Ride-hailing was hit hard by COVID-19. Grab’s Russell Cohen on how the company adapted.

A contactless delivery performed by a Grab delivery driver

A contactless Grab delivery

Ride-hailing services around the world have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and Grab was no exception. The company is one of the most highly-valued tech startups in Southeast Asia, where it operates in eight countries. Its transport business suffered a sharp decline in March and April, as movement restriction orders were implemented.

But the company had the advantage of already operating several on-demand logistics services. During Disrupt, Russell Cohen, Grab’s group managing director of operations, talked about how the company adapted its technology for an unprecedented crisis (the video is embedded below).

“We sat down as a leadership group at the start of the crisis and we could see, particularly in Southeast Asia, that the scale of the challenge was so immense,” said Cohen.

Grab’s driver app already allowed them to toggle between ride-hailing and on-demand delivery requests. As a result of COVID-19, over 149,000 drivers began performing on-demand deliveries for the first time, with Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand seeing the most conversions. That number included tens of thousands of new drivers who joined the platform to make up for lost earnings during the pandemic.

The challenge was scaling up its delivery services to meet the dramatic increase in demand by consumers, and also merchants who needed a new way to reach customers. In March and April, Cohen said just under 80,000 small businesses joined its platform. Many had never sold online before, so Grab expedited the release of a self-service feature, making it easier for merchants to on-board themselves.

“This is a massive sector of the Southeast Asian economy that effectively digitized within a matter of weeks,” said Cohen.

A lot of the new merchants had previously taken only cash payments, so Grab had to set them up for digital payments, a process made simpler because the company’s financial unit, Grab Financial, already offers services like Grab Pay for cashless payments, mobile wallets and remittance services.

Grab also released a new package of tools called Grab Merchant, which enabled merchants to set-up online businesses by submitting licenses and certification online, and includes features like data analytics.

Modeling for uncertainty in the “new normal”

Part of Grab’s COVID-19 strategy involved collaborating with local municipalities and governments in different countries to make deliveries more efficient. For example, it worked with the Singaporean government to expand a pilot program, called GrabExpress Car, originally launched in September, that enabled more of Grab’s ride-hailing vehicles to be used for food and grocery deliveries. Previously, many of those deliveries were handled only by motorbikes.

The situation in each of Grab’s markets–Singapore, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam—is still evolving. Some markets have lifted lockdown orders, while others continue to cope with new outbreaks.

Cohen said ride-hailing is gradually recovering in many of Grab’s markets. But the company is preparing for an uncertain future by modeling different scenarios, taking into account potential re-closings, and long-lasting changes in both consumer and merchant behavior.

“Unpredictability is something we think a lot about,” Cohen said. Its models include ones where deliveries are a significantly larger part of its business, because even in countries where movement restrictions have been lifted, customers still prefer to shop online.

COVID-19 has also accelerated the adoption of digital payments in several of Grab’s markets. For example, Grab launched its GrabPay Card in the Philippines three months ago, because more people are beginning to use contactless payments in response to COVID-19 concerns.

In terms of on-demand deliveries, the company is expanding GrabExpress, its same-day courier service, and adapting technology originally created for ride-pooling to help drivers plan pickups and deliveries more efficiently. This will help decrease the cost of delivery services as consumers remain price-conscious because of the pandemic’s economic impact.

“Purchasing behaviors have changed, so for us, when we think about the supply side, the drivers’ side, that means we’ve got to make sure our fleet is flexible,” he said.

#asia, #disrupt-2020, #grab, #on-demand-delivery, #ride-hailing, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #techcrunch-disrupt

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Southeast Asia’s East Ventures on female VCs, foreign investment, consolidation

Melisa Irene‘s path to becoming a partner at one of Southeast Asia’s most esteemed venture capital firms is an unconventional one.

“I always consider myself to be quite lucky,” said Irene, who was promoted to be a partner at East Ventures in January 2019. At 25 years old, she was the Jakarta-based investment firm’s first female partner.

During TechCrunch Disrupt’s first online conference, I spoke to Irene about what she humbly described as a “lucky” career, her experience as a young, female investor, the rush of American and Chinese VC money into Southeast Asia, and what the COVID-19 pandemic means to East Ventures . A video recording of the conversation is at the bottom of the article.

Partner at 25

Irene admitted that timing played a big part in her ascension in the VC world. The development of Indonesia’s internet infrastructure came around relatively late — around 2010 — compared to more developed markets, but growth happened rapidly. In 2015, five years after East Ventures backed the Series A of Tokopedia, now an e-commerce leader in Southeast Asia, Irene joined the firm.

In those days, “I didn’t compete with a lot of investment bankers,” said Irene, who majored in accounting in university and began as an intern at East Ventures. “The capability that they looked for was how fast you can immerse in the ecosystem.”

Contrary to popular belief, the Southeast Asian investment ecosystem is “quite friendly” towards women. “People rejoice the promotion of female professionals in this industry. It’s not a rare circumstance to see females becoming a vice principal or principle in Southeast Asia,” the investor said.

The support goes beyond simply checking the gender-diversity box and reflects a real demand for more empathetic investors in the tech industry.

“Sometimes people like to talk as a business partner and sometimes as a friend. [Empathy] is something that can be seen as natural coming from females,” she added.

However, the investor cautioned that “the number of [female] decision-makers definitely needs to improve,” though she foresees the local ecosystem “is supportive of that.”

SEA gold rush

In recent years tech giants from both the U.S. and China have been clamoring to get into Southeast Asia, a region home to about 670 million people and a fledgling internet market. They often begin by financing local upstarts, which, beholden to the investment, will provide directional advice to their foreign corporate investors.

Indeed, the familiar names have all bet on the region’s rising stars. Alibaba invested in Tokopedia and its rival JD.com backed travel portal Traveloka, which is also in the East Ventures portfolio. Tencent, Google, Facebook and Paypal are all investors of Gojek, the Indonesian ride-hailing titan going neck and neck with SoftBank-funded Grab.

When offered big checks, startups must stay level-headed and think what’s best for them, Irene advised. “The thing is everyone has money. Companies need to decide which side to be on, what companies they want on board, and what companies are able to give them strategic advice.”

It’s not uncommon to see investors and founders clash over priorities. Some investors want a quick exit, while the entrepreneurial mentality is to build a business in the long run. “That’s why alignment is important,” asserted the investor.

The future of tech in SEA

As unicorns and “super apps” like Grab and Gojek emerge in Southeast Asia, concerns that incumbents can kill off competition grow. East Ventures has a unique insight into the region’s competitive dynamics as an early-stage investor that has seen some of its startups like Tokopedia and Traveloa grow into behemoths.

Irene believed as Southeast Asia’s internet ecosystem matures, there are actually a lot of opportunities for startups in “upcoming sectors.”

“If you look at the unicorns, you see a lot of younger and smaller companies supporting them,” she said. The point is that giants can’t accomplish everything by themselves, and some of the more niche functions can best be tackled by smaller players with specialized focuses.

On the other hand, the investor believed consolidation is possible — and should happen — in areas that can benefit from scale and network effects.

“People think of Indonesia as one country. We are not. We are the largest archipelago, which means there are very different infrastructures within different provinces. For example, it’s expensive to set up a bank branch in a small island… That means a lot of things need to come into a collective effort and one big ecosystem to offer the consumers with different kinds of offerings.”

Lastly, there’s the inevitable question of COVID-19. Like many investors, Irene saw a silver lining during the dark times.

“Before COVID, it was very difficult to assess the quality of companies. They all had a lot of money and the infrastructure was actually good… Now we suddenly can tell who makes good decisions, who makes it at what speed, and what is the outcome of those decisions. The way entrepreneurs respond to COVID can tell us a lot about their enterprises.”

#asia, #east-ventures, #gojek, #grab, #melisa-irene, #southeast-asia, #tc, #tokopedia, #traveloka

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Lightspeed announces the launch of its Southeast Asia operations

A group photo of Lightspeed Venture Capital's Southeast Asia team

Lightspeed’s Southeast Asia team: Akshay Bhushan, Marsha Sugana, Pinn Lawjindakul and Bejul Somaia

Lightspeed Venture Partners announced the launch of its Southeast Asia operations today. Based out of the firm’s new regional headquarters in Singapore, Lightspeed’s team there will invest in startups throughout Southeast Asia from the three global funds it closed earlier this year, which total about $4 billion.

The Southeast Asia team consists of partner Akshay Bhushan, who was a founding member of Flipkart’s corporate development team before joining Lightspeed five years ago; partner Bejul Somaia, who helped set up Lightspeed India; vice president Pinn Lawjindakul, a veteran of Grab and Tiger Global Management; and senior investment associate Marsha Sugana, who previously worked at L Catterton and Goldman Sachs.

Bhushan told TechCrunch that Lightspeed opened its Singapore office in January to serve as a base for its team as they met with entrepreneurs throughout the region. Obviously, the onset of COVID-19 curtailed travel, but they continued talking to startups through video calls and emails.

Lightspeed focuses on early-stage investments and has already invested in some of the most prolific startups in Southeast Asia, including Grab. Its other portfolio companies in the region are Indonesian startups Chilibeli, a social commerce platform, B2B wholesale marketplace Ula and e-commerce logistics platform Shipper, as well as Singaporean software developer NextBillion.AI.

Some of Lightspeed’s investments in other countries have also taken a keen interest in Southeast Asia as a key market for global expansion, including Indian startups OYO Rooms, Darwinbox and Yellow Messenger.

Having regional operations will allow Lightspeed to work more closely with its portfolio companies and make deeper connections with entrepreneurs, Bhushan said.

He added that the pandemic has prompted the rapid adoption of technologies, including platforms that help small businesses digitize their operations or sell online, supply chain solutions and remote working or online education-related services.

In sectors like fintech or logistics, there is also a lot of opportunity in several Southeast Asian countries to build transformative platforms and services. For example, Bhushan said, Shipper is focused on solving some of the biggest supply chain and logistics challenges facing e-commerce sellers in Indonesia, while Grab has made digital payments and other financial services like insurance easier to access.

“The big opportunity in most emerging markets, and this applies to most of the markets in Southeast Asia, is that we generally find that a lot of the fundamental infrastructure is broken, and founders can leverage technology to fill those gaps,” he said. “What excites us are founders who are solving those infrastructural problems, and a lot of our investments are to that effect.”

#asia, #lightspeed, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #tc, #venture-capital

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Homage’s Gillian Tee on how technology can serve the world’s aging population

It’s always a pleasure to chat with Homage co-founder and chief executive Gillian Tee because of her nuanced take on how technology can help elderly and other vulnerable people.  According to the United Nations, people 65-years-old and over is the fastest-growing age group worldwide. At the same time, there is also an acute shortage of caregivers in many countries, complicated by high rates of burnout in the profession.

“It’s absolutely one of the most important social topics and global issues,” Tee said during her Disrupt session (the video is embedded at the bottom of this article).

Launched in Singapore four years ago, Homage’s platform uses a matchmaking engine to help families find the best caregivers, while its telehealth platform provides services like online medical consultations and screenings. It has since expanded in Malaysia and yesterday announced a new strategic investment from Infocom, one of the largest healthcare technology companies in Japan. The partnership will enable Homage to accelerate its Asia-Pacific expansion.

Before launching Homage, Tee was co-founder of New York-based Rocketrip. A ticket-booking platform created to reduce work travel-related costs for companies, Rocketrip attracted investors like Google Ventures, Y Combinator and Bessemer Ventures, and raised more than $30 million. But in 2016, Tee decided to return to Singapore, her home country, after living abroad for about 15 years. In her Disrupt session, Tee said this was to be closer to her mother, and because she felt that her startup experience could also be applied to Southeast Asia.

