Sprout.ai raises $11m Series A led by Octopus Ventures to apply AI to insurance claims

It was way back in 2018 that Omni:us appeared to disrupt the insurance market by applying AI to this most legacy of all industries. It has now gone on to raise $44.1 million. In a similar vein, Shift Technology in France has raised $100 million.

Now a UK startup aims to do something similar, but this time it will be coming out of the key market of the UK, where the insurance industry is enormous.

Sprout.ai is an insurtech startup that use AI to help instance companies to settle claims within 24 hours. It’s now raised £8m/$11m Series A round led by Octopus Ventures. The round was joined by existing investors, Amadeus Capital Partners, Playfair Capital and Techstars. It was Seed funded buy Amadeus in 2020.

Sprout.ai supplies global insurers, such as Zurich, with a product that applies NLP and OCR to insurance claims (which might involve such as handwritten doctors’ notes for instance) to enable them to be resolved faster, in not a dissimilar fashion to Omni:us and SHift. Sprout.ai says it now has deployments in Europe, South America and APAC.

Niels Thoné, CEO of Sprout.ai, said in a statement: “Sprout.ai’s mission is to revolutionize customer service within global claims automation. Our innovative and industry-leading AI claims engine is poised to solve the current market inefficiencies, allowing insurers to focus on customers in their moments of need.”

Nick Sando, early-stage fintech investor at Octopus Ventures, said: “We are often at our most vulnerable when we submit insurance claims, and it doesn’t help when we then have to wait another month for it to be processed. Sprout.ai empowers insurers to process claims in a fraction of the time, creating much better outcomes for customers when they need it most.”

As we can see, the market is hotting up for this kind of service, so it will be interesting see if these startups end up ‘land-locked’ to their language markets or not. Certainly, I can see M&A opportunities for whoever starts to lead the pack.

#amadeus-capital-partners, #artificial-intelligence, #ceo, #europe, #france, #insurance, #ocr, #octopus-ventures, #playfair-capital, #shift-technology, #south-america, #sprout, #tc, #techstars, #united-kingdom, #zurich

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UK drone startup sees.ai gets go ahead to trial beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) flights

The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has given the go ahead to local startup sees.ai, which is developing a beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) command & control solution to aid data capture for industrial use-cases, to trial a concept for routine BVLOS operations — the first such authorization for a U.K. company, the regulator said today.

The test is taking place under a sandbox program announced back in May 2019 — directing government funding and regulatory support to R&D in the drone space — initially through virtual testing, such as of avoid and detect systems.

Sees.ai, an early participant in the sandbox, has now secured authorization to trial a concept for routine BVLOS operations at three (physical) sites without needing to pre-authorise each flight.

The Techstars-backed startup is focused on drone operations in industrial settings — building tech to scale the use of drones for inspection and maintenance purposes in industries, such as the oil & gas sector, by enabling pilots to remote-control craft from a central location, rather than needing to be on site for each flight.

But it’s clear BVLOS capabilities will be essential for other uses of drone tech — such as delivery — hence the CAA calling the trial “a significant step forward for the drone industry”.

“By testing the concept in industrial environments for inspection, monitoring and maintenance purposes, sees.ai aims to prove the safety of its system within this context initially, before extending it to address increasingly challenging missions over time,” it added.

Under current U.K. rules, drone operators must keep their aircraft within line of sight and follow the country’s drone code — unless they have specific permissions to do otherwise.

One company that previously gained such permission was U.S. tech giant Amazon — which started testing BVLOS delivery drones in the UK back in 2016 — and continues to work on bringing a commercial drone delivery service to market, under its Prime Air brand.

Amazon’s effort has already been years in the making (it’s been running experiments since 2013) — and last year the FT, citing a Prime Air source, reported that it still remains “years” out from realizing the goal of drone deliveries at scale. So while (another) U.K. trial of BVLOS drone tech is being lauded as a significant development for the industry by the regulator, any Brits expecting drone deliveries in the wild anytime soon are likely to be disappointed.

The CAA authorization for the sees.ai trial will enable the BVLOS test flights to operate under 150ft — initially requiring an observer to remain in visual line of sight with the aircraft and be able to communicate with the remote pilot if necessary, per the regulator.

So, technically then, the trials will begin as extended-line-of-sight (EVLOS), which still entail limits vs true BVLOS — enabling drone flights to operate further than 500m from the remote pilot (by deploying flight observers) but not removing on-site observers entirely, as is the ultimate industry goal.

In a regulatory roadmap published last fall the CAA wrote that many steps are required to arrive at the sought-for situation of BVLOS being ‘business as usual’ in non-segregated airspace — so there still looks to be a long road ahead before commercial drones will be able to legally whiz around gathering data (or delivering stuff) far from any humans in the loop.

“The long-term aspiration of operators is for BVLOS operations to be a routine part of business across the UK. This vision requires a significant volume of evidence, experience and learning by everyone involved. There will inevitably be a need for innovators and the CAA to build, test, learn and repeat in small steps to work towards the vision,” the CAA roadmap notes.

Commenting on sees.ai’s trial authorization in a statement, CEO John McKenna dubbed it a “significant milestone”, adding: “We are accelerating towards a future where drones fly autonomously at scale — high up alongside manned aviation and low down inside our industrial sites, suburbs and cities. Securing this UK-first permission is a major step on this journey which will deliver big benefits to society across public health & safety, efficiency and environmental impact.”

 

#aerospace, #amazon, #artificial-intelligence, #bvlos, #civil-aviation-authority, #drones, #emerging-technologies, #europe, #prime-air, #regulatory-sandbox, #robotics, #techstars, #united-kingdom

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Saltbox raises $10.6M to help booming e-commerce stores store their goods

E-commerce is booming, but among the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs of online businesses are finding a place to store the items they are selling and dealing with the logistics of operating.

Tyler Scriven, Maxwell Bonnie and Paul D’Arrigo co-founded Saltbox in an effort to solve that problem.

The trio came up with a unique “co-warehousing” model that provides space for small businesses and e-commerce merchants to operate as well as store and ship goods, all under one roof. Beyond the physical offering, Saltbox offers integrated logistics services as well as amenities such as the rental of equipment and packing stations and access to items such as forklifts. There are no leases and tenants have the flexibility to scale up or down based on their needs.

“We’re in that sweet spot between co-working and raw warehouse space,” said CEO Scriven, a former Palantir executive and Techstars managing director.

Saltbox opened its first facility — a 27,000-square-foot location — in its home base of Atlanta in late 2019, filling it within two months. It recently opened its second facility, a 66,000-square-foot location, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that is currently about 40% occupied. The company plans to end 2021 with eight locations, in particular eyeing the Denver, Seattle and Los Angeles markets. Saltbox has locations slated to come online as large as 110,000 square feet, according to Scriven.

The startup was founded on the premise that the need for “co-warehousing and SMB-centric logistics enablement solutions” has become a major problem for many new businesses that rely on online retail platforms to sell their goods, noted Scriven. Many of those companies are limited to self-storage and mini-warehouse facilities for storing their inventory, which can be expensive and inconvenient. 

Scriven personally met with challenges when starting his own e-commerce business, True Glory Brands, a retailer of multicultural hair and beauty products.

“We became aware of the lack of physical workspace for SMBs engaged in commerce,” Scriven told TechCrunch. “If you are in the market looking for 10,000 square feet of industrial warehouse space, you are effectively pushed to the fringes of the real estate ecosystem and then the entrepreneurial ecosystem at large. This is costing companies in significant but untold ways.”

Now, Saltbox has completed a $10.6 million Series A round of financing led by Palo Alto-based Playground Global that included participation from XYZ Venture Capital and proptech-focused Wilshire Lane Partners in addition to existing backers Village Capital and MetaProp. The company plans to use its new capital primarily to expand into new markets.

The company’s customers are typically SMB e-commerce merchants “generating anywhere from $50,000 to $10 million a year in revenue,” according to Scriven.

He emphasizes that the company’s value prop is “quite different” from a traditional flex office/co-working space.

“Our members are reliant upon us to support critical workflows,” Scriven said. 

Besides e-commerce occupants, many service-based businesses are users of Saltbox’s offering, he said, such as those providing janitorial services or that need space for physical equipment. The company offers all-inclusive pricing models that include access to loading docks and a photography studio, for example, in addition to utilities and Wi-Fi.

Image Credits: Saltbox

Image Credits: Saltbox

The company secures its properties with a mix of buying and leasing by partnering with institutional real estate investors.

“These partners are acquiring assets and in most cases, are funding the entirety of capital improvements by entering into management or revenue share agreements to operate those properties,” Scriven said. He said the model is intentionally different from that of “notable flex space operators.”

“We have obviously followed those stories very closely and done our best to learn from their experiences,” he added. 

Investor Adam Demuyakor, co-founder and managing partner of Wilshire Lane Partners, said his firm was impressed with the company’s ability to “structure excellent real estate deals” to help them continue to expand nationally.

He also believes Saltbox is “extremely well-positioned to help power and enable the next generation of great direct to consumer brands.”

Playground Global General Partner Laurie Yoler said the startup provides a “purpose-built alternative” for small businesses that have been fulfilling orders out of garages and self-storage units.

Saltbox recently hired Zubin Canteenwalla  to serve as its chief operating offer. He joined Saltbox from Industrious, an operator co-working spaces, where he was SVP of Real Estate. Prior to Industrious, he was EVP of Operations at Common, a flexible residential living brand, where he led the property management and community engagement teams.

#atlanta, #business, #dallas, #denver, #e-commerce, #logistics, #los-angeles, #marketing, #model, #online-shopping, #palantir, #palo-alto, #paul, #playground-global, #proptech, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #saltbox, #seattle, #self-storage, #startups, #supply-chain-management, #tc, #techstars, #village-capital, #warehouse, #wilshire-lane-partners

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How to get into a startup accelerator

Should you try to get your company into an accelerator? How far along should your idea and your team be before applying? When it is time to apply, how do you make your application stand out from hundreds or thousands of others? How fancy do you need to get with the application video?

For answers, we spoke with Neal Sáles-Griffin, managing director of Techstars Chicago, and the founder of one of the earliest coding bootcamps with Code Academy (later known as The Starter League). He is an adjunct professor at Northwestern University and was a mayoral candidate in Chicago’s 2019 election. He’s got an incredible wealth of knowledge about all things startups — our chat was only about 40 minutes long, but he absolutely crammed it with insights.

Here are some highlights from our conversation at TC Early Stage — Extra Crunch members will find the full video and a transcript below.


