Peak raises $75M for a platform that helps non-tech companies build AI applications

As artificial intelligence continues to weave its way into more enterprise applications, a startup that has built a platform to help businesses, especially non-tech organizations, build more customized AI decision making tools for themselves has picked up some significant growth funding. Peak AI, a startup out of Manchester, England, that has built a “decision intelligence” platform, has raised $75 million, money that it will be using to continue building out its platform as well as to expand into new markets, and hire some 200 new people in the coming quarters.

The Series C is bringing a very big name investor on board. It is being led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2, with previous backers Oxx, MMC Ventures, Praetura Ventures, and Arete also participating. That group participated in Peak’s Series B of $21 million, which only closed in February of this year. The company has now raised $118 million; it is not disclosing its valuation.

(This latest funding round was rumored last week, although it was not confirmed at the time and the total amount was not accurate.)

Richard Potter, Peak’s CEO, said the rapid follow-on in funding was based on inbound interest, in part because of how the company has been doing.

Peak’s so-called Decision Intelligence platform is used by retailers, brands, manufacturers and others to help monitor stock levels, build personalized customer experiences, as well as other processes that can stand to have some degree of automation to work more efficiently, but also require sophistication to be able to measure different factors against each other to provide more intelligent insights. Its current customer list includes the likes of Nike, Pepsico, KFC, Molson Coors, Marshalls, Asos, and Speedy, and in the last 12 months revenues have more than doubled.

The opportunity that Peak is addressing goes a little like this: AI has become a cornerstone of many of the most advanced IT applications and business processes of our time, but if you are an organization — and specifically one not built around technology — your access to AI and how you might use it will come by way of applications built by others, not necessarily tailored to you, and the costs of building more tailored solutions can often be prohibitively high. Peak claims that those using its tools have seen revenues on average rise 5%; return on ad spend double; supply chain costs reduce by 5%; and inventory holdings (a big cost for companies) reduce by 12%.

Peak’s platform, I should point out, is not exactly a “no-code” approach to solving that problem — not yet at least: it’s aimed at data scientists and engineers at those organizations so that they can easily identify different processes in their operations where they might benefit from AI tools, and to build those out with relatively little heavy lifting.

There have also been different market factors that have also played a role. Covid-19, for example, and the boost that we have seen both in increasing “digital transformation” in businesses, and making e-commerce processes more efficient to cater to rising consumer demand and more strained supply chains, have all led to businesses being more open to and keen to invest in more tools to improve their automation intelligently.

This, combined with Peak AI’s growing revenues, is part of what interested SoftBank. The investor has been long on AI for a while, but it has been building out a section of its investment portfolio to provide strategic services to the kinds of businesses that it invests in. Those include e-commerce and other consumer-facing businesses, which make up one of the main segments of Peak’s customer base.

“In Peak we have a partner with a shared vision that the future enterprise will run on a centralized AI software platform capable of optimizing entire value chains,” Max Ohrstrand, senior investor for SoftBank Investment Advisers, said in a statement. “To realize this a new breed of platform is needed and we’re hugely impressed with what Richard and the excellent team have built at Peak. We’re delighted to be supporting them on their way to becoming the category-defining, global leader in Decision Intelligence.”

Longer term, it will be interesting to see how and if Peak evolves to be extend its platform to a wider set of users at the organizations that are already its customers.

Potter said he believes that “those with technical predispositions” will be the most likely users of its products in the near and medium term. You might assume that would cut out, for example, marketing managers, although the general trend in a lot of software tools has precisely been to build versions of the same tools used by data scientists for these tell technical people to engage in the process of building what it is that they want to use. “I do think it’s important to democratize the ability to stream data pipelines, and to be able to optimize those to work in applications,” he added.

#ai, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #automation, #business-process-management, #ceo, #e-commerce, #enterprise, #europe, #funding, #kfc, #manchester, #mmc-ventures, #nike, #partner, #peak, #peak-ai, #pepsico, #science-and-technology, #series-b, #softbank-group, #softbank-vision-fund, #software-platform, #tc, #united-kingdom, #vodafone

The SEC and the DOJ just charged this startup founder with fraud, saying he lied to Tiger and others

Today, both the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Manish Lachwani, cofounder of a mobile app testing company Headspin, with fraud. The SEC says he violated antifraud provisions and the civil penalties it’s seeking include a permanent injunction, a conduct-based injunction, and an officer and director bar of Lachwani.

The DOJ, which actually arrested Lachwani today, has accused him of one count of wire fraud and one count of securities fraud, and the associated penalties if he’s found guilty are are more harsh, including, for wire fraud, a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. If he’s found guilty of securities fraud, he faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of $5,000,000.

Both the the SEC and the DOJ say Lachwani — who led the six-year-old company as CEO until May of last year — defrauded investors out of $80 million by falsely claiming that his company, Headspin, had “achieved strong and consistent growth in acquiring customers and generating revenue” when he was pitching its Series C round to potential backers.

By the SEC’s telling, his apparent bluster was largely an attempt to secure the round at a so-called unicorn valuation. That apparent plan worked, too, with Palo Alto-based Headspin attracting coverage in Forbes in February of last year after Dell Technologies Capital, Iconiq Capital and Tiger Global provided the company with $60 million in Series C funding at a $1.16 billion valuation. Forbes reported at the time that the valuation was double the valuation investors  assigned HeadSpin when it closed its Series B round in October 2018.

The SEC also says that Lachwani was looking to enrich himself, saying he did so “by selling $2.5 million of his HeadSpin shares in a fundraising round during which he made misrepresentations to an existing HeadSpin investor.” (It isn’t clear from its complaint whether the SEC is referring to the Series C or an earlier round.)

The DOJ’s federal complaint suggests that Lachwani’s alleged scheme dates back to at least November 2019, when the company was fundraising. It’s then that the success of Headspin — a six-year-old, Palo Alto, Ca., startup that helps apps and devices work in different environments around the world – was being knowingly misrepresented to investors by Lachwani, according to the DOJ.

More specifically, the complaint alleges that “in materials and presentations to potential investors, Lachwani reported false revenue and overstated key financial metrics of the company. . . he maintained control over operations, sales, and record-keeping, including invoicing, and he was the final decision maker on what revenue was booked and included in the company’s financial records.”

It says that in its investigation, the FBI discovered “multiple examples” of Lachwani “instructing employees to include revenue from potential customers that inquired but did not engage Headspin, from past customers who no longer did business with Headspin, and from existing customers whose business was far less than the reported revenue.”

Among other materials, Lachwani “provided investors false information that overstated Headspin’s annual recurring revenue . . . by approximately $51 to $55 million,” says the DOJ.

According to the complaint, Lachwani’s fraud unraveled after the company’s board of directors conducted an internal investigation that revealed significant issues with HeadSpin’s reporting of customer deals and revised HeadSpin’s valuation down from $1.1 billion to $300 million.

Indeed, in August of last year, The Information reported that “after an internal review of financial irregularities forced [Headspin] to restate its financials,” the company planned to lower the value of its Series C stock by nearly 80%.

