Brazil’s Divibank raises millions to become the Clearbanc of LatAm

Divibank, a financing platform offering LatAm businesses access to growth capital, has closed on a $3.6 million round of seed funding led by San Francisco-based Better Tomorrow Ventures (BTV).

São Paulo-based Divibank was founded in March 2020, right as the COVID-pandemic was starting. The company has built a data-driven financing platform aimed at giving businesses access to non-dilutive capital to finance their growth via revenue-share financing.

“We are changing the way entrepreneurs scale their online businesses by providing quick and affordable capital to startups and SMEs in Latin America,” said co-founder and CEO Jaime Taboada. In particular, Divibank is targeting e-commerce and SaaS companies although it also counts edtechs, fintechs and marketplaces among its clients.

The company is now also offering marketing analytics software for its clients so they can “get more value out of the capital they receive.”

A slew of other investors participated in the round, including existing backer MAYA Capital and new investors such as Village Global, Clocktower Ventures, Magma Partners, Gilgamesh Ventures, Rally Cap Ventures and Alumni Ventures Group. A group of high-profile angel investors also put money in the round, including Rappi founder and president Sebastian Mejia, Tayo Oviosu (founder/CEO of Paga, who participated via Kairos Angels), Ramp founder and CTO Karim Atiyeh and Bread founders Josh Abramowitz and Daniel Simon.

In just over a year’s time, Divibank has seen some impressive growth (albeit from a small base). In the past six months alone, the company said it has signed on over 50 new clients; seen its total loan issuance volume increase by 7x; revenues climb by 5x; customer base increase by 11x and employee base by 4x. Customers include Dr. Jones, CapaCard and Foodz, among others.

“Traditional banks and financial institutions do not know how to evaluate internet businesses, so they generally do not offer loans to these companies. If they do, it is generally a long and tedious process at a very high cost,” Taboada said. “With our revenue-share offering, the entrepreneur does not have to pledge his home, drown in credit card debts or even give up his equity to invest in marketing and growth.”

For now, Divibank is focused on Brazil, considering the country is huge and has more than 11 million SMEs “with many growth opportunities to explore,” according to Taboada. It’s looking to expand to the rest of LatAm and other emerging markets in the future, but no timeline has yet been set.

As in many other sectors, the COVID-19 pandemic served as a tailwind to Divibank’s business, considering it accelerated the digitalization of everything globally.

“We founded Divibank the same week as the lockdown started in Brazil, and we saw many industries that didn’t traditionally advertise online migrate to Google and Facebook Ads rapidly,” Taboada told TechCrunch. “This obviously helped our thesis a lot, as many of our clients had actually recently went from only selling offline to selling mostly online. And there’s no better way to attract new clients online than with digital ads.”

Divibank will use its new capital to accelerate its product roadmap, scale its go-to-market strategy and ramp up hiring. Specifically, it will invest more aggressively in engineering/tech, sales, marketing, credit risk and operations. Today the team consists of eight employees in Brazil, and that number will likely grow to more than 25 or 30 in the coming 12 months, according to Taboada.

The startup is also developing what it describes as “value additive” software, aimed at helping clients better manage their digital ads campaigns and “optimize their investment returns.”

Looking ahead, Divibank is working on a few additional financial products for its clients, targeting the more than $205 billion e-commerce and SaaS markets in Latin America with offerings such as inventory financing and recurring revenue securitizations. Specifically, it plans to continue developing its banking tech platform by “automating the whole credit process,” developing its analytics platform and building its data science/ML capabilities to improve its credit model.

Jake Gibson, general partner at Better Tomorrow Ventures, noted that his firm is also an investor in Clearbanc, which also provided non-dilutive financing for founders. The company’s “20-minute term sheet” product, perhaps its most well-known in tech, allowed e-commerce companies to raise non-dilutive marketing growth capital between $10,000 to $10 million based on its revenue and ad spend.

“We are very bullish on the idea that not every company should be funded with venture dollars, and that lack of funding options can keep too many would-be entrepreneurs out of the market,” he said. “Combine that with the growth of e-commerce in Brazil and LatAm, and expected acceleration fueled by COVID, and the opportunity to build something meaningful seemed obvious.”

Also, since there aren’t a lot of similar offerings in the region, Better Tomorrow views the space that Divibank is addressing as a “massive untapped market.”

Besides Clearbanc, Divibank is also similar to another U.S.-based fintech, Pipe, in that both companies aim to help clients with SaaS, subscription and other recurring revenue models with new types of financings that can help them grow without dilution.

“Like the e-commerce market, we see the SaaS, and the recurring revenues markets in general, growing rapidly,” Taboada said.

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Hustle Fund wants to help spawn a new generation of angel investors

Kara Penn is the mother of four daughters and owner of Mission Spark, a management and strategy consulting company.

And now, thanks to Hustle Fund, she is also an angel investor.

Hustle Fund is coming out of stealth today with Angel Squad, a new initiative aimed at making angel investing more accessible to more people. To more people like Colorado-based Penn.

We believe that in order to increase diversity in the startup ecosystem, one thing that we must do is increase diversity — whether it be in regard to gender, race or geography — amongst angel investors,” said Hustle Fund co-founder and general partner Elizabeth Yin.

Via Angel Squad, Hustle Fund specifically aims to build an inclusive investor community, make minimum check sizes low and accessible (think as little as $1,000), provide “angel education” and give investors a way to invest alongside Hustle Fund.

“There’s been this misnomer, or at least I had this incorrect assumption that in order to become an angel investor, you have to be super rich and write $25,000 checks,” Yin told TechCrunch. “But the reality is actually in Silicon Valley, there are all these people running around investing $1,000 checks…and that’s something that’s a lot more accessible than then most people might think. And, part of the value of having this group is then we can accumulate a bunch of smaller checks to then write one larger check for a company.”

So far, Penn has invested in five startups across a range of sectors including real estate, food, apparel and finance. 

She describes herself as “a complete novice” in angel investing, and so far, she’s loving the experience.

I love Hustle Fund’s perspective that great hustlers can look like anyone and come from anywhere,” Penn told TechCrunch. “I’ve enjoyed being in a supportive community with differing levels of expertise, but where every question is welcomed.”

The experience is also broadening her exposure to technology and AI, the collection and use of data and the creation of new marketplaces in ways she never would have been exposed to before.

“As someone whose own company focuses exclusively on strategy in social impact organizations, I am also looking for how founders identify and bring to market creative solutions to complex problems, as well as exposure to a network of innovative people looking to solve hard issues in smart ways,” Penn said. “This exposure is helping me begin to think about applications of these approaches to difficult social problems.”

For some context, Hustle Fund is a venture firm founded by Elizabeth Yin and Eric Bahn, two former 500 Startups partners, with the goal of investing in pre-seed software startups. The firm has traditionally operated by investing $25,000 in a company, usually with a minimum-viable product, and then works with the team to help them grow. It does around 50 investments per year, according to its website. 

It recently closed on $33.6 million for a new fund.

“One of the things most important to us is this bigger mission of wanting to change the way the startup ecosystem is,” Yin said. “I noticed both as an entrepreneur and while running an accelerator, if you have a certain resume, went to certain schools, or were a certain race or gender, you have advantages in starting a company and getting funding. For many people, if you don’t tick those boxes, it can be very challenging. That’s why we’re investing in a lot of founders from all walks of life.”

Hustle Fund Venture Partner Brian Nichols had started a syndicate of Lyft alumni on AngelList. After doing a few deals, he opened up the syndicate to people outside of AngelList.

“I found there was a wide range of people looking to diversify into private markets, from all over the world with all types of backgrounds,” he said. “Hustle Fund and I had similar taste in companies I was investing in and I built a relationship with them in co-investments.”

Today, he’s helping run the fund’s Angel Squad initiative. So far, it has had two cohorts with over 150 investors total and true to the fund’s mission, those investors have been more diverse than typical angel syndicates: 46% of the members are female, 9% are underrepresented minorities and 32% are people who work outside of tech with professional roles such as lawyers, doctors and artists. Just one-third are based in Silicon Valley.

Every week, Angel Squad hosts an event which ranges from networking to a peek behind the curtain at opportunities at Hustle Fund is considering investing in to talking through why or why not to take a meeting with a founder.

“Imagine starting from zero, and if you could skip a bunch of steps and have Elizabeth (Yin) tell you how to do this before you lose a bunch of money in the process of evaluating a startup,” Nichols told TechCrunch. “Angel Squad is exactly what I wish had existed three or four years ago when I became interested in investing.”

Silicon Valley, Yin acknowledges, can be intimidating but the reality is that no one is an expert in everything.

“We’re trying to cultivate an environment where people are very kind — we have a no asshole rule, and that is a safe space where people can learn and feel like they can ask questions, and not have to know everything about angel investing. The reality is most people don’t. And we want to bring new people into this system.”

Besides not being an a-hole, other criteria in becoming a Squad Member include being able to add value and being an accredited investor.

“With rounds as competitive as they are today, we are looking for people who want to be actively supportive of the portfolio companies we’re investing in,” Nichols said. “Every person who wants to join the program is interviewed by someone from our team, who asks questions such as ‘What can you help a founder with?’ We are not looking for passive capital. That’s not super helpful at this point in the ecosystem.

#angel-investing, #angel-investors, #angellist, #co-founder, #colorado, #diversity, #elizabeth-yin, #entrepreneur, #entrepreneurship, #eric-bahn, #finance, #food, #funding, #hustle-fund, #investment, #lyft, #minimum-viable-product, #money, #pennsylvania, #private-equity, #real-estate, #silicon-valley, #startup, #startup-company, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital, #venture-capitalists

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How Robert Reffkin went from being a C-average student to the founder of Compass

In April, real estate tech company Compass forged ahead with its initial public offering and is now valued at nearly $6.4 billion.

At that time, TechCrunch Senior Editor Alex Wilhelm caught up with founder and CEO Robert Reffkin to chat about his company’s debut in the market’s suddenly choppy waters for tech and tech-enabled debuts.

This week, I caught up with Reffkin on a whole other topic: his path to entrepreneurship as a child raised by a disowned single mother whose father had died homeless. Reffkin is so passionate about inspiring others from nontraditional backgrounds to pursue their dreams that he wrote a book about it.

In our discussion, Reffkin shared what he believes are the secrets to his success (hint: one of them involves lots of listening) and his advice for his young entrepreneurs, especially those from non-privileged backgrounds.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

TC: As the mother of a teen who is already trying to start his own business, I’m intrigued by your DJing as a teenager. What finally got you motivated to care about school and how did you manage to graduate in such a short amount of time?

