MaxRewards banks $3M to reveal best payment methods that reap the most rewards

When Anik Khan graduated from college, his first job was working on credit cards and business expenses at Accenture. There, he found that someone could bring in a couple of thousand dollars just by having the right credit cards and following the rewards and promotions.

It was back in 2017 when he and David Gao got the idea for his company MaxRewards, a digital wallet app that manages credit cards and automatically activates benefits like rewards, cashback offers and monthly credits. It also makes recommendations at the point of purchase on which card would yield the best reward for that purchase.

Going after the some 83% of Americans that have a credit card, the app version was officially launched in 2019, and now the Atlanta-based company is announcing a $3 million seed round co-led by Dundee Venture Capital and Calano Ventures. Also backing the company are Techstars, Fintech Ventures Fund, Service Provider Capital and Fleetcor president Nick Izquierdo.

Tracking his own credit cards manually prior to MaxRewards, Khan recalled in one year, getting $16,000 in rewards. However, utilizing those benefits was time-consuming and difficult, because the rewards and savings aren’t always made evident by the credit card companies.

“Other companies have tried to do something similar, but the issue is you don’t have the reward information or the offers,” Khan told TechCrunch. “If you were to aggregate this information, you still would have to activate all of these things and use them before they expired.”

Users connect their accounts and when they make a purchase, their location is cross-referenced with the merchant and an algorithm is applied to tell the user which card to use. The average app user has six credit cards.

MaxRewards is free to download and use, and the majority of the app’s functionalities are free. Users who want additional features, like the auto activation or rewards, can join MaxRewards Gold and are given the opportunity to choose their own monthly price — the average is over $25 per month — based on the value they expect to gain, Khan said.

MaxRewards offers and benefits. Image Credits: MaxRewards

Ron Watson, partner at Dundee, said his firm invests in seed-stage companies between the coasts and is interested in consumer and e-commerce companies. Watson said he was impressed with what MaxRewards has been able to do with a team of three. He also relates to the company’s mission, having grown up in a lower, middle-class family that did not frequently go on vacations.

When he got his first job and was suddenly flying everywhere, he recalls building up so many rewards to the point where he was able to go on a vacation to Hawaii and only spend maybe $100, he said.

“I used to put my points into a spreadsheet, but as I got older and had kids, I realized how hard it was for the average person to do that and how important it is to have automation,” Watson said. “I downloaded the app, and on the first day, saved $20.”

The company is often compared to NerdWallet or Mint, but in terms of functionality, Khan said he feels MaxRewards is unique due to its credit card system connectors. Rather than rely on third-party aggregators to discover the rewards, MaxRewards leverages its own proprietary connectors to card systems.

There are hundreds of thousands of offers to be discovered, and consumers are asking for even more features, so Khan decided it was time to go after seed funding. He had raised a small seed, about $200,000, from his time at Techstars, but the new funding will enable him to add to his team of three people. He expects to be at 20 by the end of the year. Khan also wants to accelerate its user acquisition, product improvement and compliance.

Next up, the company is going to automate rewards and savings across additional platforms like debit cards, payment apps and cashback apps, as well as create browser extensions and a web app. Khan also wants to do more on the education side with regard to using credit cards in a smart manner.

Arron Solano, managing partner at Calano, met Khan through Techstars and said he is an advocate for using credit cards in the right way. His firm was looking for a company like MaxRewards.

“During our first call, I remember telling my partner that Anik was a bulldog who knew what he was talking about, especially at that stage,” Solano added. “He had strong team members, his vision lined up well and that checked off a massive box for us. He energized us and showed he could find a market with insanely high ‘super users.’ ”

#anik-khan, #apps, #arron-solano, #calano-ventures, #credit-cards, #david-gao, #debit-card, #dundee-venture-capital, #ecommerce, #financial-services, #fintech-ventures-fund, #funding, #loyalty-program, #maxrewards, #mobile, #nick-izquierdo, #payments, #recent-funding, #ron-watson, #service-provider-capital, #startups, #tc, #techstars, #web-app

HAAS Alert raises $5M seed round to scale its automotive collision prevention system

HAAS Alert, a SaaS company that provides real-time automotive collision prevention for public safety and roadway fleets, has raised $5 million in seed funding that the company says it will use to scale sales and outreach efforts and prioritize R&D with vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) technology partnerships.

