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

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

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

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

Image Credits: Just Insure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Near Space Labs closes $13M Series A to send more Earth imaging robots to the stratosphere

The decreasing cost of launch and a slew of other tech innovations have brought about a renaissance in geospatial intelligence, with multiple startups aiming to capture higher-quality and more frequent images of Earth than have ever before been available.

Most of these startups, however, are focused on using satellites to collect data. Not so for Near Space Labs, a four-year-old company that instead aims to gather geospatial intelligence from the stratosphere, using small autonomous wind-powered robots attached to weather balloons. The company has named its platform “Swifty,” and each one is capable of reaching altitudes between 60,000 and 85,000 feet and capturing 400-1,000 square kilometers of imagery per flight.

The company was founded in 2017 by Rema Matevosyan, Ignasi Lluch, and Albert Caubet. Matevosyan, who is an applied mathematician by training and previously worked as a programmer, did her Masters in Moscow. There, she started doing research in systems engineering for aerospace systems and also flew weather balloons to test aerospace hardware. “It clicked that we can fly balloons commercially and deliver a much better experience to customers than from any other alternative,” she told TechCrunch in a recent interview.

Four years after launch, the company has closed a $13 million Series A round led by Crosslink Capital, with participation from Toyota Ventures and existing investors Leadout Capital and Wireframe Ventures. Near Space Labs also announced that Crosslink partner Phil Boyer has joined its board.

Near Space, which is headquartered in Brooklyn and Barcelona, Spain, is primarily focused on urbanized areas where change happens very rapidly. The robotic devices that attach to the balloons are manufactured at the company’s workshop in Brooklyn, which are then shipped to launch sites across the country. The company’s CTO and chief engineer are both based in Barcelona, so the hardware R&D takes place over there, Matevosyan explained.

The company currently has eight Swifies in operation. It sells the data it collects and has developed an API through which customers can access the data via a subscription model. The company doesn’t need to have specific launch sites – Matevosyan said Swifties can launch from “anywhere at any time” – but the company does work in concert with the Federal Aviation Administration and air traffic control.

The main value proposition of the Swifty as opposed to the satellite, according to Matevosyan, is the resolution: from the stratosphere, the company can collect “resolutions that are 50 times better than what you would get from a satellite,” she said. “We are able to provide persistent and near real-time coverage of areas of interest that change very quickly, including large metro areas.” Plus, she said Near Space can iterate it’s technology quickly using Swifties’ “plug-and-play” model, whereas it’s not so easy to add a new sensor to a satellite fleet that’s already in orbit.

Near Space Labs founders (from left): Ignasi Lluch, Rema Matevosyan and Albert Caubet Image Credits: Near Space Labs (opens in a new window)

Near Space has booked more than 540 flights through 2022. While customers pay for the flights, the data generated from each trip is non-exclusive, so the data can be sold again and again. Looking ahead, the company will be using the funds to expand its geographical footprint and bring on a bunch of new hires. The goal, according to Matevosyan, is to democratize access to geospatial intelligence – not just for customers, but on the developer side, too. “We believe in diverse, equal, and inclusive opportunities in aerospace and Earth imaging,” she said.

#aerospace, #balloon, #geospatial-data, #new-space-labs, #recent-funding, #space, #startups, #stratosphere

Fivetran hauls in $565M on $5.6B valuation, acquires competitor HVR for $700M

Fivetran, the data connectivity startup, had a big day today. For starters it announced a $565 million investment on $5.6 billion valuation, but it didn’t stop there. It also announced its second acquisition this year, snagging HVR, a data integration competitor that had raised over $50M, for $700 million in cash and stock.

The company last raised a $100 million Series C on a $1.2 billion valuation, increasing the valuation by over 5x. As with that Series C, Andreessen Horowitz was back leading the round with participation from other double dippers General Catalyst, CEAS Investments, Matrix Partners and other unnamed firms or individuals. New investors ICONIQ Capital, D1 Capital Partners and YC Continuity also came along for the ride. The company reports it has now raised $730 million.

The HVR acquisition represents a hefty investment for the startup, grabbing a company for a price that is almost equal to all the money it has raised to date, but it provides a way to expand its market quickly by buying a competitor. Earlier this year Fivetran acquired Teleport Data as it continues to add functionality and customers via acquisition.

“The acquisition — a cash and stock deal valued at $700 million — strengthens Fivetran’s market position as one of the data integration leaders for all industries and all customer types,” the company said in a statement.

While that may smack of corporate marketing speak, there is some truth to it, as pulling data from multiple sources, sometimes in siloed legacy systems is a huge challenge for companies and both Fivetran and HVR have developed tools to provide the pipes to connect various data sources and put it to work across a business.

Data is central to a number of modern enterprise practices including customer experience management, which takes advantage of customer data to deliver customized experiences based on what you know about them, and data is the main fuel for machine learning models, which use it to understand and learn how a process works. Fivetran and HVR provide the nuts and bolts infrastructure to move the data around to where it’s needed, connecting to various applications like Salesforce, Box or Airtable, databases like Postgres SQL or data repositories like Snowflake or Databricks.