Tee knew that she wanted to launch another company, but she didn’t decide to tackle the caregiving space immediately. That idea materialized when several of her close relatives were diagnosed with chronic conditions that needed specialized care.

“We didn’t know how to cope or how even to start thinking about what was required, and that was when I realized, wow, I needed to get myself schooled in many ways,” Tee said.

Many families around the world are dealing with the same challenges as their populations age and social dynamics shift. Family members who traditionally would have been carers for relatives are unable to do so because they have moved away or need to work.

Families often rely on word-of-mouth or agencies to find caregivers, a complicated, time-intensive and often emotionally difficult process. Homage uses matching algorithms to make it easier. One of the most unique things about the platform is how much detail it goes into. Providers are not only screened based on their certifications and the kind of care they provide (for example, long-term care, respite care, physical therapy or rehabilitation), but specific skills. For example, many patients need mobility assistance, so Homage assesses what kind of transfers they are able to safely perform.

Then its matching technology decides which caregivers are best suited for a patient, and final assignments are made by Homage’s staff. By making the process more efficient, Homage also lowers its costs, making its services accessible to more people while increasing pay rates for providers.

This taps into another one of Homage’s goals: expanding the caregiving pool in its markets and retaining talent. Other ways it addresses the issue is by placing caregivers on its platform into the jobs they are best suited for, organizing continuing education programs and making sure they are not over-scheduled. Some caregivers on the platform have long-term contracts, while others work with Homage clients only a few days a week.

A holistic approach to “age-tech”

In June, Homage launched its telehealth service. Called Homage Health, the platform has been in development for a while, but its launch was accelerated because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote consultations fit into the “high-touch,” or in-person, care side of the company’s business because many patients need regular screenings or consultations with doctors and specialists. For patients who have limited mobility or are immunocompromised, this makes it easier for them to make routine consults.

Hardware, including wearable sensors, also show promise to identify any potential health issues, like heart conditions, before they require acute care, but one challenge is making them easy for patients to integrate into their daily routines or remember to wear, Tee said.

Overall, Homage’s mission is to create a holistic platform that covers many caregiving needs. Its new partnership with strategic investor Infocom will help bring that forward because the company, which Tee said Homage has been talking to for several years, works with about 13,000 facilities in Japan, including senior residences and hospitals. Infocom develops software for a wide range of verticals, including drug, hospital and medical record management, and medical imaging.

Infocom also runs its own caregiving platform, and its partnership with Homage will enable the two companies to collaborate and reach more patients. Japan has one of the largest populations of elderly people in the world. Tee said at minimum, half a million caregivers need to be mobilized within the next five to ten years in Japan in order to meet demand.

“We need to start building infrastructure to enable people to be able to access the kind of care services that they need, and so we really align in terms of that mission with Infocom,” said Tee. “They also have a platform that engages caregivers to apply for jobs in Japan and they see the Homage model as being particularly applicable because it’s curated as well.”

#asia, #caregiving, #disrupt-2020, #gillian-tee, #homage, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #techcrunch-disrupt

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Homage announces strategic partnership with Infocom, one of Japan’s largest healthcare IT providers

Homage, a Singapore-based caregiving and telehealth company, has taken a major step in its global expansion plan. The startup announced today that it has received strategic investment from Infocom, the Japanese information and communications technology company that runs one of the largest healthcare IT businesses in the country. Infocom’s solutions are used by more than 13,000 healthcare facilities in Japan.

During an interview with TechCrunch that will air as part of Disrupt tomorrow, Homage co-founder and chief executive Gillian Tee said “Japan has one of the most ageing populations in the world, and the problem is that we need to start building infrastructure to enable people to be able to access the kind of care services that they need.” She added that Homage and Infocom’s missions align because the latter is also building a platform for caregivers in Japan, in a bid to help solve the shortage of carers in the country.

Homage raised a Series B earlier this year with the goal of entering new Asian markets. The company, which currently operates in Singapore and Malaysia, focuses on patients who need long-term rehabilitation or care services, especially elderly people. This makes it a good match for Japan, where more than one in five of its population is currently aged 65 or over. In the next decade, that number is expected to increase to about one in three, making the need for caregiving services especially acute.

The deal includes a regional partnership that will enable Homage to launch its services into Japan, and Infocom to expand its reach in Southeast Asia. Homage’s services include a caregiver-client matching platform and a home medical service that includes online consultations and house calls, while Infocom’s technology covers a wide range of verticals, including digital healthcare, radiology, pharmaceuticals, medical imaging and hospital information management.

In a statement about the strategic investment, Mototaka Kuboi, Infocom’s managing executive officer and head of its healthcare business division, said, “We see Homage as an ideal partner given the company’s unique cutting-edge technology and market leadership in the long-term care segment, and we aim to drive business growth not only in Homage’s core and rapidly growing market in Southeast Asia, but also regionally.”

#asia, #caregiving, #digital-health, #elderly, #fundings-exits, #healthcare, #homage, #infocom, #japan, #malaysia, #seniors, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #telehealth

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Do Ventures launches $50 million fund for Vietnamese startups, backed by Naver, Vertex and other notable LPs

Vy Le and Dzung Nguyen, the founders and general partners of Do Ventures, an investment firm focused on early-stage Vietnamese startups

Vy Le and Dzung Nguyen, the founders and general partners of Do Ventures, an investment firm focused on early-stage Vietnamese startups

New investment firm Do Ventures announced today the first closing of its fund for Vietnamese startups, which is backed by several of Asia’s most notable institutional investors. Called Do Ventures Fund I, the investment vehicle has hit more than half of its $50 million target, with limited partners including Korean internet giant Naver; Sea, whose businesses include Garena and Shopee; Singapore-based venture capital firm Vertex Holdings; and Korean app developer Woowa Brothers.

Do Ventures was founded by general partners Nguyen Manh Dung, former CEO of CyberAgent Ventures Vietnam and Thailand, and Vy Hoang Uyen Le, previously a general partner at ESP Capital. Its first fund will focus on early-stage companies and invest in seed to Series B rounds.

Both of its founders have a long track record of working with Vietnamese startups. Nguyen was an early investor in companies including Tiki.vn, one of Vietnam’s largest online marketplaces; food delivery platform Foody.vn; and digital marketing company CleverAds. Before she became an investor, Le was a serial entrepreneur and served as chief executive officer at fashion e-commerce company Chon.vn and VinEcom, the e-commerce project launched by Vietnamese real estate conglomerate Vingroup.

In an email, Le told TechCrunch that Do Ventures Fund I is industry agnostic, but will structure its investments into two tiers. The first will consist of B2C platforms, including education, healthcare and social commerce, that serve younger users, and are addressing changes in consumer behavior caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The second tier will include B2B platforms that can provide services for companies in the first tier, and allow them to expand regionally with SaaS solutions for data and e-commerce services.

Do Ventures’ founders say that between 2016 and 2019, the amount of startup funding in Vietnam grew eight-fold to $861 million last year. But there are still only a few funds that focus specifically on the country, which means early-stage Vietnamese startups often run into funding gaps.

One of the firm’s goals is to help founders weather the impact of COVID-19, so their companies can continue growing in spite of the pandemic.

“We hope tech startups can enable traditional businesses to digitize faster and better adapt to the new normal,” Le said. “For consumers, we hope tech startups can transform customer experience in all aspects of daily life, and bring more accessibility to consumers in remote areas.”

The firm will take a hands-on approach to its investments, helping companies develop new business models. Do Ventures plans to set up an automatic reporting system that collects data about how its portfolio companies are performing, which its general partners say will enable them support startups’ operations, including product development, business organization, supply chain development, and overseas expansion.

#asia, #do-ventures, #fundings-exits, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital, #vietnam

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Freshket lands $3 million Series A led by Openspace to streamline Thailand’s food supply chain

Based in Bangkok, Freshket simplifies the process of getting fresh produce from farms to tables. Launched in 2017, the startup has now raised a $3 million Series A, led by Openspace Ventures.

Other participants included Thai private equity firm ECG-Research; Innospace; and Pamitra Wineka and Ivan Sustiawan, the co-founders of Indonesian agriculture technology startup TaniHub. French-Singaporean food conglomerate Denis Asia Pacific and Thai family office Seedersclub, who made previous investments in Freshket, also returned for the Series A.

Freshket’s technology includes an e-commerce marketplace that connects farmers and food processors to businesses, like restaurants, and consumers in Thailand. The startup was co-founded by chief executive Ponglada Paniangwet and chief marketing officer Tuangploi Chiwalaksanangkoon, who each worked in marketing before launching Freshket three years ago.

Paniangwet told TechCrunch she wanted to enter agritech because her family has worked in the agriculture business for 25 years. “I grew up learning a lot about what worked and didn’t work in the industry,” Paniangwet said. “Overall, the industry is tedious, messy and highly manual.”

Freshket’s goal is to become “an enabler for the entire food supply chain,” she added.

Before Freshket, Paniangwet started a processing center, which sources, cuts and trims fresh produce at wholesale fresh markets before delivering them to restaurants and other customers. She realized technology could be used to simplify the supply chain, increasing farmers’ incomes and the quality of produce received by customers.

There is also ample market opportunity. According to an April 2019 Euromonitor International report, the food service market in Thailand is worth over $7.7 billion in annual purchases, made by more than 200,000 restaurants (link in Thai).

Chiwalaksanangkoon, who was already good friends with Paniangwet, left her position at one of Thailand’s largest banks to co-found Freshket. The company’s platform pull together Thailand’s fragmented produce supply chain by bringing together processing centers and suppliers, and connecting them directly with farmers, who usually rely on middlemen. Freshket also provides its users with data to help them predict supply and demand for their crops.

The expenses of operating a delivery business, especially for perishable goods, can be very high. To stay cost-efficient, Freshket itself doesn’t stock fresh produce. Instead, Freshket tells its network, including farmers, how much product they will need to provide on a daily basis, so they can plan their supply chains.

Paniangwet also said the B2B food delivery business has high average order values, fortifying its unit economics. Freshket’s order, warehouse and logistics management systems are all linked together and “because of that, we are able to control the flow of goods, limit additional and labor costs and keep our overall cost base manageable,” she said.

Freshket’s main rivals in the B2B space are traditional supply chain businesses; in the consumer space, it is up against include grocery delivery startups. It competes with delivery apps by offering lower retail prices, since Freshket is already tapped into a streamlined supply chain. For B2B customers, Freshket’s selling points include more precise delivery, a wider variety of products and produce gradings.

Freshket’s new funding will be used to upgrade its supply management technology. In the future, Paniangwet said the company plans to add more services, like financing, demand forecasting and price matching.

Freshket is among several startups in Southeast Asia markets focused on streamlining the food supply chain in different countries. Others include TaniHub and Eden Farm in Indonesia, Agribuddy in Cambodia and Singapore-based Glife.

This is the third agritech investment Openspace Ventures, which focuses on early-stage companies in Southeast Asia, has made (the other are TaniHub and Singaporean grocery platform RedMart).

In a press statement about the investment, Openspace Ventures founding partner Hian Goh said, “As Openspace Ventures’ second investment in Thailand this year, Freshket reflects our growing conviction in the potential of the Thai market for high quality and innovative startups.”

#agriculture, #agritech, #asia, #farmers, #food, #freshket, #fundings-exits, #openspace-ventures, #southeast-asia, #startups, #supply-chain, #tc, #thailand

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SoftBank Vision Fund 2 leads $100 million Series C in digital therapeutics company Biofourmis

Biofourmis, which combines AI-based data analytics and biosensors to monitor the progress of medical treatments, has raised funding from one of the world’s most high-profile investors. The digital therapeutics company, which launched in Singapore and is now headquartered in Boston, announced today it closed a $100 million Series C led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2, with participation from returning investors Openspace Ventures, MassMutual Ventures, Sequoia Capital and EDBI.

