Belvo, LatAm’s answer to Plaid, raises $43M to scale its API for financial services

Belvo, a Latin American startup which has built an open finance API platform, announced today it has raised $43 million in a Series A round of funding.

A mix of Silicon Valley and Latin American-based VC firms and angels participated in the financing including Future Positive, Kibo Ventures, FJ Labs, Kaszek, MAYA Capital, Venture Friends, Rappi co-founder and president Sebastián Mejía (Rappi), Harsh Sinha, CTO of Wise (formerly Transferwise) and Nubank CEO and founder David Vélez.

Citing Crunchbase data, Belvo believes the round represents the largest series A ever raised by a Latin American fintech. In May 2020, Belvo raised a $10 million seed round co-led by Silicon Valley’s Founders Fund and Argentina’s Kaszek.

Belvo aims to work with leading fintechs in Latin America, spanning across verticals like the neobanks, credit providers and personal finance products Latin Americans use every day.

The startup’s goal with its developer-first API platform that can be used to access and interpret end-user financial data is to build better, more efficient and more inclusive financial products in Latin America. Developers of popular neobank apps, credit providers and personal finance tools use Belvo’s API to connect bank accounts to their apps to unlock the power of open banking.

As TechCrunch Senior Editor Alex Wilhelm explained in this piece last year, Belvo might be considered similar to U.S.-based Plaid, but more attuned to the Latin American market so it can take in a more diverse set of data to better meet the needs of the various markets it serves. 

So while Belvo’s goals are “similar to the overarching goal[s] of Plaid,” co-founder and co-CEO Pablo Viguera told TechCrunch that Belvo is not merely building a banking API business hoping to connect apps to financial accounts. Instead, Belvo wants to build a finance API, which takes in more information than is normally collected by such systems. Latin America is massively underbanked and unbanked so the more data from more sources, the better.

“In essence, we’re pushing for similar outcomes [as Plaid] in terms of when you think about open banking or open finance,” Viguera said. “We’re working to democratize access to financial data and empower end users to port that data, and share that data with whoever they want.”

The company operates under the premise that just because a significant number of the region’s population is underbanked doesn’t mean that they aren’t still financially active. Belvo’s goal is to link all sorts of accounts together. For example, Viguera told TechCrunch that some gig-economy companies in Latin America are issuing their own cards that allow workers to cash out at small local shops. In time, all those transactions are data that could be linked up using Belvo, casting a far wider net than what we’re used to domestically.

The company’s work to connect banks and non-banks together is key to the company’s goal of allowing “any fintech or any developer to access and interpret user financial data,” according to Viguera.

Viguera and co-CEO Oriol Tintoré founded in May of 2019, and was part of Y Combinator’s Winter 2020 batch. Since launching its platform last year, the company says it has built a customer base of over 60 companies across Mexico, Brazil and Colombia, handling millions of monthly API calls. 

This is important because as Alex noted last year, similar to other players in the API-space, Belvo charges for each API call that its customers use (in this sense, it has a model similar to Twilio’s). 

Image Credits: Co-founders and co-CEOs Oriol Tintore and Pablo Viguera / Belvo

Also, over the past year, Belvo says it expanded its API coverage to over 40 financial institutions, which gives companies the ability to connect to over 90% of personal and business bank accounts in LatAm, as well as to tax authorities (such as the SAT in Mexico) and gig economy platforms.

“Essentially we take unstructured financial data , which an individual might have outside of a bank such as integrations we have with gig economy platforms such as Uber and Rappi. We can take a driver’s information from their Uber app, which is kind of built like a bank app and turn it into meaningful bank-like info which third parties can leverage to make assessments as if it’s data coming from a bank,” Viguera explained.

The startup plans to use its new capital to scale its product offering, continue expanding its geographic footprint and double its current headcount of 70. Specifically, Belvo plans to hire more than 50 engineers in Mexico and Brazil by year’s end. It currently has offices in Mexico City, São Paulo, and Barcelona. The company also aims to  launch its bank-to-bank payment initiation offering in Mexico and Brazil.

Belvo currently operates in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil. 

But it’s seeing “a lot of opportunity” in other markets in Latin America, especially in Chile, Peru and Argentina, Viguera told TechCrunch. “In due course, we will look to pursue expansion there.” 

Fred Blackford, founding partner of Future Positive, believes Belvo represents a “truly transformational opportunity for the region’s financial sector.”

Nicolás Szekasy, co-founder and managing partner of Kaszek, noted that demand for financial services in Latin America is growing at an exponential rate .

“Belvo is developing the infrastructure that will enable both the larger institutions and the emerging generation of younger players to successfully deploy their solutions,” he said. “ Oriol, Pablo, and the Belvo team have been leading the development of a sophisticated platform that resolves very complex technical challenges, and the company’s exponential growth reflects how it is delivering a product that fits perfectly with the requirements of the market.” 

#alex-wilhelm, #api, #argentina, #bank, #banking, #barcelona, #belvo, #brazil, #ceo, #chile, #co-ceo, #colombia, #cto, #david-velez, #driver, #editor, #finance, #financial-services, #fj-labs, #founders-fund, #funding, #fundings-exits, #kaszek, #kibo-ventures, #latin-america, #mexico, #mexico-city, #nubank, #online-food-ordering, #open-banking, #open-finance, #peru, #rappi, #recent-funding, #sao-paulo, #startup, #startups, #tc, #technology, #twilio, #uber, #vc, #venture-capital, #wise, #y-combinator

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Glovo splurges $208M on three Delivery Hero brands in the Balkans

The high stakes game of chess (or, well, consolidation chicken) that is on-demand food delivery rolls on today with a little more territorial swapping in Europe: Barcelona-based Glovo has agreed to buy three of Berlin-based Delivery Hero’s food delivery brands in Central and Eastern Europe — with deals that it said are worth a total value of €170 million (~$208M).

Specifically, it’s picking up Delivery Hero’s foodpanda brand in Romania and Bulgaria; the Donesi brand in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina; and Pauza in Croatia.

There’s some notable symmetry here: Last year Delivery Hero shelled out $272M for a bunch of Glovo’s LatAm brands, as the latter gave up on a region it had already started withdrawing from in its quest for profitability.

Glovo said then that it would be focusing on “key markets where we can build a long-term sustainable business and continue to provide our unique multi-category offering to our customers”.

Earlier this month the Barcelona-based ‘deliver anything’ app also announced it was picking up Ehrana, a local delivery company in Slovenia. So it’s been on quite the (local) shopping spree of late.

Its existing operational footprint covers markets in South West Europe, Eastern Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa. So its attention here, on the Balkans, suggests it sees a chance to eke out profitable potential in more of Central Europe too.

Glovo said the transactions in Bosnia Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia are expected to close “within the next few weeks”, subject to fulfilment of closing conditions and relevant regulatory approvals.

While it said Romania will be completed following approval from the competition authority — but gave no timeline for that.

Its splurge on Central and Eastern European rival food delivery brands follows a $528M Series F funding round in April — so it’s evidently not short of VC cash to burn spend.

Commenting in a statement, Oscar Pierre, CEO and co-founder, said: “It’s always been central to our long-term strategy to focus on markets where we see clear opportunities to lead and where we can build a sustainable business. Central and Eastern Europe is a very important part of that plan. The region has really embraced on-demand delivery platforms and we’re very excited to be strengthening our presence and increasing our footprint in countries that continue to show enormous potential for growth.” 

In another supporting statement Delivery Hero made it clear it has bigger fish to fry (than can be served up to hungry customers in the Balkans) right now.

“Delivery Hero has built a clear leading business in the Balkan region in the last couple of years. However, with a lot of operational priorities on our plate, we believe Glovo would be better positioned to continue building an amazing experience for our customers in this region,” said Niklas Östberg, its CEO and co-founder.

A relevant, recent development for Delivery Hero‘s business is the decision to re-enter its home market of Germany — Europe’s biggest economy — under its foodpanda brand, starting in its home city of Berlin this summer (but with a national expansion planned to follow).

This is notable because back in 2018 it sold its German operations to another on-demand food delivery rival, the Dutch giant Takeaway.com — in a $1.1BN deal which included the Lieferheld, Pizza.de and foodora brands — temporarily stepping out of the competitive fray. (Meanwhile Takeaway.com has since merged with the UK’s Just Eat to become… Just Eat Takeaway so, uh, keep up.)

Delivery Hero is returning to Germany now because it can, and because the market is huge. A two-year non-compete clause between it and Just Eat Takeaway recently expired — allowing for reheating (rehashing?) of the competitive food delivery mix in German cities.

Speaking to the FT back in May about this market return, Östberg suggested Delivery Hero has girded itself (and its investors) for a long fight.

“We don’t see necessarily that we are going to go in and win the market in the next year or so. This is a 10-year game,” he said. “Of course we will definitely make sure we put in enough money to be the clear number two, the clear challenger [to Just Eat Takeaway.com].”

Winning at food delivery is certainly a(n expensive) marathon, not a sprint.

There are also of course multiple races being run in markets around the world, depending on local conditions and competitive mix — with the chance that the winner of the biggest and most lucrative races will reach such a position of VC-sponsored glory that it can buy up the top competitors from the smaller races and consolidate everything — maximizing economies of scale and gaining the ability to squeeze out fresh competition to grab a juicy profit for themselves.

Or, well, that’s the theory. Competition regulators are likely to take increasing interest in this space, for one thing. Rising awareness of gig economy workers rights is also putting pressure on the model.

For now, the thin-margin food delivery business needs the right base conditions to survive. The model only functions in cities and ideally in highly dense urban environments. Most of the players in this space also do not employ the armies of riders that are needed to make deliveries — because doing so would make the model far more costly. And in Europe political attention on gig economy workers rights could force reforms that raise regional operational costs, putting further pressure on margins.

Spain has its own labor reforms in train that will affect Glovo in its home market, for example.

Achieving sustainability (i.e. profitability without the need for ongoing VC funding injections) remains a huge hurdle for delivery apps. It will likely require massive market consolidation and/or convincing users to switch from making the occasional order of a hot meal on a weekend to relying on app-based delivery for far more of their local shopping needs — not just lunch/dinner but groceries and toiletries, and other fast moving consumers goods and household items.

It’s notable that super fast grocery delivery is a major focus for Glovo, for example — which has recently been building out networks of inner city dark stores to service in-app convenience store shopping.

Lots of other on-demand app players are also ramping up on that front. Including Delivery Hero — which has been paying more attention to groceries (picking up InstaShop last year in a deal worth $360M).

Glovo building out in Central Europe while exiting markets further afield suggests it believes it can use a concentrated market footprint to drive operational efficiencies and strong order margins through a tightly integrated meal delivery and dark store play.

If it can do that — and offer at least the whiff of profitability — it could make its business an attractive future acquisition target for a larger global giant that’s looking to up the ‘consolidation chicken’ stakes by bolting on new regions.

A larger player like Delivery Hero may even be a potential future suitor — having shown it’s happy to return to markets it left earlier. After all, it surely knows Glovo’s business pretty well since they’ve done a number of market swaps. But, for now, that’s pure speculation.

Zooming out, what the on-demand model of app-based urban convenience means for the future of urban environments is a whole other question — and one which both competition and urban regulators will need to ponder very carefully.

If the rush to scale delivery platforms drives unstoppable consolidation that sees smaller players gobbled up by a few global giants — that can then use their size and scale to outcompete local shops — it may spell even more dark times for the traditional High Street and its family-run bodegas which have already been hammered by Internet giants like Amazon.

Touch of a button convenience does carry wider costs.