Whether bigger is better remains to be seen, but Fivetran is betting that it will be in this case as it makes its way along the startup journey. The transaction has been approved by both company’s boards. The deal is still subject to standard regulatory approval, but Fivetran is expecting it to close in October

#andreessen-horowitz, #cloud, #data-pipelines, #enterprise, #exit, #fivetran, #fundings-exits, #ma, #mergers-and-acquisitions, #recent-funding, #startups

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bzaar screenshot. Image Credits: Bzaar

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credits: Lightricks

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

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

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

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

Image Credits: Lightricks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9am.health diabetes kit

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The word “maqsad” means purpose in Urdu.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aurora Propulsion Technologies closes €1.7M seed for spacecraft maneuvering and deorbiting tech

More spacecraft will be sent to orbit this year than ever before in human history, and the number of satellite launches is only anticipated to increase through the rest of the decade. Under these crowded conditions, being able to maneuver satellites in space and deorbit them when they reach the end of their useful life will be key.

Enter Aurora Propulsion Technologies. It’s one of a handful of startups that has emerged in the past few years to help simplify the problem of spacecraft propulsion. Since its founding in 2018, the Finnish company has developed two products – a tiny thruster engine and a plasma braking system – and will be testing both in an in-orbit demonstration in the fourth quarter of this year. Aurora’s activities have caught the eye of investors: the company has just closed a €1.7 million ($2 million) seed round to bring its technology to market.

The round was led by Lithuanian VC firm Practica Capital, with additional participation from the state-owned private equity company TESI (Finnish Industry Investment Ltd.) and Kluz Ventures. Individual investors also participated.

Aurora’s first in-orbit demonstration, Aurora Sat-1, will be heading to space on a Rocket Lab rideshare mission, the company announced last month. On that satellite will be two modules. The first module will contain six Aurora “resistojet” engines, designed to help small spacecraft adjust their attitude (the satellite’s orientation, not its mood) and de-tumble. Aurora will also test its Plasma Brake technology, which could be used to de-orbit satellites or even to conduct deep space missions.

Each resistojet thruster comes in at just around one centimeter long, and it moves the spacecraft using microliters of water and propellant. The six thrusters are distributed around the satellite in such a way to facilitate movement in virtually any direction, and the thruster can also modulate the temperature of the water and the strength of the puff of steam that’s discharged to generate movement.

Aurora CEO Roope Takala, who previously worked for Nokia, likened the innovations in weight and size in the space industry – which we see in the resistojet – to what happened to cell phones and computers twenty years ago. “The industry moves very slow,” he said in a recent interview with TechCrunch. “In the old space era, it took a quarter to develop a rocket engine – that would be a quarter of a century. Now, it takes two quarters of a year. That’s what we did.”

The Plasma Brake uses an electrically charged microtether to generate a lump of protons to generate drag. That’s ideal for de-orbiting a spacecraft, but interestingly (and counterintuitively), the Plasma Brake could also be used for traveling away from the planet, Takala said. That’s because when you go outside the Earth’s magnetosphere, the Plasma Brake becomes unstable and moves with solar wind (which is also plasma). “The same product can jump onto that flow of plasma from the sun and extract energy from that,” Takala explained. “In that context we can use it as an interplanetary traveling tool.”

Theoretically, if a spacecraft was equipped with multiple tethers extending different directions, it could be used to rotate and guide the spacecraft, like a sailboat, he added. This technology is only scalable to a certain degree, however, so don’t expect it to be sending a crewed spacecraft into deep space anytime soon. That’s mostly due to limitations in the material strength of the Plasma Brake tethers, but the tech can be used for satellites up to around 1,000 kilograms.

“That’s our future. That’s where we’re aiming,” Takala said. “We’re focused now for the short term on low Earth orbit with the Plasma Brake and the attitude control [resistojet], and later on when the moon businesses kick off as they are slowly starting to do, then we’ll probably be looking at that way.”

The Plasma Brake and resistojet thruster would need to be put on spacecraft before they launch to orbit, but Aurora is in conversation with other companies of the potential of in-orbit installation of Plasma Brakes for existing space junk. Looking to the short-term, the company is going to use the funding to productize the technology for low Earth orbit and to serialize its production, as well as to add features to the products to equip them for satellites larger than CubeSats.

In the longer term, Aurora has a vision of conducting missions in deep space. “We started off from the idea that we want to make a technology that fits into a really small spacecraft, [and] travels really fast so that we can catch up with the Voyager probes,” Takala said.

“First to the moon and then to Mars, Venus, and then one day we may be able to catch up with the Voyagers and take a big trip.”