Why (or why not to) join an accelerator

Throughout the talk, Neal shares plenty of reasons why you might want to join an accelerator. The connections! The shared knowledge! The support network! The funding is nice too, of course — but he’s quick to point out that it shouldn’t be your sole motivation.

It can’t just be about the money. If it’s just about fundraising and you don’t really want any of the other parts of the experience, you’re probably setting yourself up to not have a very good time. I would highly recommend reconsidering that and instead focusing more on talking to early-stage investors who might be interested in providing more hands-on and specific support that you would need.

That being said, doing an accelerator can be amazing, because all those things that you would naturally do as a startup in your local ecosystem or community, or wherever you’re trying to grow your business … all of that happens in a far more immersive, effective and accelerated way. The mentors that you get connected to, the investors that you get introduced to, the level of knowledge, the holistic educational experience that you gain from being a part of an accelerator can be a game changer for so many startups that are in those early days of trying to figure out and find their path.
(Time stamp: 2:30)


Be prepared and follow up

It’s important to think through the entire interview process — not just your answers to the questions that might pop up. Knowing a little bit about the person interviewing you and showing that you really know what you’re getting into can go a long way.

#early-stage-2021, #ec-how-to, #ec-techcrunch-early-stage, #event-recap, #events, #fundings-exits, #tc, #techstars, #techstars-chicago

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Atlanta’s early stage investment renaissance continues with Overline’s $27 million fund close

Michael Cohn became a celebrity in the Atlanta startup ecosystem when the company he co-founded was sold to Accenture in a deal valued somewhere between $350 million and $400 million nearly six years ago.

That same year, Sean O’Brien also made waves in the community when he helped shepherd the sale of the  collaboration software vendor, PGi, to a private equity firm for $1.5 billion.

The two men are now looking to become fixtures in the city’s burgeoning new tech community with the close of their seed-stage venture capital firm’s first fund, a $27.4 million investment vehicle.

Overline’s first fund has already made commitments to companies that are expanding the parameters of what’s investible in the Southeast broadly and Atlanta’s startup scene locally.

These are companies like Grubbly Farms, which sells insect-based chicken feed for backyard farmers, or Kayhan Space, which is aiming to be the air traffic control service for the space industry. Others, like Padsplit, an Atlanta-based flexible housing marketplace, are tackling America’s low income housing crisis. 

“Our business model is very different from that of a traditional software startup, and the Overline team’s unique strengths and operator mindset have been invaluable in helping us grow the company,” said Sean Warner, CEO and co-founder of Grubbly Farms. 

That’s on top of investments into companies building on Atlanta’s natural strengths as a financial services, payments and business software powerhouse.

For all of the activity in Atlanta these days, the city and the broader southeastern region is still massively underfunded, according to O’brien and Cohn. The region only received less than 10 percent of all the institutional venture investments that were committed in 2020. Indeed, only seven percent of Atlanta founders raise money locally when they’re first starting out, an Overline survey suggested.

“The data reflects what we have seen throughout our careers building, growing, and investing in startups. There is no shortage of phenomenal founders and businesses coming out of Atlanta and the Southeast, but they often struggle to find institutional capital at their earliest stages,” said O’Brien, in a statement. “Overline will lead as the first institutional check for these companies and be a true partner to the Founders throughout their lifecycle—supporting them on the strategic and operational business initiatives and decisions that are critical to a company’s success.” 

The limited partners in Overline’s first fund also reflects the firm’s emphasis on regional roots. The privately held email marketing behemoth Mailchimp anchored the fund, which also included partners like Cox Enterprises, Social Leverage,

Overline is supported by a bench of impressive partners that reflects the firm’s roots in the Southeast. Anchored by marketing platform, Mailchimp, additional partners include Cox Enterprises, Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Social Leverage, Wilmington, Del.-based Hallett Capital, and Atlanta Tech Village founder David Cummings, along with Techstars co-founder David Cohen. 

“At Mailchimp, we love our hometown of Atlanta, and are proud of the robust startup ecosystem that’s growing in our city. The Overline founding team’s vision of deploying smart, local capital into startups in Atlanta and the Southeast aligns with our goals of promoting and advancing local innovation,” said Rick Lynch, CFO, Mailchimp, in a statement.

The firm expects to make investments of between $250,000 to $1.5 million into seed stage companies and has already backed 11 companies including, Relay Payments, a logistics fintech company that has raised over $40 million from top-tier investors. 

“When we set out to build Atlanta Tech Village almost a decade ago, one of our primary goals was to help Atlanta develop into a top 10 startup city, where all entrepreneurs would thrive. We’re making tremendous strides as a community, as evidenced by the number of newly minted unicorns,” said serial entrepreneur and Atlanta Tech Village founder David Cummings. “I believe in Overline’s thesis that value-add institutional early-stage capital is critical to the ecosystem’s continued development. Since the early days, Michael and Sean have been an active presence in our community in a way that goes far beyond being a source of capital—as mentors, advisors, and champions of Atlanta founders. I am proud to be one of their first investors.”

#accenture, #advisors, #america, #arizona, #atlanta, #cfo, #co-founder, #collaboration-software, #corporate-finance, #cox-enterprises, #david-cohen, #delaware, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #financial-services, #mailchimp, #money, #private-equity, #serial-entrepreneur, #social-leverage, #startup-company, #tc, #techstars, #venture-capital

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Pixxel closes $7.3M seed round and unveils commercial hyperspectral imaging product

LA and Bangalore-based space startup Pixxel has closed a $7.3 million seed round, including newly committed capital from Techstars, Omnivore VC and more. The company has also announced a new product focus: Hyperspectral imaging. It aims to provide that imaging at the highest resolution commercially available, via a small satellite constellation that will provide 24-hour, global coverage once it’s fully operational.

Pixxel’s funding today is an extension of the $5 million it announced it had raised back in August of last year. At the time, the startup had only revealed that it was focusing on Earth imaging,, and it’s unveiling its specific pursuit of hyperspectral imaging for the first time today. Hyperspectral imaging uses far more light frequencies than the much more commonly-used multispectral imaging used in satellite observation today, allowing for unprecedented insight and detection of previously invisible issues, including migration of pest insect populations in agriculture, or observing gas leaks and other ecological threats.

Standard multispectral imaging (left) vs. hyperspectral imaging (right) Credit: EPFL

“We started with analyzing existing satellite images, and what we could do with this immediately,” explained Pixxel co-founder and CEO Awais Ahmed in an interview. “We realized that in most cases, it was not able to even see certain problems or issues that we wanted to solve – for example, we wanted to be able to look at air pollution and water pollution levels. But to be able to do that there were no commercial satellites that would enable us to do that, or even open source satellite data at the resolution that would enable us to do that.”

The potential of hyperspectral imaging on Earth, across a range of sectors, is huge, according to Ahmed, but Pixxel’s long-term vision is all about empowering a future commercial space sector to make the most of in-space resources.

“We started looking at space as a sector for us to be able to work in, and we realized that what we wanted to do was to be able to enable people to take resources from space to use in space,” Ahmed said. That included asteroid mining, for example, and when we investigated that, we found hyperspectral imaging was the imaging tech that would enable us to map these asteroids as to whether they contain these metal or these minerals. So that knowledge sort of transferred to this more short-term problem that we were looking at solving.”

Part of the reason that Pixxel’s founders couldn’t find existing available hyperspectral imaging at the resolutions they needed was that as a technology, it has previously been restricted to internal governmental use through regulation. The U.S. recently opened up the ability for commercial entities to pursue very high-resolution hyperspectral imaging for use on the private market, effectively because they realized that these technical capabilities were becoming available in other international markets anyway. Ahmed told me that the main blocker was still technical, however.

Pixxel's Hyperspectral imaging satellite at its production facility in Bangalore

Image Credits: Pixxel

“If we were to build a camera like this even two or three years ago, it would not have been possible because of the miniaturized sensors, the optics, etc.,” he said. “The advances that have happened only happened very recently, so it’s also the fact that this the right time to take it from the scientific domain to the commercial domain.”

Pixxel now aims to have its first hyperspectral imaging satellite launched and operating on orbit within the next few months, and it will then continue to launch additional satellites after that once it’s able to test and evaluate the performance of its first spacecraft in an actual operating environment.


Early Stage is the premier “how-to” event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear firsthand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, product-market fit, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in — there’s ample time included for audience questions and discussion. Use code “TCARTICLE at checkout to get 20% off tickets right here.

#aerospace, #asteroid-mining, #awais-ahmed, #bangalore, #imaging, #louisiana, #metal, #optics, #recent-funding, #satellite-constellation, #space, #spectroscopy, #startups, #tc, #techstars, #united-states

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Nigeria’s Plentywaka gets backing from Techstars, plans expansion to Canada

Plentywaka, a Nigerian bus-booking platform, today announced that it has been accepted into the Techstars Toronto accelerator program.

It will join nine other startups in the class of 2021 and secure funding from the accelerator as it sets its sights on global expansion.

The Lagos-based company, founded by Onyeka Akumah, Johnny Ena, John Shaibu and Afolabi Oluseyi, operates an ‘Uber-for-buses’ model connecting commuters with buses via an app.

Plentywaka launched in September 2019, and in the first two months, moved an average of six people daily, according to CEO Akumah. By its sixth month, this number increased to about 1,500 daily, and the company completed more than 100,000 rides within that timeframe.

Then in March 2020, the pandemic-induced lockdown hit businesses across Lagos and other states within Nigeria. Due to the nature of its business, Plentywaka had to make a slight pivot and began transporting essential services across Lagos, especially food items. It also opened a logistics service.

As the lockdown eased across the city and commuting resumed, the company moved 60% capacity while the operational cost remained the same. Although growth was steady and picking up, the company started seeking external investment. It received $300,000 pre-seed from its parent company, EMFATO and other early-stage investors like Microtraction and Niche Capital in August.

Backed with the new funding, Plentywaka has since doubled down on its core offering — transporting people via buses. The logistics arm that it launched, as well as a car service, have since been shuttered.

Akumah says the focus on a primary offering has paid a dividend. The company has expanded its intrastate services into two other cities in Nigeria including the country’s capital city, Abuja and has moved about 300,000 people. Following this announcement though, there are immediate plans to launch an interstate service across different cities in Nigeria.

This service will see Plentywaka partner with some major bus travel companies, which collectively have more than 2000 buses and ply over 100 routes in the country. Plentywaka acts as an aggregator, and commuters can see options of various transport companies, compare fares, and book on its platform.

“Plentywaka is getting to a point where we’re now becoming more like an aggregator as we onboard transportation companies on our platform. Interstate travel in Nigeria is data insufficient, and we want to be the first company to solve this.” Ena, co-founder and president of Plentywaka, said to TechCrunch. 

