DeepSee.ai raises $22.6M Series A for its AI-centric process automation platform

DeepSee.ai, a startup that helps enterprises use AI to automate line-of-business problems, today announced that it has raised a $22.6 million Series A funding round led by led by ForgePoint Capital. Previous investors AllegisCyber Capital and Signal Peak Ventures also participated in this round, which brings the Salt Lake City-based company’s total funding to date to $30.7 million.

The company argues that it offers enterprises a different take on process automation. The industry buzzword these days is ‘robotic process automation,’ but DeepSee.ai argues that what it does is different. I describe its system as ‘knowledge process automation’ (KPA). The company itself defines this as a system that “mines unstructured data, operationalizes AI-powered insights, and automates results into real-time action for the enterprise.” But the company also argues that today’s bots focus on basic task automation that doesn’t offer the kind of deeper insights that sophisticated machine learning models can bring to the table. The company also stresses that it doesn’t aim to replace knowledge workers but help them leverage AI to turn the plethora of data that businesses now collect into actionable insights.

Image Credits: DeepSee.ai

“Executives are telling me they need business outcomes and not science projects,” writes DeepSee.ai CEO Steve Shillingford. “And today, the burgeoning frustration with most AI-centric deployments in large-scale enterprises is they look great in theory but largely fail in production. We think that’s because right now the current ‘AI approach’ lacks a holistic business context relevance. It’s unthinking, rigid, and without the contextual input of subject-matter experts on the ground. We founded DeepSee to bridge the gap between powerful technology and line-of-business, with adaptable solutions that empower our customers to operationalize AI-powered automation – delivering faster, better, and cheaper results for our users.”

To help businesses get started with the platform, DeepSee.ai offers three core tools. There’s DeepSee Assembler, which ingests unstructured data and gets it ready for labeling, model review and analysis. Then, DeepSee Atlas can use this data to train AI models that can understand a company’s business processes and help subject-matter experts define templates, rules and logic for automating a company’s internal processes. The third tool, DeepSee Advisor, meanwhile focuses on using text analysis to help companies better understand and evaluate their business processes.

Currently, the company’s focus is on providing these tools for insurance companies, the public sector and capital markets. In the insurance space, use cases include fraud detection, claims prediction and processing, and using large amounts of unstructured data to identify patterns in agent audits, for example.

That’s a relatively limited number of industries for a startup to operate in, but the company says it will use its new funding to accelerate product development and expand to new verticals.

“Using KPA, line-of-business executives can bridge data science and enterprise outcomes, operationalize AI/ML-powered automation at scale, and use predictive insights in real time to grow revenue, reduce cost, and mitigate risk,” said Sean Cunningham, Managing Director of ForgePoint Capital. “As a leading cybersecurity investor, ForgePoint sees the daily security challenges around insider threat, data visibility, and compliance. This investment in DeepSee accelerates the ability to reduce risk with business automation and delivers much-needed AI transparency required by customers for implementation.”

#allegiscyber-capital, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #automation, #automation-anywhere, #business-process-automation, #business-process-management, #business-software, #cloud, #emerging-technologies, #enterprise, #forgepoint-capital, #machine-learning, #recent-funding, #robotic-process-automation, #salt-lake-city, #signal-peak-ventures, #startups

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Square’s bank arm launches as fintech aims ‘to operate more nimbly’

Known for its innovations in the payments sector, Square is now officially a bank.

Nearly one year after receiving conditional approval, Square said Monday afternoon that its industrial bank, Square Financial Services, has begun operationsSquare Financial Services completed the charter approval process with the FDIC and Utah Department of Financial Institutions, meaning its ready for business.

The bank, which is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, will offer business loan and deposit products, starting with underwriting, and originating business loans for Square Capital’s existing lending product.

Historically, Square has been known for its card reader and point-of-sale payment system, used largely by small businesses – but it has also begun facilitating credit for the entrepreneurs and smalls businesses who use its products in recent years.

Moving forward, Square said its bank will be the “primary provider of financing for Square sellers across the U.S.”

In a statement, Square CFO and executive chairman for Square Financial Services, Amrita Ahuja said that bringing banking capability in house will allow the fintech to “operate more nimbly.”

Square Financial Services will continue to sell loans to third-party investors and limit balance sheet exposure. The company said it does not expect the bank to have a material impact on its consolidated balance sheet, total net revenue, gross profit, or adjusted EBITDA in 2021.

