YouTube TV expands its live TV service with more Spanish-language networks

Google’s streaming TV service, YouTube TV, announced today it’s adding more Spanish-language networks to its base membership package and is preparing to launch an add-on package that will include even more Spanish-language content. Starting today, all subscribers will gain access to three new TV networks at no additional cost: Univision, UniMás, and Galavisión. These will join YouTube TV’s existing lineup of over 85 live TV channels, which today include top networks like Fox, ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, and others, in addition to entertainment networks like those from Discovery and ViacomCBS.

The additions will bring to YouTube TV members a range of new Spanish-language content, including primetime series like “La Desalmada” and “Vencer El Pasado” arriving this fall, reality competition series “Nuestra Belleza Latina” on September 26, plus the 22nd Annual Latin Grammy Awards on November 18. The additions also bring sports programming like the Campeones Cup on September 29, and ongoing match-ups from Liga MX, UEFA Champions League, MLS, and the Mexican National Team, the company says.

Univision also noted that subscribers in top Hispanic markets, including Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, and others, will be able to access Univision and UniMás’ local news, weather, and other programming. Plus, YouTube TV will carry Univision’s video-on-demand content library at launch, and subscribers will be able to use their YouTube TV credentials to authenticate with the company’s “TV everywhere”-powered Univision app.

The companies did not disclose the financial terms of their new agreement, but the deal hasn’t come with a price increase. YouTube TV, however, has been steadily hiking prices since its debut. It increased the service’s pricing to $64.99 last summer, following the new additions of 14 ViacomCBS networks, for example. But last month, YouTube Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan said there would be no new price increases in the near-term.

While the new channels will reach all subscribers, YouTube TV also announced plans to introduce a new add-on package that will be available for an additional monthly cost. This will include other Spanish-language networks like Sony Cine, CNN Español, Discovery en Español, Estrella TV, Cinelatino, Fox Deportes, and others. YouTube TV is not yet sharing the full lineup nor the price of the add-on just yet, but said it would offer more details in the “coming months.”

The Spanish-language network Pantaya will also be offered in the weeks ahead for an additional $5.99 per month, providing access to Spanish-language movies and exclusive original series, all of which are on-demand.

“We are delighted to partner with YouTube TV to expand Univision’s robust portfolio of networks and stations to include YouTube TV,” said Hamed Nasseri, Univision Vice President, Content Distribution, in a statement. “Amid the popularity of streaming services as well as the growing influence of our Hispanic community, this is an important step to ensure that our audience has access to our leading Spanish-language news, sports, and entertainment wherever they consume content. We are excited for today’s launch and recognize YouTube TV’s continued commitment to serving our growing and influential Hispanic audience.”

YouTube TV is not the first streamer to cater to an audience looking for Spanish-language content. In 2018, Hulu added its own Spanish-language bundle called ‘Español,’ which now gives subscribers live programming from networks including ESPN Deportes, NBC Universo, CNN En Español, History Channel En Español, Discovery en Español, and Discovery Familia. Hulu, however, doesn’t carry Univision but does offer Telemundo. Fubo TV, meanwhile, offers Univision and Telemundo and provides an Español plan with dozens of Spanish-language channels.

If anything, YouTube TV had been behind in terms of catering to Spanish speakers until now, and this offering will make it more competitive with rival services.

 

#champions-league, #chicago, #companies, #dallas, #houston, #hulu, #la, #los-angeles, #mass-media, #media, #miami, #mls, #neal-mohan, #new-york, #partner, #services, #sony, #streaming-services, #telemundo, #television, #univision, #youtube, #youtube-tv

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#atlanta, #austin, #cars, #chicago, #department-of-transportation, #georgia, #highway-planning, #houston, #i-270, #i-35, #i-45, #i-495, #illinois, #induced-demand, #maryland, #texas, #traffic

Extra Crunch roundup: Corp dev handbook, Chicago startups, Brazil’s e-commerce landscape

If you’re a founder who finds yourself in a meeting with a VC, try to remember two things:

  1. You’re the smartest person in the room.
  2. Investors are looking for a reason to say “yes.”

Even so, many entrepreneurs squander this opportunity, often because they direct questions or fail to understand their BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement).

“As the venture landscape becomes more a meritocratic environment where resumes and institutional affiliations matter less, these strategies can make the difference between a successful fundraise and a fruitless meeting,” says Agya Ventures co-founder Kunal Lunawat.

Whether you’re already in the fundraising process or plan to be in the future, be sure to read “A crash course on corporate development” that Venrock VP Todd Graham shared with us this week.

“If you’re going to get acquired, chances are you’re going to spend a lot of time with corporate development teams,” says Graham. “With a hot stock market, mountains of cash and cheap debt floating around, the environment for acquisitions is extremely rich.”


Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members.
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription.


The cover of "After Cooling On Freon, Global Warming, and the Terrible Cost of Comfort"

On Wednesday, August 24 at 3 p.m. PDT/6 p.m. EDT/11 p.m GMT, Managing Editor Danny Crichton will host a conversation on Twitter Spaces with Eric Dean Wilson, author of “After Cooling: On Freon, Global Warming, and the Terrible Cost of Comfort.”

Wilson’s book explores the history of freon, a common refrigerant that was later banned due to its devastating impact on the ozone layer. After their discussion, they’ll take questions from the audience.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch this week! I hope you have an excellent weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

Apple is changing Mail Privacy Protection and email marketers must prepare

Image of a yellow envelope with a red notification dot.

Image Credits: Carol Yepes (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Apple iPhone, Apple Mail and Apple iPad account for nearly half of all email opens, but the privacy features included with iOS 15 will allow consumers to block marketers from seeing their physical location, IP address and tracking data like invisible pixels.

Email marketers rely heavily on these and other metrics, which means they should prepare now for the changes to come, advises Litmus CMO Melissa Sargeant.

In a detailed post, she shares several action items that will help marketing teams leverage their email analytics so they can “continue delivering personalized experiences consumers crave.”

Let’s make a deal: A crash course on corporate development

Meeting room with a big polished table and arm-chairsOther photos from this business series:

Image Credits: Cimmerian (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Venrock Vice President Todd Graham has some frank advice for founders at venture-backed startups: “It would be wise to generate a return at some point.”

With that in mind, he authored a primer on corporate development that lays out the three most common categories of acquisitions, tips for dealing with bankers, and explains why striking a partnership with a big company isn’t always the best way forward.

Regardless of the path you choose, “you need to take the meeting,” advises Graham.

“In the worst-case scenario, you’ll get a few new LinkedIn connections and you’re now a known quantity. The best-case scenario will be a second meeting.”

When VCs turned to Zoom, Chicago startups were ready for their close-up

The pandemic failed to slow the momentum of venture capitalists pouring money into startups, but Chicago stands out as an “outlying benefactor of accelerating venture capital activity and the rise of remote investing,” Alex Wilhelm and Anna Heim write for The Exchange.

When the world shut down and it didn’t matter if you were in NYC or SF (because everyone was on Zoom), the Windy City was ready to present itself as the venture champion of the Midwest.

What does Brazil’s new receivables regulation mean for fintechs?

Female hand holding brazilian money (Real/Reais)

Image Credits: Priscila Zambotto (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The Brazilian Central Bank made a major reform to the way payments are processed that may throw the doors open for e-commerce in South America’s largest market.

Historically, merchants who accepted credit card payments had two options: Receive the full payment distributed over two to 12 installments, or offer a deep discount to receive a smaller sum up front.

But in June 2021, the BCB created new “registration entities” that permit “any interested receivables buyer/acquirer to make an offer for those receivables, forcing buyers to become more competitive in their discount offers,” says Leonardo Lanna, head of payment products at Monkey Exchange.

The new framework benefits consumers and sellers, but for the region’s startups, “it opens the door to a plethora of opportunities and new business models, from payments to credit.”

As its startup market accelerates, Brazil could be in for an IPO bonanza

An inflow of VC dollars, notable acquisitions and rising unicorn counts are all features of the Brazilian tech startup market, Anna Heim and Alex Wilhelm note in The Exchange.

“The IPO market in Brazil is changing,” they write. “TechCrunch noted last year that in the decade leading up to 2020, just two of the 56 IPOs in Brazil were technology companies. More recently, the number of technology companies listed in the country has swelled to at least 16, up from just four in 2019.”

