Recorded Future launches its new $20M Intelligence Fund for early-stage startups

Threat intelligence company Recorded Future is launching a $20 million fund for early-stage startups developing novel data intelligence tools.

The Intelligence Fund will provide seed and Series A funding to startups that already have venture capital funding, Recorded Future says, as well as equip them with resources to help with the development and integration of intelligence applications in order to accelerate their go-to-market strategy. 

Recorded Future, which provides customers with information to help them better understand the external cyber threats they are facing, will invest in startups that aim to tackle significant problems that require novel approaches using datasets and collection platforms, which the company says could be anything from technical internet sensors to satellites. It’s also keen to invest in startups building intelligence analysis toolsets that make use of technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, as well as intelligence-driven applications that can be integrated into its own Intelligence Platform and ecosystem.

Recorded Future co-founder and chief executive Christopher Ahlberg said: “In a world of aggressive uncertainty, intelligence is the only equalizer. With the launch of the Intelligence Fund, we are investing in the next generation of entrepreneurs who share our vision for securing the world with intelligence.” 

So far, the Intelligence Fund has invested in two companies, the first being SecurityTrails, which provides customers with a comprehensive overview of current and historical domain and IP address data. The second investment went to Gemini Advisory, a fraud intelligence platform specializing in finding compromised data on the dark web, which Recorded Future went on to acquire earlier this year for $52 million in a bid to bolster its own threat intelligence capabilities. 

Recorded Future told TechCrunch that future investments could also be made with an eye to acquiring, but added that funding could also be given purely on the basis that the startup would make a good business or technology partner. Recorded Future was itself acquired by private equity firm Insight Partners back in 2019 for $780 million. The acquisition effectively bought out the company’s earlier investors, including Google’s venture arm GV, and In-Q-Tel, the non-profit venture arm of the U.S. intelligence community.

Commenting on the launch of the fund, Michael Triplett, managing partner at Insight Partners, said: “Cyberattacks continue to impact global enterprises across the globe, and we’re excited to see Recorded Future invest in intelligence startups tackling the business-critical issues that organizations face today. 

“The Intelligence Fund will provide the resources needed by entrepreneurs to build applications with data and mathematics at the core.” 

#christopher-ahlberg, #computing, #crunchbase, #dark-web, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #information-technology, #insight-partners, #machine-learning, #managing-partner, #prediction, #recorded-future, #security, #startup-company, #startups

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Lifted raises $6.2M Series A round led by Fuel Ventures for its long-term social care platform

As people live longer and longer and have long-term health issues like cancer and dementia, caring for elderly relatives is becoming a huge societal and political issue. Right now this care is antiquated and run by incumbents, many of which still run off paper and Excel. We are now seeing a new wave of startups turn up to tackle this space by applying Apple’s age-old model of owning the experience end-to-end and running everything on a platform.

The latest to join this race is UK startup Lifted, which has now raised $6.2 million in a Series A funding round led by Fuel Ventures. Also participating were existing investor 1818 Venture Capital as well as new investors Novit Ventures, Perivoli Innovations, the J.B. Ugland family office, and a number of Angels. This latest funding round takes the total raised by Lifted to $11.2M.

Lifted says its UK market is increasing and claims the number of people caring for adult loved ones has risen exponentially during the pandemic, with almost 1 in 2 people supporting people outside their household.

The startup is entering a perfect storm of increasing need, unpopular care homes, and the UK Government still without a long-term plan for social care.

Lifted app

Lifted app

In contrast to a raft of agencies and freelancers, Lifted directly employs its care workforce and uses its platform to “gamify and improve the experience of carers to make them perform better in people’s lives and also to restore respect to the caring profession” with its Care Management Platform, says the company.

Lifted has also acquired the ‘Live Better With Dementia’ website and launched the Lifted Dementia Hub, an online community with a marketplace of products.

Rachael Crook co-founded Lifted with Sam Cohen. She says she was inspired to get into the sector when, at the age of 24, she had to care for her mother, who was diagnosed with dementia at age 56.

Rachael Crook, Lifted CEO sold me at an interview: “I was in that position much younger than most people. And it seemed abundantly clear to me that it was an experience that was hugely emotionally important to me, and financially expensive, was really convoluted and frustrating. It made an already really difficult time, more difficult. My mum brought me up to really fight for the underdog and I felt like the carers themselves were getting a really poor deal. And yet, it’s a huge colossal market. The care market is set to double in the next 20 years, and for the next 10 years, we will look to compete against traditional care companies. We want to transform the care experience. This is a product that is worth four and a half times your mortgage. And yet, it’s predominantly bought in a really antiquated way with paper and pen systems. It’s really hard to keep up to date with your loved ones’ care. We’re also competing against new entrants.”

She added: “In 12 months, we have tripled revenue, launched the first App in the world to offer free care advice, and cut Carer churn to half the industry average, all while maintaining exclusively 5-star reviews on Trustpilot.”

Mark Pearson, Managing Partner of Fuel Ventures said: “Rachael, Sam and their team have delivered exceptional growth in the past year. They have a unique vision of the future for care and their model is delivering clear results for both sides of the marketplace.”

#caregiving, #ceo, #dementia, #europe, #fuel-ventures, #health, #managing-partner, #mark-pearson, #online-community, #tc, #trustpilot, #uk-government, #united-kingdom

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Google’s Gradient Ventures leads $8.2M Series A for Vault Platform’s misconduct reporting SaaS

Fixing workplace misconduct reporting is a mission that’s snagged London-based Vault Platform backing from Google’s AI focused fund, Gradient Ventures, which is the lead investor in an $8.2 million Series A that’s being announced today.

Other investors joining the round are Illuminate Financial, along with existing investors including Kindred Capital and Angular Ventures. Its $4.2M seed round was closed back in 2019.

Vault sells a suite of SaaS tools to enterprise-sized or large/scale-up companies to support them to pro-actively manage internal ethics and integrity issues. As well as tools for staff to report issues, data and analytics is baked into the platform — so it can support with customers’ wider audit and compliance requirements.

In an interview with TechCrunch, co-founder and CEO Neta Meidav said that as well as being wholly on board with the overarching mission to upgrade legacy reporting tools like hotlines provided to staff to try to surface conduct-related workplace risks (be that bullying and harassment; racism and sexism; or bribery, corruption and fraud), as you might expect Gradient Ventures was interested in the potential for applying AI to further enhance Vault’s SaaS-based reporting tool.

A feature of its current platform, called ‘GoTogether’, consists of an escrow system that allows users to submit misconduct reports to the relevant internal bodies but only if they are not the first or only person to have made a report about the same person — the idea being that can help encourage staff (or outsiders, where open reporting is enabled) to report concerns they may otherwise hesitate to, for various reasons.

Vault now wants to expand the feature’s capabilities so it can be used to proactively surface problematic conduct that may not just relate to a particular individual but may even affect a whole team or division — by using natural language processing to help spot patterns and potential linkages in the kind of activity being reported.

“Our algorithms today match on an alleged perpetrator’s identity. However many events that people might report on are not related to a specific person — they can be more descriptive,” explains Meidav. “For example if you are experiencing some irregularities in accounting in your department, for example, and you’re suspecting that there is some sort of corruption or fraudulent activity happening.”

“If you think about the greatest [workplace misconduct] disasters and crises that happened in recent years — the Dieselgate story at Volkswagen, what happened in Boeing — the common denominator in all these cases is that there’s been some sort of a serious ethical breach or failure which was observed by several people within the organization in remote parts of the organization. And the dots weren’t connected,” she goes on. “So the capacity we’re currently building and increasing — building upon what we already have with GoTogether — is the ability to connect on these repeated events and be able to connect and understand and read the human input. And connect the dots when repeated events are happening — alerting companies’ boards that there is a certain ‘hot pocket’ that they need to go and investigate.

“That would save companies from great risk, great cost, and essentially could prevent huge loss. Not only financial but reputational, sometimes it’s even loss to human lives… That’s where we’re getting to and what we’re aiming to achieve.”

There is the question of how defensible Vault’s GoTogether feature is — how easily it could be copied — given you can’t patent an idea. So baking in AI smarts may be a way to layer added sophistication to try to maintain a competitive edge.

“There’s some very sophisticated, unique technology there in the backend so we are continuing to invest in this side of our technology. And Gradient’s investment and the specific we’re receiving from Google now will only increase that element and that side of our business,” says Meidav when we ask about defensibility.

Commenting on the funding in a statement, Gradient Ventures founder and managing partner, Anna Patterson, added: “Vault tackles an important space with an innovative and timely solution. Vault’s application provides organizations with a data-driven approach to tackling challenges like occupational fraud, bribery or corruption incidents, safety failures and misconduct. Given their impressive team, technology, and customer traction, they are poised to improve the modern workplace.”

The London-based startup was only founded in 2018 — and while it’s most keen to talk about disrupting legacy hotline systems, which offer only a linear and passive conduit for misconduct reporting, there are a number of other startups playing in the same space. Examples include the likes of LA-based AllVoices, YC-backed WhispliHootsworth and Spot to name a few.

Competition seems likely to continue to increase as regulatory requirements around workplace reporting keep stepping up.

The incoming EU Whistleblower Protection Directive is one piece of regulation Vault expects will increase demand for smarter compliance solutions — aka “TrustTech”, as it seeks to badge it — as it will require companies of more than 250 employees to have a reporting solution in place by the end of December 2021, encouraging European businesses to cast around for tools to help shrink their misconduct-related risk.