The outlet reported at the time that Lachwani had been replaced by another executive. That person, according to LinkedIn, is Rajeev Butani, who joined Headspin as its chief sales officer around the time its Series C round was being announced in February of last year.

Nikesh Arora, a former SoftBank president, the current CEO and chairman of Palo Alto Networks, and a now-former board member of Headspin, helped lead the internal review, said The Information.

The SEC’s investigation is continuing, it says. Meanwhile, the DOJ notes in its announcement that “a complaint merely alleges that crimes have been committed, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Either way, the outlook doesn’t look very promising right now for Lachwani, who, according to Forbes, previously sold a mobile cloud business to Google and wound up co-founding Headspin after Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang introduced him to Brien Colwell, a former Palantir and Quora engineer was working at the time on a different startup.

Colwell remains with Headspin as its CTO. He has not been named in either the SEC or the DOJ’s complaints relating to Headspin.

The company itself, which has reportedly been cooperating with the government’s investigation, was also not charged.

Pictured above, left to right, Headspin founders Lachwani and Colwell.

#crime, #dell-technologies-capital, #doj, #headspin, #iconiq-capital, #manish-lachwani, #mobile-apps, #sec, #securities-fraud, #series-b, #startups, #tc, #tiger-global, #venture-capital, #wire-fraud

Like the US, a two-tier venture capital market is emerging in Latin America

Earlier this week, The Exchange wrote about the early-stage venture capital market, with the goal of understanding how some startups are raising more seed capital before they work on their Series A, while other startups are seemingly raising their first lettered round while in the nascent stages of scaling.

The expedition was rooted in commentary from Rudina Seseri of Glasswing Ventures, who said abundant seed capital in the United States allows founders to get a lot done before they raise a Series A, effectively delaying these rounds. But that after those founders did raise that A, their Series B round could rapidly follow thanks to later-stage money showing up in earlier-stage deals in hopes of snagging ownership in hot companies.

The idea? Slow As, fast Bs.

After chatting with Seseri more and a number of other venture capitalists about the concept, a second dynamic emerged. Namely that the “typical” early-stage funding round, as Seseri described it, was “becoming the atypical because of the rise of preemptive rounds [in which] typical expectations on metrics go out the window.”


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Series As, she said, could come mere months after a seed deal, and Series B rounds were seeing expected revenue thresholds tumble in part to “large, multi-asset players that have come down market and are offering a different product than typical VCs — very fast term sheets, no active involvement post-investment, large investments amounts and high valuations.”

Focusing on just the Series A dynamic, the old rule of thumb that a startup would need to reach $1 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR) is now often moot. Some startups are delaying their A rounds until they reach $2 million in ARR thanks to ample seed capital.

While some startups delay their A rounds, others raise the critical investment earlier and earlier, perhaps with even a few hundred thousand in ARR.

What’s different between the two groups? Startups with “elite status” are able to jump ahead to their Series A, while other founders spend more time cobbling together adequate seed capital to get to sufficient scale to attract an A.

The dynamic is not merely a United States phenomenon. The two-tier venture capital market is also showing up in Latin America, a globally important and rapidly expanding startup region. (Brazilian fintech startup Nubank, for example, just closed a $750 million round.)

This morning, we’re diving into the Latin American venture capital market and its early-stage dynamics. We also have notes on the European scene, so expect more on the topic next week. Let’s go!

What’s hot

Mega-rounds are no longer an exception in Latin America; in fact, they have become a trend, with ever-larger rounds being announced over the last few months.

The announcements themselves often emphasize round size: For instance, the recent $100 million Series B round into Colombian proptech startup Habi was touted as “the largest Series B for a startup headquartered in Colombia.” This follows other 2021 records such as “the largest Series A for Mexico ” — $65 million for online grocer Jüsto — and “the largest Series A ever raised by a Latin American fintech” —  $43 million for “Plaid for Latin America” Belvo.

#ec-latin-america-caribbean, #fundings-exits, #series-a, #series-b, #startups, #the-exchange, #venture-capital

Crypto finance startup Amber Group raises $100M at $1B valuation

More mainstream venture capital firms are jumping on the crypto bandwagon as investors increasingly consider bitcoin an investable asset, despite the recent massive price drops of a few major cryptocurrencies. Amber Group, a Hong Kong-based cryptocurrency trading startup, said on Monday it has raised $100 million in a Series B funding round at a pre-money valuation of $1 billion.

The latest valuation is ten times that of the company’s Series A closed in 2019, a $28 million round that counted Coinbase Ventures as one of its investors. Also notably, Amber’s Series B financing was bankrolled by a list of high-profile financial and VC firms, including China Renaissance, which led the round, and Tiger Brokers, Tiger Global Management, Arena Holdings, Tru Arrow Partners, Sky9 Capital, DCM Ventures, and Gobi Partners.

Its past investors Pantera Capital, Coinbase Ventures, and Blockchain.com also participated in the round.

In May, Babel Finance, another crypto asset manager based out of Hong Kong, secured $40 million in funding from a number of big-name institutional investors, including Amber’s investor Tiger Global.

Founded by a group of former investment bankers in their twenties, Amber initially set out to apply machine learning algorithms to quantitative trading but pivoted in 2017 to crypto when the team saw spikes in virtual currency’s trading volumes. The startup now serves both institutional and individual investors, offering them algorithmic trading, electronic market-making, high-frequency trading, OTC trading, borrowing and lending, derivatives, among other products.

The firm launched its mobile app in the third quarter of 2020, widening its scope from institutional clients to retail consumers. It said the trading app has so far accumulated over 100,000 registered users.

Amber has been profitable since its inception, according to its co-founder and CEO Michael Wu, with annualized revenues of $500 million based on figures from January to April 2021.

The startup has seen “record months over the past quarter across both client flow and on-exchange market-making volumes,” said Wu, and it now accounts for “2-3% of total trading volumes in major spot and derivative markets.” Its cumulative trading volumes have doubled from $250 billion since the beginning of the year to over $500 billion. Altogether, it manages around $1.5 billion in trading capital that varies based on BTC and ETH prices.

Amber has over 330 employees worldwide across Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul, and Vancouver. The proceeds from its Series B will go towards global expansion.

#arena-holdings, #asia, #blockchain-com, #coinbase, #coinbase-ventures, #cryptocurrency, #dcm-ventures, #funding, #gobi-partners, #pantera-capital, #series-b, #tc, #tiger-global-management

Twaice raised $26M to scale its battery analytics software

All batteries degrade over time. For automakers, fleet managers and other companies, the crux — and key to profitability — is knowing when they will.

But it’s surprisingly difficult to understand the health and status of a battery without extensive and expensive testing, which isn’t always possible once a battery is in a vehicle. German battery analytics software company Twaice has been taking aim at this problem since its founding in 2018, and it announced Wednesday that it has raised $26 million in Series B funding led by Chicago-based Energize Ventures. The company, which primarily works in the mobility and energy storage industries, now has a total financing of $45 million.

“We started Twaice with the focus on building a battery analytics platform which really covers the whole lifecycle of battery systems,” company co-founder Stephan Rohr told TechCrunch, including the development and operational phases. The company has launched tools that are suited for the design and development phase and when the battery is actually in a vehicle or energy storage system. Audi, Daimler and Hero Motors are some of its customers.