#aerospace, #recent-funding, #space, #startups

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ketch app. Image Credits: Ketch

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

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

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

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

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

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

CodeSignal secures $50M for its tech hiring platform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

#a-capital, #artificial-intelligence, #codesignal, #developer, #engineering, #enterprise, #funding, #headline, #hiring, #hr-tech, #index-venture, #menlo-ventures, #nina-achadjian, #recent-funding, #startups, #talent, #tc, #technology, #tigran-sloyan, #upwork

Elodie Games obtains $32.5M round to make social co-op gaming better

During the darkest hours of the pandemic, millions upon millions of people turned to online gaming as a way to pass time in lockdown and connect with friends they couldn’t see in person. But a social, cooperative, fun and cross-platform gaming experience is remarkably hard to find — and Elodie Games is here to change that.

Elodie’s co-founders, Christina Norman and David Banks, are gaming industry vets who both worked on global hit League of Legends at Riot Games. The pair — also partners — left in 2019 to form their own company, announcing their intention in 2020 to build games focusing on co-op, crossplay, and “endlessly engaging experiences,” which suggests more open-ended, sandbox play.

The team already numbers 30 (and they’re hiring), and the game they’re working on is still something of a mystery; the images on its site are just general ideas, nothing from development. But what they showed behind closed doors was clearly enough to secure a $32.5 million Series A from Galaxy Interactive and a16z, with Brian Cho of Patron and Chris Ovitz from Electric Ant participating as well. The company last raised $5M in 2020 to get the ball rolling and clearly they’ve put that money to good use.

Norman explained that the main idea is to remove the barriers many gamers have come to accept as inevitable.

“At the simplest level, we’re designing our game so players have these great experiences more easily, and more frequently,” she told TechCrunch. “This starts with removing friction that stops you from playing with friends in the first place. Most social multiplayer gamers are segmented by platform, time investment, purchases or skill in a way that limits who you can play with, and how you can play with them. While there are examples of how to overcome these limitations individually (Among Us is doing some great stuff for example) progress overall here has been slow and we are excited to speed it up.”

Certainly I can speak personally to even the slightest amount of friction stopping a nascent play session in its tracks as one person had to update their app or OS, or another couldn’t get the lobby to load, an Android-iOS conflict emerged, and so on. We ended up playing the rather poor games built into video chat apps simply because they worked every time. Even then it depended on the feel of the gathering, and being able to decide collectively what sounds like fun is another aspect of the Elodie ambition.

Making a game cross-platform isn’t as difficult as it used to be thanks to shared architectures like Unreal and Unity, but it’s still no cake walk.

“Of course, modern engine tech helps immensely with making cross-play possible, but it doesn’t make it fun. Traditional approaches to cross-platform development are slow, expensive and repetitive,” said Banks. “That’s why we are building Elodie’s development practices to achieve exceptional cross-play and focusing on what we call the true cross-play experience from day one.”

“True” cross-play, one presumes, is a step above the elementary “Xbox players can play with PC players,” to the point where the game is actually equally desirable to play on platform. Whether that can really be achieved is a matter of debate, but the proof of the pudding is in the taste, so we’ll find out when Elodie puts its game out into the wild.

#a16z, #andreessen-horowitz, #funding, #fundings-exits, #galaxy-interactive, #gaming, #league-of-legends, #recent-funding, #riot-games, #startups

Outer, D2C outdoor furniture brand, secures $50M Series B funding to spur expansion and materials development 

Americans spend more than 90% of each day indoors on average. However, approximately 82% of American homeowners are more interested in renovating their outdoor living spaces than they were prior to the pandemic, based on a recent survey, Outer co-founder and CEO Jiake Liu told TechCrunch.

On top of that, about 54% of homeowners have made at least one home improvement in the backyard since the outbreak of COVID-19, while millennials, the largest house-buying group now, are willing to take less square feet inside, or even give up a bedroom, to get a little bit of outdoor space, Liu said.

COVID-19 caused a “flight from density” across the U.S., meaning millions of Americans fled from big cities to suburbs to escape the coronavirus pandemic. This trend has led to more market opportunities in the outdoor entertainment industry.

A Santa Monica-based direct-to-consumers (D2C) outdoor furniture startup company, Outer, announced today its $50 million Series B funding to help more people around the globe to bring their lives back outside. The company was founded by CEO Liu and Chief Design Officer Terry Lin in 2019. 

The Series B round was led by Capital Today’s founder Kathy Xu, with participation from Tribe Capital, C Ventures and Upfront Ventures. Existing investors, including Sequoia Capital China, Mucker Capital, Mantis VC and Reimagined Ventures, also joined in the round.

This fundraising, which comes about eight months after Outer’s $10.5 million Series A round in January, brings its total funding to $65 million.

The fresh funding will be used to cement its position in the outdoor living industry as they develop new sustainable materials, build an eco-friendly supply chain and expand their product offering and community, Liu said. Outer is currently hiring a variety of roles to enter global market this year and will announce a strategic international launch in October, Liu told TechCrunch.