Insider hacks to streamline your SOC 3 certification application

Digital encrypted Lock with data multilayers. Internet Security

Image Credits: Andriy Onufriyenko / Getty Images

“For good reason, security certifications like the SOC 3 really put you through the wringer,” Waydev CEO Alex Cercei writes in a guest column.

Waydev, a Git analytics tool that helps engineering leaders measure team performance automatically, just attained the SOC 3 certification.

“We learned so much from the process, we felt it was right to share our experience with others that might be daunted by the prospect,” Cercei writes.

“So here’s our advice on how teams can smoothly reach an SOC 3 while simultaneously balancing workloads and minimizing disruption to users.”

Dear Sophie: Tips on EB-1A and EB-2 NIW?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

I’m on an H-1B living and working in the U.S. I want to apply for a green card on my own. I’m concerned about only relying on my current employer and I want to be able to easily change jobs or create a startup. I’ve been looking at the EB-1A and EB-2 NIW.

I’m not sure if I would qualify for an EB-1A, but since I was born in India, I face a much longer wait for an EB-2 NIW.

Any tips on how to proceed?

— Inventive from India

How to establish a health tech startup advisory board

Most startups could use an advisory board, but in health tech, it’s a core requirement.

Founders seeking to innovate in this area have a unique need for mentors who have experience navigating regulations, raising capital and managing R&D, to name just a few areas.

Based on his own experience, Patrick Frank, co-founder and COO of PatientPartner, shared some very specific ideas about who to recruit, where to find them and how to fit them into your cap table.

“You want to leverage these individuals so you are able to focus on the full view of the company to ensure it is something that both the market and investors want at scale,” says Frank.

Crypto world shows signs of being rather bullish

There’s no shortage of tech news to analyze, Alex Wilhelm notes, but this week, he took a fresh look at crypto.

How come?

“Because there are some rather bullish trends that indicate the world of blockchain is maturing and creating a raft of winning players,” he writes.

4 common mistakes startups make when setting pay for hybrid workers

Organization Chart or Organizational Graph for Human Resources

Image Credits: kentoh (opens in a new window) / Getty Images (Image has been modified)

In one recent survey, 58% of workers said they plan to quit if they’re not allowed to work remotely.

Startups that don’t offer employees work-from-home flexibility are at a competitive disadvantage, but figuring out how to pay hybrid workers raises a complex set of questions:

  • Should you localize salaries for workers in different areas?
  • How should you pay workers who have the same job when one is WFH and the other is at their desk?
  • Are you being transparent with your staff about how their compensation is set?

#apple, #brazil, #chicago, #ec-roundup, #entrepreneurship, #extra-crunch-roundup, #finance, #payments, #security, #startups, #tc, #venrock, #venture-capital

Amazon expands same-day Prime delivery to 6 more U.S. cities

Amazon announced this morning it’s expanding its faster, same-day delivery service to half a dozen more U.S. cities. The service, which the retailer has been working to make same-day delivery even faster over the past year, now offers consumers in a number of markets the ability to shop up to 3 million items on Amazon.com, then receive their orders in only a few hours.

To do so, Amazon invested in what it called “mini-fulfillment centers” closer to where customers lived in select U.S. markets, initially in Philadelphia, Phoenix, Orlando, and Dallas. Those customers could then shop across a dozen merchandise categories, including Baby, Beauty & Health, Kitchen & Dining, Electronics, Pet Supplies, and more. As the pandemic continued to impact Amazon’s business, in November 2020, Amazon expanded its faster same-day service to more cities, to include Nashville and Washington, D.C.

With today’s expansion, Amazon is rolling out same-day delivery to Prime members in Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Tampa, Charlotte, and Houston, bringing the total markets served to 12. In these markets, shoppers will be able to place orders online throughout the day then have items on their doorstep in as fast as 5 hours, Amazon says. Customers can also place orders by midnight to have their orders arrive the following morning.

The service continues to be free with no additional charges on orders over $35 that qualify for same-day delivery. Orders under $35 have a $2.99 fee for Prime customers, and a $12.99 fee for non-members. Prime membership, meanwhile, is $12.99 per month or $119 per year.

The time frame commitments for same-day delivery are the same as those Amazon promised last year when it first announced its plans to speed up Prime delivery. Orders placed between midnight and 8 AM will arrive today by 1 PM. Orders placed between 8 AM and 1 PM arrive by 6 PM; those placed between 1 PM and 5 PM will arrive by 10 PM; and those placed between 5 PM and midnight will arrive overnight by 8 AM. That means customers can place orders fairly late and receive their items before they head out of the house the next day.

Faster same-day delivery has been one of the most significant services Amazon has used to challenge rivals like Walmart and Target, who both benefit from having a large brick-and-mortar footprint that allows them to more quickly serve their customers through same-day order pickup, curbside pickup, and same-day delivery services. While Walmart partners with third-parties on its same-day service, Express delivery, largely focused on grocery, Target acquired delivery service Shipt in 2017 to bring its fast delivery services in-house.

In response to the growing competition, Amazon has been recently acquiring smaller warehouse space inside major urban metros, including in these six new markets where it’s now announcing same-day delivery, as well as larger markets, like New York, and even suburban neighborhoods. It also acquired Whole Foods for $137.7 billion in 2017, not only to more fully participate in the online grocery business, but also in part because of its large retail footprint.

As Amazon has sped up the pace of what’s available under “Prime” delivery, it has wound down its older “Prime Now” business, which was retired Aug. 30 and will be fully shut down by year-end. The separate app had allowed customers to shop items that were available in one or two hours for an additional fee.

The news follows Amazon’s earning miss last week, when the retailer fell short of Wall St.’s estimates for revenue, and gave a weaker than-expected outlook for the quarter ahead, which Amazon attributed to difficult comparisons with a time frame that included Covid lockdowns during height of the pandemic in 2020. The company reported $113.08 billion in revenue and earnings of $15.12, versus expectations of $115.2 billion and $12.30.

#amazon, #amazon-prime, #amazon-com, #baltimore, #charlotte, #chicago, #dallas, #delivery-services, #detroit, #ecommerce, #food-delivery, #houston, #nashville, #new-york, #online-grocery, #online-shopping, #orlando, #philadelphia, #phoenix, #prime, #prime-now, #retailers, #shipt, #tampa, #target, #united-states, #walmart, #washington-d-c, #whole-foods

Moderne Ventures closes second fund with $200M, targets industry digital transformation

Since 2015, Constance Freedman, founder and managing partner of Moderne Ventures, and partner Liza Benson have built up a network of more than 700 executives across the real estate, finance, insurance and home services industries.

Today, their early-stage venture capital firm buttoned up an oversubscribed second fund, raising $200 million this time, to infuse capital into startups in and around those industries. Moderne’s newest fund includes new and returning high-profile strategic partners like AvalonBay Communities, Camden Property Trust, Greystar, JBG SMITH, Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, funds managed by Oaktree Capital Management and Realogy. The Chicago-based firm now has $350 million in assets under management.

Freedman’s background is in real estate, technology and venture, spending three years in sales and leasing before the “dot-com” days. After getting her MBA at Harvard, she turned toward investing, launching a fund in 2008 that focused on information and media, as well as working with the National Association of Realtors, which wanted to invest in real estate tech. That $20 million fund became the predecessor fund to Moderne Ventures and where a lot of what the firm does now came from, Freedman told TechCrunch.

In fact, a big part of their strategy is looking at companies outside and bringing them in, Freedman said.

“Industries like real estate are cyclical, so you don’t want to be beholden to one industry,” she added. “If a company has that as its beachhead, but can expand into other industries, the bigger the market and bigger the returns for investors. We will also have a stronger fund as a result.”

Moderne Ventures writes first checks of between $4 million and $7 million, and its sweet spot is companies with revenue of $2 million to $10 million. Most of its investments are late seed to early Series B.

To date, the firm has investments in more than 100 companies, including five unicorns, three IPOs and dozens of accretive financing events in the past year, Freedman said. Notable investments in the portfolio include ICON, Porch, Better Mortgage, Hippo Insurance, Homesnap (acquired by Costar), MotoRefi, Super, EasyKnock and Kaiyo. For its new fund, Moderne Ventures has invested in seven companies so far.

