Docs startup Almanac raises $34 million from Tiger as remote work shift hardens

As companies continue to delay their returns to the office and find temporary remote work policies becoming permanent, the startups building tooling for remote work-first cultures are finding a seemingly endless supply of customers.

“Companies are finding the shift to remote work is not a one-time aberration due to Covid,” Almanac CEO Adam Nathan tells TechCrunch. “Over the past several months we’ve seen pretty explosive revenue growth.”

Almanac, which builds a doc editor that takes feature cues like version control from developer platforms like Github, has been seizing on the shift to remote work, onboarding new customers through its open source office document library Core while pushing features that allow for easier onboarding like an online company handbook builder.

In the past couple years, timelines between funding rounds have been shrinking for fast-growing startups. Almanac announced its $9 million seed round earlier this year led by Floodgate, now they’re taking the wraps off of a $34 million Series A led by the pandemic’s most prolific startup investment powerhouse — Tiger Global. Floodgate again participated in the raise, alongside General Catalyst and a host of angels.

The company wants its collaborative doc editor to be the way more companies fully embrace online productivity software, leaving local-first document editors in the dust. While Alphabet’s G Suite is a rising presence in the office productivity suite world, Microsoft Office is still the market’s dominant force.

“We see ourselves as a generational challenger to Microsoft Office,” Nathan says. “It’s not only an old product, but it’s totally outmoded for what we do to today.”

While investors have backed plenty of startups based on pandemic era trends that have already seemed to fizzle out, the growing shift away from office culture or even hybrid culture towards full remote work has only grown more apparent as employees place a premium on jobs with flexible remote policies.

Major tech companies like Facebook have found themselves gradually adjusting policies towards full-remote work for staff that can do their jobs remotely. Meanwhile, Apple’s more aggressive return-to-office plan has prompted a rare outpouring of public and private criticism from employees at the company. Nathan only expects this divide to accelerate as more companies come tor grips with the shifting reality.

“I personally don’t believe that hybrid is a thing,” he says. “You have to pick a side, you’re either office culture or ‘cloud culture.’”

#almanac, #alphabet, #articles, #ceo, #cloud-computing, #economy, #general-catalyst, #github, #human-resource-management, #major, #microsoft, #onboarding, #productivity, #recruitment, #software, #startup-company, #startups, #telecommuting, #tiger-global

Marketplace platform Mirakl raises $555 million at $3.5 billion valuation

French startup Mirakl has closed a new Series E funding round of $555 million. Following this round, the company is now valued at $3.5 billion. Mirakl helps you launch a marketplace on your online store for your end customers or for your B2B clients. It’s a software-as-a-service marketplace, meaning that Mirakl manages the marketplace for you.

Silver Lake is leading the investment with existing investors 83North, Elaia Partners, Felix Capital and Permira also participating. With today’s funding round, Mirakl is experiencing a sharp valuation bump as the company closed a $300 million funding round at a $1.5 billion valuation last year.

Some of Mirakl’s clients include ABB, Accor, Airbus Helicopters, Carrefour, Express, Leroy Merlin, The Kroger Co and Toyota Material Handling.

Chances are you’re already familiar with marketplaces on online stores. If the e-commerce brand doesn’t have the item you’re looking for, they might be recommending some third-party sellers. You can buy the item from this third-party seller directly on the store you’re using. Mirakl helps you add a marketplace to your site.

On some online stores, marketplace transactions have overtaken in-house transactions. It’s a lucrative shift as e-commerce companies don’t own the inventory of third-party sellers. It frees up some capital to increase reach and online sales.

And that trend isn’t limited to consumer-facing online stores. B2B marketplaces are emerging. For instance, car manufacturers rely on many different suppliers. They could all list parts directly on a marketplace so that repair shops can easily find the right part to fix a car.

When you add a marketplace component, you switch from a one-to-many model to a many-to-many model. It means that you have to make sure that you’re taking advantage of your marketplace by partnering with the right third-party sellers. As a third-party seller, it also means that you need to list your products on as many marketplaces as possible.

That’s why the company has also built something called Mirakl Connect. The startup positions itself as a center piece of the marketplace ecosystem by connecting online stores with sellers. Mirakl customers can use Mirakl Connect to find third-party sellers. And third-party sellers can more easily list their products on Mirakl-compatible marketplaces.