Reffkin: Well, I think your son might just be on the right track! Please give him a word of encouragement from me, from one entrepreneur to another.

My mom says that a lot of other parents thought she was crazy for letting me launch my DJ business. But starting a successful DJ business in high school helped me learn about myself and my passion for entrepreneurship — and it ultimately helped me get into Columbia, forming the core of both my personal statement and the relationships I built with several members of the admissions team.

I believe the first step is always to dream big. For me, my big dreams for my college future started on a trip to New York City. I toured Columbia and fell in love with it, but I knew it was going to be hard for me to get in. In fact, my high school guidance counselor said, “Don’t even apply. It wouldn’t be worth your time and money on the application fee.” In that moment, my desire to go to Columbia went from strong to absolute, because suddenly it felt like it was about something larger than myself — not just where I went to school, but about a broader struggle for opportunity for people like me. So I poured myself into my SAT prep to show that even though I had a C average, I had what it took to keep up at a top school. And thankfully, it paid off. 

In high school and college, I was a C-student in part because I didn’t see how studying calculus or Western Civilization related to my life or my dreams. I knew that excelling in school wasn’t going to be the way I was going to distinguish myself in the world. At the same time, I was energized by my entrepreneurial efforts and my summer internships. I moved as quickly as I could to get through school and have my real life begin, because the real world made so much more sense to me.

TC: How do you think being raised by a single mother without privilege helped shape you as a man, and entrepreneur? How would you say being a person of color impact your path?

Reffkin: Growing up, it was just me and my mom. She’s an Israeli immigrant, disowned by her parents because I was Black. My father abandoned us and died, homeless, when I was young. What shaped me most as an entrepreneur was learning from my mother. She embodied the entrepreneurial spirit and taught me one of the most important principles: every time you get knocked down, you’ve got to bounce back with passion. I saw her face bad relationships, bankruptcy, and the stream of daily rejections that comes from being an agent. And she always bounced back. So when the world told me I couldn’t do something or that I was destined to fail, I was ready for them. Thanks to my mom, I already knew how to bounce back.

Image Credits: CEO Robert Reffkin & mother, Ruth / Compass

Being Black and Jewish, I’ve felt out of place my entire life. In most classes in Hosch school and college, I was the only Black person. In almost every meeting early in my career, I was the only Black person. When I was raising capital for Compass, I almost never saw someone Black on the other side of the table. But I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve been lucky to get terrific advice along the way from so many Black mentors, from the late Vernon Jordan, to Ken Chenault, the former CEO of American Express, to Bayo Ogunlesi, who is lead director for Goldman Sachs. There’s a really strong community of people who’ve all supported each other.

TC: You’ve had some impressive mentors over the years. How did those relationships develop? How have they been valuable besides the obvious? 

Growing up, I was hungry for advice. Coming from a single-parent home, I looked for guidance and wisdom on how to create a better life wherever I could find it. My mom connected me to several non-profits when I was in high school that helped open my eyes to how much opportunity and support there was out there in the world. 

The most important lesson I’ve learned in my life is that feedback is a gift. Even when it’s hard to hear, feedback is a gift. My relationships with many of my mentors deepened because I started asking them for really tough, candid feedback — the sort of things they thought other people wouldn’t tell me. And then, I’d actually take their advice, apply it in my life, and let them know how it had helped me. That did two two things: First, it led to more honest and practical advice that helped me get better faster. Second, it made the people who had given me advice feel far more invested in my success and the success of whatI was working on.

The other thing my mentors gave me was the sense that even though the world was telling me I couldn’t be successful, I could be. Meeting someone like Vernon Jordan who advised presidents and CEOs alike, had a profound impact on me. He was a father figure to me. I met him when I was 23 years old, and at that time, it wasn’t clear to me that you could be successful in the business world as a Black man. I just hadn’t seen it before. When I started at Lazard, Vernon Jordan was the only other Black investment banker there. He was not just a senior partner, he was a legend, widely known for serving on more Fortune 500 boards than anyone in history. He took a strong interest in me, and with his support and advice, he made me feel like I belonged and helped me see a path where I could be as successful as I wanted to be. 

I founded a nonprofit in my twenties called America Needs You that has provided mentorship, career development, and college support to thousands of students. I wrote my new book, No One Succeeds Alone, as a way to pay it forward by making the lessons I’ve been fortunate enough to learn from so many remarkable people available to everyone — and it’s why I’m donating all of my proceeds to nonprofits that help young people realize their dreams.

TC: What advice you would give to young, aspiring entrepreneurs, especially those from non-privileged backgrounds?

Reffkin: Here’s the advice I’d give to someone from an underrepresented group who just graduated college and is in their first job:

1) Don’t let anyone get in the way of your dream. Not society, not your colleagues, not even yourself. Whenever anyone tells you to slow down, speed up.

2) Spend the next 10 years learning as much as you can from the smartest people you can. Find mentors in your job and outside that will give you the honest feedback that others won’t. Feedback is a gift. It’ll be hard for you to hear, but it’s actually even harder for them to give it to you. So you may have to ask for it directly and let people know that you can take it.

3) Learn how to turn negativity into positive energy that fuels you. There will always be skeptics, doubters, and haters telling you that you can’t do something or that you don’t belong. 

TC: What next after Compass?

Reffkin: I believe that to be truly successful, you can’t have a Plan B. As a CEO, you have to be all-in, and that’s what I am for Compass: 100% dedicated to our 23,000 agents and employees. One of my mentors told me about the “shower test” once — that if you’re not excited enough about your job to think about it in the shower, you’re probably not in the right job. And I’ll tell you: I’m so passionate about the company we’re building that I’m still thinking about Compass in the shower. At Compass, we’ve accomplished much in the past eight years, but we’re truly just getting started. 

#america, #c, #ceo, #columbia, #compass, #diversity, #editor, #entrepreneur, #goldman-sachs, #ken-chenault, #lazard, #new-york-city, #real-estate, #real-estate-tech, #tc

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How one founder made the most of Y Combinator in a pandemic year

This week, we welcome guest Hana Mohan to our podcast Found. Hana is the co-founder and CEO of MagicBell, a new startup she created with Josue Montano that just recently graduated from Y Combinator’s Winter 2021 cohort. MagicBell is a full-featured, plug-and-play notifications inbox aimed at developers who want to build one into their own product, but don’t want to have to build one themselves from scratch.

Hana’s experience as an entrepreneur spans multiple companies, including her last one which she grew to significant success in terms of annual revenue. She’s also a proud transgender woman, who underwent her transition mid-way through her existing history as a founder and entrepreneur. Hana talks to us about the challenges she faced taking on her transition in an industry where the focus is often exclusively on how hard you’re hustling and what you’re building next, and about her origin story as a founder coming from an environment where there weren’t necessarily many examples with similar life experience to look to for inspiration.

During our chat, Hana also shared lots of insight into YC, and what it provides founders, as well as perspective on what it was like going through the program during a global pandemic in a remote context. Finally, she offers some great context on finding your first investors and customers as a distributed team.

We loved talking to Hana, and we hope you love the episode. You can subscribe to Found in Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, on Google Podcasts or in your podcast app of choice. Definitely leave us a review and let us know what you think, or send us direct feedback either on Twitter or via email. Come back next week for yet another great conversation with a founder all about their own one-of-a-kind startup journey.

#articles, #entrepreneur, #found, #google, #magicbell, #podcast, #spotify, #startup-company, #tc, #technology, #y-combinator, #yc

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Geothermal technology has enormous potential to power the planet and Fervo wants to tap it

Tapping the geothermal energy stored beneath the Earth’s surface as a way to generate renewable power is one of the new visions for the future that’s captured the attention of environmentalists and oil and gas engineers alike.

That’s because it’s not only a way to generate power that doesn’t rely on greenhouse gas emitting hydrocarbons, but because it uses the same skillsets and expertise that the oil and gas industry has been honing and refining for years.

At least that’s what drew former the former completion engineer (it’s not what it sounds like) Tim Latimer to the industry and to launch Fervo Energy, the Houston-based geothermal tech developer that’s picked up funding from none other than Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures (that fund… is so busy) and former eBay executive, Jeff Skoll’s Capricorn Investment Group.

With the new $28 million cash in hand Fervo’s planning on ramping up its projects which Latimer said would “bring on hundreds of megawatts of power in the next few years.”

Latimer got his first exposure to the environmental impact of power generation as a kid growing up in a small town outside of Waco, Texas near the Sandy Creek coal power plant, one of the last coal-powered plants to be built in the U.S.

Like many Texas kids, Latimer came from an oil family and got his first jobs in the oil and gas industry before realizing that the world was going to be switching to renewables and the oil industry — along with the friends and family he knew — could be left high and dry.

It’s one reason why he started working on Fervo, the entrepreneur said.

“What’s most important, from my perspective, since I started my career in the oil and gas industry is providing folks that are part of the energy transition on the fossil fuel side to work in the clean energy future,” Latimer said. “I’ve been able to go in and hire contractors and support folks that have been out of work or challenged because of the oil price crash… And I put them to work on our rigs.”

Fervo Energy chief executive, Tim Latimer, pictured in a hardhat at one fo the company’s development sites. Image Credit: Fervo Energy

When the Biden administration talks about finding jobs for employees in the hydrocarbon industry as part of the energy transition, this is exactly what they’re talking about.

And geothermal power is no longer as constrained by geography, so there’s a lot of abundant resources to tap and the potential for high paying jobs in areas that are already dependent on geological services work, Latimer said (late last year, Vox published a good overview of the history and opportunity presented by the technology).

“A large percentage of the world’s population actually lives next to good geothermal resources,” Latimer said. “25 countries today that have geothermal installed and producing and another 25 where geothermal is going to grow.” 

Geothermal power production actually has a long history in the Western U.S. and in parts of Africa where naturally occurring geysers and steam jets pouring from the earth have been obvious indicators of good geothermal resources, Latimer said.

Fervo’s technology unlocks a new class of geothermal resource that is ready for large-scale deployment. Fervo’s geothermal systems use novel techniques, including horizontal drilling, distributed fiber optic sensing, and advanced computational modelling, to deliver more repeatable and cost effective geothermal electricity,” Latimer wrote in an email. “Fervo’s technology combines with the latest advancements in Organic Rankine Cycle generation systems to deliver flexible, 24/7 carbon-free electricity.”

Initially developed with a grant from the TomKat Center at Stanford University and a fellowship funded by Activate.org at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s Cyclotron Road division, Fervo has gone on to score funding from the DOE’s Geothermal Technology Office and ARPA-E to continue work with partners like Schlumberger, Rice University and the Berkeley Lab.

