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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seqera is not disclosing its valuation with this round.

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

Spain’s Factorial raises $80M at a $530M valuation on the back of strong traction for its ‘Workday for SMBs’

Factorial, a startup out of Barcelona that has built a platform that lets SMBs run human resources functions with the same kind of tools that typically are used by much bigger companies, is today announcing some funding to bulk up its own position: the company has raised $80 million, funding that it will be using to expand its operations geographically — specifically deeper into Latin American markets — and to continue to augment its product with more features.

CEO Jordi Romero, who co-founded the startup with Pau Ramon and Bernat Farrero — said in an interview that Factorial has seen a huge boom of growth in the last 18 months and counts more than anything 75,000 customers across 65 countries, with the average size of each customer in the range of 100 employees, although they can be significantly (single-digit) smaller or potentially up to 1,000 (the “M” of SMB, or SME as it’s often called in Europe).

“We have a generous definition of SME,” Romero said of how the company first started with a target of 10-15 employees but is now working in the size bracket that it is. “But that is the limit. This is the segment that needs the most help. We see other competitors of ours are trying to move into SME and they are screwing up their product by making it too complex. SMEs want solutions that have as much data as possible in one single place. That is unique to the SME.” Customers can include smaller franchises of much larger organizations, too: KFC, Booking.com, and Whisbi are among those that fall into this category for Factorial.

Factorial offers a one-stop shop to manage hiring, onboarding, payroll management, time off, performance management, internal communications and more. Other services such as the actual process of payroll or sourcing candidates, it partners and integrates closely with more localized third parties.

The Series B is being led by Tiger Global, and past investors CRV, Creandum, Point Nine and K Fund also participating, at a valuation we understand from sources close to the deal to be around $530 million post-money. Factorial has raised $100 million to date, including a $16 million Series A round in early 2020, just ahead of the Covid-19 pandemic really taking hold of the world.

That timing turned out to be significant: Factorial, as you might expect of an HR startup, was shaped by Covid-19 in a pretty powerful way.

The pandemic, as we have seen, massively changed how — and where — many of us work. In the world of desk jobs, offices largely disappeared overnight, with people shifting to working at home in compliance with shelter-in-place orders to curb the spread of the virus, and then in many cases staying there even after those were lifted as companies grappled both with balancing the best (and least infectious) way forward and their own employees’ demands for safety and productivity. Front-line workers, meanwhile, faced a completely new set of challenges in doing their jobs, whether it was to minimize exposure to the coronavirus, or dealing with giant volumes of demand for their services. Across both, organizations were facing economics-based contractions, furloughs, and in other cases, hiring pushes, despite being office-less to carry all that out.

All of this had an impact on HR. People who needed to manage others, and those working for organizations, suddenly needed — and were willing to pay for — new kinds of tools to carry out their roles.

But it wasn’t always like this. In the early days, Romero said the company had to quickly adjust to what the market was doing.

“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 to me during the Series A back in early 2020. Then, Factorial made its product free to use and found 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 (and that cloud migration turned out to be a much bigger trend played out across a number of sectors). Those turning to Factorial had previously kept all their records in local files or at best a “Dropbox folder, but nothing else,” Romero said.

It also provided tools specifically to address the most pressing needs HR people had at the time, such as guidance on how to implement furloughs and layoffs, best practices for communication policies and more. “We had to get creative,” Romero said.

But it wasn’t all simple. “We did suffer at the beginning,” Romero now says. “People were doing furloughs and [frankly] less attention was being paid to software purchasing. People were just surviving. Then gradually, people realized they needed to improve their systems in the cloud, to manage remote people better, and so on.” So after a couple of very slow months, things started to take off, he said.

Factorial’s rise is part of a much, longer-term bigger trend in which the enterprise technology world has at long last started to turn its attention to how to take the tools that originally were built for larger organizations, and right size them for smaller customers.

The metrics are completely different: large enterprises are harder to win as customers, but represent a giant payoff when they do sign up; smaller enterprises represent genuine scale since there are so many of them globally — 400 million, accounting for 95% of all firms worldwide. But so are the product demands, as Romero pointed out previously: SMBs also want powerful tools, but they need to work in a more efficient, and out-of-the-box way.

