retailer, SteelSeries.

Terms of the acquisition were undisclosed, but KontrolFreek has shipped over 2 million units of its flagship product, which is available in over 9,000 retailers in 60 countries and can be found in over 16 online marketplaces.

That’s not bad for a company that was founded 11 years ago with a $50,000 check from BLH Venture Partners, the Atlanta-based investment firm co-founded by Billy L. Harbert and Ashish Mistry. Mistry, a co-founder of Virtex Networks and later an early team member at Air Defense.

Neither Harbert nor Mistry were much for gaming, but they did see the opportunity in selling peripherals to the folks who were, Mistry said in a direct message.

“Huge markets have large niches,” Mistry wrote.

By acquiring KontrolFreek, SteelSeries is further consolidating its position in the console gaming market by folding one of the leading sellers of high-performance controller accessories into its portfolio of products. Earlier this year, SteelSeries nabbed A-volute, which provides three dimensional sound systems for games.

SteelSeries also gets a vibrant user generated media property in KontrolFreek’s FreekNation community, which boasts 4 million community members.

“With the next-generation consoles at the forefront of the gaming industry’s mind, there’s never been a better time to maximize our ability to provide the best gaming experiences and products to console gamers,” said Ehtisham Rabbani, CEO of SteelSeries. “With KontrolFreek’s expertise and global popularity, we know they’ll open new opportunities to entertain, delight, and assist new gamers across the world.”

#articles, #atlanta, #blh-venture-partners, #ceo, #co-founder, #components, #computing, #controller, #gamer, #kontrolfreek, #steelseries, #tc

Atlanta-based Sanguina wants to make fingernail selfies a digital biomarker for iron deficiency

Sanguina, an Atlanta-based health technology developer, is launching its a mobile app in the Google Play Store that uses pictures of fingernails to determine whether or not someone is getting enough iron.

The app measures hemoglobin levels, which are a key indicator of anemia, by analyzing the color of a person’s fingernail beds in a picture.

These fingernail selfies could be used to determine anemia for the more than 2 billion people who are affected by the condition — including women, children, athletes and the elderly.

Iron deficiencies can cause fatigue, pregnancy complications, and in severe cases, even cardiac arrest, the company said. AnemoCheck is the first smartphone application to measure hemoglobin levels, the company said — and through its app people can not only determine whether or not they’re anemic but also use the app’s information to address the condition, the company said.

Sanguina’s technology uses an algorithm to determine the amount of hemoglobin in the blood based on an examination and analysis of the coloration of the nail bed.

Created by Dr. Wilbur Lam, Erika Tyburski, and Rob Mannino, the company was born out of research conducted at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University.

“This non-invasive anemia detection tool is the only type of app-based system that has the potential to replace a common blood test,” said Dr. Lam, a clinical hematologist-bioengineer at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, associate professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine, and a faculty member in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Emory University and Georgia Tech.

So far, Sanguina has raised over $4.2 million in funding from The Seed Lab, XRC Labs, as well as grants from The National Science Foundation and The National Institutes of Health, according to a statement.

 

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Cyber insurance startup At-Bay raises $34M Series C, adds M12 as a new investor

Cybersecurity insurance startup At-Bay has raised $34 million in its Series C round, the company announced Tuesday.

The round was led by Qumra Capital, a new investor. Microsoft’s venture fund M12, also a new investor, participated in the round alongside Acrew Capital, Khosla Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Munich Re Ventures, and Israeli entrepreneur Shlomo Kramer, who co-founded security firms Check Point and Imperva.

It’s a huge move for the company, which only closed its Series B in February.

The cybersecurity insurance market is expected to become a $23 billion industry by 2025, driven in part by an explosion in connected devices and new regulatory regimes under Europe’s GDPR and more recently California’s state-wide privacy law. But where traditional insurance companies have struggled to acquire the acumen needed to accommodate the growing demand for cybersecurity insurance, startups like At-Bay have filled the space.

At-Bay was founded in 2016 by Rotem Iram and Roman Itskovich, and is headquartered in Mountain View. In the past year, the company has tripled its headcount and now has offices in New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Portland, Los Angeles, and Dallas.

The company differentiates itself from the pack by monitoring the perimeter of its customers’ networks and alerting them to security risks or vulnerabilities. By proactively looking for potential security issues, At-Bay helps its customers to prevent network intrusions and data breaches before they happen, avoiding losses for the company while reducing insurance payouts — a win-win for both the insurance provider and its customers.

“This modern approach to risk management is not only driving strong demand for our insurance, but also enabling us to improve our products and minimize loss to our insureds,” said Iram.

It’s a bet that’s paying off: the company says its frequency of claims are less than half of the industry average. Lior Litwak, a partner at M12, said he sees “immense potential” in the company for melding cyber risk and analysis with cyber insurance.

Now with its Series C in the bank, the company plans to grow its team and launch new products, while improving its automated underwriting platform that allows companies to get instant cyber insurance quotes.

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