In addition to this and the new capital from Techstars, Plentywaka is looking to scale its platform across Africa and North America. Akumah says this global expansion plan will start with a city in Canada, most likely Toronto, on or before Q4 2021.

Sunil Sharma, the managing director of Techstars Toronto, confirmed this to TechCrunch. According to Sharma, Techstars is backing the Nigerian mobility startup because it’s solving a massive problem in Nigeria that can be likened to urban transportation challenges in other populated cities worldwide.

“We know that Western cities have legacy transportation systems. However, there are many transportation challenges, even in a city like Toronto,” he said. “And we think that Plentywaka’s technology and approach in improving the lives of citizens and their daily commute needs can be brought over to cities in the West just as they are in Africa.”

Plentywaka plans to launch its intracity service first after engaging the country’s necessary stakeholders before introducing the intercity model. Sharma thinks that most cities in Canada aren’t well serviced by buses, leading to a broken intercity transit infrastructure. Plentywaka’s presence will bring the much-needed option the city deserves, he says.

“Cities and towns here should have bus connectivity, but they quite simply don’t have it, and my view is that the arrival of Plentywaka will be an immediate option to the status quo. It will also resonate with people as a way to supplement existing transportation options,” he said.

Techstars’ relationship with Akumah also proved crucial in Plentywaka’s acceptance into the accelerator. A second-time Techstars-backed founder, Akumah co-founded Farmcrowdy, a Nigerian digital agriculture platform in 2016. Having gone through the accelerator’s Atlanta program four years ago with the agritech startup, Akumah is doing the same with Plentywaka. He doubles as CEO at both companies

The serial founder said the relationship with Techstars is one reason the company is expanding to Canada instead of neighbouring African countries.

“If the opportunity we have in Toronto right now to expand was similar to what we had in Ghana or South Africa, of course we’ll be having those conversations already. But when we have the support system from Techstars, Sunil, and regulators in Toronto without even putting feet on the ground, I mean that makes it exciting for us to expand to Canada,” the CEO remarked.

Nigerian or African startups, in general, rarely make their way into Canada. Plentywaka is on the verge of doing so, and it will be looking to close a seed round from investors to carry out these expansion plans and further improve its technology.

#africa, #atlanta, #canada, #funding, #lagos, #nigeria, #south-africa, #startups, #tc, #techstars, #techstars-toronto, #toronto, #transportation

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Techstars Music announces its 2021 class and a partnership with media company Quality Control

This morning Techstars Music is announcing 11 new companies that have joined its ranks, along with a partnership with Atlanta media house Quality Control.

While it’s easy to mentally bunch everything Techstars does together under the singular “Techstars” name, it’s actually made up of 40+ interconnected accelerator programs each with its own focus and portfolio. The majority of these are focused on a specific region — programs like Techstars Boulder, Boston, or LA. Others focus on a specific vertical or industry — like Sports, Space, or, in this case, Music.

So what all does that “Music” focus cover? It’s not just music creation tools, or apps for artists. As Techstars Music Managing Director Bob Moczydlowsky put it in a Q&A last year, “we don’t invest in music companies — we invest in companies solving problems for music. “.

Their past portfolio includes Endel, which generates “personalized soundscapes” meant to help you focus or fall asleep faster, and Blink Identity, a company looking to replace the paper/digital concert ticket with facial recognition machines at the venue’s entrance.

The companies in the 2021 class, in alphabetical order:

555 Comic: A company that develops “virtual characters” and uses them to tell stories through social media (like the tweet above). Imagine one artist having multiple “personas”, with each genre they dabble in represented by a different character, each with an evolving backstory. (Fun trivia: the number five said aloud in Japanese sounds like “Go”; the Japanese company’s name is a play on “Go Go Go!”)

BlackOakTV: A subscription, on-demand video service focusing on content made by black creators. Currently costs $4.99 a month with apps available on most major platforms.

Creative Futures Collective: A networking/mentoring program aiming to “unearth the next generation of creative industry leaders from disenfranchised backgrounds” and connect them with jobs and paid internships.

Fave: A social platform meant to help connect an artist’s “superfans” with each other and allow them to compete to earn rewards from the artist.

HappsNow: a fully white-labeled ticketing platform meant to give artists/venues more control of the experience.

Holotch: Capture volumetric 3D video with off-the-shelf technology and stream it live. Imagine an artist capturing a performance live, and being able to watch them perform in your living room through augmented reality “holograms”.

Music Tech Works: A super simplified catalog and workflow for figuring out who owns the rights to a song and acquiring a license to use it.

Rares: A platform for investing in shares of particularly notable sneakers — think gameworn shoes, the hardest to find, or those that were never mass produced.

Remetrik: A software platform that aims to bring all of the (often labyrinthian) accounting involved with music royalties into one place in a simple and transparent way.

Volta Audio: A platform for artists to build immersive, evolving VR experiences

Westcott Multimedia: An automated advertising platform that looks for events related a music catalog (like, say, an artist’s birthday, or a song being played in the background of a viral video) and builds marketing campaigns around them.

Along with this latest class, Techstars Music is also announcing that it’s partnering with Quality Control, the media house behind Quality Control Music — best known as the label behind Migos, Lil Yachty, and Lil Baby. Quality Control joins Techstars Music as a “member” company (sort of like their equivalent to an LP, offering investment, helping to vet companies and mentoring them once they’re in); existing members include Amazon Music, AVEX, Bill Silva Entertainment, Concord, Peloton, Entertainment One, Right Hand Music Group, Royalty Exchange, Sony, and Warner Music Group.

Moczydlowsky tells me that Techstars Music alumni companies have raised over $105m since the first class in 2017, and that the group above has already raised over $3M ahead of its Demo Day in May.

#tc, #techstars, #techstars-music

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This pan-African freelance platform is the first Zimbabwean startup backed by Techstars

On the 25th of January, Techstars Seattle announced its 12th class featuring 10 startups from different parts of the world. The accelerator, which has accepted only a handful of African startups, included one from Zimbabwe in this class.

AfriBlocks is a global pan-African marketplace of vetted African freelance professionals. The startup was founded by Tongayi Choto and Roger Roman in July 2020 and has offices in Harare and Los Angeles,.

The company is trying to address the high unemployment rate that plagues many African countries by making it easier for people to find work. Quite a number of international and local freelance websites exist to meet these needs. Still, according to CEO, Choto, most of them offer too many options with no adequate vetting process.

“It can be very hard to find African freelancers. If a customer is lucky enough to get past those hurdles and find a freelancer to work with, they often don’t have the proper collaboration tools to complete the project in a precise and timely manner,” he told TechCrunch.

In a global freelance market worth more than $800 billion, AfriBlocks says it is doing this different by equipping African freelancers with intuitive collaboration tools and a secure payment system that makes it easy to get remote contract projects completed

When a job is posted on its platform, the company claims that they save the customer the trouble of perusing thousands of freelancers profiles and portfolios. Instead, they use automation tools to match three freelancers who fit the user’s qualifications.

Also, AfriBlocks assigns a project manager to the selected freelancer who manages the project through completion. Once the job is complete, AfriBlocks collect a transaction fee, and the payment is released from escrow. This ensures that expectations are clear and deadlines are met for freelancers and customers

In addition, Choto says the company offers community and development resources that help them upskill and remain competitive in the global marketplace. This has been done in partnership with edtech company Coursera and African non-profit Ingressive for Good. It is also in talks with online learning platform, Datacamp, to do the same for data scientists.

Roger Roman (co-founder)

As peculiar to most African startups, funding has been hard to come by for the team. Bootstrapping seemed like the only course of action to take, and it seems to have taken them far. In less than a year, the company has onboarded over 2,000 freelancers and more than 400 buyers. It has also completed up to 250 jobs generating over $60,000 in revenue. This progress has attracted the likes of Techstars and Google to provide them with funding and network.

“We’ve encountered the problems that many Black founders face, such as scarce fundraising sources. However, organizations like Techstars Seattle, Transparent Collective, and Google for Startups have helped us by providing mentorship, networking opportunities, and investor demo days showcases,” Roman said.

AfriBlocks joins African startups like Farmcrowdy, OnePipe, Risevest, Eversend, OjaExpress, who have participated in different Techstars accelerators worldwide.

Before AfriBlocks, Choto, who grew up in Zimbabwe, served as a product manager at BillMari, a pan-African remittance service leveraging bitcoin technology. For Roger, whose upbringing was on the westside of Chicago, he doubles as an active angel investor and a VC scout.

It is predicted that freelancers will account for as much as 80% of the entire workforce worldwide by 2030. Freelance work has become a viable source of employment and has shifted from being a vocation people engage in to supplement their income to being a full-time source of jobs for Africans.

The long term goal for AfriBlocks is to build the tech infrastructure for the future of work in Africa. According to the company, participating in Techstars is the right path to that destination.

“In anticipation of the impending global human talent shortage that could result in 85 million jobs being unfilled and the loss of $85 trillion annually, our long-term goal is to make Africa the global hub for technical and creative freelancers by providing the rails for companies to work in Africa and with remote African talent,” Choto said. 

#africa, #freelancer, #startups, #talent, #tc, #techstars, #zimbabwe

0

Is EV charging the next gig for the gig economy? SparkCharge thinks so

Last week the mobile charging battery company SparkCharge announced a partnership agreement with AllState that expands the company’s reach into vehicle services, driving the company further down the road toward its goal of making electric vehicle charging the next gig economy job.

The company, which has developed, designed and is commercializing a mobile vehicle charger is also in the process of closing a $5 million round led by Shark Tank investor Mark Cuban and others as it brings its new mobile charging device, called the Roadie, to market.

SparkCharge’s 120 kilowatt fast charger can be delivered on-demand through a network of partners that now includes AllState and the Durham, N.C. vehicle services startup, Spiffy. Customers can choose to top up with between 50 miles and 100 miles of charge using the Roadie, which is the lynchpin in a broader charging network that SparkCharge’s founder, Joshua Aviv, envisions.

“You can say I want a charge at this point in time at this location and this much range,” Aviv said. “You pay and have the charge delivered all on one app.”

So far, the agreement between AllState and SparkCharge covers four cities: Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego, Calif., and the insurance and roadside assistance provider has ordered roughly twenty portable chargers.

Working through companies like Spiffy and AllState is one way to get to market, but SparkCharge’s chief executive thinks that independent workers could start up their own businesses offering on-demand charging to customers.

On-demand charges cost roughly 50 cents per mile and a customer can get a significant enough charge for as little as $10, according to Aviv.