The company intends to use this fresh round of funding to expand its European commercial footprint and possibly into the United States. It also wants to build even more use cases on top of its analytics platform — for example, working with fleet providers, rather than only the manufacturers.

One of the company’s innovations is a concept of a “digital twin,” or a simulation model of the battery system that runs in Twaice’s cloud platform. The company continually updates the parameters of the “twin” so that it reflects the behavior of the actual battery, down to its thermal characteristics, electrical behavior and degradation. That means companies that operate a fleet of EV buses can monitor the state of the battery packs of each of their vehicles.

“It enables not just a focus on the current health of the battery system, but also it enables us to simulate and forecast the future,” Rohr said.

Twaice also offers solutions before the battery even enters the vehicle or energy storage system. “Battery design engineers use our simulations to reduce the testing effort [. . .] assess charging strategies, assess depth of discharge, assess different cell chemistries,” Rohr explained.

One major use case for Twaice’s software is for warranty tracking and safety risks. Using battery analytics OEMs can understand where exactly the battery failed, whether in the cell or the module, for example, and also gain valuable data on future warranty claims based on previous data. Warranties are huge risks for OEMs, Lennart Hinrichs, Twaice’s commercial director, explained to TechCrunch, in part because batteries are so complex and difficult to understand once they’re in a vehicle.

But having a grasp on the battery’s life could come in handy for consumers as well. Twaice has partnered with TÜV Rheinland, a testing and certification institute in Germany that’s working on EV resale in the private market. It could eventually lead the way to a standard assessment process for batteries on the resale market.

Once the battery is no longer suited for its first-life application, companies can use Twaice’s software to assess the remaining life and health of the battery system and determine whether it’s fit for a second-life purpose or if it should go straight to recycling.

Twaice’s previous funding round in March 2020 was led by early-stage venture capital firm Creandum, with additional participation from existing investors  UVC Partners, Cherry Ventures and Speedinvest.

#automotive, #batteries, #electric-vehicles, #energize-ventures, #recent-funding, #series-b, #startups, #transportation, #twaice

Personalized nutrition startup Zoe closes out Series B at $53M

Personalized nutrition startup Zoe — named not for a person but after the Greek word for ‘life’ — has topped up its Series B round with $20M, bringing the total raised to $53M.

The latest close of the B round was led by Ahren Innovation Capital, which the startup notes counts two Nobel laureates as science partners. Also participating are two former American football players, Eli Manning and Ositadimma “Osi” Umenyiora; Boston, US-based seed fund Accomplice; healthcare-focused VC firm THVC and early stage European VC, Daphni.

The U.K.- and U.S.-based startup was founded back in 2017 but operated in stealth mode for three years, while it was conducting research into the microbiome — working with scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital, Stanford Medicine, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and King’s College London.

One of the founders, professor Tim Spector of King’s College — who is also the author of a number of popular science books focused on food — became interested in the role of food (generally) and the microbiome (in particular) on overall health after spending decades researching twins to try to understand the role of genetics (nature) vs nurture (environmental and lifestyle factors) on human health.

Zoe used data from two large-scale microbiome studies to build its first algorithm which it began commercializing last September — launching its first product into the U.S. market: A home testing kit that enables program participants to learn how their body responds to different foods and get personalized nutrition advice.

The program costs around $360 (which Zoe takes in six instalments) and requires participants to (self) administer a number of tests so that it can analyze their biology, gleaning information about their metabolic and gut health by looking at changes in blood lipids, blood sugar levels and the types of bacteria in their gut.

Zoe uses big data and machine learning to come up with predictive insights on how people will respond to different foods so that it can offer individuals guided advice on what and how to eat, with the goal of improving gut health and reducing inflammatory responses caused by diet.

The combination of biological responses it analyzes sets it apart from other personalized nutrition startups with products focused on measuring one element (such as blood sugar) — is the claim.

But, to be clear, Zoe’s first product is not a regulated medical device — and its FAQ clearly states that it does not offer medical diagnosis or treatment for specific conditions. Instead it says only that it’s “a tool that is meant for general wellness purposes only”. So — for now — users have to take it on trust that the nutrition advice it dishes up is actually helpful for them.

The field of scientific research into the microbiome is undoubtedly early — Zoe’s co-founder states that very clearly when we talk — so there’s a strong component here, as is often the case when startups seek to use data and AI to generate valuable personalized predictions, whereby early adopters are helping to further Zoe’s research by contributing their data. Potentially ahead of the sought for individual efficacy, given so much is still unknown around how what we eat affects our health.

For those willing to take a punt (and pay up), they get an individual report detailing their biological responses to specific foods that compares them to thousands of others. The startup also provides them with individualized ‘Zoe’ scores for specific foods in order to support meal planning that’s touted as healthier for them.

“Reduce your dietary inflammation and improve gut health with a 4 week plan tailored to your unique biology and life,” runs the blurb on Zoe’s website. “Built around your food scores, our app will teach you how to make smart swaps, week by week.”

The marketing also claims no food is “off limits” — implying there’s a difference between Zoe’s custom food scores and (weight-loss focused) diets that perhaps require people to cut out a food group (or groups) entirely.

“Our aim is to empower you with the information and tools you need to make the best decisions for your body,” is Zoe’s smooth claim.

The underlying premise is that each person’s biology responds differently to different foods. Or, to put it another way, while we all most likely know at least one person who stays rake-thin and (seemingly) healthy regardless of what (or even how much) they eat, if we ate the same diet we’d probably expect much less pleasing results.

“What we’re able to start scientifically putting some evidence behind is something that people have talked about for a long time,” says co-founder George Hadjigeorgiou. “It’s early [for scientific research into the microbiome] but we have shown now to the world that even twins have different gut microbiomes, we can change our gut microbiomes through diet, lifestyle and how we live — and also that there are associations around particular [gut] bacteria and foods and a way to improve them which people can actually do through our product.”

Users of Zoe’s first product need to be willing (and able) to get pretty involved with their own biology — collecting stool samples, performing finger prick tests and wearing a blood glucose monitor to feed in data so it can analyze how their body responds to different foods and offer up personalized nutrition advice.

Another component of its study of biological responses to food has involved thousands of people eating “special scientific muffins”, which it makes to standardized recipes, so it can benchmark and compare nutritional responses to a particular blend of calories, carbohydrate, fat, and protein.

While eating muffins for science sounds pretty fine, the level of intervention required to make use of Zoe’s first at-home test kit product is unlikely to appeal to those with only a casual interest in improving their nutrition.

Hadjigeorgiou readily agrees the program, as it is now, is for those with a particular problem to solve that can be linked to diet/nutrition (whether obesity, high cholesterol or a disease like type 2 diabetes, and so on). But he says Zoe’s goal is to be able to open up access to personalized nutrition advice much more widely as it keeps gathering more data and insights.

“The idea is, as always, we start with a focused set of people with problems to solve who we believe will have a life-changing experience,” he tells TechCrunch. “At this point we are not trying to create a product for everyone — and we understand that that has limitations in terms of how much we scale in the beginning. Although even still within this focused group of people I can assure you there’s tonnes of people!

