Temasek and General Atlantic in talks to back Indian neobank Open

Bangalore-based neobank Open is in advanced stages of talks to raise about $100 million, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Temasek, the Singaporean government’s sovereign wealth fund, and General Atlantic are positioning to co-lead the Series C financing round, which values the Indian startup at pre-money $600 million, the sources told TechCrunch, requesting anonymity as the matter is private. Open was valued at about $150 million in its Series B funding round two years ago.

Existing investor Tiger Global, PayPal, which shuttered its domestic operations in the world’s second largest internet market early this year, as well as Google and Amazon are in talks to participate in the new round, the sources said.

Indian news outlet Economic Times first reported about the size of the imminent round and identified Google and Amazon as probable investors earlier this week. The round hasn’t closed yet so terms may change and not all investors may end up backing Open. The startup’s founder and chief executive Anish Achuthan declined to comment.

Open operates as a neobank that offers nearly all the features of a bank with additional tools to serve the needs of businesses. The startup offers its clients services such as automated account, payment gateway, credit cards, automated bookkeeping, cash flow management, and tax and compliance management solutions.

Realizing the opportunity that they can’t tap the entire market, several banks in India have in recent years started to collaborate with fintech startups to expand their reach in the South Asian nation.

“Banks are doing their best to defend their turf by focusing on several fronts – eco system building (led by HDFC Bank), open approach to fintech partnerships (led by ICICI Bank), overall digital experience as an acquisition tool (led by Kotak and Axis) etc. But [they] continue to play catchup as they lack the focus/ expertise in each channel (Banking super apps and APIs are fast becoming hygiene). Fintech revenues are already ~10% of private banks’ fee income, but could grow >3x in the next 3 years,” wrote analysts at Bank of America in a report late last year.

“Banks no doubt want to own the pipe and relationships, but are unlikely to succeed except in very specific segments,” they added.

In recent months, however, some banks have begun to reevaluate their engagement strategy with neobanks, Indian news and analysis publication the CapTable reported last month.

#asia, #funding, #general-atlantic, #india, #open, #paypal, #temasek, #tiger-global

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Chinese lidar maker Hesai lands $300M led by Hillhouse, Xiaomi, Meituan

The rush to back lidar companies continues as more automakers and robotaxi startups include the remote sensing method in their vehicles.

Latest to the investment boom is Hesai, a Shanghai-based lidar maker founded in 2014 with an office in Palo Alto. The company just raised over $300 million in a Series D funding round led by GL Ventures, the venture capital arm of storied private equity firm Hillhouse Capital, smartphone maker Xiaomi, on-demand services giant Meituan and CPE, the private equity platform of Citic.

Hesai said the new proceeds will be spent on mass-producing its hybrid solid-state lidar for its OEM customers, the construction of its smart manufacturing center, and research and development on automotive-grade lidar chips. The company said it has accumulated “several hundred million dollars” in funding to date.

Other participants in the round included Huatai Securities, Lightspeed China Partners and Lightspeed Venture Capital, as well as Qiming Venture Partners. Bosch, Baidu, and ON Semiconductor are also among its shareholders.

Another Chinese lidar startup Innovusion, a major supplier to electric vehicle startup Nio, raised a $64 million round led by Temasek in May. Livox is another emerging lidar maker that was an offshoot of DJI.

Lidar isn’t limited to powering robotaxis and passenger EVs, and that’s why Hesai got Xiaomi and Meituan onboard. Xiaomi makes hundreds of different connected devices through its manufacturing suppliers that could easily benefit from industrial automation, to which sensing technology is critical. But the phone maker also unveiled plans this year to make electric cars.

Meituan, delivering food to hundreds of millions of consumers in China, could similarly benefit from replacing human riders with lidar-enabled unmanned vans and drones.

Hesai, with a staff of over 500 employees, says its clients span 70 cities across 23 countries. The company touts Nuro, Bosch, Lyft, Navya, and Chinese robotaxi operators Baidu, WeRide and AutoX among its customers. Last year, it kickstarted a partnership with Scale AI, a data labeling company, to launch an open-source data set for training autonomous driving algorithms, with data collected using Hesai’s lidar in California. 

Last July, Hesai and lidar technology pioneer Velodyne entered a long-term licensing agreement as the two dismissed legal proceedings in the U.S., Germany and China.

#asia, #automotive, #baidu, #bosch, #china, #funding, #hillhouse-capital, #lidar, #lightspeed, #lightspeed-venture-capital, #meituan, #qiming-venture-partners, #shanghai, #temasek, #transportation, #venture-capital, #xiaomi

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Lidar startup Innovusion closes $64M round led by Temasek

More investors are joining the wave to bet on lidar, the remote sensing method that uses laser light to measure distances and has garnered ample interest from automakers in recent times. But it’s also a technology that has long been scorned by Elon Musk partly due to its once exorbitant costs.

Innovusion, a five-year-old lidar company and a supplier to Chinese electric car upstart Nio, just landed a Series B funding round of $64 million. The new proceeds boost its total investment to over $100 million, not a small amount but the startup is in a race crowded with much bigger players that have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, like Velodyne and Luminar.

Temasek, the Singaporean government’s sovereign wealth fund, led Innovusion’s latest financing round. Other investors included Bertelsmann Asia Investment Fund, Joy Capital, Nio Capital, Eight Roads Ventures, and F-Prime Capital.

Innovusion runs core development teams out of Sunnyvale, California and Suzhou, an eastern Chinese city near Shanghai that the robotaxi unicorn Momenta also calls home.

Junwei Bao, Innovusion’s co-founder and CEO, is not deterred by the industry’s existing giants. Back at Baidu where Bao oversaw sensors and onboarded computing systems for autonomous driving, he also worked on the Chinese search engine leader’s investment in Velodyne.

“They were designing things more like a college student designing in their labs,” Bao said of Velodyne.

Lidar was a niche market up until about five years ago, the founder explained, for the technology was mostly used by a small community of amateurs and areas such as military, surveying and mapping. These were relatively small markets in terms of shipping volume and Velodyne filled the demand.