She also suggests a platform solution can help bridge gaps between different internal teams that may need to be involved in addressing complaints, as well as helping to speed up internal investigations by offering the ability to chat anonymously with the original reporter.

Meidav also flags the rising attention US regulators are giving to workplace misconduct reporting — noting some recent massive awards by the SEC to external whistleblowers, such as the $28M paid out to a single whistleblower earlier this year (in relation to the Panasonic Avionics consultant corruption case).

She also argues that growing numbers of companies going public (such as via the SPAC trend, where there will have been reduced regulatory scrutiny ahead of the ‘blank check’ IPO) raises reporting requirements generally — meaning, again, more companies will need to have in place a system operated by a third party which allows anonymous and non-anonymous reporting. (And, well, we can only speculate whether companies going public by SPAC may be in greater need of misconduct reporting services vs companies that choose to take a more traditional and scrutinized route to market… )

“Just a few years back I had to convince investors that this category it really is a category — and fast forward to 2021, congratulations! We have a market here. It’s a growing category and there is competition in this space,” says Meidav.

“What truly differentiates Vault is that we did not just focus on digitizing an old legacy process. We focused on leveraging technology to truly empower more misconduct to surface internally and for employees to speak up in ways that weren’t available for them before. GoTogether is truly unique as well as the things that we’re doing on the operational side for a company — such as collaboration.”

She gives an example of how a customer in the oil and gas sector configured the platform to make use of an anonymous chat feature in Vault’s app so they could provide employees with a secure direct-line to company leadership.

“They’ve utilizing the anonymous chat that the app enables for people to have a direct line to leadership,” she says. “That’s incredible. That is such a progress, forward looking way to be utilizing this tool.”

Vault Platform’s suite of tools include an employee app and a Resolution Hub for compliance, HR, risk and legal teams (Image credits: Vault Platform)

Meidav says Vault has around 30 customers at this stage, split between the US and EU — its core regions of focus.

And while its platform is geared towards enterprises, its early customer base includes a fair number of scale-ups — with familiar names like Lemonade, Airbnb, Kavak, G2 and OVO Energy on the list.

Scale ups may be natural customers for this sort of product given the huge pressures that can be brought to bear upon company culture as a startup switches to expanding headcount very rapidly, per Meidav.

“They are the early adopters and they are also very much sensitive to events such as these kind of [workplace] scandals as it can impact them greatly… as well as the fact that when a company goes through a hyper growth — and usually you see hyper growth happening in tech companies more than in any other type of sector — hyper growth is at time when you really, as management, as leadership, it’s really important to safeguard your culture,” she suggests.

“Because it changes very, very quickly and these changes can lead to all sorts of things — and it’s really important that leadership is on top of it. So when a company goes through hyper growth it’s an excellent time for them to incorporate a tool such as Vault. As well as the fact that every company that even thinks of an IPO in the coming months or years will do very well to put a tool like Vault in place.”

Expanding Vault’s own team is also on the cards after this Series A close, as it guns for the next phase of growth for its own business. Presumably, though, it’s not short of a misconduct reporting solution.

#abuse, #airbnb, #allvoices, #angular-ventures, #anna-patterson, #artificial-intelligence, #boeing, #corporate-law, #corruption, #deception, #europe, #european-union, #fundings-exits, #google, #gradient-ventures, #kindred-capital, #london, #louisiana, #managing-partner, #misconduct, #natural-language-processing, #saas, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #united-states, #vault-platform, #workplace

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Brazil’s idwall raises $38M for identity validation platform

Online fraud and identity theft is a global problem that has only been exacerbated with increased online transactions amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, it is estimated that Brazilian companies lose over $41 billion due to fraud every year.

In an attempt to tackle this problem head on, Lincoln Ando and Raphael Melo started idwall in mid-2016. São Paulo-based idwall started as an automated background check solution and has since grown into a suite of data and identity validation and risk analysis products. For the consumer market, its “MeuID” app is aimed at users who want to change the way they identify themselves and share their data.

And now the Brazilian regtech has raised $38 million in a Series C round led by Endurance.

GGV Capital, monashees, Canary, Qualcomm Ventures, ONEVC, Peninsula and Norte also participated in the funding, bringing its total raised to nearly $50 million.

The company says it has grown 1,458% between 2017 and 2020, with average growth of 144% per year. Its more than 300 clients include 10 unicorns, two out of the three biggest banks in Brazil and companies such as iFood, Claro, Cielo, Loggi, Ebanx, QuintoAndar and OLX, among others.

Fintechs make up a significant portion of its client base, and in 2020, the company saw its revenue from clients in the financial industry alone climb by 588% compared to 2019.

Idwall uses machine learning and AI to automate the onboarding process via its face match, background check, risk analysis, ID validation and automated optical character recognition (OCR) offerings to help companies avoid fraud.

The company said its APIs verify personal documents and information by searching in public and private databases “quickly and pursuant to the compliance rules.” Idwall does all this by first validating that an ID is authentic. Then it works to ensure the person using it is actually the owner of the ID. And lastly, it runs a full background check. It claims it does all this in less than three minutes.

“We help them do all these onboarding processes in a safer, better and faster way,” said idwall co-founder and CEO Ando.

Over the years, idwall has generated more than 65 million data reports for its clients, a number that it says surged by 5,000 times between 2017 and 2020.Those reports, it claims, have helped its clients scale their operations, register more of their own clients and optimize compliance and KYC processes, as well as reduce fraud.

Image Credits: idwall

In general, the pandemic’s drive to digital led to a massive increase in the number of digital bank accounts, mobile payment services and also of companies adjusting to digital platforms and/or expanding their digital operations — leading to a boom in business for idwall.

“The more digitized companies become, the more client expectations grow — and market competition grows stronger,” Ando said. “Our mission is to always stay ahead of innovation in our market, and that’s why we invest so much in growth and in building the best possible team to develop our products.”

Part of that includes using its new capital to recruit more developers, strengthen its existing products and release new ones. Idwall plans to increase its headcount from its current 200 to about 300 over the next few months. The company is also examining the possibility of expanding outside of Brazil to all of Latin America. 

“Many of the identity validation and fraud problems faced in Brazil are seen in other Latin American countries as well,” Ando said. “Besides, places like Mexico and Colombia also have highly innovative companies pushing the envelope when it comes to identity and technology. We still have a lot to achieve in Brazil, but we see a big opportunity for us to take our mission even further.”

Still, in its home country, recent regulatory changes in Brazil in recent years have also led to an increase in demand for idwall’s offerings.

In addition, Brazil’s documentation databases are highly siloed, the company says, with each state having its own model for the most common identity document, the RG (“Registro Geral” or “General Registry”). Plus, each citizen can be issued a different RG document in each state.

“It’s undeniable how much digital onboarding and automated identity validation processes are fundamental for the Latin American market to reach as far as it has the potential to,” Ando said. “It’s extremely difficult to understand and validate identification and personal data in Brazil.”

Also, in general, the company has observed how weary Brazilians are of having to show their IDs for routine events. Idwall helps with that via its aforementioned “MeuID” solution, which stores in a single wallet all the documents necessary for the onboarding processes of fintechs, startups, office buildings and other businesses.

Its investors are, naturally, bullish.

Hans Tung, GGV Capital’s managing partner, describes idwall as a “one-of-a-kind” startup. 

“idwall is leading the discussions and innovations in Brazil regarding digital onboarding and identity validation,” he said. “And their B2C digital identity app MeuID could be the first true super-app in Latin America.”

GGV aims to invest in category leaders that are using technology to create positive impact for its users and for society, Tung added.

“The idwall founders are tackling a huge yet underserved problem in Brazil, and have led the company through terrific growth,” he said. “They have the ingredients to become the leading personal data platform in LatAm for the enterprise.”

Marcos Toledo, managing partner at Canary, notes that idwall was one of his firm’s first investments.

“Lincoln and Raphael’s abilities to build and scale a business solving a very relevant problem in Brazil have caught our attention,” he told TechCrunch. “Their culture, tech level and agility as a company also are very remarkable in the Brazilian market.”

#artificial-intelligence, #brazil, #canary, #colombia, #digital-identity, #ebanx, #economy, #endurance, #finance, #financial-technology, #funding, #fundings-exits, #ggv-capital, #hans-tung, #identity-management, #identity-theft, #identity-verification, #idwall, #ifood, #latin-america, #machine-learning, #managing-partner, #mexico, #ocr, #olx, #onboarding, #online-fraud, #optical-character-recognition, #qualcomm-ventures, #quintoandar, #recent-funding, #regtech, #sao-paulo, #startup, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

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Orbiit raises Seed funding to automate the interactions within an online community

Orbiit, a startup that automates the interactions within an online community, has raised a $2.7 million round led by Bread and Butter Ventures with participation from new investors High Alpha Capital, LAUNCHub Ventures and Company Ventures. Existing investors Founders Fund, which led Orbiit’s $1M pre-seed round, Acceleprise and other angels also participated. The capital will be used to build out the Orbiit product and engineering team.

Orbiit says its platform handles the communications, matching, scheduling, feedback collection, and analytics for people connecting with each other in an online community. The idea is that the communities therefore learn and network better, engage more, and share more knowledge.

CEO and Co-Founder Bilyana Freye said: “Tailored 1:1 connections allow members to discuss difficult topics, be vulnerable and share learnings with one another. Those 1:1 connections are the hardest to execute, but when you start investing in them, with the help of Orbiit, you see engagement feeding into all other initiatives and a vibrant, active community that truly delivers on the promise to its members.”

