US spending money to spur domestic battery production

Image of blue cylinders on a track that passes beneath industrial equipment.

Enlarge / Batteries roll through an automated assembly line. (credit: xPACIFICA/Getty Images)

On Monday, the US Department of Energy announced that it was releasing over $3 billion in funds to stimulate the production of batteries within the country. The funding is divided into two chunks, one intended to spur the processing of battery materials and manufacturing demos and the second for stimulating the reuse and recycling of electric vehicle batteries.

Shortly after taking office, President Joe Biden’s administration started a review of the lithium battery industry in the US. The result was a “National Blueprint” that set out a series of priorities for stimulating domestic production and use.

These include:

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#batteries, #battery-manufacturing, #doe, #funding, #green-energy, #policy, #science

Axie Infinity raises $150M to help reimburse hacked user funds

New funds to replace Sky Mavis' hacked funds are... in the cards.

Enlarge / New funds to replace Sky Mavis’ hacked funds are… in the cards.

Sky Mavis, the developer of non-fungible token-based game Axie Infinity, announced Wednesday that it has raised an additional $150 million in venture funding. The company says the money “will be used to reimburse user funds affected by the Ronin Validator Hack,” which purged over $625 million worth of crypto from the Axie Infinity ecosystem last month.

The new funding round is being led by major crypto exchange Binance, which has also stepped in to provide Ethereum withdrawals and deposits to Axie Infinity players for the time being. The “bridge” between Axie Infinity‘s Ronin sidechain and the decentralized Ethereum blockchain remains closed, however, pending “a security upgrade and several audits, which can take several weeks,” Sky Mavis wrote.

Beyond the $150 million cash infusion, Sky Mavis said it will use “Sky Mavis and Axie balance sheet funds [to] ensure that all users are reimbursed.” The remaining $475 million needed to make the marketplace whole could be a significant drag for Sky Mavis, which raised $152 million last October in a deal that valued the company at nearly $3 billion.

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#axie-infinity, #funding, #gaming-culture, #hack, #sky-mavis

Rippling launches computer inventory management as more workers remain remote

Rippling, a startup building a platform to manage all aspects of employee data, from payroll and benefits through to device management, launched Rippling Inventory Management, what founder and CEO Parker Conrad is touting as the “world’s first cloud IT closet.”

The dashboard enables businesses to automatically store, ship and retrieve employee computers in a way that is remote and hands-free. Rippling stores and monitors company devices so they no longer need an “IT closet” on-site or utilize an employee’s home. Rippling also manages the logistics related to the devices, including wiping and assigning devices and issuing prepaid mailers for machines that need to be returned.

Customers pay a per employee, per month fee to use the dashboard to hire, or fire employees, and set up all of the apps (and access) that the employee will need on their computer. In addition, the user can see all of the outstanding shipments and where they are in the process of being delivered or returned.

The product launch is buoyed by a massive $145 million Series B round in 2020 that gave the company a valuation of $1.35 billion.

Rippling inventory management gif. Image Credits: Rippling

The inventory management platform stems from a problem Rippling saw as remote work became more prevalent over the past 18 months, Conrad told TechCrunch. The company itself used to have an IT closet, which he considers “the last physical part about managing employees.”

“What this does is kill the IT closet,” he added. “If you don’t work in an office and decide to leave, some companies don’t have a process on how to get the former employee’s device back. We had a situation ourselves where employees would ship computers back to one person, and she had them stacked up in her apartment.”

The leadership team spent a long time looking for an inventory management service, and also saw customers posting about it on social media. However, Conrad considers this a problem that didn’t really exist until March 2020.

He explained that with the exception of a few outlier companies, most were not remote and physically handed a computer to new employees or gathered them from the desk of someone who left. Once they were remote, it was difficult to keep track of who had which device and how to get them back if needed.

“Everyone can be done online now, and you don’t have to come into the office to sign paperwork,” Conrad said. “This is the last piece that companies need and works to solve the last-mile problem.”

 

#enterprise, #funding, #hiring, #it, #logistics, #mobile-device-management, #parker-conrad, #personnel, #rippling, #saas, #social-media, #startups, #tc, #telecommuting

Just raises $8M in its effort to beat Root at the car insurance game

Just Insure, a pay-per-mile insurance technology company, has raised $8 million in a funding round. 

CrossCut Ventures, ManchesterStory and Western Technology Investments co-led the investment, which brings its total raised to $15.3 million since its January 2019 inception.

Los Angeles-based Just says it uses telematics “to reward safe drivers and reduce insurer bias” by looking at factors such as how, when and where customers drive, rather than factors such as ZIP code or marital status as most traditional insurers do. Or put more simply, it charges customers only for miles driven and its rates vary based on driving behavior. This way, Just says it’s able to offer lower rates for “safer drivers,” and it claims to save its customers around 40% from their “previous auto insurance company.” For now, it’s only available in Arizona, although the company plans to expand to other markets such as Texas, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Georgia.

Image Credits: Just Insure

Of course, Just is not the first company to offer personalized auto insurance. There’s Metromile, which launched its personalized pay-per-mile auto insurance in 2012. And there’s also Root Insurance, an Ohio-based car insurance startup that uses smartphone technology to understand individual driver behavior. Although there are similarities between Root and Just, there are also distinct differences, according to founder and CEO Robert Smithson.

Root charges customers a monthly fee, and when policies are renewed, the rate is subject to change based on driving behavior. Just has a similar model. If its drivers exhibits safe driving behavior, their rates can fall. On the other hand, if they exhibit dangerous behavior, their rates can rise. But unlike Root, Smithson said, Just only charges its “liability only” customers for miles driven. There is no monthly fee. For “full cover” customers, Just also includes a “small daily charge” to reflect the risk that someone could steal their car. For its part, MetroMile charges customers a base rate plus a per mile rate. Neither rate are affected by how a person drives, notes Smithson.

“The [Just] per mile price that a customer gets can change every month. This means we’re able to rapidly reward safe drivers with lower rates, and to increase them for those who drive less well,” Smithson said. “This rapid feedback loop encourages people to make smarter driving decisions. And it means that our customers have fewer accidents, and we do better. ”

In 2020, Root had a direct loss ratio of 82%. Just’s direct loss ratio is 65.8% year to date so far. But of course, it has far fewer customers and is only serving one market. Still, the company says that it has already achieved underwriting profitability in terms of what portion of premium to it pays out in claims.

Also, with so many people shifting to working from home over the last year, Just says it has seen increased demand this year. It issued over 1,000 new policies in the second quarter, up “tenfold” compared to the same period in 2020. The startup said during that same time, its revenue climbed 1,400% compared to the second quarter of 2020

“People are simply driving less as a result of increased work-from-home rates, and this isn’t changing anytime soon,” Smithson said. “Our approach enables us to offer customers rates that are truly reflective of their driving.”

The company likens its user experience to that of a prepaid phone card. Just customers can “load up” their account for $30 for minimum liability-only coverage and $75 for full coverage to start driving. The company’s insurance policy is for 30 days. So as customers drive, their balance declines. Every 30 days, the company changes each customer’s price as it gathers more data about their driving habits.

It’s an approach that Matt Kinley, co-founder and managing partner at ManchesterStory, had never before seen.

“It is more fair, affordable and customized across the board, and unique because the company offers customers rates that are actually reflective of their driving, which rewards safe drivers with lower insurance premiums,” he said.

The company plans to use its new capital in part to do some hiring — it currently has a staff of 35 — and scale its product offering. It is also planning to launch beyond Arizona into neighboring states. In particular, Smithson said the startup is “keen” to launch in Texas.

#apps, #crosscut-ventures, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #insurance-technology, #insurtech, #just, #los-angeles, #manchesterstory, #recent-funding, #startup, #startups, #transportation, #venture-capital, #western-technology-investments

Niio announces $15M Series A following strategic partnership with Samsung Displays

Niio, a Tel Aviv-based digital art platform featuring work ranging from contemporary artists and galleries through to NFTs, announced today it has closed $15 million Series A funding in the wake of a strategic partnership with Samsung Displays, announced last week.

The round was co-led by L Catterton, a joint venture between LVMH and Catterton, Entrée Capital and Pico Venture Partners. Additional investors also joined, including Saga VC, as well as leading artists, art collectors, museums, gallerists and trustees at institutions such as MOMA and Guggenheim as well as Shalom McKenzie, an online gambling entrepreneur and investor who also invests in NFTs. Prior to the Series A round, Niio had raised $8 million, initially from strategic angels, followed by a seed round from institutions in 2017.

Niio will use its capital to grow its artist community and scale its app-enabled subscription and purchase platform, which is blockchainbased and will include a trading-enabled marketplace for NFTs and other digital art assets.

“Digital art has become an accepted, mainstream medium with the market accelerating largely due to the explosive growth of NFTs,” said Niio CEO and co-founder Rob Anders. “The transformation people are experiencing is the most significant and consequential moment for culture in decades, making new kinds of art accessible and experienced on screens in ways like never before.”

Niio’s technology enables users to stream digital artwork on any digital screen, bridging the gap between art and creating a platform similar to what music and entertainment streaming services have done for albums and movies.

Niio, founded by Rob Anders and Oren Moshe in 2014, combines an accessible streaming subscription service alongside the ability for people to purchase editioned NFT artwork directly from artists, galleries and content owners, through its public marketplace or via private transactions, Anders told TechCrunch.

Niio is launching its subscription service at the end of 2021 followed by its NFT marketplace — which makes Niio, backed by a global community of art professionals, the most comprehensive end-to-end solution for the digital art medium and ensuring that premium digital art is easily accessible by anyone on any screen, Anders continued.

By providing Niio’s tools to a global community of 6,000 galleries, institutions and artists, Niio’s platform and blockchain enables artists to distribute, manage, monetize and preserve their work.

Niio claims it will be free for all artists, forever, to respect and support the creative community and artists’ ability for publishing, managing and protecting their life’s work.

“We have realized our vision for a platform that first and foremost empowers artists and enables their work to be experienced digitally and available globally. We are gratified by the trust that more than 6,000 artists have placed in us — as we enable them to publish, manage protect and monetize their life’s work,” Niio co-founder Oren Moshe said.

Approximately 10,000 global business customers have been using the Niio platform for the past two to three years, Anders said. Clients range from art professionals, including galleries, museums, studios and art schools, to luxury brands, hotel chains and real estate developers, who subscribe and display curated art streams from the 15,000 premium works available on the platform, to millions of people across public spaces and places in over 30 countries, Anders said.

“There are over 1 billion smart TVs in the market and our partner Samsung has 30-40% of the market contributing to our ability to offer a ‘last mile’ proposition,” Anders said.

The digital art market is projected to be approximately $50 – $100 billion by 2025, according to Anders.

“Digital art has long been on our radar at L Catterton. We are very bullish on its future, and our ongoing evaluation of the sector brought us to Niio,” said Michael Farello, managing partner at L Catterton’s Growth Fund. “We are convinced that their platform approach including both subscription and an NFT offering combined with the reputation they have built in the critical artist community and the validation from their partnership with Samsung – will make them a market leader.”

#digital-art, #funding, #l-catterton, #nfts, #niio, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #virtual-reality

NEX raises $25M, launches Active Arcade to get people moving

There is a physical activity deficit in our world. Three fourths of adults say staying in shape is very important for health benefits. Yet, one in four adults and 81% of adolescents are insufficiently physically active, according to the World Health Organization. Even before COVID-19, less than 24% of children 6 to 17 years of age did 60 minutes of physical activity daily, as per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Working from home and staying at home during the pandemic exacerbated being physical inactivity. Most people opt for sedentary entertainment that involves minimal movement like watching movies or streaming live concerts, playing video games and throwing virtual parties.