“They were not thinking about industrialization, volume manufacturing, or roadmap extensibility. They were a pioneer and we [Baidu] recognized their value… but we also knew their weakness.”

In fairness, Silicon Valley-based Velodyne today is a $2.2 billion company supplying to some of the world’s largest automakers, including Toyota and Volkswagen. It also pocketed a hefty sum of cash after going public via a SPAC merger last year. Innovusion’s strategy is to make sensors for automakers that are “good enough for the next five years,” according to Bao. The startup chooses “mature components” so it can quickly ramp up production to 100,000 units a year.

Its biggest customer at the moment is Nio, a Chinese challenger to Tesla which has backed Innovusion through its corporate venture fund Nio Capital. For mass production of its auto-grade lidar, Innovusion is partnering with Joynext, a smart vehicle arm of the Chinese auto component supplier, Joyson Electronics.

For now, China is the largest market for Innovusion. The startup is scheduled to ship a few thousand units this year, mainly for smart transportation and industrial use. Next year, it has a target to deliver several tens of thousands of units to Nio’s luxury sedan, ET7, which is said to have a scanning range of up to 500 meters, an ambitious number, and a standard 120-degree field of view.

Similar alliances between carmakers and lidar suppliers have played out in China as the former race to fulfill their “autonomous driving” promises with the aid of lidar. Xpeng, a competitor to Nio, recently rolled out a sedan powered by Livox, a lidar maker affiliated with DJI that markets its consumer-grade affordability.

Price is similarly important to Innovusion, which sells lidars to automakers for about $1,000 apiece at the volume of 100,000 per year.

“Adding a $1,000 upfront cost plus another couple thousand dollars for a car that’s selling for $30,000 or $50,000 is affordable,” Bao suggested.

With the fresh capital, Innovusion plans to increase the production volume of its auto-grade lidar and put more R&D efforts into smart cities and vehicles. The company has over 100 employees and plans to expand its headcount to over 200 this year.

#artificial-intelligence, #asia, #automotive, #baidu, #china, #eight-roads-ventures, #f-prime-capital, #joy-capital, #laser, #lidar, #livox, #momenta, #nio, #self-driving-cars, #shanghai, #tc, #temasek, #tesla, #toyota, #transportation, #velodyne, #volkswagen, #xpeng

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Geothermal technology has enormous potential to power the planet and Fervo wants to tap it

Tapping the geothermal energy stored beneath the Earth’s surface as a way to generate renewable power is one of the new visions for the future that’s captured the attention of environmentalists and oil and gas engineers alike.

That’s because it’s not only a way to generate power that doesn’t rely on greenhouse gas emitting hydrocarbons, but because it uses the same skillsets and expertise that the oil and gas industry has been honing and refining for years.

At least that’s what drew former the former completion engineer (it’s not what it sounds like) Tim Latimer to the industry and to launch Fervo Energy, the Houston-based geothermal tech developer that’s picked up funding from none other than Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures (that fund… is so busy) and former eBay executive, Jeff Skoll’s Capricorn Investment Group.

With the new $28 million cash in hand Fervo’s planning on ramping up its projects which Latimer said would “bring on hundreds of megawatts of power in the next few years.”

Latimer got his first exposure to the environmental impact of power generation as a kid growing up in a small town outside of Waco, Texas near the Sandy Creek coal power plant, one of the last coal-powered plants to be built in the U.S.

Like many Texas kids, Latimer came from an oil family and got his first jobs in the oil and gas industry before realizing that the world was going to be switching to renewables and the oil industry — along with the friends and family he knew — could be left high and dry.

It’s one reason why he started working on Fervo, the entrepreneur said.

“What’s most important, from my perspective, since I started my career in the oil and gas industry is providing folks that are part of the energy transition on the fossil fuel side to work in the clean energy future,” Latimer said. “I’ve been able to go in and hire contractors and support folks that have been out of work or challenged because of the oil price crash… And I put them to work on our rigs.”

Fervo Energy chief executive, Tim Latimer, pictured in a hardhat at one fo the company’s development sites. Image Credit: Fervo Energy

When the Biden administration talks about finding jobs for employees in the hydrocarbon industry as part of the energy transition, this is exactly what they’re talking about.

And geothermal power is no longer as constrained by geography, so there’s a lot of abundant resources to tap and the potential for high paying jobs in areas that are already dependent on geological services work, Latimer said (late last year, Vox published a good overview of the history and opportunity presented by the technology).

“A large percentage of the world’s population actually lives next to good geothermal resources,” Latimer said. “25 countries today that have geothermal installed and producing and another 25 where geothermal is going to grow.” 

Geothermal power production actually has a long history in the Western U.S. and in parts of Africa where naturally occurring geysers and steam jets pouring from the earth have been obvious indicators of good geothermal resources, Latimer said.

Fervo’s technology unlocks a new class of geothermal resource that is ready for large-scale deployment. Fervo’s geothermal systems use novel techniques, including horizontal drilling, distributed fiber optic sensing, and advanced computational modelling, to deliver more repeatable and cost effective geothermal electricity,” Latimer wrote in an email. “Fervo’s technology combines with the latest advancements in Organic Rankine Cycle generation systems to deliver flexible, 24/7 carbon-free electricity.”

Initially developed with a grant from the TomKat Center at Stanford University and a fellowship funded by Activate.org at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s Cyclotron Road division, Fervo has gone on to score funding from the DOE’s Geothermal Technology Office and ARPA-E to continue work with partners like Schlumberger, Rice University and the Berkeley Lab.

The combination of new and old technology is opening vast geographies to the company to potentially develop new projects.

Other companies are also looking to tap geothermal power to drive a renewable power generation development business. Those are startups like Eavor, which has the backing of energy majors like bp Ventures, Chevron Technology Ventures, Temasek, BDC Capital, Eversource and Vickers Venture Partners; and other players including GreenFire Energy, and Sage Geosystems.