Opening the bank “deepens Square’s unique ability to expand access to loans and banking tools to underserved populations,” the company said.

Lewis Goodwin had been tapped to serve as the bank’s CEO, and Brandon Soto its CFO. With today’s announcement, Square also announced the following new appointments:

  • Sharad Bhasker, Chief Risk Officer
  • Samantha Ku, Chief Operating Officer
  • Homam Maalouf, Chief Credit Officer
  • David Grodsky, Chief Compliance Officer
  • Jessica Jiang, Capital Markets and Investor Relations Lead

The trend of fintechs becoming bank continues. In February, TechCrunch reported on the fact that Brex had applied for a bank charter.

The fast-growing company, which sells a credit card tailored for startups with Emigrant Bank currently acting as the issuer, said that it had submitted an application with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Utah Department of Financial Institutions (UDFI) to establish Brex Bank.

A number of fintech companies, or those with fintech services, have spun up products typically offered by banks, including deposit and chequings accounts as well as credit offerings. Often, these are designed to provide capital to customers who might not be able to get funding on favorable terms from traditional banking institutions, but who might qualify for business-building loans from a provider who knows their company, like Square, inside and out.

#amrita-ahuja, #bank, #banking, #fdic, #finance, #salt-lake-city, #square, #square-capital, #startups, #tc, #utah

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Google expands its cloud with new regions in Chile, Germany and Saudi Arabia

It’s been a busy year of expansion for the large cloud providers, with AWS, Azure and Google aggressively expanding their data center presence around the world. To cap off the year, Google Cloud today announced a new set of cloud regions, which will go live in the coming months and years. These new regions, which will all have three availability zones, will be in Chile, Germany and Saudi Arabia. That’s on top of the regions in Indonesia, South Korea, the U.S. (Last Vegas and Salt Lake City) that went live this year — and the upcoming regions in France, Italy, Qatar and Spain the company also announced over the course of the last twelve months.

Image Credits: Google

In total, Google currently operates 24 regions with 73 availability zones, not counting those it has announced but that aren’t live yet. While Microsoft Azure is well ahead of the competition in terms of the total number of regions (though some still lack availability zones), Google is now starting to pull even with AWS, which currently offers 24 regions with a total of 77 availability zones. Indeed, with its 12 announced regions, Google Cloud may actually soon pull ahead of AWS, which is currently working on six new regions.

The battleground may soon shift away from these large data centers, though, with a new focus on edge zones close to urban centers that are smaller than the full-blown data centers the large clouds currently operate but that allow businesses to host their services even closer to their customers.

All of this is a clear sign of how much Google has invested in its cloud strategy in recent years. For the longest time, after all, Google Cloud Platform lagged well behind its competitors. Only three years ago, Google Cloud offered only 13 regions, for example. And that’s on top of the company’s heavy investment in submarine cables and edge locations.

#amazon-web-services, #aws, #chile, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #france, #germany, #google, #google-cloud-platform, #indonesia, #italy, #microsoft, #nuodb, #qatar, #salt-lake-city, #saudi-arabia, #south-korea, #spain, #tc, #united-states, #web-hosting, #web-services

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Ivanti has acquired security firms MobileIron and Pulse Secure

IT security software company Ivanti has acquired two security companies: enterprise mobile security firm MobileIron, and corporate virtual network provider Pulse Secure.

In a statement on Tuesday, Ivanti said it bought MobileIron for $872 million in stock, with 91% of the shareholders voting in favor of the deal; and acquired Pulse Secure from its parent company Siris Capital Group, but did not disclose the buying price.

The deals have now closed.

Ivanti was founded in 2017 after Clearlake Capital, which owned Heat Software, bought Landesk from private equity firm Thoma Bravo, and merged the two companies to form Ivanti. The combined company, headquartered in Salt Lake City, focuses largely on enterprise IT security, including endpoint, asset, and supply chain management. Since its founding, Ivanti went on to acquire several other companies, including U.K.-based Concorde Solutions and RES Software.

If MobileIron and Pulse Secure seem familiar, both companies have faced their fair share of headlines this year after hackers began exploiting vulnerabilities found in their technologies.

Just last month, the U.K. government’s National Cyber Security Center published an alert that warned of a remotely executable bug in MobileIron, patched in June, allowing hackers to break into enterprise networks. U.S. Homeland Security’s cybersecurity advisory unit CISA said that the bug was being actively used by advanced persistent threat (APT) groups, typically associated with state-backed hackers.