“We’re basically creating a whole new [charging] network,” said Aviv. “This isn’t a network meant to be a stopgap. It’s a network that’s always on, always available and better and faster than [traditional chargers]… we don’t need permits, we don’t need construction. With our unit, you take it out fo the box you plug it into the car you push a button and begin charging. With us, every parking spot, every location — that’s now a charging station. That’s a much better network than the legacy.”

Folks who wanted to offer the charging services would pay roughly $450 per month for the equipment and that would give them the battery and the equipment they would need to start their own on-demand EV charging business.

“It’s a business designed to allow people to service EV owners,” said Aviv. 

The Somerville, Mass.-based company was born from Aviv’s own fascination and frustration with the current state of electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

As the Wall Street Journal noted, the lack of charging infrastructure is one of the major obstacles that electric vehicles have to overcome for them to achieve mass adoption.

In a survey of 3,500 electric vehicle drivers, cited by the Journal, which was conducted in September and October of last year by the advocacy group Plug In America, over half of respondents reported having problems with public charging. Those problems are worse for drivers who don’t own Teslas.

Whatever else may be true about the EV that Elon built (along with thousands of workers and a slew of additional innovators and company founders), Tesla’s emphasis on having mostly adequate charging infrastructure to support its customers has paid huge dividends. And other carmakers, retailers, and standalone charging service providers are only beginning to catch up.

Companies ranging from oil majors like Shell to automakers like Volkswagen, who spent $2 billion to build out an electric vehicle charging network as part of the settlement from its diesel emissions chicanery, have networks built out or in the pipeline.

For Aviv, who has owned an electric vehicle since 2013 when he bought a Chevrolet Volt, the problem was clear. He began working on the company in 2014 while still a student at Syracuse University. A professor and advisor at the university had previously served on the board of the Environmental Protection Agency and was a huge proponent of electric vehicles.

After college Aviv continued to work on the business developing a portable charging station and then creating a platform for distribution and sales and a network of service providers on top of it. That’s how SparkCharge was built.

In the early days, the company received assistance from groups like the Los Angeles Clean Technology Incubator and investors like Techstars Boston, Techstars, Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest fund and his Revolution investment firm, PEAK6 Investments, and the Buffalo, NY-based accelerator 46North, along with investors like Cuban.

I saw that the current [charging] infrastructure that we have has a lot of flaws,” Aviv said. They include the downtime between charging infrastructure upkeep, the time it takes to grow the charging network and the lack of maintenance and support for chargers. 

“There’s a huge push to move these chargers,” he said.”You don’t want these EV drivers to drive around a city with no guarantee of infrastructure. It’s an interesting tug of war that’s going on that we’re going to see unfold and consumers might be more persuaded to drive an EV [with SparkCharge] because not only can you deliver range but you can request it on demand.”

#allstate, #chevrolet-volt, #electric-vehicles, #shell, #tc, #techstars, #techstars-boston, #tesla

0

Techstars’ Neal Sáles-Griffin will join us at TechCrunch Early Stage 2021 to talk accelerators

Should you try to get your startup into an accelerator program? How do you make the right impression on the application? Where does your team need to be before you apply — and once you’re in, how do you make the most of your time in the program?

Join us at the TechCrunch Early Stage event in April, where Neal Sáles-Griffin, managing director of Techstars Chicago, will help us figure it all out.

Neal has seen this industry from just about every angle — as a teacher, advisor, investor and repeat co-founder. In 2011 he co-founded what is often referred to as the “first coding bootcamp,” with The Starter League, acquired by New York’s Fullstack Academy in 2016. In addition to leading the way at Techstars Chicago, he is also a venture partner at MATH Venture Partners, an early/middle-stage VC fund.

TC Early Stage — happening on April 1st and 2nd — is an event that we’ve tailored to be absolutely packed with information for early-stage founders, with key insights from the investors, founders and executives who’ve been through it all before. Day one will cover everything from fundraising, to honing your pitch deck, to finding product market fit; day two transitions into what we’ve dubbed the TC Early Stage Pitch-Off, where 10 companies will get a shot to pitch an incredible line-up of VC judges.

Oh, and it’s all fully virtual, so you can tune in straight from the comfort of your couch. You can find more details here, or get your tickets directly below.

#events, #neal-sales-griffin, #startups, #tc, #techcrunch-early-stage-2021, #techstars

0

MealMe raises $900,000 for its food search engine

This morning MealMe.ai, a food search engine, announced that it has closed a $900,000 pre-seed round. Palm Drive Capital led the round, with participation from Slow Ventures and CP Ventures.

TechCrunch first became familiar with MealMe when it presented as part of the Techstars Atlanta demo day last October, mentioning it in a roundup of favorite startups from a group of the accelerator’s startup cohorts.

The company’s product allows users to search for food, or a restaurant. It then displays price points from various food-delivery apps for what the user wants to eat and have delivered. And, notably, MealMe allows for in-app checkout, regardless of the selected provider.

The service could boost pricing and delivery-speed transparency amongst the different apps that help folks eat, like DoorDash and Uber Eats. But Mealme didn’t start out looking to build a search engine. Instead it took a few changes in direction to get there.

From social network to search engine

MealMe is an example of a startup whose first idea proved only directionally correct. The company began life as a food-focused social network, co-founder Matthew Bouchner told TechCrunch. That iteration of the service allowed users to view posted food pictures, and then find ordering options for what they saw.

While still operating as a social network, MealMe applied to both Y Combinator and Techstars, but wasn’t accepted at either.

The startup discovered that some of its users were posting food pics simply to get the service to tell them which delivery services would be able to bring them what they wanted. From that learning the company focused on building a food search engine, allowing users to search for restaurants, and then vet various delivery options and prices. That iteration of the product got the company into Techstars Atlanta, eventually leading to the demo day that TechCrunch reviewed.

During its time in Techstars, the company adjusted its model to not merely link to DoorDash and others, but to handle checkout inside of its own application. This captures more gross merchandize value (GMV) inside of MealMe, Bouchner explained in an interview. The capability was rolled out in September of 2020.

Since then the company has seen rapid growth, which it measures at around 20% week-on-week. During TechCrunch’s interview with MealMe, the company said that it had reached a GMV run rate of more than $500,000, and was scaling toward the $1 million mark. In the intervening weeks the company passed the $1 million GMV run-rate threshold.

MealMe was slightly coy on its business model, but it appears to make margin between what it charges users for orders and the total revenue it passes along to food delivery apps.

TechCrunch was curious about platform risk at MealMe; could the company get away with offering price comparison and ordering across multiple third-party delivery services without raising the ire of the companies behind those apps? At the time of our interview, Bouchner said that his company had not seen pushback from the services it sends users to. His company’s goal is to grow quickly, become a useful revenue source for the DoorDashes of the world, and then reach out for some of formal agreement, he explained.

“We continue to be a powerful revenue generator and drive thousands of orders to food delivery services per week,” the co-founder said in a written statement. Certainly MealMe found investors more excited by its growth than concerned about Uber Eats or other apps cutting the startup off from their service.

What first caught my eye about MealMe was the realization of how much I would have used it in my early 20s. Perhaps the company can find enough users like my younger self to help it scale to sufficient size that it can go to the major food ordering companies and demand a cut, not merely avoid being cut off.

#fundings-exits, #mealme-ai, #palm-drive-capital, #recent-funding, #slow-ventures, #startups, #techstars

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LA-based SoLo Funds raises $10 million to offer an alternative to predatory payday lenders

SoLo Funds wants to replace payday lenders with a community-based, market-driven model for individual lending and now has $10 million to expand its business in the U.S.

Payday lenders offer high interest, short-term loans to borrowers who are at their most vulnerable and the terms of their loans often trap borrowers in a cycle of debt from which there’s no escape.

Around 80% of Americans don’t have adequate savings to cover unforeseen expenses, and it’s that statistic that has made payday lending a lucrative business in the U.S.

Over the past decade websites like GoFundMe and others have cropped up to offer a space where people can donate money to individuals or causes that in some cases serve to supplement the incomes of people most in need. SoLo Funds operates as an alternative.

It’s a marketplace where borrowers can set the terms of their loan repayment and lenders can earn extra income while supporting folks who need the help.

The company is financing tens of thousands of loans per month, according to chief executive officer and co-founder, Travis Holoway and loan volumes are growing at about 40% monthly, he said.

While Holoway would not disclose the book value of the loans transacted on the platform, he did say that the company’s default and delinquency rates were lower than that of its competitors. “Our default rate is about three times better than the industry average — which is the payday lending industry that we’re looking to disrupt,” Holoway said.

The company also offers a sort of default insurance product that lenders can purchase to backstop any losses they experience, Holoway said. That service, rolled out in April of last year, helped account for some of the explosive 2,000% growth that the company saw over the course of 2020.

SoLo has seen the most activity in Texas, Illinois, California, and New York, states with large populations and cities with the highest cost of living.

“Our borrowers are school teachers… are social workers. When you live in those larger cities with higher costs of living they can’t afford the financial shocks that they could if they lived in Dayton, Ohio,” said Holoway.

While the company’s borrowers represent one cross section of America, the lenders tend to also not be hailing from the demographic that a casual observer might expect, Holoway said.

About half of loans on the platform are made by folks that Holoway called power lenders, while the rest are coming from less frequent users.

“A majority of [power lenders] are college educated and the majority of them tend to be white men. It’s individuals who you might not think are going to be power lenders… They may make $100,000 to $125,000 per year,” said Holoway. “They’re looking to diversify their capital and deploy it to make returns. And they’re able to help individuals out who otherwise would not be able to pay for groceries, paying rent or taking care of their transportation expenses.”

Given the company’s growth, it’s no wonder investors like ACME Capital, with support from Impact America Fund, Techstars, Endeavor Catalyst, CEAS Investments and more joined the new round. previous investors like West Ventures, Taavet Hinrikus of Transferwise, Jewel Burks Solomon of Google Startups, Zachary Bookman of OpenGov, Richelieu Dennis of Essence Ventures, and tech innovation accelerators also participated in financing the company.

“For too long, there have been limited options for individuals in need of immediate funds due to unforeseen circumstances, like a shift in hourly schedules, unplanned car troubles or other cases,” said SoLo, co-founder and CEO Travis Holoway. “SoLo was created to offer safe, affordable options for borrowers that need cash quickly, while also creating a marketplace for lenders to grow capital and help community members in need. We believe that at the end of the day, people are innately honest and tend towards generosity, and our platform’s growth is further proof that people want to do good in the world and make an impact.”