“But absolutely the whole idea is that after we get a first [set of users]… then with more data and with more experience we can simplify and start making this simpler and more accessible — both in terms of its simplicity and also it’s price. So more and more people. Because at the end of the day everyone has this right to be able to optimize and understand and be in control — and we want to make that available to everyone.

“Regardless of background and regardless of socio-economic status. And, in fact, many of the people who have the biggest problems around health etc are the ones who have maybe less means and ability to do that.”

Zoe isn’t disclosing how many early users it’s onboarded so far but Hadjigeorgiou says demand is high (it’s currently operating a wait-list for new sign ups).

He also touts promising early results from interim trial with its first users — saying participants experienced more energy (90%), felt less hunger (80%) and lost an average of 11 pounds after three months of following their AI-aided, personalized nutrition plan. Albeit, without data on how many people are involved in the trials it’s not possible to quantify the value of those metrics.

The extra Series B funding will be used to accelerate the rollout of availability of the program, with a U.K. launch planned for this year — and other geographies on the cards for 2022. Spending will also go on continued recruitment in engineering and science, it says.

Zoe already grabbed some eyeballs last year, as the coronavirus pandemic hit the West, when it launched a COVID-19 symptom self-reporting app. It has used that data to help scientists and policy makers understand how the virus affects people.

The Zoe COVID-19 app has had some 5M users over the last year, per Hadjigeorgiou — who points to that (not-for-profit) effort as an example of the kind of transformative intervention the company hopes to drive in the nutrition space down the line.

“Overnight we got millions and millions of people contributing to help uncover new insights around science around COVID-19,” he says, highlighting that it’s been able to publish a number of research papers based on data contributed by app users. “For example the lack of smell and taste… was something that we first [were able to prove] scientifically, and then it became — because of that — an official symptom in the list of the government in the U.K.

“So that was a great example how through the participation of people — in a very, very fast way, which we couldn’t predict when we launched it — we managed to have a big impact.”

Returning to diet, aren’t there some pretty simple ‘rules of thumb’ that anyone can apply to eat more healthily — i.e. without the need to shell out for a bespoke nutrition plan? Basic stuff like eat your greens, avoid processed foods and cut down (or out) sugar?

“There are definitely rules of thumb,” Hadjigeorgiou agrees. “We’ll be crazy to say they’re not. I think it all comes back to the point that although there are rules of thumb and over time — and also through our research, for example — they can become better, the fact of the matter is that most people are becoming less and less healthy. And the fact of the matter is that life is messy and people do not eat even according to these rules of thumb so I think part of the challenge is… [to] educate and empower people for their messy lives and their lifestyle to actually make better choices and apply them in a way that’s sustainable and motivating so they can be healthier.

“And that’s what we’re finding with our customers. We are helping them to make these choices in an empowering way — they don’t need to count calories, they don’t need to restrict themselves through a Keto [diet] regime or something like that. We basically empower them to understand this is the impact food has on your body — real time, how your blood sugar levels change, how your bacteria change, how your blood fat levels changes. And through that empowerment through insight then we say hey, now we’ll give you this course, it’s very simple, it’s like a game — and we’ll given you all these tools to combine different foods, make foods work for you. No food is off limits — but try to eat most days a 75 score [based on the food points Zoe’s app assigns].

“In that very empowering way we see people get very excited, they see a fun game that is also impacting their gut and metabolism and they start feeling these amazing effects — in terms of less hunger, more energy, losing weight and over time as well evolving their health. That’s why they say it’s life changing as well.”

Gamifying research for the goal of a greater good? To the average person that surely sounds more appetitizing than ‘eat your greens’.

Though, as Hadjigeorgiou concedes, research in the field of microbiome — where Zoe’s commercial interests and research USP lie — is “early”. Which means that gathering more data to do more research will remain a key component of the business for the foreseeable future. And with so much still to be understood about the complex interactions between food, exercise and other lifestyle factors and human health, the mission is indeed massive.

In the meanwhile, Zoe will be taking it one suggestive nudge at a time.

“Sugar is bad, kale’s great but the whole kind of magic happens in the middle,” Hadjigeorgiou goes on. “Is oatmeal good for you? Is rice good for you? Is wholewheat pasta good for you? How do you combine wholewheat pasta and butter? How much do you have? This is where basically most of our life happens.

“Because people don’t eat ice-cream the whole day and people don’t eat kale the whole day. They eat all these other foods in the middle and that’s where the magic is — knowing how much to have, how to combine them to make it better, how to combine it with exercise to make it better? How to eat a food that doesn’t dip your sugar levels three hours after you eat it which causes hunger for you. Theses are all the things we’re able to predict and present in a simple and compelling way through a score system to people — and in turn help them [understand their] metabolic response to food.”

#ahren-innovation-capital, #artificial-intelligence, #biology, #eli-manning, #food, #fundings-exits, #george-hadjigeorgiou, #health, #healthcare, #machine-learning, #microbiome, #personalized-nutrition, #series-b, #tc, #tim-spector, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #wearables, #zoe

Battery Resourcers raises $20M to commercialize its recycling-plus-manufacturing operations

As a greater share of the transportation market becomes electrified, companies have started to grapple with how to dispose of the thousands of tons of used electric vehicle batteries that are expected come off the roads by the end of the decade.

Battery Resourcers proposes a seemingly simple solution: recycle them. But the company doesn’t stop there. It’s engineered a “closed loop” process to turn that recycled material into nickel-manganese-cobalt cathodes to sell back to battery manufacturers. It is also developing a process to recover and purify graphite, a material used in anodes, to battery-grade.

Battery Resourcers’ business model has attracted another round of investor attention, this time with a $20 million Series B equity round led by Orbia Ventures with injections from At One Ventures, TDK Ventures, TRUMPF Venture, Doral Energy-Tech Ventures and InMotion Ventures. O’Kronley declined to disclose the company’s new valuation.

The cathode and anode, along with the electrolyzer, are major components of battery architecture, and Battery Resourcers CEO Mike O’Kronley told TechCrunch it is this recycling-plus-manufacturing process that distinguishes the company from other recyclers.

“When we say that we’re on the verge of revolutionizing this industry, what we are doing is we are making the cathode active material – we’re not just recovering the metals that are in the battery, which a lot of other recyclers are doing,” he said. “We’re recovering those materials, and formulating brand new cathode active material, and also recovering and purifying the graphite active material. So those two active materials will be sold to a battery manufacturer and go right back into the new battery.”

“Other recycling companies, they’re focused on recovering just the metals that are in [batteries]: there’s copper, there’s aluminum, there’s nickel, there’s cobalt. They’re focused on recovering those metals and selling them back as commodities into whatever industry needs those metals,” he added. “And they may or may not go back into a battery.”

The company says its approach could reduce the battery industry’s reliance on mined metals – a reliance that’s only anticipated to grow in the coming decades. A study published last December found that demand for cobalt could increase by a factor of 17 and nickel by a factor of 28, depending on the size of EV uptake and advances in battery chemistries.