Meanwhile, CISA also warned that Pulse Secure was one of several corporate VPN providers with vulnerabilities that have since become a favorite among hackers, particularly ransomware actors, who abuse the bugs to gain access to a network and deploy the file-encrypting ransomware.

#computer-security, #computing, #cybercrime, #cyberwarfare, #enterprise, #hacker, #mobile, #mobileiron, #ransomware, #res-software, #salt-lake-city, #security, #security-software, #siris-capital-group, #software, #system-administration, #thoma-bravo, #united-kingdom, #vpn

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Shelf Engine has a plan to reduce food waste at grocery stores, and $12 million in new cash to see i

For the first few months it was operating, Shelf Engine, the Seattle-based company that optimizes the process of stocking store shelves for supermarkets and groceries, didn’t have a name.

Co-founders Stefan Kalb and Bede Jordan were on a ski trip outside of Salt Lake City about four years ago when they began discussing what, exactly, could be done about the problem of food waste in the US.

Kalb is a serial entrepreneur whose first business was a food distribution company called Molly’s, which was sold to a company called HomeGrown back in 2019.

A graduate of Western Washington University with a degree in actuarial science, Kalb says he started his food company to make a difference in the world. While Molly’s did, indeed, promote healthy eating, the problem that Kalb and Bede, a former Microsoft engineer, are tackling at Shelf Engine may have even more of an impact.

Food waste isn’t just bad for its inefficiency in the face of a massive problem in the US with food insecurity for citizens, it’s also bad for the environment.

Shelf Engine proposes to tackle the problem by providing demand forecasting for perishable food items. The idea is to wring inefficiencies out of the ordering system. Typically about a third of food gets thrown out of the bakery section and other highly perishable goods stocked on store shelves. Shelf Engine guarantees use for the store and any items that remain unsold the company will pay for.

Image: OstapenkoOlena/iStock

Shelf Engine gets information about how much sales a store typically sees for particular items and can then predict how much demand for a particular product there will be. The company makes money off of the arbitrage between how much it pays for goods from vendors and how much it sells to grocers.

It allows groceries to lower the food waste and have a broader variety of products on shelves for customers.

Shelf Engine initially went to market with a product that it was hoping to sell to groceries, but found more traction by becoming a marketplace and perfecting its models on how much of a particular item needs to go on store shelves.

The next item on the agenda for Bede and Kalb is to get insights into secondary sources like imperfect produce resellers or other grocery stores that work as an outlet.

The business model is already showing results at around 400 stores in the Northwest, according to Kalb and it now has another $12 million in financing to go to market.

The funds came from Garry Tan’s Initialized and GGV (and GGV managing director Hans Tung has a seat on the company’s board). Other investors in the company include Foundation Capital, Bain Capital, 1984 and Correlation Ventures .

Kalb said the money from the round will be used to scale up the engineering team and its sales and acquisition process.

The investment in Shelf Engine is part of a wave of new technology applications coming to the grocery store, as Sunny Dhillon, a partner at Signia Ventures, wrote in a piece for TechCrunch’s Extra Crunch.

“Grocery margins will always be razor thin, and the difference between a profitable and unprofitable grocer is often just cents on the dollar,” Dhillon wrote. “Thus, as the adoption of e-grocery becomes more commonplace, retailers must not only optimize their fulfillment operations (e.g, MFCs), but also the logistics of delivery to a customer’s doorstep to ensure speed and quality (e.g., darkstores).”

Beyond Dhillon’s version of a delivery only grocery network with mobile fulfillment centers and dark stores, there’s a lot of room for chains with existing real estate and bespoke shopping options to increase their margins on perishable goods as well.

 

#bain-capital, #correlation-ventures, #e-grocery, #engineer, #food, #food-waste, #foundation-capital, #ggv, #grocery-store, #hans-tung, #marketing, #microsoft, #molly, #packaging, #partner, #real-estate, #retail, #retailers, #salt-lake-city, #seattle, #serial-entrepreneur, #shelf-engine, #signia-ventures, #sunny-dhillon, #tc, #united-states

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Google Cloud opens its Las Vegas region

Google Cloud today announced the official opening of its Las Vegas data center region. With this, Google Cloud now operates four regions in the western U.S., with Las Vegas complementing Google Cloud’s existing data centers in Los Angeles, California; The Dalles, Oregon and its recently opened Salt Lake City, Utah region.