With today’s funding round, Mirakl plans to increase the size of its engineering team. It’ll add 350 engineers on top of its team of 500. Similarly, the customer success team will double in size. In other words, things are going well for Mirakl, so let’s invest.

Image Credits: Mirakl

#e-commerce, #ecommerce, #europe, #france-newsletter, #fundings-exits, #marketplace, #mirakl, #online-store, #saas, #startups

For BioNTech, the COVID-19 vaccine was simply the opening act

BioNTech’s founding story dates back to the late 1990s, when CEO and co-founder Uğur Şahin, his wife and co-founder Özlem Türeci, and the rest of the seven-person founding team began their research.

Focused specifically on an area dubbed “New Technologies,” mRNA stood out as one area with tremendous potential to deliver the team’s ultimate goal: Developing treatments personalized to an individual and their specific ailments, rather than the traditional approach of finding a solution that happens to work generally at the population level.

Şahin, along with Mayfield venture partner Ursheet Parikh, joined us at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine, his long journey as a founder, what it takes to build a biotech platform company, and what’s coming next from BioNTech and the technologies it’s developing to help prevent other outbreaks and treat today’s deadliest diseases.

“At that time, mRNA was not potent enough,” Şahin recalled. “It was just a weak molecule. But the idea was great, so we invested many years in an academic setting to improve that. And in 2006, we realized ‘Wow, this is now working. Okay, it’s time to initiate a company’.”

#biontech, #biotech, #ec-digital-biotech, #health, #mayfield, #startups, #tc, #techcrunch-disrupt, #techcrunch-disrupt-2021, #techcrunch-disrupt-2021-health, #ugur-sahin

Rippling launches computer inventory management as more workers remain remote

Rippling, a startup building a platform to manage all aspects of employee data, from payroll and benefits through to device management, launched Rippling Inventory Management, what founder and CEO Parker Conrad is touting as the “world’s first cloud IT closet.”

The dashboard enables businesses to automatically store, ship and retrieve employee computers in a way that is remote and hands-free. Rippling stores and monitors company devices so they no longer need an “IT closet” on-site or utilize an employee’s home. Rippling also manages the logistics related to the devices, including wiping and assigning devices and issuing prepaid mailers for machines that need to be returned.

Customers pay a per employee, per month fee to use the dashboard to hire, or fire employees, and set up all of the apps (and access) that the employee will need on their computer. In addition, the user can see all of the outstanding shipments and where they are in the process of being delivered or returned.

The product launch is buoyed by a massive $145 million Series B round in 2020 that gave the company a valuation of $1.35 billion.

Rippling inventory management gif. Image Credits: Rippling

The inventory management platform stems from a problem Rippling saw as remote work became more prevalent over the past 18 months, Conrad told TechCrunch. The company itself used to have an IT closet, which he considers “the last physical part about managing employees.”

“What this does is kill the IT closet,” he added. “If you don’t work in an office and decide to leave, some companies don’t have a process on how to get the former employee’s device back. We had a situation ourselves where employees would ship computers back to one person, and she had them stacked up in her apartment.”

The leadership team spent a long time looking for an inventory management service, and also saw customers posting about it on social media. However, Conrad considers this a problem that didn’t really exist until March 2020.

He explained that with the exception of a few outlier companies, most were not remote and physically handed a computer to new employees or gathered them from the desk of someone who left. Once they were remote, it was difficult to keep track of who had which device and how to get them back if needed.

“Everyone can be done online now, and you don’t have to come into the office to sign paperwork,” Conrad said. “This is the last piece that companies need and works to solve the last-mile problem.”

 

#enterprise, #funding, #hiring, #it, #logistics, #mobile-device-management, #parker-conrad, #personnel, #rippling, #saas, #social-media, #startups, #tc, #telecommuting

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

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

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

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

Image Credits: Just Insure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alan acquires Jour and launches mental health service Alan Mind

French startup Alan is better known for its health insurance products — they now insure 200,000 people. But it has been slowly building a superapp for your health and expanding with new services. Today, the company announced its first acquisition ever with the acquisition of Jour for $20 million. This is going to be the foundation for a new service called Alan Mind.

“More than 13 million people in France are facing a mental health issue. If you look at people under 35, it’s 3 out of 4 people — so it’s basically everybody,” co-founder an CEO Jean-Charles Samuelian-Werve said in a press conference earlier today.