Bread and Butter Ventures Managing Partner Mary Grove added: “This age-old question of how to leverage technology at scale to drive meaningful connections across communities both internal to an organization and across the globe is a problem we’ve been actively seeking a solution to for a decade. Orbiit brings the perfect blend of tech-enabled software with human curation to create strong connections and provide insights back to community managers.”

The platform is being used by startup communities at True Ventures, GGV, and Lerer Hippeau; private networking groups such as Dreamers & Doers; and customer communities, like the CFO community run by fintech leader Spendesk.

Founders Fund Principal Delian Asparouhov said: “We see Orbiit as a key platform for peer learning within companies and communities, unlocking untapped knowledge through curated matchmaking.”

LAUNCHub Ventures participated in the round, following the recent first close of its new $70 million fund.

#cfo, #delian-asparouhov, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #founders-fund, #ggv, #high-alpha-capital, #launchub-ventures, #lerer-hippeau, #managing-partner, #mary-grove, #online-community, #private-equity, #spendesk, #startup-company, #tc, #true-ventures

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Homeward secures $371M to help people make all-cash offers on houses

Trying to buy a house in a competitive market is perhaps one of the most stressful things an adult can go through.

Competing with a bunch of people all putting offers on a house that fly off the market in a matter of days is not fun. One startup that is trying to give home buyers a competitive edge by giving them a way to offer all cash on a home has just raised a boatload of money to help it keep growing.

Austin-based Homeward, which aims to help people buy homes faster, announced today it has raised $136 million in a Series B funding round led by Norwest Venture Partners at a valuation “just north of $800 million.” The company has also secured $235 million in debt.

Blackstone, Breyer Capital and existing backers Adams Street, Javelin and LiveOak Venture Partners also participated in the equity financing, which brings Homeward’s total equity raised since inception to $160 million. 

Homeward’s model seems to be appealing to both home buyers (including first time ones) and agents alike, with lots of growth occurring since May 2020 when it raised $105 million in debt and equity. The company declined to reveal hard revenue figures but noted that its GMV (gross merchandise value) run rate is up over 600%+ year over year.

Also, as of March, Homeward says it had experienced a 5x increase in the volume of homes transacted and 9x year over growth in the number of new customers. Plus, It’s hired 161 employees since January alone, and currently has a headcount of 203, up from about 33 at this time last year. 

CEO Tim Heyl founded the real estate startup in late 2018 on the premise that in most cases, sellers prefer to receive all cash offers because they are more likely to close. Loans can fall through, but cash is cash.

Heyl started the company after having worked in the industry for the previous decade, first as a broker then as the owner of a title company. During that time, he saw firsthand many of the problems in the industry. And one conundrum he frequently ran into was people not wanting to make an offer on a home without knowing for sure their current house would sell in a certain amount of time. This is a dilemma many are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic as demand outweighs supply in many major U.S. cities.

“The pandemic has greatly increased demand for our product,” Heyl told TechCrunch. “It’s a historic seller’s market with unprecedented demand from buyers and the lowest inventory levels in decades.”

The company plans to use its new capital to “double down” on its offering, scale up to meet “outsized demand” and open additional markets. Currently, Homeward operates in Texas, Colorado and Georgia.

“Right now, we have a waiting list in every market across the country, so this growth capital will enable us to meet that demand,” Heyl said. Its ultimate goal is to open its offering to agents nationwide.

Homeward also plans to double the size of its title and mortgage teams in the latter half of the year so it can offer its clients and partner agents “a single streamlined experience.” It’s also planning to integrate its consumer and internal software systems for approvals, offers and closing “so everyone can be on a single platform and we can eliminate confusion and waste,” Heyl added.

So, how does it work exactly? Homeward will make an all-cash offer on behalf of a customer wanting to buy a house. Meanwhile, that customer can hire an agent (from brokerages such as Redfin or Keller Williams) to list their home with less pressure to sell it in a certain amount of time or at a discounted price. Once Homeward buys a home, it will lease the property back to its customer until they sell their house, get a mortgage, and can buy the property back from Homeward, plus a 2 percent to 3 percent convenience fee. During the process, Homeward offers a predetermined guaranteed price for its customer’s home with the promise that if it’s unable to sell the house for at least that amount, it’ll buy the house from them.

Heyl believes Homeward’s “alternative iBuyer” model is a better deal for customers since it doesn’t purchase a customer’s old home for below market value. The company also works with agents, and not against them, he said. For example, its offerings are available to any agent, but the company “strategically” partners with top brokerages and teams, providing them with what it describes as “dedicated support, white-label branding, and digital marketing tools to help them stand out from the crowd and attract more clients.”

“Most alternatives to traditional real estate minimize or replace the agent,” Heyl said. “But we are agents ourselves, and we’ve built this for agents.”

Homeward is profitable on a per unit basis if you count transaction revenue minus costs to acquire and complete each transaction, according to Heyl. However, it is not yet profitable on a net income basis.

Jeff Crowe, managing partner at Norwest Venture Partners, will join Homeward’s board as part of the funding.

“Homeward is innovating at the intersection of real estate and fintech — that’s the next frontier,” he said. “Homeward’s cash offer addresses real problems for homebuyers in all market conditions, and the team has identified a winning strategy by partnering with agents and their clients.”

Jim Breyer of Breyer Capital describes Homeward as one of Austin’s most innovative companies.

“We are inspired by the company’s mission to build home finance solutions to overcome the limitations of the traditional mortgage and we are proud to support them as they continue to scale rapidly and efficiently,” he said.

#austin, #blackstone, #breyer-capital, #broker, #ceo, #colorado, #economy, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #georgia, #jeff-crowe, #jim-breyer, #liveoak-venture-partners, #managing-partner, #norwest-venture-partners, #proptech, #real-estate, #real-estate-tech, #recent-funding, #redfin, #startup, #startups, #tc, #texas, #united-states, #venture-capital

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With new Partner Colin Hanna, and Shikha Ahluwalia as Associate, Balderton puts down roots in Berlin

As of now, one fo the UK’s biggest and most active tech VCs has a new partner. Principal Colin Hanna has spearheaded several of Balderton’s deals in the past couple of years, and has now been appointed a Partner. But there’s a twist to this plot. He will be officially based in Berlin (where he’s lived since 2019), thus giving the VC a more powerful reach, being based, as it is, solely in London.

Hanna said: “Having been with Balderton for five years, I am humbled to now call my mentors my Partners. I look forward to strengthening Balderton’s unique approach from Berlin as we engineer serendipity for European founders with planet-scale ambition.”

Bernard Liautaud, Managing Partner of Balderton commented: “We are delighted to announce Colin’s promotion to Partner. Since he joined Balderton in 2016, Colin has had a significant impact on both Balderton and our portfolio… Colin has strengthened our position in DACH by establishing our permanent presence in Berlin and bringing in Shikha Ahluwalia, whom we are delighted to have. In addition, he was instrumental in the definition of the Balderton Sustainable Future Goals. We have no doubt Colin will be highly successful in his new role.”

The story does not end there, however. Joining him will be tech entrepreneur and founder Shikha Ahluwalia as an Associate covering the DACH region.

co-founded SBL, the D2C women’s fashion e-commerce company in India. Prior to that she was had a tech advisory boutique, and was previously with JP Morgan’s Investment Banking Division in London.

Balderton has 10 current investments across DACH including Contentful, Infarm, SOPHiA Genetics, McMakler, Demodesk, and vivenu.

Ahluwalia commented: “Over the past few years, I have seen the DACH start-up ecosystem evolve rapidly. We at Balderton believe the next European giant will be a technology company and know that the DACH ecosystem plays a significant role in helping form category-leading technology companies. As a former founder myself, I have first-hand experience with the unique challenges of running young businesses. I am excited to contribute and support founders on their own journey as part of Balderton Capital.”

Speaking to me over an interview Hanna said: “Shikha’s hiring deepens our commitment to the local Berlin ecosystem and to the DACH region more broadly. We have been actively supporting Founders in Germany for more than a decade.”

After spending his childhood in Jakarta and Hong Kong, and picking up a degree in Political Economy, Hanna has carved out a career in venture investing – at Balderton since July 4, 2016 – looking at it through the prism on the rise of urban living, grassroots-driven technologies like open source and crypto, and the political ramifications of technology.

He sits on the Board of companies like e-bikes startup VanMoof, Finoa (a crypto custodian), Rahko (quantum computing drug discovery, and helped lead on investments into Traefik and Luno and Vivenu).

One these you might pick up from all those is that they err towards the ‘purpose-driven’ side of the equation.

He told me: “I believe the next generation of Founders, particularly in Europe, care more about just their bank accounts and want to build companies that generate impact and are not afraid to take a view on how they want the world to change. Measuring this is a challenge and something we are trying to do with our SFGs at Balderton which I helped spearhead. I believe that when companies like Coinbase and others go “apolitical” they commit themselves to defending the structural status quo rather than becoming agents of deliberate change.”

“My point about purpose driven companies is that when I think when employees want to work with companies believe in their values and you try to tell them those aren’t important, that could be viewed as political. I don’t think we should be we should be muffling the employees.”

Does he think Coinbase, and also recent more recently Basecamp / 37 Signals were wrong to so-called ‘depoliticize’ their businesses?

“I think, I think every CEO is free to run their company how they see fit. But I think that that poses challenges for them on the talent side. I understand, as an American, how charged and how destructive the political climate became, and so I can really understand and empathize why certain choices were made at that time, because you get to a point where that where the conversation becomes toxic… I hope that the steps that they’ve taken, don’t strangle dialogue and conversation that’s constructive about how we want to make an impact and change the world, either as individuals or with the companies we work for,” he said.