In addition to its fund, Moderne runs an industry immersion program called the Moderne Passport, to connect startups with that network of over 700 industry executives and corporate partners that can benefit from their services.

The program includes about 80 companies, and Freedman said Moderne will “make meaningful investments in about a third of them.” There is a class open right now, and the firm will have another one in seven to 10 months.

The firm offers a hands-on approach aimed at affecting a company’s growth, including go-to-market strategy. Moderne facilitates over 1,000 meetings between companies and its network each year, often turning into pilot programs.

Speaking about the ton of artificial intelligence technology applications within its core focus industries, Freedman said more than $30 million is spent on marketing to people who aren’t real buyers, but are just looking. Rather, Moderne Ventures is using AI and data analytics to help companies market to the right people.

“We create a lower or no-cost way for partners to try before they buy to remove the sales friction,” she added. “In return, companies get exposure opportunities that they can’t buy to accelerate their growth.”

 

#artificial-intelligence, #chicago, #constance-freedman, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #funding, #liza-benson, #moderne-ventures, #real-estate, #real-estate-tech, #tc, #venture-capital

Goldman Sachs leads $202M investment in project44, doubling its valuation to $1.2B in a matter of months

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted a lot in the world, and supply chains are no exception. 

A number of applications that aim to solve workflow challenges across the supply chain exist. But getting real-time access to information from transportation providers has remained somewhat elusive for shippers and logistics companies alike. 

Enter Project44. The 7-year-old Chicago-based company has built an API-based platform that it  says acts as “the connective tissue” between transportation providers, third-party logistics companies, shippers and the systems. Using predictive analytics, the platform provides crucial real-time information such as estimated time of arrivals (ETAs).

“Supply chains have undergone an incredible amount of change – there has never been a greater need for agility, resiliency, and the ability to rapidly respond to changes across the supply chain,” said Jason Duboe, the company’s Chief Growth Officer.

And now, project44 announced it has raised $202 million in a Series E funding round led by Goldman Sachs Asset Management and Emergence Capital. Girteka and Lineage Logistics also participated in the financing, which gives project44 a post-money valuation of $1.2 billion. That doubles the company’s valuation at the time of its Insight Partners-led $100 million Series D in December.

The raise is quite possibly the largest investment in the supply chain visibility space to date.

Project44 is one of those refreshingly transparent private companies that gives insight into its financials. This month, the company says it crossed $50 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR), which is up 100% year over year. It has more than 600 customers including some of the world’s largest brands such as Amazon, Walmart, Nestle, Starbucks, Unilever, Lenovo and P&G. Customers hail from a variety of industries including CPG, retail, e-commerce, manufacturing, pharma, and chemical.

Over the last year, the pandemic created a number of supply chain disruptions, underscoring the importance of technologies that help provide visibility into supply chain operations. Project44 said it worked hard to help customers to mitigate “relentless volatility, bottlenecks, and logistics breakdowns,” including during the Suez Canal incident where a cargo ship got stuck for days.

Looking ahead, Project44 plans to use its new capital in part to continue its global expansion. Project44 recently announced its expansion into China and has plans to grow in the Asia-Pacific, Australia/New Zealand and Latin American markets, according to Duboe.

We are also going to continue to invest heavily in our carrier products to enable more participation and engagement from the transportation community that desires a stronger digital experience to improve efficiency and experience for their customers,” he told TechCrunch. The company also aims to expand its artificial intelligence (AI) and data science capabilities and broaden sales and marketing reach globally.

Last week, project44 announced its acquisition of ClearMetal, a San Francisco-based supply chain planning software company that focuses on international freight visibility, predictive planning and overall customer experience. WIth the buy, Duboe said  project44 will now have two contracts with Amazon: road and ocean. 

“Project44 will power what they are chasing,” he added.

And in March, the company also acquired Ocean Insights to expand its ocean offerings.

Will Chen, a managing director of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, believes that project44 is unique in its scope of network coverage across geographies and modes of transport.  

“Most competitors predominantly focus on over-the-road visibility and primarily serve one region, whereas project44 is a truly global business that provides end-to-end visibility across their customers’ entire supply chain,” he said.

Goldman Sachs Asset Management, noted project44 CEO and founder Jett McCandless, will help the company grow not only by providing capital but through its network and resources.

#amazon, #api, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #asia-pacific, #australia, #business, #chicago, #chief, #china, #clearmetal, #companies, #e-commerce, #emergence-capital, #funding, #fundings-exits, #goldman-sachs, #insight-partners, #lenovo, #logistics, #manufacturing, #nestle, #new-zealand, #officer, #pg, #recent-funding, #san-francisco, #starbucks, #startup, #startups, #supply-chain, #supply-chain-management, #transportation, #unilever, #venture-capital, #walmart

SpotOn raises $125M in a16z-led Series D, triples valuation to $1.875B

Certain industries were hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than others, especially in its early days.

Small businesses, including retailers and restaurants, were negatively impacted by lockdowns and the resulting closures. They had to adapt quickly to survive. If they didn’t use much technology before, they were suddenly being forced to, as so many things shifted to digital last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For companies like SpotOn, it was a pivotal moment. 

The startup, which provides software and payments for restaurants and SMBs, had to step up to help the businesses it serves. Not only for their sake, but its own.

“We really took a hard look at what was happening to our clients. And we realized we needed to pivot, just to be able to support them,” co-CEO and co-founder Matt Hyman recalls. “We had to make a decision because our revenues also were taking a big hit, just like our clients were. Rather than lay off staff or require salary deductions, we stayed true to our core values and just kept plugging away.”

All that “plugging away” has paid off. Today, SpotOn announced it has achieved unicorn status with a $125 million Series D funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z).

Existing backers DST Global, 01 Advisors, Dragoneer Investment Group and Franklin Templeton also participated in the financing, in addition to new investor Mubadala Investment Company. 

Notably, the round triples the company’s valuation to $1.875 billion compared to its $625 million valuation at the time of its Series C raise last September. It also marks San Francisco-based SpotOn’s third funding event since March 2020, and brings the startup’s total funding to $328 million since its 2017 inception.

Its efforts have also led to impressive growth for the company, which has seen its revenue triple since February 2020, according to Hyman.

Put simply, SpotOn is taking on the likes of Square in the payments space. But the company says its offering extends beyond traditional payment processing and point-of-sale (POS) software. Its platform aims to give SMBs the ability to run their businesses “from building a brand to taking payments and everything in-between.” SpotOn’s goal is to be a “one-stop shop” by incorporating tools that include things such as custom website development, scheduling software, marketing, appointment scheduling, review management, analytics and digital loyalty.

When the pandemic hit, SpotOn ramped up and rolled out 400 “new product innovations,” Hyman said. It also did things like waive $1.5 million in fees (it’s a SaaS business, so for several months it waived its monthly fee, for example, for its integrated restaurant management system). It also acquired a company, SeatNinja, so that it could expand its offering.

“Because a lot of these businesses had to go digital literally overnight, we built a free website for them all,” Hyman said. SpotOn also did things like offer commission-free online ordering for restaurants and helped retail merchants update their websites for e-commerce. “Obviously these businesses were resilient,” Hyman said. “But such efforts also created a lot of loyalty.” 

Today, more than 30,000 businesses use SpotOn’s platform, according to Hyman, with nearly 8,000 of those signing on this year. The company expects that number to triple by year’s end.

Currently, its customers are split about 60% retail and 40% restaurants, but the restaurant side of its business is growing rapidly, according to Hyman.

The reason for that, the company believes, is while restaurants initially rushed to add online ordering for delivery or curbside pickup, they soon realized they “wanted a more affordable and more integrated solution.”

Image Credits: SpotOn co-founders Zach Hyman, Doron Friedman and Matt Hyman / SpotOn

What makes SpotOn so appealing to its customers, Hyman said, is the fact that it offers an integrated platform so that businesses that use it can save “thousands of dollars” in payments and software fees to multiple, “à la carte” vendors. But it also can integrate with other platforms if needed.