 

#amazon, #apps, #balkans, #barcelona, #berlin, #bulgaria, #central-europe, #croatia, #delivery-hero, #eastern-europe, #europe, #food, #food-delivery, #foodpanda, #fundings-exits, #germany, #glovo, #just-eat-takeaway, #just-eat, #montenegro, #niklas-ostberg, #online-food-ordering, #oscar-pierre, #retailers, #romania, #take-out, #takeaway-com, #tc, #united-kingdom

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8 investors and founders highlight Valencia’s potential as a fintech and cybersecurity hub

While Madrid and Barcelona tend to attract the buzz when it comes to tech startups in Spain, Valencia is slowly and surely making a name for itself as a growing tech ecosystem.

The country’s third-largest city, Valencia features great beaches, sunny weather all year, and affordable housing and healthcare. And with a population of only around a million people, it’s a little more manageable compared to its bigger cousins.

The city also topped the InterNations Expat City Ranking 2020 as one of the best cities for expats to settle in. What’s more, it produces plenty of talent — about 25,000 bachelor’s and masters degrees are issued in the city every year.

So to find out what the startup scene in Valencia looks like, we spoke with eight local investors, executives and founders. The city appears to be strong in areas such as travel, AI, cybersecurity, fintech, agritech, travel tech, biotech, sports tech, and VR. The blockchain/crytpo scene could do with some improvement, according to a few respondents.

The city’s investment scene is not particularly large and most investors focus on seed funding, but it’s growing as family-owned companies, and individual and institutional investors turn to tech. BIGBAN is a private nonprofit angel investor network based in Valencia, and incubators and accelerator programs continue to proliferate, supported by corporates and local government initiatives such as Startup Valencia.

Notable startups in the city include Streamloots, Voicemod, Jeff, Beroomers, Flywire and Blinkfire Analytics.

We surveyed:


Luz Adell, CFO/partner, Draper B1

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What does it lack?
Key sectors include fintech, agritech and travel tech.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Streamloots, Criptan, Voicemod, Boatjump, Zeleros, WiTraC and Sales Layer.

What are the tech investors like in Valencia? What’s their focus?
The Valencia investor scene is growing. There are more family-owned companies, and individual and institutional investors, and they have also invested capital. We have some of the top incubators and accelerator programs in Spain. BIGBAN, a private nonprofit angel investor network based in Valencia, is building and developing one of the most dynamic and active investor communities in Spain.

With the shift to remote working, do you think people will stay in Valencia, or will they move out? Will others move in?
People will stay or move in to the city. Expats and digital nomads prefer moving to Valencia.

Who are the key startup people in the city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers)?
Startup Valencia, BIGBAN, Lanzadera, Plug and Play, GoHub, Angels Capital, Demium, Tbig Advisory, KM Zero, BioHub and Draper B1.

Where do you think the city’s tech scene will be in five years?
Valencia is becoming a pole of attraction for companies and talent thanks to an ecosystem in continuous evolution, with a clear entrepreneurial mindset.

Jordi Díaz Maiquez, CEO, Play&go experience

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What does it lack?
Tourism.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Zeleros.

What are the tech investors like in Valencia? What’s their focus?
Demium, and GoHub for deep tech.

With the shift to remote working, do you think people will stay in Valencia, or will they move out? Will others move in?
People will stay or move in.

Where do you think the city’s tech scene will be in five years?
Much better than now.

Helena Ortiz Gil, CMO, Techer Team

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What does it lack?
Virtual reality is strong and exciting. Blockchain could be improved.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Techer Team and some Lanzadera projects.

What is the investing scene like in Valencia? What’s the investors’ focus?
It could improve.

With the shift to remote working, do you think people will stay in Valencia, or will they move out? Will others move in?
Most people stayed back.

Who are the key startup people in the city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers)?
Lanzadera, Valencia Activa, Demium and GoHub.

Where do you think the city’s tech scene will be in five years?
I hope it improves.

Patricia Pastor, director, GoHub

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What does it lack?
Water, industry, smart city tech.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Fivecomm, Sales Layer, Quibim, Jeff and Voicemod.

What are the tech investors like in Valencia? What’s their focus?
GoHub for B2B in AI, 5G, cybersecurity and sustainability.

With the shift to remote working, do you think people will stay in Valencia, or will they move out? Will others move in?
We’ll see hundreds of remote workers.

Where do you think the city’s tech scene will be in five years?
In the top 15.

Fernando Marzal, VP of New Business, Jeff

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What does it lack?
Day-to-day services.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Flywire, Streamloots, Voicemod, Blinkfire and Demium.

What is the tech investment scene like in Valencia? What’s investors’ focus?
Seed investors.

With the shift to remote working, do you think people will stay in Valencia, or will they move out? Will others move in?
Stay. Valencia is one the better places to work thanks to weather, city size, beach, etc.

Who are the key startup people in the city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers)?
Startup Valencia Association.

Where do you think the city’s tech scene will be in five years?
One of the main startup cities in Europe.

Enrique Penichet, founding partner, Draper B1

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What does it lack?
Valencia’s tech ecosystem is strong on providing tech talent. There are a lot of people with capabilities in AI and cybersecurity. Because of this some corporate accelerators are growing strong here, mainly in fintech, such as Bankia Fintech.

We have a unicorn in fintech Flywire, and a foreign fintech scaleup, Creditas (from Brazil), has established their HQ here. We also have some good startups in fintech growing here such as Criptan, Colectual or The Logic Value.

Valencia has also been traditionally strong in video gaming. ESAT, a globally recognized academy located here, provides great talent, and mainly due to this, we have some successful startups such as Voicemod or Streamloots in the gaming industry. In fact, one of the major gaming events in Spain and Europe, Dreamhack, is held in Valencia.

Due to Lanzadera, together with Station F, one of the biggest accelerators in Europe is located in Valencia, and there are now startups growing in all verticals.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Flywire, Jeff, Streamloots, Voicemod, Criptan, Cronoshare, Quibim, Cuidum and Gokoan.

What are the tech investors like in Valencia? What’s their focus?
Most investors are business angels and early-stage investors. Draper B1, Angels Capital, Zriser, and Keith VC.

With the shift to remote working, do you think people will stay in Valencia, or will they move out? Will others move in?
Both things are happening, Valencia is a nice place to work, near the Mediterranean Sea. It was recognized by Bloomberg as the No. 1 city in the world to work. So, many people are coming here to work remotely. At the same time, some people are leaving to work from the countryside.

Who are the key startup people in the city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers)?
Accelerators and founders.

Where do you think the city’s tech scene will be in five years?
A bunch of companies from Valencia have closed Series A rounds. Hopefully, in five years it will be commonplace to see some Series B or C or D happening. Right now, probably only Flywire has accomplished that.

Javier Moliner Urdiales, CEO, Howlanders

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What does it lack?
E-commerce, travel and Industry 4.0.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Howlanders, Jeff, Airhopping, Landbot and WiTraC.

What are the tech investors like in Valencia? What’s their focus?
Focus on seed. Already some years of experience, mainly BA, small VC or crowd.

With the shift to remote working, do you think people will stay in Valencia, or will they move out? Will others move in?
People will move in due to quality of life, low costs, the location and local government support.

Who are the key startup people in the city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers)?
Javier Megias and Juan Roig.

Where do you think the city’s tech scene will be in five years?
Bigger, stronger, totally international community thanks to new arrivals (startups and remote workers), more national or international VCs managed locally from Valencia.

Jorge Soriano Lázaro, CEO, Criptan

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What does it lack?
Cryptocurrencies, or using crypto.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Balio.

What are the tech investors like in Valencia? What’s their focus?
Draper B1.

With the shift to remote working, do you think people will stay in Valencia, or will they move out? Will others move in?
Yes, people are staying here. We were working remotely since the beginning.

Who are the key startup people in the city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers)?
Draper B1, Enrique Penichet and Signne.

Where do you think the city’s tech scene will be in five years?
One of the most innovative in Europe.

#artificial-intelligence, #barcelona, #e-commerce, #ec-investor-survey, #europe, #finance, #investor-survey, #iot, #madrid, #spain, #startups, #station-f, #tc, #valencia, #venture-capital

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Direct-to-consumer orthodontic startup Impress raises $50M to scale across Europe

As the famous phrase goes, ‘software is eating the world’ and now software is eating dentistry. Or, perhaps more accurately, the arena of orthodontics — the specialty of dentistry that deals with things like braces — is slowly but surely being digitalized.

To whit, Impress, a Southern European player in direct-to-consumer orthodontics, has raised a $50 million Series A funding round led by CareCapital (a dental division of Hillhouse Capital in Asia), along with Nickleby capital, UNIQA Ventures, and investors including Michael Linse, Valentin Pitarque, Peter Schiff, Elliot Dornbusch, and others. All existing shareholders, such as TA Ventures and Bynd VC, also participated. 

Impress is an homage to the direct-to-consumer startups in this area in the US such as SmileDirect< and now plans to scale across Europe from its existing bases in Spain, Italy, Portugal, UK, and France.

The company was founded in 2019 in Barcelona by orthodontist Dr. Khaled Kasem and serial entrepreneurs Diliara and Vladimir Lupenko.

Speaking from Barclenoa, Lupenko told me that the idea was to “combine the best orthodontic tradition with the most innovative technology in the sector.”

As things stand, most of the time, consumers can usually only access cosmetic teeth alignment treatments or orthodontic medical treatments in conventional clinics. The new wave of clinics employs 3D scans and panoramic X-rays to check nerve and bone health.

Impress’s model is to offer these high-quality medical treatments directly to consumers, by developing its own chain of orthodontic clinics, which also put an emphasis on design and a ‘modern’ patient experience, it says.

As Diliara Lupenko says: “We didn’t copy what other companies in the space were doing and approached the market from a different angle from the get-go. We doubled down on the doctor-led digital model which brought us way better conversion rates and treatment quality even though on paper it looked complex in the beginning. It’s still very complex but we were able to crack it and scale exponentially.”

Impress now has 75 clinics in Spain, Italy, the UK, France, and Portugal which optimize costs and automate key parts of the value chain.

It now says it’s approaching €50m in annual run-rate and is projected to grow to €150m of revenue in 12 months. 

Andreas Nemeth, managing partner of UNIQA Ventures GmbH commented: “Impress’s customer-centric focus, as well as its demonstrated ability to blitzscale, attracted us to the business. Vladimir and his team leverage technology to create a seamless customer journey for invisible orthodontics and optimized their cost structure in a unique way using software.”

#andreas-nemeth, #asia, #barcelona, #dentistry, #dentists, #europe, #france, #hillhouse-capital, #italy, #managing-partner, #michael-linse, #orthodontist, #player, #portugal, #spain, #ta-ventures, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states

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TravelPerk raises $160M in equity and debt after a year of derailed business trips

The pandemic has hammered the travel sector over the past 12 months so you’d be forgiven for feeling a bit of pre-COVID-19 déjà vu at this news: Business trip booking platform TravelPerk is announcing a $160M Series D.

The round, which is a mix of equity and debt funding, is led by London-based growth equity firm Greyhound Capital. Existing investors also participated (specifically: DST, Kinnevik, Target Global, Felix Capital, Spark Capital, Heartcore, LocalGlobe and Amplo).

No valuation is being disclosed, nor is the split between equity and debt. So it’s a bit more of a convoluted ‘vote of confidence’ vs TravelPerk’s pre-pandemic raises — as you’d expect given the locked down year we’ve all had.

The Series D means the 2015-founded Barcelona-based startup has pulled in a total of $294M to-date for its user-friendly retooling of business trip booking geared toward ‘global SMEs’, following a top-up of $60M (in 2019) to its 2018 $44M Series C — which itself fast-followed a $21M Series B that same year.

TravelPerk’s approach is akin to a consumerization play for the (non-enterprise end of) business trip booking, combining what it bills as “the world’s largest bookable travel inventory” — letting users compare, book and invoice trains, cars, flights, hotels and apartments from a range of providers including Kayak, Skyscanner, Expedia, Booking.com, and Airbnb — with tools for businesses to manage and report trips.