Thus far, the company’s been operating a demonstration-scale facility in Worcester, Massachusetts, and has expanded into a facility in Novi, Michigan, where it does analytical testing and material characterization. Between the two sites, the company can make around 15 tons of cathode materials a year. This latest funding round will help facilitate the development of a commercial-scale facility, which Battery Resourcers said in a statement will boost its capacity to process 10,000 tons of batteries per year, or batteries from around 20,000 EVs.

Another major piece of its proprietary recycling process is the ability to take in both old and new EV batteries, process them, and formulate the newest kind of cathodes used in today’s batteries. “So they can take in 10 year old batteries from a Chevy Volt and reformulate the metals to make the high-Ni cathode active materials in use today,” a company spokesman explained to TechCrunch.

Battery Resourcers is already receiving inquiries from automakers and consumer electronics companies, O’Kronley said, though he did not provide additional details. But InMotion Ventures, the venture capital arm of Jaguar Land Rover, said in a statement its participation in the round as a “significant investment.”

“[Battery Resourcers’] proprietary end-to-end recycling process supports Jaguar Land Rover’s journey to become a net zero carbon business by 2039,” InMotion managing director Sebastian Peck said.

Battery Resourcers was founded in 2015 after being spun out from Massachusetts’ Worcester Polytechnic Institute. The company has previously received support from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium, a collaboration between General Motors, Ford Motor Company, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

#automotive, #battery-resourcers, #jaguar-land-rover, #orbia-ventures, #recent-funding, #recycling, #series-b, #startups, #transportation

Rec Room raises at $1.25B valuation from Sequoia and Index as VCs push to find another Roblox

Investor FOMO following Roblox’s blockbuster public debut is pushing venture capitalists who missed out on that gaming giant to invest in competing platforms.

Today, Rec Room announced it has raised $100 million from Sequoia and Index, with participation from Madrona Venture Group. The deal is a huge influx of capital for Rec Room, which had raised less than $50 million before this round, including a $20 million Series C that closed in December. In 2019, we reported that the company had raised its Series B at a $126 million valuation, this latest deal values the company at $1.25 billion, showcasing how investor sentiment for the gaming space has shifted in the wake of Roblox’s monster growth.

Rec Room launched as a virtual reality-only platform, but as headset sales creeped along slowly, the company embraced traditional game consoles, PC and mobile to expand its reach.

In a press release accompanying today’s funding announcement, Rec Room detailed it has surpassed 15 million “lifetime users” and had shown 566% year-over-year revenue growth. In December, CEO Nick Fajt told TechCrunch that the company has tripled its player base in the past 12 months.

The company has been following in Roblox’s footsteps in many ways as it build out its creator tools and seeks to build out an on-platform economy for game creators. The company says that two million players have created content on the platform and that Rec Room is on track to pay out more than $1 million to them this year.

#ceo, #gaming, #madrona-venture-group, #player, #rec-room, #roblox, #series-b, #tc, #techcrunch, #venture-capital, #video-games, #video-gaming, #virtual-reality

Conversa Health expands its Series B round to $20M

Portland, Oregon-based Conversa Health, a virtual care and communication platform that helps health organizations stay in touch with their patients and customers, today announced that it has expanded its Series B funding round from $12 million to $20 million. The round is still co-led by Builders VC and Northwell Health’s venture arm Northwell Ventures. Additional investors include UH Ventures, the venture arm of University Hospitals and VC firms P5 Health Ventures, Epic Ventures, StartUp Health and Nassau Street Ventures, as well Genesis Merchant Capital and J-Ventures, which came in as new investors in this expanded round.

“There’s been a recognition, especially with COVID, that the need for automated and virtual — which are two big trends in healthcare — were on the horizon but now the horizon has been pulled in because of COVID and the healthcare system recognizes that that’s going to be required to be able to allow access for patients and improve both the experience for patients and providers, and get better outcomes and do it at lower cost,” Conversa CEO Murray Brozinsky told me.

Brozinsky actually believes that within the next decade, 80% of care will be done remotely. This will allow for more personalized and evidence-based care, but it will also require investments in automation.

“Conversa links providers’ EHRs and other patient data to best-of-breed interactive digital care pathways and clinical analytics engine to automate care management 24×7. This improves care plan adherence pre and post visit, reducing costs and generating better outcomes for patients,” said Builders VC partner and Conversa board member Mark Goldstein. “Conversa’s enterprise platform and library of digital pathways are used by providers to care for patients across their populations, as opposed to one-off point solutions. It fills an enormous gap in the market.”

Given the pandemic, it’s maybe no surprise that Conversa’s business also boomed. The number of customers the company its services has grown fourfold while its financial metrics are up 6x because a lot of its larger companies have expanded their use of the platform.

The team decided to expand the existing Series B round to help it capitalize on this momentum and to bring on more engineers in order to scale the platform. Brozinsky believes that the need for a platform like Conversa’s will remain after the pandemic ends. In addition, the company is also already rolling out support for vaccination programs in its service to help educate consumers but also help in monitoring efforts after people get their shots.

“Everything we’re hearing from health systems, they recognize that they need to be prepared for this to happen again, they still need to care for the core demographics that haven’t changed — this aging population — with an acute shortage of healthcare workers,” Brozinsky said. “So the need for the systems and these platforms is going to be more acute and the investment is not so much an additional cost but an enormous return.”

#board-member, #builders-vc, #conversa-health, #epic-ventures, #health, #health-care, #healthcare, #murray-brozinsky, #northwell-ventures, #oregon, #portland, #primary-care, #recent-funding, #series-b, #startup-health, #startups, #vaccination, #vc

Decrypted: Google finds a devastating iPhone security flaw, FireEye hack sends alarm bells ringing

In case you missed it: A ransomware attack saw patient data stolen from one of the largest U.S. fertility networks; the Supreme Court began hearing a case that may change how millions of Americans use computers and the internet; and lawmakers in Massachusetts have voted to ban police from using facial recognition across the state.

In this week’s Decrypted, we’re deep-diving into two stories beyond the headlines, including why the breach at cybersecurity giant FireEye has the cybersecurity industry in shock.


THE BIG PICTURE

Google researcher finds a major iPhone security bug, now fixed

What happens when you leave one of the best security researchers alone for six months? You get one of the most devastating vulnerabilities ever found in an iPhone — a bug so damaging that it can be exploited over-the-air and requires no interaction on the user’s part.

The AWDL bug under attack using a proof-of-concept exploit developed by a Google researcher. Image Credits: Ian Beer/Google Project Zero

The vulnerability was found in Apple Wireless Direct Link (AWDL), an important part of the iPhone’s software that among other things allows users to share files and photos over Wi-Fi through Apple’s AirDrop feature.

“AWDL is enabled by default, exposing a large and complex attack surface to everyone in radio proximity,” wrote Google’s Ian Beer in a tweet, who found the vulnerability in November and disclosed it to Apple, which pushed out a fix for iPhones and Macs in January.

But exploiting the bug allowed Beer to gain access to the underlying iPhone software using Wi-Fi to gain control of a vulnerable device — including the messages, emails and photos — as well as the camera and microphone — without alerting the user. Beer said that the bug could be exploited over “hundreds of meters or more,” depending on the hardware used to carry out the attack. But the good news is that there’s no evidence that malicious hackers have actively tried to exploit the bug.