In addition to growing its customer base and revenue, SpotOn has also boosted its headcount to about 1,250 employees (from 850 in March of 2020). Those employees are spread across its offices in San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, Denver, Mexico City, Mexico and Krakow, Poland.

SpotOn is not currently profitable, which Hyman says is “by choice.”

“We could be cash flow positive technically whenever we choose to be. Right now we’re just so focused on product innovation and talent to exceed the needs of our clients,” he said. “We chose the capital plan so that we could really just double down on what’s working so well.”

The new capital will go toward further accelerating product development and expanding its market presence.

“We’re doubling down on our single integrated restaurant management system,” Hyman said. 

The raise marks the first time that a16z has put money in the startup, although General Partner David George told TechCrunch he was familiar with co-founders Matt Hyman and Zach Hyman through mutual friends.

George estimates that about 80% of restaurants and SMBs use legacy solutions “that are clunky and outdated, and not very customer friendly.” The COVID-19 pandemic has led to more of these businesses seeking digital options.

“We think we’re in the very early days in the transition [to digital], and the opportunity is massive,” he told TechCrunch. “We believe we’re at the tipping point of a big tech replacement cycle for restaurant and small business software, and at the very early stages of this transition to modern cloud-native solutions.”

George was also effusive in his praise for how SpotOn has executed over the past 14 months.

“There are companies that build great products, and companies that can build great sales teams. And there are companies that offer really great customer service,” he said. “It’s rare that you find two of those and extremely rare to find all three of those as we have in SpotOn.”

#advisors, #andreessen-horowitz, #business-software, #chicago, #cloud, #denver, #detroit, #dragoneer-investment-group, #dst-global, #e-commerce, #finance, #fintech, #franklin-templeton, #fundings-exits, #krakow, #mexico, #mexico-city, #mubadala-investment-company, #olo, #payment-processing, #payments, #point-of-sale, #poland, #recent-funding, #saas, #san-francisco, #series-c, #spoton, #startup, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

Kleiner spots Spot Meetings $5M to modernize walk-and-talks for the Zoom generation

Trees, those deciduous entities you can occasionally see outdoors when not locked down or strapped down at a desktop ruminating on a video call, have long been the inspiration for fresh new ideas. Stories abound of how founders built companies while walking the foothills in Silicon Valley or around parks in San Francisco, and yet, we’ve managed over the past year to take movement mostly out of our remote work lives.

Chicago-based Spot Meetings wants to reinvigorate our meetings — and displace Zoom as the default meeting medium at the same time.

The product and company are just a few months old and remain in closed beta (albeit opening up a bit shortly here), and today it’s announcing $5 million in seed funding led by Ilya Fushman at Kleiner Perkins. That follows a $1.9 million pre-seed round led by Chapter One earlier this year.

CEO and co-founder Greg Caplan said that the team is looking to rebuild the meeting from the ground up for an audio-only environment. “On mobile, it needs to be abundantly simple to be very functional and understood for users so that they can actually use it on the go,” he described. In practice, that requires product development across a wide range of layers.

The product’s most notable feature today is that it has an assistant, aptly named Spot, which listens in on the call and which participants can direct commands to while speaking. For instance, saying “Spot Fetch” will pull the last 40 seconds of conversation, transcribe it, create a note in the meeting, and save it for follow-up. That prevents the multi-hand tapping required to save a note or to-do list for follow up with our current meeting products. You “don’t even need to take your phone out,” Caplan points out.

What gets more interesting is the collaboration layer the company has built into the product. Every audio meeting has a text-based scratch pad shared with all participants, allowing users to copy and paste snippets into the meeting as needed. Those notes and any information that Spot pulls in are saved into workspaces that can be referenced later. Spot also sends out emails to participants with follow-ups from these notes. If the same participants join another audio meeting later, Spot will pull in the notes from their last meeting so there is a running timeline of what’s been happening.

Spot’s product design emphasizes collaboration within an audio-focused experience. Image Credits: Spot Meetings

Obviously, transcription features are built-in, but Spot sees opportunities in offering edited transcripts of long calls where only a few minutes of snippets might be worth specifically following up on. So the product is a bit more deliberate in encouraging users to select the parts of a conversation that are relevant for their needs, rather than delivering a whole bolus of text that no one is ever actually going to read.

“Collaboration from now and the future is going to be primarily digital … in-person is forever going to be the exception and not the rule,” Caplan explained. Longer term, the company wants to add additional voice commands to the product and continue building an audio-first (and really, an audio-only) environment. Audio “very uniquely helps people focus on the conversation at hand,” he said, noting that video fatigue is a very real phenomenon today for workers. To that end, more audio features like smarter muting are coming. When a participant isn’t talking, their background noise will automatically melt away.

Before Spot Meetings, Caplan was the CEO and co-founder of Remote Year, a startup that was designing a service for company employees to take working trips overseas. I first covered it back in 2015, and it went on to raise some serious venture dollars before the pandemic hit last year and the company laid off 50% of its workforce. Caplan left as CEO in April last year, and the company was ultimately sold to Selina, which offers co-working spaces to travelers, in October.

Caplan’s co-founder who leads product and engineering at Spot Meetings is Hans Petter “HP” Eikemo. The duo met each other during the very first Remote Year cohort. “He has been a software engineer for two decades [and was] literally the first person I called,” Caplan said. The team will grow further with the new funding, and the company hopes to start opening its beta to its 6,000 waitlist users over the next 3-4 weeks.

#audio, #chapter-one, #chicago, #enterprise, #funding, #fundings-exits, #greg-caplan, #ilya-fushman, #kleiner-perkins, #mobile, #remote-year, #spot-meetings, #tc, #zoom

Amount raises $99M at a $1B+ valuation to help banks better compete with fintechs

Amount, a company that provides technology to banks and financial institutions, has raised $99 million in a Series D funding round at a valuation of just over $1 billion.

WestCap, a growth equity firm founded by ex-Airbnb and Blackstone CFO Laurence Tosi, led the round. Hanaco Ventures, Goldman Sachs, Invus Opportunities and Barclays Principal Investments also participated.

Notably, the investment comes just over five months after Amount raised $86 million in a Series C round led by Goldman Sachs Growth at a valuation of $686 million. (The original raise was $81 million, but Barclays Principal Investments invested $5 million as part of a second close of the Series C round). And that round came just three months after the Chicago-based startup quietly raised $58 million in a Series B round in March. The latest funding brings Amount’s total capital raised to $243 million since it spun off from Avant — an online lender that has raised over $600 million in equity — in January of 2020.

So, what kind of technology does Amount provide? 

In simple terms, Amount’s mission is to help financial institutions “go digital in months — not years” and thus, better compete with fintech rivals. The company formed just before the pandemic hit. But as we have all seen, demand for the type of technology Amount has developed has only increased exponentially this year and last.

CEO Adam Hughes says Amount was spun out of Avant to provide enterprise software built specifically for the banking industry. It partners with banks and financial institutions to “rapidly digitize their financial infrastructure and compete in the retail lending and buy now, pay later sectors,” Hughes told TechCrunch.

Specifically, the 400-person company has built what it describes as “battle-tested” retail banking and point-of-sale technology that it claims accelerates digital transformation for financial institutions. The goal is to give those institutions a way to offer “a secure and seamless digital customer and merchant experience” that leverages Amount’s verification and analytics capabilities. 

Image Credits: Amount

HSBC, TD Bank, Regions, Banco Popular and Avant (of course) are among the 10 banks that use Amount’s technology in an effort to simplify their transition to digital financial services. Recently, Barclays US Consumer Bank became one of the first major banks to offer installment point-of-sale options, giving merchants the ability to “white label” POS payments under their own brand (using Amount’s technology).

The pandemic dramatically accelerated banks’ interest in further digitizing the retail lending experience and offering additional buy now, pay later financing options with the rise of e-commerce,” Hughes, former president and COO at Avant, told TechCrunch. “Banks are facing significant disruption risk from fintech competitors, so an Amount partnership can deliver a world-class digital experience with significant go-to-market advantages.”

Also, he points out, consumers’ digital expectations have changed as a result of the forced digital adoption during the pandemic, with bank branches and stores closing and more banking done and more goods and services being purchased online.

Amount delivers retail banking experiences via a variety of channels and a point-of-sale financing product suite, as well as features such as fraud prevention, verification, decisioning engines and account management.