The combination of new and old technology is opening vast geographies to the company to potentially develop new projects.

Other companies are also looking to tap geothermal power to drive a renewable power generation development business. Those are startups like Eavor, which has the backing of energy majors like bp Ventures, Chevron Technology Ventures, Temasek, BDC Capital, Eversource and Vickers Venture Partners; and other players including GreenFire Energy, and Sage Geosystems.

Demand for geothermal projects is skyrocketing, opening up big markets for startups that can nail the cost issue for geothermal development. As Latimer noted, from 2016 to 2019 there was only one major geothermal contract, but in 2020 there were ten new major power purchase agreements signed by the industry. 

For all of these projects, cost remains a factor. Contracts that are being signed for geothermal that are in the $65 to $75 per megawatt range, according to Latimer. By comparison, solar plants are now coming in somewhere between $35 and $55 per megawatt, as The Verge reported last year

But Latimer said the stability and predictability of geothermal power made the cost differential palatable for utilities and businesses that need the assurance of uninterruptible power supplies. As a current Houston resident, the issue is something that Latimer has an intimate experience with from this year’s winter freeze, which left him without power for five days.

Indeed, geothermal’s ability to provide always-on clean power makes it an incredibly attractive option. In a recent Department of Energy study, geothermal could meet as much as 16% of the U.S. electricity demand, and other estimates put geothermal’s contribution at nearly 20% of a fully decarbonized grid.

“We’ve long been believers in geothermal energy but have waited until we’ve seen the right technology and team to drive innovation in the sector,” said Ion Yadigaroglu of Capricorn Investment Group, in a statement.  “Fervo’s technology capabilities and the partnerships they’ve created with leading research organizations make them the clear leader in the new wave of geothermal.”

Fervo Energy drilling site. Image Credit: Fervo Energy

#africa, #alternative-energy, #articles, #berkeley-lab, #biden-administration, #bp-ventures, #capricorn-investment-group, #chevron-technology-ventures, #department-of-energy, #ebay, #energy, #engineer, #entrepreneur, #executive, #fiber-optic, #geothermal-energy, #greenhouse-gas, #houston, #jeff-skoll, #renewable-energy, #rice-university, #schlumberger, #stanford-university, #tc, #temasek, #texas, #united-states, #vickers-venture-partners

0

Erase All Kittens raises $1M Seed round for Mario-style game which teaches girls to code

Erase All Kittens (EAK) is an EdTech startup that created a ‘Mario-style’ web-based game designed for kids aged 8-12. However, the game has a twist: it places an emphasis on inspiring girls to code (since let’s face it, most coding tools are created by men). After reaching 160,000 players in over 100 countries, it’s now raised a $1M Seed funding led by Twinkl Educational Publishing, with participation from first investor Christian Reyntjens of the A Black Square family office, alongside angel investors, including one of the founders of Shazam.

While the existing EAK game is free, a new game launched in July will be paid for, further boosting the product’s business model.

EAK says its research shows that some 55% of its players are girls, and 95% want to learn more about coding after playing its game. EAK is currently being used in over 3,000 schools, mostly in the UK and US, and its traction increased by 500% during the lockdowns associated with the pandemic.

It’s Erase All Kittens’ contention that coding education tools for children have been largely built by men and so naturally appeal more to boys. With most teaching repetitive coding, in a very rigid, instructional way, it tends to appeal more to boys than girls, says EAK.

The female-founded team has a platform for changing the perception that kids, especially girls, have of coding. After R&D of two years, it came up with a game designed to teach kids and girls as young as 8 skills such as HTML, CSS, and Javascript through highly gamified, story-driven gameplay. Kids get to chat with characters on their journey, for example, a serial entrepreneur unicorn mermaid called Tarquin Glitterquiff.

“Players edit the code that governs the game environment, building and fixing levels as they play in order to save kittens in a fantasy internet universe,” said cofounder Dee Saigal, co-founder, CEO and creative director. Saigal is joined by co-founder Leonie Van Der Linde; CTO Rex Van Der Spuy; Senior Games Developer Jeremy Keen; and 2D Games Artist Mikhail Malkin.

Erase All Kittens game

Erase All Kittens game

The existing game teaches HTML skills and how to create URLs, and the new game (released in July this year) will teach HTML, CSS, and Javascript skills – bridging the huge gap between kids learning the concepts and being able to create on the web like developers.

Said Saigal: “We’re designing a coding game that girls genuinely love – one that places a huge emphasis on creativity. Girls can see instant results as they code, there are different ways to progress through the game, and learning is seamlessly blended with storytelling.”

Saigal said: “When I was younger I wanted to be a games designer. I loved coming up with ideas for games but coding had always seemed like an impossible task. We weren’t taught coding at school, and I couldn’t see anyone who looked like me making games, so I didn’t think it was something I could do.”

“Whilst researching our target audience, we found that one of the biggest obstacles for girls still begins with gender stereotypes from an early age. By the time girls reach school, this snowballs into a lack of confidence in STEM skills and lower expectations from teachers, which in turn can lead to lower performance—a gap that only widens as girls get older.”

EAK’s competitors include Code Kingdoms, Swift Playgrounds and CodeCombat. But Saigal says these games tend to appeal far more to boys than to girls.

The new game (see below) will be sold to schools and parents, globally. EAK will also be carrying out a one-for-one scheme, where for every school account purchased, one will be donated to underserved schools via partnerships with tech companies, educational organizations, and NGOs.

Jonathan Seaton, Co-founder and CEO at Twinkl and Director of TwinklHive, said: “We’re really excited to partner with Erase All Kittens, as a digital company Twinkl recognizes the importance of preparing children to succeed in the digital age and we believe through this partnership we can really make a difference.”

“The team is particularly excited about helping further Erase All Kitten’s mission to empower girls and give them the same opportunities to learn to code and build their own digital creations. Ensuring that all children have equal access to opportunities to learn is at the heart of Twinkl’s vision and a key motivation in the development of this partnership for both organizations.”

Erase All Kittens

Erase All Kittens

Erase All Kittens says it is addressing the global skills gap, where the gender gap is increasingly widening. According to PWC, just 24% of the tech workforce is female and women make up just 12% of all engineers, while only 3% of female students in the UK list tech as their first career choice.

Research by Childwise found that 90% of girls give up on coding after first trying it, and if they lose interest in STEM subject by the age of 11, they never recover from that. This is a huge and growing problem for the tech industry and for investors.

#articles, #black, #co-founder, #code-kingdoms, #codecombat, #cofounder, #cto, #director, #education, #entrepreneur, #europe, #html, #javascript, #partner, #science, #science-technology-engineering-and-mathematics, #shazam, #stem, #swift-playgrounds, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states

0

Black Innovation Alliance, Village Capital team up to support founders of color

Black Innovation Alliance and Village Capital today announced Resource, a national initiative aimed at boosting the efforts of entrepreneur support organizations (ESOs) led by, and focused on, founders of color.

The motivation behind the project is straightforward. ESOs “face record demand, declining resources and are chronically underestimated, underappreciated and underfunded,” the organizations say.

Resource aims to give local accelerators and incubators support in the form of training and community.

Resource’s “ESO Accelerator” will train startup ecosystem leaders on how to build a more financially sustainable organization, as well as help connect them to potential funders. It also will provide milestone-based financial support tied to organizational development.

Resource also plans to build a national community of practice among ESO leaders of color and their funders to share best practices and “develop stronger capital and mentorship pathways” for Black, Latinx and Indigenous founders across the U.S.

Village Capital, says CEO Allie Burns, supports and invest in entrepreneurs “who have been historically sitting in historical blind spots of investors, whether that’s by the problems they’re trying to solve, the geography they’re located in or demographic factors that we have seen lead to capital being concentrated in very few people, places and problems.” Village Capital has worked with more than 100 other ESOs to help grow companies with founders from all backgrounds over the past five years.

The goal with Resource is to help ensure that incubators and accelerators focused on supporting people of color have the resources they need to flourish, she added.

“We want to make sure that those accelerators and other ESOs have the financial, social and human capital to keep their doors open and grow,” Burns said.

Black Innovation Alliance Executive Director Kelly Burton points out that these Black-led organizations are often the first line of support for Black entrepreneurs yet reap few benefits from their success over time.

“They receive very little support and very little funding,” she said. “It’s almost like they do all the heavy lifting, they plant seeds and do all the cultivation but they don’t really get to benefit once that founder and that startup has really taken off. This is an opportunity for us to stabilize these organizations to help them build their own capacities and capabilities so that that organization can be sustainable.”

Resource is supported by a national coalition of funders committed to supporting entrepreneurs of color. The initial coalition includes Moody’s, The Sorenson Impact Foundation, Travelers and UBS.

In related news, on Tuesday we covered New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s proposal for a $10 million allocation in the state budget to create a seed fund for Black and Latinx startups.

In that piece, we noted that there are a number of organizations out there that are committed to funding diverse founders.

In February, several national and Chicago-based organizations banded together to support early-stage Black and Latinx tech entrepreneurs through a new program dubbed TechRise. The nonprofit P33 launched the program in partnership with Verizon and 1871, a private business incubator and technology hub, among others, with the goals “of narrowing the wealth gap in Chicago, generating thousands of tech-related jobs and giving $5 million in grant funding to Black and Latino entrepreneurs,” according to the Chicago Sun Times. (Disclosure: Verizon is TechCrunch’s parent company).

Also in Austin, DivInc is a nonprofit pre-accelerator that holds 12-week programs for underrepresented tech founders. Founded in 2016 by former Dell executive Preston James, the organization aims to “empower people of color and women entrepreneurs and help them build successful high-growth businesses by providing them with access to education, mentorship and vital networks.”

#black-innovation-alliance, #business-incubators, #diversity, #economy, #entrepreneur, #entrepreneurship, #funding, #resource, #startups, #techcrunch-include, #ubs, #village-capital

0

Sarah Kunst will outline how to get ready to fundraise at Early Stage

Sarah Kunst, founding partner at Cleo Capital, has worn many hats. She’s been an entrepreneur, served on plenty of boards, is a contributing author at Marie Clare, has been a senior advisor to Bumble and worked as a consultant in marketing, business development and more.

And with all that experience, she knows all too well that the process of fundraising starts well before your first pitch meeting. That’s why we’re so excited to have Kunst join us at Early Stage in July to discuss how to get ready to fundraise.