#america, #california, #credit, #economy, #finance, #google, #illinois, #impact-america-fund, #jewel-burks-solomon, #loans, #money, #new-york, #ohio, #richelieu-dennis, #solo, #taavet-hinrikus, #tc, #techstars, #texas, #united-states

0

Barclays adds itemised digital receipts to its banking app in partnership with fintech Flux

Flux, the London fintech that has built a technology platform for banks and merchants to power itemised digital receipts and more, has seen its lengthy pilot with Barclays bear fruit.

Announced formally today — but actually quietly rolled out a few months ago — Flux-powered digital receipts are now available as an opt-in for all U.K. Barclays debit card holders within the bank’s main mobile banking app. Previously, the functionality was only available within the Barclays Launchpad app, which is available for customers that want to try out experimental or upcoming features.

Early last year, Barclays announced that it has invested in Flux, taking a minority stake, so the strengthening of its partnership isn’t too much of a surprise. Flux also went through the Techstars-powered Barclays accelerator in its very early days. However, not all corporate accelerators lead to great outcomes as corporates are notoriously risk-adverse. This one certainly wasn’t rushed but it’s meaningful regardless, giving Flux a major shot in the arm in reaching mainstream banking customers beyond the existing challenger bank partnerships it has forged.

“Customers who pay using their Barclays debit card for future in store purchases at H&M, shoe retailer schuh and food outlets, which include Just Eat and Papa Johns, will see their receipts sent automatically to their app after making a purchase. They can then easily and securely view their receipts whenever they need by tapping on the transaction,” says Barclays. Crucially, although opt-in, Barclays customers will receive a prompt to set up digital receipts when they purchase items from retailers currently on-boarded to Flux.

Founded in 2016 by former early employees at Revolut, Flux bridges the gap between the itemised receipt data captured by a merchant’s point-of-sale (POS) system and what little information typically shows up on your bank statement or mobile banking app. Off the back of this, it can also power loyalty schemes and card-linked offers, as well as give merchants much deeper POS analytics via aggregated and anonymised data on consumer behaviour, such as which products are selling best in unique baskets.

On the banking side, along with Barclays, Flux has partnered with challenger banks Starling and Monzo. Once banking customers link their account to the service, Flux delivers digital receipts (and where available rewards and loyalty) for transactions at Flux retailer partners.

Longer-term, Flux wants to become a standard for the interchange of item level digital receipt data — and the proprietary platform that powers that standard — but has always faced a chicken and egg problem: It needs bank integrations to sign up merchants and it needs merchant integrations to sign up banks. Barclays going live properly is another significant turn in the upstart’s flywheel.

#bank, #banking, #barclays, #europe, #finance, #financial-services, #flux, #fundings-exits, #london, #mobile-banking, #mobile-payments, #startups, #tc, #techstars

0

Techstars Los Angeles names Matt Kozlov as its new managing director

Techstars Los Angeles, the local Los Angeles-focused branch of the global accelerator network, has named Matt Kozlov as its new managing director.

Kozlov, a longtime Techstars network fixture, has previously served as the head of the organization’s healthcare accelerator through a partnership with Cedars-Sinai and as the head of the Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator, which was focused on space and aerospace startups.

Now, Kozlov turns his attention to the Los Angeles ecosystem broadly.

“I’m humbled to have the opportunity each day to support incredible founders who are solving some of humanity’s greatest challenges,” said Kozlov, in a statement. “As I begin this new role, my goal is to continue to leverage my experience to help generate opportunities for future Techstars LA companies to make meaningful, long-term impact.”

Kozlov’s appointment comes as the Los Angeles tech ecosystem is having something of a moment. As the diaspora out of Silicon Valley continues, the Southern California tech world has proven to be a tempting landing pad during the COVID-19 pandemic. And remote work means that Los Angeles could be a fixture for more investors looking to escape the Bay.

Beyond Southern California’s coastal appeal is a vibrant technology ecosystem that encompasses enterprise software, financial services, healthcare, aerospace and defense, robotics, ecommerce and social media. It’s the home of social networking favorites Snap and TikTok’s U.S. base of operations and SpaceX’s significant presence has born a number of talented hardware and engineering startups.

LA is truly having a moment and Kozlov’s experience with some of the less-well-known corners of the city’s tech ecosystem could be a boon for the Techstars program.

“I’m thrilled by the selection of Matt as the new Managing Director for Techstars LA,” said Anna Barber, former Managing Director, Techstars LA, who stepped down from the role in November to join venture firm M13 as Partner, in a statement. “He is a talented investor and longstanding leader in LA’s Techstars community, and has been an essential and valued mentor for the program for the past four years. He embodies the Techstars values of #givefirst and I have every confidence that he is the right leader to continue building on what we’ve established in the LA community.”

Collectively, the 40 alumni companies who have participated in Techstars Los Angeles accelerator program have raised over $126 million and have a combined market cap of $328.6 million.

“Techstars LA plays a critical role in the Los Angeles tech ecosystem as the premier startup accelerator, providing valuable mentorship and funding for dozens of companies a year,” said Spencer Rascoff, Chair of dot.LA and Los Angeles angel investor. “I’m very excited that Matt will be the new Managing Director of Techstars LA. He brings extensive experience in healthcare and aerospace investing and has been an incredible mentor and leader to the companies of the Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator over the last several years.”

 

#aerospace, #anna-barber, #chair, #david-cohen, #e-commerce, #enterprise-software, #financial-services, #head, #healthcare, #los-angeles, #louisiana, #m13, #matt-kozlov, #mentorships, #premier, #sinai, #social-media, #spacex, #spencer-rascoff, #startup-accelerator, #tc, #techstars, #united-states

0

Techstars names Maëlle Gavet CEO as the accelerator group looks to expand

This morning Techstars, a network of startup accelerators and a venture capital fund, announced that Maëlle Gavet is its new CEO. Former CEO and co-founder David Brown will stay on Techstars’ board, while the group’s other co-founder, David Cohen, will become the chairman of its board.

TechCrunch spoke with Gavet this morning about her new job, the timing of the change, the company’s plans for expansion and her goals in the role.

Gavet, who said she was brought aboard to help Techstars grow, detailed her work experience at prior roles in companies of greater scale and multiple geographies, including Compass and Booking.com.

TechCrunch was curious, given how large the startup market is, how much space there is left for Techstars to expand into new geographies and niches. Gavet said that she had asked the same question to Techstars when she was being recruited for her new role. She said there is a wealth of overlooked talent and underinvested geographies that could be empowered and unlocked with capital and help. Techstars wants to go find those founders and invest in them.

That means, we presume, more accelerators in more places investing in more founders.

Gavet told TechCrunch that Techstars has invested in over 2,300 companies and is putting capital into around 500 yearly.

The new CEO explained that she believes it is possible to generate strong returns for her investors while providing lots of support for entrepreneurs and having a positive social impact. That’s an ambitious list of things to execute at once, but if she succeeds her effort could help diversify the world of tech entrepreneurs, something that has long been needed.

Seeing a startup exchange leaders to optimize for different, and larger-scale, operating experience is not rare. For a meta-startup, an accelerator-and-investing concern, to do the same is not surprising.

TechCrunch regularly covers accelerator cohorts, including Techstars (some recent notes here) and Y Combinator, among other programs. Some of tech’s biggest names have come out of such accelerator groups, historically, including Airbnb (now public) from Michael Seibel-led Y Combinator, TalkDesk (worth over $3 billion) from Christine Tsai-led 500 Startups, and Techstars’ own SendGrid (bought by Twilio for $2 billion).

It will be interesting to see where Techstars takes its accelerator model next — the group sometimes partners with companies, or groups like the United States Air Force to sponsor and support tailored programs — in terms of location and focus. But if it can successfully help diversify the founder pool at the same time as making itself money, it will underscore how others in its market could do better.

#fundings-exits, #maelle-gavet, #startups, #tc, #techstars

0

PepsiCo signs on to sponsor new founder-in-residence program from M13

The budding venture studio being built inside M13 has signed PepsiCo as its first new corporate partner.

Through the deal, PepsiCo has agreed to bankroll the first founder-in-residence program from the New York and Los Angeles-based firm, which poached former Techstars Los Angeles managing director Anna Barber to lead its new initiative.

The initial M13 Launchpad program will leverage PepsiCo executives and advisors to take entrepreneurs-in-residence on a 12-week long program in ideating and launching a health and wellness-focused startup.

“Today there is a wealth of data available to consumers about their own health, and the movement toward home testing has put ownership over health data more firmly in their hands. This creates exciting opportunities for people to use nutrition even more effectively as a source of consistent, overall health and wellness,” Barber wrote in an email. “This spring, we will be looking at everything from snacks, meal replacement foods, drinks and supplements to software platforms for optimizing nutrition, and connected devices for collecting and managing data.”

It’s a deal that compliments work M13 is already doing alongside corporate partners like Procter & Gamble Ventures, which was instrumental in developing companies like include the premium beauty tech OPTE, Kindra’s menopause products and Bodewell for sensitive skin care.

Independently, the Launchpad program was able to build up Rae, which sells affordable women’s wellness products available at Target, Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters.

Under the 12 week virtual Launchpad program, entrepreneurs will receive a $10,000 monthly stipend and enough cash for testing product market fit when they graduate. Upon leaving the program, each company will also receive a small seed round to ensure that they can continue to grow the business, M13 said.

#advisors, #anna-barber, #articles, #business, #companies, #launchpad, #los-angeles, #m13, #new-york, #rae, #target, #tc, #techstars, #wellness

0

Venture firm M13 names former Techstars LA managing director, Anna Barber, as its newest partner

The Los Angeles and New York-based venture firm M13 has managed to nab former Techstars LA managing director, Anna Barber, as its newest partner and the head of its internal venture studio, Launchpad.

Designed to be a collaborative startup company incubator alongside corporate partners, Launchpad focuses on developing new consumer tech businesses focused on M13’s main investment areas: health, food, transportation, and housing.

For Barber, the new position is the latest step in a professional career spent working both inside and outside of the tech industry.

Barber got her first taste of the startup world when she was poached from McKinsey to join one of the several online pet supply stores that cropped up in 1999. From her position as the vice president of product at Petstore.com, Barber got her taste of the startup world… and left it to become a talent manager and the co-founder of the National Air Guitar championships (no word if she managed air guitar talent).

Prior to launching the Techstars LA incubator program, Barber founded ScribblePress, a retail and digital publishing app, which was sold to Fingerprint Digital.

Anna Barber, partner, M13. Image Credit: Raif Strathmann

At M13, Barber will be working to recruit entrepreneurs to work collaboratively on developing startup consumer businesses that align with the strategic interests of M13’s corporate partners, like Procter & Gamble.