News of the bug drew immediate attention, though Apple didn’t comment. NSA’s Rob Joyce said the bug find is “quite an accomplishment,” given that most iOS bugs require chaining multiple vulnerabilities together in order to get access to the underlying software.

FireEye hacked by a nation-state, but the aftermath is unclear

#apple, #articles, #computer-security, #cyberattacks, #cyberwarfare, #decrypted, #dragos, #fireeye, #google, #government, #infrastructure, #iphone, #massachusetts, #national-security-agency, #online-platforms, #orca-security, #president, #ransomware, #ron-wyden, #security, #series-b, #supreme-court, #the-washington-post, #trump, #u-s-government, #white-house, #wi-fi

African fintech startup Chipper Cash raises $30M backed by Jeff Bezos

African cross-border fintech startup Chipper Cash has raised a $30 million Series B funding round led by Ribbit Capital with participation of Bezos Expeditions — the personal VC fund of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Chipper Cash was founded in San Francisco in 2018 by Ugandan Ham Serunjogi and Ghanaian Maijid Moujaled. The company offers mobile-based, no fee, P2P payment services in seven countries: Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Africa and Kenya.

Parallel to its P2P app, the startup also runs Chipper Checkout — a merchant-focused, fee-based payment product that generates the revenue to support Chipper Cash’s free mobile-money business. The company has scaled to 3 million users on its platform and processes an average of 80,000 transactions daily. In June 2020, Chipper Cash reached a monthly payments value of $100 million, according to CEO Ham Serunjogi .

As part of the Series B raise, the startup plans to expand its products and geographic scope. On the product side, that entails offering more business payment solutions, crypto-currency trading options, and investment services.

“We’ll always be a P2P financial transfer platform at our core. But we’ve had demand from our users to offer other value services…like purchasing cryptocurrency assets and making investments in stocks,” Serunjogi told TechCrunch on a call.

Image Credits: Chipper Cash

Chipper Cash has added beta dropdowns on its website and app to buy and sell Bitcoin and invest in U.S. stocks from Africa — the latter through a partnership with U.S. financial services company DriveWealth.

“We’ll launch [the stock product] in Nigeria first so Nigerians have the option to buy fractional stocks — Tesla shares, Apple shares or Amazon shares and others — through our app. We’ll expand into other countries thereafter,” said Serunjogi.

On the business financial services side, the startup plans to offer more API payments solutions. “We’ve been getting a lot of requests from people on our P2P platform, who also have business enterprises, to be able to collect payments for sale of goods,” explained Serunjogi.

Chipper Cash also plans to use its Series B financing for additional country expansion, which the company will announce by the end of 2021.

Jeff Bezos’s backing of Chipper Cash follows a recent string of events that has elevated the visibility of Africa’s startup scene. Over the past decade, the continent’s tech ecosystem has been one of the fastest growing in the world by year year-over-year expansion in venture capital and startup formation, concentrated in countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa.

Africa Top VC Markets 2019

Image Credits: TechCrunch/Bryce Durbin

Bringing Africa’s large unbanked population and underbanked consumers and SMEs online has factored prominently. Roughly 66% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s 1 billion people don’t have a bank account, according to World Bank data.

As such, fintech has become Africa’s highest-funded tech sector, receiving the bulk of an estimated $2 billion in VC that went to startups in 2019. Even with the rapid venture funding growth over the last decade, Africa’s tech scene had been performance light, with only one known unicorn (e-commerce venture Jumia) a handful of exits, and no major public share offerings. That changed last year.

In April 2019, Jumia — backed by investors including Goldman Sachs and Mastercard — went public in an NYSE IPO. Later in the year, Nigerian fintech company Interswitch achieved unicorn status after a $200 million investment by Visa.

This year, Network International purchased East African payments startup DPO for $288 million and in August WorldRemit acquired Africa focused remittance company Sendwave for $500 million.

One of the more significant liquidity events in African tech occurred last month, when Stripe acquired Nigerian payment gateway startup Paystack for a reported $200 million.

In an email to TechCrunch, a spokesperson for Bezos Expeditions confirmed the fund’s investment in Chipper Cash, but declined to comment on further plans to back African startups. Per Crunchbase data, the investment would be the first in Africa for the fund. It’s worth noting Bezos Expeditions is not connected to Jeff Bezo’s hallmark business venture, Amazon.

For Chipper Cash, the $30 million Series B raise caps an event-filled two years for the San Francisco-based payments company and founders Ham Serunjogi and Maijid Moujaled. The two came to America for academics, met in Iowa while studying at Grinnell College and ventured out to Silicon Valley for stints in big tech: Facebook for Serunjogi and Flickr and Yahoo! for Moujaled.

Chipper Cash founders Ham Serunjogi (R) and Maijid Moujaled; Image Credits: Chipper Cash

The startup call beckoned and after launching Chipper Cash in 2018, the duo convinced 500 Startups and Liquid 2 Ventures — co-founded by American football legend Joe Montana — to back their company with seed funds. The startup expanded into Nigeria and Southern Africa in 2019, entered a payments partnership with Visa in April and raised a $13.8 million Series A in June.

Chipper Cash founder Ham Serunjogi believes the backing of his company by a notable tech figure, such as Jeff Bezos (the world’s richest person), has benefits beyond his venture.

“It’s a big deal when a world class investor like Bezos or Ribbit goes out of their sweet spot to a new area where they previously haven’t done investments,” he said. “Ultimately, the winner of those things happening is the African tech ecosystem overall, as it will bring more investment from firms of that caliber to African startups.”

#500-startups, #africa, #amazon, #america, #apple, #banking, #bezos-expeditions, #chipper-cash, #e-commerce, #facebook, #financial-services, #ghana, #goldman-sachs, #ham-serunjogi, #hsbc, #interswitch, #iowa, #jeff-bezos, #joe-montana, #kenya, #liquid-2-ventures, #maijid-moujaled, #mastercard, #mobile-payments, #nigeria, #online-payments, #p2p, #paystack, #ribbit, #ribbit-capital, #rwanda, #san-francisco, #series-b, #south-africa, #stripe, #tanzania, #tc, #tesla, #uganda, #united-states, #venture-capital, #visa, #worldremit, #yahoo

Decrypted: Hackers show off their exploits as Black Hat goes virtual

Every year hackers descend on Las Vegas in the sweltering August heat to break ground on security research and the most innovative hacks. This year was no different, even if it was virtual.

To name a few: Hackers tricked an ATM to spit out cash. A duo of security researchers figured out a way to detect the latest cell site simulators. Car researchers successfully hacked into a Mercedes-Benz. A Windows bug some two decades old can be used to plant malware. Cryptocurrency exchanges were extremely vulnerable to hackers for a time. Internet satellites are more insecure than we thought and their data streams can contain sensitive, unencrypted data. Two security researchers lived to tell the tale after they were arrested for an entirely legal physical penetration test. And, a former NSA hacker revealed how to plant malware on a Mac using a booby-trapped Word document.

But with less than three months until millions of Americans go to the polls, Black Hat sharpened its focus on election security and integrity more so than any previous year.