Demand for geothermal projects is skyrocketing, opening up big markets for startups that can nail the cost issue for geothermal development. As Latimer noted, from 2016 to 2019 there was only one major geothermal contract, but in 2020 there were ten new major power purchase agreements signed by the industry. 

For all of these projects, cost remains a factor. Contracts that are being signed for geothermal that are in the $65 to $75 per megawatt range, according to Latimer. By comparison, solar plants are now coming in somewhere between $35 and $55 per megawatt, as The Verge reported last year

But Latimer said the stability and predictability of geothermal power made the cost differential palatable for utilities and businesses that need the assurance of uninterruptible power supplies. As a current Houston resident, the issue is something that Latimer has an intimate experience with from this year’s winter freeze, which left him without power for five days.

Indeed, geothermal’s ability to provide always-on clean power makes it an incredibly attractive option. In a recent Department of Energy study, geothermal could meet as much as 16% of the U.S. electricity demand, and other estimates put geothermal’s contribution at nearly 20% of a fully decarbonized grid.

“We’ve long been believers in geothermal energy but have waited until we’ve seen the right technology and team to drive innovation in the sector,” said Ion Yadigaroglu of Capricorn Investment Group, in a statement.  “Fervo’s technology capabilities and the partnerships they’ve created with leading research organizations make them the clear leader in the new wave of geothermal.”

Fervo Energy drilling site. Image Credit: Fervo Energy

#africa, #alternative-energy, #articles, #berkeley-lab, #biden-administration, #bp-ventures, #capricorn-investment-group, #chevron-technology-ventures, #department-of-energy, #ebay, #energy, #engineer, #entrepreneur, #executive, #fiber-optic, #geothermal-energy, #greenhouse-gas, #houston, #jeff-skoll, #renewable-energy, #rice-university, #schlumberger, #stanford-university, #tc, #temasek, #texas, #united-states, #vickers-venture-partners

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General Motors leads $139 million investment into lithium-metal battery developer, SES

General Motors is joining the list of big automakers picking their horses in the race to develop better batteries for electric vehicles with its lead of a $139 million investment into the lithium-metal battery developer, SES.

Volkswagen has QuantumScape; Ford has invested in SolidPower (along with Hyundai and BMW); and now with SES’ big backing from General Motors most of the big American and European automakers have placed their bets.

“We are beyond R&D development,” said SES chief executive Hu Qichao in an interview with TechCrunch. “The main purposes of this funding is to, one, mprove the key material, this lithium metal electrolyte on the anode side and the cathode side, and, two, to improve the scale of the current cell from the iPhone battery size to the size that can be used in cars.”

There’s a third component to the financing as well, Hu said, which is to increase the company’s algorithmic capabilities to monitor and manage cell performance. “It’s something that we and our OEM partners care about,” said Hu.

The investment from GM s the culmination of nearly six years of work with the big automaker, said Hu. “We started working with them in 2015. For the next three years we will go through the standard automation approval processes. Going from ‘A’ sample to ‘B’ sample all the way through ‘D’ sample,” which is the final testing phase before commercial availability of SES’ batteries in cars.

While Tesla, the current leader in electric vehicle sales in America, is looking to improve the form factors of its batteries to make them more powerful and more efficient, Hu said that the chemistry isn’t that different. Solid state batteries represent a step change in battery technology that makes batteries more powerful, easier to recycle, and potentially more stable.

As Mark Harris wrote in TechCrunch earlier earlier this year:

There are many different kinds of SSB but they all lack a liquid electrolyte for moving electrons (electricity) between the battery’s positive (cathode) and negative (anode) electrodes. The liquid electrolytes in lithium-ion batteries limit the materials the electrodes can be made from, and the shape and size of the battery. Because liquid electrolytes are usually flammable, lithium-ion batteries are also prone to runaway heating and even explosion. SSBs are much less flammable and can use metal electrodes or complex internal designs to store more energy and move it faster — giving higher power and faster charging.

What SES is doing has brought the company attention not just from General Motors, but from previous investors including the battery giant SK Innovation; the Singapore-based, government-backed investment firm, Temasek; the venture capital arm of semiconductor manufacturer, Applied Materials, Applied Ventures; the Chinese automaking giant, Shanghai Auto; and investment firm, Vertex.

“GM has been rapidly driving down battery cell costs and improving energy density, and our work with SES technology has incredible potential to deliver even better EV performance for customers who want more range at a lower cost,” said Matt Tsien, GM executive vice president and chief technology officer and president, GM Ventures. “This investment by GM and others will allow SES to accelerate their work and scale up their business.”

  

#america, #applied-materials, #applied-ventures, #battery-technology, #electricity, #energy, #ford, #general-motors, #gm-ventures, #hyundai, #iphone, #lithium, #lithium-ion-batteries, #ontology, #semiconductor, #ses, #solid-state-batteries, #tc, #temasek, #tesla, #volkswagen

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Temasek and BlackRock form Decarbonization Partners with $600 million to create a zero-emission economy

The $9 trillion financial management firm Blackrock is collaborating with the $313 billion Singapore investment firm Temasek to back companies developing technologies and services to help create a zero emission economy by 2050.

The two mega-investment firms will invest an initial $600 million to launch Decarbonization Partners, and look to raise money from investors committing to achieving a net zero world and long-term sustainable finacnial returns. The two partners have set themselves a goal to raise $1 billion for their first fund, including capital from Temasek and BlackRock.

The partnership, coming during Earth month, is one of several big multi-billion dollar initiatives that are underway to prevent global climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

Indeed, BlackRock is somewhat tardy to the party. Temasek, for its part, has already made a number of high-profile bets in the alternative meat market — namely in companies like Impossible Foods — and in alternative energy technology developers including Eavor, a geothermal company, and a $500 million bet on a renewable power developer in India.

Meanwhile, a coalition of billionaires led by Bill Gates are already on their second billion dollar investment vehicle through Breakthrough Energy, a multi-stage, multi-strategy initiative that includes a venture capital arm as well as other types of financing on the way.