Factorial is not the only HR startup that has been honing in on this, of course. Among the wider field are PeopleHR, Workday, Infor, ADP, Zenefits, Gusto, IBM, Oracle, SAP and Rippling; and a very close competitor out of Europe, Germany’s Personio, raised $125 million on a $1.7 billion valuation earlier this year, speaking not just to the opportunity but the success it is seeing in it.

But the major fragmentation in the market, the fact that there are so many potential customers, and Factorial’s own rapid traction are three reasons why investors approached the startup, which was not proactively seeking funding when it decided to go ahead with this Series B.

“The HR software market opportunity is very large in Europe, and Factorial is incredibly well positioned to capitalize on it,” said John Curtius, Partner at Tiger Global, in a statement. “Our diligence found a product that delighted customers and a world-class team well-positioned to achieve Factorial’s potential.”

“It is now clear that labor markets around the world have shifted over the past 18 months,” added Reid Christian, general partner at CRV, which led its previous round, which had been CRV’s first investment in Spain. “This has strained employers who need to manage their HR processes and properly serve their employees. Factorial was always architected to support employers across geographies with their HR and payroll needs, and this has only accelerated the demand for their platform. We are excited to continue to support the company through this funding round and the next phase of growth for the business.”

Notably, Romero told me that the fundraising process really evolved between the two rounds, with the first needing him flying around the world to meet people, and the second happening over video links, while he was recovering himself from Covid-19. Given that it was not too long ago that the most ambitious startups in Europe were encouraged to relocate to the U.S. if they wanted to succeed, it seems that it’s not just the world of HR that is rapidly shifting in line with new global conditions.

#barcelona, #booking-com, #brazil, #ceo, #crv, #enterprise, #europe, #factorial, #general-partner, #germany, #hiring, #human-resource-management, #human-resources, #ibm, #k, #k-fund, #labor, #mathematics, #onboarding, #oracle, #payroll, #people-management, #performance-management, #personnel, #sap, #software, #spain, #tiger-global-management, #united-states, #zenefits

Gamestry gets $5M to give games video creators a sweeter deal

Barcelona-based gaming video platform Gamestry has snatched up $5 million in seed funding, led by Goodwater Capital, Target Global and Kibo Ventures — turning investors’ heads with a 175x growth rate over the past 12 months.

While the (for now) Spanish-language gaming video platform launched a few years back, in 2018, last year the founders decided to shift away from an initial focus on curating purely learning content around gaming — allowing creators to upload and share entertainment-focused games videos, too.

The switch looks to have paid off as a growth tactic. Gamestry says it now has 4M monthly active users (MAUs) and 2,000 active creators in Spain and Latin America (its main markets so far) — and is gunning to hit 20M MAUs by the end of the year.

While Twitch continues to dominate the market for live-streaming games — catering to the esports boom — Gamestry, which says it’s focused on “non-live video content”, reckons there’s a gap for a dedicated on-demand video platform that better supports games-focused video creators and provides games fans with a more streamlined discovery experience than catch-all user-generated content giants like YouTube.

For games video creators, it’s dangling the carrot of a better revenue share than other UGC video platforms — talking about having “a fair ads revenue share model”, and a plan to add more revenue streams for creators “soon”. It also pledges “full transparency on how the monetization structure works”, and a focus on supporting creators if they have technical issues.

So, basically, the sorts of issues creators have often complained that YouTube fails them on.

For viewers, the pitch is a one-stop-shop for finding and watching videos about games and connecting with others with the same passion (gaming chat) — so the platform structures content around individual games titles.

The startup also claims to present viewers with better info about a video to help them decide whether or not to click on it (aka, tools to help them find “quality instead of clickbait”), beyond basics like title, thumbnail and videos. (Albeit to my admittedly unseasoned eye for assessing the calibre of games video content, there is no shortage of clickbaity-looking stuff on Gamestry. But I am definitely not the target audience here…). So the viewer pitch also sounds like another little dig at YouTube.