And if you look at the past 18 months, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact on mental health. Depressive moods and anxiety issues have basically doubled. 66% of people are dealing with sleep disorders.

“The question we asked ourselves is: How did we get there?” Samuelian-Werve said. “We see two important topics. First, there has been a chronic lack of prevention that is quite obvious. Mental health has been neglected by public health policies.”

“The second pillar that led us where we are is poor care. There are disparities between regions that are very high. In Paris, it can take up to 8 months in some hospitals if you want to see a therapist. In the Rhône-Alpes area, it takes 67 days on average to book an appointment,” he added.

And even if you can find the right person, you’ll often end up spending a lot of money. France’s national healthcare system doesn’t cover mental health that well.

With Alan Mind, the startup wants to work on these two areas of improvement. It’s a B2B service, so the company is selling access to Alan Mind to its B2B clients, who can then recommend Alan Mind to their employees.

“Do companies have a role to play in mental health? We believe that they do. Companies are responsible for protecting their employees’ health,” Samuelian-Werve said. In particular, they reached that conclusion when they realized that lockdowns have affected work-life balance. It’s hard to say when your work day ends and your personal time starts.

Image Credits: Alan

By acquiring Jour, Alan is betting on cognitive behavioral therapy. Employees can install an app and start answering questions to evaluate their current state of mind. They can find content in the app, put words on their feelings and work on themselves. There are videos, a dashboard feature, breathing exercises, etc.

If employees feel like that’s not enough, they can start an individual therapy with a health professional. Alan Mind lets you book a telehealth appointment. The company has hired a handful of psychologists so that you can get an appointment in just a few days.

Of course, companies never know that someone in the team has used Alan Mind. But HR teams receive an anonymized report every month. It’s not about spying on employees, but more about identifying common issues and providing ideas for prevention workshops.

Alan Mind is just getting started as the company only has five clients for this service — BioSerenity, Brut, Joone, Opal and Talk. Companies pay €5 per month per employee if they’re already Alan customers, or a bit more if they just want Alan Mind.

As for Jour, the B2C app will remain available in the App Store. The startup has attracted 2 million downloads before its acquisition. It has a slightly different positioning and it’s going to be useful to identify areas of improvement for Alan Mind.

Screenshots of Jour. Image Credits: Alan

#alan, #alan-mind, #apps, #europe, #france-newsletter, #jour, #mental-health, #startups, #tc

Alternative financing startup Pipe snaps up Stripe and HubSpot execs, expands to UK

Pipe, a two-year-old startup that aims to be the “Nasdaq for revenue,” announced today it has snagged former Stripe EIC Sid Orlando and HubSpot’s ex-Chief Strategy Officer Brad Coffey to serve on its executive team.

The Miami-based fintech also revealed today its first expansion outside of the United States with its entry into the U.K. market.

It’s been a good year for Pipe. The buzzy startup has raised $300 million in equity financing this year from a slew of investors, such as Shopify, Slack, Okta, HubSpot, Marc Benioff’s TIME Ventures, Alexis Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six, Chamath Palihapitiya, MaC Ventures, Fin VC, Greenspring Associates and Counterpoint Global (Morgan Stanley), among others.

Since its public launch in June 2020, over 8,000 companies have signed up on the Pipe trading platform. That’s double from the reported “over 4,000” that had signed up at the time of the company’s last raise in May — a $250 million round that valued the company at $2 billion.

Orlando has left her role as editor-in-chief of fintech giant Stripe, where she has worked for over four years, to head up content for Pipe. She was also previously manager of curation and content at Kickstarter. Coffey left HubSpot — where he worked for over 13 years and most recently served as chief strategy officer for nearly 5 — to serve as Pipe’s chief customer officer, where he will be responsible for driving continued growth and expansion of verticals beyond Pipe’s initial launch market of SaaS. Coffey was one of HubSpot’s first employees and witnessed the progression of the company from a startup with $1 million in ARR to a publicly traded company with $1 billion in annual recurring revenue. 

CEO Harry Hurst, Josh Mangel and Zain Allarakhia founded Pipe in September 2019 with the mission of giving SaaS companies a way to get their revenue upfront, by pairing them with investors on a marketplace that pays a discounted rate for the annual value of those contracts. (Pipe describes its buy-side participants as “a vetted group of financial institutions and banks.”)