“The world cannot meet its net zero ambitions without transformational innovation,” said Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of BlackRock, in a statement. “For decarbonization solutions and technologies to transform our economy, they need to be scaled. To do that, they need patient, well-managed capital to support their vital goals. This partnership will help define climate solutions as a standalone asset class that is both essential to our collective mission and a historic investment opportunity created by the net zero transition.”

To get a sense of what Decarbonization Partners might back, companies should probably look to the Breakthrough Energy portfolio — the firms share similar interests in new sources of energy, technologies to distribute that energy, building and manufacturing technologies, and material science and process innovations.

It’s a big swing that the firms are taking, but the flood of capital coming into the sustainability sector is commensurate with both the size of the problem, and the potential opportunity in returns generated by solving it.

A report from Morgan Stanley estimated that solving climate change would be a $50 trillion problem, according to a 2019 report from Forbes.

“Bold, aggressive actions are needed to make the global net zero ambition a reality. Decarbonization Partners represents one of several steps we are taking to follow through on our commitment to halve the emissions from our portfolio by 2030, and ultimately move to net zero emissions by 2050,” said Dilhan Pillay, Chief Executive Officer of Temasek International. “Through collective efforts with like-minded partners, we will be able to create sustainable value for all of our stakeholders over the long term, and investors will have the opportunity to help deliver innovative solutions at scale to address climate challenges.”

#articles, #bill-gates, #blackrock, #chief-executive-officer, #energy, #forbes, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #impossible-foods, #india, #morgan-stanley, #singapore, #tc, #temasek, #temasek-holdings

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Plant-based food startup Next Gen lands $10M seed round from investors including Temasek

Singapore is quickly turning into a hub for food-tech startups, partly because of government initiatives supporting the development of meat alternatives. One of the newest entrants is Next Gen, which will launch its plant-based “chicken” brand, called TiNDLE, in Singaporean restaurants next month. The company announced today that it has raised $10 million in seed funding from investors including Temasek, K3 Ventures, EDB New Ventures (an investment arm of the Singapore Economic Development Board), NX-Food, FEBE Ventures and Blue Horizon.

Next Gen claims this is the largest seed round ever raised by a plant-based food tech company, based on data from PitchBook. This is the first time the startup has taken external investment, and the funding exceeded its original target of $7 million. Next Gen was launched last October by Timo Recker and Andre Menezes, with $2.2 million of founder capital.

Next Gen’s first product is called TiNDLE Thy, an alternative to chicken thighs. Its ingredients include water, soy, wheat, oat fiber, coconut oil and methylcellulose, a culinary binder, but the key to its chicken-like flavor is a proprietary blend of plant-based fats, like sunflower oil, and natural flavors that allows it to cook like chicken meat.

Menezes, Next Gen’s chief operating officer, told TechCrunch that the company’s goal is to be the global leader in plant-based chicken, the way Impossible and Beyond are known for their burgers.

“Consumers and chefs want texture in chicken, the taste and aroma, and that is largely related to chicken fat, which is why we started with thighs instead of breasts,” said Menezes. “We created a chicken fat made from a blend, called Lipi, to emulate the smell, aroma and browning when you cook.”

Both Recker and Menezes have years of experience in the food industry. Recker founded German-based LikeMeat, a plant-based meat producer acquired by the LIVEKINDLY Collective last year. Menezes’ food career started in Brazil at one of the world’s largest poultry exporters. He began working with plant-based meat after serving as general manager of Country Foods, a Singaporean importer and distributor that focuses on innovative, sustainable products.

“It was clear to me after I was inside the meat industry for so long that it was not going to be a sustainable business in the long run,” Menezes said.

Over the past few years, more consumers have started to feel the same way, and began looking for alternatives to animal products. UBS expects the global plant-based protein market to increase at a compounded annual growth rate of more than 30%, reaching about $50 billion by 2025, as more people, even those who aren’t vegans or vegetarians, seek healthier, humane sources of protein.

Millennial and Gen Z consumers, in particular, are willing to reduce their consumption of meat, eggs and dairy products as they become more aware of the environmental impact of industrial livestock production, said Menezes. “They understand the sustainability angle of it, and the health aspect, like the cholesterol or nutritional values, depending on what product you are talking about.”

Low in sodium and saturated fat, TiNDLE Thy has received the Healthier Choice Symbol, which is administered by Singapore’s Health Promotion Board. Next Gen’s new funding will be used to launch TiNDLE Thy, starting in popular Singaporean restaurants like Three Buns Quayside, the Prive Group, 28 HongKong Street, Bayswater Kitchen and The Goodburger.

Over the next year or two, Next Gen plans to raise its Series A round, launch more brands and products, and expand in its target markets: the United States (where it is currently recruiting a growth director to build a distribution network), China, Brazil and Europe. After working with restaurant partners, Next Gen also plans to make its products available to home cooks.

“The reason we started with chefs is because they are very hard to crack, and if chefs are happy with the product, then we’re very sure customers will be, too,” said Menezes.

#asia, #food, #foodtech, #fundings-exits, #next-gen, #plant-based-food, #plant-based-meat, #recent-funding, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #temasek, #tindle

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China’s Black Lake raises $77M to give factories a digital upgrade

Zhou Yuxiang doesn’t have the typical profile for working in China’s manufacturing world. A soft-spoken yet incisive person in his early thirties, Zhou graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in government and went on to work in investment banking in Hong Kong, following the path of many Chinese overseas returnees.

But a few years into his career, Zhou realized he wanted to build his own business. This was around 2015, a time when China was consumed by a startup craze amid Premier Li Keqiang’s campaign for “mass entrepreneurship and innovation.” Rather than going into the sleek world of consumer lifestyle, fintech or AI, Zhou picked manufacturing as a starting point.

During his time at Barclays, Zhou helped deep-pocketed Chinese manufacturers scour for merger and acquisition deals in Europe. He saw how factories in Germany digitize their operations using Siemens and SAP solutions. In China, “factories had a lot of money and could buy top-of-the-line equipment. But on the software management front, they were still very primitive,” said Zhou in an interview with TechCrunch.