This isn’t the first time Kunst has discussed the topic with us. On a recent episode of Extra Crunch Live, Kunst and one of her portfolio company founders Julia Collins described how to conduct the process of fundraising.

For example, there is a story to tell, metrics to share and an art to building momentum before you ever start filling your calendar. That all requires preparation, and Kunst will outline how to go about that at our event in July.

Early Stage is going down twice this year, with our first event taking place tomorrow! Here’s a look at some of the topics we’ll be covering:

Fundraising

  • Bootstrapping Best Practices (Tope Awotona and Blake Bartlett, Calendly)
  • Four Things to Think About Before Raising a Series A (Bucky Moore, Kleiner Perkins)
  • How to Get An Investor’s Attention (Marlon Nichols, MaC Venture Capital)
  • How to Nail Your Virtual Pitch Meeting (Melissa Bradley, Ureeka)
  • How Founders Can Think Like a VC (Lisa Wu, Norwest Venture Partners)
  • The All-22 View, or Never Losing Perspective (Eghosa Omoigui, EchoVC Partners)

Operations:

  • Finance for Founders (Alexa von Tobel, Inspired Capital)
  • Building and Leading a Sales Team (Ryan Azus, Zoom CRO)
  • 10 Things NOT to Do When Starting a Company (Leah Solivan, Fuel Capital)
  • Leadership Culture and Good Governance (David Easton, Generation Investment Management)

The cool thing about Early Stage is that it’s heavy on audience Q&A, ensuring that everyone gets the chance to ask their own specific questions. Oh, and ticket holders get free access to Extra Crunch.

Interested? You can buy a ticket here.

#alexa-von-tobel, #blake-bartlett, #bucky-moore, #cleo-capital, #entrepreneur, #events, #finance, #fuel-capital, #generation-investment-management, #investment, #julia-collins, #kleiner-perkins, #leah-solivan, #lisa-wu, #mac-venture-capital, #marlon-nichols, #melissa-bradley, #money, #norwest, #norwest-venture-partners, #ryan-azus, #sarah-kunst, #startups, #tc, #tc-early-stage-2021, #tope-awotona, #venture-capital

0

Arcadia steps in to Texas’ startup energy market with the acquisition of Real Simple Energy

On the third greatest television show of all time (sorry Rolling Stone), one of Texas’ most famous fictional football players once said, “When all the scared rats are leaving a sinking market, that’s when a real entrepreneur steps in — a true visionary.”

If that’s the case, then the startup renewable energy retail reseller Arcadia may be a true visionary. Even as energy startups servicing customers throughout the great state of Texas are forced to throw in the towel, the Washington-based, consumer-focused renewable energy power provider (based on renewable energy certificates purchased on the open market), is making an acquisition to enter the Texas market.

The company is buying Real Simple Energy, which not only marks the company’s availability in all 50 states, but gives Real Simple Energy customers access to both wind and solar power generating projects. The company said it  will leverage Real Simple Energy’s platform and expertise to secure the best rates for members, monitor for better savings, and provide a smarter yet simpler energy experience.

“Recent events in the Texas market prove that customers shouldn’t be exposed to wholesale or variable rates, and want an energy advocate to protect them,” said Kiran Bhatraju, CEO and Founder of Arcadia. “Both Arcadia and Real Simple Energy recognize the challenges Texas homeowners and renters have historically faced in the energy buying process, and we remain committed to removing these confusing barriers.”

Texans have consistently paid more for power than consumers that buy their energy from regulated market participants thanks to the state’s disastrously deregulated power markets. The combined companies are pitching fixed rate contracts to Texas consumers that won’t be vulnerable to bill spikes, but will offer average savings above the flat rates regulated utilities offer.

“The deregulated energy industry, especially in Texas, has underserved customers and as a result, most customers overpay for electricity and receive poor customer service. Using technology, we are helping customers realize the promise of deregulation and always get the best fixed rates available,” said Trent Crow, CEO of Real Simple Energy, in a statement. “As industry veterans, joining forces with Arcadia will allow us to get better deals for customers and enhance our customer experience.  We manage 100% of the energy experience and become a customer’s independent agent and advocate so they never have to worry about their electricity bill again.”

The deal is Arcadia’s first acquisition and follows the company’s launch of a community solar program all the way across the country in the great state of Maine.

#ceo, #electricity, #energy, #energy-industry, #entrepreneur, #fundings-exits, #maine, #renewable-energy, #startups, #tc, #texas, #washington

0

Astroscale launches its ELSA-d orbital debris removal satellite

Space startup Astroscale has launched ELSA-d, the demonstration mission for its End-of-Life Services by Astroscale (ELSA) technology, which aims to dock with, and then safely remove, orbital debris. Astroscale’s demonstrator package includes two separate payloads, a servicer that represents its future production spacecraft, and a ‘client’ satellite that’s meant to represent the debris satellites it’ll be de-orbiting on behalf of customers in future.

The Astrocale payload was launched via a Soyuz rocket that took off early this morning from Kazakhstan carrying 38 commercial satellites from 18 countries. It’s the first Astroscale spacecraft to reach orbit, since the startup’s founding in 2013 by Japanese entrepreneur Nobu Okada. Astroscale had launched a micro satellite designed to measure small-scale debris in 2017, but all 18 of the satellites on that particular mission failed to reach orbit, due to human error in the launch vehicle’s programming.

This ELSA-d mission is a much more ambitious effort, and involves what amounts to an active on-orbit demonstration of the technology that Astroscale ultimately hopes to commercialize. The mission profile includes repeat docking and release maneuvers between the servicer satellite and the simulated client satellite, which is equipped with a ferromagnetic plate to assist the servicer with its magnetic docking procedure.

Astroscale hopes to prove out a range of its advertised capabilities with this demonstration, including the servicer’s ability to search out and located the client satellite, inspect it for damage, and then dock with it as mentioned, in both non-tumbling and tumbling scenarios (ie., a payload that’s maintaining a stable orbit, and one that’s spinning end-over-end in space with no ability to control its own attitude).

There’s a lot riding on this mission, which will be controlled from a ground center established by Astroscale in the UK. Aside from its long-term commercial ambitions, the startup is also contracted to partner with JAXA on the Japanese space agency’s first orbital debris removal mission, which aims to be the first in the world to remove a large object from orbit, representing the spent upper stage of a launch rocket.

#aerospace, #articles, #astroscale, #entrepreneur, #jaxa, #kazakhstan, #orbital-debris, #outer-space, #partner, #space, #space-debris, #spaceflight, #startups, #tc, #united-kingdom

0

Brazilian startup Tractian gets the Y Combinator seal of approval for its equipment monitoring tech

Igor Marinelli and Gabriel Lameirinhas were raised around manufacturing plants. Marinelli’s father worked for International Paper in a plant outside of Sao Paulo while Lameirinhas’ father worked in a cement plant. 

Throughout their lives, the two friends had heard their parents complain about the sorry state of maintenance and monitoring of the heavy equipment that their factories depended on to stay up and running.

So the two men decided to do something about it, and set about to develop the technology which would become Tractian.

Friends from their days at University of Sao Paulo, Lameirinhas and Marinelli kept in touch as Marinelli pursued a career in the U.S. as an entrepreneur, they reconnected in Brazil after the collapse of Marinelli’s attempt to launch a predictive chronic health condition service called BlueAI.

Marinelli spent some time working in a paper plant himself and became a software engineer for the facility. It was there that he saw the shoddy state of affairs that industrial monitoring tools were in.

Together with Lameirinhas he determined that there could be a better way. Factories in Brazil aren’t equipped with wifi or gateways or other networking technologies that the newest solutions from companies like Siemens or Schneider Electric require. Integrations with existing enterprise resource planning software from companies like SAP present another headache, said Marinelli.

“Only industries with huge capital can go through that mess,” Marinelli said.

Tractian’s sensors measure four things: vibration, temperature, energy consumption and a horometer to measure how long a machine has been up and running. The company has also developed software that can analyze the data coming off of the sensors to predict when a machine might need maintenance.

Y Combinator found the software and hardware package compelling and so did investors like Soma Capital, Norte Ventures, and angel investors including Alan Rutledge and Immad Akhund.

Tractian’s tech costs $90 for the sensors and the analysis and software is another $60 per month, per sensor. Marinelli claims that the service can pay for itself in less than two months. Already, the company has signed up AB InBev as an initial customer and has roughly 30 buyers in total using its sensors.

 

#brazil, #energy-consumption, #entrepreneur, #heavy-equipment, #monitoring, #sao-paulo, #siemens, #software-engineer, #soma-capital, #tc, #united-states, #y-combinator

0

Co-founded by a leader of SpaceX’s missions operations, Epsilon3 wants to be the OS for space launches

Laura Crabtree spent a good chunk of her childhood watching rocket launches on television and her entire professional career launching rockets, first at Northrup Grumman and then at SpaceX.

Now, the former senior missions operations engineer at SpaceX is the co-founder and chief executive of a new LA-based space startup called Epsilon3, which says it has developed the operating system for launch operations.

“The tools I had wanted did not exist,” said Crabtree. So when she left SpaceX to pursue her next opportunity, it was a no-brainer to try and develop the toolkit she never had, the first-time entrepreneur said. “I started looking at ways in which I could help the space industry become more efficient and reduce errors.”

Joining Crabtree in the new business is Max Mednik, a serial entrepreneur whose last company, Epirus, raised at least $144.7 million from investors including 8VC, Bedrock Capital and L3 Harris Technologies, and Aaron Sullivan, a former Googler who serves as the chief software engineer. Mednik worked at Google too before turning his attention to entrepreneurship. His previous businesses ranged from financial services software to legal services software, Mednik too had an interest in aerospace. His first job offers out of school were with SpaceX, JPL, and Google. And Aaron Sullivan another former

Part of a growing network of SpaceX alumni launching businesses, Epsilon3, like its fellow travelers First Resonance and Prewitt Ridge, is creating a product around an aspect of the design, manufacturing mission management and operations of rockets that had previously been handled manually or with bespoke tools.

“They make mission management software for the launchers and for the satellite companies that are going to be the payload of the rocket companies,” said Alex Rubacalva, the founder and managing partner of Stage Venture Partners, an investor in the company’s recent seed round. “It’s not just the design and spec but for when they’re actually working what are they doing; when you’re uplinking and downlinking data and changing software.”

Rubacalva acknowledged that the market for Epsilon3 is entirely new, but it’s growing rapidly.

“This was an analysis based on the fact that access to space used to be really expensive and used to be the provenance of governments and ten or 20 commercial satellite operators in the world. And it was limited by the fact that there were only a handful of companies that could launch,” Rubacalva said. “Now all of a sudden there’s going to be thirty different space flights. Thirty different companies that have rockets… access to space used to scarce, expensive, and highly restricted and it’s no longer any of those things now.” 