The round was led by R^2 and Blu Ventures and joined by TechNexus, Stacked Capital, Urban Us, Techstars, Ride Ventures and Gramercy Fund.

HAAS Alert relies on cellular-based sensors to ingest roadway hazard data from the environment surrounding a vehicle and its predictive technology to digitally alert drivers through their vehicle systems. HAAS Alert’s proprietary digital alerting system, Safety Cloud, can be found on a range of fleet vehicles in the public and private sector, from fire trucks, ambulances and police vehicles to tow trucks, construction and waste vehicles, school buses and more.

“Emergency responders, towing operators, construction and work zone crews and similar municipal fleets have extremely high death and injury rates from collisions,” Jeremy Agulnek, HAAS Alert’s senior vice president of connected vehicle, told TechCrunch. “They also really form the backbone of our communities, and every driver encounters them on the road daily. Many of these jobs are inherently risky to begin with, and yet struck-by incidents still rank as a leading cause of death for all of them.”

HAAS Alert sees advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and V2X as the solution, so it built its service to start with those at the highest risk on our roads, and grow from there.

“For us, this is not about using connected vehicles for entertainment and general connectivity – it is specifically about safety,” said Agulnek. “By connecting and protecting these folks, we can immediately bring a connected vehicle experience to all drivers and infrastructure in a way that also makes communities safer. We think that solving for safety with first responders and roadway workers is the most critical component to advancing mobility to the next stage.”

So far, Safety Cloud is present on vehicles in more than 750 public agencies and private organizations that have sent more than 1 billion alerts collectively.

HAAS Alert represents a growing number of startups looking to leverage V2X technology to reduce the risk of collisions, and funding is a big piece of the puzzle. Not only does the software cost money to build and keep updated, but the hardware and human-power costs associated with installing sensors, both on public infrastructure and within vehicles, aren’t cheap. HAAS Alert hopes to reach 10 billion driver safety alerts by 2022, and to do that, it’ll need to attract the automotive sector. Currently, the company works mainly with fleets, but it says the more fleets that are on its platform, the more automotive customers it will attract and vice versa.

We charge reasonable fees for fleet and agency customers to activate their roadway assets on Safety Cloud, and we charge a subscription fee to automotive customers to license the safety alerts, software and other services we provide,” Agulnek said.

The company says it’s actively installing its HA-5 Transponder hardware on vehicles across the nation, which allows equipped vehicles to automatically send digital alerts to approaching drivers when emergency fleets activate their flashing lights. These alerts give road users a heads up to the existence of response personnel on or near the roadway, giving drivers time to slow down or move over.

Agulnek says the hardware setup is quick and easy with minimal downtime, but fleets also have the option of integrating Safety Cloud without hardware via the vehicle’s existing CAD, GPS or telematics system.

“All that is needed to add Safety Cloud alerts to a vehicle is a software update to receive data via the vehicle’s existing telematics capabilities and display driver alerts in the infotainment screen and/or instrument cluster,” Agulnek said. “We are working on a project right now with a car manufacturer where it took less than a week to implement alerts inside their vehicles.”

Computations are done either in the cloud or on the edge of the chips inside the hardware, which means the alerting logic can reside in HAAS Alert’s cloud, in a vehicle OEM’s cloud, in the vehicle’s head unit or a hybrid multi-location architecture, according to Agulnek.

A fleet management platform, the Situational Awareness Dashboard, comes standard with the Safety Cloud and is designed to enable coordinating agencies across jurisdictions to work together. HAAS Alert also includes potential add-ons for specific industries. For example, responder-to-responder (R2R) features a set of lights attached inside a vehicle that sends notifications to responders when other Safety Cloud-equipped vehicles are in active response mode and approaching the same intersection. FleetFusion allows customers to integrate real-time data from Safety Cloud into internal dashboards, third-party applications and traffic management centers.

#automotive, #haas-alert, #saas, #tc, #techstars, #transportation, #urban-us, #v2x, #vehicle-to-infrastructure

Techstars’ Saba Karim is coming to TechCrunch Disrupt 2021

Good news, TechCrunch family, Techstars’ Saba Karim is coming to Disrupt (September 21-23) this year.

With a great vantage point from his perspective as Global Startup Pipeline Manager at Techstars, Karim will be hosting a session on the Extra Crunch stage discussing how to craft a pitch deck that cannot be ignored. It’s a popular topic not only because of how important decks remain in today’s venture capital world, but also because what they should contain slowly changes over time — what not to include, as well.