Overall, Amount clients include financial institutions collectively managing nearly $2 trillion in U.S. assets and servicing more than 50 million U.S. customers, according to the company.

Hughes declined to provide any details regarding the company’s financials, saying only that Amount “performed well” as a standalone company in 2020 and that the company is expecting “significant” year-over-year revenue growth in 2021.

Amount plans to use its new capital to further accelerate R&D by investing in its technology and products. It also will be eyeing some acquisitions.

“We see a lot of interesting technology we could layer onto our platform to unlock new asset classes, and acquisition opportunities that would allow us to bring additional features to our platform,” Hughes told TechCrunch.

Avant itself made its first acquisition earlier this year when it picked up Zero Financial, news that TechCrunch covered here.

Kevin Marcus, partner at WestCap, said his firm invested in Amount based on the belief that banks and other financial institutions have “a point-in-time opportunity to democratize access to traditional financial products by accelerating modernization efforts.”

“Amount is the market leader in powering that change,” he said. “Through its best-in-class products, Amount enables financial institutions to enhance and elevate the banking experience for their end customers and maintain a key competitive advantage in the marketplace.”

#airbnb, #amount, #avant, #bank, #banking, #barclays, #blackstone, #chicago, #e-commerce, #economy, #enterprise-software, #finance, #financial-infrastructure, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #goldman-sachs, #hanaco-ventures, #hsbc, #ing-group, #invus-group, #laurence-tosi, #market-leader, #money, #recent-funding, #retail-banking, #startup, #startups, #united-states, #venture-capital, #westcap

Google Pay update adds grocery offers, transit expansions, and spending insights

Following November’s overhaul of Google Pay, which saw the service expanding into personal finance, the company today is rolling out a new set of features aimed at making Google Pay more a part of its users’ everyday lives. With an update, Google Pay will now include new options for grocery savings, paying for public transit, and categorizing their spending.

Through partnerships with Safeway and Target, Google Pay users will now be able to browse their store’s weekly circulars that showcase the latest deals. Safeway is bringing over 500 stores to the Google Pay platform, and Target stores nationwide will offer a similar feature. Google Pay users will be able to favorite the recommended deals for later access. And soon, Google Pay will notify you of the weekly deals when you’re near a participating store, if location is enabled.

Image Credits: Google

Another update expands Google Pay’s transit features, which already today support buying and using transit tickets across over 80 cities in the U.S. New additions arriving soon now include major markets, Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area. This follows Apple Pay’s recently added and much welcomed support for the Bay Area’s Clipper card. The company is also integrating with Token Transit to expand transit support to smaller towns across the U.S.

Soon, the Google Pay app will also allow Android users to access transit tickets from the app’s homescreen through a “Ride Transit” shortcut. They can then purchase, add, or top up the balance on transit cards. Once purchased, you’ll be able to hold up your transit card to a reader — or show a visual ticket in the case there’s no reader.

The final feature is designed for those using Google Pay for managing their finances. With last year’s revamp, Google partnered with 11 banks to launch a new kind of bank account it called Plex. A competitor to the growing number of mobile-only digital banks, Google’s app serves as the front-end to the accounts which are actually hosted by the partner banks, like Citi and Stanford Federal Credit Union.

As a part of that experience, Google Pay users will now gain better access into their spending behavior, balances, bills, and more via an “Insights” tab. Here, you’ll be able to see what your balance is, what bills are coming due, get alerts about larger transactions, and tracking spending by either category or business. As Google is now automatically categorizing transactions, that means you’ll be able to search for general terms (like “food”) as well as by specific business names (like “Burger King”), Google explains.

Image Credits: Google

These features are a part of Google’s plan to use the payments app to gain access more data on users, who can then be targeted with offers from Google Pay partners.

When the redesigned app launched, users were asked to opt in to personalization features which could help the app show users better, more relevant deals. While Google says it’s not providing your data directly to these third-party brands and retailers, the app provides a conduit for those businesses to reach potential customers at a time when the tracking industry is in upheaval over Apple’s privacy changes. Google ability to help brands reach consumers through Google Pay could prove to be a valuable service, if the is able to grow its user base, and encourage more to opt in to the personalization features.

To make that happen, you can expect Google Pay to roll out more useful or “must have” features in the weeks to come.

#android, #apple-pay, #bank, #chicago, #finance, #google, #google-pay, #mobile-payments, #online-payments, #personal-finance, #safeway, #target, #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

Grocery startup Mercato spilled years of data, but didn’t tell its customers

A security lapse at online grocery delivery startup Mercato exposed tens of thousands of customer orders, TechCrunch has learned.

A person with knowledge of the incident told TechCrunch that the incident happened in January after one of the company’s cloud storage buckets, hosted on Amazon’s cloud, was left open and unprotected.

The company fixed the data spill, but has not yet alerted its customers.

Mercato was founded in 2015 and helps over a thousand smaller grocers and specialty food stores get online for pickup or delivery, without having to sign up for delivery services like Instacart or Amazon Fresh. Mercato operates in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York, where the company is headquartered.

TechCrunch obtained a copy of the exposed data and verified a portion of the records by matching names and addresses against known existing accounts and public records. The data set contained more than 70,000 orders dating between September 2015 and November 2019, and included customer names and email addresses, home addresses, and order details. Each record also had the user’s IP address of the device they used to place the order.

The data set also included the personal data and order details of company executives.

It’s not clear how the security lapse happened since storage buckets on Amazon’s cloud are private by default, or when the company learned of the exposure.

Companies are required to disclose data breaches or security lapses to state attorneys-general, but no notices have been published where they are required by law, such as California. The data set had more than 1,800 residents in California, more than three times the number needed to trigger mandatory disclosure under the state’s data breach notification laws.

It’s also not known if Mercato disclosed the incident to investors ahead of its $26 million Series A raise earlier this month. Velvet Sea Ventures, which led the round, did not respond to emails requesting comment.

In a statement, Mercato chief executive Bobby Brannigan confirmed the incident but declined to answer our questions, citing an ongoing investigation.

“We are conducting a complete audit using a third party and will be contacting the individuals who have been affected. We are confident that no credit card data was accessed because we do not store those details on our servers. We will continually inform all authoritative bodies and stakeholders, including investors, regarding the findings of our audit and any steps needed to remedy this situation,” said Brannigan.


Know something, say something. Send tips securely over Signal and WhatsApp to +1 646-755-8849. You can also send files or documents using our SecureDrop. Learn more

#amazon, #boston, #california, #chicago, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #cloud-storage, #computer-security, #computing, #data-breach, #data-security, #ecommerce, #food, #instacart, #los-angeles, #mercato, #new-york, #security, #technology, #united-states, #velvet-sea-ventures

I can’t believe it’s not meat! Mycelium meat replacement company aims for summer launch of first products

Meati, a company turning mycelium (the structural fibers of fungi) into healthier meat replacements for consumers, is prepping for a big summer rollout.

Co-founder Tyler Huggins expects to have the first samples of its whole-cut steak and chicken products in select restaurants around the country — along with their first commercial product, a jerky strip.

For Huggins, the product launch is another step on a long road toward broad commercial adoption of functional fungi foods as a better-for-you alternative to traditional meats.

“Use this as a conversation starter. About 2 ounces of this gives you 50% of your protein; 50% of your fiber; and half of your daily zinc. There really is nothing that can compare to this product in terms of nutritionals,” Huggins said. 

And moving from meat to mushrooms is a better option for the planet.

Meati expects to turn on its pilot plant this summer and is joining a movement among mushroom fans that includes milk replacements, from Perfect Day, more meat replacements from Atlast, and leather substitutes from Ecovative and MycoWorks.

“We’re definitely all in this together,” said Huggins of the other mob of mycelium-based tech companies bringing products to market.

However, not all mycelium is created equally, Huggins said. Meati has what Huggins said was a unique way of growing its funguses (not a real word) that “keep it in its most happy state.” That means peak nutritional content and peak growth efficiency, according to the company.

For Huggins, whose parents own a bison ranch and who grew up in cattle country, the goal is not to replace a t-bone or a ribeye, but the cuts of meat and chicken that find their ways into a burrito supreme or other quick serve meat cuts.