Relativity Space's Terran 1 rocket, artist's rendering

Image Credits: Relativity Space

The demand for space services is exploding with some analysts estimating that the launch services industry could reach over $18 billion by 2026.

“It’s a very similar story and we all come from different places within SpaceX,” said Crabtree. First Resonance, provides software that moves from prototyping to production; Prewitt Ridge, provides engineering and management tools; and Epsilon3 has developed an operating system for launch operations.

“You’ve got design development, manufacturing, integration tests and operations. We’re trying to support that integration of tests and operations,” said Crabtree. 

While First Resonance and Prewitt Ridge have applications in aerospace and manufacturing broadly, Crabtree’s eyes, and her company’s mission, remain fixed on the stars.

“We’re laser focused on space and proving out that the software works in the highest stakes and most complex environments,” said Mednik. There are applications in other areas that require complex workflows for industries as diverse as nuclear plant construction and operations, energy, mining, and aviation broadly, but for now and the foreseeable future, it’s all about the space business.

Mednik described the software as an electronic toolkit for controlling and editing workflows and procedures. “You can think of it as Asana project management meets Github version control,” he said. “It should be for integration of subsystems or systems and operations of the systems.”

Named for the planet in Babylon Five, Epsilon3 could become an integral part of the rocket missions that eventually do explore other worlds. At least, that’s the bet that firms like Stage Venture Partners and MaC Ventures are making on the business with their early $1.8 million investment into the business.

Right now, the Epislon3’s early customers are coming from early stage space companies that are using the platform for live launches. These would be companies like Stoke Space and other new rocket entrants. 

“For us, space and deeptech is hot,” said MaC Ventures co-founder and managing partner, Adrian Fenty. The former mayor of Washington noted that the combination of Mednik’s serial entrepreneur status and Crabtree’s deep, deep expertise in the field.

“We had been looking at operating systems in general and thinking that there would be some good ones coming along,” Fenty said. In Epsilon3 the company found the combination of deep space, deep tech, and a thesis around developing verticalized operating systems that ticked all the boxes. 

“In doing diligence for the company… you just see how big space is and will become as a business,” said Michael Palank, a co-founder and managing partner at MaC Ventures predecessor, M Ventures alongside Fenty. “A lot of the challenges here on earth will and only can be solved in space. And you need better operating systems to manage getting to and from space.”

The view from Astra’s Rocket 3.2 second stage from space.

#adrian-fenty, #aerospace, #asana, #bedrock-capital, #elon-musk, #energy, #engineer, #entrepreneur, #github, #google, #hyperloop, #l3, #laser, #louisiana, #m-ventures, #mac-ventures, #managing-partner, #manufacturing, #mayor, #mining, #operating-system, #operating-systems, #outer-space, #project-management, #satellite, #serial-entrepreneur, #space-tourism, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #washington

0

Marc Benioff and this panel of judges will decide who gets one seat on the first all-civilian spaceflight

SpaceX’s first all-civilian human spaceflight mission, which will carry four passengers to orbit using a Crew Dragon capsule later this year if all goes to plan, will include one passenger selected by a panel of judges weighing the submissions of entrepreneurs. The panel will include Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Fast Company Editor-in-Chief Stephanie Mehta, YouTuber Mark Rober and Bar Rescue TV host Jon Taffer. It may seem like an eclectic bunch, but there is some reason to the madness.

This seat is one of four on the ride – the first belongs to contest and mission sponsor Jared Isaacman, the founder of Shift4 Payments and a billionaire who has opted to spend a not insignificant chunk of money funding the flight. The second, Isaacman revealed earlier this week, will go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital employee and cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux.

That leaves two more seats, and they’re being decided by two separate contests. One is open to anyone who is a U.S. citizen and who makes a donation to St. Jude via the ongoing charitable contribution drive. The other will be decided by this panel of judges, and will be chosen from a pool of applicants who have build stores on Shift4’s Shift4Shop e-commerce platform.

That’s right: This absurdly expensive and pioneering mission to space is also a growth marketing campaign for Isaacman’s Shopify competitor. But to be fair, the store of the winning entrant doesn’t have to be news – existing customers can also apply and are eligible.

The stated criteria for deciding the winner is “a business owner or entrepreneur the exhibits ingenuity, innovation and determination” so in other words it could be just about anybody. I’m extremely curious to see what Benioff, Mehta, Rober (also a former NASA JPL engineer in addition to a YouTuber) and Taffer come up with between them as a winner.

The Inspiration4 mission is currently set to fly in the fourth quarter of 2021, and mission specifics including total duration and target orbit are yet to be determined.

#aerospace, #benioff, #ceo, #e-commerce, #editor-in-chief, #entrepreneur, #founder, #salesforce, #shopify, #space, #spacex, #tc, #television-in-the-united-states, #united-states

0

SpaceX is aiming to fly the first all-civilian human space mission by the end of 2021

SpaceX has announced its first all-civilian private spaceflight mission, a high-priced galactic tourism launch that it hopes to fly by the fourth quarter of 2021. The mission, which will use SpaceX’s Dragon crew spacecraft and its Falcon 9 rocket, will include Shift4 Payments CEO Jared Isaacman, who is CEO of Shift4 Payments, as well as three crew members to be selected and donated by Isaacman, his company and St Jude Children’s Research Hospital. That’s one way to drive product adoption.

The mission is bing called Inspiration4, and there’s already a significant digital presence for it, including a website with a countdown timer. Two of the of seats on the four person ride will be donated to St. Jude recipients, with one going to an ambassador for the children’s medical research center (a frontline healthcare worker, Isaacman specified), and another going to a member of the public that will be chosen from entrants to an online contest based on either making a donation to St. Jude. The final seat will go to an entrepreneur who builds a business on Shift4’s ecommerce platform for online stores.

Isaacman has committed $100 million to St. Jude’s as part of the Inspiration4 campaign, and will be looking to raise another $100 million or more from contributions made through the program. While he actually began Shift4 Payments when he was just 16, which now processes over $200 billion per year in transactions, Isaacman also created and led a private air force, which he later sold to Blackstone, the large global private military contractor. Isaacman’s business trained pilots for the U.S. Air Force, and he himself is a trained pilot certified on both commercial and military aircraft.

Shift4 Payments CEO and founder Jared Isaacman, the first named member of SpaceX’s first all-civilian human launch.

He’ll serve as the Dragon flight’s commander, which makes sense given that although the spacecraft flies in a fully automated fashion, there should still be someone with some kind of expertise on board in case of emergency. Isaacman’s history as a pilot, combined with the fact that he’s extremely rich, make him a great candidate for that role.

As to the nature of the mission, it’ll involve pre-launch commercial astronaut training, including instruction in orbital mechanics and zero gravity maneuvering. The flight itself will take off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and it’ll then circle the globe for multiple orbits (approximately one every 90 minutes, the company says), while the spacecraft remains aloft for multiple days – SpaceX founder Elon Musk said that it’s ultimately up to Jared, but that a range of two to four days is what the company suggests. It’ll then re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and make a water landing in the Atlantic Ocean, where it’ll be recovered by a SpaceX crew.

SpaceX previously revealed that it would be looking to host private missions with Dragon once it was rated for human flight by NASA. Now we know when the first dedicated private mission is looking to take off – and it might even beat other private space tourism efforts out the door, including Virgin Galactic’s suborbital spaceplane day tours.

Asked what orbit the flight will target, Musk quipped “I do want emphasize this is really up to, you know, you go where where you want to go – we’ll take you there,” with Isaacman noting that they’ll be determining and posting that in the coming days. In response to another question about what kinds of accoutrements passengers could bring up, Musk again deferred to the mission commander, who added “if we can get some creature comforts up there, that’s kind of cool.”

#aerospace, #ambassador, #astronaut, #blackstone, #ceo, #commercial-spaceflight, #entrepreneur, #falcon, #falcon-9, #florida, #hyperloop, #outer-space, #space, #space-tourism, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #u-s-air-force, #virgin-galactic

0

Three dimensional search engine Physna wants to be the Google of the physical world

In June of 1999, Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins invested $25 million into an early stage company developing a new search engine called Google, paving the way for a revolution in how knowledge online was organized and shared.

Now, Sequoia Capital is placing another bet on a different kind of search engine, one for physical objects in three dimensions, just as the introduction of three dimensional sensing technologies on consumer phones are poised to create a revolution in spatial computing.

At least, that’s the bet that Sequoia Capital’s Shaun Maguire is making on the Cincinnati, Ohio-based startup Physna.

Maguire and Sequoia are leading a $20 million bet into the company alongside Drive Capital, the Columbus, Ohio-based venture firm founded by two former Sequoia partners, Mark Kvamme and Chris Olsen.

“There’s been this open problem in mathematics, which is how you do three dimensional search. How do you define a metric that gives you other similar three dimensional objects. This has a long history in mathematics,” Maguire said. “When I first met [Physna founder] Paul Powers, he had already come up with a wildly novel distance metric to compare different three dimensional objects. If you have one distance metric, you can find other objects that are a distance away. His thinking underlying that is so unbelievably creative. If I were to put it in the language of modern mathematics… it just involves a lot of really advanced ideas that actually also works.”

Powers’ idea — and Physna’s technology — was a long time coming.

A lawyer by training and an entrepreneur at heart, Powers came to the problem of three dimensional search through his old day job as an intellectual property lawyer.

Powers chose IP law because he thought it was the most interesting way to operate at the intersection of technology and law — and would provide good grounding for whatever company the serial entrepreneur would eventually launch next. While practicing, Powers hit upon a big problem, while some intellectual property theft around software and services was easy to catch, it was harder to identify when actual products or parts were being stolen as trade secrets. “We were always able to find 2D intellectual property theft,” Powers said, but catching IP theft in three dimensions was elusive.

From its launch in 2015 through 2019, Powers worked with co-founder and chief technology officer Glenn Warner Jr. on developing the product, which was initially intended to protect product designs from theft. Tragically just as the company was getting ready to unveil its transformation into the three dimensional search engine it had become, Warner died.

Powers soldiered on, rebuilding the company and its executive team with the help of Dennis DeMeyere, who joined the company in 2020 after a stint in Google’s office of the chief technology officer and technical director for Google Cloud.

“When I moved, I jumped on a plane with two checked bags and moved into a hotel, until I could rent a fully furnished home,” DeMeyere told Protocol last year.