There’s the obligatory freemium tier for the smallest teams. It also offers 24/7 traveler support, a flexible booking option and an open API for custom integrations.

There was no funding announcement for TravelPerk in 2020, as investors took a break from the pandemic-struck sector. But earlier this year it told TechCrunch it had been starting to see interest picking up again, as of fall 2020. The closing of a Series D now — albeit debt and equity — suggests VCs are getting over the worst of their travel wobbles.

(Another sign on that front is the $155M Series E raise for U.S.-based TripActions, which closed in January on a $5BN valuation, as U.S. corporate travel lifted off from 2020’s lows.)

TravelPerk’s PR talks bullishly about momentum and using the funds to accelerate ‘global growth’, even as the coronavirus continues to hit parts of Europe and the U.S. — its two main markets — despite what are relatively advanced vaccination rollouts (especially the US) vs other parts of the world.

At the time of writing, COVID-19 is taking a particularly heavy toll on India, where the health system looks to be careening out of control in the face of a massive wave of infections. Parts of Latin America are also struggling. A third of the way through 2021 the pandemic looks far from done. And that makes for a still uncertain outlook for business travel over the coming months.

The typical pre-pandemic business trip is now a Zoom call, while former conference calls may have morphed into emails or group chatter in Slack. And there’s no immediate reason for that to change, given remote-working professionals have had a year to adjust to a richer mix of digital comms tools.

In 2021 it’s hard to imagine an overwhelming return for business travel — not least as plenty of offices remain shuttered. The contagion risk vs hard-to-quantify in-person networking rewards associated with non-essential business trips will surely see work trips remaining a hard sell for a lot of companies.

Still, TravelPerk and its investors are willing to bet that work trips will rebound — in time.

The plan is to be ready to meet what it expects will be a far more ‘moveable feast’ of business travel demand in the future.

“Travel is definitely coming back,” says CEO and co-founder, Avi Meir. “We can see that already with the numbers. In the US for instance, we can see a 70-75% recovery in domestic flights compared to the baseline before COVID-19.

“In Europe it’s a little less certain right now, as vaccine rollout isn’t as fast, but you can look to other parts of the world and with some degree of certainty predict what the European recovery will eventually look like by looking at those examples.”

“We expect the overall global recovery in travel to be uneven over the next year, with different countries reopening at different times, meaning constantly changing guidelines and restrictions,” he goes on. “We’ll continue living in a stage of uncertainty probably for the next 12 months or longer.

“We’ve realised from speaking to our customers that the demand for travel is there, people are eager to do these trips, but this period of uncertainty makes it difficult for them so we’re focused on finding solutions that can address that.”

TravelPerk didn’t sit on its hands last year as global business travel cratered. Instead, it focused on investing in product development, making bets on how it needs to tool up for the new climate of increased uncertainty — including by taking a number of steps toward making its business more resilient to the ravages of COVID-19.

Last October it launched an API — saying it wanted to help the wider travel industry access up to date info on coronavirus restrictions. It also picked up a risk management startup, called Albatross, back in July, to feed its own resilience efforts.

Another more recent acquisition was geared toward scaling its business in the U.S. — where domestic travel looks to be recovering faster than Europe. In January it announced it was buying YC-backed rival NexTravel — gaining a base in Chicago.

At the same time, it inked a partnership with Southwest Airlines to plug a key gap in its U.S. offering.

Meir avoids breaking out any revenue growth projections for the U.S. or Europe for this year or next, when we ask, which suggests he’s preparing for lean growth in the short term.

What he does say is that investors were impressed TravelPerk managed to grow its customer base 2x in 2020 (it now has 3,000+ businesses using its platform, including a bunch of familiar startup names) — and that it avoided making layoffs (when other travel businesses swung the axe).

“Last year we doubled the size of our customer-base and we now have over 3,000 businesses using the platform, including the likes of Wise, Farfetch, GetYourGuide and Monzo. The travel budget under management also increased by almost 100% over the last 12 months,” he tells TechCrunch.

“The reason we had such interest from investors with this round is because we had, given the context, a really good 2020. We doubled our customer base, avoided making layoffs, and most importantly we were there for our customers when they needed us, constantly investing in the product to enable safe travel during Covid.”

The thesis TravelPerk is now working to is that “flexibility, safety and sustainability” will be more important than ever for business travellers, per Meir.

“Flexibility, because travel still has a lot of friction due to the different restrictions and travel lockdowns mean that a trip could be cancelled at really short notice,” says Meir. “Safety, so that every traveler knows not only what specific health requirements are in place at their destination, but also that they will get updates in real time if anything changes. Sustainability, because in this period businesses have been taking stock and realising that we all have to do more in terms of our environmental impact — and of course travel is a big part of this.”

“We have worked hard to respond quickly to these requirements,” he continues. “We updated our product and product roadmap to better match these new needs. Our flexible booking tool FlexiPerk [which TravelPerk happened to launch pre-pandemic, in summer 2019] guarantees refunds on cancelled trips at short notice; our risk-management API TravelSafe keeps travellers updated in real time on local health guidelines and restrictions; and GreenPerk, our sustainability tool, directly reduces carbon emissions through initiatives run by our partner Atmosfair.”

Sustainability and business travel aren’t a natural pairing, however. Certainly not for air travel — where environmental groups accuse carbon offsetting schemes of boiling down to ‘greenwashing’ when what’s really needed to achieve a reduction in CO2e emissions is for people to take fewer flights.

TravelPerk launched its GreenPerk offsetting scheme in February 2020, letting customers pay a fee per carbon tonne to cover its guesstimate of the total emissions toll their trip will generate. But it’s only been applied to 10% of its business volume so far.

With 90% not even being offset, you hardly need to be Greta Thunberg to call that the opposite of ‘sustainable’.

Still, Meir says he expects the offset percentage to “grow rapidly”. “We intend to use this funding to develop GreenPerk even further,” he says, adding: “We want to be the standard bearer for the industry in terms of sustainable business travel.”

However when asked whether TravelPerk might seek to advance sustainability by supporting digital replacement itself (such as by being able to offer its users videoconferencing as an alternative to flying) he declines to comment, saying: “We don’t have anything to share yet on how we’ll advance that goal [sustainability] right now, but we’re working on some exciting ideas!”

Coming up with creative ways to reduce the need for business travel certainly doesn’t feature in TravelPerk’s near term vision.

Meir predicts a “full comeback” for business travel — arguing that “the meetings that matter happen in person” — while conceding that the travel industry will nonetheless be very different. (Hence its goal of “building the products for that [more flexible] future”.)

“We expect to double down on growth in the U.S. and Europe and that includes making key hires across all roles, especially in our hubs in Chicago, London, and Barcelona,” he says, adding that it expects the team to grow “rapidly” in the next 12-24 months (without putting any numbers on the planned hires).

TravelPerk will also continue to eye acquisition targets, per Meir. “Following our first two acquisitions, of Albatross and NexTravel, this funding round will also help us to continue being aggressive in our growth strategy. We aim to complete more acquisitions this year,” he says on that. 

“Whilst many other providers have been in hibernation over the past year, we’ve been aggressive, continuing to update our product and growing our customer base, and we think that gives us a great foundation for growth in 2021 and beyond,” he adds.

Commenting on the Series D in a statement, Pogos Saiadian, investor at Greyhound Capital, said: “There is no doubt that from 2021 onwards the average business trip will look very different to how it did in 2019. We are confident that business travel will recover and thrive in the years ahead. We also believe that people will, more than ever before, need a platform like TravelPerk that has deep inventory, excellent ‘seven-star’ customer service, provides a great traveler experience and integrates with the broader tech-stack.

“We believe that this is a huge long-term opportunity, and as customers ourselves, we see first-hand the tremendous value that TravelPerk provides across organizations, from finance to admin and the travellers themselves. The fact the company is beating growth expectations already for this year further supports our belief that TravelPerk is a true market leader, and we are delighted to be supporting the next stage of the company’s growth with this investment.”

 

#air-travel, #airbnb, #api, #avi-meir, #barcelona, #booking-com, #business-travel, #chicago, #europe, #expedia, #farfetch, #fundings-exits, #getyourguide, #greyhound-capital, #kayak, #nextravel, #saas, #skyscanner, #tc, #travel-industry, #travelperk, #united-states, #video-conferencing

0

Private chef parties at home startup Yhangry raises $1.5M Seed from VC angels and Ollie Locke

There’s an “uber for everything” these days and now there are “Ubers for personal chefs”. Just take a look at PopTop or 100 Pleats for instance. Now in London, there is Yhangry (which brands itself as the appropriately shouty YHANGRY). This is a “private chef parties at home” website, and no doubt an app at some point. The startup has now raised a $1.5 million Seed round from a number of notable UK angels which also includes a few UK VCs for good measure, as well as ‘Made In Chelsea’ TV star Ollie Locke.

Founders Heinin Zhang and Siddhi Mittal created the startup before the pandemic, which lets people order a made-to-measure dinner party online. Although it trundled along until Covid, it had to pivot into virtual chef classes during lockdowns last year and this. The company is now poised to take advantage of London’s unlocking, which will see legal outdoor and indoor dining return.

The startup also speaks to the decentralization of experiences going on in the wake of the pandemic. In 2019 we were working out in gyms and going to restaurants. In 2021 we are working out at home and bringing the restaurant to us.

Normally booking private dinner parties involves a lot of hassle. The idea here is that Yhangry makes the whole affair as easy to order as an Uber Eats or Deliveroo.

Investors in the Seed round include Carmen Rico (Blossom Capital), Eileen Burbidge (Passion Capital), Orson Stadler (Antler) and Martin Mignot (Index Ventures), Made In Chelsea star Ollie Locke, plus fellow tech founders including Jack Tang (Urban), Adnan Ebrahim (MindLabs), Alex Fitzgerald (Cuckoo Internet), Georgina Kirby (Vinehealth) and Deepali Nangia (Alma Angels). Yhangry’s statement said all the investors are also keen customers. I bet they are.

Co-founder Mittal said in a statement: “By making private chef experiences more accessible and affordable, our customers regularly tell us they are finally able to catch up with friends at home… 70% of our customers have never had a private chef before and for them, the freedom and flexibility to curate their own evening is priceless.”

Yhangry now has 130 chefs on its books. Chefs have to pass a cooking trial and adhere to Covid rules. The funding will be used to double the size of the startup’s team.

The menus start at £17pp for six people. The price of the booking covers everything, including the cost of the fresh ingredients, but customers can add extras, such as wine etc. Since its launch in December 2019, the firm says it has served more than 7,000 Londoners.

Yhangry says it will enter key European markets, such as Paris, Berlin, Lisbon and Barcelona.

How will Yhangry survive post-Covid, with restaurants/bars opening up again?

Mittal said: “When restaurants were open between our launch and March 2020, we saw demand because people want to be able to spend time with their friends in a relaxed setting, and aren’t limited to the two-hour slot you get in a restaurant. Once places start to open up again, we believe Yhangry will follow this trend of at-home dining and socializing – not to mention for people who are not ready yet to go out to a busy pub or restaurant.”

#articles, #barcelona, #berlin, #chef, #co-founder, #companies, #deliveroo, #economy, #eileen-burbidge, #europe, #lisbon, #london, #martin-mignot, #online-food-ordering, #paris, #passion-capital, #restaurant, #startup-company, #tc, #uber, #uber-eats, #united-kingdom

0

Aldea Ventures creates ‘hybrid’ European €100M fund to invest both in Micro VCs, plus follow-on

The historical trajectory of venture capital has been to move to earlier and earlier finding rounds in order to capture the greatest potential multiple on exit. In the US, we’ve seen an explosion of Pre-series A funds, and similarly in Europe. But there’s been an opportunity to tie a lot of that activity together and also produce data that can feed into decision-making about growth rounds, further up the funding pipeline. Now, newly-formed Aldea Ventures intends to do just that.