Rendering of Meati mushroom meats in a Banh Mi. Image Credit: Meati

“Head to head with that kind of cut, we win,” Huggins said. “I’d rather pick a fight there now and buy ourselves some time. I don’t think we’re going to go super high-end to start.”

That said, the company’s cap table of investors already includes some pretty heady culinary company. Acre Venture Partners (which counts Sam Kass — President Barack Obama’s Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy, Executive Director for First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign, and an Assistant Chef in the White House — among its partnership) is an investor. So is Chicago’s fine dining temple, Alinea.

But Huggins wants Meati to be an everyday type of meat replacement product. “I want to make sure that people think this is an every day protein,” Huggins said.

Meati thinks its future meat replacements will be cost competitive with conventional beef and chicken, but to whet consumers’ appetites, the company is starting with jerky.

“Meati’s delicious jerky,” said Huggins. “It provides this blank canvas. We’ll start with these beef jerky like flavors. But I want to come out of the gate and say that we’re mycelium jerky.”

The company currently has 30 people on staff led by Huggins and fo-founder Justin Whiteley. The two men initially started working on Meati as a battery replacement. Based on their research (Huggins with mycelium and Whiteley with advanced batteries) the two men received a grant for a mycelium-based electrode for lithium ion batteries.

“We were trying to tweak the chemical composition of the mycelium to make a better battery. What we found was that we were making something nutritious and edible,” said Huggins.

Also… the battery companies didn’t want it.

Now, backed by $28 million from Acre, Prelude Ventures, Congruent Ventures and Tao Capital, Meati is ready to go to market. The company also has access to debt capital to build out its vast network of mycelium growing facilities. It’s just raised a $18 million debt round from Trinity and Silicon Valley Bank.

“Two years ago … most companies in this space … there wasn’t this ability to take on debt to put steel in the ground,” said Huggins. “It’s an exciting time to be in food tech given that you can raise VC funding and there’s this ready available market for debt financing. You’ll start seeing faster and more rapid development because of it.”

Meati co-founders Tyler Huggins and Justin Whiteley. Image Credit: Meati

#acre-venture-partners, #barack-obama, #beef, #biology, #chicago, #congruent-ventures, #ecovative-design, #food-and-drink, #food-tech, #jerky, #meat, #michelle-obama, #mycelium, #mycoworks, #prelude-ventures, #president, #silicon-valley-bank, #steel, #tc, #white-house

With a team that helped build the brain behind Alexa, HomeX raises $90M

HomeX, a home services platform for homeowners and service providers, has raised $90 million in a funding round led by New Mountain Capital.

New Mountain Capital, a New York-based investment firm with more than $30 billion in assets under management, was the only institutional investor to put money in this round alongside company executives. The company was bootstrapped until a 2019 $50 million-plus debt financing.

Founded in 2017, Chicago-based HomeX aims to “radically improve” home services by pairing service workers with homeowners, both virtually and in person. It also has built software, and offers services for, contractors that are aimed at helping them drive and manage demand “more efficiently.”

Notably, one of the company’s co-founders, CTO Simon Weaver, and several team members were on the development team of Evi, a startup that had built an AI program that can be communicated with using natural language via an app, that was acquired by Amazon in 2012. That technology was essentially the brain behind Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa. 

HomeX uses artificial intelligence to diagnose home issues virtually before a contractor even goes out to a home, with the goal of helping them resolve a problem faster (by having the necessary equipment ahead of time for example), which in turn makes customers happier. 

“We’re using machine-generated content to create solutions that are specific to a homeowner’s issues,” said  co-founder and president Victor Payen. “Using machines to understand symptoms, the questions to ask and to actually get to a diagnosis and a recommendation or resolution is where AI absolutely shines and allows us to do things that were not possible even three or five years ago.”

Co-founder and CEO Michael Werner worked in the $500 billion services industry for years (his family founded Werner Ladders) and recognized just how fragmented it was. He also acknowledges that, especially in certain markets, “there’s a terrible imbalance between very high demand and not enough contractors to do the work, or rather, a terrible labor shortage.”

HomeX Remote Assist in particular virtually connects homeowners (via phone, video or chat) with HomeX’s licensed technicians to diagnose and repair common home issues. That business unit has experienced more than 400% growth in less than a year, according to Werner. Last year, the company grew by “about 5x” the number of contractors on its platform. It declined to reveal revenue figures.

Image courtesy of HomeX

“For homeowners, we’re making home maintenance less complicated,” Werner said. “At the same time, we want to help the contractor succeed. Similar to how telemedicine has changed how medicine is delivered, HomeX Remote Assist is going to change the service experience for taking care of your home.”

Another area of HomeX’s business that is growing rapidly is its B2B offering. Home warranty and insurance companies see remote services “as very additive to make their business more efficient,” notes Payen.

“We are using some of our capital toward a pilot program and a number of business development opportunities there,” he said.

For now, while the company is not profitable overall, it is profitable in the services side of its business, according to Werner. It has 250 employees and is contracted with 750 service workers. Over the years, it has served “hundreds of thousands” of clients via its platform, defined by unique virtual and physical appointments.  

New Mountain Capital Managing Director Harris Kealey said his firm viewed HomeX as a business that is primed to reshape the home and commercial services industry.

“The market is massive and the need for change and innovation is substantial,” he said in a written statement.

Another company in the space, Thumbtack, recently expanded into video home checkups. Thumbtack, a marketplace where you can hire local professionals for home improvement and other services such as repairs, in December acquired Setter, a startup which provided its customers with video home checkups conducted by experts, and then offered personalized plans for how to address any issues.

Thumbtack had laid off 250 employees at the end of March 2020, after the company saw big declines in its major markets. Since then, however, CEO Marco Zappacosta told TechCrunch there’s been “a renewed focus on the home and an acceleration of digital adoption.”

#ai, #artificial-intelligence, #chicago, #funding, #fundings-exits, #home-services, #homex, #new-mountain-capital, #private-equity, #recent-funding, #startup, #startups

Avant doubles down on digital banking with Zero Financial acquisition

Avant, an online lender that has raised over $600 million in equity, announced today that it has acquired Zero Financial and its neobank brand, Level, to further its mission of becoming a digital bank for the masses.

Founded in 2012, Chicago-based Avant started out primarily as an online lender targeting “underserved consumers,” but is evolving into digital banking with this acquisition. The company notched gross revenue of $265 million in 2020 and has raised capital over the years from backers such as General Atlantic and Tiger Global Management.

“Our path has always been to become the premier digital bank for the everyday American,” Avant CEO James Paris told TechCrunch. “The massive transition to digital over the last 12 months made the timing right to expand our offerings.” 

The acquisition of Zero Financial and its neobank, Level (plus its banking app assets), will give Avant the ability to offer “a full ecosystem of banking and credit product offerings” through one fully digital platform, according to Paris. Those offerings include deposits, personal loans, credit cards and auto loans.

Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed other than the fact that the acquisition was completed with a combination of cash and stock.

Founded in 2016, San Francisco-based Zero Financial has raised $147 million in debt and equity, according to Crunchbase. New Enterprise Associates (NEA) led its $20 million Series A in May of 2019.

Level was unveiled to the public in February of 2020, created by the same California-based team that founded the “debit-style” credit card offering Zero, according to this FintechFutures piece. The challenger bank was created to target millennials dissatisfied with the incumbent banking options.

Zero Financial co-founder and CEO Bryce Galen said that Avant shared his company’s mission “to challenge the status quo by bringing innovative financial services products to consumers who might otherwise be unable to access them.”

Avant, notes Paris, uses thousands of AI-driven data points to determine credit risk. With this acquisition, that lens will be expanded with data, such as a deposit customer’s cash flow, how they manage their finances and whether they pay their bills on time. 

“This will allow us to make credit decisions faster and deliver personalized options to help underbanked consumers gain financial freedom, at any and every stage of their financial journey,” Paris told TechCrunch. “It will also build long-term engagement and loyalty and help grow our reach beyond the 1.5 million customers we’ve served to date.”  

Like a growing number of fintechs, Avant operates under the premise that a person’s ability to get credit shouldn’t be dictated by a credit score alone.