We will be bringing in founders in residence who will come in without an idea,” Barber said of the program. “We’re starting with a blank sheet of paper and building teams in partnership with entrepreneurs and in partnership with corporate partners who will bring their perspective and their IP. “

The EIRs will receive a small stipend and equity in the business, Barber said.

The starting gun for M13’s Launchpad  program was in 2019 and the program currently has managed to spin up three startups. There’s Rae, an developer of affordable women’s wellness products; and the beauty tech company OPTE; Kindra menopause products; and Bodewell for sensitive skin care, which were all developed alongside Procter & Gamble Ventures.

M13, for its part, is developing a strong team of women partners who are investing at the firm. Barber will join Lizzie Francis and Christine Choi on the investment team, something that Barber said was especially exciting.

“There is no better place for M13’s Launchpad than Los Angeles and no better person to lead it than Anna. M13 is home to a creative, diverse community of entrepreneurs and operators who want to make the world better by applying innovation in everything from media to biotech, prop tech to food,” said M13 co-founder Carter Reum. “We are excited for Anna to continue to lead LA’s center of entrepreneurs, mentors and investors with a rigorous Launchpad program and more exceptional partners and cohorts.”

#articles, #business, #business-incubators, #business-models, #co-founder, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #food, #head, #launchpad, #los-angeles, #m13, #mckinsey, #mentorships, #new-york, #procter-gamble, #rae, #startup-company, #tc, #techstars

0

Accelerators embrace change forced by pandemic

Accelerators have become a major force in the startup world, but these teeming masses of potential have been forced, like every other industry, to adopt major changes with the pandemic. Surprisingly, however, they have not just rolled with the punches but seem to be thriving in the new virtual environment.

I spoke with the heads of three accelerators about the challenges and opportunities presented by the new restrictions. David Brown is the founder and CEO of the large international accelerator Techstars (though he will be stepping down in 2021). Cyril Ebersweiler is a venture partner at SOSV and founder of the HAX hardware accelerator. Daniela Fernandez founded the Sustainable Oceans Alliance and its comparatively new Ocean Solutions Accelerator.

TechCrunch: What were some of the immediate difficulties or opportunities you ran into when the pandemic hit?

Brown: I feel like a duck — above the surface everything is normal, below the surface the feet are paddling like crazy.

When the lockdown came in March, the move to virtual over like 24 hours was hard, but we’re lucky that we’re a global organization. We had a program in Italy so they had gone into lockdown earlier, and a program in Singapore before that, so we were able to be better prepared. And we’ve had a virtual program for four years.

Techstars

Image Credits: Techstars

Ebersweiler: Anything that’s physical, if it requires your eyes and for you to play with things, it got a lot harder. People prefer in general to have the physical experience. Now we do virtual tech shares where people get to show to everyone else and we comment on it. It actually works well. Pitch practices are fine to do online as well.

People are for some reason more participative and have more feedback than physically — it’s pretty strange.

People are for some reason more participative and have more feedback than physically — it’s pretty strange. Perhaps because you’re not facing the people and you don’t want to say some things in person.

Fernandez: Our content is very intense and in the past, it has been hard for founders to juggle being a full-time founder and participate in a rigorous program. The virtual nature of the program this year seems to have increased our overall engagement with founders. Cutting out the commute time in a busy city leaves founders with more time for workshops, mentor matchmaking, pitch practice and other important sessions. Everybody just has more flexibility and tranquility.

#accelerators, #hax, #ocean-solutions-accelerator, #startups, #tc, #techstars, #venture-capital

0

Slingshot Aerospace raises $8 million to help it expand to new verticals beyond aerospace and defense

Austin and El Segundo-based Slingshot Aerospace was born out of a realization that while there is a massive amount of information collected by observation technology aboard satellites, airplanes, drones and beyond, the analytics and turnaround of said info into something actionable often took a long time – sometimes crucial insights that would’ve been valuable in the moment for Air Force pilots, for instance, would be processed and returned long after they were actually in the air and on a mission. Slingshot was founded three years ago to help turn Earth and space-based observation data into something useful when it’s needed, and now the startup has raised an $8 million Series A to grow its team and expand its focus to new industries beyond the aerospace and defense customers it currently serves.

I spoke to Slingshot Aerospace co-founders David Godwin and Melanie Stricklan about their new funding, which brings the company’s total raised overall to $17.1 million. The startup is also already generating plenty of revenue, with early contracts from customers including NASA, the U.S. Air Force, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and most recently, the U.S. Space Force for its forthcoming Slingshot Orbital Laboratory simulated training environment.

Godwin, Slingshot’s CEO, explained that initially, the startup has been focused primarily on aerospace and defense customers, which explains the all-star early customer list of companies and public agencies in that field. That has come in part from the experience of Stricklan, the company’s Chief Strategy Officer, and their third co-founder, Thomas Ashman, who both spent many years prior to founding the company in the Air Force.

“In the past, the past two tothree years, we haven’t really had a lack of aerospace and government business,” Godwin explained. “It’s definitely taken a lot of our attention. But over this past year, we’ve started exploring other verticals, what we want to do in those verticals, and identifying opportunities. And honestly, we’ve seen, we’ve seen a lot of opportunity there. One of the tricks is just picking which which direction we’re going to lean the hardest into and focus on – so we’re working on that plan right now.”

There should be no shortage of demand for what Slingshot is trying to accomplish. As mentioned above, the startup is unlocking actionable insight from data that until now, has been essentially unusable without time-consuming round-trips to data centers and plenty of off-site processing. Advancements in technology have meant that you could potentially do more with this data in a timely fashion, but systems haven’t necessarily caught up to the technical leading edge.

“I spent 21 years in the Air Force and I flew on a surveillance aircraft that had a synthetic aperture radar on it,” Stricklan explained. “What that meant is it could see through rain,  could see through clouds and it could see at night, unlike a lot of Earth observation optical data, and it could see very far and wide and so that data set was extremely rich, and it had so much potential at the same time. That aircraft that I flew on called, JSTARS, was a battle management platform. So it was also bringing in different feeds of information from different platforms, whether they be satellites, or intelligence feeds from the ground or other aircraft like AWACS [Airborne Warning and Control System], etc. One thing that really was challenging was getting real time information down to the warfighter, or even making real-time decisions on board the aircraft from a battle management perspective.”

Essentially, Stricklan said that the only real-time insight they could gather during her time on JSTARS was moving target indicators, to show literally that there were targets in motion on the ground. Other, much more valuable information would be revealed by the analysis of the combined info, but that could take hours, days, weeks or even months to arrive. Slingshot leverages Godwin’s more than two decades of experience with data analytics to provide what he calls “the right data, at the right time, all in one place” in order to enable “faster, better informed decision-making.”

That’s obviously of value and interest to entities like the U.S. Space Force, which is trying to map out how to secure an entirely new warfighting domain, but it’s also valuable to private companies and commercial operators. One area of potentially significant growth for Slingshot is in on-orbit commercial satellite operations, where the increased pace of launch from private companies operating satellite constellations means situational awareness is more important than ever.

Slingshot Aerospace is growing the team, having already expanded to nearly 30 people, with plans to hire more engineers in particular as part of the use of these funds. The Series A was led by ATX Venture Partners, as well as Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest Seed fund, Techstars, and Okapi Venture Capital. Angels including the co-founders of Apple-acquired Semetric also participated.

#aerospace, #air-force, #apple, #atx-venture-partners, #austin, #boeing, #ceo, #co-founder, #flight, #northrop-grumman, #okapi-venture-capital, #recent-funding, #satellite-constellations, #science-and-technology, #semetric, #slingshot, #slingshot-aerospace, #space, #startups, #steve-case, #tc, #techstars, #u-s-air-force, #u-s-space-force

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10 favorite startups from Techstars’ October 2020 class

A few weeks back, The Exchange dug through a number of Techstars demo days and parsed a few dozen startups to find a few favorites. Today, we’re back for more of the same, albeit with a different set of accelerators’ results to examine.

As a reminder, the last time we dug through the various cohorts, we liked YearOne, MyFavorito, Livelii, Albo, Space Products and Innovation GmbH and SATIM.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


This morning let’s take a look at the startups from Techstars’ Atlanta (full class here), Los Angeles (full class here), and New York City cohorts (full class here), with a final peek at what the so-called “Techstars & Western Union Accelerator” managed (full class here).

TechCrunch has also taken looks at startups from the latest Y Combinator batch (parth one, part two), Acceleprise, Envision and others. It’s a time-honored tradition around here — we think startups are inherently interesting. With that, let’s begin.

Favorites and standouts

I wanted to kick off with Atlanta this morning, and not merely because the Falcons are somehow worse than my Eagles. A startup accelerator in Atlanta feels exciting because, while we know that there is lots of startup activity coming out of the city, it’s still not a place I know well.

Unluckily for our goal of picking favorites, I liked nearly every startups’ demo. Meal Me is cool, and as a former San Francisco resident who didn’t cook, where was this when I lived there. Swivl is also worth checking out, because we should be able to expand who can really work with data. And Please Assist Me is pretty spot-on for my generation’s yuppies.

#asia, #food, #payments, #tc, #techstars, #the-exchange

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This startup wants to fix the broken structure of internships

Internships are an opportunity for students to experiment with new career paths and land a full-time offer ahead of graduation. For companies, the weeks-long programs help recruit and train job-ready hires.

While the stakes are high, the coronavirus-spurred office closures and market volatility made a number of tech companies slim down or cancel their internship programs. Similar to remote schooling, the startups that kept their programs had a huge hurdle to face: How do you teach and train students across the world about your company?

That’s where Symba, a Techstars alum, comes in. The 12-person startup created a white-label software tool to help companies, including Robinhood and Genentech, create an online space to communicate and collaborate with their now-distributed interns.

“Every year, organizations are reinventing the wheel and starting their internship program from scratch,” Ahva Sadeghi, CEO of Symba, said. “It’s like, you’re spending so much money, this is a core part of your recruitment, but you’re not invested in an infrastructure to make sure it’s sustainable.”

Symba sells a plug-and-play workspace for both interns and managers. Interns sign into Symba through a branded landing page and are brought into a workspace. They can then toggle between feedback, community, profiles and projects. There’s also an entire area for onboarding tutorials and company history.

Interns are brought to a workspace upon login. Image via Symba.

Sadeghi is joined by co-founder and CTO Nikita Gupta, who built the entire site from scratch.