The goal of the platform is to offer companies with recurring revenue streams access to capital so they don’t dilute their ownership by accepting external capital or get forced to take out loans.

Pipe’s platform has evolved to offer non-dilutive capital to non-SaaS companies as well. In fact, today over 50% of the companies using its platform are non-SaaS companies, compared to 25% in May.

Notably, Coffey led HubSpot’s investment into Pipe last spring and that’s how he first became familiar with the company.

“When I first came across Pipe, I realized they had the opportunity to be a company that not only transforms but also helps a generation of founders get access to the growth capital they’ve never had access to at scale before,” he wrote in an email to TechCrunch. “This was even more obvious when I led HubSpot’s investment in Pipe…where HubSpot provides the software and education, and Pipe can provide the capital. As I got to know the founders and the team through that process, I realized it was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss and had to be a part of.”

Orlando expressed similar sentiments around her decision to join the company.

“Pipe has such an intriguing opportunity to recontour aspects of the funding landscape, providing alternative financing option to founders looking to grow and scale companies on their own terms,” she wrote via email. “Being a part of the early team to build such an impactful product in the market was no doubt a compelling mandate! I’m also struck by Pipe’s team and mission, of pursuing the ambitious vision for leveraging a new asset class with both humility and immense motivation, in service of greater flexibility, agency, equitability and growth opportunities for founders and their teams.”

For Pipe’s Hurst, the new hires signal a new chapter for the company, which continues to grow at a rapid rate.

“There are lots of days on Pipe where tens of millions [of dollars] are traded in a single day. Tens of millions of dollars were being traded every month last time we spoke [in May], he told TechCrunch. “And it’s across a diversified set of customers and different verticals. We are even increasingly helping finance M&As. Growth has been explosive.” 

Tradable annual recurring revenue (ARR) on the Pipe platform is in excess of $2 billion and trending toward $3 billion, according to Hurst.

The company’s expansion into the United Kingdom is significant because while the region has a growing venture ecosystem, capital is not nearly as available to founders as it is in the U.S. Pipe’s availability in the region will give those founders an alternative means of financing, Hurst believes.

“There are a lot of fundamentally healthy companies that don’t have access to financing, period,” he told TechCrunch. “So we believe in the U.K., Pipe will be incredibly impactful and that is evidenced from what we’ve seen already.”

The move also represents a return to the CEO’s roots. 

“I left the U.K. for the United States seven years ago as it provided the best funding environment to build my first technology company, and it is enormously gratifying to bring those same opportunities to the burgeoning ecosystem of technology companies in the U.K.,” he said. “If Pipe existed a decade ago and offered company friendly financing options, I might never have left the U.K. … Now, I’m bringing it home and really excited to be launching in the U.K.” 

With the move, Pipe has opened a microhub in London and 10% of its 55-person team will be based there.

#brad-coffey, #finance, #personnel, #pipe, #saas, #sid-orlando, #startups, #tc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Australian growth marketing agency Ammo helps startups calibrate their efforts

When you are the founder of a young startup, it is always very hard to gauge the right amount of effort to dedicate to marketing. Botch it and you risk looking unprofessional. Hire a traditional agency and you might be wasting time and money.

Australian growth marketing agency Ammo, in contrast, wants to make sure that its clients aren’t overinvesting nor underinvesting. Geared toward tech startups, it boasts that it has “supercharged the growth of over 200 innovative businesses,” from fintech and SaaS to hardware.

Ammo is based in Perth and an active member of Western Australia’s startup community, where it is “very highly regarded,” in the words of the survey respondent who recommended it to TechCrunch. But if that person decided to work with Ammo, they said it’s because “their results spoke.” (If you have growth marketing agencies or freelancers to recommend, please fill out our survey!)

After reading this, we reached out to Ammo’s director Cam Sinclair for insights on early-stage brand development, marketing readiness and more. Check out our interview below:

Editor’s note: The interview below has been edited for length and clarity.

Can you give us an overview of Ammo?

Cam Sinclair: Ammo is a growth marketing team based in Perth, Western Australia. We work with startups and innovative businesses to help them set and reach their growth goals.

Cam Sinclair

Cam Sinclair. Image Credits: Aline Kuba(opens in a new window)

We’ve been in this community for seven years now, and have a small, lean team from a variety of backgrounds — none of which are traditional marketing.