“Most of the operation was done on paper. Every day, workers received a stack of papers telling them what to do, and in turn, they filled up the sheets reporting what material they had used… When you acquire these financially underperforming factories in Europe, you realize their software infrastructure capabilities are still far superior to yours,” Zhou added.

That digital gap encouraged Zhou to start Black Lake, a software platform for factory workers to log their daily tasks and managers to oversee the plant floor. Since its inception in 2016, the startup has raised over $100 million from GGV Capital, Bertelsmann Asia Investments, GSR Ventures, ZhenFund and others. The company recently closed a Series C round, pocketing nearly 500 million yuan ($77 million) and bringing on new backers including Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund Temasek, who led the round, as well as China Renaissance and Lightspeed Venture Partners.

Black Lake’s vision is to be a one-stop collaboration platform for factory workers and managers, digitizing data incurred in all stages of production, from client orders, material procurement, quality compliance, warehouse management, to logistics and shipment. The software analyzes these reams of data, churning out reports for bosses to check for abnormalities in production and for workers to see how they could increase their output and income.

Compared to SaaS incumbents from the West, Black Lake’s more localized services and affordable prices have a greater appeal to China’s wide swathes of small and medium-sized factories, Zhou argued. Black Lake tries to simplify its user experience to a Lego-like building process so factory bosses can easily customize the software for their own use. Workers access the cloud-based software from their smartphones, which have become ubiquitous in China’s affluent cities thanks to increasingly friendly device prices and data fees. A foreign SaaS giant’s solution could cost a factory at least three million yuan a year, while Black Lake charges 300,000 yuan or less, Zhou said.

To date, the company has served nearly 2,000 manufacturers and suppliers across the Greater China Region and Southeast Asia, counting in its customers Tesla, L’Oréal, Xiaomi, Sinopec, and Chinese state-owned conglomerate China Resources’ pharmaceutical group. In all, the company claims to have reached 500,000 production workers.

Manufacturing 2.0

Black Lake’s collaboration and data management software for factories

Black Lake is riding a perfect wave of “upgrading” in China’s manufacturing world. For one, the demand for customized products is rising as consumers become savvier. Instead of producing bottled water with the same packaging, for instance, beverage companies now design various looks tailored to different demographics. Factories need to adjust quickly to the flood of customized orders, and a cloud-based data management platform could be the solution, Zhou suggested.

The U.S.-China trade war is another impetus for China’s push for factory upgrade. Having felt the heat from trade sanctions, Chinese manufacturers look to cut expenses and improve productivity. That shift, along with the government’s “new infrastructure” policy to breathe high tech into traditional industries, makes Zhou all the more bullish about his business.

But Black Lake is certainly not the only one to have spotted opportunities in China’s efforts to modernize production, and enterprise software in China has a notoriously slow monetization cycle in part due to low adoption and companies’ reluctance to pay for services. The key is finding a viable business model to fund its dream to be the ultimate “data entry point” for China’s millions of factories.

With proceeds from its new funding, Black Lake plans to spend on product development, hiring, market expansion, and building an open platform for third-party developers. The startup realizes it can’t build everything factories need, and it’s already working with partners across telecommunications, cloud computing, automation and consulting, such as Huawei, Alibaba, SAP and McKinsey.

“When Chinese factories ‘wake up’, their speed of digitization will definitely leapfrog that of their American and European counterparts,” Zhou asserted.

#asia, #black-lake, #china, #funding, #ggv-capital, #manufacturing, #saas, #tc, #temasek

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Apeel gets more cash to fight poverty and food insecurity in emerging markets with its food-preserving tech

In the first real test of the potentially transformative power of its food-preserving technology, the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Apeel Sciences is bringing its innovative food treatment and supply chain management services to distribution centers in select markets in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The goal is to alleviate food insecurity among farmers, who comprise one of the most susceptible populations to issues of malnutrition, according to Apeel’s chief executive James Rogers.

“The majority of fruits and vegetables grown on this planet are grown by small farmers and two thirds of the people who are food insecure are also farmers,” said Rogers. 

The reason why farmers are more at-risk than other populations stems from their inability to get the most value out of their crops, because of the threat of spoilage, Rogers said

By introducing its preservative technologies that deter spoilage and providing willing buyers among existing Apeel customers in markets like the U.S., Denmark, Germany and Switzerland Rogers said the company can have an outsized impact to improve the amount of money going into a farmer’s pocket.

“The program with the IFC is to build supply chains out,” he said. “The value is not just in the longer-lasting produce, it’s in the market access for that longer lasting produce.”

The initial markets will be in Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda and Vietnam where Appeal’s tech will treat avocados, pineapples, asparagus, and citrus fruits like lemons, limes, and oranges.

In some ways it’s the culmination of the work that Appeal has been doing for the past several years, getting grocers around the world to buy into its approach to reducing waste.

The company has always put smallholder farmers at the center of its company mission — ever since Appeal was founded in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Department for International Development. The intention was always to extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables produced by farmers without access to the modern refrigerated supply chain. It’s just that for the past several years, the company had to refine its technology and build out a retail network.

To further that aim, Apeel has raised over $360 million, including a $250 million round of funding which closed earlier this year.

The fruition of Rogers’ plans will be as the company brings demand from international markets to these local growers through regional exporters.

Without access to a refrigerated supply chain, much of what small farmers produce can only reach local markets where supply exceeds demand. The perishability of crops creates market conditions where these fruits and vegetables can’t make it to export, creating market dynamics that exacerbate poverty and increase food loss and food waste among the people who make their living farming, Appeal said.

“With extra time we can link those small producers into the global food system and help them collect the economic value that’s intrinsic to that natural resource,” said Rogers. 

The introduction of new demand from international markets, which can be fulfilled if crops are treated with Appeal’s technology can create a virtuous cycle that will ideally increase prices for crops and bring bigger payouts to farmers. At least that’s the vision that Rogers has for the latest implementations of Appeal’s technology at regional distribution hubs.

There’s the potential that the middle men who’re distributing the produce to foreign buyers may collect most of the value from the introduction of Appeal’s technology, but Rogers dismisses that scenario.