Karim has a background in making people pay attention. Before he had his current role at Techstars, he was CMO at Evolve, for example. Earlier in his career, Karim helped found and run Rawberry in Australia, before working for Telstra. He was also the marketing director at T.H. Capital Ventures in Sydney, before jetting to Boston to work as the VP of growth at StartupCMO.

And as an investor — he writes checks to startups working in the future of work sphere, for example — he has seen pitch decks good, and pitch decks bad. We’re excited to have him aboard to help save our founder-heavy audience time and effort.

In case you need a refresher, Karim is joining what could be our strongest-ever Disrupt speaking cohort. Tope Awotona, the founder and CEO of Calendly is coming. Coinbase’s Brian Armstrong is making what I think is his third appearance at Disrupt. Mercedes Bent from Lightspeed Venture partners is coming. Salesforce’s Stewart Butterfield will be there. Hell, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg is coming.

If you are in the startup world, it’s going to be a must-attend event, thanks in no small part to what Karim will be bringing to the show. And your humble servant will be hosting the Extra Crunch stage, so I will see you there! Disrupt is less than a month away and you can still get your pass to access it all for less than $100! Register today.

#events, #pitch-deck, #saba-karim, #startups, #tc, #tc-disrupt-2021, #techcrunch-disrupt-2021, #techstars

Mobility startup Plentywaka picks up $1.2M seed, acquires Ghana’s Stabus

Lagos and Toronto-based mobility startup Plentywaka has raised a $1.2 million seed round to scale its operations on the back of leaving the Techstars Toronto accelerator program last month. 

Canadian-based VC firm The Xchange led the round, SOSV and Shock Ventures participated, while Techstars Toronto made a follow-on investment. Nigerian firms Argentil Capital Partners and ODBA & Co Ventures took part in the seed round, alongside some angel investors from Canada, other parts of Africa, and the U.S.

In March, when TechCrunch covered Plentywaka, CEO Onyeka Akumah said the two-year-old company eyed both regional and global expansion. There hasn’t been much development on the latter except that the company set up its headquarters in Canada. However, for the former, it’s in the form of an acquisition. The company says it has fully acquired Ghanaian mobility startup Stabus but declined to comment on the acquisition price.

Plentywaka is primarily a bus-booking platform but, per its website, has over 900 vehicles ranging from cars to vans to buses. The company provides intrastate travel (via its Dailywaka offering) and interstate travel (via its Travelwaka offering) for its users via a mobile application. Since going live in September 2019,  Plentywaka says it has acquired over 80,000 users while completing up to half a million rides.

Stabus, on the other hand, commenced operations in Ghana a month after Plentywaka’s launch. Its co-founder and CEO, Isidore Kpotufe, shared that the startup has since moved over 100,000 people within the country’s capital city Accra using different vehicles.

Plentywaka

The Plentywaka and Stabus executives

Akumah tells TechCrunch that before talks on an acquisition started, he and Kpotufe kept in touch frequently on a personal and business level since they launched their respective companies two years ago.

Then in April this year, Isidore, intrigued by the pace at which Plentywaka was scaling, asked Akumah if his company had plans to scale to Ghana. The Plentywaka CEO answered in the affirmative, revealing a timeline edging towards the end of the year. That meant competition, but the duo thought the better outcome for both companies was to merge.

“Isidore is someone I’ve known for going to two years now. And I’ve seen what he has done with Stabus and I understand exactly how they operate. So it was an easy yes for us to do this,” Akumah said to TechCrunch.

The complexities of what structure to use came up; run with the Stabus brand or change it. Eventually, they settled for the latter, renaming the acquired 12,000-user strong business to Plentywaka Ghana. Some of Stabus’ (now Plentywaka Ghana) customers include multinationals like MTN and GB Foods. Meanwhile, Kpotufe becomes Country Manager of the new business.

“Plentywaka’s acquisition of Stabus is a firm statement about our commitment to grow and build the largest shared mobility startup in Africa, one country at a time. Isidore is a brilliant entrepreneur and we are excited about having him and his team execute our plans for the Ghanaian market,” Akumah said in a statement.