Today’s it’s announcing a €60M first close of its Pan-European fund with the aim of reaching its target €100M first fund. The idea is ambitious: to invest in 700 startups across Europe, but with an unusual, “hybrid” strategy. First up, it will operate as a fund-of-funds, investing in up to 20 early-stage ‘micro VC funds’ across Europe. Second of all, it will act as a co-investment platform from Series A upwards.  So far it has invested in London-based Job and Talent and most recently, Copenhagen-based Podimo.

The model is more common in Silicon Valley than in Europe, so Aldea Ventures hopes to capitalize on this trend as one of the earlier players with this strategy. Aldea is also effectively stepping into the gap where corporate VCs in the US would normally fill, but in Europe is generally a gaping hole.

Aldea Ventures is led by managing partners Carlos Trenchs, formerly at Caixa Capital Risc; Alfonso Bassols, previously at Nauta Capital; Josep Duran, formerly with the European Investment Fund; and Gonzalo Rodés, Chairman. Aldea Ventures is partnering with Meridia Capital, a leading Spanish alternative investment fund manager.

Carlos Trenchs, managing partner of Aldea Ventures, said: “We believe Europe will continue to grow in influence and play an integral part in the next decade of technology… Our dual model as a fund of funds and co-investor into scaleups is the first of its kind in Europe. Seen only in Silicon Valley until today, we’re putting this model to work to fuel the next generation of growth across the European ecosystem.”

Aldea will look for five factors to selecting micro VCs: the firm’s thesis (specialist, thematic or generalist); location (pan-European or local); the experience of the partners; the size of the fund, and whether the fund is emerging or established. The fund will also take a long hard look at AI, Blockchain and DeepTech companies.

Trenchs explained to me during an interview that “we will have exposure to seed capital in different geographies with the 700 companies, and we reserve the other half of the fund to invest directly on the growth stage in the best performers in their portfolios.” This, he says, will establish a roadmap from direct investing all the way up to later-stage rounds.

Aldea has so far made investments into six micro VCs; Air Street Capital and Moonfire in London; Helloworld in Luxembourg; Inventures in Munich; Mustard Seed Maze in Lisbon; and Nina Capital in Barcelona. 

Nathan Benaich, Founding Partner of Air Street Capital, commented: “Investing in  European AI-first companies is a huge opportunity, with almost one-quarter of top global AI talent earning their university degrees here.. Our partnership with Aldea demonstrates a shared conviction that specialist managers with deep sector-specific knowledge will accelerate the success of tomorrow’s category-defining European companies that are AI-first by design.”

There’s clearly also a data play here because Aldea is likely to end up with a lot of data across companies, sectors and also across various stages.

And that was confirmed by Trenchs: “We want to make the VC world more transparent. If you have the 700 companies, in a few years from now, we’ll be able to collect a lot of data about what’s going on at seed stage in European valuations, geographies and sectors. Our intention is of course to use it as intelligence.” He also said the firm intended to share a lot of anonymized data with the wider European ecosystem.

“There is a funnel of few thousands of companies that get funded, but only a few make it through the funnel. As investors, we are looking for venture capitalists that can transform their seed portfolio into a portfolio that graduates from Series A to Series B,” he added.

#accel, #air-street-capital, #barcelona, #chairman, #copenhagen, #corporate-finance, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #european-investment-fund, #finance, #investment, #lisbon, #london, #luxembourg, #managing-partner, #money, #munich, #nauta-capital, #partner, #private-equity, #tc, #united-states, #venture-capital

0

Redefine Meat is moving plant-based proteins from patties to steaks

The Israeli startup Redefine Meat, which has developed a manufacturing process to make plant-based proteins that more closely resemble choice cuts of beef than the current crop of hamburger-adjacent offerings, has gotten a big vote of confidence from the investment arm of one of Asia’s premier food brands. 

The company has raised $29 million in financing from Happiness Capital, the investment arm backed by the family fortunes of Hong Kong’s Lee Kum Kee condiment dynasty, and Hanaco Ventures, an investment firm backing startups in New York and Israel.

Investors have stampeded into the plant-based food industry, spurred by the rising fortunes of companies like Beyond Meat, which has inked partnerships with everyone from Pepsico to McDonald’s, and Impossible Foods, which counts Burger King among the brands boosting its plant-based faux meat.

While these companies have perfected plant patties that can delight the taste buds, the prospect of carving up a big honkin cut of pea protein in the form of a ribeye, sirloin or rump steak, has been a technical hurdle these companies have yet to overcome in a commercial offering.

Redefine Meat thinks its manufacturing processes have cracked the code on the formulation of plant-based steak.

They’re not the only ones. In Barcelona, a startup called Novameat raised roughly $300,000 earlier this year for its own take on plant-based steak. That company raised its money from the NEOTEC Program of the Spanish Center for Industrial Technological Development.

Both companies are using 3-D printing technologies to make meat substitutes that mimic the taste and texture of steaks, rather than trying to approximate the patties, meatballs, and ground meat that companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible have taken to market.

Backing Redefine’s path to market are a host of other investors including Losa Group, Sake Bosch, and K3 Ventures.

The company said it would use the new funding to expand its portfolio and support the commercial launch of its products. Redefine aims to have a large-scale production facility for its 3-D printers online before the end of the year, the company said in a statement.

In January, Redefine Meat announced a strategic agreement with the Israeli distributor Best Meister and the company has been expanding its staff with a current headcount of roughly 40 employees.

“We want to change the belief that delicious meat can only come from animals, and we have all the building blocks in place to make this a reality: high-quality meat products, strategic partnerships with stakeholders across the world, a large-scale pilot line under construction, and the first-ever industrial 3D Alt-Meat printers set to be deployed within meat distributors later this year,” said Eschar Ben-Shitrit, the company’s chief executive, in a statement. 

 

#3-d, #asia, #barcelona, #beyond-meat, #bosch, #burger-king, #food-and-drink, #hanaco-ventures, #happiness-capital, #impossible-foods, #israel, #mcdonalds, #meat, #meat-substitutes, #new-york, #novameat, #steak, #tc

0

Miami-based Ironhack raises $20 million for its coding bootcamps as demand for coders continues

Ironhack, a company offering programming bootcamps across Europe and North and South America, has raised $20 million in its latest round of funding.

The Miami-based company with locations in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Lisbon, Madrid, Mexico City, Miami, Paris and Sao Paulo said it will use the money to build out more virtual offerings to compliment the company’s campuses.

Over the next five years, 13 million jobs will be added to the tech industry in the U.S., according to Ironhack co-founder Ariel Quiñones. That’s in addition to another 20 million jobs that Quiñones expects to come from the growth of the technology sector in the EU.

Ironhack isn’t the only bootcamp to benefit from this growth. Last year, Lambda School raised $74 million for its coding education program.

Ironhack’s raised its latest round from Endeavor Catalyst, a fund that invests in entrepreneurs from emerging and underserved markets; Lumos Capital, which was formed by investors with a long history in education technology; Creas Capital, a Spanish impact investment firm; and Brighteye, a European edtech investor.

Prices for the company’s classes vary by country. In the U.S. an Ironhack bootcamp costs $12,000, while that figure is more like $3,000 for classes in Mexico City.

The company offers classes in subjects ranging from web development to UX/UI design and data analytics to cybersecurity, according to a statement. 

“We believe that practical skills training, a supportive global community and career development programs can give everyone, regardless of their education or employment history, the ability to write their stories through technology,” said Ariel Quiñones, co-founder of Ironhack.

Since its launch in 2013, the company has graduated more than 8,000 students, with a job placement rate of 89%, according to data collected as of July 2020. Companies who have employed Ironhack graudates include Capgemini, Siemens, and Santander, the company said.

 

#amsterdam, #barcelona, #berlin, #capgemini, #co-founder, #companies, #education-technology, #europe, #european-union, #ironhack, #lambda-school, #lisbon, #madrid, #mexico-city, #miami, #north-america, #paris, #santander, #sao-paulo, #siemens, #south-america, #tc, #united-states, #web-development

0

Landbot closes $8M Series A for its ‘no code’ chatbot builder

Barcelona-based Landbot, a ‘no-code’ chatbot builder, has bagged a $8M Series A led by the Spanish-Israeli VC firm Swanlaab, alongside support from Spain’s innovation-focused public agency, CDTI. Previous investors Nauta Capital, Encomenda and Bankinter also participated in the round.

We last chatted to Landbot back in 2018 when it raised a $2.2M seed and had 900+ customers. It’s grown that to ~2,200 paying customers, with some 50,000 individuals now using its tool (across both free and paid accounts).

Since its seed it’s also increased recurrent revenues 10x — and is expecting growth to keep stepping up, fuelled by the new financing.

It says the coronavirus pandemic has supercharged demand for conversational landing pages as all sorts of businesses look for ways to automate higher volumes of digitally inbound customer comms, without needing to make major investments in in-house IT.

Landbot’s customers range from SMEs to specific teams and products within larger organisations, with the startup name-checking the likes of Nestlé, MediaMarkt, CocaCola, Cepsa, PcComponentes and Prudential among its customer roster.

“We are seeing strong traction from industries like eCommerce, Financial Services and Marketing Agencies,” CEO & co-founder Jiaqi Pan tells TechCrunch. “The ecommerce segment is one we have seen the most growth in since COVID-19, where we increased 2x the number of customers from ecommerce industry.”

The new funding will be used to double Landbot’s team during 2021 (currently it employs 40 people) — with hiring planned across sales, marketing and engineering.

The startup, which launched its ‘no code’ flavor of chatbot builder back in 2017, previously relocated HQ from Valencia to Barcelona to help with recruitment.

Since Landbot’s launch, the burgeoning ‘no code/low code’ movement has become a fully fledged trend driven by demand for productivity- and lead-boosting digital services outstripping most businesses’ supply of expert in-house techies able to build stuff.

Hence the rise of service-builder tools that make customizable tech capabilities accessible to non-technical staff.

The pandemic has merely poured more fuel on this fire — and low-friction tools like Landbot are clearly reaping the rewards.

Interestingly, as well as competing with other conversational chatbot builders, like San Francisco-based ManyChat, Landbot says it’s seeing traction from customers who are seeking to replace web forms with more engaging chat interfaces.

Its drag-and-drop chatbot builder tool supports information workers to design what Landbot bills as “an immersive web page experience filled with gifs and visual elements to capture the attention of the end-user” — so you can understand the appeal for SMEs to be able to replace their boring old static forms with an experience any smartphone user is familiar with from using messaging apps like WhatsApp.

“In terms of the main competitor in the no-code space, we have some overlap with ManyChat as the most direct competitor for Chatbot. On the other hand, as we have a lot of customers using us to replace their forms we are competing also against form builders like Typeform,” says Pan, the latter another Barcelona-based startup which similarly bills itself as a platform for “conversational” and “interactive” data collection.

Landbot notes it recently acquired India-based Morph.AI, a chat-based marketing automation tool, which it’s using to help convert social, website and ad traffic into leads — also with the aim of further expanding into presence in the Asian market.

To date, 90% of its customers are international, with 60% coming from the U.S., U.K. and Germany.

Commenting on the Series A in a statement, Juan Revuelta, general partner of Swanlaab, said: “The beauty of Landbot is in the drag and drop solution of the product. The simplicity is critical to making this product accessible to everyone across many different types of business. If you’re a small company you don’t have the luxury of time or money to solve issues in customer service or run lavish marketing campaigns.

“Landbot helps all businesses to have truly frictionless conversations with customers and exchange the data they need to make smarter decisions and scale. The team has had a remarkable 2020, and we’re excited to support them in helping more businesses this year.”