In total, Google now offers its customers the option to host their applications in 23 regions globally and with the opening of this new region, it now has seven U.S. regions.

Like all of Google’s new regions, Las Vegas will offer three availability zones and access to most of Google Cloud’s services. In Vegas, though, developers won’t be able to use relatively new services like Cloud Functions and Cloud Run yet. Some other features, including Cloud HSM and Secret Manager, are also not available yet either.

The company first announced the Vegas expansion in July 2019. And while it’s eerily quiet in Las Vegas right now, the idea behind these new regions is always to give companies the option to be close to their customers and offer them low-latency access to their applications, as well as the ability to distribute workloads across a wider geographic region.

Earlier this year, Google also announced that it would open its regions in Jakarta, Seoul and Warsaw over the course of 2020. So far, it doesn’t look like the COVID-19 pandemic is slowing these plans down.

For Las Vegas, Google’s launch partner is Aristocrat, which fittingly offers digital products for the gambling industry.

“Cloud technologies enable two important outcomes for us,” said James Alverez, CIO of Aristocrat. “First the ability to securely, consistently and immediately enable and disable game development platforms; and second, our ability to expand and contract our infrastructure based on demand. Both of these capabilities allow us to flex our technology to fully support the demands of our customers and our business. The Las Vegas region gives us the opportunity to more directly engage Google Cloud services and take advantage of an entry point into the network.”

#california, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #companies, #google, #google-cloud-platform, #las-vegas, #los-angeles, #nevada, #oregon, #salt-lake-city, #united-states, #utah

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Utah-based seed fund Kickstart closes fifth fund worth $110M

Continuing our week’s coverage of new venture funds, this morning let’s dig into Kickstart’s latest capital pool.

Kickstart Seed Fund, based in Utah’s Salt Lake City, has raised a $110 million Fund V it announced this morning, its largest to date. The firm’s rise to investing prominence has largely coincided with Utah’s own emergence as a technology hub, with the pair’s success intertwined since the financial crisis when the fund was put together.

Founded in 2008, when Utah was far from known as a technology hub—let alone a printing press for billion-dollar startupsthe firm has invested in over 100 companies and has seen 20 exits, Kickstart told TechCrunch in an interview.

The seed fund has backed firms like Podium, which recently raised $125 million at a unicorn valuation, and Lucid, which recently raised a $52 round itself and is also a unicorn. Those rounds come to mind as they were both announced this year, and each saw the firm in question announce that it had crested $100 million ARR.

Utah, COVID-19 and the future

Any idea that the mega-exit of Utah’s Qualtrics to SAP was a fluke, or perhaps an echo to some prior success that the state had seen, is now moot. And that means that Kickstart has a fresh bloc of funds to invest in a startup scene that has been hot for some time.

To get a handle on what’s changing, however, in the COVID-19 era for the state’s startups and investing scene, TechCrunch spoke with a number of investors from the fund before their new fund was announced.

Kickstart’s funds have grown as its local tech scene expanded. From just a few million in Fund I back in 2008 to a $26 million Fund II, the firm has added capital with each raise. Its third fund clocked in at $39 million bested by its Fund IV tally of $74 million. Now flush with $110 million, you might think that the firm is prepped to shake up its strategy.

Not really, as it turns out. Kickstart’s Curt Roberts told TechCrunch during a call that the firm has stuck close to the stage that it invests at over time. The market has changed the size of seed rounds some, however, leading to the firm taking on a bit more capital over time. “It is very fair to say that your average seed round has gone up in size slightly,” Roberts said, noting that “companies are just getting more done before they raise [a] seed round.”

As you can imagine, if startups are doing more before raising seed money, they can command a higher valuation. Curt agrees, telling TechCrunch that startups can “justify a little more valuation [at] a similar level of dilution” now when they raise.

Toss in some pre-seed investing, and the fact that Kickstart wants to protect its percentage in investments over time, and the larger funds make sense. The firm isn’t big on SPVs, as it turns out, so having more duckets in the till should help it maintain ownership a bit more easily over time.

Most importantly perhaps for Utah itself is that one if its best-known funds now has nine-figures of capital to disburse right when the economy is falling apart. If you are a startup ecosystem, having new buckets of capital land in your region is good news, especially when the business climate is worsening.