Other heavy hitters were also drawn to the Cincinnati-based company thanks in no small part to Olsen and Kvamme’s Silicon Valley connections. They include Github’s chief technology officer, Jason Warner, who has a seat on the company’s board of directors alongside Drive Capital’s co-founder Kvamme, who serves as the chairman.

In Physna, Kvamme, Maguire, and Warner see a combination of Github and Google — especially after the launch last year of the company’s consumer facing site, Thangs.

That site allows users to search for three dimensional objects by a description or by uploading a model or image. As Mike Murphy at Protocol noted, it’s a bit like Thingiverse, Yeggi or other sites used by 3D-printing hobbyists. What the site can also do is show users the collaborative history of each model and the model’s component parts — if it involves different objects.

Hence the GitHub and Google combination. And users can set up profiles to store their own models or collaborate and comment on public models.

What caught Maguire’s eye about the company was the way users were gravitating to the free site. “There were tens of thousands of people using it every day,” he said. It’s a replica of the way many successful companies try a freemium or professional consumer hybrid approach to selling products. “They have a free version and people are using it all the time and loving it. That is a foundation that they can build from,” said Maguire.

And Maguire thinks that the spatial computing wave is coming sooner than anyone may realize. “The new iPhone has LIDAR on it… This is the first consumer device that comes shipped with a 3D scanner with LIDAR and I think three dimensional is about to explode.”

Eventually, Physna could be a technology hub where users can scan three dimensional objects into their phones and have a representational model for reproduction either as a virtual object or as something that can be converted into a file for 3D printing.

Right now, hundreds of businesses have approached the company with different requests for how to apply its technology, according to Powers.

One new feature will allow you to take a picture of something and not only show you what that is or where it goes. Even if that is into a part of the assembly. We shatter a vase and with the vase shards we can show you how the pieces fit back together,” Powers said.

Typical contracts for the company’s software range from $25,000 to $50,000 for enterprise customers, but the software that powers Physna’s product is more than just a single application, according to Powers.

“We’re not just a product. We’re a fundamental technology,” said Powers. “There is a gap between the physical and the digital.”

For Sequoia and Drive Capital, Physna’s software is the technology to bridge that gap.

 

#california, #chairman, #chief-technology-officer, #chris-olsen, #cincinnati, #co-founder, #columbus, #computing, #drive-capital, #entrepreneur, #executive, #github, #google, #google-cloud, #iphone, #kleiner-perkins, #lawyer, #mark-kvamme, #ohio, #printing, #search-engine, #sequoia, #sequoia-capital, #sequoia-partners, #serial-entrepreneur, #shaun-maguire, #tc

0

Proving voicemail doesn’t have to be wack, the Slack-backed startup Yac raises $7.5 million

Yac, the Orlando, Fla.-based startup that’s digitizing voice messages for remote offices, has raised $7.5 million in a new round of funding.

The company’s service has garnered enough attention to pick up a pretty sizable new round from investors led by GGV Capital and a return investment from the Slack Fund.

Apparently, reinventing voicemail is a multi-million dollar endeavor.

“The future of meetings will be asynchronous, in your ears and hands free,” says Pat Matthews, the chief executive and founder of Active Capital, when the company announced its seed round nearly a year ago.

Co-founded by Justin Mitchell, Hunter McKinley and Jordan Walker, Yac was spun out of the digital agency SoFriendly, and was developed as a pitch for Product Hunt’s Maker Festival. The voice messaging service won that startup competition at the event and attracted the interest of Boost VC and its founder, the third-generation venture capitalist Adam Draper.

About six months after that seed round, Yac received outreach from Slack thanks to a referral from another entrepreneur. Throughout their negotiations last year, the teams used Yac to conduct due diligence, according to Mitchell. At the time of the company’s August announcement that Slack had come on to finance the company, Yac had a bit over 5,000 users on its service and charges per seat, in the same way Slack does.

 

#active-capital, #adam-draper, #entrepreneur, #florida, #ggv-capital, #groupware, #operating-systems, #orlando, #product-hunt, #slack, #slack-fund, #software, #tc, #yac

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Omnipresent raises $15.8M Series A for its platform to employ remote-workers globally

Omnipresent, which helps companies employ remote-working local teams worldwide, has closed a $15.8M Series A funding round. The fundraise was led by an undisclosed investor with participation from existing investors, Episode 1, Playfair Capital and Truesight Ventures. The company said it closed the round five months after it’s July 2020 $2m in seed round.

Founders Matthew Wilson and Guenther Eisinger started the company as part of Entrepreneur First’s London cohort in 2019.

Omnipresent says it ensures the process of remote-hiring costs a fraction of what it would if the company did it on their own, by using Omnipresent’s platform to onboard employees compliantly in 150 countries. It provides employees with local contracts, tax contributions, and local and international benefits such as health insurance, pensions and equity options. 

In a joint statement, Guenther Eisinger and Matthew Wilson, Co-CEOs of Omnipresent said: “Even before the pandemic we recognized the revolutionary potential of breaking down legal and administrative barriers of international employment. As former business owners, we had first-hand experience of what a headache it is to navigate the complexity and bureaucracy of building global teams. Now with the pandemic and the global shift towards remote working it’s confirmed that we are on the right track.”

Wilson told me in an interview: “For instance, in Canada, we have a Canadian entity and we enter into an employment relationship with that person in Canada, on behalf of our client, so they don’t have to set up any of the legal infrastructure themselves in Canada, or any of the 149 countries that we operate in. We then manage all the ongoing administration of the employment relationship, whether that’s from an HR perspective, from an employee benefits perspective, or if they want to get health care for instance.”

The company competes with other firms like Remote.com and Boundless HQ.

Carina Namih, General Partner at Episode 1 Ventures commented: “While talent is evenly distributed around the world, for too long, opportunities have not been. I have experienced first hand the challenge of hiring globally. Omnipresent has already become a crucial piece of infrastructure for global teams working across different countries.”

Joe Thornton, General Partner at Playfair Capital commented: “Remote work undoubtedly represents the future of the modern workforce. The sooner companies adapt, the sooner they will reap the massive competitive advantage associated with a globally distributed workforce, including increased workforce productivity and satisfaction and a larger and more diverse pool of talent from which to recruit workers.”

Omnipresent said its own employer surveys show that over 85% of employers will be employing remote or international employees in 2021.

#canada, #employment, #entrepreneur, #episode-1-ventures, #europe, #general-partner, #health-insurance, #london, #playfair-capital, #remote-com, #tc, #telecommuting, #truesight-ventures, #workforce

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Want a job in tech? Flockjay pitches its sales training service as an on-ramp to tech careers

“Most people don’t even know that a job in tech sales is even a possibility,” says Shaan Hathiramani, the founder and chief executive of Flockjay, a company offering a tech sales training curriculum to the masses.

Hathiramani sees his startup as an onramp to the tech industry for legions of workers who have the skillsets to work in tech, but lack the network to see themselves in the business. Just like coding bootcamps have enabled thousands to get jobs as programmers in the tech business, Flockjay can get talented people who had never considered a job in tech into the industry.

The company, which had previously raised $3 million from investors including Serena Williams and Will Smith, along with tech industry luminaries like Microsoft chairman John Thompson; Airtable head of sales Liat Bycel; Gmail inventor Paul Buchheit; and former Netflix CPO Tom Willerer, has just raised new capital to expand its business in a time when accelerated onramps to new jobs have never been more important.

The healthcare response to the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic, which has closed businesses and torn through the American economy. The unemployment rate in the country sits at 6.4% and the nation lost 140,000 jobs again in December — with all of those job losses coming from women.

A former financier with the multi-billion dollar investment firm, Citadel, Hathiramani sees Flockjay, and the business of tech sales as a way for a number of people to transform their lives.

“We provide a premier sales academy,” Hathiramani said. “It costs zero dollars if you take the course and don’t get a job and costs 10% of your income for the first year if you do get a job. That nets out to 6 or 7K.”

A few hundred students have gone through the program so far, Hathiramani said, and the goal is to train 1,000 people over the course of 2021. The average income of a student before they go through Flockjay’s training program is $30,000 to $35,000 typically, Hathiramani said.

Upon graduation, those students can expect to make between $75,000 and $85,000, he said.

Increasing access among those students who have not necessarily been exposed to the tech world is critical for what Hathiramani wants to do with his sales bootcamp.

Flockjay founder Shaan Hathiramani. Image Credit: Flockjay

The entrepreneur said roughly 40% of students don’t have a four-year college degree; half of the students identify as female or non-binary, and half of the company’s students identify as Black or hispanic. About 80% of the company’s students find a job within the first six months of graduation.

These are students like Elise Cox, a former Bojangles’ manager and Flockjay graduate, who moved from Georgia to Denver to be a sales tech representative for Gusto. Tripling her salary from $13 an hour in the food service industry to a salaried position with wages and benefits.

“I enjoy being able to generate revenue for the company,” Cox, a 41-year-old grandmother, whose five-year plans include a sales leadership role, told Fast Company two years ago. “The revenue is the lifeblood of the company and being part of the team gives me sense of fulfillment.”

Partnerships with Opportunity@Work, Hidden Genius Project, Peninsula Bridge, and TechHire Oakland, help to ensure a diverse pool of applicants and a more diverse workforce for the tech industry — where diversity is still a huge problem.

As Hathiramani looks to take his company from training a couple of hundred students to over a thousand, the founder has raised new cash from previous investors including Lightspeed, Coatue, and Y Combinator, and new investors like eVentures, Salesforce Ventures, along with the Impact America Fund, Cleo Capital and Gabrielle Union.

For the New Jersey-born entrepreneur, Flockjay was a way to give back to a community that he knew intimately. After his family settled in New Jersey after immigrating to the United States, Hathiramani went first to Horace Mann on a scholarship and then attended Harvard before getting his job at Citadel.

Even while he was working at the pinnacle of the financial services world he started non-profits like the Big Shoulders Fund and taught financial literacy.

After a while, he moved to the Bay Area to begin plotting a way to merge his twin interests in education and financial inclusion.

“That led to me spending a year helping startups for free and trying to understand their problems with hiring and training” said Hathiramani. “It helped me surface this economic waste in plain sight. There were all these people talking to customers and they were spending three months on the job learning the job and they didn’t want to do the job or they weren’t very good at it.”

Tech salesforces were a point of entry in the system that almost anyone could access, if they could get in through the door, Hathiramani said. Flockjay wants to be the key to opening the door.