As a nerdy kid I loved tech and was fascinated by how business works. I always knew I wanted to find some way to help founders and innovators get their great ideas out into the world. After working in political campaigns, I realized that many of the skillsets overlapped with what startups need: moving fast, being lean, communicating well, being adaptable and staying flexible.

That inspired me to grow an “anti-agency” where startup founders could genuinely feel like they had someone on their team who understood their challenges and the risks they were taking.

How do you collaborate with startups?

Our services cater to every stage of the founder journey. When you’re starting, you’ll need a brand, strategy and the marketing infrastructure to reach early customers. As you’re growing, you’ll need ongoing marketing campaigns and automation that bolsters your funnel. As you’re maturing, you’ll need the broader reach that PR and ongoing strategic advice provides.

We like to keep engagements as flexible as possible because startups are always discovering new marketing opportunities or customer needs. Some relationships are ongoing, others are quick projects completed in a week. Our long-term relationships start with a growth strategy workshop, where we identify a north star metric so that everyone is pulling in the same direction from day one.

Our workshops help startup teams design a customer journey using the pirate metrics framework and turn that into a clear, step-by-step action plan which they can implement or outsource.


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Respond to our survey and help other startups find top growth marketers they can work with!


There’s a survey on your site that encourages companies to check whether they are “ready for growth marketing.” What are the high-level points that make a company ready?

It’s really about having a small number of early fanatical customers — evangelists. Many people call it product-market-fit, but it’s really customer fit.

There is little point in lighting a rocket under a startup to grow and reach a wide audience without a clear, confident direction. Sure, you might get somewhere fast, but where are you going?

We’ve made the mistake of taking on clients who were too early for growth, so we know how important it is to say “no” when it’s not a good fit. We can direct all the traffic in the world to your website, but without customer fit you’ll be fighting for every sale.

Startups need to get a few things right to be primed for growth. Not every startup will be ready for what we can do for them. We’re focused on our own customer fit too.

For one-on-one work, who are your typical clients? 

Our most successful relationships are with startups who have already established customer fit and are looking to grow quickly. We work with B2B and B2C SaaS companies, as well as more traditional businesses who are looking to disrupt the way things are done in their industry.

We’ve grown startups in Australia and abroad, including neuroscience startup Humm, based in Berkeley, California. We worked with them to identify early customers and preorder channels while they were gathering initial investment, build a learning/experimenting system within the team as they grew and, more recently, provide advisory at a strategic level.

What mistakes do you help startups avoid when it comes to branding? 

After working with over 230 startups, we know what works and what doesn’t. Our clients work with us because they know we can help them avoid the pitfalls that inexperienced founders regularly fall into and make the most of the tight budgets that startups run on.

Marketing agencies are taking money that startups don’t have to build brand identities that startups don’t need. We would much prefer to see those resources invested into building their product and talking to their customers.

That said, it’s important for a landing page or slide deck to be believable to customers, investors and partners — and when startups underinvest in their branding, people are less likely to hand over their attention, email address and money.

For example, some clients often don’t even have suitable logo files or a wide enough color palette to create websites that effectively convert people into customers. If someone can’t clearly see your “sign-up” button when they land on your website because everything on your website is blue, it doesn’t matter how good your product or service is.

Can you explain why you advise startups to create a “minimum viable brand”? 

The temptation in the startup world is to use a freelancer through an online marketplace (or even worse — letting an overenthusiastic employee create a logo in PowerPoint). But this usually results in a surface-level logo design without any consideration for how it might develop over time or fit within a larger brand identity.

Other startups might work with an agency to create a brand identity, and this can lead to brand overkill — stationery kits, photography, lofty mission statements and endless meetings. None of which pre-seed startups need yet. This process wastes time and money better spent elsewhere and traps pivoting startups with an expensive brand that can’t evolve as they do.

We take branding processes used by world-class agencies and distill it down to the core parts of the brand you need right now. This leads to a minimum viable brand identity that’s built to grow and created with the expectation that it will change as your startup does. It’s inspired by lean methodology and the minimum viable product (MVP) — it’s built to challenge assumptions and catch the attention of customers without overinvesting.

What’s the process you follow to help startups develop their minimum viable brand?

Initially we help them come up with a name.

Naming is important so we generally invest time into this part to avoid changing it in the future if possible. We want to make sure it meets the basic principles of distinctiveness, brevity, appropriateness, easy spelling and pronunciation, likeability, extendibility and protectability (based on Marty Neumeier’s branding-in-business book Zag).