“The work is to incorporate those small producers more directly into the supply chain of the exporter. Now that there’s familiarity with the technology you can utilize the tech to create cooperative value and use those cooperatives to unlock value for the very small producers,” he said. “By growing the demand for produce in those markets that supply has to come from somewhere. The exporters earn their cut on a volume basis. The way they increase their value is to grow their volume. They want to grow the volume that’s suitable for export and the demand. Then the challenge flips and it becomes not a demand challenge but a supply challenge. And they have to incentivize people to feed into that supply.” 

To finance this international rollout, Appeal has raised another $30 million in funding from investors including the International Finance Corp., Temasek and Astanor Ventures .

“Innovative technologies can change the course of development in emerging markets and save livelihoods, economies, and in this case, food,” said Stephanie von Friedeburg, interim Managing Director and Executive Vice President, and Chief Operating Officer, of IFC, in a statement. “We are excited to partner with Apeel to invest in a game-changing technology that can limit food waste by half, enhance sustainability, and mitigate climate change.”

#agriculture, #apeel-sciences, #articles, #astanor-ventures, #bill-melinda-gates-foundation, #denmark, #distribution, #food-waste, #kenya, #latin-america, #marketplace, #tc, #temasek, #uganda, #united-states

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Alternative protein companies have raised a whopping $1.5 billion through July of this year

Companies like Perfect Day, Impossible Foods, and a host of other startups that are developing replacements for animal farmed goods used in food, clothes, cosmetics, and chemicals have raised a whopping $1.5 billion through the first half of the year.

That’s according to a new report from The Good Food Institute which is tracking the growth of investments into sustainable foods. The report identified fermentation technologies as a rising third pillar of foundational technologies on which new and established food brands are making products that swap out animal products for other protein sources.

Fermentation technologies, which use microbes like microalgae and mycoprotein, can produce biomass, improve plant proteins and create new functional ingredients, and companies developing and deploying these technologies have raised $435 million in funding through the end of July 2020. It’s an indication of how competitive the market is for food technologies, representing an increase of nearly 60 percent over the $274 million invested in all of 2019, according to GFI.

“Fermentation is powering a new wave of alternative protein products with huge potential for improving flavor, sustainability, and production efficiency. Investors and innovators are recognizing this market potential, leading to a surge of activity in fermentation as an enabling platform for the alternative protein industry as a whole,” said GFI Associate Director of Science and Technology Liz Specht, in a statement. “And this is just the beginning: The opportunity landscape for technology development is completely untapped in this area. Many alternative protein products of the future will harness the plethora of protein production methods now available, with the option of leveraging combinations of proteins derived from plants, animal cell culture, and microbial fermentation.”

Portait of the head of an adult black and white cow, gentle look, pink nose, in front of a blue sky. Image Credit: Getty Images

As the $1.5. billion figure indicates, big-time investors are taking notice. Funds like the Bill Gates -backed Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Temasek, Horizons Ventures, CPP Investment Board, Louis Dreyfus Co., Bunge Ventures, Kellogg, ADM Capital, Danone, Kraft Heinz, Mars, and Tyson Foods’ investment arm have all backed companies in the industry.

In all, fermentation-focused startup companies raised 3.5 times more capital than cultivated meat companies worldwide and almost 60 percent as much as U.S. plant-based meat, egg, and dairy companies, according to the GFI. 

As the industry has grown up, since Quorn became the first company to use fermentation-derived proteins back in 1985, big industrial companies have started to take notice.

While there are at least 44 startups focused on alternative proteins worldwide, according to the GFI report, large publicly traded companies like Novozymes, DuPont, and DSM are also developing product lines for the alternative protein business.

“Given the breadth of applications, we believe that fermentation could solve many current challenges faced by alternative proteins. On the one hand, biomass fermentation can create nutritious, clean protein in a highly efficient and low-cost way. On the other hand, the potential for precision fermentation to produce value-added, highly functional, and nutritious ingredients is very exciting and could revolutionize the plant-based category,” said Rosie Wardle, an investor with the CPT Capital, which specializes in backing startups developing novel protein production technologies. “From an investment perspective, we are very excited about the white space opportunities in this category, and we are actively looking to increase our investments in the space. This new report from GFI is the first comprehensive overview of fermentation for alternative protein applications and should be required reading for everyone who wants to create a more efficient and less harmful global food system.”

#articles, #bill-gates, #biotechnology, #breakthrough-energy-ventures, #cellular-agriculture, #chemicals, #cultured-meat, #danone, #dupont, #food, #food-and-drink, #head, #horizons-ventures, #impossible-foods, #mars, #meat, #meat-substitutes, #tc, #technology-development, #temasek, #tyson-foods, #united-states

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India’s Zomato raises $62 million from Temasek

Indian food delivery startup Zomato has raised $62 million from Singapore’s Temasek, resuming a financing round that it originally expected to close in January this year.

Singapore’s state investment arm Temasek financed the capital through its unit MacRitchie Investments, a regulatory filing showed. Business intelligence firm Tofler shared the filing with TechCrunch.

A Zomato spokesperson in India did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Zomato kickstarted its new financing round about a year ago, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. The company has met with several investors but talks have not materialized.

The food delivery startup, which has improved its financial performance in recent quarters despite the coronavirus outbreak, announced in January that Ant Financial had committed to provide it with $150 million.

But Ant Financial has yet to deliver two-thirds of the committed capital, Zomato investor Info Edge said in late July. In its IPO prospectus late last month, Ant Financial cited regulatory changes in India as a reason for it not being able to invest.

In April this year, India made a change to its foreign investment policy that requires Chinese investors — who have ploughed billions of dollars into Indian startups in recent years — to take approval from New Delhi before they could write new checks to Indian firms. It’s very common for investors to finance their committed capital to startup in several tranches.

Reuters reported last month that Alibaba Group and its affiliates including Ant Financial will not invest in Indian startups for at least six months.