Hanna also told me that he think VCs should be wary that the shift to remote will make it easier to invest more widely. “You have to more background checks on founders now, and things like that. But is it a ‘little bit’ more dangerous or is it ‘50% more dangerous’ the fact that people aren’t meeting up in person?”

#balderton, #balderton-capital, #basecamp, #berlin, #bernard-liautaud, #ceo, #coinbase, #colin-hanna, #companies, #drug-discovery, #europe, #finance, #germany, #india, #jakarta, #jp-morgan, #london, #managing-partner, #sophia-genetics, #startup-company, #tc, #technology, #united-kingdom, #vanmoof

0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0

‘Pure’ nutritional supplements startup Feel closes $6.2M investment, led by Fuel Ventures

Earlier this year we covered the launch of Heights, a new supplements startup in an increasingly hot category. Feel, is a year-old UK startup with another twist on this world: pure nutritional supplements. It’s now closed a $6.2 million investment, led by Fuel Ventures, with participation from TMT Investments, Sova VC, Richard Longhurst (founder of LoveHoney.com) and Igor Ryabenkiy (founder and GP of Altair Capital).

Feel founder Boris Hodakel says he spun his startup up after looking at the UK’s big health and retail brands including Graze, Tesco, Bulk Powders and Simba Sleep.

In many ways Feel is very akin to Graze. The supplements arrive in a post-box-friendly box and is available in a range of subscription packages. This is basically ‘Graze nuts, but for supplements.’

Feel has a direct-to-consumer subscription model, and is claiming a 60x growth in its first year and 21,000 active subscriptions.

Hodakel’s contention is that while Feel provides higher grade supplements to consumers which cost more to produce, it manages to keep costs down for consumers via direct-to-consumer model.

Hodakel, founder and CEO of Feel said: “Not all vitamins are created equal and the majority you find on retail shelves have a dirty formula that is difficult to absorb by the body, missing natural elements. We’re the cleanest alternative in the market – backed up by science –  and continually invest in making our formulas as effective as possible while still affordable.”

He says he started Feel because, having a skin problem, supplements were part of his health routine, but “the aha moment” happened he realized how many fillers were in normal supplements. “All our formulas are researched and formulated in-house, and we keep updating them, like our flagship multivitamin in just two years is already in its 3rd version,” he said.

Mark Pearson, managing partner at Fuel Ventures added: “The growth and the expansion of Feel’s product line present a really exciting time for Feel and we are supporting them in becoming a significant disruptor to the health supplement market.” 

Alexander Chikunov, Partner at Sova VC added, “Feel is in the process of disrupting consumer habits around vitamin intake, and changing a marketplace worth $144bn by providing its customers with top-quality products, combined with flawless and friendly service.”

#altair-capital, #ceo, #europe, #founder, #fuel-ventures, #managing-partner, #mark-pearson, #startup-company, #tc, #tesco, #tmt-investments, #united-kingdom, #vitamins

0

Sales scheduling platform Chili Piper raises $33M Series B funding led by Tiger Global

Chili Piper, which has a sophisticated SaaS appointment scheduling platform for sales teams, has raised a $33 million B round led by Tiger Global. Existing investors Base10 Partners and Gradient Ventures (Google’s AI-focused VC) also participated. This brings the company’s total financing to $54 million. The company will use the capital raised to accelerate product development. The previous $18M A round was led by Base10 and Google’s Gradient Ventures 9 months ago.

It’s main competitor is Calendly, started 21/2 years previously, which recently achieved a $3Bn valuation.

Launched in 2016, Chili Piper’s software for B2B revenue teams is designed to convert leads into attended meetings. Sales teams can also use it to book demos, increase inbound conversion rates, eliminate manual lead routing, and streamline critical processes around meetings. It’s used by Intuit, Twilio, Forrester, Spotify, and Gong.

Chili Piper has a number of different tools for businesses to schedule and calendar accountments, but its key USP is in its use by ‘inbound SDR Sales Development Representatives (SDR)’, who are responsible for qualifying inbound sales leads. It’s particularly useful in scheduling calls when customers hit websites ask for a salesperson to call them back.

Nicolas Vandenberghe, CEO, and co-founder of Chili Piper said: “When we started we sold the house and decided to grow the company ourselves. So all the way until 2019 we bootstrapped. Tiger gave us a valuation that we expected to get at the end of this year, which will help us accelerate things much faster, so we couldn’t refuse it.”

Alina Vandenberghe, CPO, and Co-founder said: “We’re proud to have so many customers scheduling meetings and optimizing their calendars with Chili Piper’s Instant Booker.”

The husband-and-wife founded company has was fully remote from day one, with 93 employees in 81 cities and 21 countries, long before the pandemic hit.

John Curtius, Partner at Tiger Global said: “When we met Nicolas and Alina, we were fired up by their product vision and focus on customer happiness.”

TJ Nahigian, Managing Partner at Base10 Partners, added: “We originally invested in Chili Piper because we knew customers needed ways to add fire to how they connected with inbound leads. We’ve been absolutely blown away with the progress over the past year, 2020 has been a step-change for this company as business went remote.”

#artificial-intelligence, #base10-partners, #co-founder, #europe, #food-and-drink, #forrester, #gradient-ventures, #intuit, #lead-generation, #managing-partner, #marketing, #sales, #spotify, #tc, #tiger-global, #twilio

0

Pale Blue Dot aims to be Europe’s premier early-stage climate investor and has $100 million to prove it

When Hampus Jakobsson, Heidi Lindvall, and Joel Larsson, all well-known players in the European venture ecosystem, began talking about their new firm Pale Blue Dot, they began by looking at the problems with venture capital.

For the three entrepreneurs and investors, whose resumes included co-founding companies and accelerators like The Astonishing Tribe (Jakobsson) and Fast Track Malmö (Lindvall and Larsson) and working as a venture partner at BlueYard Capital (Jakobsson again), the problems were clear.

Their first thesis was that all investment funds should be impact funds, and be taking into account ways to effect positive change; their second thesis was that since all funds should be impact funds, what would be their point of differentiation — that is, where could they provide the most impact.

The three young investors hit on climate change as the core mission and ran with it.

As it was closing on €53 million ($63.3 million) last year, the firm also made its first investments in Phytoform, a London headquartered company creating new crops using computational biology and synbio; Patch, a San Francisco-based carbon-offsetting platform that finances both traditional and frontier “carbon sequestration” methods; and 20tree.ai, an Amsterdam-based startup, using machine learning and satellite data to understand trees to lower the risk of forest fires and power outages.

Now they’ve raised another €34 million and seven more investments on their path to doing between 30 and 35 deals.

These investments primarily focus on Europe and include Veat, a European vegetarian prepared meal company; Madefrom, a still-in-stealth company angling to make everyday products more sustainable; HackYourCloset, a clothing rental company leveraging fast fashion to avoid landfilling clothes; Hier, a fresh food delivery service; Cirplus, a marketplace for recycled plastics trading; and Overstory, which aims to prevent wildfires by giving utilities a view into vegetation around their assets. 

The team expects to be primarily focused on Europe, with a few opportunistic investments in the U.S., and intends to invest in companies that are looking to change systems rather than directly affect consumer behavior. For instance, a Pale Blue Dot investment likely wouldn’t include e-commerce filters for more sustainable shopping, but potentially could include investments in sustainable consumer products companies.

The size of the firm’s commitments will range up to €1 million and will look to commit to a lot of investments. That’s by design, said Jakobsson. “Climate is so many different fields that we didn’t want to do 50% of the fund in food or 50% of the fund in materials,” he said. Also, the founders know their skillsets, which are primarily helping early stage entrepreneurs scale and making the right connections to other investors that can add value.

“In every deal we’ve gotten in co-investors that add particular, amazing, value while we still try to be the shepherds and managers and sherpas,” Jakobsson said. “We’re the ones that are going to protect the founder from the hell-rain of investor opinions.”

Another point of differentiation for the firm are its limited partners. Jakobsson said they rejected capital from oil companies in favor of founders and investors from the tech community that could add value. These include Prima Materia, the investment vehicle for Spotify founder Daniel Ek; the founders of Supercell, Zendesk, TransferWise and DeliveryHero are also backing the firm. So too, is Albert Wenger, a managing partner at Union Square Ventures.

The goal, simply, is to be the best early stage climate fund in Europe.

“We want to be the European climate fund,” Lindvall said. “This is where we can make most of the difference.” 

#albert-wenger, #amsterdam, #blueyard-capital, #corporate-finance, #daniel-ek, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #finance, #food, #hampus-jakobsson, #heidi-lindvall, #investment, #joel-larsson, #london, #machine-learning, #managing-partner, #money, #oil, #pale-blue-dot, #partner, #private-equity, #san-francisco, #spotify, #supercell, #tc, #transferwise, #union-square-ventures, #united-states, #venture-capital, #zendesk

0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credits: Relativity Space

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0

SoftBank-backed Volpe Capital raises $80M to invest in LatAm

In recent years, the tech and venture scene in Latin America has been growing at an accelerated pace. More global investors are backing startups in the region and certain sectors in particular, such as fintech, are exploding.

Global investors are not only pouring money into companies. They’re also investing in funds.

Today, Volpe Capital  announced the $80 million first close of its fund targeting high growth technology investments in Latin America. Notably, Japanese investment conglomerate SoftBank, BTG and Banco Inter affiliates are anchor investors in the new fund, which is targeting aggregate commitments of $100 million with a hard cap of $150 million. Volpe also received a “large anchor investment” from its management team.