From there we design a logo. A good logomark (the “icon” part of the logo) is generally figurative and not literal. It should be scalable, simple and work in multiple environments including single color black or white. The logo is then complemented with brand color selections, fonts and simple imagery direction to create a basic but useful brand guide.

Most importantly, we believe your startup’s brand guidelines should be available publicly online, rather than in a PDF hidden in a folder on your Dropbox. Somewhere that you can direct your team members and partners to so you can ensure everyone can maintain brand consistency.

How does Ammo compare to having an in-house CMO?

Like a CMO, we’re strategic. But unlike a CMO, we have experience with hundreds of startups across dozens of industries — we can pull insights and lessons from unexpected places when we’re working with clients.

While we align closely with commercial goals like an in-house CMO, we also know the importance for startups to move quickly. That’s why everyone at Ammo rolls up their sleeves and gets things done for our clients.

We don’t have the mindset of taking months to develop an annual marketing strategy, we want to help our clients get in front of customers quickly, collect valuable data along the way and stay nimble to adapt when they need it.

How do you and your clients measure your impact?

At Ammo, we don’t measure time, we measure outcomes. At the start of every project we define what success looks like with the client. Every client is different, and we’re responsive to that. We check back in with ongoing clients in monthly meetings to see how we’re tracking toward the success metric we agreed on, adjusting as necessary.

All of this is measured through quantitative analytics, qualitative feedback from customers and gut instinct.

In the past we have described our role as making ourselves obsolete — that our clients would grow large enough to be able to hire their own in-house marketing team. Today we still retain many of these client relationships in different ways, by providing more strategic advice. Those long-term relationships are the greatest indication to us that we’ve had a valuable impact.

#australia, #brand-management, #growth-marketing, #lean-methodology, #marketing, #perth, #startups, #tc, #tc-experts, #verified-experts

The next healthcare revolution will have AI at its center

The global pandemic has heightened our understanding and sense of importance of our own health and the fragility of healthcare systems around the world. We’ve all come to realize how archaic many of our health processes are, and that, if we really want to, we can move at lightning speed. This is already leading to a massive acceleration in both the investment and application of artificial intelligence in the health and medical ecosystems.

Modern medicine in the 20th century benefited from unprec­edented scientific breakthroughs, resulting in improvements in every as­pect of healthcare. As a result, human life expectancy increased from 31 years in 1900 to 72 years in 2017. Today, I believe we are on the cusp of another healthcare revolution — one driven by artificial intelligence (AI). Advances in AI will usher in the era of modern medicine in truth.

Over the coming decades, we can expect medical diagnosis to evolve from an AI tool that provides analysis of options to an AI assistant that recommends treatments.

Digitization enables powerful AI

The healthcare sector is seeing massive digitization of everything from patient records and radiology data to wearable computing and multiomics. This will redefine healthcare as a data-driven industry, and when that happens, it will leverage the power of AI — its ability to continuously improve with more data.

When there is enough data, AI can do a much more accurate job of diagnosis and treatment than human doctors by absorbing and checking billions of cases and outcomes. AI can take into account everyone’s data to personalize treatment accordingly, or keep up with a massive number of new drugs, treatments and studies. Doing all of this well is beyond human capabilities.

AI-powered diagnosis

I anticipate diagnostic AI will surpass all but the best doctors in the next 20 years. Studies have shown that AI trained on sizable data can outperform physicians in several areas of medical diagnosis regarding brain tumors, eye disease, breast cancer, skin cancer and lung cancer. Further trials are needed, but as these technologies are deployed and more data is gathered, the AI stands to outclass doctors.

We will eventually see diagnostic AI for general practitioners, one disease at a time, to gradually cover all diagnoses. Over time, AI may become capable of acting as your general practitioner or family doctor.

#artificial-intelligence, #biotechnology, #cancer, #column, #drug-discovery, #ec-column, #ec-enterprise-health, #ec-robotics, #health, #healthcare, #medical-imaging, #pharmaceuticals, #precision-medicine, #robotics, #startups

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freshworks’ valuation could crest $10B in upcoming IPO

Earlier today, TechCrunch examined the new IPO price range for Toast. The U.S. software-and-fintech company moved its valuation materially higher in anticipation of pricing tomorrow after the bell and trading on Wednesday. It was not alone in doing so.