Here’s more from the week.


THE BIG PICTURE

A major voting machine maker is finally opening up to hackers

The relationship between hackers and election machine manufacturers has been nothing short of fraught. No company wants to see their products torn apart for weaknesses that could be exploited by foreign spies. But one company, once resistant to the security community, has started to show signs of compromise.

Election equipment maker ES&S is opening up its voting machines to hackers — willingly — under a new vulnerability disclosure program. That will see the company embrace hackers for the first time, recognizing that hackers have knowledge, insight and experience — rather than pushing them away and ignoring the problems altogether. Or, as the company’s security chief told Wired: “Hackers gonna hack, researchers gonna research.”

#ann-arbor, #computer-security, #computing, #crime, #cryptography, #cybercrime, #cyberwarfare, #decrypted, #election-security, #elections, #electronic-voting, #greynoise, #iran, #las-vegas, #matt-blaze, #michigan, #microsoft-windows, #privacy, #russia, #search-engine, #security, #series-b, #united-states

Atomwise’s machine learning-based drug discovery service raises $123 million

With a slew of partnerships with large pharmaceutical companies under its belt and the successful spin out of at least one new company, Atomwise has already proved the value of its machine learning platform for discovering and commercializing potential small molecule therapies for a host of conditions.

Now the company has raised $123 million in new funding to accelerate its business.

“Scaling the technology and scaling the team and scaling what we’ve been doing with it,” says chief executive officer Abe Heifets when asked about what comes next for the eight year old business.

Atomwise has already signed contracts worth $5.5 billion with corporate partners that include Eli Lilly & Co., Bayer, Hansoh Pharmaceuticals, and Bridge Biotherapeutics. Smaller, earlier stage companies like StemoniX and SEngine Precision Medicine are also using Atomwise’s tech.

Now the company will look to capture more of the value of drug discovery for itself, looking to develop and commercialize its discoveries by taking over more of the development process and working with manufacturers at a later stage, according to Heifets.

Atomwise tipped its new strategy last year when it announced a partnership with Velocity Drug Development and a $14.5 million investment to create x-37, a spinoff that’s developing small molecule therapies for endodermal cancers, which include cancers of the liver, pancreas, colon, stomach, and bladder.

“We have something like 750 projects running today around the world,” says Heifets. “These comprise more than 600 unique targets and that’s with a vast range of partnerships.”

The power of Atomwise’s drug discovery platform is its ability to harness machine learning to structure new proteins that have never existed — and ensure that they’re able to reach precise target receptors to accomplish a desired task.

Here, the x-37 spinoff is especially illustrative. One line of research the company is conducting into molecules that can target the PIM3 protein receptor. If a drug can block PIM3, it can kill cancerous endodermal cells, according to Heifets. However, if the molecules bind to another, similar target, PIM1, the therapy can cause heart attacks and kill patients.

“This is a challenge and empirically was considered undruggable,” says Heifets. Atomwise’s company screened 11 billion potential molecules against the targets to come up with 500 potential therapies. They’re now working on refining the therapy to bring something to market.

And x-37 is only one of the companies that Atomwise has created to commercialize various new molecules. There’s also Atropos Therapeutics, Theia Biosciences and vAIrus.

Atomwise is far from the only company to think that the application of machine learning technologies to drug discovery is a winning combination. Menten.ai is a company that’s taken the new technology developments one step further and added quantum computing to the mix to come up with new drugs.

“The market opportunity we’re going after is four times the value of the entire pharma industry today,” said Heifets. “Here’s what that’s about. There’s 20,000 human genes and only 4% have ever been drugs. Another 16% have been evidenced. But the opportunity of drugging the undruggable is way bigger than the entire pharma industry.”

Unlocking that opportunity is going to take lots of capital. That’s why B Capital and Sanabil Investments combined to lead Atomwise’s Series B round. It’s also why companies like DCVC, BV, Tencent, Y Combinator, Dolby Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures and two, undisclosed, insurance companies have invested in the company’s latest round.

 with a goal to commercialize high potential candidates through the drug development process. The company plans to continue to expand its work with corporate partners, which currently include major players in the biopharma space including Eli Lilly and Company, Bayer, Hansoh Pharmaceuticals, and Bridge Biotherapeutics, as well as emerging biotechnology companies like StemoniX and SEngine Precision Medicine. Atomwise has signed approximately $5.5 billion in deal value with corporate partners to date.

To date, Atomwise has worked with 750 academic research collaborations addressing over 600 disease targets, to model and screen over 16 billion new molecules for virtual screening. These molecules have generated 17 pending patent applications and several peer-reviewed publications. There are 285 active drug discovery partnerships with researchers at top universities around the world, and recently announced 15 research collaborations with global universities to explore broad-spectrum therapies for COVID-19, targeting 15 unique and novel mechanisms of action.

“New technologies are enabling better and faster R&D for the life science industry,” said Raj Ganguly, co-Founder and Managing Partner at B Capital Group . “The advancements Atomwise has made with its computational drug discovery platform have effectively cut months or even years off of the R&D lifecycle. More importantly, however, they are solving biology problems previously believed to be unsolvable by researchers and delivering that capability to everyone from academics to big pharma. We’re excited to continue to partner with the Atomwise team on its mission to develop new, more effective therapies.”

For lead investor, B Capital, the Atomwise investment is part of a thesis around lowering the cost of care and improving outcomes.

“Companies like Atomwise that are improving the cost curve are in the same vein of bringing therapies to market faster and cheaper. Which means you can improve access and improve costs and address things like rare diseases,” said Adam Seabrook, a principal at B Capital focused on healthcare.

#ame-cloud-ventures, #articles, #atomwise, #b-capital-group, #bayer, #biotechnology, #chief-executive-officer, #disease, #drug-development, #drug-discovery, #health, #healthcare, #insurance, #life-sciences, #machine-learning, #partner, #quantum-computing, #raj-ganguly, #series-b, #tc, #tencent, #y-combinator

Mirror competitor Tempo raises a $60M Series B

No doubt about it, home fitness is hot. The category had already been gaining considerable traction in recent years and months, but the ongoing pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated interest by orders of magnitude. And understandably so. After all, while some businesses have begun reopening in some locations, gyms are still a big red flag, with one of the highest potential transmission risks of any communal space.

This morning Tempo announced a healthy $60 million Series B, led by Norwest Venture Partners and General Catalyst, along with a repeat investors Founders Fund, Signal Fire, DCM, Y Combinator and Bling Capital.

The news comes almost exactly a month after Mirror, one of the San Francisco-based company’s chief competitors, was acquired by fitness brand Lululemon for $500 million. Also worth noting here is the continued success of Peloton, whose streaming fitness classes have continued to catapult the home fitness equipment maker. A number of other startups have announced raises in recent weeks, while stalwarts like Technogym have introduced their own home streaming services.

Image Credits: Tempo

The Tempo device runs ~$2,000, plus a $39 monthly membership to its content, which includes strength, cardio and various other exercises as either live streams or on-demand content. Notably, the company says it’s on track to hit a $100 million run rate by year’s end, owing in part to sales that have jumped 500% since the company opened up pre-orders this February (without disclosing actual unit sales).