“Despite being the de-facto place for uploading content, YouTube is a generic platform that is not optimized for gaming and therefore doesn’t cater to the needs of gaming creators,” argue founders — brothers Alejo and Guillermo Torrens — adding: “Vertical or specialized platforms emerge whenever markets become large enough that current platforms can’t serve their users’ needs and we believe that’s exactly what’s happening today.”

Target Global’s Lina Chong led the international fund’s investment in Gamestry. Asked what piqued her interest here, she flagged the recent growth spurt and the platform having onboarded scores of highly engaged games content creators in short order.

“The problem Gamestry is addressing is that the vast majority of creators don’t make much money on those platforms because they are ads/eyeball driven businesses,” she told TechCrunch. “Gamestry provides a space where creators, despite audience size, can find new ways to engage with their audience and make a living. This problem among creators is so big that Gamestry now has over 2k highly engaged creators uploading multiple content pieces and millions of their viewers on the platform every month.”

It will surely surprise no one to learn that the typical Gamestry user is a male, aged between 18 and 24.

The startup also told us the “most trending” games on its platform are Minecraft, Free Fire, and Fortnite, adding that “IRL (In Real Life) content is also very successful”.

As well as YouTube Gaming, other platforms competing for similar games-mad eyeballs include Facebook Gaming and Booyah.

#barcelona, #europe, #fortnite, #fundings-exits, #games-video, #gaming, #goodwater-capital, #kibo-ventures, #latin-america, #lina-chong, #minecraft, #spain, #target-global, #twitch, #user-generated-content, #youtube

Italy’s DPA fines Glovo-owned Foodinho $3M, orders changes to algorithmic management of riders

Algorithmic management of gig workers has landed Glovo-owned on-demand delivery firm Foodinho in trouble in Italy where the country’s data protection authority issued a €2.6 million penalty (~$3M) yesterday after an investigation found a laundry list of problems.

The delivery company has been ordered to make a number of changes to how it operates in the market, with the Garante’s order giving it two months to correct the most serious violations found, and a further month (so three months total) to amend how its algorithms function — to ensure compliance with privacy legislation, Italy’s workers’ statute and recent legislation protecting platform workers.

One of the issues of concern to the data watchdog is the risk of discrimination arising from a rider rating system operated by Foodinho — which had some 19,000 riders operating on its platform in Italy at the time of the Garante’s investigation.

Likely of relevance here is a long running litigation brought by riders gigging for another food delivery brand in Italy, Foodora, which culminated in a ruling by the country’s Supreme Court last year that asserted riders should be treated as having workers rights, regardless of whether they are employed or self-employed — bolstering the case for challenges against delivery apps that apply algorithms to opaquely micromanage platform workers’ labor.

In the injunction against Foodinho, Italy’s DPA says it found numerous violations of privacy legislation, as well as a risk of discrimination against gig workers based on how Foodinho’s booking and assignments algorithms function, in addition to flagging concerns over how the system uses ratings and reputational mechanisms as further levers of labor control.

Article 22 of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) provides protections for individuals against being solely subject to automated decision-making including profiling where such decisions produce a legal or similarly substantial effect (and access to paid work would meet that bar) — giving them the right to get information on a specific decision and object to it and/or ask for human review.

But it does not appear that Foodinho provided riders with such rights, per the Garante’s assessment.

In a press release about the injunction (which we’ve translated from Italian with Google Translate), the watchdog writes:

“The Authority found a series of serious offences, in particular with regard to the algorithms used for the management of workers. The company, for example, had not adequately informed the workers on the functioning of the system and did not guarantee the accuracy and correctness of the results of the algorithmic systems used for the evaluation of the riders. Nor did it guarantee procedures to protect the right to obtain human intervention, express one’s opinion and contest the decisions adopted through the use of the algorithms in question, including the exclusion of a part of the riders from job opportunities.

“The Guarantor has therefore required the company to identify measures to protect the rights and freedoms of riders in the face of automated decisions, including profiling.