To solve the global problem of inactivity by creating new ways to encourage active play for everyone, NEX, a San Jose and Hong Kong-based motion entertainment startup, is building motion entertainment – content that encourages physical movement. It is now announcing a $25 million Series B round to coincide with launch of Active Arcade, its new mobile AI interactive motion-tracking game.

The new funding was led by Blue Pool Capital, with participation from Samsung Ventures, SparkLabs and Susquehanna. This round also attracted influencers in sports, entertainment industries and business executives including Simu Liu (Shang-Chi), Albert Pujols (LA Dodgers), Thierry Henry (Arsenal Legend), Sabrina Ionescu (WNBA), tech CEOs and founders from YouTube, Dapper Labs, Alchemy, OpenDoor, WordPress and executives from Zendesk, Uber, MasterClass and Facebook.

This latest round comes after NEX raised an $8.5 million Series A in 2019 from the NBA, Will Smith’s Dreamers Fund, and the Alibaba Entrepreneurship Fund. It also previously raised a $4 million seed round from Charmides Capital, Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment Ventures and Mandra Capital, Steve Nash, Jeremy Lin and Mark Cuban in 2018. Many other leaders in sports, media and technology have also baked NEX.

The Series B round brings NEX’s total raised so far to $40 million.

NEX was founded in 2018 by David Lee, Philip Lam and Reggie Chan, with a mission to transform passive activity into active play through apps like Active Arcade. Its first app, HomeCourt, has been played in more than 200 countries.

“A pandemic drew even more attention to the already huge and growing problem of more sedentary lifestyles across the world,” said Dave Lee, CEO and co-founder of NEX. “Having fun while moving is one of the purest definitions of play. But unlike the old days, the standard of engagement for active play must be on par with the best video games. It was apparent to us that accessible motion-based entertainment was the answer to a global need for more physical activity.”

Some people say that they don’t have enough time for physical activity, but the real problem is the idea that leisure time is supposed to be spent doing things that are fun and easy while getting active is perceived as expensive, time consuming and hard.

NEX’s newly launched Active Arcade, with a collection of motion games, helps both kids and adults move more by playing games. It is accessible to everyone, everywhere by any computing device with a camera, like smartphone, tablets, laptops and desktops.

Unlike other motion-based entertainment companies’ products that require expensive gear like a VR headset, connected hardware or game consoles, NEX develops motion-based entertainment apps without requiring special equipment, monitors, or a subscription.

Anyone can play Active Arcade using their body movement. Each game has different game play, style and depth, so there’s something for players of any age or level of activity.

“There are many high-tech exercise programs global companies developed in the motion-based entertainment industry, but most of them require expensive new equipment or a steep learning curve,” said Alex Wu, vice president of Strategy, MarComm and Partnerships at NEX.

With a proprietary combination of AI using mobile and vision technology, NEX merges the digital and physical worlds into a phone application that can create games like Active Arcade.

This summer, the company launched its limited test version of Active Arcade, Lee said.

NEX launched its first AI-based basketball training app HomeCourt in 2018, which was demoed on stage alongside Steve Nash at an Apple iPhone special event.

“I am constantly looking to invest in companies and products that I can stand behind and that are in line with my values. Nex’s approach to get kids and adults moving more and transforming activity into a play, is a mission I am wholeheartedly behind,” Steve Nash, Brooklyn Nets Coach and 2x league MVP said.

“We continue to be proud of the team at NEX as they take this significant next step in transforming activity into play for people around the world,” said Chip Austin, General Partner of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment Ventures. “We embrace their important vision and are impressed by their leadership and technology.”

#asia, #california, #david-lee, #funding, #gaming, #hong-kong, #nex, #recent-funding, #sports, #startups, #tc

Business Canvas, a Korea-based document management SaaS company, closes $2.5M seed round

Business Canvas, a South Korean document management SaaS company behind Typed, announced today it has raised a $2.5 million seed round led by Mirae Asset Venture Investment, with participation from Kakao Ventures and Nextrans Inc.

The seed round will be used for accelerating product development and global launch of open beta for its AI-powered document management platform. The company opened an office in Santa Clara, California this year to spur its global expansion.

People are bombarded with information thanks to advances in technology that opens the doors to a wealth of information, but at the same time, too much information and a huge amount of data at one time leave the users confused and/or unable to make timely decisions.

Business Canvas, founded in July 2020 by CEO Woojin Kim, Brian Shin, Seungmin Lee, Dongjoon Shin and Clint Yoo, is hoping to solve the challenge that every knowledge worker and writer faces: spending more time on research and file organization than the actual content output they need to create.

“In fact, people commit over 30% of their working hours trying to search for that file we once saved in a folder that we just cannot find anymore,” Business Canvas CEO and co-founder Kim said.

Through a network that intelligently tracks and organizes files based on the user’s interactions, Typed brings all the knowledge from different websites and applications into one simple-to-use and quick-to-learn digital workspace.

Strictly keeping its users’ information and their confidential files uninterrupted, Typed does not access the content of users’ documents but utilize them as machine learning data in order to protect their information and data, Kim told TechCrunch. It simply collects users’ action driven data point and publicly available metadata of documents and resources under users’ permission, Kim added.

“Modern document writing has not changed since the 1980s,” Business Canvas co-founder Clint Yoo said. “While we have more knowledge at our fingertips than ever before, we use the same rudimentary methods to organize and make sense of it. We want any writer – from lawyers and entrepreneurs to researchers and students – to focus on creating great content instead of wasting time organizing their source material. We achieved this by making knowledge management more like the way our brain operates.”

Since the launch of the closed beta test in February 2021, Typed saw significant user growth including more than 10,000 users on the waitlist, with 25,000 files uploaded and 350% month-over-month active user growth, the company said in its statement. Typed will be available through a freemium model and is currently accepting beta registrations on its website.

“When we’ve tested our closed beta, our metrics show top traction among students as well as journalists, writers and lawyers, who require heavy research and document work on a frequent basis. We opened up access earlier this month for the waitlists in over 50 countries. These are primarily B2C users,” Kim told TechCrunch. “As for B2B, we are currently in the process of proof-of-concept (POC) for one of the largest conglomerates in South Korea. Smaller teams like startups, boutique law, consulting firms, venture capitals and government institutions also have been adopting Typed as well.”

“While the company is still in its nascent stage in its development, Typed has the potential to fundamentally change how we work individually or as a team. If there is a business to take on our outdated way of writing content, it’s them [Typed],” Shina Chung, Kakao Ventures CEO said.

The global market size for social software and collaboration SaaS is estimated at $4.5 billion in 2021, increasing over 17% year on year, Kim said.

#artificial-intelligence, #asia, #funding, #fundings-exits, #machine-learning, #saas, #social-software, #south-korea, #tc

Bilt Rewards banks $60M growth on a $350M valuation to advance credit card benefits for renters

Bilt Rewards, a loyalty program for property renters to earn points on rent with no fees and build a path toward homeownership, announced Tuesday a round of $60 million in growth funding that values the company at $350 million.

The investment comes from Wells Fargo and Mastercard and a group of the nation’s largest real estate owners, including The Blackstone Group, AvalonBay Communities, Douglas Elliman, Equity Residential, GID-Windsor Communities, LENx, The Moinian Group, Morgan Properties, Starwood Capital Group and Related.

Bilt launched back in June out of Kairos, the startup studio led by Ankur Jain, focused on enabling over 109 million renters in the U.S. to earn points from paying their rent every month — typically someone’s largest monthly expense. Since then, the program was rolled out across over 2 million rental units, Jain told TechCrunch.

“We are the first and only alliance of the major property owners to create this kind of program and already have 15 of the top 20 owners involved,” he added. “We are also the only co-branded card to offer points on rent.”

Greg Bates, GID president and CEO, said his company has 130 assets spread across the top 20 markets and manages 40,000 apartment units. He learned about Bilt from a colleague who attended a proptech conference where Jain demoed the Bilt card.

For as long as Bates has been in the real estate industry, about 20 years or so, renters have wanted to pay rent with a credit card for convenience and to earn loyalty points. However, that was cost-prohibitive in terms of the surcharges needed to be added to the rental rate — until Bilt, he said. The card “is incredibly easy to use” and integrates into property owners’ online payment systems.

“Bilt has transformed the value proposition for residents that want to use a credit card and for landlords that want to accept them,” Bates added. “There will always be barriers to entry for products like this, but Bilt spent time with Mastercard and Wells Fargo to develop this unique product which will be a competition differentiator for a few years to come.”

In addition to the new funding, Bilt is also announcing new benefits for its loyalty members and upgraded offerings for the Bilt Mastercard, including the ability to earn up to 50,000 points on rent per year and unlimited points using the credit card.

For members, Bilt will pay interest in the form of points for a member’s account each month based on their average daily points balance over the 30-day period, and offer a concierge service for members choosing to redeem their Bilt points toward a home down payment. In addition, members can earn bonus points on top of points used by landlords on new leases and renewals.

Bilt worked with regulators, as well as Fannie Mae and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to gain approval for using rewards points toward a mortgage. Members can also report their rent payments to the credit bureaus at no cost, which can help build credit history for millions of young renters.

Meanwhile, the company’s new “0-1-2-3” point earning structure for Bilt Mastercard holders provides no annual fee, 1x points on rent payments, 2x points on travel, 3x points on dining and 1x points on all other purchases.

This is the company’s first major external financing round and will be used to expand its real estate and loyalty partner network, grow its distribution channels and make its platform credit card more widely available to the public. Jain estimates Bilt is seeing 20% enrollment across residents.

As more renters move to homeownership over time, Bilt has plans to leverage this potential larger business to eventually become a mortgage provider for them.

“Renting is something people do for a while, and the core business has a massive scale opportunity, especially in the demographic under 35 years old, who tend to be up-and-coming professionals,” Jain added. “This is a unique target market, and Bilt will grow with them as they build their path to homeownership.”

 

#ankur-jain, #avalonbay-communities, #bilt, #credit-cards, #enterprise, #funding, #gid-windsor-communities, #greg-bates, #landlord, #loyalty-program, #mastercard, #money, #ownership, #payments, #property-technology, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #the-blackstone-group, #wells-fargo

Ellen DeGeneres, Portia de Rossi, Shaun White, Shawn Mendes get behind Shelf Engine

Shelf Engine’s mission to eliminate food waste in grocery retailers now has some additional celebrity backers. The company brought in a $2 million extension to its $41 million Series B announced in March.

Ellen DeGeneres, Portia de Rossi, Shaun White and Shawn Mendes are the new backers, who came in through a strategic round of funding alongside PLUS Capital to bring the Seattle-based company’s total funding to $60 million since the company’s inception in 2016. This includes a $12 million Series A from 2020.

Shelf Engine’s grocery order automation technology applies advanced statistical models and artificial intelligence to deliver accurate food order volume so that customers can reduce their food waste by as much as 32% while increasing gross margins and sales of more than 50%. The company has already helped retailers divert 1 million pounds of food waste from landfills, Stefan Kalb, co-founder and CEO of Shelf Engine, told TechCrunch.

“We’ve had phenomenal growth last year, some of it from our mid-market customers, but mostly from customers like Target and Kroger,” Kalb said. “Our other big news is that we hired a president (Kane McCord) in the past six weeks, which is cool to have the reinforcement on the leadership side.”