The company’s last funding announcement was in May 2019 for a $35 million Series A led by Sequoia India and MassMutual, the venture capital arm of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company.

Biofourmis’ platform combines AI-based health analytics and wearable sensors to help healthcare providers gauge patient progress and the effectiveness of drugs and other treatments. The company, founded in 2015 by chief executive Kuldeep Singh Rajput and managing director Wendou Niu, said this is the largest funding for a healthtech startup in Southeast Asia to date. In addition to Boston and Singapore, Biofourmis also has offices in Switzerland and India.

Since its Series A funding, Biofourmis has grown through a series of partnerships with seven pharmaceutical companies and 10 health systems, including Novartis, AstraZeneca, and Mayo Clinic. Biofourmis also made several acquisitions, including wearable biosensor startup Biovotion and Gaido Health, a digital therapeutics company for cancer patients.

The funding will be used to validate and bring new digital therapeutic solutions for cardiology, respiratory, oncology and pain treatments to the market. Biofourmis also plans to expand in the United States and Asia-Pacific markets including China and Japan.

Biofourmis also said today that it is realigning its internal operations into two verticals: Biofourmis Therapeutics, which partners with companies like AstraZeneca and Chugai to created software that can help increased the efficacy of drug treatments, and Biofourmis Health, a “home hospital” platform that allows health providers to monitor patients remotely as they transition out of acute care. Biofourmis Health focuses on heart failure, coronary artery disease, respiratory illnesses and cancer.

EDBI is an investment firm linked to Singapore’s government, and looks for startups that can help advance the country’s industries, including healthcare. Biofourmis’ funding from EDBI is a strategic investment, and its technology is being used in Singapore as it copes with repeated outbreaks of COVID-19.

Announced last July, SoftBank Vision Fund 2 launched with $108 billion to invest in AI-based technology. The first Vision Fund is coping with heavy losses stemming in large part from its investments in WeWork and Uber, so the performance of Vision Fund 2’s focus on markets including healthtech (its other investments in the space include pharmaceutical delivery startup Alto and life sciences company Karius) is being closely watched.

In a press statement, SoftBank Investment Advisers partner Greg Moon said, “We believe predictive health is the future of medicine and Biofourmis is a leader in using AI and machine learning-based models to advance digital therapeutics.”

#asia, #biofourmis, #boston, #digital-therapeutics, #fundings-exits, #healthcare, #singapore, #softbank-vision-fund-2, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

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Indonesian insurtech startup PasarPolis gets $54 million Series B from investors including LeapFrog and SBI

PasarPolis, the Indonesian-based startup focused on making insurance policies more accessible in Southeast Asia, announced today it has closed a Series B round totaling $54 million. Investors include LeapFrog Investments and SBI Investment, both firms that focus on financial services; AlphaJWC; Intudo Ventures; and Xiaomi.

Gojek’s venture capital arm, Go-Ventures, which participated in PasarPolis’ Series A two years ago, also returned for the new round.

Founded in 2015 by chief executive officer Cleosent Randing and chief operating officer Michael Saputra, PasarPolis operates in Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. The company says the number of insurance policies it issues monthly has grown 80 times since August 2018, when it closed its Series A, and that it now partners with more than 30 insurance providers.

Randing said the the insurance penetration rate in the ASEAN region is currently just 3.6%, and the startup’s goal is to reach people who have never purchased insurance before through products including inexpensive “micro-policies” that cover broken device screens.

In 2019, the company says PasarPolis issued more than 650 million policies to people buying insurance for the first time, including ride-hailing drivers, delivery couriers, and online merchants. Sales continued to grow during the COVID-19 pandemic because it increased demand for insurance, while also prompting people to make more purchases online (most of PasarPolis’ policies are sold through its mobile apps). In June alone, the company claims it served more than four million new customers, and has now provided policies to more than 35 million customers in total.

Nishant Kumar, PasarPolis’ chief technology officer, told TechCrunch that the new funding will be used on its AI-based claim automation platform, which allows the company to customize insurance products for different industries.

It also plans to invest in PasarPolis Mitra, an onboarding platform for agents. Soft-launched in May 2020, PasarPolis allows people to apply to become Mitra, or insurance agents, for the company. PasarPolis currently has a network of about 10,000 agents in Indonesia, who help customers chose policies and process claims.

“We plan to invest in infrastructure to help our Mitra be able to engage with our customers more,” said Kumar. “We believe it’s important for us to implement both online and offline strategies as an insurtech player.”

Kumar added that even though technology plays a “pivotal role” in making insurance products accessible to more people, PasarPolis does not “see digital as just a medium to sell insurance. We think that technology can be used to segment risk in real-time and provide more affordable insurance to the masses.”

Two of PasarPolis’ main competitors in Southeast Asia include Qoala, another Indonesia-based insurtech startup that recently raised funding, and Grab Financial Group, which launched a new portfolio of consumer financial services last month, including expanded insurance offerings.

Randing told TechCrunch that PasarPolis’ competitive advantage is its “ability to offer highly customized and modular insurance products that are integrated with partners’ systems,” including health and accident coverage for Gojek’s drivers and passengers; insurance for small- to medium-sized businesses that cover damaged products and missing items; and policies that protect e-commerce customers.

An example of the kind of customized insurance products PasarPolis can create is a policy for Gojek drivers that covers stolen vehicles and costs less than USD $4 a year.

The company is also a licensed insurance broker, which is why it was able to operate PasarPolis Mitra. “The platform is so unique to Indonesians, that it enables anyone, from professional insurance Mitra, Gojek drivers, stay-at-home moms, and furloughed employees, to earn additional income, especially during the new normal,” said Randing.

#asia, #financial-services, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #insurance, #insurtech, #pasarpolis, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #thailand, #vietnam

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After restricting a group critical of Thailand’s monarchy, Facebook says it will take legal action against the government

After restricting access to a popular group with posts critical of Thailand’s monarchy, Facebook is planning legal action against the Thai government, which the social media giant says forced it to restrict content deemed to be illegal.

On Monday, Reuters reported access to Royalist Marketplace had been blocked within Thailand. Users there who try to visit the group, which has over a million members, now see a message that says access to it has “been restricted within Thailand pursuant to a legal request from the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society.”

In a media statement emailed to TechCrunch, a Facebook spokesperson said, “After careful review, Facebook has determined that we are compelled to restrict access to content which the Thai government has deemed to be illegal. Requests like this are severe, contravene international human rights law, and have a chilling effect on people’s ability to express themselves. We work to protect and defend the rights of all internet users and are preparing to legally challenge this request.”

The spokesperson added, “excessive government actions like this also undermine our ability to reliably invest in Thailand, including maintaining an office, safeguarding our employees, and directly supporting businesses that rely on Facebook.”

The group was started in April by Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a dissident living in self-exile in Japan, where he is an associate professor of political science at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

Pavin told Reuters that Royalist Marketplace “is part of the democratization process, it is a space for freedom of expression. By doing this, Facebook is cooperating with the authoritarian regime to obstruct democracy and cultivating authoritarianism in Thailand.”

The geo-restriction of Royalist Marketplace comes as thousands of pro-democracy protestors in Bangkok demand reform of the monarchy, including abolition of a strict lese-majeste law that mandates prison sentences of up to 15 years for people who defame members of the monarchy.

Pavin has been openly critical of Thailand’s monarchy. In a piece published on the Council of Foreign Relation’s website earlier this month, Pavin wrote that “for several decades now, the supposedly constitutional monarchy of Thailand has often proven to extend its powers beyond constitutional norms and rules,” intervening in politics as the current king, Maha Vajiralongkorn, established closer ties with the military.

In a 2014 New York Times opinion piece, Pavin described having a warrant issued for his arrest by the military junta that overthrew the democratically elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014. He was also attacked by a intruder in his Kyoto apparent, which Pavin believes “was a warning for my continuing to hold, and express, my positions.”

The restriction of Thai users’ access to Royalist Marketplace took place three weeks after Thailand’s Minister of Digital Economy and Society, Puttipong Punnakanta, threatened to take action against Facebook because he said it did not comply quickly enough with the government’s requests to restrict content.

In 2016, Thailand enacted the Computer-Related Crime Act, which the Human Rights Watch warned “gives overly broad powers to the government to restrict free speech, enforce surveillance and censorship, and retaliate against activists.”

Facebook is also under scrutiny in India, its biggest market by number of users, after the Wall Street Journal reported that Ankhi Das, the company’s top public policy executive in India, had opposed applying the platform’s hate-speech rules to a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party.

#asia, #facebook, #policy, #royalist-marketplace, #southeast-asia, #tc, #thailand

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Here are four areas the $311 billion CPPIB investment fund thinks will be impacted by COVID-19

The Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board, an asset manager controlling around $311 billion in assets for the Canada’s pensioners and retirees, has identified four key industries that are set to experience massive changes as a result of the global economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The firm expects the massive changes in e-commerce, healthcare, logistics, and urban infrastructure to remain in place for an extended period of time and is urging investors to rethink their approaches to each as a result.

“It really ties into the mandate that we have in thematic investing,” said Leon Pedersen, the head of Thematic Investments at CPPIB.

There was a realization at the firm that structural changes were happening and that there was value for the fund manager in ensuring that the changes were being addressed across its broad investment portfolio. “We have a long term mandate and we have a long term investment horizon so we can afford to think long term in our investment outlook,” Pedersen said.

The Thematic Investments group within CPPIB will make mid-cap, small-cap and private investments in companies that reflect the firm’s long term theses, according to Pedersen. So not only does this survey indicate where the firm sees certain industries going, but it’s also a sign of where CPPIB might commit some investment capital.

The research, culled from international surveys with over 3,500 respondents as well as intensive conversations with the firm’s investment professionals and portfolio companies, indicates that there’s likely a new baseline in e-commerce usage that will continue to drive growth among companies that offer blended retail offerings and that offices are likely never going to return to full-time occupancy by every corporate employee.

Already CPPIB has made investments in companies like Fabric, a warehouse management and automation company.

The e-commerce wave has crested, but the tide may turn

Amid the good news for e-commerce companies is a word of warning for companies in the online grocery space. While usage surged to 31 percent of U.S. households, up from 13 percent in August, consumers gave the service poor marks and many grocers are actually losing money on online orders. The move online also favored bigger omni-channel vendors like Amazon and Walmart, the study found.

The CPPIB also found that there may be opportunities for brick and mortar vendors in the aftermath of the epidemic. As younger consumers return to shopping center they’re going to find fewer retailers available, since bankruptcies are coming in both the US and Europe. That could open the door for new brands to emerge. Meanwhile, in China, more consumers are moving offline with malls growing and customers returning to shopping centers.

Some of the biggest winners will actually be online entertainment and cashless payments — since fewer stores are accepting cash and music and video streaming represent low-risk, easier options than live events or movie theaters.

LOS ANGELES, CA – MAY 30: General views of tourists and shoppers returning to the Hollywood & Highland shopping mall for the first weekend of in-store retail business being open since COVID-19 closures began in mid-March on May 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

Healthcare goes digital and privacy matters more than ever

Consumers in the West, already reluctant to hand over personal information, have become even more sensitive to government handling of their information despite the public health benefits of tracking and tracing, according to the CPPIB. In Germany and the U.S. half of consumers said they had concerns about sharing their data with government or corporations, compared with less than 20 percent of Chinese survey respondents.

However, even as people are more reluctant to share personal information with governments or corporations, they’re becoming more willing to share personal information over technology platforms. One-third of the patients who used tele-medical services in the U.S. during the pandemic did so for the first time. And roughly twenty percent of the nation had a telemedicine consultation over the course of the year, according to CPPIB data.