The watchdog also says it has asked Foodinho to verify the “accuracy and relevance” of data that feeds the algorithmic management system — listing a wide variety of signals that are factored in (such as chats, emails and phone calls between riders and customer care; geolocation data captured every 15 seconds and displayed on the app map; estimated and actual delivery times; details of the management of the order in progress and those already made; customer and partner feedback; remaining battery level of device etc).

“This is also in order to minimize the risk of errors and distortions which could, for example, lead to the limitation of the deliveries assigned to each rider or to the exclusion itself from the platform. These risks also arise from the rating system,” it goes on, adding: “The company will also need to identify measures that prevent improper or discriminatory use of reputational mechanisms based on customer and business partner feedback.”

Glovo, Foodinho’s parent entity — which is named as the owner of the platform in the Garante’s injunction — was contacted for comment on the injunction.

A company spokesperson told us they were discussing a response — so we’ll update this report if we get one.

Glovo acquired the Italian food delivery company Foodinho back in 2016, making its first foray into international expansion. The Barcelona-based business went on to try to build out a business in the Middle East and LatAm — before retrenching back to largely focus on Southern and Eastern Europe. (In 2018 Glovo also picked up the Foodora brand in Italy, which had been owned by German rival Delivery Hero.)

The Garante says it collaborated with Spain’s privacy watchdog, the AEDP — which is Glovo’s lead data protection supervisor under the GDPR — on the investigation into Foodinho and the platform tech provided to it by Glovo.

Its press release also notes that Glovo is the subject of “an independent procedure” carried out by the AEPD, which it says it’s also assisting with.

The Spanish watchdog confirmed to TechCrunch that joint working between the AEPD and the Garante had resulted in the resolution against the Glovo-owned company, Foodinho.

The AEPD also said it has undertaken its own procedures against Glovo — pointing to a 2019 sanction related to the latter not appointing a data protection officer, as is required by the GDPR. The watchdog later issued Glovo with a fined of €25,000 for that compliance failure.

However it’s not clear why the AEDP has — seemingly — not taken a deep dive look at Glovo’s own compliance with the Article 22 of the GDPR. (We’ve asked it for more on this and will update if we get a response.)

It did point us to recently published guidance on data protection and labor relations, which it worked on with Spain’s Ministry of Labor and the employers and trade union organizations, and which it said includes information on the right of a works council to be informed by a platform company of the parameters on which the algorithms or artificial intelligence systems are based — including “the elaboration of profiles, which may affect the conditions, access and maintenance of employment”.

Earlier this year the Spanish government agreed upon a labor reform to expand the protections available to platform workers by recognizing platform couriers as employees.

The amendments to the Spanish Workers Statute Law were approved by Royal Decree in May — but aren’t due to start being applied until the middle of next month, per El Pais.

Notably, the reform also contains a provision that requires workers’ legal representatives to be informed of the criteria powering any algorithms or AI systems that are used to manage them and which may affect their working conditions — such as those affecting access to employment or rating systems that monitor performance or profile workers. And that additional incoming algorithmic transparency provision has evidently been factored into the AEPD’s guidance.

So it may be that the watchdog is giving affected platforms like Glovo a few months’ grace to allow them to get their systems in order for the new rules.

Spanish labor law also of course remains distinct to Italian law, so there will be ongoing differences of application related to elements that concern delivery apps, regardless of what appears to be a similar trajectory on the issue of expanding platform workers rights.

Back in January, for example, an Italian court found that a reputation-ranking algorithm that had been used by another on-demand delivery app, Deliveroo, had discriminated against riders because it had failed to distinguish between legally protected reasons for withholding labour (e.g., because a rider was sick; or exercising their protected right to strike) and other reasons for not being as productive as they’d indicated they would be.

In that case, Deliveroo said the judgement referred to a historic booking system that it said was no longer used in Italy or any other markets.

More recently a tribunal ruling in Bologna — found a Collective Bargaining Agreement signed by, AssoDelivery, a trade association that represents a number of delivery platforms in the market (including Deliveroo and Glovo), and a minority union with far right affiliations, the UGL trade union, to be unlawful.

Deliveroo told us it planned to appeal that ruling.