Andre Maciel, Gregory Reider and Milena Oliveira are the fund’s founding partners, and are based in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Notably, Maciel is the former managing partner at SoftBank’s $5 billion Latin America-focused innovation fund. He launched Volpe in 2019 primarily with SoftBank’s backing. Reider formerly invested at Warburg Pincus.

Maciel said the fund’s raise was “significantly oversubscribed with firm commitments” and believed to be “among the best capital raises for a first-time fund in its asset class in Latin America.”

Volpe Capital plans to invest in about 15 companies over a two and half year time span, according to Maciel, who expects its average check size to be around $5 billion.

So far, it’s backed Uol Edtech, a subsidiary of Grupo Uol that aims to redefine the digital learning experience in Brazil. 

“We are in no rush,” Maciel told TechCrunch. “We are happy with our first deal and will take capital preservation in consideration. We believe markets are hot now and plan on taking advantage of the cycle by being patient.”

The fund’s strategy is to go after the companies that are not actively raising capital.

We want to invest in companies that are not necessarily raising capital when we approach them,” Maciel said.

The fund views itself as agnostic regarding stage and primary versus secondary.

It is seeking to back early-stage companies with less than $50 million in valuation as well as some later stage, high growth companies. The fund’s first investment — Uol Edtech — falls in the latter category with EBITDA margins above 30%, according to Maciel.

Volpe plans to avoid capital intensive industries, even if related to tech.

“Those are more suitable to investors with deeper pockets than Volpe,” Maciel said. 

Instead it’s eyeing edtech, healthtech, software and fintech investments (that are not credit-related).

“We like sectors that are prone for disruption in Latin America and that require local customization,” Maciel said. “Given the stage of the vc/growth industry in Latin America, we believe it is better to be a generalist.”

SoftBank International CEO Marcelo Claure describes Maciel as one of his “amazing founding partners for SoftBank in Latin America.”

“We are very happy to be one of Volpe’s anchor investors and look forward to continuing our relationship with them,” he added in a written statement.

Another anchor investor has a SoftBank tie. João Vitor Menin, CEO of Inter, a publicly traded fintech platform in Brazil with a market cap of over  $7 billion, points out that Maciel led an investment in Inter’s platform through SoftBank. He also “made valuable contributions” as a board member, according to Menin.

#board-member, #brazil, #business, #ceo, #companies, #finance, #funding, #latin-america, #managing-partner, #marcelo-claure, #sao-paulo, #softbank-group, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

0

YL Ventures sells its stake in cybersecurity unicorn Axonius for $270M

YL Ventures, the Israel-focused cybersecurity seed fund, today announced that it has sold its stake cybersecurity asset management startup Axonius, which only a week ago announced a $100 million Series D funding round that now values it at around $1.2 billion.

ICONIQ Growth, Alkeon Capital Management, DTCP and Harmony Partners acquired YL Venture’s stake for $270 million. This marks YL’s first return from its third $75 million fund, which it raised in 2017, and the largest return in the firm’s history.

With this sale, the company’s third fund still has six portfolio companies remaining. It closed its fourth fund with $120 million in committed capital in the middle of 2019.

Unlike YL, which focuses on early-stage companies — though it also tends to participate in some later-stage rounds — the investors that are buying its stake specialize in later-stage companies that are often on an IPO path. ICONIQ Growth has invested in the likes of Adyen, CrowdStrike, Datadog and Zoom, for example, and has also regularly partnered with YL Ventures on its later-stage investments.

“The transition from early-stage to late-stage investors just makes sense as we drive toward IPO, and it allows each investor to focus on what they do best,” said Dean Sysman, co-founder and CEO of Axonius. “We appreciate the guidance and support the YL Ventures team has provided during the early stages of our company and we congratulate them on this successful journey.”

To put this sale into perspective for the Silicon Valley- and Tel Aviv-based YL Ventures, it’s worth noting that it currently manages about $300 million. Its current portfolio includes the likes of Orca Security, Hunters and Cycode. This sale is a huge win for the firm.

Its most headline-grabbing exit so far was Twistlock, which was acquired by Palo Alto Networks for $410 million in 2019, but it has also seen exits of its portfolio companies to Microsoft, Proofpoint, CA Technologies and Walmart, among others. The fund participated in Axonius’ $4 million seed round in 2017 up to its $58 Million Series C round a year ago.

It seems like YL Ventures is taking a very pragmatic approach here. It doesn’t specialize in late-stage firms — and until recently, Israeli startups always tended to sell long before they got to a late-stage round anyway. And it can generate a nice — and guaranteed — return for its own investors, too.

“This exit netted $270 million in cash directly to our third fund, which had $75 million total in capital commitments, and this fund still has 6 outstanding portfolio companies remaining,” Yoav Leitersdorf, YL Ventures’ founder and managing partner, told me. “Returning multiple times that fund now with a single exit, with the rest of the portfolio companies still there for the upside is the most responsible — yet highly profitable path — we could have taken for our fund at this time. And all this while diverting our energies and means more towards our seed-stage companies (where our help is more impactful), and at the same time supporting Axonius by enabling it to bring aboard such excellent late-stage investors as ICONIQ and Alkeon – a true win-win-win situation for everyone involved!”

He also noted that this sale achieved a top-decile return for the firm’s limited partners and allows it to focus its resources and attention toward the younger companies in its portfolio.

#adyen, #axonius, #ca-technologies, #companies, #crowdstrike, #datadog, #enterprise, #iconiq, #iconiq-growth, #information-technology, #leader, #management, #managing-partner, #microsoft, #palo-alto-networks, #proofpoint, #tel-aviv, #twistlock, #venture-capital, #walmart, #yl-ventures, #yoav-leitersdorf

0

Atlanta startups have another venture fund to tap as Silicon Road Ventures closes on $31 million

Atlanta startups can now add another name to their rolodexes of venture firms operating out of the Big Peach with the close of Silicon Road Ventures new $31 million fund.

Silicon Road invests across the U.S. from its base in Atlanta, the firm said with a focus on e-commerce, retail, and consumer packaged goods.

The firm said it’s focused on in-store retail and technology for shoppers, the multi-channel commerce world, supply chain and logistics technologies and financial technologies and payments.

Founded two years ago, the fund invested in ten startups over the course of 2020 and is targeting another twenty for its first fund.

The firm hopes that entrepreneurs find its “corporate connect” program to be a key differentiator, which relies on founder and managing partner Sid Mookerji’s experience in e-commerce, retail and consumer packaged goods to link corporations to relevant startups and research, according to a statement.

Silicon Road is already working with the upstart retail chain Citizen Supply, which provides a highly curated marketplace to showcase new consumer brands.

Mookerji previously founded Software Paradigms International Group, which was one of the first retail IT companies offering a suite of products designed to optimize omni-channel strategies. The company’s clients included Macy’s, Walmart, Carrefour, and NAPA.

Joining Mookerji is managing director and partner, Ross Kimbel, a former co-founder of Be Curious Partners and a global director of innovation and entrepreneurship at The Coca-Cola Company. curated engagements between portfolio companies and major retailers and brands.

The company’s current portfolio includesPerchToucan AIWeStockSoftWear AutomationPatronPull LogicTurnSymTrainEveryware, and Wripple.

#atlanta, #carrefour, #co-founder, #e-commerce, #entrepreneurship, #macys, #managing-partner, #private-equity, #retail, #retailers, #startup-company, #supermarkets, #supply-chain, #supply-chain-management, #tc, #united-states, #walmart

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Has a startup finally found one of food science’s holy grails with its healthy sugar substitute?

A little less than three years ago at the Computer Science Museum in Mountain View, Calif. the founders of a young company hailing from Cambridge, England addressed a crowd of celebrities, investors and entrepreneurs at Y Combinator’s August Demo Day promising a revolution in food science.

Over the years, the event has become a relatively low-tech, low-budget showcase for a group of tech investors and billionaire industry insiders to take a look at early stage businesses that could be their next billion-dollar opportunity.

Sharing the stage with other innovation-minded budding entrepreneurs the Cambridge scientists boasted of a technology could produce a sweetener that would mimic not just the taste of sugar, but the caramelization and stickiness that makes sugar the go-to additive for the bulk of roughly 74% of packaged foods that are made with some form of sweetener. Their company, Cambridge Glycoscience  could claim a huge slice of a market worth at least a $100 billion market, they said.

Now, the company has a new name, Supplant, and $24 million in venture capital financing to start commercializing its low-cost sugar substitute made from the waste materials of other plants.

 

The bitter history of the sweetest ingredient

Sugar came into the human diet roughly 10,000 years ago as sugarcane, which is native to New Guinea and parts of Taiwan and China. Over the next 2,000 years the crop spread from those regions to Madagascar and eventually took root in India, where it was first refined in about 500 BC.

From there, the sweetener spread across the known world. By the first century AD Greek and Roman scholars were referencing its medicinal properties and, after the Crusades, sugar consumption traveled across Europe through the Middle Ages.

It was a welcome replacement from Europe’s mainstay, honey, and the early artificial sweeteners used by the Romans, which contained near-lethal doses of lead.

The cold climates of Northern Europe proved mostly inhospitable to sugarcane cultivation so the root took root in the more temperate South and the islands off of Europe’s southern coast.

Those regions also became home to the first European experiments with agricultural slavery — a byproduct of the sugar trade, and one that would plant the seeds for the international exploitation of indigenous American and African labor for centuries as the industrial growth of sugar production spread to the New World.