Technologies that improve the experience are likely to do well, because of the people who did try telemedicine, satisfaction levels in the service went down.

DENVER, CO – MARCH 12: Healthcare workers from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment check in with people waiting to be tested for COVID-19 at the state’s first drive-up testing center on March 12, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. The testing center is free and available to anyone who has a note from a doctor confirming they meet the criteria to be tested for the virus. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

Cities and infrastructure will change

“From mass transit to public gatherings, few areas of urban life will be left unmarked by COVID-19,” write the CPPIB report authors.

Remote work will accelerate dramatically changing the complexion of downtown environments as the breadth of amenities on offer will spread to suburban communities where residents flock.  According to CPPIB’s data roughly half of workers in China, the UK and the US worked from home during the pandemic, up from 5 percent or less in 2019. In Canada, four-in-ten Canadian were telecommuting.

To that end, the CPPIB sees opportunities for companies enabling remote work (including security, collaboration and productivity technologies) and automating business practices. On the flip side, for those workers who remain wedded to the office by necessity or natural inclination, there’s going to need to be cleaning and sanitation services and someone’s going to have to provide some COVID-19 specific tools.

With personal space at a premium, public transit and ride hailing is expected to take a hit as well, according to the CPPIB report.

New York City, NY is shown in the above Maxar satellite image. Image Credit: Maxar

Supply chains become the ties that bind in a distributed, virtual world

As more aspects of daily life become socially distanced and digital, supply chains will assume an even more central position in the economy.

“Amid rising labor costs and heightened geopolitical risk, companies today are focused on resilience,” write the CPPIB authors.

Companies are reassessing their reliance on Chinese manufacturing since political pressure is coming from more regions on Chinese suppliers thanks to the internment of the Uighur population in Xinjiang and the crackdown on Hong Kong’s democratic and open society. According to CPPIB, India, Southeast Asia, and regional players like Mexico and Poland are best positioned to benefit from this supply chain diversification. Supply chain management software providers, and robotics and automation services stand to benefit.

“Confined to their homes for months and subjected to a rapid reordering of their perceived health risks and economic prospects, consumers are emerging from a shared trauma that will change their priorities and concerns for years to come,” the CPPIB study’s authors write.

#amazon, #asset-manager, #canada, #canada-pension-plan, #china, #e-commerce, #economy, #europe, #fabric, #finance, #germany, #head, #healthcare, #india, #manufacturing, #mexico, #online-entertainment, #poland, #retail, #southeast-asia, #tc, #telecommuting, #telemedicine, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #urban-infrastructure, #walmart

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InfraDigital helps Indonesian schools digitize tuition and enrollment

In Indonesia, about half of adults are “underbanked,” meaning they don’t have access to bank accounts, credit cards and other traditional financial services. A growing list of tech companies are working on solutions, from Payfazz, which operates a network of financial agents in small towns, to digital payment services from GoJek and Grab. As a result, financial inclusion is increasing for consumers and small businesses in Southeast Asia’s largest country, but one group remains underserved: schools.

InfraDigital was founded in 2018 by chief executive officer Ian McKenna and chief operating officer Indah Maryani. Both have backgrounds in financial tech, and their platform enables parents to pay school tuition with the same digital services they use for electricity bills or online shopping. The startup currently serves about 400 schools and recently raised a Series A led by AppWorks.

Many Indonesian schools still rely on cash payments, which are often delivered by kids to their teachers.

“My kid had just started school, and one day I spotted my wife giving him an envelope full of cash for tuition. He was only three years old,” McKenna said. “That triggered my curiosity about how these financial systems work.”

To give parents an easier alternative, InfraDigital, which is registered with Indonesia’s central bank, partners with banks, convenience store chains like Indomaret, online wallets and digital payment services like GoPay to allow them to send tuition money online.

“The way you pay your electricity bill, it’s likely that your school is already there, regardless of whether you have a bank account or live in a really remote place” where many people make cash payments for services at convenience stores, McKenna said. The startup is now working on a system for schools in areas that don’t have access to convenience store chains and banks.

Before building InfraDigital’s network, McKenna and Maryani had to understand why many schools still rely on cash payments and paper ledgers to manage tuition.

“Banks have been trying to tap into the education market for a long time, 12 to 15 years probably, but no one has become the biggest bank for schools,” said Maryani. “The reason behind that is because they come in with their own products and they don’t try to resolve the issues schools are facing. Since they are focused on the consumer side, they don’t really see schools or other offline businesses as their customers, and there is a lot of customization that they need to do.”

For example, a school might have 2,000 students and charge each of them about USD $10 a month in school fees. But they also collect separate payments for books, uniforms, and building fees. InfraDigital’s founders say schools typically send out an average of about 2.5 invoices a month.

Digitizing payments also makes it easier for schools to track their finances. InfraDigital provides its clients with a backend application for accounting and enrollment management. It automatically tracks tuition payments as they come in.

“People don’t get paid that much and they are ridiculously busy taking care of thousands of kids. It’s really, really tough,” McKenna said. “When you’re giving them a solution, it’s not about features, it’s not about tools, it’s about the practicalities of their day-to-day life and how we are going to assist them with it. So you remove that burden from them.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in movement restriction orders in different areas of Indonesia, InfraDigital’s founders say the platform was able to forecast trends even before schools officially closed. They started surveying schools in their client base, and sent back data to help them forecast how school closures would affect their income.

“From the school’s perspective, it’s a really damaging situation, with 30% to 60% income drops. Teachers don’t get paid. If the economy goes down, parents at lower-income schools, which are a big part of our client base, won’t be able to pay,” McKenna said. “It’s built into the model, and we’ll continue seeing that however long the economic impact of COVID-19 lasts.”

#asia, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #infradigital, #online-payments, #schools, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

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Jakarta-based Wahyoo gets $5 million Series A to help small eateries digitize their operations

Wahyoo’s team, including CEO Peter Shearer (third from left)

While growing up, Peter Shearer watched his mother get up every day at 2AM or 3AM to prepare for her catering business. For many people who own small food businesses in Indonesia, “everything is handled on their own, so I really, really wanted to create a system so they can have better operations and get more quality of life,” Shearer told TechCrunch.

His startup, Wahyoo, was founded in 2017 to help small eateries, called warung makan, digitize and automate more tasks, from ordering supplies to managing finances. Today, Wahyoo announced that it has raised $5 million in Series A funding led by Intudo Ventures, a venture capital firm focused on Indonesia.

Other investors in the round included Kinesys Group, Amatil X (the corporate venture program of Coca-Cola Amatil, one of the world’ five largest Coca-Cola bottlers), Arkblu Capital, Indogen Capital, Selera Kapital, Gratyo Universal Indonesia and Isenta Hioe. The capital will be used on hiring, developing Wahyoo’s tech platform and expanding beyond the Greater Jakarta area.

In a press statement about the investment, Intudo Ventures founding partner Patrick Yip said, “Small-and medium enterprises represent one of the major engines of economic growth in Indonesia and are being transformed through new innovative businesses like Wahyoo, bringing greater economic prosperity to small business owners throughout the country. Through the company’s digitization efforts, Wahyoo’s highly targeted support for warung makan businesses is creating positive economic and social impact for Indonesia’s working class.”

Wahyoo launched its app almost exactly a year ago and has onboarded about 13,800 warung makan so far. The company’s co-founders are Shearer, the chief executive officer; chief operating officer Daniel Cahyadi; and chief technology officer Michael Dihardja.

With about 268 million people, Indonesia is Southeast Asia’s largest markets, and there are already startups, like Warung Pintar and BakuWarung, that focus on helping warung, or small corner stores, digitize more of their operations.

Shearer said he wanted to focus on Indonesian eateries in particular because “my background is in the food industry and I love anything related to food. Second, the potential is very big because no one has tapped into this type of warung before. Everyone focuses on retail, but no one taps into the culinary business.”

Wahyoo currently employs about 170 people, including on-the-ground teams who meet with warung makan owners. The eateries are “usually run by a family, from generation to generation,” with almost all tasks performed manually, including bookkeeping and going to markets early in the morning to buy ingredients, Shearer said.

A warung makan owner on Wahyoo’s platform

Wahyoo’s features include a next-day grocery delivery service from its own warehouses and integration with Go Food, a popular delivery app. The startup also runs an education program called Wahyoo Academy, with financial courses to help warung makan owners increase customer traffic and revenue, and offers advertising and brand partnerships.

For example, a restaurant on Wahyoo’s platform can earn money by placing ad banners or brochures in their stores. That is one of the way Wahyoo monetizes. It is free to use for restaurant owners, and makes revenue by taking a percentage of brand commissions.

Another revenue stream is Wahyoo’s fried chicken franchise, which gives warung makan owners the option of opening a small stall in front of their stores. It currently has about 350 stalls and keeps costs low by partnering with one of Indonesia’s largest poultry suppliers. Shearer said the company’s goal is to increase the number of stalls to 1,000 by the end of this year.

While eateries on Wahyoo saw a drop in their business in April and May because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Shearer said that it began to recover in June and July, and is now back to normal, partly because of the platform’s Go Food integration.

In the future, Wahyoo may face competition from other warung-focused startups if they decided to expand their services to restaurants as well, and new startups that want to tap into the business opportunity offered by the 59.3 million small- to medium-sized businesses in Indonesia, many of which haven’t digitized their operations yet.

Shearer said Wahyoo’s value proposition is its portfolio of complementary services. “We are basically creating an ecosystem,” he added. “We are not only focusing on the supply chain, but also our own brand. We have the fried chicken brand and in the future we will tap into financial technology and the catering business as well.”

#asia, #food, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #restaurants, #smes, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #wahyoo

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Grab launches new consumer financial services, including micro-investments and loans

Grab announced today that its financial unit, which previously focused mainly on services for entrepreneurs and small businesses, is launching a slew of consumer products, including micro-investments, loans, health insurance and a pay-later program.

Based in Singapore, Grab began in 2012 as a ride-hailing company before expanding into on-demand deliveries and other services. In January 2019, it formed a joint venture with ZhongAn Insurance to build a digital insurance marketplace. Since then, its financial services portfolio has grown through a series of partnerships and the acquisition of Bento, which allowed it to offer investment and wealth management services as well.

In February, Grab announced that it had raised up to $856 million to speed up development of its payments and financial services.

Yesterday, Bloomberg reported that Grab raised $200 billion from South Korean private equity firm Stic, bringing its total funding so far to more than $10 billion at a valuation of about $14.3 billion. A Grab spokesperson declined TechCrunch’s request for comment on that raise.

Tapping into a growing market

During a call with reporters today, when asked if Grab has a timeline for reaching profitability, Reuben Lai, senior managing director at Grab Financial Group, said there isn’t one yet, but “research has shown that there is a real demand for the products we are launching today. What we really want to do is focus on consumers and make sure we deliver products they use. We think profitability and sustainability will follow.”

Grab Financial Group’s new products including AutoInvest, a platform that allows consumers to invest small sums of money through Grab’s app; consumer loans; a buy now, pay later program; and expanded insurance offerings, including hospital insurance that will first launch in Indonesia.

While Grab’s new consumer products were in the works before the COVID-19 pandemic, Lai said the crisis has accelerated demand for services like online shopping, digital payments and insurance.

Grab’s consumer products will compete with services like StashAway, an online investment platform based in Singapore, but Lai said Grab Financial Group’s competitive edge is that there are already millions of Grab users in Southeast Asia. This gives it a built-in consumer base and also data to continually refresh the scoring models it uses to determine creditworthiness.