The agreement attracted controversy because it seeks to derogate unfavorably from Italian law that protects workers and the signing trade body is not representative enough in the sector.

Zooming out, EU lawmakers are also looking at the issue of platform workers rights — kicking off a consultation in February on how to improve working conditions for gig workers, with the possibility that Brussels could propose legislation later this year.

However platform giants have seen the exercise as an opportunity to lobby for deregulation — pushing to reduce employment standards for gig workers across the EU. The strategy looks intended to circumvent or at least try to limit momentum for beefed up rules coming a national level, such as Spain’s labor reform.

#algorithmic-accountability, #artificial-intelligence, #barcelona, #deliveroo, #delivery-hero, #europe, #european-union, #food-delivery, #gdpr, #general-data-protection-regulation, #glovo, #italy, #labor, #online-food-ordering, #policy, #privacy, #spain

TravelPerk buys UK-based Click Travel in latest pandemic purchase

Business trip booking platform TravelPerk has bagged another rival — picking up UK-based Click Travel. Terms of the deal are not being disclosed but we’re told it’s the third — and largest — acquisition for TravelPerk to date.

The Barcelona-based startup has been on a bit of a shopping spree since the pandemic crisis hit Europe last year, picking up risk management startup Albatross in summer 2020 to bolster resilience to COVID-19’s impacts, before going on to acquire US-based NexTravel in January to expand its presence in the US market.

The latest acquisition deepens TravelPerk’s UK and European business, adding Click Travel’s 2,000+ SME clients (which includes the likes of Five Guys, Red Bull and Talk Talk) to its customer base — which will total just over 5,000 post-acquisition.

The UK company handles some £300M in business travel for its client base, which will bolster TravelPerk’s revenues going forward. The latter now bills itself as the “leading” travel management platform for the SME market globally and the UK as a whole.

“We are a global travel management platform but our core markets are the US and Europe and we expect both markets to be our primary growth areas this year,” said CEO and co-founder Avi Meir. “At the current moment, the US is our largest market due to the covid restrictions in the EU & UK.”

“Assuming travel restrictions won’t be imposed again, we expect to grow by 200% in 2022 with strong growth in our core markets in the US & EU,” he added.

Click Travel, which is based in Birmingham, was founded all the way back in 1999 — and appears to have raised relatively little venture capital over the years, per Crunchbase. However, in 2018, the veteran player participated in the government-backed Future Fifty scale-up program — and also took in a “multi-million pound” investment from the UK-based Business Growth Fund.

Whether there will be any domestic hang-wringing over a high growth UK business being sold to a European rival remains to be seen.

In a statement on its sale to TravelPerk, CEO James McLean omitted to mention the pandemic’s impact on the travel sector — choosing instead to highlight what he couched as the pair’s shared “mission” to reduce the cost and complexity of business travel.

“Those shared objectives, combined with the natural cultural fit between our two companies, means we are incredibly excited to bring our teams together. Combining TravelPerk’s industry-leading knowledge, technology, experience and first class customer support with our own is a powerful proposition and we can’t wait to get started,” McLean added.

While Click Travel has focused on serving the UK market, TravelPerk has had a global focus from the start.

It has also attracted a large amount of external investment (totalling just under $300M) over its shorter run (founded in 2015).

Back in April, for example, it raised a $160M Series D round. It had also topped up its Series C round in July 2019 before the pandemic hit. So TravelPerk hasn’t been short of funds to ride out the COVID-19 revenue crunch — and as well as shopping for competitors it has also been able to avoid making any layoffs over the travel crisis. 

Per a press release, capital to fund the Click Travel acquisition was provided by Boston-based investment manager, The Baupost Group.

TravelPerk’s Meir remains bullish about the near-term prospects for growth in the business travel sector, despite ongoing concerns in Europe and the US about the more infectious ‘Delta’ variant of the virus which is contributing to surging rates of COVID-19 in some markets (including the UK) — claiming it’s already seeing green shoots of recovery in “key markets”.