So, the company now has $11 million in new funding to bring its sales training bootcamp to a larger audience. Hathiramani also wants to make the bootcamp model more of a community with continuous development after a student completes the program. “I view education as a membership and not a transaction,” he said. “We focus on continuous learning and continuous up-skilling.”

Part of that is the flywheel of building up networks in a manner similar to YCombinator, the accelerator program from which Flockjay graduated in 2019.

“We went through YC to learn… how they manufacture the privilege in the world that they have afforded,” said Hathiramani. “How do you take some of that and provide it to someone who is starting their careers in tech. You get better at your job the more connections you have. As we accelerate the alumni piece… they can draw on other alums that they’re selling into.”

 

#chairman, #cleo-capital, #coatue, #computing, #entrepreneur, #flockjay, #harvard, #impact-america-fund, #microsoft, #netflix, #new-jersey, #paul-buchheit, #salesforce, #salesforce-ventures, #tc, #tom-willerer, #united-states, #will-smith, #y-combinator

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How to convert customers with subscription pricing

The lure of subscription pricing is the guarantee of recurring revenue for your business. Once a customer flips the switch to turn on your subscription, it’s easy money:

  • Easy to recognize your revenue.
  • Easy to determine your margins and profits.
  • Easy to enhance your product and extend that revenue out for months, even years.

While that’s true, converting a subscription customer isn’t as simple as flipping a switch. You can build a platform, launch with fanfare, offer all sorts of incentives and trials to attract potential customers — and watch as they disengage and lapse into limbo.

Contrary to popular belief, subscription pricing doesn’t work because of the lower price point that a monthly installment allows.

That’s the actual guarantee that comes with subscription pricing, which will happen unless you cultivate a funnel that catches potential subscribers as soon as they learn about your product and follows them until their very last sign-in.

I built my first subscription-model product in 1999. I’m currently in early-access on my latest, and I’ve launched a bunch more along the way.

While the customer dynamic has changed over the last 20 years, the conversion process has not. In fact, it’s actually gotten easier to convert and retain customers through the subscription funnel.

Here’s what I’ve learned.

Why subscription pricing works

Subscription pricing is a hot trend in just about every business in every industry. Pay-as-you-go is the new normal from software to retail to service.

In my mind, the major shift occurred when mobile phones started pricing unlimited usage per period instead of fixed or cost per minute. Once usage limits were removed, use cases exploded and the promise of a truly mobile computer was finally realized.

Makers of all stripes learned that lesson: From razors to video streaming to accounting software, pricing models have emerged that focus on time periods instead of units.

But contrary to popular belief, subscription pricing doesn’t work because of the lower price point that a monthly installment allows. It’s effective because a subscription reorients each customer’s mind from product function to value proposition.

I don’t care what kind of German engineering went into my razor blades, as long as I have working blades when I need them.

As an entrepreneur, you probably use at least one digital subscription service to build your own product and company, if not several. In fact, just to get to the MVP of my new project, I subscribed to AWS, MailChimp, Zapier and Bubble. I’m still on the free tier of a few more services for some lower-priority features. There’s a few more I quit or never tried.

Thus, you know that value prop plays a big part of whether the customer will pay and stay. So reinforcing your value proposition should play a big part in every level of your customer funnel.

You must catch and track customers to be effective

A subscription-pricing model without an ability to track the steps in the conversion funnel will result in all the headaches of subscription pricing without any of the benefits.

#b2b, #column, #ec-entrepreneurship, #ecommerce, #entrepreneur, #marketing, #saas, #startups

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Magdrive secures Seed funding for new propulsion system which could take us to the stars

A startup with a new type of spacecraft propulsion system could make the interplanetary travel seen in Star Trek a reality. Magdrive has just closed a £1.4M seed round led by Founders Fund, an early investor in SpaceX, backed by Luminous Ventures, 7percent Ventures, and Entrepreneur First.

Magdrive is developing a next generation of spacecraft propulsion for small satellites. The startup says its engine’s thrust and efficiency are a “generational leap” ahead of any other electrical thrusters, opening up the space industry to completely new types of missions that were not possible before, without resorting to much larger, expensive and heavier chemical thrusters. It says its engine would make fast and affordable interplanetary space travel possible, as well as operations in Very Low Earth orbit. The engine would also make orbital manufacturing far more possible than previously.

Existing electrical solutions are very efficient but have very low thrust. Chemical thrusters have high thrust but lack efficiency and are hazardous and expensive to handle. Magdrive says its engine can deliver both high thrust and high efficiency in one system.

Magdrive prototype render

Magdrive prototype render

If it works, the Magdrive engine could make spacecraft go faster for longer. This could open up the industry to new space missions, such as a satellite (or X-wing fighter?) that can make multiple, fast maneuvers, without worrying about conserving fuel. In order to do this right now, satellites require a chemical thruster, which requires a significant payload in fuel for launch. A 200kg satellite would require 50kg of hydrazine fuel, which would cost £1,350,000 in launch mass alone.

Co-founder (and Star Trek fan) Dr Thomas Clayson did a PhD in plasma physics, working on advanced electromagnetic fields. He realized this could be a cornerstone for developing a plasma thruster that could achieve the accelerations required for interplanetary space travel. After meeting Mark Stokes, a mechanical engineer at Imperial College London with similar dreams of space travel, they decided to build a small scale thruster for satellites.

But Magdrive is not alone. Other companies are developing so-called ‘Hall Effect Thrusters’, which is a technology that has existed since the 1960’s. Much of the development is towards miniaturization and mass reduction, but thrust and efficiency remain the same. These companies include Busek, Exotrail, Apollo Fusion, Enpusion, Nanoavionics. Meanwhile, large international companies with huge technology portfolios are working on improving chemical propulsion and making it non-toxic to handle, such as Aerojet Rocketdyne and Moog ISP.

They plan to scale up our technology to power larger manned spacecraft (once in orbit) to long-distance destinations such as the Moon and Mars. Our system would present a much more affordable than a chemical or nuclear solution, due to the huge reduction in fuel costs, and because it is reusable.

Andrew J Scott, Founding Partner, 7percent Ventures: “At 7percent we seek founding teams with ‘moonshot’ ambitions. With Magdrive this is not just a metaphor: their revolutionary plasma thruster will soon be powering satellites, but in the future could take us to deep space. While the UK’s expertise in constructing satellites is world-renowned, there has been far less focus on propulsion. In fact, Great Britain is the only country to have successfully developed and then, in the 1970’s abandoned, an indigenous satellite launch capability, which undoubtedly curbed the UK’s space sector. So we’re excited to be backing Magdrive, one of a new generation of British space startups, which has the vision and ambition to become a world-beating company in this burgeoning sector.”

The satellite industry is worth $5 Billion in 2020, predicted to grow to USD$30Billion by 2030, due to the rise in mega-constellations. Some 5,000 satellites are due to be launched in the next two years and 75% of all the companies launching these satellites have already flown something in space.

Magdrive is at the European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre in Harwell, Oxford.

#aerojet-rocketdyne, #apollo-fusion, #busek, #co-founder, #emerging-technologies, #entrepreneur, #europe, #founders-fund, #imperial-college-london, #ion-engines, #isp, #luminous-ventures, #moog, #outer-space, #oxford, #space-travel, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #united-kingdom

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Cosmos Video – a ‘Club Penguin for adults’ to socialise and work – raises $2.6M from LocalGlobe

All over the world startups are piling into the space marked “virtual interaction and collaboration”. What if a startup created a sort of ‘Club Penguin for adults’?

Step forward Cosmos Video, which has a virtual venues platform that allows people to work, hang out and socialize together. It has now raised $2.6m in seed funding LocalGlobe with participation from Entrepreneur First, Andy Chung and Phillip Moehring (AngelList), and Omid Ashtari (former President of Citymapper).

Founders Rahul Goyal and Karan Baweja previously led product teams at Citymapper and TransferWise respectively.

Cosmos allows users to create virtual venues by combining game mechanics with video chat. The idea is to bring back the kinds of serendipitous interactions we used to have in the real world. You choose an avatar, then meet up with their colleagues or friends inside a browser-based game. As you move your avatars closer to one another person you can video chat with them, as you might in real life.

The competition is the incumbent video conferencing platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, but calls on these platforms have a set agenda, and are timeboxed – they’re rigid and repetitive. On Cosmos you sit on the screen and consume one video call after another as you move around the space, so it is mimicking serendipity, after a fashion.

As well as having a social application, office colleagues can work collaboratively on tools such as whiteboards, Google documents and Figma; play virtual board games or gather around a table to chat.

Cosmos is currently being used in private beta by a select group of companies to host their offices and for social events such as Christmas parties. Others are using it to host events, meetup groups and family gatherings.

Co-founder Rahul Goyal said in a statement: “Once the pandemic hit, we both saw productivity surge in our respective teams but at the same time, people were missing the in-office culture. Video conferencing platforms provide a great service when it comes to meetings, but they lack spontaneity. Cosmos is a way to bring back that human connection we lack when we spend all day online, by providing a virtual world where you can play a game of trivia or pong after work with colleagues or gather round a table to celebrate a friend’s birthday.”

George Henry, partner, LocalGlobe: “We were really impressed with the vision and potential of Cosmos. Scaling live experiences online is one of the big internet frontiers where there are still so many opportunities. Now that the video infrastructure is in place, we believe products like Cosmos will enable new forms of live online experiences.”

#angellist, #christmas, #citymapper, #club-penguin, #co-founder, #computing, #entrepreneur, #europe, #google, #groupware, #internet-culture, #microsoft, #president, #tc, #telecommunications, #teleconferencing, #video, #video-conferencing, #virtual-reality, #virtual-world

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Nigeria’s Autochek raises $3.4M for car sales and service platform

Nigeria based startup Autochek looks to bring the sales and servicing of cars in Africa online. The newly founded venture has closed a $3.4 million seed-round co-led by TLcom Capital and 4DX ventures toward that aim.

The raise comes fresh off of Autochek’s September acquisition of digital car sales marketplace Cheki in Nigeria and Ghana. It also follows the recent departure of Autochek CEO Etop Ikpe from Cars45 — the startup he co-founded in 2016, now owned by Amsterdam based OLX Group.

That’s a lot of news in a short-time for Ikpe. His new company will likely be in direct competition with his previous venture (also located in Nigeria). Still, the Nigerian entrepreneur — who built his early tech credentials at e-commerce startups DealDey and Konga — says Autochek is a new model.

“It’s different in the type of technology we’re building and that it’s asset light. I don’t have any inventory. I don’t buy cars. I don’t transact any [physical] cars. I don’t own any inspection locations. I don’t own any dealerships,” Ikpe told TechCrunch on a call from Lagos.