Freshworks is also targeting a higher IPO price range, it disclosed today in a fresh SEC filing. The customer service-focused software firm now expects to charge between $32 and $34 per share in its debut, up from the $28 to $32 per-share range that it initially disclosed.

Doing some back-of-the-envelope math, Freshworks’ IPO valuation could just pass the $10 billion mark, calculated on a fully diluted basis. Its simple IPO valuations, while rising, are lower than that figure.

Mathing that out, Freshworks expects to have 284,283,200 shares outstanding when public, inclusive of its underwriters’ option, but not inclusive of vested shares present in RSUs or options. At its new IPO price range, Freshworks would be worth between $9.1 billion and $9.7 billion.

#freshworks, #fundings-exits, #initial-public-offering, #ipo, #renaissance-capital, #startups, #tc, #tiger-global, #toast

Toast raises IPO price range, providing a Monday bump to fintech valuations

U.S. technology unicorn Toast filed a new S-1 document this morning detailing a higher IPO price range for its shares. The more expensive range indicates that Toast may be worth more in its debut than it initially expected, a bullish sign for technology companies more broadly.

Toast’s rising valuation may provide a boon to two different sub-sectors of technology: software and fintech. The restaurant-focused Toast sells software on a recurring basis (SaaS) to restaurants while also providing financial technology solutions. And while it is best known as a software company that dabbles in hardware, Boston-based Toast generates the bulk of its aggregate top line from financial services.

Software revenues are valuable thanks to their high margins and recurring structure. Toast’s financial-services revenues, by contrast, are largely transaction-based and sport lower gross margins. The company’s IPO price, then, could help the private markets more fairly price startups offering their own blend of software-and-fintech incomes.

The so-called “vertical SaaS” model, in which startups build software tailored to one particular industry or another, has become a somewhat two-part business effort; many startups today are pursuing both the sale of software along with fintech revenues. Toast’s IPO, then, could operate as a bellwether of sorts for a host of startups.

To see Toast raise its range, therefore, got our eyebrows up. Let’s talk money.

Toast’s new IPO range

From a previous range of $30 to $33, Toast now expects to price its IPO between $34 and $36.

Toast now expects its IPO price to clear its previous upper-end guidance at the low end of its new range. That’s bullish — and indicative of a thus-far receptive market for the company’s equity.

#fintech, #fundings-exits, #ipo, #saas, #startups, #tc, #toast

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bzaar screenshot. Image Credits: Bzaar

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Equity Monday: A global selloff to kick off Disrupt week

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here. I also tweet.

A few things this morning:

  • I shook up the show format a little, including how the script came together and how it was organized. Hit me up on Twitter if you have notes.
  • Disrupt is this week, so strap thyself in for the best tech event of the year, coming to your living room. The Equity team is hosting — between the group of us — a zillion panels and one of the two stages. Come hang out with us. It’s going to be on heck of a show.

It’s going to be a very busy few days. Pour some extra coffee, and get hype.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#amazon, #cars24, #china, #debt, #equity-monday, #equity-podcast, #evergrande, #fundings-exits, #india, #markets, #ovhcloud, #startups, #stocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credits: Lightricks

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

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

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

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

Image Credits: Lightricks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Announcing the Startup Battlefield companies pitching at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021

Today, TechCrunch is excited to announce the 20 startups pitching on stage in this year’s Startup Battlefield. Selected from the most competitive batch in TC history, selected founders from across the globe will pitch on the virtual stage at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021. Startups will be competing for $100,000 in equity-free prize money and the attention of international press and top investors from around the world.

With just over a 1.5% acceptance rate, the startups in this year’s cohort are phenomenal. From lithium battery chemical recycling to smart media, blockchain infrastructure to student-centric educational software, and Sub-Saharan African fin tech to cultured meat production, this batch of companies is sure to wow the investors and the audience. Startups featured range across all verticals with groundbreaking innovation in ag tech, women’s genetics and lifestyle based therapeutics, cyber security, lasers, fin tech and consumer hardware.

TC aims to pick companies from a range of industries. It’s apparent that this next wave of founders are very much focused on building unicorns and also building deeply impactful technologies.  A unique highlight of this batch are more companies in both the healthtech/medtech space and clean tech/sustainability space.