Symba was built with a big focus on creating channels for feedback between interns and managers. There is a tab dedicated solely to feedback, where managers can consistently rank their direct reports on a five-star rating scale across various skills. Interns are also able to request feedback.

Each user is invited to create a profile so other interns can reach out and learn about their cohort. While Symba wants to be where interns live during their internship, there’s no direct messaging mechanisms within the web-based platform. Instead, Symba has embedded a Slack integration for users who want to talk directly.

The community board allows interns to meet other interns and chat. Image via Symba.

Managers, on the other hand, are able to log in, assign tasks and check on progress for their direct reports. Feedback is also tracked during the entirety of the internship, to help see who has made progress and deserves a potential return offer.

Because interns come in for only eight to 12 weeks, she says the traditional internship onboarding process — which includes bringing them all onto a company’s full-time tech stack — could create chaos for the organization. Symba wants to be a low-lift alternative.

Sadeghi says that customers have been attracted to the alumni features in their platform, which allow managers to engage interns after the program is complete. The applicant-tracking system works to keep potential hires in the fold of the company.

So far, Symba is optimistic that the tool is working. Users log into the product an average of six to nine times per day, and there have been more than 15,000 intern-projects created on Symba.

The company declined to disclose revenue, citing the stage of its business, but said that it charges companies $30 to $50 per user per month for the product. The average size of a Symba cohort is 80, but they have had customers who bring more than 2,000 interns onto the product. It only works with companies who pay their interns.

A hurdle of Symba will be the seasonality of its revenue. Because most internships are in the summer, Symba will likely find most growth opportunities during that three-month period.

Symba’s early growth is directly related to the pandemic, as the fear of the virus closed offices, and, in turn, shuttered internship programs. Symba’s success will hinge on if the team can convince companies that an online workspace for interns is a necessary product even when offices reopen.

Beyond translating into a post-pandemic world, Symba wants to be a solution for clients such as bootcamps, accelerators or fellowships. If it’s able to land year-round clients, it will be able to balance the seasonality of its current revenue of summer internships.

The success so far is promising: Early momentum has helped Symba raise $750,000 from a number of investors, including 1517 Fund, January Ventures and Hustle Fund.

#early-stage, #fundings-exits, #internship, #pre-seed, #startups, #symba, #techstars

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Kayhan Space wants to be the air traffic control service for satellites in space

Kayhan Space, the Boulder, Colo. and Atlanta-based company launched from Techstars virtual space-focused accelerator, wants nothing more than to be the air traffic control service for satellites in space.

Founded by two childhood friends, Araz Feyzi and Siamak Hesar, who grew up in Iran and immigrated to the U.S. for college, Kayhan is tackling one of the toughest problems that the space industry will confront in the coming years — how to manage the exponentially increasing traffic that will soon crowd outer space.

There are currently around 8,000 satellites in orbit around the earth, but over the next several years, Amazon will launch 3,236 satellites for its Kuiper Network, while SpaceX filed paperwork last year to launch up to 30,000 satellites. That’s… a lot of metal flying around.

And somebody needs to make sure that those satellites don’t crash into each other, because space junk has a whole other set of problems.

In some ways, Feyzi and Hesar are a perfect pair to solve the problem.

Hesar, the company’s co-founder and chief executive, has spent years studying space travel, receiving a master’s degree from the University of Southern California in aeronautics, and a doctorate in astronautical engineering from the University of Colorado, Boulder. He interned at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and spent three years at Colorado-based satellite situational awareness and systems control technology developers like SpaceNav and Blue Canyon Technologies.

Meanwhile Feyzi is a serial entrepreneur who co-founded a company in the Atlanta area called Syfer, which developed technologies to secure internet-enabled consumer devices. Using Hesar’s proprietary algorithms based on research from his doctoral days at UC Boulder and Feyzi’s expertise in cloud computing, the company has developed a system that can predict and alert the operators of satellite networks when there’s the potential for a collision and suggest alternative paths to avoid an accident.

It’s a problem that the two founders say can’t be solved by automation on satellites alone, thanks to the complexity and multidimensional nature of the work. “Imagine that a US commercial satellite is on a collision course with a Russian military satellite,” Feyzi said. “Who needs to maneuver? We make sure the satellite operator has all the information available to them [including] here’s what we know about the collision about to happen here and here are the recommendations and options to avoid it.”

Satellites today aren’t equipped to visualize their surroundings and autonomy won’t solve a problem that includes geopolitical complexities and dumb space debris all creating a morass that requires human intervention to navigate, the founders said.

Today it’s too complex to resolve and because of the different nations and lack of standards and policy … today you need human input,” Hesar said.

And in the future, if satellites are equipped with sensors to make collision avoidance more autonomous, then Kayhan Space already has the algorithms that can provide that service. “If you think of the system and the sensors and the decision-making and [execution controls] actually performing that action… we are that,” Hesar said. “We have the algorithm whether it uses the ground-based sensor or the space-based sensor.”

Over the next eight years the space situational market is expected to reach $3.9 billion and there are very few companies equipped to provide the kind of traffic control systems that satellite network operators will need, the founders said.

Their argument was compelling enough to gain admission to the Techstars Allied Space Accelerator, an early stage investment and mentoring program developed by Techstars and the U.S. Air Force, the Netherlands Ministry of Defence, the Norwegian Ministry of Defence and the Norwegian Space Agency. And, as first reported in Hypeotamus, the company has now raised $600,000 in a pre-seed funding from investors including the Atlanta-based pre-seed investment firm, Overline, to grow its business.

And the company realizes that money and technology can’t solve the problem alone.

“We believe that technology alone can help but can’t solve this problem. We need the US to take the lead [on policy] globally,” said Feyzi. “Unlike airspace… which is controlled by countries. Space is space.” Hesar agreed. “There needs to be a focused effort on this problem.”

 

#amazon, #articles, #atlanta, #blue-canyon-technologies, #cloud-computing, #colorado, #iran, #metal, #outer-space, #pollution, #satellite, #serial-entrepreneur, #space-debris, #space-travel, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #techstars, #u-s-air-force, #united-states

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Six favorite Techstars startups ahead of its next rush of demo days

With TechCrunch Disrupt happening last month, I fell behind on watching accelerator demo days. It’s time to correct that oversight.

In August and September, the Techstars network of startup accelerators held demo days for various classes of startups, grouped by either geographic location or focus. Kansas City, for example, or space.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


With October upon us, there’s another crop of Techstars demo days around the corner. To prevent falling further behind, let’s take a look at a few startups from Techstars’ September cohorts (and two from August) this morning to get primed for what the accelerator collective and venture fund will get up to next.

To find six favorites to share today, I dug through startups from Techstars’ Kansas City accelerator (full class here), its SportsTech Melbourne accelerator (full class here), its Toronto cohort (full class here), and its Tel Aviv location (full class here). You can find TechCrunch coverage of Techstars’ two space accelerators here, and their full classes here and here.

Before we jump in, this month Techstars has cohorts graduating from another five accelerators, including groups from LA, NYC, Atlanta, and more. So, there will be no shortage of startups to look at in short order. With that, let’s get into some favorites from the the past groups.

Favorites and standouts

We’ll start with the Kansas City accelerator. Kansas City, where my parents are from, incidentally, is a locale best known for its culinary magic and musical history, not to mention a famous sports team or two. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Techstars also had a foothold in the city.

#albo, #business-incubators, #developer-tools, #fundings-exits, #kansas-city, #melbourne, #payments, #saas, #space, #sports, #startup-accelerator, #startups, #tc, #techstars, #tel-aviv, #the-exchange, #toronto

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Join us Wednesday, September 9 to watch Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator Demo Day live

The 2020 class of Techstars’ Starburst Space Accelerator are graduating with an official Demo Day on Wednesday at 10 AM PT (1 PM ET), and you can watch all the teams present their startups live via the stream above. This year’s class includes 10 companies building innovative new solutions to challenges either directly or indirectly related to commercial space.

Techstars Starburst is a program with a lot of heavyweight backing from both private industry and public agencies, including from NASA’s JPL, the U.S. Air Force, Lockheed Martin, Maxar Technologies, SAIC, Israel Aerospace Industries North America, and The Aerospace Corporation. The program, led by Managing Director Matt Kozlov, is usually based locally in LA, where much of the space industry has significant presence, but this year the Demo Day is going online due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation.

Few, if any, programs out there can claim such a broad representation of big-name partners from across commercial, military and general civil space in terms of stakeholders, which is the main reason it manages to attract a range of interesting startups.  This is the second class of graduating startups from the Starburst Space Accelerator; last year’s batch included some exceptional standouts like on-orbit refuelling company Orbit Fab (also a TechCrunch Battlefield participant), imaging micro-satellite company Pixxel and satellite propulsion company Morpheus.

As for this year’s class, you can check out a full list of all ten participating companies below. The demo day presentations begin tomorrow, September 9 at 10 AM PT/1 PM PT, so you can check back in here then to watch live as they provide more details about what it is they do.

Bifrost

A synthetic data API that allows AI teams to generate their own custom datasets up to 99% faster – no tedious collection, curation or labelling required.
founders@bifrost.ai

Holos Inc.

A virtual reality content management system that makes it super easy for curriculum designers to create and deploy immersive learning experiences.
founders@holos.io

Infinite Composites Technologies

The most efficient gas storage systems in the universe.
founders@infinitecomposites.com

Lux Semiconductors

Lux is developing next generation System-on-Foil electronics.
founders@luxsemiconductors.com

Natural Intelligence Systems, Inc.

Developer of next generation pattern based AI/ML systems.
leadership@naturalintelligence.ai

Prewitt Ridge

Engineering collaboration software for teams building challenging deep tech projects.
founders@prewittridge.com

SATIM

Providing satellite radar-based intelligence for decision makers.
founders@satim.pl

Urban Sky

Developing stratospheric Microballoons to capture the freshest, high-res earth observation data.
founders@urbansky.space

vRotors

Real-time remote robotic controls.
founders@vrotors.com

WeavAir

Proactive air insights.
founders@weavair.com

#aerospace, #artificial-intelligence, #astronomy, #collaboration-software, #content-management-system, #demo-day, #electronics, #imaging, #israel-aerospace-industries, #lockheed-martin, #louisiana, #matt-kozlov, #maxar-technologies, #ml, #orbit-fab, #outer-space, #robotics, #saic, #satellite, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #startups, #tc, #techstars, #u-s-air-force, #virtual-reality

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PadSplit uses the Airbnb model to tackle the country’s affordable housing crisis

The United States is currently in the middle of an affordable housing crisis that’s putting the nation’s most economically insecure citizens at risk of becoming homeless even as a pandemic continues to spread across the country.