“TravelPerk is outgrowing the market pace and is already at above 2019 revenue figures,” Meir told TechCrunch. “When it comes to the rest of the industry, the recovery of travel is well underway but moving at different speeds in different markets. For instance in the US, according to TSA Checkpoint figures, at the current rate of recovery the US travel market is expected to reach pre-pandemic volume at the end of August 2021.

“We anticipate the global market may take a little longer but are optimistic we will see close to pre-pandemic levels in 2022.”

“We’re one of the few players in the travel industry that continued scaling and growing since the beginning of the pandemic with a strategy that didn’t involve any layoffs,” he also told us. “Since March last year, our strategy has been not to sit back but to be aggressive and invest massively in our product offering and in our global reach, so that we are in the best position possible to capitalise when travel makes its full recovery. Today’s news is a major part of that plan.

“We will aim to continue being aggressive in our growth strategy and we are open to more acquisitions if they make strategic sense and are aligned with our vision and culture.”

Per Meir, Click Travel and TravelPerk will initially continue to run as two independent platforms but he confirmed that an “eventual full integration” is planned — with both set to operate under the TravelPerk brand in time.

The startup also says it will retain all Click Travel’s staff — denying it has plans to axe any jobs. It also intends to hold onto the company’s Birmingham base — having the city as another UK hub for its business (in addition to its existing London office).

“The 150 amazing people working for Click Travel were a big reason why we wanted to acquire the company, and were priced into the deal,” said Meir. “We have no plans of redundancies. We rather aim to integrate the entire team into the TravelPerk Group.”

Asked if TravelPerk might consider expanding its focus to also target the enterprise segment, he noted that it’s seen interest from larger businesses — and said he’s “open” to the idea — but for now Meir said TravelPerk remains fully focused on the SME market: “where we think there is the biggest need, and the biggest growth potential”.

“That’s why this acquisition is so exciting for us; it makes us undoubtedly the leading travel management platform for SMEs globally,” he added.

Flexibility and sustainability

Discussing how the pandemic has changed business travel, Meir highlighted two “important trends” he said TravelPerk will continue to invest it: Namely flexibility for bookings; and sustainability so environmental impact can be reduced.

TravelPerk plans to invest more than $100M in two key products in these areas (aka: FlexiPerk and GreenPerk), per Meir.

“We’ve noticed on our platform that travellers are booking closer to their departure date: Before the pandemic, trip searches were usually conducted between 7 and 30 days prior to the selected departure date,” he said, elaborating on the importance of flexibility for the sector. “Now we are seeing most trip searches are for trips less than 6 days away. Flexibility is therefore one of the most in-demand perks in business travel. Travellers will rely on flexible fares to give them the peace of mind that they won’t lose money if they need to change or cancel a trip on short notice.”

On sustainability, Meir said businesses are already looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint and general environmental impact, while consumers are also wanting to make conscientious decisions to reduce carbon emission — suggesting that train-based travel is set to gain ground (vs flights) as a result. (That might, ultimately, require some creative retooling of TravelPerk’s logo — which prominently features an airplane icon… )

“We expect to see significant interest in our carbon offsetting product, GreenPerk, as a result but we also expect to see changes in how people are choosing to travel,” he said.

“For instance, rail is undoubtedly the more environmentally-friendly travel option. In fact, taking a train over a domestic flight can reduce an individual’s carbon emissions by about 84%. We have been building out our rail inventory for a number of years now and we expect train travel to be an increasingly popular business travel option for customers this year and next.”

As for the changing mix of business-related travel in a pandemic-reconfigured world of remote work, Meir continues to argue that more businesses providing employees with remote working options will sum to more business travel overall.

“This might be bad news for the daily commute but it will result in more business travel,” he suggested. “Whether they are going fully remote and ‘working from anywhere’, or operating on a hybrid model, distributed teams will need (and want) to come together. We believe there will be a new type of business trip — one where team members will travel from different working hubs to get together for teambuilding and brainstorming sessions, for meetings with clients and colleagues, and even for ‘bleisure’ (business and leisure) trips.”

#avi-meir, #barcelona, #business-travel, #europe, #european-union, #exit, #fundings-exits, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #nextravel, #saas, #startups, #sustainability, #travel-industry, #travelperk, #united-kingdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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