“We are working on new, eco-friendly fabrics, plastics and concrete to replace the industry standards that currently pollute our environment,” Liu said. The company’s effort in sustainable materials isn’t stopping at recycled plastics but working towards carbon neutrality, and has set its goal of becoming carbon negative in the future, he explained.

“Since the beginning, the Outer team has insisted on prioritizing sustainability. Terry and his team have pioneered new fabrics and eco-friendly designs to ensure durability doesn’t come at the expense of environmental responsibility. The team is developing sustainable fabrics, plastics and concrete that will become the new industry gold standard,” said Capital Today’s founder Kathy Xu.

Its unique feature is its Neighborhood Showroom program, allowing shoppers to visit the homes of nearby Outer customers to experience Outer products in more than 1,000 locations in 49 states as of today, which has grown from 50 locations in 13 states in 2019. Outer’s direct-to-consumers (D2C) business does not require middlemen like distributors, retailers or brick-and-mortar showrooms.

The global furniture market was approximately $17.8 billion in 2018 and is projected to grow to $26.6 billion 2027, Liu said. The U.S. outdoor living market is estimated at $33.4 billion in 2021, based on a report by Freedonia.

Outer recently launched the Teak Collection, Aluminum Collection and Bug Shield Blankets.

“Outdoor products have long been an afterthought and their poor design has been a serious barrier to time spent outside. Outer’s thoughtful and sustainable products are already changing the way consumers interact with their outdoor spaces,” Xu said, adding that Outer is tackling real consumer problems, from dirty, wet outdoor cushions to pesky mosquito bites, with its solutions.

“Jiake and his team have taken a product-focused approach to establish Outer as a go-to premium furniture brand — driving rapid growth and attractive unit economics,” said Tribe Capital partner Sri Pangulur.

#capital-today, #funding, #kathy-xu, #outer, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc

Mynd raises $57.3M at an $807M valuation to give people a way to invest in rental properties remotely

Mynd, a company that aims to make it easier for people to buy and manage single-family rental properties, announced today it has raised $57.3 million in funding from QED Investors.

The financing values the Oakland, California-based company at $807 million, and brings the company’s total raised to $174.9 million since its 2016 inception. Invesco Real Estate led its previous round, a $40 million raise, and committed $5 billion to purchase and rent 20,000 single-family homes through Mynd over the next three years.

Doug Brien and Colin Weil started Mynd with the goal of making real estate investing more accessible. The pair has built a platform for investors to find, finance, purchase and manage single-family rental properties — 100% remotely.

“We don’t outsource to partners. We do that all in-house,” Brien told TechCrunch. “We remove the geographical barriers to real estate investment, making it possible to invest in 25 cities from anywhere in the country — all from the comfort of home through our desktop interface and/or mobile apps.”

Currently, Mynd manages over 9,000 rental units in 25 markets across the country. The startup plans to expand to 15 additional markets over the next three years including, Indianapolis, Indiana and Memphis, Tennessee.

Mynd’s tech product is complemented by “boots on the ground” people in local markets, improving the speed and clarity of communications that the company can provide to Mynd residents, Brien said. 

“Plus it provides total visibility and transparency for our owners around the health of their investments,” he said “Unlike other companies we have our own purpose-built system called OTTO. It’s almost like a ‘Snowflake meets Zendesk’ — but custom-built for real estate investing and property management.”

Image Credits: Mynd

Last year, Mynd added 1,846 homes to the platform. This year, it’s on track to add roughly 8,500 across both retail and institutional — enough to nearly double the total homes managed by Mynd year over year, according to Brien. Invesco is its largest institutional client. On the retail side of its business, it has roughly 4,000 investors using Mynd.

“We believe that investing in the single-family residential asset class is the best path for building long-term, generational wealth,” he told TechCrunch. “Mynd is committed to democratizing real estate — making it accessible to a whole new crop of investors who were previously too intimidated and/or were constrained by geography.”

The pandemic underscored the urgency of what the company was building, he said, as people sought more space to live and work. Renting also became more common as more people wanted increased flexibility. 

Mynd plans to use its new capital to continue upgrading its digital platform, which it says is powered by “an extensive proprietary data set.” It also plans to enhance its automated workflow engine, underwriting, mobile applications and omnichannel communications. The startup also plans to keep hiring and expanding into new markets.

Presently, Mynd has 568 employees, up from 366 a year ago today.

QED partner Chuckie Reddy said the Mynd team was “one of the best” his firm had seen in the single-family rental market with a “purpose-built” tech stack designed specifically for such properties.

“They have a customized offering that is superior to anything else on the market today,” he said. 

Generally, QED believes the single-family rental asset class is one of the fastest-growing in the country, “because of how big the housing market is, the need and desire for the product and the tremendous amount of capital formation we have seen since the last financial crisis,” according to Reddy.

“There is a shortage of quality, affordable single-family rental housing, and Mynd has technology to manage this asset class,” he said.

#finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #mynd, #qed-investors, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #startups, #venture-capital

Self Financial raises $50M to help the subprime consumer build credit and savings at the same time

Self Financial, a fintech company that aims to help consumers build credit and savings at the same time, announced today it has raised $50 million in Series E funding.

Altos Ventures led the financing, which also included participation from Meritech Capital and Conductive Ventures and brings the Austin-based startup’s total raised to $127 million since its 2015 inception.

The company, as many fintechs these days, aims to make building credit and savings more accessible, regardless of a person’s financial history. It requires no hard credit check to get started. 

“We’ve been focused on delivering high-quality, low-cost products that help with mainstream credit access,” said Self founder and CEO James Garvey.

Today, Self Financial has 200 employees, up from about 80 at the beginning of this year. The startup, which was initially founded in California but relocated to Austin after participating in the Techstars program in the city, plans to do more hiring with its new capital.

Garvey declined to reveal hard revenue figures, saying only that Self is going to do “nine figures” of revenue this year, about 2x compared to 2020. Self’s active customer base has more than doubled in the past 12 months to about 1 million today. Over time, it has served more than 2 million customers.

The fintech’s flagship product, he said, is basically secured installment loans, or small-dollar loans with a deposit account that has a CD (certificate of deposit) connected to it.

After using that product successfully customers can then get access to Self’s Visa credit card.

Image Credits: Self Financial

Self’s Credit Builder products are issued via its three bank partners. But the company has built its own proprietary core technology platform that Garvey says “powers everything behind the scenes.” The company’s products are available via iOS and Android, as well as through a desktop application.

Beginning this month, Self will allow people who hold an H-1B or L 1 work visa or student visa to open Credit Builder accounts, a move Garvey said “opens the door for more people to participate who are new to the U.S. credit system.”

“We believe everyone should have the opportunity to improve their financial future,” he added.

Part of Self’s longer-term goals include entering the insurance market, as well as the planned launch of another product designed to help give its customers access to credit.

“Credit score is used for a lot of things, and in many states it’s an important factor in determining the cost of auto insurance,” he said. “We’re going to be helping our customers to get access to auto insurance as one of the benefits of a higher credit score.”

The company plans to use its new capital to hire about 50 to 100 people over the next 12 months, Garvey said. Recently it named Kathleen Leonik to serve as its chief compliance officer. She has previously held leadership positions at Juniper Bank, Barclaycard and, most recently, Mercury Financial. She also worked in compliance at First USA, Bank One and Chase.

Altos Ventures Managing Director Anthony Lee described Self as a pioneer in the increasingly crowded space. This week, TomoCredit, which has the similar goal of helping underrepresented consumers build a credit history, announced it has raised $10 million. And last week, Varo Bank — the first  U.S. neobank to be granted a national bank charter — raised a massive $510 million in a Series E funding round at a $2.5 billion valuation.

“James and his team at Self have had a clear mission from day one: to build credit and savings for millions of Americans who are marginalized by the mainstream financial system,” said Lee. “It’s a mission that is going to take decades to realize and we are happy to be there for the journey.”

For Silverton Partners’ Managing Director Morgan Flager, who participated in Self’s Series A-D rounds, Garvey’s passion has been key to its repeated investments in the company.

When you have a founder with a clear and noble vision for solving a critical problem this massive, it is hard to say no as an investor,” he told TechCrunch.

The firm was also drawn to Self’s mission to “lift up” subprime consumers.

“Many of the offers that target subprime consumers are expensive and restrictive,” he said. “Self Financial is unique in that it intends to break this cycle, rather than just profit from it in a different way.”

#altos-ventures, #apps, #austin, #credit-history, #finance, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #recent-funding, #self-financial, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

OnLoop launches with $2M to inject some fun into performance reviews

Performance reviews eat up a lot of a manager’s time and are often the most dreaded part of work. OnLoop aims to bring some joy into the process by enabling information-gathering to happen behind the scenes and be easier for hybrid workforces.

The Singapore-based company designed a mobile-first product that consistently gathers employee feedback and goals so that the company has better insights into how both individuals and teams are doing. The feedback is also captured and converted into auto-generated reviews that lay out all of the content collected for managers to then quickly put together a finished product.

The platform was in private beta since January 2021, and after a successful run with 25 companies, OnLoop raised $2 million from Square Peg Capital and Hustle Fund and a group of angel investors including XA Network, BCG’s Aliza Knox, Uber’s Andrew Macdonald, Ready’s Allen Penn, Google’s Bambos Kaisharis, Ripple’s Brooks Entwistle, Robert Hoyt, Nordstar’s Eddie Lee, Nas Academy’s Alex Dwek and hedge fund managers John Candeto and Keshav Lall.

OnLoop co-founder and CEO Projjal Ghatak spent over three years at Uber and said he saw his fair share of productivity tools, but still struggled to develop his own team as tasks and communication were done differently by each employee.