#barcelona, #chatbots, #europe, #fundings-exits, #landbot, #no-code, #saas, #swanlaab

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Portugal’s Faber reaches $24.3M for its second fund aimed at data-driven startups from Iberia

Portuguese VC Faber has hit the first close of its Faber Tech II fund at €20.5 million ($24.3 million). The fund will focus on early-stage data-driven startups starting from Southern Europe and the Iberian peninsula, with the aim of reaching a final close of €30 million in the coming months. The new fund targets pre-series A and early-stage startups in Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Data Science.

The fund is backed by European Investment Fund (EIF) and the local Financial Development Institution (IFD), with a joint commitment of €15 million (backed by the Investment Plan for Europe – the Juncker Plan and through the Portugal Tech program), alongside other private institutional and individual investors.

Alexandre Barbosa, Faber’s Managing Partner, said “The success of the first close of our new fund allows us to foresee a growth in the demand for this type of investment, as we believe digital transformation through Intelligence Artificial, Machine Learning and data science are increasingly relevant for companies and their businesses, and we think Southern Europe will be the launchpad of a growing number.”

Faber has already ‘warehoused’ three initial investments. It co-financed a 15.6 million euros Series A for SWORD Health – portuguese startup that created the first digital physiotherapy system combining artificial intelligence and clinical teams. It led the pre-seed round of YData, a startup with a data-centric development platform that provides data science professionals tools to deal with accessing high-quality and meaningful data while protecting its privacy. It also co-financed the pre-seed round of Emotai, a neuroscience-powered analytics and performance-boosting platform for virtual sports.

Faber was a first local investor in the first wave of Portugal’s most promising startups, such as Seedrs (co-founded by Carlos Silva, one f Faber’s Partners) which recently announced its merger with CrowdCube); Unbabel; Codacy and Hole19, among others.

Faber’s main focus is deep-tech and data science startups and as such it’s assembled around 20 experts, researchers, Data Scientists, CTO’s, Founders, AI and Machine Learning professors, as part of its investment strategy.

In particular, it’s created the new role of Professor-in-residence, the first of whom is renowned professor Mário Figueiredo from Lisbon’s leading tech university Instituto Superior Técnico. His interests include signal processing, machine learning, AI and optimization, being a highly cited researcher in these fields.

Speaking to TechCrunch in an interview Barbosa added: “We’ve seen first-time, but also second and third-time entrepreneurs coming over to Lisbon, Porto, Barcelona, Valencia, Madrid and experimenting with their next startup and considering starting-up from Iberia in the first place. But also successful entrepreneurs considering extending their engineering teams to Portugal and building engineering hubs in Portugal or Spain.”

“We’ve been historically countercyclical, so we found that startups came to, and appears in Iberia back in 2012 / 2013. This time around mid-2020, we’re very bullish on what’s we can do for the entrepreneurial engine of the economy. We see a lot happening – especially around our thesis – which is basically the data stack, all things data AI-driven, machine learning, data science, and we see that as a very relevant core. A lot of the transformation and digitization is happening right now, so we see a lot of promising stuff going on and a lot of promising talent establishing and setting up companies in Portugal and Spain – so that’s why we think this story is relevant for Europe as a whole.”

#articles, #artificial-intelligence, #barcelona, #crowdcube, #cto, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #european-investment-fund, #machine-learning, #madrid, #managing-partner, #neuroscience, #portugal, #private-equity, #seedrs, #spain, #startup-company, #tc, #valencia

0

Spain’s startup ecosystem: 9 investors on remote work, green shoots and 2020 trends

As reported in the first half of our Spain-focused VC survey, the nation’s startup ecosystem continues to grow and is keeping pace with ecosystems in more developed European countries such as U.K., France, Sweden and Germany.

While main hubs Madrid and Barcelona bump heads politically, tech ecosystems in each city have been developing with local support. According to this regional investor database, Spain is home to 62 angels, 84 seed funds and 19 Series A and beyond institutional funds.

As the capital and financial center, Madrid enjoys proximity to political power and multinational companies, which is likely why it’s home to a larger proportion of fintech startups. According to Dealroom, between 2015 and 2019, Madrid’s emerging companies raised €1.5 billion. In recent years, its Arganzuela district has become known as a startup hub, but Barcelona’s Districte de la innovació is also home to a growing number of established and upcoming technology companies.

May of 2020 saw a resumption of VC activity with €70.89 million invested in startups. Wallabox, the Barcelona-based electric charger company, closed the second part of €12 million from a Series A investment. Also in May, Belvo raised €9.09 million, Accure Therapeutics €7.6 million and Cubiq Foods €4 million.

Notable companies and data points:

  • Voovio Technologies — raised €15 million from Moira Capital.
  • MOVO — €13 million from Delivery Hero, Seaya Ventures and others.
  • Lana — $12.5 million from Base10, Cathay Innovation and other investors.
  • ProntoPiso — €1.6 million from existing shareholders.
  • Colvin — raised €14 million.
  • U.S./Spanish insurtech startup CoverWallet was sold to AON for $330 million.
  • MediQuo — raised €4 million.
  • Factorial — raised a €15 million in a Series A round led by CRV.
  • Holded — €6 million Series A round in 2019 led by Lakestar.

Here are the investors who shared their thoughts with us for the conclusion of our Spain VC survey:

Lourdes Álvarez de Toledo, partner, JME Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
SaaS. B2B.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Kymatio.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Subscription B2C app for managing kids from 0 to 18 years.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Scalability,

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Too much competition: travel. Interesting areas: quantum computing.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
More than 50% in Spain.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Industries: cybersecurity. Companies: Lingokids, Devo, Genially, Glovo.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Spain has no Series B investors, so there are many opportunities for foreign Series B funds.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
At least in Spain, I think remote work will be only temporary. If you are freelance it is still important to work near the main cities.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19?
Retail, fashion, travel.

What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Don’t take debt if it is not extremely necessary, try to be cash flow positive — although you have to sacrifice faster growth.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes! In Genially: awesome growth.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
Schools opening again (four kids already).

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
Spain will be very harmed the next year, and so will the startup ecosystem.

Javier González-Soria y Moreno de la Santa, managing partner, Top Seeds Lab

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?

#barcelona, #covid-19, #europe, #fintech, #madrid, #spain, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

0

Google Maps gets improved Live View AR directions

Google today announced a few updates to Live View, the augmented reality walking directions in its Google Maps app that officially launched last year. Live View uses your phone’s camera and GPS to tell you exactly where to go, making it a nice addition to the standard map-centric directions in similar applications.

The new features Google is introducing today include the ability to invoke Live View from the transit tab in Google Maps when you’re on a journey that includes multiple modes of transportations. Until now, the only way to see Live View was when were asking for pure walking directions.

 

Image Credits: Google

 

 

If you’re like me and perpetually disoriented after you exit a subway station in a new city (remember 2019, when we could still travel?), this is a godsend. And I admit that I often forget Live View exists. Adding it to multi-model directions may just get me to try it out more often since it is now more clearly highlighted in the app.

Google Maps can now also identify landmarks around you to give you better guidance and a clearer idea of where you are in a city. Think the Empire State Building in New York, for example.

Image Credits: Google

These new landmarks will be coming to Amsterdam, Bangkok, Barcelona, Berlin, Budapest, Dubai, Florence, Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur, Kyoto, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Milan, Munich, New York, Osaka, Paris, Prague, Rome, San Francisco, Sydney, Tokyo and Vienna, with more to follow.

If you’re a regular Live View user, you’ll know that the actual pin locations in this mode can sometimes be off. In hilly areas, the pin can often be hovering high above your destination, for example. Now, Google promises to fix this by using a combination of machine learning and better topographical maps to place the pin exactly where it’s supposed to be.

Also new is the ability to use Live View in combination with Google Maps’ location sharing feature. So when a friend shares their location with you, you can now see exactly where they are in Live View, too, and get directions to meet them.

#amsterdam, #artificial-intelligence, #augmented-reality, #bangkok, #barcelona, #berlin, #budapest, #dubai, #florence, #google, #google-maps, #gps, #istanbul, #kuala-lumpur, #kyoto, #london, #los-angeles, #machine-learning, #madrid, #milan, #munich, #new-york, #osaka, #paris, #prague, #rome, #san-francisco, #software, #sydney, #tokyo, #vienna

0

9 VCs in Madrid and Barcelona discuss the COVID-19 era and look to the future

Spain’s startup ecosystem has two main hubs: Madrid and Barcelona.

Most observers place Barcelona first and Madrid second, but the gap appears to close every year. Barcelona has benefitted from attracting expats in search of sun, beach and lifestyle who tend to produce more internationally minded startups.

Madrid’s startups have predominantly been Spain or Latin America-focused, but have become increasingly international in nature. Although not part of this survey, we expect Valencia to join next year, as city authorities have been going all-out to attract entrepreneurs and investors.

The overall Spanish ecosystem is generally less mature than those in the U.K., France, Sweden and Germany, but it has been improving at a fast clip. More recently, entrepreneurs in Spain have moved away from emulating success in pursuit of innovative technologies.

Following the financial crisis, the Spanish government supported the creation of startups with the launch of FOND-ICO GLOBAL, a €1.5 billion fund-of-funds in 2017, which put €800 million into the market that year. Three years later, the fastest-moving sector is tech. In 2018, Spain counted 4,115 active startups, reported 150sec. Barcelona has seen a boom in startups and support systems, with companies based there raising €2.7 billion between 2015 and 2019, almost doubling Madrid’s figure (according to Dealroom).

In the first half of a two-part survey that asks 18 Spain-based startup investors about the trends they’re tracking, we reached out to the following VCs:

Marta-Gaia Zanchi, managing partner, Nina Capital

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Infrastructural needs of the healthcare industry.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
We see opportunities in data liquidity, in silico trials, biotech manufacturing … for which enabling technologies may already exist from the information technology and semiconductor industry.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
What we always do: Great unmet need, deep understanding of healthcare stakeholder ecosystem, the right technology solution, a team we love to work with.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Telemedicine.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Local ecosystem: 10% Rest of the world: 90%.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
We only invest in healthtech. So, the answer is: healthtech 🙂

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
They all think we have a wonderful climate. After all, it’s Barcelona. Regarding the investment climate in particular, I believe too few international investors appreciate the full spectrum and significance of the opportunities that this city affords for starting and scaling a company.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Not really. I think most companies will continue to have HQs in the major hubs, but their teams are going to be more distributed. And hubs that were traditionally at disadvantage over the usual suspects will find themselves less so.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
We are specialized healthtech investors. All our investments to date are B2B companies selling to healthcare organizations.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
We decided to increase our reserves, to have more capital to support our portfolio companies in follow-on rounds. For more, see here.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
My team is amazing. With them by my side, I never lost hope.

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
I know 2020 is a tragedy but … Isn’t it something to see everyone finally engaged in the conversations that matter (healthcare, science, public health, politics, equality, diversity).

#barcelona, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #europe, #madrid, #spain, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

0

Calling Madrid & Barcelona VCs: Be featured in The Great TechCrunch Survey of European VC

TechCrunch is embarking on a major new project to survey the venture capital investors of Europe.

Our <a href=”https://forms.gle/k4Ji2Ch7zdrn7o2p6”>survey of VCs in Madrid & Barcelona will capture how the cities are faring, and what changes are being wrought amongst investors by the coronavirus pandemic.

We’d like to know how your city’s startup scene is evolving, how the tech sector is being impacted by COVID-19, and, generally, how your thinking will evolve from here.

Our survey will only be about investors, and only the contributions of VC investors will be included. (Please note, if you have filled the survey out already, there is no need to repeat).

The shortlist of questions will require only brief responses, but the more you want to add, the better.

You can fill out the survey here.

Obviously, investors who contribute will be featured in the final surveys, with links to their companies and profiles.

What kinds of things do we want to know? Questions will include which trends are you most excited by? What startup do you wish someone would create? Where are the overlooked opportunities? What are you looking for in your next investment, in general? How is your local ecosystem going? And how has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy?