According to a 2019 report by e-Conomy Asia, a research program run by Google and Temasek, about 70% of people in Southeast Asia are “underbanked,” meaning that they lack access to credit cards or long-term savings products. Even in Singapore, one of Asia’s financial centers, about 40% of consumers qualify as underbanked. Bain and e-Conomy estimate that the digital financial services in Southeast Asia can generate $60 billion in revenue by 2025, making it a lucrative market for Grab.

Micro-investing and insurance

Most of the unit’s insurance was previously focused on Grab’s ecosystem, including drivers and merchants on its platform. But new products, like hospital coverage that will launch in Indonesia first to supplement the country’s national healthcare system, are targeted at consumers.

Chandrima Das, who founded Bento in 2016 and is now head of GrabInvest, said Grab’s new micro-investment product will be accessible through Grab’s digital wallet. Returns can be cashed out and spent on Grab services or merchants that accept GrabPay. it is partnered with liquid fixed-income funds managed by Fullerton Fund Management and UOB Asset Management, and allows users to invest as little as SGD $1 at a time, with the potential to earn returns about about 1.8%. It will launch first in Singapore at the beginning of September.

While Grab Financial Group already offers working capital loans to drivers and purchase financing for merchants on its platform, its new consumer credit products include PayLater, which allows users to pay for Grab services at the end of each month, and will first be available in Singapore and Malaysia.

The company is also offering consumer loans with an application process that it Ankur Mehrota, Grab Financial Group’s head of lending, says is so simple “you can do it while sitting on your couch watching Netflix.” Grab will partner with licensed banks and financial institutions to help verify users’ creditworthiness. Once approved, lenders can use Grab’s Buy Now Pay Later services, which allows them to pay in monthly installments or defer payments to the following month.

Mehrota said benefits of the program for merchants include increased gross merchandise value, larger basket sizes and lower cart abandonment rates.

#apps, #asia, #consumer-finance, #financial-services, #fintech, #grab, #grab-financial-group, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #tc

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Singapore-based Volopay wants to be the “Brex of Southeast Asia”

Volopay founders Rajith Shaji and Rajesh Raikwar

Small- to medium-sized companies that do a lot of international business have to deal with two big headaches: high foreign exchange fees and corporate expense tracking. Volopay, a Singapore-based financial tech startup with offices in Bangalore, wants to help by integrating prepaid multi-currency corporate cards, expense tracking and accounting tools into one free-to-use platform.

Volopay is currently taking part in Y Combinator and is also part of Antler and Nium’s Bolt, two other accelerator programs. It now has about 40 clients in Singapore, mostly tech startups like Dathena, Tookitaki and Appknox, and plans to launch in Indonesia and Australia within the next six months.

The company was founded last year by chief executive officer Rajith Shaji and chief technology officer Rajesh Raikwar, who met while working at MoneySmart, a financial services comparison platform. Before joining MoneySmart, Shaji also held positions at fintech companies like CompareAsiaGroup, MatchMove and BankBazaar.com.

Shaji spent most of his time working in India, but often traveled to offices abroad. Dealing with corporate expenses after every trip was a “nightmare,” Shaji told TechCrunch.

“Each time I went back home, I had to make a list of all my expenses on behalf of the company. First of all, it often ran up to a few thousand dollars and I had to put in all these receipts and everything,” he said.

Shaji did not have access to most of the accounting software used by the companies’ accounting departments and communicating with them across different time zones made the process even more cumbersome and time-consuming.

Volopay addresses those issues by combining prepaid multi-currency corporate cards (available as physical or virtual cards), domestic and international bank transfers, automated payments, and expense and accounting software on one platform. Volopay’s app lets employees ask for more funds for their prepaid cards from managers, who can approve or reject the request instantly.

Shaji said this saves companies money on foreign exchange fees, which are typically about 3% of a transaction on a traditional credit card, and gives them real-time visibility into spending.

Volopay is free to use and earns money through the interchange fees credit cards charge merchants. Interchange fees also enable Volopay to offer perks like cashback deals.

Shaji said the company aspires to be the “Brex of Southeast Asia.” Like Brex, it offers an alternative to traditional financial services for startups and other small- to mid-sized businesses. But it needs to compete with several companies that also want to solve some of the same problems, like high fees for cross-border banking and corporate expense tracking. For example, Transferwise and Revolut both have operations in Singapore, while Neat and Aspire, based in Hong Kong and Singapore respectively, offer online business accounts.

Shaji said Volopay’s integration of multiple services on one platform gives it a competitive edge, adding that a better comparison to his startup is YouTrip, a multi-currency wallet for consumers that is popular in Singapore.

With accounts linked to a prepaid Mastercard, YouTrip users can make payments in 150 currencies without fees and it also supports in-app foreign currency exchanges. When explaining Volopay to potential clients, Shaji often refers to it as “YouTrip for companies.”

“YouTrip is a well-known brand [in Singapore], everyone knows they can load their money on it and save money on foreign exchange,” he said. Volopay gives the same functionality to companies, with accounting software added.

Volopay currently focuses on serving small businesses with 25 or more employees, especially tech startups that are scaling their operations and therefore need to manage increasing numbers of online payments and expenses. Shaji said Volopay has also signed up several marketing agencies, because many work on multiple projects, and therefore have to juggle multiple budgets at once.

#asia, #cross-border-banking, #enterprise, #finance, #fintech, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #volopay

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Singaporean startup Partipost gets $3.5 million to let anyone become an influencer

Partipost, a Singapore-based marketing startup that lets anyone with a social media profile sign up for influencer campaigns, has raised $3.5 million in new funding. The round was led by SPH Ventures, the investment arm of publisher Singapore Press Holdings, with participation from Quest Ventures and other investors.

The funding will be used to grow Partipost’s current operations in Singapore, Indonesia and Taiwan, and expand into Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia, other Southeast Asian markets with heavy social media usage. Since launching its mobile app in 2018, Partipost says it has added about 200,000 influencers to its platform, and that over the past 12 months, it has helped conduct 2,500 social media marketing campaigns for more than 850 brands, including Adidas, Arnott’s, Red Bull, Chope and Gojek.

According to benchmark report released in March by Influencer Marketing Hub, the influencer marketing industry is expected to be worth about $9.7 billion in 2020, with companies spending increasing amounts on social media campaigns and working with more “micro-influencers.” To serve them, the report said that more than 380 new influencer marketing agencies and platforms were launched last year, joining a roster of companies that already include AspireIQ, Upfluence, BuzzSumo, SparkToro and Inzpsire.me, to name just a few examples.

While most of these companies focus on helping brands identify the influencers with the widest social media reach, Partipost lets anyone sign up to take part in a campaign.

“Partipost’s main difference is that we believe that everyone can be an influencer,” founder and chief executive officer Jonathan Eg told TechCrunch. “Even if you have 200 followers, you can be one. We want to create a new market that we believe will be the future. Everyone can post on social media, write a review or give some feedback and be paid for it.”

“We want to empower everyone to monetize off their own data and influence and not just allow the big tech companies to do so,” he added.

Aspiring influencers browse brand campaigns on Partipost’s app and apply to take part by submitting a post draft. If the brand approves it, the user can then go ahead and post it on their social media profiles.

The amount of cash they earn is based on how much engagement each post receives. According to the company’s website, most campaigns require a minimum of 200 followers or more, and successful users can earn an average of $5 to $150 per campaign, depending on the brand’s payout structure.

One of Partipost’s selling points for brands is that it enables them to sign up thousands of influencers for a campaign in a single day, help them react quickly to online trends. Part of the funding will also be used to build data tools to help brands match campaigns with Partipost users more efficiently. The company says it expects to increase its base of aspiring influencers to one million within the next 18 months.

As part of the funding, SPH Ventures chief executive officer Chua Boon Ping will join Partipost’s board, while Quest Ventures partner Jeffrey Seah will become an observer.

In a media statement, Chua said, “Social influencer marketing is one of the fastest growing segments within Digital marketing. Hence, we are very excited to lead Partipost’s Series A round to further accelerate its growth. We are impressed by Partipost’s strong traction in Singapore, Indonesia and Taiwan as a young startup and look forward to partnering it to scale to new markets.”

#asia, #fundings-exits, #influencer-marketing, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

0

Gojek appoints Amazon, Microsoft veteran as its new chief technology officer

Indonesia-based ride-hailing company and “super app” Gojek said today that it has named a new chief technology officer. Severan Rault, who previously held leadership positions at Amazon and Microsoft, takes over the role from Ajey Gore, who announced last month he was leaving for personal reasons.

In a statement, the company said Rault will oversee Gojek’s engineering teams in Southeast Asia and India and report to co-chief executive officer Kevin Aluwi.

Rault has a long history of leading engineering teams at large tech companies, as well as his own startups.

Before joining Gojek, Rault worked at Betawave, a virtual reality studio he founded in 2016. During his stint at Amazon, Rault was one of the founders of Prime Air, the company’s drone delivery program. At Microsoft, he was the principal architect of Bing, the company’s search engine. Rault’s other experience include founding Kikker Interactive, a wireless solutions provider that was acquired by Microsoft in 2008.

Rault’s appointment comes at a critical time for Gojek as it faces competition from rival Grab and deals with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, Gojek said it was laying off 430 employees, or about 9% of its workforce, and closing GoLife, its lifestyle services division, to focus on its core payments, transportation and food delivery businesses as part of its long-term response to the pandemic.

Founded in 2010 as a motorcycle ride-hailing company, Gojek has since transformed itself into a “super app” that offers online payments and a roster of on-demand services, including transportation, ecommerce deliveries and logistics. Gojek recently added Facebook and PayPal to a list of high-profile investors, including Google and Tencent.

Gojek disclosed in March that it is valued at $10 billion and now has over 170 million users, but it faces fierce rivalry from Grab, another Southeast Asian on-demand ride-hailing and logistics platform that is also building an online financial services business. With a valuation of $14 billion, Grab is the larger company. Earlier this year, reports emerged that the two were discussing a merger, which Gojek denied and Grab declined to comment on.

In statement, Rault said, “It is a time like no other to be at Gojek. The company is entering a critical phase as it moves from startup to maturation and it’s special to be a part of that. Building systems and processes for a business of Gojek’s scale and complexity is a challenge one rarely enjoys in their career and I’m grateful for the opportunity.”

#asia, #ecommerce, #gojek, #indonesia, #logistics, #on-demand, #ride-hailing, #severan-rault, #southeast-asia, #tc

0

Singapore-based marketing SaaS startup Insider gets $32 million to enter the US

Insider, a Singapore-based startup that develops software to help clients make marketing decisions, plans to launch in the United States after raising a $32 million Series C. The round was led by Riverwood Capital, with participation from Sequoia India, Wamda and Endeavor Catalyst.

Founded in 2012, the company says its SaaS for multichannel marketing and customer engagement is currently used by more than 800 brands, including Singapore Airlines, Marks and Spencer, Virgin, Uniqlo, Samsung and Estée Lauder.

Insider’s Series C brings its total funding so far to $42 million. In addition to entering the U.S., the new capital will be used on sales and marketing, hiring more engineers for its research and development team and adding new features to its platform.

One noteworthy aspect of the company is that half of its executive team, including co-founder and chief executive officer Hande Cilingir, are women. The company runs a program called Young Engineers that provides coding classes to high school students, especially girls, and it plans to expand to primary school-age kids as well.

Cilingir told TechCrunch that Insider’s AI-based technology differentiates it from older, larger competitors like Salesforce because it is able to integrate customer data from different marketing channels, including offline ones, to help companies make better predictions about customer behavior. Insider’s analytics help brands coordinate campaigns across different platforms, including the web, mobile apps, messaging apps, email and other channels.