“This is the one problem that companies consistently complain about — not having the right tool to develop teams,” he added.

As someone who began spending more and more time on his phone, Ghatak wanted his product to be mobile-native and eliminate the need for managers to start from scratch on performance reviews each time. Rather than spend days gathering the information, as the name suggests, OnLoop continuously and automatically captures the data and converts it into a well-written summary.

OnLoop app. Image Credits: OnLoop

Having that continuous loop of information is good for morale, he said. He points to data that shows regular self-reflection and feedback increased productivity by 20%, and a Gallup study where only 14% of employees thought their performance reviews inspired them to improve.

“A lot of company culture is set by the leaders, so as they want to drive this culture in their organizations, we are the tool that drives this,” Ghatak said. “Our job is to help educate the teams on how to do that well. We hear time and time again to make it fun and convenient. Teams don’t realize that if you are helping colleagues understand, showing them a light they didn’t have before, it will drive impact.”

The new funding will be mainly invested into product development and R&D, including expanding product, data and engineering teams. The company will also look at its sales and marketing framework. The company currently has 22 employees.

OnLoop was able to convert some of its early adopters into paying customers and is now focusing on figuring out a scalable way to get the product into the hands of more teams.

Piruze Sabuncu, partner at Square Peg Capital, experienced the pain of performance reviews when she was working in Stripe’s Southeast Asia and Hong Kong region. One of the challenges she faced working with regional teams was that an employee’s direct manager could be located elsewhere, yet work closely with a manager in their respective office.

Square Peg itself uses OnLoop, and Sabuncu said she liked that it is mobile-first and was designed in a way that people didn’t open it up and dread using it.

“Who your manager is, is a big question, but it shouldn’t matter,” she added. “It would still be my duty to be capturing and developing the person even if they were not my direct person. Everyone is talking about remote and hybrid work, and it is not going anywhere — it is here to stay. We believe this is a huge opportunity, a $400 billion market to disrupt, and OnLoop is providing better ways to communicate and give feedback.”

 

#apps, #enterprise, #funding, #human-resource-management, #hustle-fund, #labor, #onloop, #piruze-sabuncu, #productivity-tools, #projjal-ghatak, #recent-funding, #square-peg-capital, #startups, #tc, #uber, #workplace

Tile secures $40 million to take on Apple AirTag with new products

Tile, the maker of Bluetooth-powered lost item finder beacons and, more recently, a staunch Apple critic, announced today it has raised $40 million in non-dilutive debt financing from Capital IP. The funding will be put towards investment in Tile’s finding technologies, ahead of the company’s plan to unveil a new slate of products and features that the company believes will help it to better compete with Apple’s AirTags and further expand its market.

The company has been a longtime leader in the lost item finder space, offering consumers small devices they can attach to items — like handbags, luggage, bikes, wallets, keys, and more — which can then be tracked using the Tile smartphone app for iOS or Android. When items go missing, the Tile app leverages Bluetooth to find the items and can make them play a sound. If the items are further afield, Tile taps into its broader finding network consisting of everyone who has the app installed on their phone and other access points. Through this network, Tile is able to automatically and anonymously communicate the lost item’s location back to its owner through their own Tile app.

Image Credits: Tile

Tile has also formed partnerships focused on integrating its finding network into over 40 different third-party devices, including those across audio, travel, wearables, and PC categories. Notable brand partners include HP, Dell, Fitbit, Skullcandy, Away, Xfinity, Plantronics, Sennheiser, Bose, Intel, and others. Tile says it’s seen 200% year-over-year growth on activations of these devices with its service embedded.

To date, Tile has sold over 40 million devices and has over 425,000 paying customers — a metric it’s revealing for the first time. It doesn’t disclose its total number of users, both free and paid combined, however. During the first half of 2021, Tile says revenues increased by over 50%, but didn’t provide hard numbers.

While Tile admits that the Covid-19 pandemic had some impacts on international expansions, as some markets have been slower to rebound, it has still seen strong performance outside the U.S., and considers that a continued focus.

The pandemic, however, hasn’t been Tile’s only speed bump.

When Apple announced its plans to compete with the launch of AirTags, Tile went on record to call it unfair competition. Unlike Tile devices, Apple’s products could tap into the iPhone’s U1 chip to allow for more accurate finding through the use of ultra-wideband technologies available on newer iPhone models. Tile, meanwhile, has plans for its own ultra-wideband powered device, but hadn’t been provided the same access. In other words, Apple gave its own lost item finder early, exclusive access to a feature that would allow it to differentiate itself from the competition. (Apple has since announced it’s making ultra-wideband APIs available to third-party developers, but this access wasn’t available from day one of AirTag’s arrival.)

Image Credits: Tile internal concept art

Tile has been vocal on the matter of Apple’s anti-competitive behavior, having testified in multiple Congressional hearings alongside other Apple critics, like Spotify and Match. As a result of increased regulatory pressure, Apple later opened up its Find My network to third-party devices, in an effort to placate Tile and the other rivals its AirTags would disadvantage.