Over the next few weeks, we will be “zeroing-in” on Europe’s major cities.

It’s part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing to help founders find the right investors. For example, here is the recent survey of London.

Not in Madrid or Barcelona? European VC investors can STILL fill out the survey, as we will be putting a call out to your city next anyway! The survey will cover almost every European country on the continent of Europe (not just EU members, btw), so just look for your country in the menu on the survey and please participate (if you’re a venture capital investor).

Thank you for participating. If you have questions you can email mike@techcrunch.com

#barcelona, #corporate-finance, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #european-union, #finance, #london, #madrid, #money, #private-equity, #startup-company, #tc, #venture-capital

0

Microsoft’s new Flight Simulator is a beautiful work in progress

For the last two weeks, I’ve been flying around the world in a preview of Microsoft’s new Flight Simulator. Without a doubt, it’s the most beautiful flight simulator yet, and it’ll make you want to fly low and slow over your favorite cities because — if you pick the right one — every street and house will be there in more detail than you’ve ever seen in a game. Weather effects, day and night cycles, plane models — it all looks amazing. You can’t start it up and not fawn over the graphics.

But the new Flight Simulator is also still very much a work in progress, too, even just a few weeks before the scheduled launch date on August 18. It’s officially still in beta, so there’s still time to fix at least some of the issues I list below. Because Microsoft and Asobo Studios, which was responsible for the development of the simulator, are using Microsoft’s AI tech in Azure to automatically generate much of the scenery based on Microsoft’s Bing Maps data, you’ll find a lot of weirdness in the world. There are taxiway lights in the middle of runways, giant hangars and crew buses at small private fields, cars randomly driving across airports, giant trees growing everywhere (while palms often look like giant sticks), bridges that are either under water or big blocks of black over a river — and there are a lot of sunken boats, too.

When the system works well, it’s absolutely amazing. Cities like Barcelona, Berlin, San Francisco, Seattle, New York and others that are rendered using Microsoft’s photogrammetry method look great — including and maybe especially at night.

Image Credits: Microsoft

The rendering engine on my i7-9700K with an Nvidia 2070 Super graphics card never let the frame rate drop under 30 frames per second (which is perfectly fine for a flight simulator) and usually hovered well over 40, all with the graphics setting pushed up to the maximum and with a 2K resolution.

When things don’t work, though, the effect is stark because it’s so obvious. Some cities, like Las Vegas, look like they suffered some kind of catastrophe, as if the city was abandoned and nature took over (which in the case of the Vegas Strip doesn’t sound like such a bad thing, to be honest).

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Thankfully, all of this is something that Microsoft and Asobo can fix. They’ll just need to adjust their algorithms, and because a lot of the data is streamed, the updates should be virtually automatic. The fact that they haven’t done so yet is a bit of a surprise.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Chances are you’ll want to fly over your house the day you get Flight Simulator. If you live in the right city (and the right part of that city), you’ll likely be lucky and actually see your house with its individual texture. But for some cities, including London, for example, the game only shows standard textures, and while Microsoft does a good job at matching the outlines of buildings in cities where it doesn’t do photogrammetry, it’s odd that London or Amsterdam aren’t on that list (though London apparently features a couple of wind turbines in the city center now), while Münster, Germany is.

Once you get to altitude, all of those problems obviously go away (or at least you won’t see them). But given the graphics, you’ll want to spend a lot of time at 2,000 feet or below.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

What really struck me in playing the game in its current state is how those graphical inconsistencies set the standard for the rest of the experience. The team says its focus is 100% on making the simulator as realistic as possible, but then the virtual air traffic control often doesn’t use standard phraseology, for example, or fails to hand you off to the right departure control when you leave a major airport, for example. The airplane models look great and feel pretty close to real (at least for the ones I’ve flown myself), but some currently show the wrong airspeed, for example. Some planes use modern glass cockpits with the Garmin 1000 and G3X, but those still feel severely limited.

But let me be clear here. Despite all of this, even in its beta state, Flight Simulator is a technical marvel and it will only get better over time.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Let’s walk through the user experience a bit. The install on PC (the Xbox version will come at some point in the future) is a process that downloads a good 90GB so that you can play offline as well. The install process asks you if you are OK with streaming data, too, and that can quickly add up. After reinstalling the game and doing a few flights for screenshots, the game had downloaded about 10GB already — it adds up quickly and is something you should be aware of if you’re on a metered connection.

Once past the long install, you’ll be greeted by a menu screen that lets you start a new flight, go for one of the landing challenges or other activities the team has set up (they are really proud of their Courchevel scenery) and go through the games’ flight training program.

Image Credits: Microsoft

That training section walks you through eight activities that will help you get the basics of flying a Cessna 152. Most take fewer than 10 minutes and you’ll get a bit of a de-brief after, but I’m not sure it’s enough to keep a novice from getting frustrated quickly (while more advanced players will just skip this section altogether anyway).

I mostly spent my time flying the small general aviation planes in the sim, but if you prefer a Boeing 747 or Airbus 320neo, you get that option, too, as well as some turboprops and business jets. I’ll spend some more time with those before the official launch. All of the planes are beautifully detailed inside and out and except for a few bugs, everything works as expected.

To actually start playing, you’ll head for the world map and choose where you want to start your flight. What’s nice here is that you can pick any spot on your map, not just airports. That makes it easy to start flying over a city, for example. As you zoom into the map, you can see airports and landmarks (where the landmarks are either real sights like Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle or cities that have photogrammetry data). If a town doesn’t have photogrammetry data, it will not appear on the map.

As of now, the flight planning features are pretty basic. For visual flights, you can go direct or VOR to VOR, and that’s it. For IFR flights, you choose low or high-altitude airways. You can’t really adjust any of these, just accept what the simulator gives you. That’s not really how flight planning works (at the very least you would want to take the local weather into account), so it would be nice if you could customize your route a bit more. Microsoft partnered with NavBlue for airspace data, though the built-in maps don’t do much with this data and don’t even show you the vertical boundaries of the airspace you are in.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

It’s always hard to compare the plane models and how they react to the real thing. Best I can tell, at least the single-engine Cessnas that I’m familiar with mostly handle in the same way I would expect them to in reality. Rudder controls feel a bit overly sensitive by default, but that’s relatively easy to adjust. I only played with a HOTAS-style joystick and rudder setup. I wouldn’t recommend playing with a mouse and keyboard, but your mileage may vary.

Live traffic works well, but none of the general aviation traffic around my local airports seems to show up, even though Microsoft partner FlightAware shows it.

As for the real/AI traffic in general, the sim does a pretty good job managing that. In the beta, you won’t really see the liveries of any real airlines yet — at least for the most part — I spotted the occasional United plane in the latest builds. Given some of Microsoft’s own videos, more are coming soon. Except for the built-in models you can fly in the sim, Flight Simulator is still missing a library of other airplane models for AI traffic, though again, I would assume that’s in the works, too.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

We’re three weeks out from launch. I would expect the team to be able to fix many of these issues and we’ll revisit all of them for our final review. My frustration with the current state of the game is that it’s so often so close to perfect that when it falls short of that, it’s especially jarring because it yanks you out of the experience.

Don’t get me wrong, though, flying in FS2020 is already a great experience. Even when there’s no photogrammetry, cities and villages look great once you get over 3,000 feet or so. The weather and cloud simulation — in real time — beats any add-on for today’s flight simulators. Airports still need work, but having cars drive around and flaggers walking around planes that are pushing back help make the world feel more alive. Wind affects the waves on lakes and oceans (and windsocks on airports). This is truly a next-generation flight simulator.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Microsoft and Asobo have to walk a fine line between making Flight Simulator the sim that hardcore fans want and an accessible game that brings in new players. I’ve played every version of Flight Simulator since the 90s, so getting started took exactly zero time. My sense is that new players simply looking for a good time may feel a bit lost at first, despite Microsoft adding landing challenges and other more gamified elements to the sim. In a press briefing, the Asobo team regularly stressed that it aimed for realism over anything else — and I’m perfectly ok with that. We’ll have to see if that translates to being a fun experience for casual players, too.

#artificial-intelligence, #barcelona, #bing-maps, #computing, #gaming, #las-vegas, #microsoft, #microsoft-flight-simulator, #nvidia, #san-francisco, #seattle, #software, #tc

0

K Fund’s Jaime Novoa discusses early-stage firm’s focus on Spanish startups

Earlier this month, Spanish early-stage venture capital firm K Fund officially launched its second fund, which sits at €70 million, up from €50 million the first time around.

Targeting Spanish startups with an international outlook, the seed-stage firm plans to invest from €200,000 to €2 million, writing first checks in 25-30 companies. Meanwhile, a portion of the fund will also be set aside for follow-on funding for the most promising of its portfolio.

Described as business model- and sector-agnostic, K Fund currently has a mix of B2B and B2C companies in its portfolio across a wide variety of sectors, such as travel, fintech, insurtech and others. They include online travel agency Exoticca, HR software Factorial, insurtech startup Bdeo and Hubtype, a conversational messaging tech provider.

I caught up with K Fund’s Jaime Novoa to delve deeper into the firm’s investment remit, how the Spanish startup and tech ecosystem has developed over the last few years and to learn more about “K Founders,” the VC’s new pre-seed funding program.

TechCrunch: K Fund’s first fund was announced in late 2016 to back startups in Spain with an international outlook at seed and Series A. At €70 million, this second fund is €20 million larger but I gather the remit remains broadly the same. Can you be more specific with regards to cheque size, geography, sector and the types of startups you look for?

Jaime Novoa: We’re both agnostic in terms of business models and industries. Since our focus is, for the most part, Spain, we do not believe that the Spanish market is big enough to build a vertically focused fund, either in terms of business model or sector.

With our first fund we invested in 28 companies, with a slightly larger number of B2B SaaS companies than B2C ones, and across a wide variety of sectors. We do have a bit of exposure to travel and fintech/insurtech, but that’s because we’ve found several interesting companies in those spaces, not because we proactively said, “let’s invest in fintech/travel.”

In terms of check sizes, the core of the fund will be to make the same type of investments as in our first fund: first cheques from €200k to €2m and then sufficient capital for follow-on rounds. We’ll probably do a similar number of deals compared to the previous fund, but we want to have additional capital for follow-on purposes.

#barcelona, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #extra-crunch, #financial-technology, #fundraising, #k-fund, #madrid, #portugal, #private-equity, #spain, #startups, #tc, #verified-experts, #virtual-reality

0

Fleksy rolls out an SDK for its AI keyboard

The developers behind Fleksy have launched an SDK for Android and iOS to scale demand for white labelling of their AI keyboard software which bakes in privacy-safe next-word prediction. Swipe-style input (which it calls Fleksywave) is also in beta and slated to roll out soon.

Fleksy competes for smartphone users’ digits with giants like Google’s Gboard and Microsoft -owned Swiftkey, offering a standalone Android keyboard app with smart app suggestions — and the differentiating pledge that your personal information is safe from data mining (as the AI runs locally).

Barcelona-based ThingThing took over development of the Fleksy keyboard in 2017, after the original team had been acqui-hired by Pinterest. The Spanish startup went on to fully acquire the keyboard tech — setting themselves up to build out a licensing business where they can offer fully flexible white labelling for app (or device) makers that want to offer a custom keyboard to their users.

The indie dev team behind the keyboard app reckon the bulk of their revenue will be coming from b2b licensing down the line. “We’re growing really fast on that market,” says CEO Olivier Plante. “Conversion is surprisingly high… The projections show that the b2b SDK business will represent at least 60%-70% of own business model.”

One such earlier implementation of the tech saw the Fleksy keyboard deployed on the ultramobile Palm handset. It’s had other device makers as customers, as well as customizing keyboards for third party apps in spaces such a cyber safety, healthcare and government, per Plante, though he says they’re under NDA so aren’t able to disclose the names of any other customers.