First, European indentured servants and enslaved indigenous people’s powered the production of sugar in the Americas. But as native populations died off due to the introduction of European diseases, genocidal attacks, and back-breaking labor, African slaves were brought to the new colonies to work the fields and mills to make refined sugar.

Sugar hangover

The horrors of slavery may be the most damning legacy of industrial sugar, but it’s far from the only problem caused by the human craving for sweeteners.

As climate change becomes more of a threat, fears of increasing deforestation to meet the world’s demand — or to provide cover for other industrialization of virgin forests — have arisen thanks to new policies in Brazil.

“Conventional cane sugar is heavily heavily water intensive,” said Supplant co-founder Tom Simmons in an interview. That’s another problem for the environment as water becomes the next resource to be stressed by the currents of climate change. And species extinction presents another huge problem too.

“The WWF number one source for biodiversity lost globally is cane sugar plantations,” Simmons said. “Sugar is a massive consumer of water and in contrast, there’s big sustainability pitch for what we do.. the raw materials are products of the current agricultural industry.”

And the quest for sugar substitutes in the U.S. has come with related health costs as high fructose corn syrup has made its way into tons of American products. Invented in 1957, corn syrup is one of the most common sweeteners used to replace sugar — and one that’s thought to have incredibly disastrous effects on the health of consumers worldwide.

The use of corn syrup has been linked to an increasing prevalence of diabetes, obesity, and fatty liver disease, in the world’s population.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 08: In this photo illustration, products containing high sugar levels are on display at a supermarket on April 8, 2016 in Melbourne , Australia. The World Health Organisation’s first global report on diabetes found that 422 million adults live with diabetes, mainly in developing countries. Australian diabetes experts are urging the Federal Government to consider imposing a sugar tax to tackle the growing problem. (Photo by Luis Ascui/Getty Images)

Looking For A Healthier Substitute

As Supplant and its investors look to take the crown as the reigning replacement for sugar, they join a long line of would-be occupants to sugar’s throne.

The first viable, non-toxic chemically derived sugar substitute was discovered in the late 18th century by a German chemist. Called saccharine it was popularized initially during sugar shortages caused by the first World War and gained traction during the health crazes of the sixties and seventies.

Saccharin, still available in pink Sweet n’ Low packets and a host of products, was succeeded by aspartame (known commercially as Equal and present as the sugar substitute in beverages like Diet Coke), which was supplanted by sucralose (known as Splenda).

These chemically derived sweeteners have been the standard on the market for decades now, but with a growing push for natural — rather than chemical — substitutes for sugar and their failures to act as a replacement for all of the things that sugar can do as a food ingredient, the demand for a better sugar has never been higher.

Supplanting the competition 

“Not everything that we back is going to change the world. This, at scale, does that.” said Aydin Senkut, the founder and managing partner of Felicis Ventures, the venture firm that’s one of Supplant’s biggest backers. 

Part of what convinced Senkut is the fact that Supplant’s sweetener has already received preliminary approvals in the European Union by the region’s regulatory equivalent of the Food and Drug Administration. That approval not only covers the sale of Supplant’s product as a sweetener, but also as a probiotic with tangible health benefits he said.

So not only is the Supplant product arguably a better and more direct sugar replacement, as the founders claim, it also has health benefits through providing increased fiber in consumers who use it regularly, Senkut said.

“The European FDA is even stricter than the U.S. FDA,” Senkut said. “[And] they got pre-approval for this.”

Senkut and Felicis invested in Cambridge Glycosciences almost immediately after seeing the company’s presentation at Y Combinator.

“We became the largest investors at seed,” Senkut said.

Its selling points were the products extremely low glycemic index and its ability to be manufactured from waste plant fibers, which means that it ultimately can be produced at a lower cost, according to Senkut.

What’s the difference? 

Supplant differs from its competition in a number of other key ways, according to company co-founder Tom Simmons.

While companies like the Israeli startup DouxMatok or Colorado’s MycoTechnology and Wisconsin’s Sensient work on developing additives from fungus or tree roots or bark that can enhance the sweetness of sugars, Supplant uses alternative sugars to create its sweetener, Simmons said. 

“The core difference is they’re working with cane sugar,” according to Simmons. “Our pitch is we make sugars from fiber so you don’t need to use cane sugar.”

Simmons said that these other startups have been approaching the problem from the wrong direction. “The problem that their technology addresses isn’t the problem the industry has,” Simmons said. “It’s about texture, bulking, caramelization and crystallization… We have a technology that’s going to give you the same sweetness gram for gram.”

There are six different types of calorific sugar, Simmons explained. There’s lactose, which is the sugar in milk; sucrose, which comes from sugarcane and sugar beets; maltose, found in grains like wheat and barley; fructose, the sugar in fruits and honey; glucose, which is in nearly everything, but especially carbohydrate-laden vegetables, fruits, and grains; and galactose, a simple sugar that derives from the breakdown of lactose.

Simmons said that his company’s sugar substitute isn’t based on one compound, but is derived from a range of things that come from fiber. The use of fibers means that the body recognizes the compounds as fibrous and treats them the same way in the digestive tract, but the products taste and act like sugar in food, he said. “Fiber derived sugars are in the category of sugars, but are not the calorific sugars,” said Simmons.

NEW YORK – DECEMBER 6: Packets of the popular sugar substitute Splenda are seen December 6, 2004 in New York City. The manufacturer of sucralose, the key ingredient in the no-calorie sweetener, says demand is so high for the product that it will not be able to take on new U.S. customers until it doubles production in 2006. Splenda has been boosted by the popularity of the low-sugar Atkins diet. (Photo Illustration by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Trust the process? 

Supplant’s technology uses enzymes to break down and fragment various fibers. “As you start breaking it down, it starts looking molecularly like sucrose — like cane sugar — so it starts behaving in a similar way,” said Simmons.

This is all the result of years of research that Simmons began at Cambridge University, he said. “I arrived at Cambridge intending to be a professor. I did not arrive in Cambridge intending to start a business. I was interested in doing science, making inventions and stuff that would reach the wider world. I always imagined the right way for me to do that was to be a professor.”

In time, after receiving his doctorate and beginning his post-doctoral work into the research that would eventually turn into Supplant, Simmons realized that he had to start a company. “To try and do something impactful I was going to have leave the university,” he said. 

In some ways, Supplant operates at the intersection of all of Simmons’ interests in health, nutrition, and sustainability. And he said the company has plans to apply the processing technology across a range of consumer products eventually, but for now the company remains focused on the $100 billion sugar substitute market.

“There’s a handful of different core underlying scientific approaches in different spaces,” he said. The sort of things that go into personal care and homecare. Those chemicals. A big drive in the industry is for both less harsh and harsh chemicals in shampoos but also to do so in a way that’s sustainable. That’s made form a sustainable source but also biodegradable.”

Next steps 

With the money that the company has now raised from investors including Bonfire Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Felicis, Soma Capital, and Y Combinator, Supplant is now going to prove its products in a few very targeted test runs.* The first is a big launch with a celebrity chef, which Simmons teased, but did not elaborate on.

Senkut said that the company’s roll out would be similar to the ways in which Impossible Foods went to market. Beginning with a few trial runs in higher end restaurants and foodstuffs before trying to make a run at a mass consumer market.

The feedstocks for Supplant’s sugar substitute come from sugar cane bagasse, wheat and rice husks, and the processing equipment comes from the brewing industry. That’s going to be a benefit as the company looks to build out an office in the U.S. as it establishes a foothold for a larger manufacturing presence down the line.

“We’re taking known science and applying it in the food industry where we know that it has value,” Simmons said. “We’re not inventing any brand new enzymes and each part of the process — none of it on their own are new. The discovery that these sugars work well and can replace cane sugar. That’s someone that no one has done before. Most sugars don’t behave like cane sugar in food. They’re too dry, they’re too wet, they’re too hard, they’re too soft.”

Ultimately the consumer products mission resonates highly for Simmons and his twenty person team. “We’re going to use these hugely abundant renewable resources produced all around the world,” he said. 

*This story was updated to include Bonfire Ventures and Khosla Ventures as investors in Supplant.

#aydin-senkut, #brazil, #california, #cambridge-university, #chef, #chemicals, #china, #co-founder, #colorado, #consumer-products, #douxmatok, #europe, #european-union, #felicis-ventures, #food, #food-and-drink, #food-and-drug-administration, #food-ingredient, #impossible-foods, #india, #managing-partner, #soma-capital, #sugar, #taiwan, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #venture-capital-financing, #wisconsin, #y-combinator

0

The carbon offset API developer Patch confirms a $4.5 million round led by Andreessen Horowitz

Patch, the carbon offset API developer, has raised $4.5 million in financing to build out its business selling customers a way to calculate their carbon footprint and identify and finance offset projects that capture the equivalent carbon dioxide emissions associated with that footprint. 

Confirming TechCrunch reporting, Andreessen Horowitz led the round, which also included previous investors VersionOne Ventures, MapleVC, and Pale Blue Dot Ventures.

Patch’s application protocol interface works for both internal and customer-facing operations. The company’s code can integrate into the user experience on a company’s internal site to track things like business flights for employees, recommending and managing the purchase of carbon credits to offset employee travel.

The software allows companies to choose which projects they’d like to finance to support the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere with projects ranging from the tried and true reforestation and conservation projects to more high tech early stage technologies like direct air capture and sequestration projects, the company said. 