Over the past 12 months, the company, which works with retailers like Kroger, Whole Foods and Compass Group, saw over 540% revenue growth. At the same time, it grew its employees to 200 from 23, Kalb said. He expects to more than double Shelf Engine’s headcount over the next 12 months.

As a result, the new funding will be used to scale with current customers and accelerate further investment in R&D of its AI systems and automation capabilities.

Meanwhile, Amanda Groves, partner at PLUS Capital, said her firm works with about 65 individuals who are in film, television, sports and culture, including the four new investors in Shelf Engine.

She says many of her clients are looking to participate in business as an investor or with sweat equity. Her firm works with them to determine interests and will then source opportunities and invest alongside them.

Shelf Engine fits into one of PLUS Capital’s core investment areas of sustainability. The firm looks across different sectors like food, energy, apparel, packaging and recycling. Shelf Engine’s approach of leveraging technology to aid in sustainability efforts was attractive to all of the investors, as was their method of scaling within grocery clients without affecting consumer behavior.

“When Shelf Engine is installed in the grocery store, they can reduce spoilage by 10% right off the bat — that immediacy of the impact was what got our clients excited,” Groves added.

One of Shelf Engine’s first celebrity investors was Joe Montana, and Kalb said partnering with celebrities enables the company’s mission to eliminate food waste and address the climate crisis to be made more aware.

“B2B software is not as glamorous, but the climate has become a big issue and something many celebrities care about,” he added. “Shawn Mendes has over 60 million followers, so for him to share about this issue is extremely meaningful. Where he invests will lead to his followers knocking on the doors of stores and saying ‘this matters to me.’ That is the strategy shift from B2B to a movement for our community.”

The company is not alone in tackling food waste, which globally each year amounts to $1.3 trillion. For example, Apeel, OLIO, Imperfect Foods, Mori and Phood Solutions are all working to improve the food supply chain and have attracted venture dollars in the past year to go after that mission.

Shelf Engine is already in over 3,000 stores nationwide in the areas of grocery, food service and convenience stores, which “is a large lift from 18 months ago,” Kalb said. Next up, the company is progressing to open new categories and managing more projects. He is specifically looking at what the company can manage in the store and manage for the customer.

“We are getting to the point where we can manage more of the store in complex categories like meat, seafood and deli that are mainly custom,” he added.

#artificial-intelligence, #b2b-software, #compass-group, #ellen-degeneres, #enterprise, #food, #food-service, #food-supply-chain, #food-waste, #funding, #greentech, #grocery-store, #joe-montana, #kroger, #plus-capital, #portia-de-rossi, #recent-funding, #retailers, #shaun-white, #shawn-mendes, #shelf-engine, #startups, #stefan-kalb, #target, #tc, #whole-foods

EarthOptics helps farmers look deep into the soil for big data insights

Farming sustainably and efficiently has gone from a big tractor problem to a big data problem over the last few decades, and startup EarthOptics believes the next frontier of precision agriculture lies deep in the soil. Using high-tech imaging techniques, the company claims to map the physical and chemical composition of fields faster, better, and more cheaply than traditional techniques, and has raised $10M to scale its solution.

“Most of the ways we monitor soil haven’t changed in 50 years,” EarthOptics founder and CEO Lars Dyrud told TechCrunch. “There’s been a tremendous amount of progress around precision data and using modern data methods in agriculture – but a lot of that has focused on the plants and in-season activity — there’s been comparatively little investment in soil.”

While you might think it’s obvious to look deeper into the stuff the plants are growing from, the simple fact is it’s difficult to do. Aerial and satellite imagery and IoT-infused sensors for things like moisture and nitrogen have made surface-level data for fields far richer, but past the first foot or so things get tricky.

Different parts of a field may have very different levels of physical characteristics like soil compaction, which can greatly affect crop outcomes, and chemical characteristics like dissolved nutrients and the microbiome. The best way to check these things, however, involves “putting a really expensive stick in the ground,” said Dyrud. The lab results from these samples affects the decision of which parts of a field need to be tilled and fertilized.

It’s still important, so farms get it done, but having soil sampled every few acres once or twice a year adds up fast when you have 10,000 acres to keep track of. So many just till and fertilize everything for lack of data, sinking a lot of money (Dyrud estimated the U.S. does about $1B in unnecessary tilling) into processes that might have no benefit and in fact might be harmful — it can release tons of carbon that was safely sequestered underground.

EarthOptics aims to make the data collection process better essentially by minimizing the “expensive stick” part. It has built an imaging suite that relies on ground penetrating radar and electromagnetic induction to produce a deep map of the soil that’s easier, cheaper, and more precise than extrapolating acres of data from a single sample.

Machine learning is at the heart of the company’s pair of tools, GroundOwl and C-Mapper (C as in carbon). The team trained a model that reconciles the no-contact data with traditional samples taken at a much lower rate, learning to predict soil characteristics accurately at level of precision far beyond what has traditionally been possible. The imaging hardware can be mounted on ordinary tractors or trucks, and pulls in readings every few feet. Physical sampling still happens, but dozens rather than hundreds of times.

With today’s methods, you might divide your thousands of acres into 50-acre chunks: this one needs more nitrogen, this one needs tilling, this one needs this or that treatment. EarthOptics brings that down to the scale of meters, and the data can be fed directly into roboticized field machinery like a variable depth smart tiller.

Drive it along the fields and it goes only as deep as it needs to. Of course not everyone has a state of the art equipment, so the data can also be put out as a more ordinary map telling the driver in a more general sense when to till or perform other tasks.

If this approach takes off, it could mean major savings for farmers looking to tighten belts, or improved productivity per acre and dollar for those looking to scale up. And ultimately the goal is to enable automated and robotic farming as well. That transition is in an early stage as equipment and practices get hammered out, but one thing they will all need is good data.

Dyrud said he hopes to see the EarthOptics sensor suite on robotic tractors, tillers, and other farm equipment, but that their product is very much the data and the machine learning model they’ve trained up with tens of thousands of ground truth measurements.

The $10.3M A round was led by Leaps by Bayer (the conglomerate’s impact arm), with participation from S2G Ventures, FHB Ventures, Middleland Capital’s VTC Ventures and Route 66 Ventures. The plan for the money is to scale up the two existing products and get to work on the next one: moisture mapping, obviously a major consideration for any farm.

#artificial-intelligence, #food, #funding, #fundings-exits, #greentech, #recent-funding, #robotics, #startups, #tc

UK’s MarketFinance secures $383M to fuel its online loans platform for SMBs

Small and medium businesses regularly face cashflow problems. But if that’s an already-inconvenient predicament, it has been exacerbated to the breaking point for too many during the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, a UK startup called MarketFinance — which has built a loans platform to help SMBs stay afloat through those leaner times — is announcing a big funding infusion of £280 million ($383 million) as it gears up for a new wave of lending requests.

“It’s a good time to lend, at the start of the economic cycle,” CEO and founder Anil Stocker said in an interview.

The funding is coming mostly in the form of debt — money loaned to MarketFinance to in turn loan out to its customers as an approved partner of the UK government’s Recovery Loan Scheme; and £10 million ($14 million) of it is equity that MarketInvoice will be using to continue enhancing its platform.

Italian bank Intesa Sanpaolo S.p.A. and an unnamed “global investment firm” are providing the debt, while the equity portion is being led by Black River Ventures (which has also backed Marqeta, Upgrade, Coursera and Digital Ocean) with participation from existing backer, Barclays Bank PLC. Barclays is a strategic investor: MarketFinance powers the bank’s online SMB loans service. Other investors in the startup include Northzone.

We understand that the company’s valuation is somewhere in the region of under $500 million, but more than $250 million, although officially it is not disclosing any numbers.

Stocker said that MarketFinance has been profitable since 2018, one reason why it’s didn’t give up much equity in this current tranche of funding.

“We are building a sustainable business, and the equity we did raise was to unlock better debt at better prices,” he said. “It can help to post more equity on the balance sheet.” He said the money will be “going into our reserves” and used for new product development, marketing and to continue building out its API connectivity.

That last development is important: it taps into the big wave of “embedded finance” plays we are seeing today, where third parties offer, on their own platforms, loans to customers — with the loan product powered by MarketFinance, similar to what Barclays does currently. The range of companies tapping into this is potentially as vast as the internet itself. The promise of embedded finance is that any online brand that already does business with SMEs could potentially offer those SMEs loans to… do more business together.

MarketFinance began life several years ago as MarketInvoice, with its basic business model focused on providing short-term loans to a given SMB against the value of its unpaid invoices — a practice typically described as invoice finance. The idea at the time was to solve the most immediate cashflow issue faced by SMBs by leveraging the thing (unpaid invoices, which typically would eventually get paid, just not immediately) that caused the cashflow issue in the first place.

A lot of the financing that SMBs get against invoices, though, is mainly in the realm of working capital, helping companies make payroll and pay their own monthly bills. But Stocker said that over time, the startup could see a larger opportunity in providing financing that was of bigger sums and covered more ambitious business expansion goals. That was two years ago, and MarketInvoice rebranded accordingly to MarketFinance. (It still very much offers the invoice-based product.)

The timing turned out to be fortuitous, even if the reason definitely has not been lucky: Covid-19 came along and completely overturned how much of the world works. SMEs have been at the thin edge of that wedge not least because of those cashflow issues and the fact that they simply are less geared to diversification and pivoting due to shifting market forces because of their size.

This presented a big opportunity for MarketInvoice, it turned out.

Stocker said that the early part of the Covid-19 pandemic saw the bulk of loans being taken out to manage business interruptions due to Covid-19. Interruptions could mean business closures, or they could mean simply customers no longer coming as they did before, and so on. “The big theme was frictionless access to funding,” he said, using technology to better and more quickly assess applications digitally with “no meetings with bank managers” and reducing the response time to days from the typical 4-6 weeks that SMBs would have traditionally expected.

If last year was more about “panicking, shoring up or pivoting,” in Stocker’s words, “now what we’re seeing are a bunch of them struggling with supply chain issues, Brexit exacerbations and labor shortages. It’s really hard for them to manage all that.”

He said that the number of loan applications has been through the roof, so no shortage of demand. He estimates that monthly loan requests have been as high as $500 million, a huge sum for one small startup in the UK. It’s selective in what it lends: “We choose to support those we thought will return the money,” he said.

#api, #bank, #barclays, #ceo, #corporate-finance, #coursera, #digital-ocean, #economy, #embedded-finance, #europe, #finance, #funding, #invoice, #loans, #marketfinance, #marketinvoice, #marqeta, #money, #partner, #short-term-loans, #startup-company, #uk-government, #united-kingdom

Cartona gets $4.5M pre-Series A to connect retailers with suppliers in Egypt

Year-old startup Capiter announced last week that it raised a $33 million Series A to digitize Egypt’s traditional offline retail market.

It’s looking to take a large pie in the budding e-commerce and retail play, where multiple startups are pulling their weight including Cartona, also a year-old startup out of Egypt.

Today, Cartona is announcing that it has raised a $4.5 million pre-Series A funding round to connect retailers and manufacturers via an application.

The company confirmed that Dubai-based venture capital firm Global Ventures led the round, with Pan-African firm Kepple Africa, T5 Capital and angel investors also participating.

Cairo-based Cartona, founded in August 2020, focuses on solving the supply-chain and operational challenges of players in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry by helping buyers access products from sellers on a single platform.

Buyers, in this case, are retailers, while sellers are FMCG companies, distributors and wholesalers.