In Nigeria, the company caters to travelers across 21 cities. Travelers in Accra will begin to use the service when Plentywaka Ghana goes live on September 16. And the next plan after Accra is to replicate the expansion in six other African countries within 24 months. Akumah also mentioned that Plentywaka is raising its Series A to ramp up these expansion efforts.

“We are incredibly excited by our investment in Plentywaka. Techstars is a huge believer in the future of Africa and a proud supporter of African entrepreneurs. Onyeka is a two-time Techstars founder which deepens this relationship further,” managing director of Techstars Sunil Sharma said in a statement.

Speaking on the seed round, managing partner at lead investor The Xchange, Todd Finch said, “The Xchange is on a mission to fuel purpose-driven founders with the capital and resources they need to realize the world-changing potential of their ideas. Given Onyeka’s proven track record, his team’s undeniable thirst for making an impact, and Plentywaka’s impressive growth, we knew this was an opportunity we wanted to invest in.” 

#africa, #automotive, #fundings-exits, #ghana, #ma, #nigeria, #plentywaka, #sosv, #techstars, #transportation

Last day to snag early bird passes to TechCrunch Disrupt 2021

Don’t miss your chance to experience TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 — the startup world’s must-attend event of the season — for less than $100. Why not get the best ROI of your time while simultaneously learning about the latest industry trends and mining for opportunities that can take your startup to new levels of success?

Disrupt takes place on September 21-23, but the early-bird deal expires today, July 30 at 11:59 pm (PT). Buy your Disrupt 2021 pass now and save.

Let’s talk about what you’ll experience at Disrupt. Over on the Disrupt Stage you’ll find one-on-one interviews with icons and interactive, expert-led, presentations from across the tech, investing and policy sectors. Folks like Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, Duolingo CEO Luis von Ahn and Mirror CEO Brynn Putnam. And that’s just the tip of the tech iceberg. You can check out all the speakers here.

You’ll find plenty of actionable advice and how-to tips and strategies on the Extra Crunch Stage. Take a gander at just two of the topics we have scheduled there and explore the full Disrupt agenda here.

Crafting a Pitch Deck that Can’t Be Ignored: Investors may be chasing after the hottest deals, but for founders selling their startup’s vision, it’s never been more important to communicate it in the clearest way possible. Pitch deck experts Mercedes Bent (partner, Lightspeed Venture Partners), Mar Hershenson (co-founder & managing partner, Pear VC) and Saba Karim (Techstars’ head of accelerator pipeline) dig into what’s essential, what’s unnecessary and what could just make all the difference in your next deck.

How Do You Select the Right Tech Stack: From day zero, startups have to make dozens of trade-offs when it comes to the infinite variety of tech stacks available to today’s engineers. Choose the wrong combination or direction, and a startup could be left with years of refactoring to fix the legacy damage. What are the best practices for assessing potential stacks, and how can you minimize the risk of a painful mistake? Preeti Somal (executive vice president of engineering, HashiCorp) and Jill Wetzler (head of engineering, Pilot) will discuss strategies for improving engineering right from the beginning and at every stage of a startup’s journey.

Disrupt’s virtual format provides plenty of opportunity for questions, so come prepared to ask the experts about the issues that keep you up at night.

One post can’t possibly contain all the events and opportunities of Disrupt. Don’t miss the epic Startup Battlefield competition, hundreds of early-stage startups exhibiting in the Startup Alley expo area, special breakout sessions — like the Pitch Deck Teardown — and so much more.

TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 offers tons of opportunity. Don’t miss out on the first one — buy your Disrupt pass today, July 30, by 11:59 pm (PT) for less than $100. It’s a sweet deal!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

#articles, #brian-armstrong, #brynn-putnam, #ceo, #coinbase, #duolingo, #finance, #hashicorp, #jill-wetzler, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #luis-von-ahn, #mining, #money, #pear-vc, #pete-buttigieg, #startup-company, #tc, #techcrunch, #techcrunch-disrupt-2021, #techstars, #united-states, #verizon-media

PairTree speeds adoption process with an online self-matching platform and $2.25M seed

Making the choice to adopt, or to find an adopting family, is a legally complex, emotionally taxing, expensive and time-consuming process. PairTree aims to make one part at least considerably easier and faster with its online matching platform where expectant mothers and hopeful adopters can find each other without the facilitation of an agency or other organization. The company has just raised a $2.25 million seed round, a rarity in the industry.