Patch founders Brennan Spellacy and Aaron Grunfeld, two former employees at the apartment rental service Sonder, stressed in an interview that the company’s offset work should not be viewed as an alternative to the decarbonization of businesses that use its service. Rather, they see Patch’s services as a compliment to other work companies need to do to transition away from a reliance on fossil fuels in business operations.

Patch co-founders Brennon Spellacy and Aaron Grunfeld. Image Credit: Patch

Patch currently works with 11 carbon removal suppliers and has plans to onboard another 10 before the end of the first quarter, the company said. These are companies like CarbonCure, which injects carbon dioxide into cement and fixes it so that it’s embedded in building materials for as long as a building lasts.

“Carbon removal credits can help to dramatically accelerate the deployment of technologies like CarbonCure’s, which are absolutely critical to helping us reach our global climate targets. Demand for high-quality, permanent credits is sky-rocketing, and listing credits on Patch will help us to attract a broader range of buyers,” said Jennifer Wagner, President of CarbonCure Technologies, in a statement. 

It also has around 15 customers already using its service, according to earlier TechCrunch reporting. Those buyers include companies like TripAction and the private equity firm EQT, which intends to extend the integration of Patch’s API from its own operations to those of its portfolio companies down the road, according to Spellacy.

Grunfeld said that the company would be spending the money to hire more staff and developing new products. From its current headcount of six employees, Patch intends to bring on another 24 by the end of the year.

As the company expands, it’s looking to some of the startups providing carbon emissions audit and verification services as a channel that the company’s API can integrate with and sell through.  These would be businesses like  CarbonChainPersefoni, and another Y Combinator graduate, SINAI Technologies.

For project developers like CarbonCure, which makes direct air capture technology, companies like

“An increasing number of businesses are taking leadership positions in an effort to reduce emissions to try to counteract global warming,” said Jeff Jordan, Managing Partner at Andreessen Horowitz. “Patch makes it much easier for companies to add carbon removal to their core business processes, aggregating verified carbon-removal supply and offering turn-key access to it to companies through an easy-to-implement API.”

#andreessen-horowitz, #api, #articles, #carbon-footprint, #carboncure-technologies, #energy, #eqt, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #greenhouse-gases, #jeff-jordan, #managing-partner, #president, #sinai-technologies, #tc, #y-combinator

0

Anuvia raises $103 million to commercialize its novel fertilizer

Anuvia Plant Nutrients has raised $103 million to commercialize its novel fertilizer technology.

The company, backed by investors like TPG ART, Pontifax Global Food and Agriculture Technology Fund, Generate Capital andPiva Capital, is now ready to roll out its tech, which is already used on roughly 1200 farms and is projected to be on 20 million acres of farmland by 2025. 

Now led by longtime agriculture executive Amy Yoder, who represents the sixth generation of a Michigan farm family, Anuvia pitches its tech as a supplement for crops that can boost productivity by taking excrement, food waste and agricultural processing waste and converting that into useful fertilizer using a proprietary catalytic process. 

By treating the waste with a specific blend of chemicals Yoder said Anuvia’s technology can control the release of nutrients as plants grow to make more productive crops and reduce leaching into soil, protecting groundwater and restoring carbon to the soil.

Anuvia is one of a growing number of agriculture technology companies trying to juice crop productivity and capture carbon to provide additional revenues from more abundant crops and carbon capture and storage. Other startups, including Pivot Bio, Indigo Agriculture, AgBiome, and Agrinos, are all developing other crop treatments that can purportedly boost agricultural production.

“Most of what I see would be very complimentary to us,” said Yoder. “Because we put the carbon back into the soil, because the nutrients are held in different way. You could utilize the pivot technology and the Anuvia technology. Those things when they could piggyback together could make really nice solutions in the longterm.”

The Winter Garden, Fla.-based company has a 1.2 million ton facility for production, but the company wants to build out additional capacity and continue developing new fertilizers to take to market, Yoder said.

Farmers using the product see increased yields of around five times their previous production levels and the product can be used on all the main row crops, according to Yoder.

That claim has been verified by Environmental Resources Management (ERM), a leading global environmental consulting firm, versus traditional fertilizer on corn, rice, and cotton.

Anuvia’s treatment can also reduce greenhouse gases on production by up to 32% compared to commercial fertilizers. Anuvia estimates that its products could provide emissions reductions equivalent to removing 30,000 cars from roads. If the company can get farmers to apply its treatment to the 90 million acres of corn in the U.s. that would reduce the equivalent emissions of 1.8 million cars, according to a statement.

“With the world’s population expected to hit 10 billion by 2050, we need technology-enabled, large-scale agriculture to meet this growing demand,” says Dr. Geoff Duyk, Founder and Managing Partner of Circularis and Anuvia Board Member. “Anuvia’s technology will help farms continue to feed the world, while also advancing the circular economy, increasing sustainability, and enhancing resource efficiency.” 

 

#agriculture, #articles, #board-member, #chemicals, #florida, #food-waste, #indigo, #managing-partner, #michigan, #soil, #tc, #technology, #united-states

0

SpaceTech startup ConstellR, that can monitor land surface temperatures, raises €1M pre-seed round

ConstellR, a SpaceTech startup with a technology that can monitors land surface temperatures from space, has raised a €1m pre-seed round led by FTTF, with the participation of strategic investor OHB Venture Capital, Baden-Württemberg’s state bank L-Bank and an undisclosed investor. The first system is due to go into orbit in December 2021. The company was a finalist for Hottest Ag/FoodTech Startup at the prestigious Europas Awards 2020.

The Freiburg, Germany-based startup monitors the land via a constellation of 30 CubeSats with thermal infrared payloads. The data generated is used by farmers to reduce water and fertilizer usage, and could help them reduce existing monitoring costs by 97%, says the company. ConstellR has a patent-pending miniaturization architecture with ‘free-form optics’ and claims to be able to make it much cheaper to monitor the infrared part of the spectrum than traditional satellite systems.

Dr. Max Gulde, CEO, ConstellR, said: “Our mission is to monitor every single field on the planet every single day of the year and provide precision farming companies with highly accurate temperature data to safeguard the world’s food supply. With our strong financial and technology partners on board, I am looking forward to a time of quantum leaps in our constellation development to change agriculture on the global planetary scale.”

Tobias Schwind, Managing Partner at FTTF, Fraunhofer’s Technology Transfer Fund, said: “ConstellR’s unique technology and business case as well as its passionate team convinced us to make this exciting pre-seed investment.”

#ceo, #cubesat, #europe, #food-supply, #germany, #infrared, #managing-partner, #monitoring, #startup-company, #tc, #technology-partners

0

Robert Downey Jr. is launching a new ‘rolling’ venture fund to back sustainability startups

A little less than two years ago, when the actor, producer, and investor Robert Downey Jr. unveiled his new, sustainability focused initiative called the FootPrint Coalition at Amazon’s re:MARS conference it was little more than a static website and a subscription prompt.

Jump cut to today, and the firm now has five portfolio companies, a non-profit initiative, and is launching a rolling venture fund, Footprint Coalition Ventures, at the World Economic Forum’s Digital Davos event.

With the new rolling fund, managed through AngelList, Downey Jr.’s initiative sits the intersection of two of the biggest ideas reshaping the world economy — the democratization of access to capital and investment vehicles and the $10 trillion opportunity to decarbonize global industry.

It’s another arrow in the quiver for an institution that aims to combine storytelling, investing, and non-profit commitments to combat the world’s climate crisis.

Rolling funds and the revolution in finance

There’s a revolution happening in finance right now, whether it’s the rise of the Redittors trying to avenge the malfeasance of short-sellers and big institutional investors that’s happening through investments in stocks like Blockbuster, Nokia, Gamestop and AMC, or the new crowdfunding sources and rolling funds that are allowing regular investors to finance early stage companies, things on Wall Street are definitely changing.

And while the public market gambles are undoubtably minting some new millionaires, opening up access to interesting startup investments is a thesis that’s a stark contrast to the cynicism of day-trading gambles.

Both could leave investors with less than zero in some cases, but with rolling funds or crowdfunding, there’s a real opportunity to build something rather than just sticking it to the man.

Unlike traditional venture funds, rolling funds raise new capital commitments on a quarterly basis and invest as they go, hence the “rolling”. Investors come on for a minimum one-year commitment, and invest at a quarterly cadence. In Downey Jr.’s fund that commitment amounts to $5,000 per quarter for up to 2,000 qualified investors (and a smaller number of accredited ones), according to a person with knowledge of the firm’s plans.

“The idea of opening [the fund] to real people, rather than the ivory tower of the institutional bigwigs… It’s a little bit more slamdance than Sundance [and] I kind of dig it,” said Downey Jr.

A guide to recognizing FootPrint Coalition Ventures

FootPrint Coalition Ventures will be split between early and late stage investment funds and will be looking to make six investments per year in early stage companies and four later stage deals.

Helping Downey Jr. manage the operations are investors like Jonathan Schulthof, who previously founded LOOM Media, which leverages smart urban infrastructure for advertising, founded Motivate International, which manages bike sharing services in cities across the U.S., and served as a managing partner for Global Technology Investments. Schulthof is joined by Steve Levin, who co-founded Team Downey, Downey Jr.’s media production company and Downey Ventures, which invests in media and technology companies. 

The firm already has four companies in its portfolio through investments it made using the founders’ own capital. And while those investments were all under $1 million, the firm expects that the size of its commitments will grow as it raises additional cash. Footprint Coalition has also maintained pro-rata investment rights so that it can increase the size of its stake in businesses over time. And the investments it made to date were sized in anticipation of potential for follow-ons at much higher valuations.