But one Atlanta startup called PadSplit is using the same model that Airbnb created (which ultimately drove up rental and housing prices across the country) to bring down costs for subsidized housing and provide relief for some of the people most at risk.

America’s second housing crisis

Twelve years after the last housing crisis in the United States caused a global economic meltdown, the U.S. is once again on the brink of another real estate-related economic disaster.

This time, it’s not speculators and investors that will carry the weight of the coming collapse, but low income renters faced with still sky-high housing costs and no income thanks to historic unemployment caused by the nation’s COVID-19 epidemic, as Vox reported.

Before COVID-19 swept across the world, half of U.S. renters were spending roughly 30 percent of their income on apartments and homes. One fifth of the population actually spent over half of their income on rent, and now, with roughly 10 percent of the country unemployed, that population faces eviction and the prospect of homelessness.

One third of American families failed to make rent in June, and by September more than 20 million renters could be evicted by landlords.Can an Airbnb model provide relief?

To solve the problem of housing insecurity, PadSplit borrows a page from the Airbnb playbook by creating a marketplace where homeowners can list rooms for rent for long-term stays.

Each room comes furnished with wifi and includes access to laundry facilities. And the company provides access to free telemedicine services and reports weekly payments to credit agencies so renters can build their credit scores.

Currently, the company manages 1,000 units in the Atlanta area and has expanded its presence into Maryland. The company’s renters include teachers, grocery store employees, restaurant workers — all people whose services are considered essential during the COVID-19 epidemic. “40 percent of our population has been functionally homeless,” said company founder, Atticus LeBlanc. “The average income [for our renters] is $25,000 per year.”

The average age of an occupant in a PadSplit room is 39, but renters have been as young as 19 or as old as 77, according to the company.

A quick scan of PadSplit rates in the Atlanta area shows rents of roughly $140 to $250 per week for rooms in existing homes. “We are focused on longer term stays for lower income,” said LeBlanc.

The company screens tenants and landlords, including criminal background checks and employment verification. “We sit between a hotel provider and a longer term apartment,” said Leblanc. “Where we need to both be an immediate housing provider for people who are in difficult situations while also underwriting that [person].” Owners looking to rent on PadSplit also need to prove that they haven’t been convicted of a felony within the last seven years.

GettyImages 117642785

Image Credits: luismmolina (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Launching PadSplit

LeBlanc, a New Orleans native turned Atlanta entrepreneur was named for Atticus Finch, the fictional lawyer whose fight for social justice in “To Kill A Mockingbird” is a staple of schoolroom lit assignments, and a model for white liberal southern gentry.

“My mother… said she wanted to give me someone to live up to,” says LeBlanc. 

With a degree in architecture from Yale University, LeBlanc has run a real estate development and construction business in Atlanta for over 12 years. He launched PadSplit in 2017, after writing up the idea for the business in response to a competition from the Atlanta housing non-profit, House ATL and the non-profit Enterprise Community Partners.

LeBlanc’s plan was selected as one of the finalists and he received a small grant from the organization and the JPMorgan Chase foundation to pursue the business.

With the help of John O’Bryan, a serial entrepreneur who had built businesses in the vacation rental industry, LeBlanc built up the marketplace that would become PadSplit, starting first in Atlanta and moving out to surrounding suburbs and into Maryland. LeBlanc later brought in Frank Furman, a Naval Academy graduate, US Marine Corps veteran and former McKinsey consultant to help grow the business. 

Now, the company, a Techstars accelerator graduate, has $10 million in new financing from Core Innovation Capital, Alate Partners, the Citi Impact Fund, Kapor Capital, Impact Engine and Cox Enterprises to expand PadSplit into Texas, starting with Houston and quickly ramp up hiring.

“PadSplit provides a truly unique solution to a complicated national problem that’s becoming more dire each day,” said Arjan Schütte, Founder and Managing Partner of Core Innovation Capital, in a statement. “We’re proud to support Atticus and the PadSplit team as they expand into new markets and introduce critical housing supply at a time when so many require affordable housing.”

Making money in affordable housing

According to LeBlanc, affordable housing is built around two things. One is the subsidy owners receive from the federal government and the second is a percentage of the cost of rentals. To convince owners that being in the affordable housing market was a good idea, LeBlanc just proved to them that they could get higher risk-adjusted returns versus other long-term rentals.

So far, that’s been proven out, he says. Through its model of fixed costs and weekly rent payments, PadSplit occupants have been able to save roughly $516 per month, according to data supplied by the company. Lowering rent has also allowed tenants to build credit, move into their own apartments and bought vehicles — or even, in some cases, houses of their own.

The company estimates it has also saved taxpayers over $203 million in subsidies by eliminating the the need to build subsidized housing units. Property owners have also benefited, the company said, increasing revenues on properties by over 60 percent.

And LeBlanc isn’t just the founder of PadSplit, he’s also a customer. “I rent a room downstairs in my personal home,” he said.

Ultimately, LeBlanc sees housing stability and a path to home ownership as one of the key tenets of economic equality in the United States.

“Every zoning law in America was based on a system that had no racial equity. We’re still battling those vestiges that exist in almost every jurisdiction,” he says.

And for LeBlanc the problem goes back to nearly 100 years. “If you acknowledge that racial inequality led to income stratification where it was impossible for returning Black GIs to get access to the same wealth building opportunities that white returning GIs had.. it’s no surprise that you have lower incomes by a substantial margin for African Americans as you do for whites.”

LeBlanc sees his business providing an additional revenue stream for the owners who rent properties, and an on-ramp to the financial system for people who are at risk or historically disenfranchised.

“We wanted to create a value proposition that is valuable to anyone in the housing space,” said LeBlanc. 

#alate-partners, #core-innovation-capital, #cox-enterprises, #entrepreneur, #impact-engine, #kapor-capital, #tc, #techstars, #yale-university

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India’s first Earth-imaging satellite startup raises $5 million, first launch planned for later this year

Bengaluru-based Pixxel is getting ready to launch its first Earth imaging satellite later this year, with a scheduled mission aboard a Soyuz rocket. The roughly one-and-a-half-year old company is moving quickly, and today it’s announcing a $5 million seed funding round to help it accelerate even more. The funding is led by Blume Ventures, Lightspeed India Partners, and growX ventures, while a number of angel investors participated.

This isn’t Pixxel’s first outside funding: It raised $700,000 in pre-seed money from Techstars and others last year. But this is significantly more capital to invest in the business, and the startup plans to use it to grow its team, and to continue to fund the development of its Earth observation constellation.

The goal is to fully deploy said constellation, which will be made up of 30 satellites, by 2022. Once all of the company’s small satellites are on-orbit, the the Pixxel network will be able to provide globe-spanning imaging capabilities on a daily basis. The startup claims that its technology will be able to provide data that’s much higher quality when compared to today’s existing Earth imaging satellites, along with analysis driven by PIxxel’s own deep learning models, which are designed to help identify and even potentially predict large problems and phenomena that can have impact on a global scale.

Pixxel’s technology also relies on very small satellites (basically the size of a bear fridge) that nonetheless provide a very high quality image at a cadence that even large imaging satellite networks that already exist would have trouble delivering. The startup’s founders, Awais Ahmed and Kshitij Khandelwal, created the company while still in the process of finishing up the last year of their undergraduate studies. The founding team took part in Techstars’ Starubst Space Accelerator last year in LA.

#aerospace, #artificial-intelligence, #bengaluru, #blume-ventures, #earth, #google, #imaging, #learning, #lightspeed-india-partners, #louisiana, #mentorships, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #recent-funding, #satellite, #small-satellite, #space, #spaceflight, #startups, #tc, #techstars

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With partnerships at major children’s hospitals, Manatee seeks clinical validation of its CBT-based app

When Manatee founder Damayanti Dipayana’s brother was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, the family took all the steps to ensure that he was properly cared for. All of the things that could have been an obstacle to getting treatment weren’t for Dipayana’s family.

A comfortably middle class background, a supportive family and ready access to care were all available, but still the therapy didn’t take. For Dipayana, it was witnessing the breakdown between the care provided at sessions and the differences in treatment at home, that led her to create Manatee.

“Therapy just sucks for kids,” Dipayana said. “My brother hated it.. It can’t be the best thing for children to put them in a room with an adult and have them talk about their problems for an hour.”

Now the graduate from Techstars Los Angeles has $1.5 million in funding from investors including the Michigan-based investment firm, Grand Ventures; Telosity, a fund launched by Vinaj Ventures & Innovation, that invests in companies improving children’s and young adult’s mental health; and the American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact, will pursue clinical validation for its suite of apps and services to provide a continuum of care for children with cognitive and behavioral disorders. 

Beginning with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Manatee has started a trial with ten clinicians and fifty families to evaluate the commercial use case for Dipayana’s service.

The first targets for care are anxiety and oppositional disorder, Dapayana said.

Image credit: Manatee

“I really want to focus on children. From a social [return on investment] perspective it seems insane to me that we don’t invest more in the early wellbeing of children,” said Dipayana. “If we did then we probably wouldn’t have to deal with a  ballooning juvenile detention system.”

From the company’s earliest days the stars seemed to align for Dipayana. She found her technical co-founder, Shawn Kuenzler, thanks to a post on AngelList. A veteran in the health tech startup world, Kuenzler ran engineering at Health Language and Zen Planner and has two exits under his belt. If that wasn’t serendipitous enough, Kuenzler’s wife is a clinical psychologist.

The two Denver-based entrepreneurs then took their startup on the road to the Techstars Los Angeles accelerator. It was there that they were introduced to contacts at companies including Headspace and LA Children’s Hospital that are paving the way for clinical validation of digitally delivered cognitive behavioral healthcare.

“We’re going to spend money and resources on launching our research with Children’s LA to understand the impact for a health system,” Dipayana said. “We position it as everyday therapy for kids. We provide the platform for providers to make it the day-to-day therapy for kids.” 

Manatee sells its services directly to healthcare systems to ensure that it can reach the broadest population of users rather than just ones who could afford to access the company’s app-based offerings. Doctors use Manatee as a clinical dashboard and way to communicate to both a child and their family around care plans and treatment.

“I thought about this really long and hard… Looking from my personal experience. Parents and families that have kids with autism… there’s so much snake oil that gets pushed down their throat that they’ll try anything,” Dipayana said. “It was very important to me that one i understand the clinical workflow and understood how the workforce manages behavioral healthcare and whether the work we were doing was valuable.”

#angellist, #denver, #grand-ventures, #headspace, #los-angeles, #mental-health, #tc, #techstars

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