“Insider, on top of all those solutions, creates a one-stop shop because you can overcome operational bottlenecks because of the technology, but at the same time, we are still offering all of the features, including personalization technologies, that online businesses need,” she said.

Helping brands create new marketing strategies is crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, e-commerce companies have seen a surge in traffic because of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, but need to figure out how to make that translate into sales. Meanwhile, other verticals, like travel and hospitality, have to find new ways of making revenue.

The company has teams in 24 countries across Europe, Asia and the Middle East to support brands’ localization strategies. Even though Insider’s software does not need to be adapted in order to work in different countries, Cilingir said marketing differs widely between cultures.

For example, in Indonesia, direct sales are important, but in Japan, sales operations are often dependent on agencies within a company. Insider’s customer support teams serve as a complement to its software, helping clients use it to create marketing strategies.

In a press statement about the investment, Sequoia India principal Pieter Kemps said, “We liked the Insider team from the first days, but have been positively surprised by their highly efficient go-to-market engine. The quality of customer interactions, combined with exceptional product and technology, has enabled Insider to stand out among the many point-solutions out there—and build up a very impressive list of customer logos.”

#asia, #customer-engagement, #fundings-exits, #insider, #marketing, #recent-funding, #riverwood-capital, #saas, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

0

Singaporean startup Karana raises $1.7 million for meat substitutes made from jackfruit

Singaporeans have a growing appetite for plant-based meat substitutes. In fact, demand for products from companies like Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and Quorn have grown during the pandemic, partly because consumers are making more health-conscious decisions, according to the Straits Time. Now there is a new entrant to the market. Headquartered in Singapore, Karana announced today it has raised $1.7 million in seed funding and plans to launch its first product, a pork substitute made from jackfruit, this year.

Karana’s seed investors include Henry Soesanto, the CEO of Monde Nissin Group, which acquired Quorn Foods in 2015; agtech investment firms Big Idea Ventures and Germi8; and angel investors Kevin Poon and Gerald Li, both Hong Kong entrepreneurs with experience in the food and beverage industry. Karana said the round also included participation from an undisclosed leading Asia-based FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) distributor.

Karana’s jackfruit is sourced from Sri Lanka, where jackfruit is already a common meat substitute. What Karana’s processing method does is create a texture that replicates minced and shredded pork more closely, making it easier to use in dishes like dumplings, char siu bao or bahn mi.

Founded in 2018 by Dan Riegler and Blair Crichton, Karana turns organic jackfruit into a pork substitute by using a proprietary mechanical technique that the company says does not use any chemical processing. Its pork substitute will be available in restaurants this year, before arriving in retail stores at the beginning of next year.

Riegler and Crichton told TechCrunch in an email that Karana uses jackfruit because it not only has a “naturally meaty texture,” but is an environmentally-friendly crop. It is usually grown intercropped (or with other produce, in the same field), has a high yield and low water usage. But about 60% of jackfruit harvested currently goes to waste, they added. “There is a lot of room for further commercialization, which means additional income streams for farmers.”

Karana’s founders started with pork because it is the most frequently consumed meat in Asia. Its seed funding will be used on research and development to launch new products and the company currently talking to strategic partners in other Asian markets. Future Karana products will use other crops grown in Asia to create new meat substitutes.

“Karana is a whole-plant meat company, our focus is on leveraging what nature has given us and enhancing these amazing biodiverse ingredients to create delicious products. In the future, we will launch products using other regional ingredients that will enable us to expand beyond pork,” the founders said. “This is a real differentiator from other companies that are by-and-large relying on commodity crops in processed forms.”

#asia, #food-tech, #fundings-exits, #karana, #meat-substitute, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

0

Payfazz gets $53 million to give more Indonesians access to financial services

Indonesia is not only Southeast Asia’s most populated country, but also one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. But many people, especially outside of major cities, still lack access to basic financial services like bank accounts. Payfazz is one of several tech startups focused on solving that problem by finding innovative ways to give more Indonesians access to financial services. The company announced today that it has raised a $53 million Series B led by B Capital and Insignia Ventures Partners.

Previous investors, including Tiger Global, Y Combinator and ACE & Company, also returned for the round. New backers include BRI Ventures, the venture arm of BRI, one of Indonesia’s largest banks, which is coming on as a strategic investor. Indonesian Bank BRI. Payfazz’s last round of funding was a $21 million Series A announced in September 2018, led by Tiger Global. Its total raised to date is now more than $74 million.

There is a growing list of Indonesian financial tech startups, including Modalku, KoinWorks and Kredivo, that focus on consumer and small business financing, while larger and more diversified tech companies like Gojek and Grab are working their own online payment tools and other services. Payfazz differentiates with a portfolio of mobile services that make it easier for Indonesians to handle routine financial tasks, including bill payments and loans, even if they live in rural areas without banks. The company says it currently serves 10 million monthly active users, and plans to expand its offerings to include more digital financial products.

Founded in 2016 by Hendra Kwik, Jefriyanto and Ricky Winata, Payfazz is an alum of Y Combinator’s accelerator program.

The company uses a network of financial agents to reach customers because many banks don’t open branches in rural areas, Kwik told TechCrunch. “Due to high fixed costs, traditional banks find it economical to operate only in cities and urban areas with high density and foot traffic,” he said. “This leaves a huge unfulfilled and underserved banking need in rural areas where banking access is very difficult.”

Payfazz’s network currently includes about 250,000 agents, most of whom are located in small stores. Users deposit cash with the agents, who serve as go-betweens with banks. This allows Payfazz’s users to have a balance they can use to pay phone, electricity and other bills. Payfazz also recently launched loans and payments for offline retailers.

Kwik said Payfazz built an agent network because even though smartphone penetration is high in Indonesia, many people haven’t used direct digital banking services before, so talking to a Payfazz agent helps familiarize them with the process. Since most of its agents are based out of warung or kirana stores, or neighborhood shops that sell food and other necessities, they are easier for people in rural areas and small towns to access than banks, ATM machines or convenience store chains.

“Our agents are small businesses and people who have lots of traffic from rural areas’ populations in their places. It can be warung and kirana stores, telco stores, small restaurants or even someone’s house,” Kwik said. “They are the perfect profile to become our agents because they’re ubiquitously distributed and have high coverage in rural areas.”

He added that Payfazz also gives agents an opportunity to earn extra income. Payfazz takes a 0.5% to 1% commission on every transaction, and agents are allowed to set the margins they charge customers for transactions, usually between 5% to 9%. Before signing on an agent, Payfazz screens them using KYC (“know your customer”) and verification technology to gauge trustiworthiness, traffic and sales potential.

While Grab Financial and other Southeast Asian fintech companies may eventually become Payfazz’s competitors, Kwik said he currently sees them as potential partners.

“The reason is simply because most of these providers still focus their market and resources in the cities and urban areas, like many of the traditional banks. Meanwhile Payfazz focuses all its market and resources in rural areas,” he added. “Payfazz can help other banks and financial service providers to expand their reach to rural areas and capture hundreds of millions of users and billions of dollars of revenue opportunity there.”

In a statement about the funding, Insignia Ventures founding managing partner Yinglan Tan said “We have been privileged to have supported Payfazz since their early days. We believe that this path to taking their fintech ecosystem from Indonesia to the rest of the region will meet the pressing needs of many more of Southeast Asia’s digital consumers, and are excited to see how Hendra and the Payfazz team will build on top of the portfolio of services that millions of Indonesians are already using.”

#asia, #consumer-finance, #financial-tech, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #payfazz, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

0

US plans to rollback special status may erode Hong Kong’s startup ecosystem

For two months, the people of Hong Kong waited in suspense after China’s legislature approved a new national security law. The legislation’s details were finally made public yesterday and almost immediately went into effect. As many Hong Kong residents feared, the broadly written new law gives Beijing extensive authority over the Special Administrative Region and has the potential to sharply curtail civil liberties.

In response, the United States began the first measures to end the special status it gives to Hong Kong, with the Commerce and State Departments suspending export license exceptions for sensitive U.S. technology and blocking the export of defense equipment.

Much remains uncertain. Hong Kong had also previously enjoyed many freedoms that do not exist in mainland China, under the “one country, two systems” principle put into place after the United Kingdom returned control to China. After announcing the new policies, the U.S. government said further restrictions are being considered. Under special status, Hong Kong had privileges including lower trade tariffs and a separate customs and immigration designation from mainland China, but now the future of those is unclear.

Equally opaque is how the erosion of special status and the new national security law will impact Hong Kong’s startups in the future. In conversations with TechCrunch, investors and founders said they believe the region’s ecosystem is resilient, partly because many companies offer online services — especially financial services — and have already established operations in other markets. But they are also keeping an eye on further developments and preparing for the possibility that key talent will want to relocate to other countries.

#asia, #china, #extra-crunch, #financial-technology, #gogovan, #government, #hong-kong, #lalamove, #market-analysis, #policy, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #special-status, #startups, #taiwan, #tc, #venture-capital, #welab

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Meet BukuWarung, the bookkeeping app built for Indonesia’s 60 million “micro-merchants”

In Indonesia, there are about 60 million “micro-merchants,” typically small store owners who sell food and other staple items, and have close relationships with their customers. Many often extend informal lines of credit to shoppers, but much of their financial tracking is still done with pen and paper ledgers. Chinmay Chauhan and Abhinay Peddisetty, the co-founders of BukuWarung, want to digitize the process with a financial platform designed especially for small Indonesian businesses. Their goal is to start with bookkeeping tools, before expanding into services including access to working capital.

The startup is currently taking part in Y Combinator’s startup accelerator program. BukuWarung has also raised seed funding from East Ventures, AC Ventures, Golden Gate Ventures, Tanglin Ventures, Samporna, as well as strategic angel investors from Grab, Gojek, Flipkart, PayPal, Xendit, Rapyd, Alterra, ZEN Rooms and other companies.

Chauhan and Peddisetty met while working together at Singapore-based peer-to-peer marketplace Carousell, where they focused on developing monetization products for sellers. Chauhan also worked on products for merchants at Grab, the largest ride-sharing and on-demand delivery company in Southeast Asia. But the inspiration behind BukuWarung is also personal, because both Chauhan and Peddisetty’s families run small neighborhood stores.

“We can look at this more deeply given the experience we have monetizing merchants at Grab and Carousell,” Chauhan said. “We also know good potential exists in Indonesia, where we can help 60 million micro-merchants come online and digitize. From a macro-level, we felt this would be a huge opportunity, and there is also the personal element of being potentially being able to impact millions of merchants.”

Paper records not only make tracking finances a labor-intensive process, but also means it is harder for merchants to gain access to lines of credit. Chauhan and Peddisetty told TechCrunch that their goal is to expand the company to financial services as well, doing for Indonesian merchants what KhataBook and OKCredit have done in India. Since launching last year, BukuWarung has signed up 600,000 merchants across 750 cities and towns in Indonesia and currently has about 200,000 monthly average users. The founders say their goal is to reach all 60 million micro-, small- and medium-sized businesses in Indonesia. It has already made its first acquisition: Lunasbos, one of the first Indonesian credit tracking apps.

BukuWarung founders Chinmay Chauhan and Abhinay Peddisetty

While preparing to launch BukuWarung, the founders traveled through Indonesia, speaking to almost 400 merchants about their challenges with bookkeeping, credit tracing and accounting. Based on those conversations, the two decided to start by focusing on a bookkeeping app, which launched 10 months ago.

Despite a partial lockdown in Indonesia from April to June, BukuWarung continued to grow because most of its users sell daily necessities, like groceries. In smaller cities and villages, merchants often offer credit lines because their customers’ cash flow is very tight, and many do not have a regular monthly paycheck, Chauhan said. “Everyone is buying and selling on credit, that is something we validated in our research.”