In January, Zomato chief executive Deepinder Goyal said the company expects to close a round of up to $600 million by the end of the month. In the same month, Zomato acquired the Indian food delivery business of Uber. In early April, he told TechCrunch that he was expecting to close the round by mid-May, attributing delays to the coronavirus outbreak.

#asia, #food, #funding, #india, #swiggy, #temasek, #zomato

0

What will a Wish IPO look like? Seems we’ll find out sooner than later

Wish, the San Francisco-based, 750-person e-commerce app that sells deeply discounted goods that you definitely don’t need but might buy anyway when priced so low — think pool floaties, guinea pig harnesses, Apple Watch knockoffs — said yesterday that it has submitted a draft registration to the SEC for an IPO.

Because it filed confidentially, we can’t get a look at its financials just yet; we only know that its investors, who’ve provided the company with $1.6 billion across the years, think the company was worth $11.2 billion as of last summer, when it closed its most recent financing (a $300 million Series H round). Meanwhile, Wish itself says it has more than 70 million active users across more than 100 countries and 40 languages.

The big question, of course, is whether the now 10-year-old company can maintain or even accelerate its momentum. It’s not a no-brainer. On the one hand, it’s a victim of the increasingly chilly relations between the U.S. and China, from where the bulk of Wish’s goods come. Then again, Wish has been beefing up its business elsewhere in the world partly as a result of the countries’ shifting stance toward one another. For example, it told Recode last year that it’s increasingly looking to Latin American markets — Mexico, Argentina, Chile — for growth, and that it’s planning a bigger push into Africa, where it’s already available in South Africa, Ghana, and Nigeria, among other countries.

But let’s back up a minute first. If you don’t know, Wish was cofounded by CEO Peter Szulscewski, a computer scientist by training, who previously spent 6.5 years at Google before cofounding a company call ContextLogic, from which Wish evolved. The idea was to build a next-generation, mobile ad network to compete with Google’s AdSense network, but Szulscewski and his cofounder, Danny Zhang, realized they were “pretty bad at business development,” as he once said at an event hosted by this editor, so eventually they pivoted to Wish.

Wish began as an app that asked people to create wish lists, then the company approached merchants, letting them know a certain number of customers wanted, say, a certain type of table. It was smart to recognize that showing the right recommendations to shoppers would become critical to its users, though it didn’t necessarily foresee the types of merchants it would ultimately work with, most of them in China, Indonesia and elsewhere in East Asia and Southeast Asia who are focused on value-conscious customers and who, at the time, didn’t have other ways to sell to or communicate with customers elsewhere in the world (so didn’t mind paying Wish a 15% take to handle this for them).

Wish also quickly focused around lightweight items that it could ship cheaply from China, if slowly, using something called ePacket. It’s a shipping option agreement that established nine years ago with the cooperation of the US Postal Service and Hong Kong Post (and later made available to 40 countries altogether) that enables products coming from China and Hong Kong to be sent cheaply as long as they meet certain criteria — they don’t weigh too much, they aren’t worth too much, they adhere to certain minimum and maximums regarding their size, and so forth.

The mix has proved powerful for Wish, despite growing competition from China-based outfits like AliExpress that offer many of the same goods to the same customers around the world. (Wish has also competed, always, with Walmart and Amazon.)

The company has also soldiered on despite apparent struggles to keep customers coming over time, too. Because it doesn’t sell essential items but rather a grab bag of different items, people tend to cycle out of the app after a few months of their first visit, as The Information once reported.

A bigger issue now is that, as of two months ago, a new USPS pricing structure went into effect that raises rates on international shipments. It also requires foreign recipient countries to ratify new rates under ePacket (whose recipient countries, by the way, have been downsized from 40 to 12). That means that companies like Wish either pay more to ship their goods — forcing its vendors to charge more — or they move to commercial networks.

Of course, a third option — and one that may position Wish well for the future — would be for Wish to invest in more local warehousing in the U.S, Europe and others of its growing markets, which it told Recode that it is doing, along with seeking out more local vendors near its biggest markets.

Given shifts in the way that commercial real estate is being used — with retail-to-industrial property conversions accelerating, driven by the growth of e-commerce  — it’s probably as good a time as any for Wish to be making these moves. Whether they are enough to sustain and grow the company is something that only time will tell.

Again, we’ll collectively know much more when we can get a look at that filing. It should make for interesting reading.

Wish’s private investors include General Atlantic, GGV Capital, Founders Fund, Formation 8, Temasek Holdings and DST Global, among others.

#dst-global, #ecommerce, #formation-8, #founders-fund, #general-atlantic, #ggv, #ipo, #startups, #tc, #temasek, #venture-capital, #wish

0

Omio takes $100M to shuttle through the coronavirus crisis

Multimodal travel platform Omio (formerly GoEuro) has raised $100M in late stage funding to help see its business through the coronavirus crisis. It also says it’s eyeing potential M&A opportunities within the hard-hit sector.

New and existing investors in the Berlin -based startup participated in the late stage convertible note, although omio isn’t disclosing any new names. Among the list of returning investors are: Temasek, Kinnevik, Goldman Sachs, NEA and Kleiner Perkins. Omio’s business has now pulled in around $400M in total since being founded back in 2013 — with the prior raise being a $150M round back in 2018.

In a supporting statement on the latest raise, Georgi Ganev, CEO of Kinnevik, said: “We are very impressed how fast and effective Omio adapted to such an unprecedented crisis for the global travel industry. The management team has delivered quickly and we can see the robustness of the business model which is well diversified across markets and transport modes. We are looking forward to supporting Omio on its way to become the go-to destination for travellers across the world.”

While COVID-19 has thrown up major headwinds to global tourism and travel — with foreign trips discouraged by specific government quarantine requirements, and the overarching requirement for people to maintain social distancing meaning certain types of holidays or activities are less attractive or even feasible, Omio is nonetheless sounding upbeat — reporting a partial recovery in bookings this summer in Europe.

In Germany and France it says bookings are above 50% of the pre-COVID-19 level at this point, despite only “marginal” marketing spend over the crisis period.