“A significant amount of Americans have poor, bad or no credit at all. For these people, accessing credit isn’t exactly easy and often comes with extra fees,” Paris said. That’s why, he added, Avant has focused on providing options for such consumers with “transparent, rewards-driven products.”

Level’s branchless, all-digital platform offers things such as cashback rewards on debit card purchases, a “competitive APY” on deposits, early access to paychecks and no hidden fees, all of which are especially beneficial for consumers on the path to financial freedom, according to Paris.

Since its inception in 2012, Avant has connected more than 1.5 million consumers to $7.5 billion in loans and 400,000 credit cards. The company launched its credit card in 2017 and over the past two years alone, it has grown its number of credit card users by 170%.

#apps, #artificial-intelligence, #avant, #bank, #banking, #california, #challenger-bank, #chicago, #credit-card, #debit-card, #digital-banking, #economy, #exit, #finance, #funding, #general-atlantic, #level, #ma, #money, #premier, #san-francisco, #startups, #tc, #tiger-global-management, #zero-financial

Google promises better 3D maps

Google is announcing a handful of major updates to Google Maps today that range from bringing its Live View AR directions indoors to adding weather data to its maps, but the most tantalizing news — which in typical Google fashion doesn’t have an ETA just yet — is that Google plans to bring a vastly improved 3D layer to Google maps.

Using photogrammetry, the same technology that also allows Microsoft’s Flight Simulator to render large swaths of the world in detail, Google is also building a model of the world for its Maps service.

“We’re going to continue to improve that technology that helps us fuse together the billions of aerials, StreetView and satellite images that we have to really help us move from that flat 2D map to a more accurate 3D model than we’ve ever had. And be able to do that more quickly. And to bring more detail to it than we’ve ever been able to do before,” Dane Glasgow, Google’s VP for Geo Product Experience, said in a press event ahead of today’s announcement. He noted that this 3D layer will allow the company to visualize all its data in new and interesting ways.

Image Credits: Google

How exactly this will play out in reality remains to be seen, but Glasgow showed off a new 3D route preview, for example, with all of the typically mapping data overlayed on top of the 3D map.

Glasgow also noted that this technology will allow Google to parse out small features like stoplights and building addresses, which in turn will result in better directions.

“We also think that the 3D imagery will allow us to visualize a lot of new information and data overlaid on top, you know, everything from helpful information like traffic or accidents, transit delays, crowdedness — there’s lots of potential here to bring new information,” he explained.

Image Credits: Google

As for the more immediate future, Google announced a handful of new features today that are all going to roll out in the coming months. Indoor Live View is the flashiest of these. Google’s existing AR Live View walking directions currently only work outdoors, but thanks to some advances in its technology to recognize where exactly you are (even without a good GPS signal), the company is now able to bring this indoors. This feature is already live in some malls in the U.S. in Chicago, Long Island, Los Angeles, Newark, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle, but in the coming months, it’ll come to select airports, malls and transit stations in Tokyo and Zurich as well (just in time for vaccines to arrive and travel to — maybe — rebound). Because Google is able to locate you by comparing the images around you to its database, it can also tell what floor you are on and hence guide you to your gate at the Zurich airport, for example (though in my experience, there are few places with better signage than airports…).

Also new are layers for weather data (but not weather radar) and air quality in Google Maps. The weather layer will be available globally on Android and iOS in the coming months, with the air quality layer only launching for Australia, India and the U.S. at first.

Image Credits: Google

Talking about air quality, Google Maps will also get a new eco-friendly routing option that lets you pick the driving route that produces the least CO2 (coming to Android and iOS later this year), and it will finally feature support for low emission zones, a feature of many a European City. Low emission zones on Google Maps will launch in June in Germany, France, Spain and the UK on Android and iOS. More countries will follow later.

And to bring this all together, Google will update its directions interface to show you all of the possible modes of transportations and routing options, prioritized based on your own preferences, as well as based on what’s popular in the city you are in (think he subway in NYC or bike-sharing in Portland).

Also new are more integrated options for curbside grocery pickups in partnership with Instacart and Albertsons, if that’s your thing.

And there you have it. As is so often the case with Google’s announcement, the most exciting new features the company showed off don’t have an ETA and may never launch, but until then you can hold yourself over by getting your weather forecasts on Google Maps.

#albertsons, #android, #artificial-intelligence, #australia, #chicago, #computing, #eta, #france, #germany, #google, #google-search, #google-maps, #gps, #india, #instacart, #los-angeles, #maps, #newark, #operating-systems, #portland, #san-francisco, #san-jose, #seattle, #software, #spain, #tokyo, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #zurich

Bill Gates wants Western countries to eat “synthetic meat”; Meatable has raised $47 million to make it

In a recent interview discussing Bill Gates’ recent book “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster“, the Microsoft and Breakthrough Energy founder (and the world’s third wealthiest man) advocated for citizens of the richest countries in the world to switch to diets consisting entirely of what he called synthetic meat in an effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Gates’ call is being met by startups and public companies hailing from everywhere from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv, London to Los Angeles, and Berkeley to… um… Chicago.

Indeed, two of the best funded companies in the lab-grown meat market hail from The Netherlands, where Mosa Meat is being challenged by a newer upstart, Meatable, which just announced $47 million in new financing.

The company aims to have its first product approved by European regulators by 2023 and notching commercial sales by 2025.

Meatable has a long road ahead of it, because, as Gates acknowledged in his interview with MIT Technology Review (ed. note: I’m available for a call, too, Bill), “the people like Memphis Meats who do it at a cellular level—I don’t know that that will ever be economical.”

Beyond the economics, there’s also the open question of whether consumers will be willing to make the switch to lab grown meat. Some companies, like the San Francisco-based Just Foods and Tel Aviv’s Supermeat are already selling chicken patties and nuggets made from cultured cells at select restaurants.

These products don’t get at the full potential for cellular technology according to Daan Luining, Meatable’s chief technology officer. “We have seen the nugget and the chicken burger, but we’re working on whole muscle tissue,” Luining said.

The sheer number of entrants in the category — and the capital they’ve raised — points to the opportunity for several winners if companies can walk the tightrope balancing cost at scale and quality replacements for free range food.

“The mission of the company is to be a global leader in providing proteins for the planet. Pork and beef and regularly eaten cuts have on environmental and land management,” Luining said. “The technology that we are using allows us to go into different species. First we’re focused on the animals that have the biggest impact on climate change and planetary health.”

For Meatable right now, price remains an issue. The company is currently producing meat at roughly $10,000 per pound, but, unlike its competitors, the company said it is producing whole meat. That’s including the fat and connective tissue that makes meat… well… meat.

Now with 35 employees and new financing, the company is trying to shift from research and development into a food production company. Strategic investors like DSM, one of the largest food biotech companies in Europe should help. So should angel investors like Dr. Jeffrey Leiden, the executive chairman of Vertex Pharmaceuticals; and Dr. Rick Klausner, the former executive director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a founder of Juno Therapeutics, GRAIL, and Mindstrong Health, after leaving Illumina where he served as chief medical officer.

Institutional investors in the company’s latest round include Google Ventures founder Bill Maris’ new fund, Section 32,  and existing investors like: BlueYard Capital, Agronomics, Humboldt, and Taavet Hinrikus. 

The company’s first commercial offering will likely be a lab-grown pork product, but with expanded facilities in Delft, the location of one of the top universities in The Netherlands, a beef product may not be far behind.

“[Meatable has] a great team and game-changing technology that can address the challenges around the global food insecurity issues our planet is facing,” said Klausner. “They have all the right ingredients to become the leading choice for sustainably and efficiently produced meat.”


Early Stage is the premier ‘how-to’ event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear first-hand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company-building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, product market fit, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in – there’s ample time included for audience questions and discussion. Use code “TCARTICLE” at checkout to get 20 percent off tickets right here.