That’s due, no doubt, to word of mouth, but the company certainly isn’t discounting the role of COVID-19 in its fast success. “With tens of millions unable to go to the gym or attend classes in person, consumers’ fitness needs have evolved,” the company notes in a press release. “App-based services lack the necessary equipment to be effective for most people, while previous smart devices often do little more than stream videos without two-way guidance.”

#fitness, #general-catalyst, #hardware, #norwest-venture-partners, #recent-funding, #series-b, #startups

Decrypted: DEA spying on protesters, DDoS attacks, Signal downloads spike

This week saw protests spread across the world sparked by the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis last month.

The U.S. hasn’t seen protests like this in a generation, with millions taking to the streets each day to lend their voice and support. But they were met with heavily armored police, drones watching from above, and “covert” surveillance by the federal government.

That’s exactly why cybersecurity and privacy is more important than ever, not least to protect law-abiding protesters demonstrating against police brutality and institutionalized, systemic racism. It’s also prompted those working in cybersecurity — many of which are former law enforcement themselves — to check their own privilege and confront the racism from within their ranks and lend their knowledge to their fellow citizens.


THE BIG PICTURE

DEA allowed ‘covert surveillance’ of protesters

The Justice Department has granted the Drug Enforcement Administration, typically tasked with enforcing federal drug-related laws, the authority to conduct “covert surveillance” on protesters across the U.S., effectively turning the civilian law enforcement division into a domestic intelligence agency.

The DEA is one of the most tech-savvy government agencies in the federal government, with access to “stingray” cell site simulators to track and locate phones, a secret program that allows the agency access to billions of domestic phone records, and facial recognition technology.

Lawmakers decried the Justice Department’s move to allow the DEA to spy on protesters, calling on the government to “immediately rescind” the order, describing it as “antithetical” to Americans’ right to peacefully assembly.

#ceo, #cloudflare, #computer-security, #cybercrime, #cyberwarfare, #decrypted, #department-of-justice, #extra-crunch, #federal-government, #george-floyd, #google, #government, #information-technology, #inky, #insight-partners, #internet-security, #iphone, #israel, #lastline, #law-enforcement, #market-analysis, #matthew, #matthew-prince, #minneapolis, #moxie-marlinspike, #national-security, #online-harassment, #police-brutality, #prevention, #privacy, #security, #series-b, #startups, #surveillance, #team8, #techcrunch, #united-states, #vmware

Anti-phishing startup Inky raises $20M to ramp up enterprise adoption

Anti-phishing startup Inky has raised $20 million in its Series B round of funding, led by Insight Partners .

The funding will help the company push for greater enterprise adoption and expand to international markets including Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Inky started out a decade ago with a bold mission to reinvent email with its desktop app focused on helping users better organize and filter their inboxes. The company pivoted away from its email improvement efforts in 2018 to focus on its cloud-based anti-phishing technology. A year later, it raised $5.6 million in its Series A round.

This latest investment pushes the total amount Inky raised to $31.6 million.

Phishing is a continual headache for all organizations. These attacks rely on tricking users into thinking an email is genuine and turning over personal information or passwords. Verizon’s yearly data breach report said 22% of all breaches are caused by phishing, a technique used more than any other attack vector. Attackers also use spoofed emails to trick human resources or finance staff into turning over sensitive employee files, like W-2 tax forms, on instructions from senior leadership. These so-called business email scams have cost businesses billions of dollars a year.

Inky’s technology works by hooking into existing email systems, like Exchange, Office 365, and G-Suite and alerting users if an incoming email looks safe, unusual, or malicious. The company uses machine learning and other technologies to detect if an email looks like it’s spam, a phish attempt, or leveraging a security vulnerability like an XSS — or cross-site script — that can be used to steal data.

Inky says it blocks hundred of thousands of suspicious or malicious emails a month for the average customer.

“This Series B funding gives us the resources we need to serve the incredible demand we’re seeing from enterprise customers in particular, and will allow us to expand our go-to-market efforts globally,” said Inky’s co-founder and chief executive Dave Baggett.

#asia, #computer-security, #crime, #cross-site-scripting, #cybercrime, #cyberspace, #email, #europe, #identity-theft, #information-technology, #inky, #insight-partners, #latin-america, #machine-learning, #phishing, #security, #series-b, #social-engineering, #spamming, #verizon

Giving brewers a tech to make beer from any plant starch, Province Brands raises $1.6M

There’s a potential climate-related crisis brewing in the beer industry and Province Brands has just raised $1.6 million for its technology that purports to be a solution.

The Canadian company, which has developed a way to make beer from any plant material, is pitching itself as a solution to the increasing shortages of barley and other grains caused by global climate change.

It’s a pivot for the brand. When it launched the company was taking its technology to cannabis brands as a way to brew beer made from bud. But when the bottom started falling out of the cannabis market, Province Brands switched the pitch to the broader brewery business.

“The cannabis industry was overvalued from an equities perspective for years,” says Province Brandsco-founder Dooma Wendschuh. “Starting in mid-2019 we started to see that crash… This is an industry that is very capital intensive… it requires a tremendous amount of investment to set up these facilities.”

As the market became less about the puff puff and more about the pass, Province decided to reach out to its investor base and raise a Canadian $2.2 million convertible note.

“We didn’t want investors to take a bath on it if that could be avoided,” says Wendschuh.

Province Brands’ last funding was its Series B in 2019 when the Company raised CAD $5 million at a CAD $70 million pre-money valuation, the company said in a statement. 

“Closing this round quickly highlights the attractiveness of Province Brands’ technology, IP, and market opportunities,” said Dooma Wendschuh, Co-Founder of Province Brands.  

The money which came from previous institutional and angel investors will be used to continue marketing its technology more broadly to brewers impacted by rising prices for beer staples like barley and to launch its own branded hemp lager into the market.

The company’s Cambridge Bay Canadian Hemp Lager, will be the first beer brewed from hemp, according to a statement from Province Brands. Made of only hemp, hops, water, and yeast, the beverage contains no THC, CBD, or phytocannabinoids and can legally be sold wherever alcohol is sold, the company said. 

“The technology we created to brew beer from cannabis would allow us to brew beer from any non-starch plant material,” Wendschuh said. “This could be transformative for beer companies where the price of barley has gone through the roof.”

In some cases barley is too expensive for large scale beer production, Wendschuh noted. 

“Funds raised will help us complete Phase 1 construction of our 123,000-square-foot brewing facility and will enable us to receive additional licensing from Health Canada,” said Province Brands’ Co-Founder Jennifer Thomas.  The company received its research and development license from Health Canada in late 2019. 

Province Brands is already working with some bigger name liquor companies on making beer substitutes from their feedstocks. In one case, the company is working with an undisclosed tequila manufacturer on a beer made from agave.

Province Brands’ last funding was its Series B in 2019 when the Company raised CAD $5 million at a CAD $70 million pre-money valuation.  

It is notable that the transaction closed in less than two months at a time when capital markets have been challenging.   “Closing this round quickly highlights the attractiveness of Province Brands’ technology, IP, and market opportunities,” said Dooma Wendschuh, Co-Founder of Province Brands.  

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