Autochek’s model, according to its CEO, is aimed at creating the digital infrastructure for a new system to better coordinate sales, servicing, and vehicle records of the car market in Nigeria and broader Africa.

Autochek CEO Etop Ikpe, Image Credit: Autochek

Ikpe characterizes that market as still largely informal and fragmented. “We’re basically focused on technology solutions to build the rails of [Africa’s] automotive sector to run on. We’re focusing on three foundations of the market: transactions and trading, maintenance, and financing,” he said.

Autochek’s platform — managed by a developer team in Lagos and Nairobi — is a network for consumers and businesses to buy cars, sell cars, service cars, and finance cars sales.

On the financing side, the startup launched with 10 bank partnerships in Nigeria and two in Ghana, according to Ikpe. Creating more financing options is both a big opportunity for the startup and consumers, he explained. “The used car market in Africa is a $45 billion a year market that has only a 5% financing penetration rate…so there’s huge upside for growth.”

Image Credit: Autochek

Across its core product offerings, Autochek has created a network of partners and standards. The company generates revenues through fees charged on consumer transactions and commissions paid by dealers and service shops on the platform. Consumers can sign up and use the Autochek app for free.

On the sudden departure from his previous startup, Cars45, “I left because I wanted to build something else,” explained Ikpe. There’s been plenty of speculation in local tech press as to what happened, including reports of forced exits by investors. Ikpe declined to get into the details except to say, “I’ve resigned. I’ve moved on and I’m focused on doing what I’m doing right now.”

In addition to its operations in Nigeria — Africa’s most populous nation, largest economy and top VC destination — Autochek plans to use its seed-financing to expand services and geographic scope. The startup will add associated auto related services, such as insurance and blue book pricing products. Autochek is also eying possible entry in new countries such as Ivory Coast, Senegal, South Africa, Kenya, Egypt and Algeria. More M&A could also be in play. “Acquisitions are going to be a core part of our expansion strategy,” said Ikpe.

TLcom Capital Partner Andreata Muforo confirmed the fund’s co-lead on the $3.4 million seed round. Speaking to TechCrunch on a call from Nairobi, she named Autochek’s asset light model, Ikpe’s repeat founder status, and the fund’s view of auto sales and service as an underserved market in Africa as reasons for backing the venture. Golden Palm Investments, Lateral Capital, MSA Capital, and Kepple Africa Ventures also joined the investment round.

While fintech gains the majority of VC financing across Africa’s top tech hubs — such as Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa — mobility related startups operating on the continent have attracted notable support. Drone delivery venture Zipline and trucking logistics company Kobo360 have both received backing from Goldman Sachs. In 2019, FlexClub, a South African startup that matches investors and drivers to cars for ride-hailing services, used a $1.3 million round to expand to Mexico in partnership with Uber.

#africa, #berlin, #cars45, #ceo, #entrepreneur, #entrepreneurship, #ghana, #goldman-sachs, #kenya, #kobo360, #lagos, #mexico, #nairobi, #nigeria, #private-equity, #south-africa, #startup-company, #tc, #tlcom-capital, #uber

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MG Siegler talks portfolio management and fundraising 6 months into the COVID-19 pandemic

This week, GV General Partner (and TechCrunch alum) MG Siegler joined us on Extra Crunch Live for a far-ranging chat about what it takes to foster a good relationship between investor and startup, how portfolio management and investing has changed as the COVID-19 crisis drags on, and what Siegler expects will and won’t stick around in terms of changes in behavior in investment and entrepreneurship once the pandemic passes.

We last caught up with Siegler on the heels of his investment in Universe, a mobile-focused, e-commerce business-building startup. The coronavirus pandemic was relatively new and no one was sure how long it would last or what measures to contain it would look like. Now, with a few months of experience under his belt, Siegler told me that things have relatively settled into a new normal from his perspective as an investor – sometimes for worse, sometimes for better, but mostly just resulting in differences that require adaptation.

This select transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Aside from section headers, all text below is taken from MG Siegler’s responses to my questions.

Business impacts of coping with the pandemic six months on

Just talking about the business side of the equation, I do think that things have sort of stabilized in the day-to-day world here. For us, certainly, I think it’s it’s just as much of a factor though, of just learning how to operate in this in this weird and surreal environment, and knowing how to do remote meetings better. Knowing how to hop on quick Zoom calls, Hangouts, and phone calls, with portfolio companies, to help put out fires, and doing all board meetings remotely, and all that sort of stuff.

That seems like it’s pretty straightforward on paper, but in day-to-day operations, these are all different little learning things that you have to do and come across. I do feel like things are operating in a pretty streamlined manner, or as much as they can be at this point. But, you know, there’s always going to be some more wildcards – like we’re a week away, today, from from the US election.

#chair, #entrepreneur, #extra-crunch-live, #forward, #startups, #tc, #united-states, #venture-capital, #video-conferencing

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SoftBank’s $100 million diversity and inclusion fund makes its first bet … in health Vitable Health

SoftBank’s Opportunity Growth Fund has made the health insurance startup Vitable Health the first commitment from its $100 million fund dedicated to investing in startups founded by entrepreneurs of color.

The Philadelphia-based company, which recently launched from Y Combinator, is focused on bringing basic health insurance to underserved and low-income communities.

Founded by Joseph Kitonga, a 23 year-old entrepreneur whose parents immigrated to the U.S. a decade ago, Vitable provides affordable acute healthcare coverage to underinsured or un-insured populations and was born out of Kitonga’s experience watching employees of his parents’ home healthcare agency struggle to receive basic coverage.

The $1.5 million commitment was led by the SoftBank Group Corp Opportunity Fund, and included Y Combinator, DNA Capital, Commerce Ventures, MSA Capital, Coughdrop Capital, and angels like Immad Akhund, the chief executive of Mercury Bank; and Allison Pickens, the former chief operating officer of Gainsight, the company said in a blog post.

“Good healthcare is a basic right that every American deserves, whoever they are,” said Paul Judge, the Atlanta-based Early Stage Investing Lead for the fund and the founder of Atlanta’s TechSquare Labs investment fund. “We’ve been inspired by Joseph and his approach to addressing this challenge. Vitable Health is bridging critical gaps in patient care and has emerged as a necessary, essential service for all whether they’re uninsured, underinsured, or simply need a better plan for their lifestyle.”

SoftBank created the opportunity fund while cities around the U.S. were witnessing a wave of public protests against systemic racism and police brutality stemming from the murder of the Black Minneapolis citizen George Floyd at the hands of white police officers.  Floyd’s murder reignited simmering tensions between citizens and police in cities around the country over issues including police brutality, the militarization of civil authorities, and racial profiling.

SoftBank has had its own problems with racism in its portfolio this year. A few months before the firm launched its fund, the CEO and founder of one of its portfolio companies, Banjo, resigned after it was revealed that he once had ties to the KKK.

With the Opportunity Fund, SoftBank is trying to address some of its issues, and notably, will not take a traditional management fee for transactions out of the fund “but instead will seek to put as much capital as possible into the hands of founders and entrepreneurs of color.”

The Opportunity Fund is the third investment vehicle announced by SoftBank in the last several years. The biggest of them all is the $100 billion Vision Fund; then last year it announced the $2 billion Innovation Fund focused on Latin America.

#atlanta, #ceo, #chief-operating-officer, #commerce-ventures, #companies, #entrepreneur, #founder, #gainsight, #george-floyd, #healthcare, #investment-fund, #joseph-kitonga, #latin-america, #minneapolis, #paul, #philadelphia, #softbank-group, #tc, #united-states, #vision-fund, #vitable-health, #vodafone, #y-combinator

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HBO is making a limited series about Elon Musk and the founding of SpaceX

HBO is in the process of developing a six-episode limited series about the founding days of SpaceX and Elon Musk, Variety reports. The show will be based on Ashlee Vance’s biography of the Tesla CEO and SpaceX founder, but billionaire entrepreneur himself is not directly involved in the project according to the report.

The limited series will focus on Musk’s recruitment of a small team of engineers, and their development of the first SpaceX rocket, following its construction and launch. The series will be executive produced by Channing Tatum and his production company, as well as Doug Jung, and it will be written by Jung who previously wrote a number of sci-fi films including Star Trek Beyond, as well as Netflix series Mindhunter.

This depiction of SpaceX and Musk should be an interesting one, as it’ll be one of the first times the eccentric billionaire founder has been portrayed in a work of biographical fiction. Musk’s founding of SpaceX is also great fodder, given that it involved approaching Russian space companies to potentially buy a rocket ready-made, before deciding that was too expensive and opting instead to build their own. If you’re curious, you can also check out Kimbal Musk’s Blogspot detailing some of the process of SpaceX and its early days creating its original launch vehicles.

#aerospace, #elon-musk, #entrepreneur, #hbo, #hyperloop, #industries, #kimbal-musk, #space, #spacex, #tc, #tesla

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John McAfee arrested after DOJ indicts crypto millionaire for tax evasion

Cybersecurity entrepreneur and crypto personality John McAfee’s wild ride could be coming to an end after he was arrested in Spain today, now facing extradition to the US over charges spanning tax evasion and fraud.

The SEC accuses McAfee of being paid more than $23.1 million worth of cryptocurrency assets for promoting a number of ICO token sales without disclosing that he was being paid to do so. Furthermore the DOJ has levied a number of counts of tax evasion against McAfee, saying that he “willfully attempted to evade” payment of income taxes owed to the federal government.

In a brief announcing the arrest and unsealing of indictment documents, the DOJ also details that the charges are confined to McAfee the individual and that they did not find any connection with the “anti-virus company bearing his name.”

The DOJ’s charges against McAfee are a bit dry but detail 10 counts against the entrepreneur. McAfee faced 5 counts of tax evasion, which each carry a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison, as well as 5 counts of “willful failure to file a tax return,” each carrying a maximum penalty of 1 year in prison.

The SEC filing is a much more interesting read, with 55 pages detailing a lengthy investigation into McAfee’s alleged fraudulent activity promoting a number of ICOs throughout 2017 and 2018. The report specifically notes that McAfee allegedly received more than $11.6 million worth of BTC and ETH tokens worth for promoting seven ICOs. Unfortunately, those offerings were not named in the suit. He additionally received $11.5 million worth of the promoted tokens, the suit alleges.

We have reached out to John McAfee for comment.

#articles, #cryptocurrency, #cryptography, #doj, #entrepreneur, #federal-government, #initial-coin-offering, #john-mcafee, #mcafee, #spain, #tax-evasion, #tc, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #united-states

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