Then there is the community aspect, where many merchants are close to their customers.

“This changes depending on the location of the business, but business owners have often known a lot of people in their neighborhoods for a long time, and when it comes to credit, they typically offer 500 Indonesian rupiah all the way up to about one million rupiah [about USD $70.56],” Chauhan said. But when it’s time to settle bills, which often means going to customers’ homes and asking for payment, many merchants feel hesitant, he added.

“They will never chase or call the person. The app we built sends automatic reminders to customers, and this ‘soft message’ really helps merchants not feel shy while at the same time professionally giving customer reminders.”

While talking to merchants, BukuWarung’s founders also realized that many were using pay-as-you-go data plans and lower-end smartphones. Therefore, their app needed to be as lightweight as possible, and work offline so users could access and update their records anytime. This focus on making their app take up as little data and space as possible differentiates them from other bookkeeping apps, the founders said, and helps them sign up and retain users in Indonesia.

Chauhan and Peddisetty said the company will partner with financial tech companies as it grows  to give users access to online payment systems, including digital wallets, and financing.

In a statement to TechCrunch, Y Combinator partner Gustaf Alströmer said, “Building digital infrastructure for emerging economies is a huge opportunity, especially in the post-COVID world. And we believe BukuWarung is a team that can take on this challenge. We have seen this journey before with Khatabook and OkCredit in India and see that BukuWarung is on a similar growth trajectory to empower micro-businesses in Indonesia.”

 

#apps, #asia, #bookkeeping, #bukuwarung, #financial-services, #fintech, #indonesia, #smes, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

0

Singapore-based options trading platform Sparrow raises $3.5 million Series A

Sparrow Exchange, a Bitcoin and Ethereum options trading platform based in Singapore, announced today it has raised $3.5 million in Series A funding.

The round was led by HDR Group, the owner of cryptocurrency exchange BitMEX, with participation from Signum Capital, Du Capital and FinLab EOS VC.

The funding will be used to develop Sparrow’s platform and launch new products and services. Earlier this month, for example, it introduced an iOS-optimized mobile interface, and has other releases coming soon. Since launching a year ago, Sparrow has seen over $150 million in options trading volume.

In a press statement, FinLab EOS VC Fund managing director Stefan Schuetze said, “We are excited to invest in Sparrow, which is developing the next generation of financial products by leveraging EOSIO for their on-chain settlement layer.”

Despite the pandemic, the company says its seen an increase in volume over the past few months, as Bitcoin trading reached record highs in several countries, after an initial sell-off in March.

#asia, #bitcoin, #cryptocurrency, #ethereum, #fundings-exits, #options-trading, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #sparrow, #sparrow-exchange, #startups, #tc

0

Eating Thai Fruit Demands Serious Effort but Delivers Sublime Reward

Many delicious species in Thailand, “the Great Power nation of fruit,” require laborious peeling and careful chewing. Then there’s the sticky fingers, stench of death and occasional disappointment.

#bangkok-thailand, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #fruit, #southeast-asia, #thailand

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Reebelo, a Singapore-based site for refurbished electronics, raises $1.25 million seed round

Reebelo, a Singapore-based marketplace for refurbished electronics, announced it has raised a seed round of $1.25 million led by June Fund, with participation from Antler.

The new funding will be used for hiring, especially marketing and operations positions for customer service as the company scales. Reebelo currently operates in Singapore, but plans to expand across the Asia-Pacific region over the next two to three years.

Founded last year by chief executive officer Philip Franta, Reebelo was launched to reduce the amount of waste created by consumer electronics. The company participated in StartupX’s HyperSpark, a pre-accelerator program focused on sustainability that is run in partnership with Temasek, Singapore’s sovereign fund.

Reebelo, which holds a secondhand goods dealers license from the Singapore Police Force, differentiates from peer-to-peer marketplaces by screening and refurbishing electronic devices, including phones, laptops, tablets and gaming devices, before they are listed on the site. Each device comes with a warranty and the company says they can cost up to 70% less than a new version. It also buys used devices for cash through its online trade-in program.

June’s managing partner, David Rosskamp, will join Reebelo’s board.

In press statement, Rosskamp said, “We are strong believers and investors in circular commerce. What it ultimately stands for is a different form of consumption, with a more sustainable and often fairer way. Reebelo’s team is following this mission with passion and focus. Supporting Reebelo to build up a central electronics trading infrastructure ideally mirrors our investment theses, and we are happy to invest at an earlier stage than we usually do.”

#asia, #circular-commerce, #e-commerce, #fundings-exits, #reebelo, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

0

Grab to lay off 360 people, or about 5% of its employees

Grab is laying off about 360 people, or slightly under 5% of its employees. Co-founder and CEO Anthony Tan made the announcement in a letter to Grab employees today.

A Grab spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company will not be shutting down offices, and that this is the last organization-wide layoff the company will perform this year.

“We do not face capitalization issues. We conducted the layoffs to become a leaner and more efficient organization and we did this by sunsetting non-core projects, consolidating teams and pivoting to focus on deliveries,” the spokesperson said. “We remain laser-focused on adapting our core businesses of transport, deliveries, payments and financial services to address the challenges and opportunities of the new normal.”

She added that the company will talk to affected employees over the next few days.

Grab is the largest ride-hailing platform in Southeast Asia, and like other travel-related companies, including Uber, Lyft, Oyo and Airbnb, its on-demand ride business has been hit hard by the pandemic. Grab also operates several other businesses, however, including deliveries and digital financial services, which is is currently reallocating resources toward because demand for them has increased during the pandemic and stay-at-home orders.

In his announcement, Tan wrote, “Since February, we have seen the stark impact of COVID-19 on businesses globally, ours included. At the same time, it has become clear that the pandemic will likely result in a prolonged recession and we have to prepare for what may be a long recovery period.”

“Over the past few months, we have reviewed all costs, cut back on discretionary spending, and implemented pay cuts for senior management. In spite of all this, we recognize that we still have to become leaner as an organization in order to tackle the challenges of the post-pandemic economy.”

He added that Grab will sunset some “non-core projects,” consolidate functions and reduce team sizes. It is also reallocating more resources to its on-demand delivery verticals.

“We were able to save many jobs through this redeployment of resources and it helped limit the scope of the reduction exercise to just under 5 percent,” Tan wrote.

Grab employees who are laid off will receive severance pay, as well as an enhanced separation payment; a waiver of annual cliffs for equity vesting; medical insurance coverage until the end of the year; encashment of unused annual leave and GrabFlex credits; and, for expecting parents, encashment of their parental benefits, as of the last day of employment.

#asia, #grab, #layoffs, #southeast-asia, #tc

0

Maria Ressa, founder of Filipino independent media site Rappler, found guilty in cyber libel trial

Veteran journalist Maria Ressa, the founder of Filipino independent news site Rappler, was found guilty on Monday of cyber libel charges by a Manila court. She faces up to six years in prison. Critics of the charges, which include prominent human rights and press freedom advocates, say charges filed against Ressa and Reynaldo Santos Jr, a former Rappler researcher and editor, demonstrate how the government is cracking down on media freedom and the independent press in the Philippines.

After Ressa was arrested in February 2019, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement that said Ressa’s treatment “appears to be the latest element in a pattern of intimidation of a media outlet that has fiercely guarded its independence and its right to conduct in-depth investigations and to criticize the authorities.”

Both Ressa and the journalists of Rappler, which was founded in 2012, have written critically about the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, conducting investigations into corruption charges.

Ressa and Santos were arrested in 2019 on cyber libel security charges related to an article published in 2012 that reported on the alleged ties between Supreme Court Justice Renato Corona, who was impeached in 2011, and wealthy businessmen including Wilfredo Keng.

Keng filed the cyber libel complaint against the two journalists in 2017. The five year gap between the article’s publication and Keng’s complaint was much longer than the one-year prescriptive period for ordinary libel in the Philippines’ penal code, and in order to charge Ressa and Santos, the Department of Justice extended that period to 12 years for cyber libel. Rappler’s legal counsel argued this could impact their constitutionally protected rights.

In today’s verdict, issued by Manila Regional Trial Court Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa, Rappler was found to have no liability, but Ressa and Santos were both found guilty and ordered to pay 200,000 pesos (about $3,978 U.S. dollars) in moral damages and another 200,000 pesos fine in exemplary damages. They are entitled to post-conviction bail and an appeal the verdict.

In a statement after the verdict, Amal Clooney, the head of Ressa’s legal defense team, said, “This conviction is an affront to the rule of law, a stark warning to the press, and a blow to democracy in the Philippines. I hope the appeals court will set the record straight in the case.”

Ressa said, “Freedom of the press is the foundation of every single right you hvae as a Filipino citizen. If we can’t hold power to account, we can’t do anything. Are we going to lose freedom of the press? Will it be death by a thousand cuts, or are we going to hold the line so that we protect the rights that are enshrined in our constitution?”

#asia, #independent-media, #journalism, #maria-ressa, #philippines, #press-freedom, #rappler, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

0

Uber appoints Pradeep Parameswaran as new head of its Asia Pacific business

Uber has appointed Pradeep Parameswaran, who oversaw the ride-hailing giant’s business in India and South Asia for two years, as the regional general manager of its Asia Pacific region operations.

Parameswaran, who starts his new role next week, will be tasked to improve Uber’s presence in the nine nations in the Asia Pacific region where the company currently operates.

“There is huge potential to serve more Uber customers and continue innovating across the diverse region, whether that be taxi partnerships in North Asia, new products like Uber Rent in Australia or pushing two and three-wheelers deep into the Indian heartland,” said Parameswaran, pictured above, in a statement.

Asia Pacific countries indeed offer a huge opportunity to Uber, which in recent years has retreated from Southeast Asia and China as the heavily backed, loss-making company struggled to compete with just as heavily backed and loss-making local startups.

Earlier this year, before the coronavirus began to spread widely outside of China, Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi said the firm planned to expand in Japan and South Korea in the immediate future.

During his tenure as the chief of Uber India and South Asia, Parameswaran helped the firm grow and steer through some tough decisions in the world’s second largest internet market. Uber said earlier this year that in 2019, it handled 14 million rides each week in India.

But the company’s bet to win the food delivery market did not work in the country, despite spending millions each month to lure customers. Earlier this year, Uber sold Eats’ Indian business to local rival Zomato.

Parameswaran will be overseeing Uber’s ride business in Asia Pacific region, but not the food delivery category, a spokesperson said, adding that the firm is also running a selection process to determine a replacement for Parameswaran’s former India role.

He will also be moving to company’s yet-to-be named new headquarter in APAC. The company has said it wants to move its regional headquarters to Hong Kong, the semi-autonomous Chinese territory where the company operates in a legal grey area.

Uber hired and appointed Amit Jain as its India head and later promoted him to run the Asia Pacific business. But Jain left the company last year to join venture fund Sequoia Capital. Since then, the region has been managed by Uber team in Europe.

“We’re pleased that Pradeep Parameswaran will take on an expanded role as Regional General Manager for APAC. After capably leading our India and South Asia business since 2018, I know that he will continue to inspire Uber’s next phase of growth across this key region,” said Andrew Macdonald, SVP of Mobility and Business Operations at Uber, in a statement.

#asia, #asia-pacific, #china, #dara-khosrowshahi, #india, #japan, #southeast-asia, #transportation, #uber, #zomato

0

The Sun Exchange raises $3M for crypto driven solar power in Africa

South Africa based renewable energy startup Sun Exchange has raised $3 million to close its Series A funding round totaling $4 million.

The company operates a peer-to-peer, crypto enabled business that allows individuals anywhere in the world to invest in solar infrastructure in Africa.

How’s that all work?