The path to adoption is different for everyone, but there are generally some things they have in common: once the process is started, it can take upwards of $50,000 and over a year and a half to organize a match. While some of this comprises the ordinary legal hurdles involved in any adoption, a big part of it is simply that there are limited opportunities for adoption and compatibility isn’t guaranteed. As many people considering adoption are doing so on the heels of unsuccessful fertility treatment, it can be a lot to take on and a dispiriting wait.

Erin Quick, CEO and co-founder (with CTO Justin Friberg) of PairTree, said that the modern adoption landscape is marked by the fact that nearly 95 percent of adoptions are open, meaning there is ongoing contact between a biological mother and adopting family.

“They’ll be working together forever, and that makes finding a highly compatible match that much more important,” Quick, herself a happy adopter, told TechCrunch in an interview. But because of the way adoption is generally done — through agencies licensed by states — there are limitations on how far anyone involved can reach.

“It’s so bound by geography,” she said. “It’s regulated at the state level and has been facilitated by state level, not because of state laws — there’s no rule saying you can’t adopt out of state — but because the facilitators are small nonprofits. They bind themselves to their geographic region because that’s what they can serve. We’re building a platform that makes what people are already doing much easier and more efficient.”

That platform is in many ways very like a dating app, though of course the comparison is not exact and does not reflect the gravity of choosing to adopt. But like in the dating world, in adoption you have a cloud of people looking to connect over something highly dependent on personality and individual needs.

Screenshot of the way expectant mothers can filter and search for compatible adopting families.

PairTree onboards both expectant mothers and adopters with personality tests — not the light-hearted stuff of OK Cupid but a broader, more consequential set of Jungian archetypes that signal a person’s high-level priorities in life. Think “wants to travel and learn” vs “wants to provide and nurture” (not that these are necessarily incompatible) — they serve as important indicators of preferences that might not be so easy summarized with a series of checkboxes. That’s not the only criterion, of course: other demographic and personal details are also collected.

The adopters are added to a pool through which expectant mothers can sift and, if desired, contact (in this, Quick suggested, PairTree mirrors Bumble, where women must message first). PairTree also does basic due diligence stuff like identify verification and confirmation of other important steps like home studies.

If a likely match is found, all the relevant information is passed to the adoption facilitator, who will be coordinating the other legal and financial steps. PairTree isn’t looking to replace these agencies — in fact Quick said that they have been huge proponents of the platform, since it can shorten wait times and improve outcomes. She said based on their existing successful adoptions that the wait can be cut by by a half or even two thirds, and thus the cost (which involves recurring payments as the agency searches and does the legal work) by a similar amount.

“These are small nonprofits, they don’t have a lot of tech chops. When we launched we went to attorneys first, actually, and we were surprised when agencies started reaching out,” she explained.

Agencies have been referring their adopters to PairTree, which has led to a lot of early traction, Quick said. And importantly, they’ve seen great diversity in their early success.

“Adoption has historically been denied by faith-based systems — LGBTQ families and single women have been subject to discrimination,” she noted. And in fact just last week a Supreme Court decision held up the right of religious adoption agencies to deny services to same-sex couples. Quick was proud to say that they have already facilitated adoptions by same-sex couples and single parents.

The company will also set aside 5 percent of its net profits (which hopefully will manifest in volume) for the Lifetime Healing Foundation, which offers counseling and support to birth mothers who have gone though the adoption process.

The $2.25M seed was led by Urban Innovation Fund, with Founder Collective, Female Founders alliance and Techstars participating. It will surprise few to hear that adoption is not a particularly hot industry for venture capital, but rising interest and investment in fertility tech may have shed light on opportunities in adjacent spaces. Adoption is one where significant improvements can be enabled by technology, meaning startups can grow fast while having a positive impact.

The company plans to use the money to expand its product portfolio, pursue more partnerships, and perhaps most importantly for its users, build a native mobile app, since 90 percent of the service’s viewership is mobile.

“We’re grateful to our expert and diverse group of investors who share our vision that adoption should be a
viable path to parenting for more people,” said Quick in the release announcing the raise. “Like us, our investors believe in the importance of supporting Biological and Adopting Families along with the Adoptees, because adoption is not a single transaction but a journey they’re taking over the course of a lifetime.”

#adoption, #female-founders-alliance, #founder-collective, #funding, #fundings-exits, #recent-funding, #social, #startups, #tc, #techstars, #urban-innovation-fund

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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