Each founder has trained with the Startup Battlefield team to develop their pitch, craft their stories, polish their launch strategy, strengthen their go to market and create amazing live product demos so you can see the innovation first hand. Each team will have six minutes to pitch followed by a six-minute Q&A with our esteemed panel of judges – all experts in VC and successful companies. On Thursday, a select few startups will pitch in the Startup Battlefield Final Round — with a new panel of expert judges.

Startup Battlefield starts on Tuesday, September 21st at 10:45 a.m. Pacific Time, with Startup Battlefield moderator and TechCrunch Managing Editor, Matt Burns. To watch the pitches, join us at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 here. Videos of the pitches will be made available after the event as well.

Let’s check out the companies:

Tuesday 

Session 1: 10:45 a.m. – 11:50 a.m. PT

Enlightapp, Luos, HerVest, Tatum, Happaning*

Session 2: 12:55 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. PT

Verdi, EyeGage, Animal Alternative Technologies, RoboDeck, Adventr

Wednesday

Session 3: 9:45 a.m. – 10:50 a.m. PT

Prenome, Tide Foundation, The Blue Box Biomedical Solutions, Koa, Cellino*

Session 3: 12:00 p.m. – 1:05 p.m. PT

StethoMe, FLITE Material Sciences, Knight by Keep Technologies, Carbix, Nth Cycle

Thursday

Finals begin at 10:35 a.m. PT. Companies will be announced online Thursday night.

*As a part of Startup Alley, companies are eligible for the Wild Card. These are the companies selected for Wild Card and can compete in Startup Battlefield. They are selected shortly before the event.

#battlefield, #early-stage, #founders, #startup-battlefield, #startups, #tc, #tc-disrupt-2021, #techcrunch-disrupt-2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9am.health diabetes kit

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

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

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

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

 

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

Xata is a database service for serverless apps

Meet Xata, a startup with a new take on managed databases. The company runs your database for you and turns it into an API so that you can query and update it from your serverless app. Xata has raised a $5 million funding round. Its product is not yet ready for prime time but the company is sharing details.

Xata seems particularly well suited for Jamstack websites. Jamstack has been a popular way of developing and deploying websites at scale. Popular Jamstack hosting platforms include Netlify, Vercel and Cloudflare Pages.

Applications are deployed on a global edge network and most of the logic is handled by API calls. The result is a website or an application that loads quickly and can handle a lot of traffic.

Deploying a Jamstack website is quite easy as it often integrates tightly with your Git repository. When you commit code changes, serverless platforms take care of deploying your application. Integrating with API-based developer tools is relatively effortless as well as you don’t manage the logic yourself.

For instance, deploying a website with static content and a Stripe checkout module doesn’t require a ton of effort — Stripe manages the payment servers for you. It gets a bit more complicated if you want to use a live database and interact with it. Traditional database software doesn’t rely on API calls across the internet to add a row, search through multiple rows and find data.

Xata is focusing on databases and want to make it easier to integrate a database with your serverless app. You don’t have to take care of the underlying infrastructure as Xata can scale the database for you. You don’t have to update software, move data to a new server, etc.

Your database is distributed across multiple data centers to improve response times and redundancy. It supports many data types including images. After that, interacting with the database works like any RESTful API out there.

The startup is also drawing some inspiration from popular no-code startups, such as Airtable. You can open your database in a web browser and interact with your data directly from there. For instance, you can filter the current view, sort data using a specific criteria and get the API query that you can use in your code.

If you store a lot of data in your database, you can search through your data using a free-text search feature. You can also leverage Xata for analytics by creating charts and visualizations.

The ability to interact with your data from a web browser is Xata’s competitive advantage. Many companies rely on Airtable as their first backend to prototype a new project. Xata could become a production-ready version of this Airtable-as-a-backend data management model.

The $5 million round was led by Index Ventures. Operator Collective, SV Angel, X-Factor and firstminute capital also participated. Some business angels, such as Shay Banon and Uri Boness from Elastic, Neha Narkhede from Confluent, Guillermo Rauch from Vercel, Elad Gil from Color Genomics and Christian Bach and Mathias Biilmann from Netlify also invested.

The startup was founded by Monica Sarbu, who used to be the Director of Engineering at Elastic. So she probably knows a thing or two about scaling databases.

Image Credits: Xata

#database, #developer, #fundings-exits, #serverless, #startups

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The word “maqsad” means purpose in Urdu.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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