But Tile doesn’t want to route its customers to Apple’s first-party app — it intends to use its own app in order to compete based on its proprietary features and services. Among other things, this includes Tile’s subscriptions. A base plan is $29.99 per year, offering features like free battery replacement, smart alerts, and location history. A $99.99 per year plan also adds insurance of sorts — it pays up to $1,000 per year for items it can’t find. (AirTag doesn’t do that.)

Despite its many differentiators, Tile faces steep competition from the ultra-wideband capable AirTags, which have the advantage of tapping into Apple’s own finding network of potentially hundreds of millions of iPhone owners.

However, Tile CEO CJ Prober — who joined the company in 2018 — claims AirTag hasn’t impacted the company’s revenue or device sales.

“But that doesn’t take away from the fact that they’re making things harder for us,” he says of Apple. “We’re a growing business. We’re winning the hearts and minds of consumers… and they’re competing unfairly.”

“When you own the platform, you shouldn’t be able to identify a category that you want to enter, disadvantage the incumbents in that category, and then advantage yourself — like they did in our case,” he adds.

Tile is preparing to announce an upcoming product refresh that may allow it to better take on the AirTag. Presumably, this will include the pre-announced ultra-wideband version of Tile, but the company says full details will be shared next week. Tile may also expand its lineup in other ways that will allow it to better compete based on look and feel, size and shape, and functionality.

Tile’s last round of funding was $45 million in growth equity in 2019. Now it’s shifted to debt. In addition to new debt financing, Tile is also refinancing some of its existing debt with this fundraise, it says.

“My philosophy is it’s always good to have a mix of debt and equity. So some amount of debt on the balance sheet is good. And it doesn’t incur dilution to our shareholders,” Prober says. “We felt this was the right mix of capital choice for us.”

The company chose to work with Capital IP, a group it’s had a relationship with over the last three years, and who Tile had considered bringing on as an investor. The group has remained interested in Tile and excited about its trajectory, Prober notes.

“We are excited to partner with the Tile team as they continue to define and lead the finding category through hardware and software-based innovations,” said Capital IP’s Managing Partner Riyad Shahjahan, in a statement. “The impressive revenue growth and fast-climbing subscriber trends underline the value proposition that Tile delivers in a platform-agnostic manner, and were a critical driver in our decision to invest. The Tile team has an ambitious roadmap ahead and we look forward to supporting their entry into new markets and applications to further cement their market leadership,” he added.

#airtag, #airtags, #android, #apple, #apple-inc, #apps, #bluetooth, #ceo, #computing, #dell, #find-my, #fitbit, #funding, #gadgets, #hardware, #intel, #iphone, #mobile, #plantronics, #recent-funding, #sennheiser, #skullcandy, #smartphone, #startups, #tc, #technology, #tile, #u1-chip, #ultra-wideband, #united-states

AI startup Sorcero secures $10M for language intelligence platform

Sorcero announced Thursday a $10 million Series A round of funding to continue scaling its medical and technical language intelligence platform.

The latest funding round comes as the company, headquartered in Washington, D.C. and Cambridge, Massachusetts, sees increased demand for its advanced analytics from life sciences and technical companies. Sorcero’s natural language processing platform makes it easier for subject-matter experts to find answers to their questions to aid in better decision making.

CityRock Venture Partners, the growth fund of H/L Ventures, led the round and was joined by new investors Harmonix Fund, Rackhouse, Mighty Capital and Leawood VC, as well as existing investors, Castor Ventures and WorldQuant Ventures. The new investment gives Sorcero a total of $15.7 million in funding since it was founded in 2018.

Prior to starting Sorcero, Dipanwita Das, co-founder and CEO, told TechCrunch she was working in public policy, a place where scientific content is useful, but often a source of confusion and burden. She thought there had to be a more effective way to make better decisions across the healthcare value chain. That’s when she met co-founders Walter Bender and Richard Graves and started the company.

“Everything is in service of subject-matter experts being faster, better and less prone to errors,” Das said. “Advances of deep learning with accuracy add a lot of transparency. We are used by science affairs and regulatory teams whose jobs it is to collect scientific data and effectively communicate it to a variety of stakeholders.”

The total addressable market for language intelligence is big — Das estimated it to be $42 billion just for the life sciences sector. Due to the demand, the co-founders have seen the company grow at 324% year over year since 2020, she added.

Raising a Series A enables the company to serve more customers across the life sciences sector. The company will invest in talent in both engineering and on the commercial side. It will also put some funds into Sorcero’s go-to-market strategy to go after other use cases.

In the next 12 to 18 months, a big focus for the company will be scaling into product market fit in the medical affairs and regulatory space and closing new partnerships.

Oliver Libby, partner at CityRock Venture Partners, said Sorcero’s platform “provides the rails for AI solutions for companies” that have traditionally found issues with AI technologies as they try to integrate data sets that are already in existence in order to run analysis effectively on top of that.