The problem retailers in Egypt and most of Africa face mainly revolves around limited access to suppliers. There are also issues around transparency in market prices, which are dependent on traditional logistical capabilities.

For suppliers, the lack of data and inability to make data-backed decisions to improve margins and aid growth add up to unoptimized warehouses. 

“The trade market is completely inefficient and it’s not good for the supplier nor the manufacturers, and it’s definitely not good for retailers,” CEO Mahmoud Talaat told TechCrunch in an interview. “So we came up with the idea of Cartona, which is basically a fully light-asset model that connects manufacturers and wholesalers to retailers.”

Talaat founded the company alongside Mahmoud Abdel-Fattah. Before Cartona, Abdel-Fattah founded Speakol, a MENA-focused adtech platform serving 60 million monthly users, while Talaat was the chief commercial officer of agriculture company Lamar Egypt.

Cartona works as an asset-light marketplace. On the platform, grocery retailers can get orders from a curated network of sellers. The company says this way, it can provide visibility through real-time price comparisons and clarity on delivery times.

Also, FMCGs and suppliers can optimize their go-to-market execution through the use of data and analytics. Cartona tops it off by providing embedded finance and access to credit to retailers and suppliers.

Cartona makes money through all these processes. It takes a commission on orders made, charges suppliers for running advertising to merchants (since they compete for the latter’s attention), and provides market insights on buyer behavior, price competition and market share.

“It is time to capitalize on technology beyond warehouses and trucks. Data and technology will transform traditional retail to a digitally native one, which in return will drastically improve the supply chain efficiency,” Abdel-Fattah said about how the company sells information to retailers and suppliers.

Cartona has over 30,000 merchants on its platform. Together, they have processed more than 400,000 orders with an annualized gross merchandise value of EGP 1 billion (~$64 million). Cartona also works with more than 1,000 distributors, wholesalers and 100 FMCG companies, offering consumers more than 10,000 products, including dry, fresh and frozen food.

The company’s business and revenue model is similar to other companies in this space, but the main difference lies in whether they own assets or not.

Taking a look at the players in Egypt, for instance, MaxAB operates its warehouses and fleets; Capiter uses a hybrid model in which it rents these assets and owns inventory when dealing with high-turnover products. But Cartona solely manages an asset-light model.

The CEO tells me that he thinks this model works best for all the stakeholders involved in the retail market. He argues that not owning assets and leasing the ones on the ground shows that the company is trying to improve the operations of existing suppliers and merchants instead of displacing them.

I believe that the infrastructure already exists. We already have many warehouses, many small and medium-sized entrepreneurs, and wholesalers and distributors and companies that have a lot of assets. If you want to fix the problem, we think one should enable the people who are strategically located in small streets all over Egypt and have the infrastructure but don’t have the technology needed to optimize their warehouses and carts.”

The current margins for suppliers with warehouses are slim, and Cartona provides the technology — an inventory and ordering system — to provide efficiency in its supply chain.

The general partner at lead investor Global Ventures, Basil Moftah, said in a statement that Cartona’s technology and not owning inventory proved critical in the firm’s decision to back the company.

“The trade market is one of the most sophisticated, yet [it is] characterized by multiple critical inefficiencies across the value chain,” he said.Cartona’s asset-light approach tackles those inefficiencies by optimizing the trade process in unique ways and does so with minimal capital spent.”

Proceeds of the investment focus on improving this technology, Talaat said. In addition, Cartona is expanding its team and operations beyond two cities in Egypt — Cairo and Alexandria — to other parts.

A longer-term plan might include horizontal and vertical product expansion into pharmaceuticals, electronics and fashion.

#africa, #b2b-e-commerce-retail, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #egypt, #funding, #global-ventures, #recent-funding, #retail, #startups, #supply-chain, #tc

TrueLayer nabs $130M at a $1B+ valuation as open banking rises as a viable option to card networks

Open banking — a disruptive technology that seeks to bypass the dominance of card networks and other traditional financial rails by letting banks open their systems directly to developers (and new services) by way of APIs — continues to gain ground in the world of financial services. As a mark of that traction, a startup playing a central role in open banking applications is announcing a big round of funding with a milestone valuation.

TrueLayer, which provides technology for developers to enable a range of open-banking-based services has raised $130 million in a funding round that values the London-based startup at over $1 billion.

Tiger Global Management is leading the round, and notably, payments juggernaut Stripe is also participating.

Open Banking is a relatively new area in the world of fintech — the UK was an early adopter in 2018, Europe then signed on, and it looks like we are now seeing more movements that the U.S. may soon also join the party — and TrueLayer is considered a pioneer in the space.

The vast majority of transactions in the world today are still made using card rails or more antiquated banking infrastructure, but the opportunity with open banking is to build a completely new infrastructure that works more efficiently, and might come with less (or no) fees for those using it, with the perennial API promise: all by way of few lines of code.

“We had a vision that finance should be opened up, and we are actively woking to remove the frictions that exist between intermediaries,” said CEO Francesco Simoneschi, who co-founded the company with Luca Martinetti (who is now the CTO), in an interview. “We want a financial system that works for everyone, but that hasn’t been the case up to now. The opportunity emerged five years ago, when open banking came into law in the UK and then elsewhere, to go after the most impressive oligopoly: the card networks and everything that revolves around them. Now, we can easily say that open banking is becoming a viable alternative to that.”

It seems that the world of finance and commerce is slowly catching on, and so the funding is coming on the heels of some strong growth for the company.

Services that TrueLayer currently include payments, payouts, user account information and user verification; while end users range from neobanks, crypto startups, and wealth management apps through to e-commerce companies, marketplaces and gaming platforms.

And the startup says it now has “millions” of consumers making open banking transactions enabled by TrueLayer’s technology, and some 10,000 developers are building services based on open banking standards. TrueLayer so far this year has doubled its customer base, picking up some key customers like Cazoo to enable open-banking based payments for cars; and it has processed “billions” of dollars in payments, with payment volume growing 400%, and payment up 800%.

The plan is to use the funding to invest in building out that business further — specifically to extend its payments network to more regions (and more banks getting integrated into that network), as well as to bring on more customers using open banking services for more regular, recurring transactions.

“The shift to alternative payment methods is accelerating with the global growth of online commerce, and we believe TrueLayer will play a central role in making these payment methods more accessible,” said Alex Cook, partner, Tiger Global, in a statement. “We’re excited to partner with Francesco, Luca and the TrueLayer team as they help customers increase conversion and continue to grow the network.”

Notably, Stripe is not a strategic investor in TrueLayer at the moment, just a financial one. That is to say, it has yet to integrate open banking into its own payments infrastructure.

But you can imagine how it would be interested in it as part of the bigger mix of options for its customers, and potentially also to build its own standalone financial rails that well and truly compete with those provided by the card networks (which are such a close part of what Stripe does that its earliest web design was based on the physical card, and even its name is a reference to the stripe on the back of them.

There are other providers of open banking connectivity in the market today — Plaid out of the U.S. is one notable name — but Simoneschi believes that Stripe and TrueLayer on the same page as companies.

“We share a profound belief that progress comes through the eyes of developers so it’s about delivering the tools they need to use,” he he said. “We are in a very complementary space.”

#api, #bank, #banking, #ceo, #cto, #europe, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #london, #mobile-payments, #money, #online-banking, #online-commerce, #online-payments, #open-banking, #partner, #payment, #payments-infrastructure, #payments-network, #stripe, #tiger-global-management, #truelayer, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #web-applications

Salesforce backs Indian payments startup Razorpay

Six-year-old Bangalore-based fintech Razorpay, which was valued at $3 billion in a financing round in April this year, has courted one more high-profile investor: Salesforce Ventures.

Razorpay said on Monday it has received a “strategic investment” from the venture arm of the American enterprise giant. The investment will help the startup “further strengthen its presence in the business banking space,” it said.

The two firms didn’t disclose the size of the investment, but Sequoia Capital India-backed startup said the deal will “make an impactful contribution to the industry and drive adoption and financial growth for underserved small businesses in the next twelve months.”

Razorpay accepts, processes and disburses money online for small businesses and enterprises — essentially everything Stripe does in the U.S. and several other developed markets. But the Indian startup’s offering goes much further than that: in recent years, Razorpay has launched a neobanking platform to issue corporate credit cards, and it also offers businesses working capital.

With the global giant Stripe still nowhere in the Indian picture, Razorpay has grown to become the clear market leader and has started to expand to the Southeast Asian market.

“At Razorpay, we want to make further strides on the idea of investing in India’s digital future and building an intelligent payment and banking infrastructure for the new- world. We are delighted to associate with Salesforce Ventures and Salesforce more broadly in India,” said Harshil Mathur, co-founder and chief executive of the fintech startup.

“I am certain that this investment, along with support from our existing investors will help build an ecosystem for a hassle-free, easy-to-integrate payments and banking experience. We also hope to expand, build new products and deliver this experience to businesses in South East Asian countries too.”

Monday’s deal is Salesforce Ventures’ second investment in the Indian startup ecosystem. The firm led a $15 million Series C financing round in Hyderabad-headquartered Darwinbox earlier this year.

“The journey towards a ‘less-cash’ economy has been accelerated with the pandemic. The rapid growth in digital payments over the last year has opened doors for technology innovation and Razorpay has been emerging as the company of choice for a lot of e-commerce businesses,” said Arundhati Bhattacharya, chairperson and chief executive of Salesforce India, in a statement.

“We are excited to support Razorpay in their journey to revolutionize digital finance not only in India, but globally as well,” added Bhattacharya, who joined the firm last year.

The Indian startup, which became a unicorn a year ago, said it has witnessed a 40-45% month-on-month growth in recent months. The startup is currently in the market to raise a new financing round and is negotiating a considerably larger valuation bump over the current value, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Scores of corporate giants including Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have started to chase strategic investments in the world’s second largest internet market. Microsoft inked a strategic deal with Indian budget hotel chain Oyo, they confirmed this month.

India has produced a record 27 unicorns this year so far, up from 11 last year as many high-profile global investors including Tiger Global, Falcon Edge Capital, Temasek, SoftBank Vision Fund 2, and Coatue Management increase the pace of their investments in the South Asian market. And the list continues to grow: A16z is in advanced stages to back Indian crypto startup CoinSwitch Kuber, TechCrunch reported last week.

#asia, #funding, #india, #payments, #razorpay, #salesforce, #salesforce-ventures

Bzaar bags $4M to enable US retailers to source home, lifestyle products from India

Small businesses in the U.S. now have a new way to source home and lifestyle goods from new manufacturers. Bzaar, a business-to-business cross-border marketplace, is connecting retailers with over 50 export-ready manufacturers in India.

The U.S.-based company announced Monday that it raised $4 million in seed funding, led by Canaan Partners, and including angel investors Flipkart co-founder Binny Bansal, PhonePe founders Sameer Nigam and Rahul Chari, Addition founder Lee Fixel and Helion Ventures co-founder Ashish Gupta.

Nishant Verman and Prasanth Nair co-founded Bzaar in 2020 and consider their company to be like a “fair without borders,” Verman put it. Prior to founding Bzaar, Verman was at Bangalore-based Flipkart until it was acquired by Walmart in 2018. He then was at Canaan Partners in the U.S.

“We think the next 10 years of global trade will be different from the last 100 years,” he added. “That’s why we think this business needs to exist.”