“You as an individual are selling electricity to a school in South Africa, via a solar panel you bought through the Sun Exchange,” explained Abe Cambridge — the startup’s founder and CEO.

“Our platform meters the electricity production of your solar panel. Arranges for the purchasing of that electricity with your chosen energy consumer, collects that money and then returns it to your Sun Exchange wallet.”

It costs roughly $5 a panel to get in and transactions occur in South African Rand or Bitcoin.

“The reason why we chose Bitcoin is we needed one universal payment system that enables micro transactions down to a millionth of a U.S. cent,” Cambridge told TechCrunch on a call.

He co-founded the Cape Town headquartered startup in 2015 to advance renewable energy infrastructure in Africa. “I realized the opportunity for solar was enormous, not just for South Africa, but for the whole of the African continent,” said Cambridge.

“What was required was a new mechanism to get Africa solar powered.”

Sub-Saharan Africa has a population of roughly 1 billion people across a massive landmass and only about half of that population has access to electricity, according to the International Energy Agency.

Recently, Sun Exchange’s main market South Africa — which boasts some of the best infrastructure in the region — has suffered from blackouts and power outages.

Image Credits: Sun Exchange

Sun Exchange has 17,000 members in 162 countries who have invested in solar power projects for schools, businesses and organizations throughout South Africa, according to company data.

The $3 million — which closed Sun Exchange’s $4 million Series A — came from the Africa Renewable Power Fund of London’s ARCH Emerging Markets Partners.

With the capital the startup plans to enter new markets. “We’re going to expand into other Sub-Saharan African countries. We’ve got some clear opportunities on our roadmap,” Cambridge said, referencing Nigeria as one of the markets Sun Exchange has researched.

There are several well-funded solar energy startups operating in Africa’s top economic and tech hubs, such as Kenya and Nigeria. In East Africa, M-Kopa sells solar hardware kits to households on credit then allows installment payments via mobile phone using M-Pesa mobile money. The venture is is backed by $161 million from investors including Steve Case and Richard Branson.

In Nigeria, Rensource shifted from a residential hardware model to building solar-powered micro utilities for large markets and other commercial structures.

Sun Exchange operates as an asset free model and operates differently than companies that install or manufacture solar panels.

“We’re completely supplier agnostic. We are approached by solar installers who operate on the African continent. And then we partner with the best ones,” said Cambridge — who presented the startup’s model at TechCrunch Startup Battlefield in Berlin in 2017.

“We’re the marketplace that connects together the user of the solar panel to the owner of the solar panel to the installer of the solar panel.”

Abe Cambridge, Image Credits: TechCrunch

Sun Exchange generates revenues by earning margins on sales of solar panels and fees on purchases and kilowatt hours generated, according to Cambridge.

In addition to expanding in Africa, the startup looks to expand in the medium to long-term to Latin America and Southeast Asia.

“Those are also places that would really benefit from from solar energy, from the speed in which it could be deployed and the environmental improvements that going solar leads to,” said Cambridge.

#africa, #alternative-energy, #articles, #berlin, #bitcoin, #ceo, #east-africa, #electricity, #energy, #latin-america, #m-kopa, #m-pesa, #mobile-phones, #nigeria, #renewable-energy, #richard-branson, #series-a, #solar-energy, #solar-power, #south-africa, #southeast-asia, #steve-case, #tc, #the-sun-exchange, #united-states

0

Propzy, a Vietnamese offline-to-online real estate platform, raises $25 million Series A

Propzy, a Vietnam-based startup that guides consumers through the entire process of a real estate transaction, announced it has raised a $25 million Series A led by Gaw Capital and SoftBank Ventures Asia, the early-stage venture arm of SoftBank Group. Other investors included Next Billion Ventures, RHL Ventures, Breeze, FEBE Ventures, RSquare and Insignia.

Instead of proptech, Propzy founder and CEO John Le prefers the term “firetech” to describe the startup, using “fire” as an acronym for financial, insurance and real estate technology. Founded in 2016, Propzy’s technology covers almost every stage of a real estate transaction, from brick-and-mortar sales centers to an online marketplace for listings, financial products like mortgage lending and, finally, enterprise software for property managers and tenants.

The company’s Series A will be used to grow its product line and provide a balance sheet for its expansion into direct mortgage financing. Most of Propzy’s current operations are in Ho Chi Minh City. It plans to expand into Hanoi through the rest of this year and 2021, before exploring other Southeast Asian markets, including potentially Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Propzy currently has 30 brick-and-mortar sales centers, with a total of 400 sales staff. Over the 18 months, it expects to increase those numbers to 70 sales centers and 1,300 sales staff.

The sales centers complement Propzy’s online marketplace, with tens of thousands of properties pre-screened by its staff before they are entered into listings. Le said Propzy has handled more than $1 billion in property transactions since its launch, making it the largest offline-to-online real estate network in Vietnam.

Le is a serial entrepreneur and his past startups include LoanTrader, a mortgage trading platform that was backed by Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and GE Capital. In 2009, he went to Vietnam to launch an international credit bureau with TransUnion. During that time, he realized how burdensome the process of renting or buying property can be there.

In the United States, consumers benefit from listing platforms like Zillow and Trulia, licensed real estate agents and escrow offices. In Vietnam, however, Le said many listings are on classified sites, similar to Craigslist, and are often not handled by licensed agents. There is also no standardized listing data, which makes comparing multiple properties difficult for consumers.

To replicate the U.S. experience in Vietnam, “you can’t just launch a website and put properties on it,” Le said. “We built an offline agency, but you need to utilize tech to increase its efficiency and performance, so we are an offline-to-online platform. That high-touch customer service needs to go all the way, not just for property matchmaking but to help both parties successfully close and settle transactions.”

Propzy built an automated valuation model using data it has gathered over the last four years to assess homes, help recommend prices and show customers comparable properties. On the financing side, the model is also used by Propzy’s partner banks to help customers get pre-approved for loans based on property value.

After buyers move into an apartment unit, they can use Propzy’s tenant software to report issues or book maintenance services and amenities. If they decide to sell or rent the property, they can also do so through the platform.

The pandemic has put downward pressure on Vietnam’s real estate market, with a 70% reduction in Propzy’s business during the country’s nationwide lockdown in April. On the other hand, more people were doing searches online and inquiring about selling property, Le said.

“We’re carrying an all-time high pipeline of deals, as consumers start to have more confidence and know where the market will be in two to three months,” Le added. “People still need houses, so deals in the pipeline are three times over the fourth-quarter average. We expect them to close quickly, so we are on a good path to hitting our numbers at the end of the year.”

In a press statement about the investment, Gaw Capital managing partner Humbert Pang said, “Given the favorable macroeconomics exhibited by Vietnam and Gaw’s conviction in offline-to-online business models in real estate, we are excited by our investment into Propzy. We see the value proposition and steadfast vision that Propzy and its management team brings to the table and are therefore very optimistic in Propzy’s business and the market within which it operates.”

#asia, #fundings-exits, #proptech, #propzy, #real-estate, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #vietnam

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Singapore-based caregiving startup launches Homage Health for online and home medical consultations

Homage, the Singapore-based startup that matches families and caregivers, has launched a new service that provides home medical visits, telehealth consultations and medication delivery. Called Homage Health, the service was already being developed before the COVID-19 pandemic, but co-founder and CEO Gillian Tee told TechCrunch that its launch was accelerated because many of the company’s caregiving recipients are elderly or have long-term health conditions, and are at higher risk for the disease.

Backed by investors including HealthXCapital, Alternate Ventures and KDV Capital, Homage launched in 2016 with a caregiving program that focuses on people who need long-term assisted living and rehabilitation care. This integrates with Homage Health because the platform’s caregivers, including nurses, are able to provide in-person support for online consultations with doctors and help followup on recommended healthcare regimens.

Before launching Homage Health, the startup worked with healthcare organizations to deliver mobile medical services, including doctor house calls, for its clients, and telehealth consultations as part of its COVID-19 response. Even before the pandemic, however, there was demand because many clients need regular health screenings.

“Particularly with COVID-19, as an essential service, we felt a higher impetus to ensure our care recipients can continue to gain access to in-home and caregiving services,” she said.

“A key example would be where our care recipients can receive speech therapy through teleconsultations,” she added. “For specific hallmark assessment sessions where a therapy care plan is defined, or where subsequent delivery is adjusted due to progressional improvements made, in-person sessions can be conducted, leading to best health, accessibility and cost outcomes.”

Having caregivers, medical sessions and prescriptions records on one platform also makes long-term healthcare management easier. For example, Homage can provide baseline medical assessment reports for medical and care providers.

Homage prescreens doctors before adding them to the platform. All of them are registered with the Singapore Medical Council, have a minimum of five years practicing medicine and receive medical teleconsultation training. The service can be used to diagnose common conditions, like the cold or allergies, or when prescriptions need to be refilled. It can also provide the follow-up consultations needed by people recovering from strokes or with chronic conditions like Parkinson’s disease and hypertension.

Homage Health will expand to include more rehabilitation and therapy categories. Basic teleconsultations have a flat fee of SGD $20, excluding prescriptions and delivery fees. Mobile medical services, which start at SGD $180, include at-home blood tests, home visits by doctors and minor surgery like wound care and drainage.

#asia, #caregiving, #health, #homage, #seniors, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

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Facebook and PayPal invest in Southeast Asian ride-hailing giant GoJek

Facebook and PayPal have made investments in GoJek, joining Google and Tencent among other high-profile technology firms that have backed the five-year-old Southeast Asian ride-hailing firm that also offers food delivery and mobile payments.

Facebook, for which it is the first investment in an Indonesia-based firm, and PayPal did not disclose the size of their checks. GoJek told TechCrunch that Facebook and PayPal were participating in its ongoing financing round, which brings it total raise-to-date to over $3 billion.

For Facebook, which in April invested in India’s top telecom operator Reliance Jio Platforms, backing GoJek unlocks a similar opportunity: Helping millions of small businesses.

Matt Idema, chief operating officer at WhatsApp, said the company will work with “indispensable” service GoJek to “bring millions of small businesses and the customers they serve into the largest digital economy in Southeast Asia.”

“The majority of small businesses in Indonesia rely on cash to operate due to the country’s large unbanked population. Digital payments are safer than cash, both for businesses and customers. And digital payments help more people participate in the economy and give businesses access to credit which is crucial for business growth,” he wrote in a blog post.

PayPal, which last year invested in money lender Tala ahead of the startup’s launch in India, said the commercial partnership will enable the global payments giant to “significantly grow” its scope and scale in Southeast Asia.

“This new relationship is another positive step in our journey towards becoming the worldwide payments partner of choice, and helping to fuel global commerce by connecting the world’s leading marketplaces and payment networks,” PayPal said in a statement.

GoJek, which disclosed it had raised $1.2 billion in March to employees and was valued at about $10 billion, said it has amassed over 170 million users in Southeast Asia. In March, the company, which competes with Singapore-headquartered Grab, said it had raised nearly $3 billion over the years.

More to follow…

#apps, #asia, #facebook, #funding, #gojek, #google, #payments, #paypal, #software, #southeast-asia, #tencent, #whatsapp

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U.S. and Chinese Scientists Trace Evolution of Coronaviruses in Bats

Researchers whose canceled U.S. grant caused an outcry from other scientists urge preventive monitoring of viruses in southwestern China.

#bats, #china, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #daszak-peter, #ebright-richard-h, #ecohealth-alliance, #laos, #myanmar, #national-institutes-of-health, #nature-communications-journal, #research, #rutgers-the-state-university-of-new-jersey, #sars-severe-acute-respiratory-syndrome, #southeast-asia, #trump-donald-j, #united-states-politics-and-government, #vietnam, #your-feed-science

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