Per the group, the COVID-19 crisis isn’t causing endless mayhem in their scene. Yet, at least. The firm stressed Utah’s community cohesion as helping limit public unrest, in addition to the fact that as many of the state’s startups are B2B SaaS shops, making them less likely to get the legs kicked out from underneath them by a drop in consumer spending. TechCrunch has reported on the Utah startup world, and while its scene hasn’t been immune to layoffs it hasn’t seen as many other, similarly-sized ecosystems.

It’s still early days, however.

Kickstart’s investors also told TechCrunch that companies in its area do not run as heavy a burn rate as some other region’s startups, meaning that they are perhaps less exposed to economic hardship if their growth slows.

Utah’s first tech successes like Omniture have been overshadowed by its second wave of breakouts (Qualtrics most of all). And now with Galileo’s exit (a Kickstart company, it turns out), and Podium and Lucid’s latest raises, it’s clear that the third generation of firms in the region are going to be alright. Kickstart now has the capital to make sure that a forth and fifth can get off their feet and follow them.

#fundings-exits, #kickstart-seed-fund, #omniture, #qualtrics, #salt-lake-city, #startups, #tc, #techcrunch, #venture-capital

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FDA allows new diagnostic technologies to test for coronavirus before receiving emergency approvals

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said today that it would allow new diagnostics technologies to be used to test for the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, at elite academic hospitals and healthcare facilities around the country.

The agency’s new initiative comes as critics have assailed various U.S. government agencies for being woefully underprepared to effectively address the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country despite being aware of the potential risks the virus posed since the first cases were reported in Wuhan, China in early December.

As the first diagnosed cases of the new virus appeared in the country, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had conducted only 459 tests. Meanwhile, China had five commercial tests for the coronavirus on the market one month ago and can now conduct up to 1.6 million tests per week. South Korea has tested another 65,00 people so far, according to a report in Science Magazine. Initial tests in the U.S. were hampered by the distribution of test kits which contained a faulty reagent — rendering the kits useless.

The CDC isn’t the only U.S. agency criticized for its mishandling of the response to a potential outbreak. On Thursday a whistleblower complaint was filed against the Department of Health and Human Services alleging that the agency sent over a dozen employees to Wuhan to evacuate American citizens from the country without the proper training or protective gear, as first reported by The Washington Post.

Now, the Food and Drug Administration is opening the doors for research centers across the country to use new technologies that have yet to be approved for emergency use in order to dramatically increase the number of tests healthcare facilities can perform.

“We believe this policy strikes the right balance during this public health emergency,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, in a statement. “We will continue to help to ensure sound science prior to clinical testing and follow-up with the critical independent review from the FDA, while quickly expanding testing capabilities in the U.S. We are not changing our standards for issuing Emergency Use Authorizations. This action today reflects our public health commitment to addressing critical public health needs and rapidly responding and adapting to this dynamic and evolving situation.”

The new policy allows laboratories to begin to use validated COVID-19 diagnostics before the FDA has completed review of the labs’ Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) requests, the agency said in a statement.

In cases where the Department of Health and Human Services indicates that there’s a public health emergency or a significant potential for a public health emergency, the FDA can issue these EUAs to permit the use of medical products that can diagnose, treat, or prevent a disease. The HHS secretary determined that the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus was just such an emergency on February 4.

So far, the FDA has authorized one EUA for COVID-19 that’s already being used by the CDC and some public health labs, the agency said.

“The global emergence of COVID-19 is concerning, and we appreciate the efforts of the FDA to help bring more testing capability to the U.S.,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD).

Development of new diagnostics tests are handled by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, part of the HHS Office responsible for preparedness and response to health issues.

“This step may reduce development costs, speed the process for availability at more testing sites, incentivize private development and, ultimately, help save lives,” said Rick Bright, the BARDA’s director.

Startups like the Redwood City, Calif.-based genome sequencing device manufacturer, Genapsys, and Co-Diagnostics, another molecular diagnostics startup out of Salt Lake City, have been approached by the Chinese government and European testing facilities, respectively.

In the U.S. a number of large, publicly traded companies and startups are pursuing new diagnostics tools that can be used to identify the novel strain of the coronavirus.

“At BARDA, we are identifying industry partners to develop rapid diagnostics that can be used in commercial and hospital labs or even doctors’ offices so that medical professionals and their patients have the information they need to take action,” Bright said.

#california, #china, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #director, #food-and-drug-administration, #health, #salt-lake-city, #south-korea, #tc, #the-washington-post, #u-s-government, #viruses

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