Traditionally, small U.S. buyers did not have feet on the ground in manufacturing hubs, like China, to manage shipments of goods in the same way that large retailers did. Then Alibaba came along in the late 1990s and began acting as a gatekeeper for cross-border purchases, Verman said. U.S. goods imports from China totaled $451.7 billion in 2019, while U.S. goods imports from India in 2019 were $87.4 billion.

Bzaar screenshot. Image Credits: Bzaar

Small buyers could buy home and lifestyle goods, but it was typically through the same sellers, and there was not often a unique selection, nor were goods available handmade or using organic materials, he added.

With Bzaar, small buyers can purchase over 10,000 wholesale goods on its marketplace from other countries like India and Southeast Asia. The company guarantees products arrive within two weeks and manage all of the packaging logistics and buyer protection.

Verman and Nair launched the marketplace in April and had thousands users in three continents purchasing from the platform within six months. Meanwhile, products on Bzaar are up to 50% cheaper than domestic U.S. platforms, while SKU selection is growing doubling every month, Verman said.

The new funding will enable the company to invest in marketing to get in front of buyers and invest on its technology to advance its cataloging feature so that goods pass through customs seamlessly. Wanting to provide new features for its small business customers, Verman also intends to create a credit feature to enable buyers to pay in installments or up to 90 days later.

“We feel this is a once-in-a-lifetime shift in how global trade works,” he added. “You need the right team in place to do this because the problem is quite complex to take products from a small town in Vietnam to Nashville. With our infrastructure in place, the good news is there are already shops and buyers, and we are stitching them together to give buyers a seamless experience.”

 

#alibaba, #bzaar, #canaan-partners, #china, #ecommerce, #enterprise, #flipkart, #funding, #import, #market, #nishant-verman, #prasanth-nair, #recent-funding, #saas, #startups, #tc

Facetune maker Lightricks raises $130 million ahead of M&A plans

Facetune developer Lightricks, which operates over a dozen subscription-based photo and video editing apps across iOS and Android, now has $130 million in new funding to further grow its business. The company’s newly announced Series D round includes $100 million in primary and $30 million in secondary funding, and now values the company at $1.8 billion. To date, Lightricks has raised $335 million.

The new round was co-led by New York-based VC firm Insight Partners and Hanaco Venture Capital and includes new investors Migdal Insurance, Altshuler Shaham, and Shavit Capital. Existing investors Goldman Sachs Asset Management, Clal Tech, Harel Insurance and Finance, and Greycroft, also participated.

The company’s last round of funding was its pre-pandemic raise of $135 million, which minted the company as a unicorn.

Based in Jerusalem, Lightricks has been best known for its photo-editing app Facetune, which puts Photoshop-like retouching tools into the hands of consumers. The app quickly gained traction as online influencers tweaked their Instagram photos to look more polished, perfected, and blemish-free. This growth wasn’t without controversy, however, as some argued how image editing apps like Facetune took airbrushing too far, contributing to body image issues that now, Facebook’s internal research indicates, could have a negative effect on teenagers’ mental health.

But Facetune was only the beginning for what’s since become a mobile editing empire for Lightricks, at a time when everyone is trying to look their best online and create compelling content. Over the years, the company has rolled out the more powerful Facetune 2, along with other creativity and mobile photo apps that weren’t focused on selfies. It also expanded its product lineup beyond the creator crowd to bring a suite of tools to online marketers and small businesses. And last year, Lightricks more directly responded to the growth in online video as a form of self-expression with a new selfie retouching tool called Facetune Video — essentially the Facetune for the TikTok era.

Image Credits: Lightricks

The company benefitted from Covid-19 lockdowns, as well, as more people participated online and creators, as a group, became more well-established as a way for brands to reach consumers. During peak lockdowns, the company saw a 90% increase in usage across its apps in the U.S. Meanwhile, downloads for its popular Videoleap video editing apps jumped 70% since the start of the pandemic, as TikTok adoption also grew.

Across its suite of apps, the company now touts 29 million monthly active users, where over 5 million are paid subscribers. Its users average around 78 million monthly exports, indicating Lightricks’ sizable impact on the creator economy. In 2021, Lightricks is on track for over $200 million in revenue and plans to grow that figure by 40% in the year ahead.

To do so, the company’s strategy will change. Instead of just developing its own apps, it’s now on the hunt for potential acquisitions.

“Our plan is to grow into a one-stop-shop creator platform, supporting creators throughout their journey, from content creation to monetization,” says Zeev Farbman, CEO and Co-Founder of Lightricks. “To do so, we are broadening our acquisition activity, while developing other services in-house—our overall M&A objective is advancing our shift into the creator’s platform. To begin, we are planning between three to five acquisitions, each with a budget of tens of millions of dollars. However, we are also on the lookout for larger ticket size deals if there is enough conviction on both sides,” he notes.

Image Credits: Lightricks

The company will also enhance its own technology to develop tools and services that will help all creators with content production and monetization, and it will grow its team.

Currently, Lightricks has 460 employees and plans to add 60 more by the end of 2021. The longer-term goal is to grow the team to 1,000 employees by the end of 2023, across roles that include developers, designers, and marketing. While most of this growth to date has taken place in Jerusalem, over the next two years, the company plans to grow its teams locally in Haifa, as well as internationally in  London and Shenzhen. It may add on other locations through M&As, as well.

The U.K. office is now the largest outside of Lightricks’ headquarters, with 23 people. This number is expected to climb to 35 by year-end and be closer to 50 or 60 by the end of 2022, with growth focused on the production of the company’s new photography app plus Customer Experience and Marketing teams, which were previously only in Israel.

In the U.S., Lightricks is focused on content.

“Our U.S.-based activity will focus mostly on our content efforts that will provide a vast array of original, acquired, and co-produced content to inspire, educate and entertain creators across the entirety of their careers,” notes Farbman. “This includes written, video, audio, short and long-form, fun and informative content,” he says.

Investors say they see the potential for Lightricks to continue to grow as the creator economy booms.

“The creator economy has changed the way we, as a society, experience social networks,” said Pasha Romanovski, Co-Founding Partner of Hanaco Ventures, in a statement. “Audiences constantly consume information through the different content channels daily. Lightricks’ platform enables creators to have a broader, more professional, and higher-quality set of tools to optimize content. At a time when we are seeing content creators monetize content on social media at new levels, it is clear that Lightricks’ platform has the ability to create a one-stop shop that will be meaningful to its users,” he added.

 

#apps, #funding, #media, #mobile, #recent-funding, #startups

Airwallex raises $200M at a $4B valuation to double down on business banking

Business, now more than ever before, is going digital, and today a startup that’s building a vertically integrated solution to meet business banking needs is announcing a big round of funding to tap into the opportunity. Airwallex — which provides business banking services both directly to businesses themselves, as well as via a set of APIs that power other companies’ fintech products — has raised $200 million, a Series E round of funding that values the Australian startup at $4 billion.

Lone Pine Capital is leading the round, with new backers G Squared and Vetamer Capital Management, and previous backers 1835i Ventures (formerly ANZi), DST Global, Salesforce Ventures and Sequoia Capital China, also participating.

The funding brings the total raised by Airwallex — which has head offices in Hong Kong and Melbourne, Australia — to date to $700 million, including a $100 million injection that closed out its Series D just six months ago.

Airwallex will be using the funding both to continue investing in its product and technology, as well as to continue its geographical expansion and to focus on some larger business targets. The company has started to make some headway into Europe and the UK and that will be one big focus, along with the U.S.

The quick succession of funding, and that rising valuation, underscore Airwallex’s traction to date around what CEO and co-founder Jack Zhang describes as a vertically integrated strategy.

That involves two parts. First, Airwallex has built all the infrastructure for the business banking services that it provides directly to businesses with a focus on small and medium enterprise customers. Second, it has packaged up that infrastructure into a set of APIs that a variety of other companies use to provide financial services directly to their customers without needing to build those services themselves — the so-called “embedded finance” approach.

“We want to own the whole ecosystem,” Zhang said to me. “We want to be like the Apple of business finance.”

That seems to be working out so far for Airwallex. Revenues were up almost 150% for the first half of 2021 compared to a year before, with the company processing more than US$20 billion for a global client portfolio that has quadrupled in size. In addition to tens of thousands of SMEs, it also, via APIs, powers financial services for other companies like GOAT, Papaya Global and Stake.

Airwallex got its start like many of the strongest startups do: it was built to solve a problem that the founders encountered themselves. In the case of Airwallex, Zhang tells me he had actually been working on a previous start-up idea. He wanted to build the “Blue Bottle Coffee” of Asia out of Hong Kong, and it involved buying and importing a lot of different materials, packaging and of course coffee from all around the world.

“We found that making payments as a small business was slow and expensive,” he said, since it involved banks in different countries and different banking systems, manual efforts to transfer money between them and many days to clear the payments. “But that was also my background — payments and trading — and so I decided that it was a much more fascinating problem for me to work on and resolve.”

Eventually one of his co-founders in the coffee effort came along, with the four co-founders of Airwallex ultimately including Zhang, along with Xijing Dai, Lucy Liu and Max Li.

It was 2014, and Airwallex got attention from VCs early on in part for being in the right place at the right time. A wave of startups building financial services for SMBs were definitely gaining ground in North America and Europe, filling a long-neglected hole in the technology universe, but there was almost nothing of the sort in the Asia Pacific region, and in those earlier days solutions were highly regionalized.

From there it was a no-brainer that starting with cross-border payments, the first thing Airwallex tackled, would soon grow into a wider suite of banking services involving payments and other cross-border banking services.

“In last 6 years, we’ve built more than 50 bank integrations and now offer payments 95 countries payments through a partner network,” he added, with 43 of those offering real-time transactions. From that, it moved on the bank accounts and “other primitive stuff” with card issuance and more, he said, eventually building an end-to-end payment stack. 

Airwallex has tens of thousands of customers using its financial services directly, and they make up about 40% of its revenues today. The rest is the interesting turn the company decided to take to expand its business.

Airwallex had built all of its technology from the ground up itself, and it found that — given the wave of new companies looking for more ways to engage customers and become their one-stop shop — there was an opportunity to package that tech up in a set of APIs and sell that on to a different set of customers, those who also provided services for small businesses. That part of the business now accounts for 60% of Airwallex’s business, Zhang said, and is growing faster in terms of revenues. (The SMB business is growing faster in terms of customers, he said.)

A lot of embedded finance startups that base their business around building tech to power other businesses tend to stay arm’s length from offering financial services directly to consumers. The explanation I have heard is that they do not wish to compete against their customers. Zhang said that Airwallex takes a different approach, by being selective about the customers they partner with, so that the financial services they offer would never be the kind that would not be in direct competition. The GOAT marketplace for sneakers, or Papaya Global’s HR platform are classic examples of this.

However, as Airwallex continues to grow, you can’t help but wonder whether one of those partners might like to gobble up all of Airwallex and take on some of that service provision role itself. In that context, it’s very interesting to see Salesforce Ventures returning to invest even more in the company in this round, given how widely the company has expanded from its early roots in software for salespeople into a massive platform providing a huge range of cloud services to help people run their businesses.

For now, it’s been the combination of its unique roots in Asia Pacific, plus its vertical approach of building its tech from the ground up, plus its retail acumen that has impressed investors and may well see Airwallex stay independent and grow for some time to come.

“Airwallex has a clear competitive advantage in the digital payments market,” said David Craver, MD at Lone Pine Capital, in a statement. “Its unique Asia-Pacific roots, coupled with its innovative infrastructure, products and services, speak volumes about the business’ global growth opportunities and its impressive expansion in the competitive payment providers space. We are excited to invest in Airwallex at this dynamic time, and look forward to helping drive the company’s expansion and success worldwide.”