#amsterdam, #articles, #bill-gates, #bill-maris, #blueyard-capital, #cellular-agriculture, #chicago, #chief-technology-officer, #cultured-meat, #eat-just, #europe, #food-and-drink, #food-production, #founder, #google-ventures, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #illumina, #juno-therapeutics, #london, #los-angeles, #meat, #meatable, #memphis, #memphis-meats, #mit, #netherlands, #san-francisco, #tc, #tel-aviv

Forward Health raises $225M from investors including The Weeknd as it looks to expand nationwide

Primary care startup Forward Health is looking to expand its tech-powered, personalized healthcare model across the U.S., and will use a new $225 million Series D raise to help make it happen. The new capital comes from Founders Fund, Khosla Ventures, SoftBank, Mark Benioff – and recording artist The Weeknd – among others. I spoke to Forward Health co-founder and CEO Adrian Aoun about his company’s plans for this fresh capital, and we also chatted briefly about how The Weeknd got involved.

Forward, which currently operates clinics in select U.S. markets including LA, New York, Chicago, SF and Washington, D.C., has a number of distinguishing features, but most notable are likely its tech-first approach that includes a full biometric assessment upon first visit, and its business model, which eschews insurance providers altogether and instead works based on a single flat membership fee.

Aoun and his co-founders created Forward Health with the idea of building a healthcare business that’s aligned with its customers in terms of incentives, which is why they sidestepped insurance altogether. That’s led to a focus on customer service and long-term patient relationships and outcomes, which Aoun says are stronger because they’re not bound by an individual’s relationship with their employer, for instance, which is often the case when an employer foots the bill for healthcare via company-provided insurance.

“The average person in the Bay Area is with their employer for about two and a quarter years,” Aoun told me. “So your employer is kind of sitting there thinking, if you get the flu, you’re missing three days of work – I’m out some money.” That means they’ll do things like institute programs to remind employees constantly to get their annual flu vaccine, and do other things to make that happen like provide on-premise shots. But Aoun says they’re optimizing for short-term outcomes, not long-term health – because that’s where their incentives tell them to optimize.

Image Credits: Forward Health

But when long-term healthcare programs, like lifestyle shifts that can lessen the potential of truly dangerous outcomes like heart disease and cancer, come into play, an employer who expects you to stick around for a few years at most is far less incentivized to want to fund that. Forward Health, which aims to attract subscribers and, for lack of a better term, minimize churn, actually is incentivized to make those long-term outcomes positive for everyone who comes through the door.

That’s part of why one focus with this new funding is to debut new doctor-led programs tailored to treating conditions that individual patients might be predisposed to – like heart health, if heart disease runs in your family, or specific types of cancer, if there’s a history of that, for instance.

“We’ve got our [in-clinic] body scanners, our blood tests, our gene sequencing – we basically collect on the order of about 500 biometric data points,” Aoun said. “The idea is you and your doctor then figure out which which kind of programs make sense for you based upon those.”

For example, Aoun says he’s actually at fairly high risk for developing heart disease, so there’s a Forward program that includes doing a heart risk analysis, blood tests, and regular at-home monitoring of key risk factors like blood pressure and weight. Another program for cancer prevention includes measures designed to help lessen the risk of contracting the top five cancers in terms of prevalence — so Forward created a dermatoscope for that, which is essentially a skin scanner to map out an individual’s moles and skin features and alert them of any changes.

This builds on work that Forward began at the outset of COVID-19 — its ‘Forward at Home’ program, which includes sending patients home with specialized sensors for remote care. Another specialized program tailored to COVID-19 actually offers monitoring specific to the disease in order to track a patient’s progress safely.

“We’re now launching programs for all the top diseases to help you get ahead of them,” Aoun said. “And whatever kind of programs you’re using, you walk away with plans that are tailored to you, again, to counsel you not only on the potential risks for the things like the cancer and heart disease, but also to be proactive, with guidance from diet, to exercise, to stress, and to sleep, etc.”

The programs are supported by Forward’s 24/7 worldwide care support team, which subscribers can access via their mobile app. It’s also complemented by the check-ins with your physician via the ‘Forward at Home’ in-home virtual visits.

Image Credits: Forward Health

While Forward is already rolling these out, it has plans to continue to develop new ones, and it’s also monitoring results in order to understand how they’re working for users, and will be sharing that data once it has collected a significant sample. I asked Aoun how Forward can scale this kind of personalized care – especially now that the startup plans to open additional locations in other parts of the country.

Basically, Aoun said that Forward approached it as an engineering problem. He argues that most solutions in healthcare see the fundamental issue as a labor problem — but trying to scale that, with the salaries that medical professionals command, and the limited availability of skilled talent, makes no sense. Especially because consumers are naturally looking for improvements in their standard of care over time, in the same way they expect improvements in the products they buy or services they use.

Rather than relying on a chain of increasingly specific medical professionals to address individual health risks and needs, Aoun said Forward identified that there’s a massive amount of overlap in preventative care courses of action. The Forward team focused on breaking the fundamental elements down into what equate roughly to reusable Lego blocks, which can be recombined with relative speed and repeatability to produce a program that’s nonetheless tailored to an individual’s needs.

Combined with Forward Health’s longitudinal approach to care, these programs and their recombinant nature should prove a good dataset from which to assess how a direct, client-focused primary care model affects overall health.

And, because I promised, I’ll leave you with how Aoun says The Weeknd got involved in the Series D.

“He literally just walked by one of our locations, and walked in and was like, ‘This is awesome,’ and then asked a friend, who asked a friend, who asked a friend to get connected,” he told me.

#adrian-aoun, #artist, #cancer, #chicago, #disease, #flu, #forward, #forward-health, #founders-fund, #health, #healthcare, #khosla-ventures, #louisiana, #new-york, #physician, #recent-funding, #softbank, #startups, #tc, #united-states, #washington-d-c

Chicago Ventures raises $63M to back seed-stage startups located anywhere but Silicon Valley

Buzzy mega-rounds and high-profile IPOs often dominate headlines. But many of those companies were once early-stage and scrapping to raise a seed round.

Today, Chicago Ventures, a VC firm that often leads seed-stage rounds, announced the close of its third fund — a $63 million vehicle that it’s already put to work.

Chicago Ventures (which is based in Chicago, where else?) has a very specific set of criteria when it looks to back companies. For one, as mentioned, it not only wants to back seed-stage startups, it usually leads those rounds. The firm is targeting 25 investments out of its new fund with an average check size of $1.5 million to $2 million.

As evidence, it has so far backed 11 companies out of this third fund, leading 10 of those rounds. The startups include CognitOps, CoPilot, Forager, Interior Define, NOCD, OneRail, PreFix and Ureeka.

The firm also is focused on investing in companies located out of the traditional hotspots of Silicon Valley and New York. Six of its most recent investments were in Chicago-based startups, two in Austin (where it recently opened an office), one in Orlando, Florida, and one in Los Angeles.

Chicago Ventures prides itself in identifying, and backing, “overlooked” companies. It was founded in 2012 under the premise that enduring companies could be built “anywhere” and not restricted to “a few select area codes.”

“Only a handful of funds consistently lead seed rounds. Tag-along, momentum-based investing is the norm,” the firm said in a statement. “The industry’s attention still converges on industries and geographies with rich histories of innovation. We fill these gaps. We lead seed rounds before it’s obvious, and serve as active, operationally-involved partners during a company’s earliest days. We invest off the coasts.”

Since its inception, the firm’s portfolio companies have raised more than $1.5 billion in follow-on capital. Seventeen of those companies are now valued over $100 million, including Cameo, business software marketplace G2 and logistics software company project44.

Chicago Ventures closed its second fund in 2016 — which included a $60 million main fund and a $6 million sidecar fund. The firm opted not to go the sidecar route this time around. 

In conjunction with the new fund, Chicago Ventures also announced that it has promoted Peter Christman and Lindsay Knight to partner. Christman leads investments in companies rebuilding old-line enterprise workflows and consumer products expanding access to care and financial well-being. Knight leads the firm’s post-investment operations, including talent, business development and functional best practice sharing.

Chicago Ventures has also named Jackie DiMonte to the team as a new partner. DiMonte comes from Hyde Park Venture Partners, where she led early-stage, enterprise investments. An engineer by training, DiMonte is based in Austin, where Chicago Ventures has made 10 investments since 2015.

In 2020, the dollars invested into seed-stage startups in the United States had an up-and-down year that TechCrunch explored in this piece. Also, the pattern of rising seed-check sizes seen in prior years continued, despite the tumultuous business climate.

#austin, #chicago, #chicago-ventures, #funding, #venture-capital