While the team has been doing custom implementations of Fleksy on an ad hoc basis for a while now, the SDK opens the door to scaling this side of the business.

“Since the companies need it we see that the licensing model is quite promising for us, and now we have this tool that gives them the ability to work on their own — with little help. So it’s really about this scalability,” he tells TechCrunch . “We quickly saw it was important to scale this.”

In terms of where demand is coming from, Plante says they’re seeing traction from Europe and the U.S., and also have some customers in Asia and Africa. “This is where we really sit in the sweet spot,” he argues. “We’re European, so privacy is with us. Antitrust laws are with us — and then, on the other side, the big giants don’t have those types of interesting projects on the side. It’s all mass scale and those types of things.”

“The Chinese and Asian competition is just not in that touch point with Europe and the Americas,” he adds. “They’re out of reach and they’re very hard to deal with is what we heard, in terms of just language barriers and the way they work. Fear of being copied and these types of things.”

On specific use cases for a custom keyboard, he says customers come with “very, very different needs”. And sometimes after having tried to build their own keyboard — before deciding that the level of polish required to get a “proper keyboard” means they’ve bitten off more than they can chew.

“Some of them are in cyber safety,” he says of current licensees. “They are trying to solve a problem where there is maybe data leaks, protection of the individual against a greater threat. On the other side they are governments that are trying to make their messaging app really secure — so the keyboard and the message app are one encapsulated whole that cannot be penetrated… We also have demand in the medical environment.”

Plante points out the security risk of having a secure messaging app user who’s running a third party keyboard which uploads user data to the cloud. “You have a high risk of a data leak,” he argues.

“One particular common ground with all these players is this focus on ‘your technology’s offline; there’s no contact with the external world. There’s no tricky things you’re trying to do [in the background]. You’re exactly what we need and you have exactly the flexibility that we need’,” he adds. “What we focus on is providing our technology — we don’t deal with any personal data handling whatsoever… we don’t want to deal with that.”

Another area where it’s seeing some traction is in the videogaming space — giving the example of PC gaming keyboard makers wanting to offer a related experience to mobile users and not knowing how to go about making software themselves. Plante also reckons there will be growing demand for ergonomic customization of keyboards within apps that are targeted at elderly or very young device users — who may not fare well with standard keyboard layouts.

Being a lean startup is another selling point for Fleksy, as he tells it — enabling the team to cater to smaller business needs than keyboard-owning tech giants would typically bother with.

“One of the key aspects that we have is that we built from the ground up — all the technology that we have in the keyboard is ours. From the algorithm; the way it works; the layout of the keyboard; different languages; there’s no blackbox,” he adds. “We can do a lot of things — adding specific words to the dictionary, tweaking the autocorrection so it gears toward more of a specific type of population that uses a specific type of names and words. There’s so much control over whatever we want to do with the keyboard —  the clients are demanding things and we say yeah we can do this.”

While the locus of ThingThing’s business has shifted onto licensing (currently via tiered pricing, depending on number of keyboard users), it continues to offer the Fleksy keyboard as a b2c free-to-download app on Android. And while getting traction as a small indie keyboard app clearly remains challenging, the consumer app functions as a testing ground for new Fleksy features and a showcase for the growing pipeline of b2b clients. 

“For the b2c side we’re trying to experiment a bit how we can find the right balance between the end user — a free app with monetization in a certain way that doesn’t 1) use your personal data and 2) doesn’t become a bit gimmicky,” says Plante. “So we’re trying to play around those and experiment.”

“We see a lot of interest from brands out there, app developers that really want to be in the keyboard because it has added value for them… and also a user uses a keyboard about 100x-120x per day. Which is a lot of times. So there’s a lot of companies that want to be there in this space,” he adds.

#africa, #android, #apps, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #barcelona, #ceo, #computing, #data-mining, #europe, #fleksy, #healthcare, #keyboard-software, #microsoft, #mobile-app, #operating-systems, #pinterest, #smartphone, #smartphones, #swiftkey, #tc, #techcrunch, #united-states

0

Belvo scores $10M from Founders Fund and Kaszek to scale its API for financial services

Belvo, a Latin American fintech startup which launched just 12 months ago, has already snagged funding from two of the biggest names in North and South American venture capital.

The company is aiming to expand the reach of its service that connects mobile applications in Mexico and Colombia to a customer’s banking information and now has some deep-pocketed investors to support its efforts. 

If the business model sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Belvo is borrowing a page from the Plaid playbook. It’s a strategy that ultimately netted the U.S. startup and its investors $5.3 billion when it was acquired by Visa in January of this year.

Belvo and its backers, who funneled $10 million into the year-old company, want to replicate Plaid’s success and open up an entire new range of financial services companies in Latin America.  

The round was co-led by Silicon Valley’s Founders Fund and Argentina’s Kaszek. With the new arsenal of capital complimented by the Founders Fund’s network and Kaszek’s deep knowledge of the Latin American market, Belvo hopes to triple its current team of 25 that is spread across operations in Mexico City and Barcelona. 

Since its initial establishment in May 2019, the company has raised a total of $13 million from Y Combinator (W20) along with some of the biggest players in Latin America’s startup scene. Those investors include David Velez, the co-founder of Brazil’s multi-billion dollar lending startup, Nubank; MAYA Capital and Venture Friends. 

The company’s co-founders, Pablo Viguera and Oriol Tintoré are no stranger to startups themselves. Viguera served as COO at European payments app Verse, and is a former general manager of one of the big European neo-banks, Revolut. Tintoré is a former NASA aerospace engineer, and while working for his Stanford MBA, founded Capella Space, an information collection startup that went on to raise over $50 million. 

The company said it aims to work with leading fintechs in Latin America, spanning across verticals like the neobanks, credit providers and personal finance products Latin Americans use every day.

Belvo has built a developer-first API platform that can be used to access and interpret end-user financial data to build better, more efficient and more inclusive financial products in Latin America. Developers of popular neobank apps, credit providers and personal finance tools use Belvo’s API to connect bank accounts to their apps to unlock the power of open banking.

Viguera says the capital will be used to open a new office in Sao Paulo, and invest in new product and business development hires. Notably, Belvo is only one year old, having launched in January 2020 and operative in Mexico and Colombia. 

Co-founders Pablo Viguera and Oriol Tintoré are a former Revolut GM and former NASA aerospace engineer.

 

Belvo’s latest funding also marks another instance of a U.S.-Latin America investment teamup for a Latin American company.

Nuvocargo, a logistics startup that wants to bolster the Mexico – U.S. trade lane with its freight transportation technology, also recently raised a round co-led by Mexico’s ALLVP and Silicon Valley-based NFX. American investors may be starting to take note of the co-investment opportunity of putting capital into startups serving the Latin American market in partnership with successful new wave domestic funds like Mexico’s ALLVP and Argentina’s Kaszek.  

#aerospace, #api, #argentina, #banking, #barcelona, #belvo, #brazil, #capella-space, #co-founder, #colombia, #companies, #coo, #david-velez, #economy, #engineer, #finance, #fintech-startup, #founders-fund, #latin-america, #mexico, #mexico-city, #nubank, #nuvocargo, #revolut, #sao-paulo, #startup-company, #tc, #the-founders-fund, #united-states, #venture-capital, #visa, #y-combinator

0

Target Global has a €1M “super seed” fund incoming to switch on laid off tech talent in Spain during COVID-19

Target Global is backing a €1 million support fund for tech talent in Spain laid off or furloughed as a result of the coronavirus crisis. The aim is to provide pre-seed financing to help crisis-hit tech workers switch gears and build out a startup concept over the next four to six months, covering living expenses plus enough funds to get going on a business idea.

The VC firm says they’ll be cutting checks of at least €25k/€35k up to €50k for “qualified applicants” — meaning the initiative could support between 20 and 30 local tech workers who have found themselves sat at home without a job as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Target Global, which has some €700M under management, will contribute €500,000 to the early stage support initiative — with a further €500,000 chipped in from local founders, including entrepreneurs behind AlienVault, TravelPerk, Job & Talent, Badi and Adyen.

“The idea is to cap it at €1M for now,” says Target Global investment director, Lina Chong . “We don’t know where the end of the tunnel is but for now let’s say we cap it at that.”

“We want to give between 20 and 30 safe notes that are really super easy to deploy… which should be enough for one or two people to cover their living costs for four to six months… It’ll also cover initial startup costs. So found an entity, work with a designer and engineer. Develop your idea or concept into an actual beta or some sort of prototype and test some of your early assumptions, and get it ready for, essentially, a pre-seed round.”

“We’re calling it super seed,” she adds. “It’s like a real first check just to get you started.”

She says the VC firm will be putting up a landing page for the initiative shortly — this week or next, per Chong — to begin taking applications for the ‘safe notes’.

In terms of requirements, applicants must be located in Spain, and will be asked to specify a few categories their concept falls into; plus whether they’ve built anything yet; whether they have users; whether they’ve incorporated yet, and so on.

“All of those things can be ‘no’ — that’s totally fine,” Chong tells TechCrunch. “We will ask for your LinkedIn because we do want to have this go towards people in tech. We want to see some minimum amount of experience in startups or in technology — but you yourself don’t have to be an engineer.

“And of course the idea has to be pretty bold and ambitious… That’s going to be the bulk of our work — filtering through candidates where we feel they have the relevant background, plus what they’re thinking about it something really relevant and big.”

“We’re not looking to fund the next sunglasses shop,” she adds. “But if you have a different way to engage with government… [or] think about even media. There’s so many things up for grabs right now. There’s going to be a host of security, identity, so many issues. And that’s the stuff we’re looking for — real, big, global problems.”

Chong confirms that some of TargetGlobal’s own portfolio startups have had to lay off or furlough staff themselves during the crisis — including flatshare finder business Badi and business travel booking platform TravelPerk. Both of which are types of businesses that are very exposed to the national population lockdowns that have been imposed over most of Europe. (The travel sector has of course been especially hard hit.)

“Every business that’s been affected by shelter in place have had to let go of staff,” adds Chong, suggesting portfolio layoffs have been up to around a third for the worst affected startups.

Local founders have therefore been keen to support the initiative, not only to help the wider tech ecosystem in Spain, but as something they can point furloughed or laid off staff to as an opportunity.

“Everyday we’re getting more sign ups,” she adds, noting that founders can also choose offer mentorship/advice as well as chipping into the fund.

Target Global dialled up its focus on Spain last year, when it opened a country office in Barcelona. Though Chong, who is normally based in Barcelona, has been spending the lockdown period in Berlin, after returning to Germany from a trip to the US in March.

“For me this [crisis] is super unfortunate because one of the reasons we made a bet so early on Spain is because of exactly this talent — Typeform and all the gaming studios, and Facebook and Amazon in Madrid . Let’s say priming the early generation workforce. And giving them the ideas how to be in a tech company, how an organization runs, how to build product, how to think of marketing — all of this stuff. So I think it’s a big shame,” she says.

“Clearly Spain has a highly entrepreneurial spirit. They’ve come out of the last crisis… with a very ‘we make our own reality’ view of the world. And I think the same will happen in this crisis so we thought why won’t we just allocate a small amount of money — for our early stage fund it’s a relatively small check — it’s a very exploratory one.”

In terms of the business opportunities that may open up as a result of the societal and economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Chong suggests “a new way of thinking about consumer products and service” is certainly coming down the pipe.

“I would be shocked if there isn’t a plethora of ideas coming on how to rethink brick and mortar and rethink retail or consumer goods,” she says.