#airwallex, #articles, #asia, #asia-pacific, #australia, #bank, #banking, #blue-bottle-coffee, #cloud-services, #dst-global, #economy, #embedded-finance, #enterprise, #europe, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #goat, #hr, #lone-pine-capital, #melbourne, #north-america, #papaya-global, #salesforce, #salesforce-ventures, #sequoia-capital-china, #series-d, #startup-company, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #veem

Flippa raises $11M to match online asset and business buyers, sellers

Flippa, an online marketplace to buy and sell online businesses and digital assets, announced its first venture-backed round, an $11 million Series A, as it sees over 600,000 monthly searches from investors looking to connect with business owners.

OneVentures led the round and was joined by existing investors Andrew Walsh (former Hitwise CEO), Flippa co-founders Mark Harbottle and Matt Mickiewicz, 99designs, as well as new investors Catch.com.au founders Gabby and Hezi Leibovich; RetailMeNot.com founders Guy King and Bevan Clarke; and Reactive Media founders Tim O’Neill and Tim Fouhy.

The company, with bases in both Austin and Australia, was started in 2009 and facilitates exits for millions of online business owners that operate on e-commerce marketplaces, blogs, SaaS and apps, the newest being Shopify, Blake Hutchison, CEO of Flippa, told TechCrunch.

He considers Flippa to be “the investment bank for the 99%,” of small businesses, providing an end-to end platform that includes a proprietary valuation product for businesses — processing over 4,000 valuations each month — and a matching algorithm to connect with qualified buyers.

Business owners can sell their companies directly through the platform and have the option to bring in a business broker or advisor. The company also offers due diligence and acquisition financing from Thrasio-owned Yardline Capital and a new service called Flippa Legal.

“Our strategy is data,” Hutchison said. “Users can currently connect to Stripe, QuickBooks Online, WooCommerce, Google Analytics and Admob for apps, which means they can expose their online business performance with one-click, and buyers can seamlessly assess financial and operational performance.”

Online retail, as a share of total retail sales, grew to 19.6% in 2020, up from 15.8% in 2019, driven largely by the global pandemic as sales shifted online while brick-and-mortar stores closed.

Meanwhile, Amazon has 6 million sellers, and Shopify sellers run over 1 million businesses. This has led to an emergence of e-commerce aggregators, backed by venture capital dollars, that are scooping up successful businesses to grow, finding many through Flippa’s marketplace, Hutchison said.

Flippa has over 3 million registered users and added 300,000 new registered users in the past 12 months. Overall transaction volume grows 100% year over year. Though being bootstrapped for over a decade, the company’s growth and opportunity drove Hutchison to go after venture capital dollars.

“There is a huge movement toward this being recognized as an asset class,” he said. “At the moment, the asset class is undervalued and driving a massive swarm as investors snap up businesses and aggregate them together. We see the future of these aggregators becoming ‘X company for apps’ or ‘X for blogs.’ ”

As such, the new funding will be used to double the company’s headcount to more than 100 people as it builds out its offices globally, as well as establishing outposts in Melbourne, San Francisco and Austin. The company will also invest in marketing and product development to scale its business valuation tool that Hutchison likens to the “Zillow Zestimate,” but for online businesses.

Nigel Dews, operating partner at OneVentures, has been following Flippa since it started. His firm is one of the oldest venture capital firms in Australia and has 30 companies in its portfolio focused on healthcare and technology.

He believes the company will create meaningful change for small businesses. The team combined with Flippa’s ability to connect buyers and sellers puts the company in a strong leadership position to take advantage of the marketplace effect.

“Flippa is an incredible opportunity for us,” he added. “You don’t often get a world-leading business in a brand new category with incredible tailwinds. We also liked that the company is based in Australia, but half of its revenue comes from the U.S.”

#advertising-tech, #amazon, #artificial-intelligence, #blake-hutchison, #ecommerce, #enterprise, #flippa, #funding, #mark-harbottle, #matt-mickiewicz, #nigel-dews, #oneventures, #online-marketplace, #online-retail, #recent-funding, #saas, #shopify, #startups, #tc

9am.health launches with $3.7M to tackle virtual diabetes care

Founders like to create companies around what they know, and Frank Westermann and Anton Kittelberger know diabetes.

They met and bonded over both having type 1 diabetes — Westermann was diagnosed over 25 years ago — and started the MySugr app for diabetes self-management in 2012 (they won a TC pitch-off back in 2011). Four years later, Westermann moved to the U.S. from Austria to introduce MySugr stateside before the company was acquired by Roche for $100 million in 2017.

The pair moved on to their next journey, also in diabetes, starting 9am.health in April, a virtual diabetes clinic designed to provide people living with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes access to personalized care and affordable medications from their homes. 9am.health’s clinic was launched in August.

Today, the San Diego-based company announced a $3.7 million seed round from Founders Fund, Define Ventures, Speedinvest and iSeed Ventures to target the 1 in 3 people living with diabetes in the United States, Westermann told TechCrunch.

“We understand the day-to-day challenges that people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes have,” he added. “Access to care is the real issue, and rather than have patients wait weeks to get an appointment, we send a kit with tests to your home, and you send it back to us.”

9am.health kicked off in Texas and California, and is now available in 33 states. It is finding patients through digital outreach, community work and hospitals.

Even with insurance, the average person living with diabetes spends about $16,750 per year on medical expenses and has approximately 2.3 times higher the costs than if they didn’t have the disease. Instead, patients can subscribe to 9am.health for $40 per month; that includes online prescription shipping, unlimited personal medical care, medications to manage diabetes, hypertension or hyperlipidemia and at-home lab tests.

Westermann sees other companies working in the diabetes space, but says 9am.health is unique in providing “a digital front door for entire diabetes care,” while others focus on specific pain points. By taking that whole approach, he sees opportunity in going beyond diabetes to the general chronic disease realm as many living with diabetes — 98% of Americans in fact — also have other comorbidities like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and mental health issues, he added.

The new funding will enable the company to grow its team and carve out some of the digital diabetes market share that was valued at $13 billion in 2020 and is forecasted to grow annually by 18.8% through 2027. 9am.health will also invest in advancing its virtual screening ability and expand the types of medication it can offer.

9am.health diabetes kit

“We want to tear down the barriers and make care as easy as possible and managing diabetes part of life,” Westermann said. “When you live with chronic illness, it is an everyday thing, and sometimes you feel good, and others days you don’t. That’s why we named the company 9am.health because you can wake up at 9 a.m. and start your diabetes journey all over again.”

Lynne Chou O’Keefe, founder and managing partner at Define Ventures, says the future of healthcare is going to be more consumer-focused and will be wrapped around the patient’s care journey. She considers 9am.health to be leading this type of care with a platform that bundles education, community, coaching and care that is direct-to-consumer.

Chou O’Keefe has been investing in healthcare her entire VC career, and sat on the board of Livongo for four years. Through that experience she learned how patients struggle with their care decisions, and finds 9am.health’s founders to have a similar deep expertise and understanding in diabetes, especially with the success they had with MySugr.

“The last place you should receive healthcare is in the doctor’s office, while the first place should be wherever you are,” she added. “This is a very different way than what the healthcare system is today. We feel that people want to manage their diabetes, but then go on and live their lives.”

 

#9am-health, #anton-kittelberger, #apps, #chronic-disease, #define-ventures, #diabetes, #ecommerce, #founders-fund, #frank-westermann, #funding, #health, #healthcare, #high-blood-pressure, #hypertension, #iseed-ventures, #lynne-chou-okeefe, #medicine, #my-sugr, #prediabetes, #recent-funding, #roche, #speedinvest, #startups, #tc

FloBiz raises $31 million to scale its neobank for small businesses in India

FloBiz, an Indian startup that is building a neobank for small- and medium-sized businesses in the South Asian market, said on Monday it has raised $31 million in a new financing round as it works to broaden its product offerings.

Sequoia Capital India and Think Investments co-led the 18-month-old startup’s Series B financing round. Existing investors Elevation Capital and Beenext also participated in the round, which brings FloBiz‘s all-time raise to over $41 million.

The startup’s marquee offering — called myBillBook — helps small- and medium-sized businesses digitize their invoicing, streamline business accounting, and automate workflows of their enterprises.

India, the world’s second largest internet market, is home to millions of small- and medium-sized businesses. Scores of startups have launched neobanks in the country in recent years to focus on serve millennials or businesses.

“SME-focussed neobanks are building engagement with business- clients through their ability to provide solutions like automated invoicing, collections/payments, accounting, inventory and sales management, taxes and in some cases interest on current deposits as well (banks can’t pay interest). This may help to ramp- up and upfront their monetisation prospects,” analysts at Jefferies wrote in a report to clients last week.

myBillBook, which supports Hindi, Gujarati and Tamil as well as English, will add support for “at least” five more regional languages within the next six months, the startup said, adding that the app has been downloaded over 5 million times.

“The product will also see deeper use of technologies like AI & image processing to make the onboarding process for the less tech-savvy SMB owners in tier 2 and tier 3 cities of India a delightful first step to digital accounting,” the startup said.

Scores of high-profile entrepreneurs — including Vijay Shekhar Sharma of Paytm, Kunal Shah of CRED, Jiten Gupta of Jupiter, Amrish Rau of Pine Labs, Krishnan Menon of BukuKas, and Nitin Gupta of Uni Cards — have also backed FloBiz in the new financing round.

“Small businesses are the real heroes of our economy. In order to power the SMB economy with technology, one needs deep understanding, instinct and empathy for this audience,” said Tejeshwi Sharma, Managing Director of Sequoia Capital India, in a statement.

“We are really impressed by the user centricity, product focus and experimentative approach of the FloBiz founders. There is almost a perfect founder market fit. The team is stoked to partner with FloBiz on their mission of building a neobank for the growing SMBs of India.”

Rahul Raj, co-founder and chief executive of FloBiz, said the startup will deploy the fresh capital to “accelerate projects which have been in the works up till now – building personalisable modules & features into myBillBook, diversifying core product offerings and preparing to roll out financial services. We have a slew of developments in the pipeline to further delight our SMB partners in the next 12 months.”

#asia, #beenext, #elevation-capital, #funding, #india, #sequoia-capital-india

Pakistan edtech startup Maqsad gets $2.1M pre-seed to make education more accessible

Taha Ahmed and Rooshan Aziz left their jobs in strategy consulting and investment banking in London earlier this year in order to found a mobile-only education platform startup, Maqsad, in Pakistan, with a goal “to make education more accessible to 100 million Pakistani students.”

Having grown up in Karachi, childhood friends Ahmed and Aziz are aware of the challenges about the Pakistani education system, which is notably worse for those not living in large urban areas (the nation’s student-teacher ratio is 44:1). Pakistani children are less likely to go to school for each kilometer of distance between school and their home — with girls being four times affected, Maqsad co-founder Aziz said.

Maqsad announced today its $2.1 million pre-seed round to enhance its content platform growth and invest in R&D.

The pre-seed round, which was completed in just three weeks via virtual meetings, was led by Indus Valley Capital, with participation from Alter Global, Fatima Gobi Ventures and several angel investors from Pakistan, the Middle East and Europe.

Maqsad will use the proceeds for developing in-house content, such as production studio, academics and animators, as well as bolstering R&D and engineering, Aziz told TechCrunch. The company will focus on the K-12 education in Pakistan, including 11th and 12th grade math, with plans to expand into other STEM subjects for the next one-two years, Aziz said.