A venture fund inside of a coalition

The initiative that Downey Jr. hopes to build is more than just an investment arm. Both he and his co-founders see the investment side as a single piece of a broader platform that leverages the massive social following Downey Jr. has created and the storytelling skills he and his team have mastered through decades spent working in the movie business.

That broader team includes Rachel Kropa, the former head of the CAA Foundation, who will lead scientific and philanthropic efforts and serve as the fund’s Impact Advisor and liaison to the scientific and research communities, according to a statement.

Rachel Kropa, former head of the CAA Foundation who joined Footprint Coalition to lead scientific and philanthropic efforts last year, will serve as the fund’s Impact Advisor and liaison to the scientific and research communities.

“The idea that the content that we made can be related back to the individual is very powerful,” said Kropa. “This problem is so intractable and interconnected across the world. It does matter that the fish that you eat are made using a sustainable feed.”

Kropa is referring to a piece that the FootPrint Coalition put out around sustainable aquaculture tied to the group’s recent investment in Ÿnsect, a company that makes protein from crickets for use in animal feed and human food.

“Our content around Cellular Agriculture, exemplifies the type of content we can create in the course of taking a deep dive into a particular industry. Though we have not (yet) invested in the space, we do believe there are interesting stories to tell,” said one person who works with the company.

That media is additive to activate the group’s audience, and is not something that it charges for — or considers part of its investment valuation. “We’ve been creating edited video segments with Robert doing voice over and overlaying animation all of which we’ve been posting to social. We do this for free to the companies, and we don’t charge / strong-arm / cajole for warrants, advisor shares, or the like in return,” the person said.

Weird science and sustainability

While Ÿnsect is one example of a company that the FootPrint Coalition has backed that’s doing something which may be a little outside of the purview of most of Downey Jr.’s following, other businesses like the bamboo toilet paper company, Cloud Paper, and the new investment in the sustainability focused financial services company, Aspiration, have definite direct consumer ties.

That balance is something that Schulthof said the firm was looking for as it pursues not just environmental and sustainability returns, but, more concretely, profit.

“We look at things that are meaningful and impactful [and] I get to be purely capitalist. The question is this a good opportunity is something that has to do with its margins, its scale, its risk profile, the people involved and fundamentally what are the terms… do we think the company will deliver value to investors,” said Schulthof. “We’re looking for returns.”

The opportunity for returns is enormous. As the group noted, the ESG sector – funds that focus on the Environmental, Social and Governance issues – continues to grow rapidly Part of the broader stakeholder capitalism movement, impact investing funds have topped $250 billion, and sustainability assets have doubled in value over the past three years.

“We see two powerful trends working together to support the environment. First, engaging content and media distribution enable us to create a passionate community from Robert’s 100 million followers and to use that audience to access great investments. Second, a turnkey technology platform now enables us to manage a broad set of individual investors,” said Schulthof in a statement. “Venture funds traditionally have high minimums that exclude only the wealthiest individuals, or endowments and foundations. With much lower minimums and shorter investment periods, we can now offer access to these same companies to a much broader group. When these investors further ignite our passionate audience, we hope to set a positive feedback loop in motion with environmental technologies as the ultimate beneficiary.”

 

#advisor, #amc, #angellist, #animation, #aspiration, #cloud-paper, #corporate-finance, #crowdfunding, #davos, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #funding, #gamestop, #head, #investor, #managing-partner, #media-production, #money, #nokia, #private-equity, #sundance, #tc, #technology, #united-states, #venture-capital, #world-economic-forum, #ynsect

0

Renewable investment wave continues as solar lending company Loanpal raises $800 million

Days after the billionaire investor Chamath Palihapitiya announced his involvement in the $1.3 billion acquisition of the solar and home improvement lending business Sunlight Financial, a collection of investors announced a nearly $1 billion cash infusion into Loanpal, another renewable energy and home improvement lender.

The $800 million commitment to Loanpal arrives alongside a flurry of climate commitments from some of the world’s largest investors.

Yesterday, Blackrock chief Larry Fink, released the $9 trillion investment manager’s annual letter calling for more stringent accounting and reporting of climate data, and Bank of America joined 60 other companies in committing to a new reporting standard for climate and sustainability endorsed by the International Business Council and the World Economic Forum. Fink endorses a separate reporting scheme called the Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosures that has the backing of some of the biggest financial investors in the world.

These new standards will drive more investment dollars into businesses that are reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change. And lending programs incentivizing the switch to more energy efficient appliances and renewable installations are probably the lowest of low hanging fruit for the financial services industry.

That’s one reason why investors like NEA, the WestCap Group, Brookfield Asset Management, and the giant private equity energy investment fund Riverstone Holdings are backing Loanpal.

The deal, which was a secondary transaction to give strategic investors a stake in the business actually wrapped up last year. As a result Scott Sandell, the managing general partner at NEA and a longtime investor in pr and Laurence Tosi, Managing Partner of WestCap Group, have joined the company’s board of directors.

“We invited a number of players into the company,” said Loanpal’s founder, chairman and chief executive Hayes Barnard. The former chief revenue officer for SolarCity before its acquisition by Tesla, Barnard has a long history with solar energy development. At Loanpal he also had the balance sheet to take his pick among would-be investors. “We’re a multi-billion dollar company,” said Barnard.

Loanpal founder chairman and chief executive, Hayes Barnard. Image Credit: Loanpal

“This was us inviting strategic investors into the company and being thoughtful about where they could help and how they could help,” Barnard said.

Loanpal is profitable, has zero debt and throws off monthly dividends to its financial backers. “Today we finance $400 million a month for roughly 15,000 solar systems that are combined with battery systems,” says Barnard. In all, the company has arranged $5.9 billion in consumer finance loans since its launch in 2018. Loanpal also counts around 85% of the top solar firms as vendors and has a staff of around 12,000 sales professionals.

Those numbers allowed the company to bring in board members like Tosi, the former chief financial officer of the multi-billion dollar financial services firm, Blackstone. “He really understands how to bring in capital markets at scale,” said Barnard. 

If anything, the attention from Blackrock, Blackstone, Riverstone and all the financial services firms without references to stones or rocks in their name shows that this is a problem of capital at scale. Decarbonizing the global economy is a $10 trillion business, according to the World Economic Forum (or, for the retail investment crowd, the equivalent of roughly 66.7 billion Gamestops at yesterday’s share price).

The near term market that we’re going to penetrate now is sustainable home solutions that’s a $100 billion market,” Barnard said. 

A significant chunk of that $10 trillion is going to come from the development and integration of new consumer facing appliances and hardware to reduce the consumption of energy. “We believe the battery storage market, the smart thermostat market and the solar market are all intertwined and combined,” said Barnard. “Overall the most important thing is that this is just technology that is better. It was going to scale regardless of who was in the White House. These pieces of technology are better, they save homeowners money.. It’s kind of an IQ test if homeowners want to do it.”

#bank-of-america, #blackrock, #blackstone, #chamath-palihapitiya, #chief-financial-officer, #economy, #energy, #finance, #general-partner, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #laurence-tosi, #managing-partner, #money, #nea, #officer, #private-equity, #renewable-energy, #riverstone-holdings, #scott-sandell, #solarcity, #tc, #tesla, #white-house, #world-economic-forum

0

Booksy raises $70M war chest to acquire salon appointment apps, expand internationally

Beauty and wellness appointment booking apps have proliferated of the last few years, but it appears the race is still on as today one of the leaders, Booksy, raises $70 million in a Series C round led by Cat Rock Capital, with participation from Sprints Capital. 

The round was also joined by OpenOcean, Piton Capital, VNV Global, Enern, Kai Hansen, Zach Coelius and Manta Ray Ventures, and takes the total raised by the firm to $119 million. The funding will be used for expansion plans across North America, expanding to new verticals, and acquiring complementary businesses.

The Booksy app is used by customers to book and pay for beauty appointments with local businesses. Salons, nail bars and barbershops can manage the bookings, payments, and customer base via the accompanying Booksy Biz app. The platform also allows salons to sell other products via Booksy E-Commerce, which acts as a marketplace allowing customers to discover and book other local stylists, nail technicians etc.

Booksy was founded by Polish entrepreneurs Stefan Batory (CEO) and Konrad Howard. Allowing customers to schedule their best appointment time means that 38% of customers end up booking after-hours and increasing their appointment frequency by 20%, says the company. The startup launched in 2014 but is now in the US (its largest market), UK, Poland, Spain, Brazil, and South Africa. It claims to be the number-one beauty booking app in each country, with “13 million” consumers on the app.

Batory said in a statement: “Like with many sectors negatively hit by the pandemic, it’s been a turbulent time for the beauty and wellness industry but we’re confident in its ability to come back from this, so it’s fantastic to see our latest group of investors share our optimism and vision. This latest round of funding enables us to reach even more salons and service providers across the US, and in all the regions we operate, which in turn helps them reach more customers.” 

Alex Captain, founder and managing partner at Cat Rock Capital, said: “We are incredibly excited to invest in Booksy as it builds the leading global software platform for digitizing the beauty and wellness industry around the world.”

Booksy certainly seems to have cracked the international expansion game ahead of most competitors, which tend to stay more local to their countries of origin such as Treatwell, Styleseat, Vagaro and Mindbody. The opportunity for Booksy is to now use its war cast to roll-up other local players.

It has already acquired rival Lavito in 2018 and, more recently, merged with Versum in December 2020 allowing it to enter Mexico.

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