“This is a clear trend that brick and mortar, as a model, is not working. In the US, around the world, you see everything from massive shopping malls to main street small shops, owner-operated shops, all shuttering doors. And I think it’s a big opportunity — whether the entrepreneur decides to tackle this opportunity from a pure digital play to maybe it’s a turn on real estate? Maybe there’s a new model of thinking about shop ownership or what to do with that space? Because consumers are pretty fickle. They’re used to entirely new experience with Amazon. I think there’s a lot of opportunity there for sure. The specific form or shape of that opportunity — I leave it to the wild imaginations of entrepreneurs.”

She also points to the whole value chain around retail — from supply chains to marketing, to manufacturing to getting the goods and services into consumers hands — as ripe for rethinking right now, adding: “I’m hoping there’s going to be a lot of innovation around even the supply chain aspects.”

Entrepreneurs in the country may also do well to focus their energy on ideas around reskilling/upskilling the large numbers of people who suddenly find themselves unable to do their usual work because of the impact of social distancing on traditional businesses and ways of working. Spain’s bar culture, for example, looks set to be very heavily hit by the coronavirus.

“How do we manage ourselves? How do we manage others in a remote working environment?” posits Chong. “There’s such a huge population of people where — it’s becoming pretty clear — that if you can’t work remote, if you’re not a knowledge worker, there’s a huge question mark over your ability to maybe more into those knowledge worker/desk type roles. And that’s a lot of value that’s left on the table. That’s human brains and muscle — just so much energy and potential that’s just kind of left out there.

“I would argue that a real forward thinking entrepreneur can think of ways to help utilize and bring meaning to these people’s skill sets.”

The terms of the safe notes will be “flexible”, according to Chong, though there will be a provision for investors to get a discount on the next round, i.e. if there is one. 

“You don’t have to pay it back if there’s no financing afterwards,” she says. “So far we really do want to keep it case by case — so it’s super flexible. It’s essentially like ‘hey, we want the option not the obligation to follow on in the next round’.

“Clearly, we’ll decide on that case by case. Anything beyond that we want to make sure that terms of the next fund — it’s likely going to be seed funds that come in at that next stage of the company life — we want to be able to keep the slate relatively clean in order for those funds to feel comfortable coming on board. So there’s not too much stipulated at the moment in the safe note.”

“It’s an amount. We can help you incorporate. It’s an option to the next round. There’s going to be a minimum discount — probably pretty standard, like 20%. And that’s pretty much it,” she adds.

#adyen, #barcelona, #consumer-products, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #europe, #knowledge-worker, #lina-chong, #madrid, #real-estate, #retail, #spain, #startups, #supply-chains, #target-global, #venture-capital

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B2B challenger bank Finom raises $7M Seed from Target Global and General Catalyst

Just as challenger banks have appeared in the B2C space, so to have B2B startup banks aimed small businesses, among them startups like Qonto (Fr), Tide (UK), Penta (GER) and CountingUp (UK).

Today another such firm, Finom, has closed a €6.5m ($7M) seed funding round led by Target Global, with participation from General Catalyst. Further investors include FJ Labs, Raisin founders Tamaz Georgadze, Frank Freund and Michael Stephan, and Ilya Kondrashov, the founder of MarketFinance. The company will primarily use the fresh capital to develop its product, and to expand further into Italy and France in the summer of 2020.

Finom puts accounting, financial management and banking functions for early-stage businesses and SMEs into one ‘mobile-first’ product. Businesses can set up an online account, with accounts payable and account receivable from both the app and the site in fairly short order. The company was started by the team that also launched Modulbank, ‘neobank’ for SMEs in Russia.

Konstantin Stiskin, co-founder of Finom, told Techcrunch: “The EU SME banking market size is more than €100bn. But according to McKinsey research, European entrepreneurs spend 74% of their time on non-core activities and pay for expensive and inconvenient products. Our goal is to enable small businesses in Europe to become more efficient and to thrive.”

He added: “We are not just a card with an account. We aim to be a foundation for SME’s and their everyday business, covering banking, accounting and financial management within one product.

Finom is now live in France, Italy and Germany and started with e-invoicing in Italy, which allowed it to gain market knowledge and collect the data for accounting/payments and lending.

Mike Lobanov, General Partner and COO at Target Global said: “At Target Global we are great believers in the SME segment… The team of exceptional entrepreneurs standing behind Finom shares our view, and has already built a new standard for offering financial services to SMEs.”

Although Target Global is headquartered in Berlin, it has more than €700m in assets under management, with offices in London, Tel Aviv and Barcelona. Poortfolio includes companies such as Auto1, Delivery Hero, Omio (formerly GoEuro), TravelPerk, Rapyd and WeFox.

#banking, #barcelona, #berlin, #challenger-banks, #co-founder, #coo, #countingup, #delivery-hero, #europe, #european-union, #financial-management, #financial-services, #fj-labs, #founder, #france, #general-catalyst, #germany, #goeuro, #italy, #london, #omio, #penta, #qonto, #rapyd, #russia, #target-global, #tc, #techcrunch, #tel-aviv, #travelperk, #united-kingdom, #wefox

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Factorial raises $16M to take on the HR world with a platform for SMBs

A startup that’s hoping to be a contender in the very large and fragmented market of human resources software has captured the eye of a big investor out of the US and become its first investment in Spain.

Barcelona-based Factorial, which is building an all-in-one HR automation platform aimed at small and medium businesses that manages payroll, employee onboarding, time off and other human resource functions, has raised €15 ($16 million) in a Series A round of funding led by CRV, with participation also from existing investors Creandum, Point Nine and K Fund.

The money comes on the heels of Factorial — which has customers in 40 countries — seeing eightfold growth in revenues in 2019, with more than 60,000 customers now using its tools.

Jordi Romero, the CEO who co-founded the company with Pau Ramon (CTO) and Bernat Farrero (head of corporate), said in an interview that the investment will be used both to expand to new markets and add more customers, as well as to double down on tech development to bring on more features. These will include RPA integrations to further automate services, and to move into more back-office product areas such as handling expenses,

Factorial has now raised $18 million and is not disclosing its valuation, he added.

The funding is notable on a couple of levels that speak not just to the wider investing climate but also to the specific area of human resources.

In addition to being CRV’s first deal in Spain, the investment is being made at a time when the whole VC model is under a lot of pressure because of the global coronavirus pandemic — not least in Spain, which has a decent, fledgling technology scene but has been one of the hardest-hit countries in the world when it comes to COVID-19.

“It made the closing of the funding very, very stressful,” Romero said from Barcelona last week (via video conference). “We had a gentleman’s agreement [so to speak] before the virus broke out, but the money was still to be wired. Seeing the world collapse around you, with some accounts closing, and with the bigger business world in a very fragile state, was very nerve wracking.”

Ironically, it’s that fragile state that proved to be a saviour of sorts for Factorial.

“We target HR leaders and they are currently very distracted with furloughs and layoffs right now, so we turned around and focused on how we could provide the best value to them,” Romero said.

The company made its product free to use until lockdowns are eased up, and Factorial has found a new interest from businesses that had never used cloud-based services before but needed to get something quickly up and running to use while working from home. He noted that among new companies signing up to Factorial, most either previously kept all their records in local files or at best a “Dropbox folder, but nothing else.”

The company also put in place more materials and other tools specifically to address the most pressing needs those HR people might have right now, such as guidance on how to implement furloughs and layoffs, best practices for communication policies and more. “We had to get creative,” Romero said.

At $16 million, this is at the larger end of Series A rounds as of January 2020, and while it’s definitely not as big as some of the outsized deals we’ve seen out of the US, it happens to be the biggest funding round so far this year in Spain.

Its rise feels unlikely for another reason, too: it comes at a time when we already have dozens (maybe even hundreds) of human resources software businesses, with many an established name — they include PeopleHR, Workday, Infor, ADP, Zenefits, Gusto, IBM, Oracle, SAP, Rippling, and many others — in a market that analysts project will be worth $38.17 billion by 2027 growing at a CAGR of over 11%.

But as is often the case in tech, status quo breeds disruption, and that’s the case here. Factorial’s approach has been to build HR tools specifically for people who are not HR professionals per se: companies that are small enough not to have specialists, or if they do, they share a lot of the tasks and work with other managers who are not in HR first and foremost.

It’s a formula that Romero said could potentially see the company taking on bigger customers, but for now, investors like it for having built a platform approach for the huge but often under-served SME market.

“Factorial was built for the users, designed for the modern web and workplace,” said Reid Christian, General Partner at CRV, in a statement. “Historically the HR software market has been one of the most lucrative categories for enterprise tech companies, and today, the HR stack looks much different. As we enter the third generation of cloud HR products, with countless point solutions, there’s a strong need for an underlying platform to integrate work across these.”

#barcelona, #enterprise, #europe, #factorial, #funding, #fundings-exits, #hiring, #hr, #human-resources, #personnel, #recent-funding, #spain, #startups, #tc

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Uber Eats beefs up its grocery delivery offer as COVID-19 lockdowns continue

Uber Eats has beefed up grocery delivery options in three markets hard hit by the coronavirus.

Uber’s food delivery division said today it’s inked a partnership with supermarket giant Carrefour in France to provide Parisians with 30 minute home delivery on a range of grocery products, including everyday foods, toiletries and cleaning products.

The service is starting with 15 stores in the city, with Uber Eats saying it plans to scale it out rapidly nationwide “in the coming weeks”.

In Spain it’s partnered with the Galp service station brand to offer a grocery delivery service that consists of basic foods, over the counter medicines, beverages and cleaning products in 15 cities across the following 8 provinces: Badajoz, Barcelona, Cádiz, Córdoba, Madrid, Málaga, Palma de Mallorca and Valencia.

Uber Eats said there will be an initial 25 Galp convenience stores participating. The service will not only be offered via the Uber Eats app but also by phone for those without access to a smartphone or Internet.

The third market it’s inked deals in is Brazil, where Uber said it’s partnering with a range of pharmacies, convenience stores and pet shops in Sao Paulo to offer home delivery on basic supplies.

“Over the counter medicines will be available from the Pague Menos chain of pharmacies, grocery products from Shell Select convenience stores and pet supplies from Cobasi — one of the largest pet shop chains in the country,” it said. “The new services will be available on the Uber Eats app, with plans to launch in other Brazil states and cities in the coming weeks.”

The grocery tie-ups are not Uber Eats’ first such deals. The company had already inked partnerships with a supermarket in Australia (Coles) and the Costcutter brand in the UK, where around 600 independent convenience stores are offered via its app.

Uber Eats also lets independent convenience stores in countries around the world self listed on its app. However the latest tie-ups put more branded meat on the bone of its grocery offer in Europe and LatAm — with the Carrefour tie-up in France marking its first partnership with a major supermarket in Europe.

It’s worth noting Spain’s food delivery rival, Glovo, has an existing grocery-delivery partnership with the French supermarket giant in markets including its home country — which likely explains why Uber Eats has opted for a different partner in Spain.

Asked whether it’s looking to further expand grocery deliveries in other markets hit by the public health emergency Uber Eats told us it’s exploring opportunities to partner with more supermarkets, convenience stores and other retailers around the world.

As part of its response to the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the company has switched all deliveries to contactless by default — with orders left at the door or as instructed by a user.

It also told us it’s providing drivers and delivery people with access to hand sanitiser, gloves and disinfectant wipes, as soon as they become available. And said it’s dispensing guidance to users of its apps on hygiene best practice and limiting the spread of the virus.

Uber Eats has previously said it will provide 14 days of financial support for drivers and delivery people who get diagnosed with COVID-19 or are personally placed in quarantine by a public health authority due to their risk of spreading the virus, with the amount based on their average earnings over the last six months or less.

The policy is due for review on April 6.

#apps, #australia, #barcelona, #brazil, #carrefour, #collaborative-consumption, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #europe, #food, #food-delivery, #france, #glovo, #grocery-store, #madrid, #online-food-ordering, #retailers, #sao-paulo, #shell, #spain, #supermarkets, #uber, #uber-eats, #united-kingdom, #valencia

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