Maqsad’s platform, which provides a one-stop shop for after-school academic content in a mix of English and Urdu, will be supplemented by quizzes and other gamified features that will come together to offer a personalized education to individuals. Its platform features include adaptive testing that alter a question’s level of difficulty depending on users’ responses, Aziz explained.

The word “maqsad” means purpose in Urdu.

“We believe everyone has a purpose. Maqsad’s mission is to enable Pakistani students to realize this purpose; whether you are a student from an urban centre, such as Lahore, or from a remote village in Sindh: Maqsad believes in equal opportunity for all,” Aziz said.

“We are building a mobile-first platform, given that 95% of broadband users in Pakistan are via mobile. Most other platforms are not mobile optimized,” Aziz added.

“It’s about more than just getting students to pass their exams. We want to start a revolution in the way Pakistani students learn, moving beyond rote memorization to a place of real comprehension,” said co-founder Taha Ahmed, who was a former strategy consultant at LEK.

The company ran small pilots in April and May and started full-scale operations on 26 July, Aziz said, adding that Maqsad will launch its mobile app, currently under development, in the coming months in Q4 2021 and has a waitlist for early access.

“Struggles of students during the early days of the pandemic motivated us to run a pilot. With promising initial traction and user feedback, the size of the opportunity to digitize the education sector became very clear,” Aziz said.

The COVID-19 pandemic reshaped the education industry, heating up the global edtech startups that made online education more accessible for a wider population, for example in countries like India and Indonesia, Aziz mentioned.

The education market size in Pakistan is estimated at $12 billion and is projected to increase to $30 billion by 2030, according to Aziz.

It plans to build the company as a hybrid center offering online and offline courses like Byju’s and Aakash, and expand classes for adults such as MasterClass, the U.S.-based online classes for adults, as its long-term plans, Aziz said.

“Maqsad founders’ deep understanding of the problem, unique approach to solving it and passion for impact persuaded us quickly,” the founder and managing partner of Indus Valley Capital, Aatif Awan, said.

“Pakistan’s edtech opportunity is one of the largest in the world and we are excited to back Maqsad in delivering tech-powered education that levels access, quality and across Pakistan’s youth and creates lasting social change,” Ali Mukhtar, general partner of Fatima Gobi Ventures said.

#asia, #edtech, #education, #funding, #indus-valley-capital, #maqsad, #mobile, #pakistan, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc

1 change that can fix the VC funding crisis for women founders

The venture capital industry as we know it is broken. At least for women, that is.

In terms of funding to women founders, 2020 was among the worst years on record. On a global level, only 9% of all funds deployed to technology startups went to founding teams that included at least one woman. Solo woman founders and all-women teams raised just 2% of all VC dollars, Crunchbase data showed.

Shockingly, this number is actually less than it was when we first started counting a decade ago, well before many high-profile diversity initiatives launched with the goal of fixing this very problem.

This funding gap isn’t just a moral crisis — it’s an economic one. The lack of investment into women-founded startups is a missed opportunity worth trillions of dollars. That’s because of overwhelming evidence that startups founded by women outperform startups founded by men: They generate more revenue, earn higher profits and exit faster at higher valuations. And they do all this while raising way less money.

What we’re doing isn’t working. Through research for my next book on women founders and funders, I kept asking myself the same question: When it comes to fixing the funding gap for women founders, what’s the one thing we can do that will make everything else easier or unnecessary?

I now believe that our best bet for long-term change is to focus our efforts on increasing the number of women investing partners who can write large seed checks. Here’s why.

Women investors are up to 3x more likely to fund women founders

Recently, one of the top VCs in the world told me how challenging it is to diversify his senior team. He expressed it as an accepted fact and a widespread belief. This is a common trope in Silicon Valley: Everyone wants gender diversity, but it’s so hard to find all the senior women!

In the venture capital industry, who you hire at the senior level is who you hang out with. And who you hire at the senior level determines who your fund will back.

Since studies now show that women investors are up to three times more likely to invest in women founders, it is clear that the fastest way to fund more women is to hire more women investing partners with check-writing ability. The effect to venture firms? Returns.

“When U.S. VC firms increased the proportion of female partners, they benefited with 9.7% more profitable exits and a 1.5% spike in overall fund returns annually,” explained Lisa Stone of WestRiver Group.

Data from All Raise and PitchBook reinforce the “correlation between hiring female decision-makers at the investment level and outperformance at the fund level,” adding that “69.2% of U.S. VCs that scored a top-quartile fund between 2009 and 2018 had women in decision-making roles.”

It shouldn’t be surprising that women investors are more likely to invest in women founders. That’s because humans have a propensity toward homophily the tendency for like to attract like and for similarity to breed connection.

Homophily is why a vegan VC is more likely to invest in a vegan food tech, a gamer is more likely to hang out with gaming founders, or a parent is more likely to invest in a parent marketplace. People gravitate toward what they know.

Deena Shakir, who happens to be a woman and a mother, recently led Lux Capital’s investment into women’s health unicorn Maven. Shakir had multiple high-risk pregnancies with multiple complications, emergency C-sections, NICU stays and breastfeeding challenges.

“It is no coincidence that I am joined on Maven’s board of directors by four other mothers … and a brand-new father … whose personal journeys have also informed their professional conviction,” Shakir wrote in a Medium post.

Why seed checks have the greatest impact on the ecosystem

I believe that to fix the funding gap for women founders and jump-start the virtuous cycle of venture capital investing into women, we should focus on getting more seed checks into the hands of women founders. That’s because seed investing is a leading indicator of whether we are headed in the right direction in terms of closing the funding gap for women, according to Jenny Lefcourt, a partner at Freestyle and co-founder of All Raise, the leading nonprofit focused on diversifying the VC industry.

This doesn’t discount the importance of investments made into women founders at later stages. When a women founder lands Series D capital, it boosts this year’s numbers into women founders and likely brings that particular founder closer to a liquidity event that will lead her (and her executives) to invest in more women.

That said, the greatest impact on the future ecosystem will come from widening the top of the funnel and giving more women at the seed stage the shot to one day reach a momentous Series D funding like Maven. After all, who we fund now becomes who we fund later.

Why large seed checks matter most

Finally, the size of the check is also important when thinking about how to have the biggest impact on the ecosystem.

I know first-hand that microchecks are critical to building an inclusive ecosystem. When women invest at the seed level — in any amount — they jumpstart a virtuous cycle of women funding women. That’s why when I stepped in to lend a hand at my portfolio company when the solo woman founder took a parental leave, one of my key projects was to develop Jefa House, a way for Jefa’s own executives to easily invest in other women-founded startups.

That said, large party rounds made up entirely of small angel checks are few and far between. Similar challenges face small checks from emerging fund managers. Although the sheer number of emerging managers has increased 9x in seven years, the reality is that most emerging managers simply don’t have much money.

Are women venture capitalists who run their own microfunds more likely to invest in amazing women founders than Tier 1 funds with few or no women investing partners? Yes. Will it take them a long time to compete with those Tier 1 funds in terms of check size? Yes.

This is why it matters so much when leading funds hire or promote women to the partner level. Not only does it give women founders a better shot at funding from high-signal shops, but the moves that top funds make are key signals to others in the ecosystem: In venture capital, women investors don’t have to sit at the kids’ table.

Why we must hire women investing partners

We all know that great returns in early-stage venture capital come from making big bets on great ideas that others aren’t betting on. That is why VC investing is contrarian by definition. Thanks to our increasingly globalized world and clear data showing the importance of diverse teams to make good decisions to get those returns, no one in 2021 truly believes that single white dudes in Palo Alto have a monopoly on billion-dollar ideas.

However, due to the nature of homophily, venture capital remains a highly homogenous industry, and the social and economic interactions and decisions of human beings remain deeply swayed by these principles. No matter how much work we do, birds of a feather really do flock — and fund — together.

This all leads to one place: The clearest path to funding different kinds of founders with different kinds of ideas is to put different kinds of investors on the investing side of the table. To get more funding to women founders, we need more women who can write checks. That’s why prioritizing the hiring of women investing partners who can write large seed checks is key to fixing the funding crisis for women founders and increasing VC returns worldwide.

#column, #deena-shakir, #funding, #jenny-lefcourt, #maven, #opinion, #private-equity, #startup-company, #tc, #venture-capital, #women-in-venture-capital

Defy Partners leads $3M round into sales intelligence platform Aircover

Aircover raised $3 million in seed funding to continue developing its real-time sales intelligence platform.

Defy Partners led the round with participation from Firebolt Ventures, Flex Capital, Ridge Ventures and a group of angel investors.

The company, headquartered in the Bay Area, aims to give sales teams insights relevant to closing the sale as they are meeting with customers. Aircover’s conversational AI software integrates with Zoom and automates parts of the sales process to lead to more effective conversations.

Aircover’s founding team of Andrew Levy, Alex Young and Andrew’s brother David Levy worked together at Apteligent, a company co-founded and led by Andrew Levy, that was sold to VMware in 2017.

Chatting about pain points on the sales process over the years, Levy said it felt like the solution was always training the sales team more. However, by the time everyone was trained, that information would largely be out-of-date.

Instead, they created Aircover to be a software tool on top of video conferencing that performs real-time transcription of the conversation and then analysis to put the right content in front of the sales person at the right time based on customer issues and questions. This means that another sales expert doesn’t need to be pulled in or an additional call scheduled to provide answers to questions.

“We are anticipating that knowledge and parsing it out at key moments to provide more leverage to subject matter experts,” Andrew Levy told TechCrunch. “It’s like a sales assistant coming in to handle any issue.”

He considers Aircover in a similar realm with other sales team solutions, like Chorus.ai, which was recently scooped up by ZoomInfo, and Gong, but sees his company carving out space in real-time meeting experiences. Other tools also record the meetings, but to be reviewed after the call is completed.

“That can’t change the outcome of the sale, which is what we are trying to do,” Levy added.

The new funding will be used for product development. Levy intends to double his small engineering team by the end of the month.

He calls what Aircover is doing a “large interesting problem we are solving that requires some difficult technology because it is real time,” which is why the company was eager to partner with Bob Rosin, partner at Defy Partners, who joins Aircover’s board of directors as part of the investment.

Rosin joined Defy in 2020 after working on the leadership teams of Stripe, LinkedIn and Skype. He said sales and customer teams need tools in the moment, and while some are useful in retrospect, people want them to be live, in front of the customer.

“In the early days, tools helped before and after, but in the moment when they need the most help, we are not seeing many doing it,” Rosin added. “Aircover has come up with the complete solution.”

 

#aircover, #andrew-levy, #apteligent, #artificial-intelligence, #bob-rosin, #customer-experience, #defy-partners, #enterprise, #firebolt-ventures, #funding, #recent-funding, #ridge-ventures, #saas, #sales, #startups, #tc, #video-conferencing, #vmware

Ketch raises another $20M as demand grows for its privacy data control platform

Six months after securing a $23 million Series A round, Ketch, a startup providing online privacy regulation and data compliance, brought in an additional $20 million in A1 funding, this time led by Acrew Capital.

Returning with Acrew for the second round are CRV, super{set} (the startup studio founded by Ketch’s co-founders CEO Tom Chavez and CTO Vivek Vaidya), Ridge Ventures and Silicon Valley Bank. The new investment gives Ketch a total of $43 million raised since the company came out of stealth earlier this year.

In 2020, Ketch introduced its data control platform for programmatic privacy, governance and security. The platform automates data control and consent management so that consumers’ privacy preferences are honored and implemented.