Rather than have to build custom technology and connectors, Sorcero is “revolutionizing it, reducing time and increasing accuracy,” and if AI is to have a future, it needs a universal translator that plugs into everything, he said.

“One of the hallmarks in the response to COVID was how quickly the scientific community had to do revolutionary things,” Libby added. “The time to vaccine was almost a miracle of modern science. One of the first things they did was track medical resources and turn them into a hook for pharmaceutical companies. There couldn’t have been a better use case for Sorcero than COVID.”

 

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Concreit closes on $6M to allow more people to invest in the global private real estate market

Concreit, a company that wants to open real estate investing to a broader group of people, announced today that it has closed $6 million in a seed funding round led by Matrix Partners. 

Hyphen Capital also participated in the round, in addition to individual investors such as Betterment founder and CEO Jon Stein; Andy Liu, partner at Unlock Venture Partners; and investor and advisor Ben Elowitz. Concreit raised the capital at a $22.5 million post-money valuation.

The Seattle-based startup also today launched its app, which it claims allows “anyone” to invest in the global private real estate market for as little as $1. 

It’s a lofty claim. But first let’s start with some background.

Concreit is not the first time that co-founders Sean Hsieh and Jordan Levy have worked together. The pair previously founded and bootstrapped VoIP communications platform Flowroute before selling it to West Corp. in 2018. Upon the sale of that company, Hsieh and Levy set out to build a company that, in their words, “could help everyday people become more financially secure.”

Hsieh, a second-generation immigrant, worked in his family’s restaurant where they shared the dream of achieving financial freedom through real estate. Similarly, Levy says he grew up watching his parents build a small construction business from scratch. He was intrigued by the idea of passive income through single-family rental homes but became disillusioned with the overhead, risk and hassle of managing one’s own single-family rental investments. 

So the duo worked together to design a mobile-first offering that could enable small investors to benefit from real estate “without the burden of making repairs at 2 a.m. on a Saturday.” Enter Concreit. 

Today, most investors can open a Concreit account and make their first investment in just minutes on their mobile device, the company claims. The company’s free mobile app allows consumers to invest as little as $1 into a fund managed by a team of investment professionals. Withdrawals can be requested at any time through the app and sent upon approval.

The platform facilitates weekly earned payouts, automated investments and on-demand withdrawals while compounding earned payouts weekly.

After selling Flowroute, Hsieh says he “saw the opportunity to earn a great APR through private real estate investing while gaining less correlation with traditional public stocks or bonds markets,” Hsieh said. “But they were only for the already wealthy or required multiyear commitments of capital. Concreit gives everyone access to a real estate portfolio and the ability to have access to withdrawals when they need them.”

Put simply, the startup wants to make it easy for anyone — not just the wealthy — to invest in real estate.

Concreit, Hsieh said, offers “regular people” the ability to access real estate strategies typically used by large hedge funds and private equity. 

“We’re seeing a surge of retail demand for alternatives and other ways to invest outside of the public markets and the crypto space for those that value diversification,” Hsieh told TechCrunch. Most other competitors are focused on marketing and selling securities, but we knew in order to be an innovator in this space we had to produce a truly unique experience for our investors.”

Concreit’s platform is designed to be a more connected investment experience.

“We knew early on that digital natives deserved a whole new real estate investing experience and that it had to be 100x better than just taking traditional real estate investment opportunities and offering them digitally,” Hsieh said. 

So on the platform side, Concreit has built a cloud-based proprietary securities accounting engine that allows the company to process fractional calculations and pull in a lot of mutual fund practices, applying them toward the “more labor-intensive” private equity markets, with a focus on real estate.

“We’ve taken a lot of the cloud-architectural work that we’ve pioneered in the telecommunications space and applied it towards a back-office accounting solution that gives us a competitive edge around what we offer to our investors,” Hsieh said. “This affords the ability to run accounting at a higher frequency, which is how we are able to run weekly dividends, process fractional redemptions and ultimately a more real-time experience for our users.”

Concreit’s first private REIT fund, focused on passive income, consists of lower-risk fixed-income private market residential and commercial real estate first-lien mortgages. The fund, which the company says has an annualized return of 5.47%, is managed by a team of industry professionals. The startup has added over 18,000 customers to its platform since it was qualified by the SEC (slightly over a year ago), and doubled its user base in the month of August.

“Our current users can invest with any dollar amount, no lock-ups, weekly payouts, and an experience that’s as easy & familiar as a savings account,” Hsieh said.

Matrix’s Dana Stalder, who joined Concreit’s board as part of the financing,  believes Concreit has leveled the playing field for real estate investing by making it more accessible. 

“What Concreit has built is incredibly hard to do from both a technology and regulatory standpoint,” he told TechCrunch. “Alternative asset classes, in particular, have been notoriously closed off to the average consumer, leaving high yield returns exclusively to wealthy investors. “

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