Enterprises are looking for a way to meet consumer needs and accommodate their rights and consents. At the same time, companies want data to fuel their growth and gain the trust of consumers, Chavez told TechCrunch.

There is also a matter of security, with much effort going into ransomware and malware, but Chavez feels a big opportunity is to bring security to the data wherever it lies. Once the infrastructure is in place for data control it needs to be at the level of individual cells and rows, he said.

“If someone wants to be deleted, there is a challenge in finding your specific row of data,” he added. “That is an exercise in data control.”

Ketch’s customer base grew by more than 300% since its March Series A announcement, and the new funding will go toward expanding its sales and go-to-market teams, Chavez said.

Ketch app. Image Credits: Ketch

This year, the company launched Ketch OTC, a free-to-use privacy tool that streamlines all aspects of privacy so that enterprise compliance programs build trust and reduce friction. Customer growth through OTC increased five times in six months. More recently, Qonsent, which developing a consent user experience, is using Ketch’s APIs and infrastructure, Chavez said.

When looking for strategic partners, Chavez and Vaidya wanted to have people around the table who have a deep context on what they were doing and could provide advice as they built out their products. They found that in Acrew founding partner Theresia Gouw, whom Chavez referred to as “the OG of privacy and security.”

Gouw has been investing in security and privacy for over 20 years and says Ketch is flipping the data privacy and security model on its head by putting it in the hands of developers. When she saw more people working from home and more data breaches, she saw an opportunity to increase and double down on Acrew’s initial investment.

She explained that Ketch is differentiating itself from competitors by taking data privacy and security and tying it to the data itself to empower software developers. With the OTC tool, similar to putting locks and cameras on a home, developers can download the API and attach rules to all of a user’s data.

“The magic of Ketch is that you can take the security and governance rules and embed them with the software and the piece of data,” Gouw added.

#acrew-capital, #advertising-tech, #api, #cloud-computing, #crv, #data-protection, #data-security, #enterprise, #funding, #ketch, #privacy, #recent-funding, #ridge-ventures, #silicon-valley-bank, #software-developers, #startups, #superset, #tc, #theresia-gouw, #tom-chavez

Fiberplane nabs € 7.5M seed to bring Google Docs-like collaboration to incident response

Fiberplane, an Amsterdam-based early stage startup that is building collaborative notebooks for SREs (site reliability engineers)  to collaborate around an incident in a similar manner to group editing in a Google Doc, announced a ​​€ 7.5M (approximately $8.8 million USD) seed round today.

The round was co-led by Crane Venture Partners and Notion Capital with participation from Northzone, System.One and Basecase Capital.

Micha Hernandez van Leuffen (known as Mies) is founder and CEO at Fiberplane. When his previous startup, Werker was sold to Oracle in 2017, Hernandez van Leuffen became part of a much larger company where he saw people struggling to deal with outages (which happen at every company).

“We were always going back and forth between metrics, logs and traces, what I always call this sort of treasure hunt, and figuring out what was the underlying root cause of an outage or downtime,” Hernandez van Leuffen told me.

He said that this experience led to a couple of key insights about incident response: First, you needed a centralized place to pull all the incident data together, and secondly that as a distributed team managing a distributed system you needed to collaborate in real time, often across different time zones.

When he left Oracle in August 2020, he began thinking about the idea of giving DevOps teams and SREs the same kind of group editing capabilities that other teams inside an organization have with tools like Google Docs or Notion and an idea for his new company began to take shape.

What he created with Fiberplane is a collaborative notebook for SRE’s to pull in the various data types and begin to work together to resolve the incident, while having a natural audit trail of what happened and how they resolved the issue. Different people can participate in this notebook, just as multiple people can edit a Google Doc, fulfilling that original vision.

Fiberplane incident response notebook with various types of data about the incident.

Fiberplane collaborative notebook example with multiple people involved. Image Credit: Fiberplane

He doesn’t plan to stop there though. The longer term vision is an operational platform for SREs and DevOps teams to deal with every aspect of an outage. “This is our starting point, but we are planning to expand from there as more I would say an SRE workbench, where you’re also able to command and control your infrastructure,” he said.

Today the company has 13 employees and is growing, and as they do, they are exploring ways to make sure they are building a diverse company, looking at concrete strategies to find more diverse candidates.

“To hire diversely, we’re re-examining our top of the funnel processes. Our efforts include posting our jobs in communities of underrepresented people, running our job descriptions through a gender decoder and facilitating a larger time frame for jobs to remain open,” Elena Boroda, marketing manager at Fiberplane said.

While Hernandez van Leuffen is based in Amsterdam, the company has been hiring people in the UK, Berlin, Copenhagen and the US, he said. The plan is to have Amsterdam as a central hub when offices reopen as the majority of employees are located there.

#cloud, #developer, #enterprise, #eu-startups, #fiberplane, #funding, #incident-response, #sres, #startups, #tc

Tyk raises $35M for its open-source, open-ended approach to enterprise API management

APIs are the grease turning the gears and wheels for many organizations’ IT systems today, but as APIs grow in number and use, tracking how they work (or don’t work) together can become complex and potentially critical if something goes awry. Now, a startup that has built an innovative way to help with this is announcing some funding after getting traction with big enterprises adopting its approach.

Tyk, which has built a way for users to access and manage multiple internal enterprise APIs through a universal interface by way of GraphQL, has picked up $35 million, an investment that it will be using both for hiring and to continue enhancing and expanding the tools that it provides to users. Tyk has coined a term describing its approach to managing APIs and the data they produce — “universal data graph” — and today its tools are being used to manage APIs by some 10,000 businesses, including large enterprises like Starbucks, Societe Generale, and Domino’s.

Scottish Equity Partners led the round, with participation also from MMC Ventures — its sole previous investor from a round in 2019 after boostrapping for its first five years. The startup is based out of London but works in a very distributed way — one of the co-founders is living in New Zealand currently — and it will be hiring and growing based on that principle, too. It has raised just over $40 million to date.

Tyk (pronounced like “tyke”, meaning small/lively child) got its start as an open source side project first for co-founder Martin Buhr, who is now the company’s CEO, while he was working elsewhere, as a “load testing thing,” in his words.

The shifts in IT towards service-oriented architectures, and building and using APIs to connect internal apps, led him to rethink the code and consider how it could be used to control APIs. Added to that was the fact that as far as Buhr could see, the API management platforms that were in the market at the time — some of the big names today include Kong, Apigee (now a part of Google), 3scale (now a part of RedHat and thus IBM), MuleSoft (now a part of Salesforce) — were not as flexible as his needs were. “So I built my own,” he said.

It was built as an open source tool, and some engineers at other companies started to use it. As it got more attention, some of the bigger companies interested in using it started to ask why he wasn’t charging for anything — a sure sign as any that there was probably a business to be built here, and more credibility to come if he charged for the it.

“So we made the gateway open source, and the management part went into a licensing model,” he said. And Tyk was born as a startup co-founded with James Hirst, who is now the COO, who worked with Buhr at a digital agency some years before.

The key motivation behind building Tyk has stayed as its unique selling point for customers working in increasingly complex environments.

“What sparked interest in Tyk was that companies were unhappy with API management as it exists today,” Buhr noted, citing architectures using multiple clouds and multiple containers, creating more complexity that needed better management. “It was just the right time when containerization, Kubernetes and microservices were on the rise… The way we approach the multi-data and multi-vendor cloud model is super flexible and resilient to partitions, in a way that others have not been able to do.”

“You engage developers and deliver real value and it’s up to them to make the choice,” added Hirst. “We are responding to a clear shift in the market.”

One of the next frontiers that Tyk will tackle will be what happens within the management layer, specifically when there are potential conflicts with APIs.

“When a team using a microservice makes a breaking change, we want to bring that up and report that to the system,” Buhr said. “The plan is to flag the issue and test against it, and be able to say that a schema won’t work, and to identify why.”

Even before that is rolled out, though, Tyk’s customer list and its grow speak to a business on the cusp of a lot more.

“Martin and James have built a world-class team and the addition of this new capital will enable Tyk to accelerate the growth of its API management platform, particularly around the GraphQL focused Universal Data Graph product that launched earlier this year,” said Martin Brennan, a director at SEP, in a statement. “We are pleased to be supporting the team to achieve their global ambitions.”

Keith Davidson, a partner at SEP, is joining the Tyk board as a non-executive director with this round.

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CodeSignal secures $50M for its tech hiring platform

In less than a year after raising $25 million in Series B funding, technical assessment company CodeSignal announced a $50 million in Series C funding to offer new features for its platform that helps companies make data-driven hiring decisions to find and test engineering talent.

Similar to attracting a big investor lead for its B round — Menlo Ventures — it has partnered with Index Ventures to lead the C round. Menlo participated again and was joined by Headline and A Capital. This round brings CodeSignal’s total fundraising to $87.5 million.

Co-founder and CEO Tigran Sloyan got the idea for the company from an experience his co-founder and friend Aram Shatakhtsyan had while trying to find an engineering job. Both from Armenia, the two went in different paths for college, with Shatakhtsyan staying in Armenia and Sloyan coming to the U.S. to study at MIT. He then went on to work at Google.

“As companies were recruiting myself and my classmates, Aram was trying to get his resume picked up, but wasn’t getting attention because of where he went to college, even though he was the greatest programmer I had ever known,” Sloyan told TechCrunch. “Hiring talent is the No. 1 problem companies say they have, but here was the best engineer, and no one would bring him in.”

They, along with Sophia Baik, started CodeSignal in 2015 to act as a self-driving interview platform that directly measures skills regardless of a person’s background. Like people needing to take a driver’s test in order to get a license, Sloyan calls the company’s technical assessment technology a “flight simulator for developers,” that gives candidates a simulated evaluation of their skills and comes back with a score and highlighted strengths.

The need by companies to hire engineers has led to CodeSignal growing 3.5 times in revenue year over year and to gather a customer list that includes Brex, Databricks, Facebook, Instacart, Robinhood, Upwork and Zoom.

Sloyan said the company has not yet touched the money it received in its Series B, but wanted to jump at the opportunity to work with Nina Achadjian, partner at Index Ventures, whom he had known for many years since their time together at Google. To work together and for Achadjian to join the company’s board was something “I couldn’t pass up,” Sloyan said.

When Achadjian moved over to venture capital, she helped Sloyan connect to mentors and angel investors while keeping an eye on the company. Hiring engineers is “mission critical” for technology companies, but what became more obvious to her was that engineering functions have become necessary for all companies, Achadjian explained.

While performing due diligence on the space, she saw traditional engineering cultures utilizing CodeSignal, but then would also see nontraditional companies like banks and insurance companies.

“Their traction was undeniable, and many of our portfolio companies were using CodeSignal,” she added. “It is rare to see a company accelerate growth at the stage they are at.”

U.S. Department of Labor statistics estimate there is already a global talent labor shortage of 40 million workers, and that number will grow to over 85 million by 2030. Achadjian says engineering jobs are also expected to increase during that time, and with all of those roles and applicants, vetting candidates will be more important than ever, as will the ability for candidates to apply from wherever they are.

The new funding enabled the company to launch its Integrated Development Environment for candidates to interact with relevant assessment experiences like codes, files and a terminal on a machine that is familiar with them, so that they can showcase their skills, while also being able to preview their application. At the same time, employers are able to assign each candidate the same coding task based on the open position.

In addition, Sloyan intends to triple the company’s headcount over the next couple of months and expand into other use cases for skills assessment.

 

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