Its business is likely better positioned than some in the travel space to adapt to changes in how people are moving around and holidaying, given it caters to multiple modes of transport. The travel aggregator platform spans flights, rail, buses and even ferry routes, allowing users to quickly compare different modes of transport for their planned journey.

More recently Omio has added car sharing and car rentals to its platform, including via a partnership with rentalcars.com. So as travellers in Europe have adapted to living with COVID-19 — perhaps opting to take more local trips and/or avoiding mass transit when they go on holiday — it’s in a strong position to cater to changing demand through its partnerships with ground transportation networks and providers.

“That diversification in terms of not depending on a single mode of transport has really helped the business come back much stronger, because we’re not depending on — for example — air or bus,” CEO and founder Naren Shaam tells TechCrunch. “The diversification has helped us.”

“People will travel a lot more to smaller regions, explore the countryside a little more,” he predicts, suggesting the current dilution of travel focus it’s seeing — away from usual tourist hotspot destinations in favor of a broader, more rural mix of places — augurs a wider shift to more a diversified, more sustainable type of travel being here to stay.

“It’s not longer just airport to airport travel,” he notes. “People are traveling to where they want to go — and it’s a lot more distributed across geographies, where people want to explore. A platform like ours can accelerate this behaviour because we serve, not just flights, but trains, buses, even ferries etc, you can actually reach any destination with us.”

Direct booking via Omio’s platform is possible where it has partner agreements in place (so not universally across all routes, though it may still be able to offer route planning info).

Its multimodal booking mix extends to 37 countries in Europe and North America — where it launched at the start of this year. Last year it acquired Rome2Rio, bulking out its global flight and transport planning inventory. The grand vision is “all transport, end to end, in a single product”, as Shaam puts it — although executing on that means continuing to build out partnerships and integrations across its market footprint. 

Asked whether the new funding will give Omio enough headroom to see it through the current coronavirus crisis, Shaam tells TechCrunch: “The unknown unknown is how long the crisis lasts. But as we can see if the crisis lasts a couple of years we will make it through that.”

He says the raise will help the business come out of the crisis “stronger” — by enabling Omio to spend on adapting its product to meet changing consumer demand, such as the shift to ground transportation. “All of those things we can use these capital to shape the future of how the travel industry actually interacts with consumers,” he suggests.

Another shift in the industry that’s been triggered by the coronavirus relates to consumer expectations around information. In short, people expect a lot more travel intel up front.

“We have hypotheses on what comes back [post-crisis]. I think travel will be a lot more information centric, especially coming out of COVID-19. Customers will seek clarity in the near term around basic information around what regions can I travel to, do I need to quarantine, do I need to wear a mask inside the train etc,” he says.

“But that’ll drive a type of consumer behavior where they are seeking more information and companies will need to provide this information to satisfy the consumer needs of the future. Because consumers are getting used to having relevant information at the right point in time. So it’s not a data dump of all information… it’s when I get to the train station, what do I need to do?

“Each of those is almost hyperlocal in terms of information and that’s going to drive a change in consumer behaviour.”

Omio’s initial response to this need for more information up front was the launch of a hub — called the Open Travel Index — where users can look up information on restrictions related to specific destinations to help them plan their journey.

However he admits it’s a struggle to keep up with requirements that can switch over night (in one recent example, the UK added France to a list of countries from which returning travellers must self quarantine for two weeks — leading to a mad dash by scores of holidaymakers trying to beat a 4am deadline to get back on UK soil).

“This is a product we launched about a month and a half ago that tells you, if you’re based in the UK, where you can go in Europe,” he says. “We need to update it faster because information’s changing very, very quickly — so it’s on us now to figure out how to keep up with the constant changes of information.”

Discussing other COVID-19 changes, Shaam points to the shift to apps that’s being accelerated by the public health crisis — a trend that’s being replicated in multiple industries of course, not just travel.

“More than half of the ground transport industry was booked at a kiosk at a station [before COVID-19]. So this will drive a clear change with people uncomfortable touching a kiosk button,” he adds, arguing that that shift will help create better consumer products in the sector.

“If you imagine the kind of consumer products that the app/web world has created you can imagine that should come to the consumer experiences in travel,” he suggests. “So these are the things, I think, that will come in terms of consumer behavior and it’s up to us to make sure that we lead that change as a company.”

“We’re investing quite heavily in some of the other shifts that we’re seeing — in terms of days to departure, flexibility of fares, more insurance type products so you can cancel,” he adds. “We’re also trying to help customers in terms of whether they can go.

“We’re investing heavily in routing so you can connect modes of transport, not just flights, so you can travel longer distances with just trains. And we’re also in talks with all our suppliers to say hey, how can we help you come back — because not all suppliers are state monopolies. There’s a lot of small, medium suppliers on our product and we want to bring them back as well so we’re investing there as well.”

On M&A, Shaam says growth via acquisition is “definitely on the radar for us”. Though he also says it’s not top of the priority list right now.

“We’ve actively got our ears out. More so now, going forward, than looking back — because the last four months, imagine what we went through as a travel company, I just wanted to stablize that situation and bring us to a stable position,” he says.

“We are still in COVID-19. The situation’s not yet over, so our primary goal coming out of this is very much investing in the shifts in consumer behavior in our core product… Any M&A acquisitions we’ll do is more opportunistic, based on [factors like] pricing and what’s happening in the industry.

“But more of our capital and my time and everything will go a lot more to build the future of transport. Because that’s going to change so much more for so many millions of consumers that use our product today.”

There is still plenty of work that can be done on Omio’s core proposition — aka, linking up natural travel search for consumers by knitting together a diverse mix and range of service providers in a way that shrinks the strain of travel planning, and building out support for even more multifaceted trips people might wish to take in future.

“No one brings the natural search for consumers. Consumers just want to go London to Portsmouth. They don’t say ‘London Portsmouth train’. They do that today because that’s what the industry forces them to do — so by enabling this core product to work where you can search any modes of transport, anywhere in Europe, one click to buy, everything is a simple, mobile ticket, and you use the whole product on the app — that’s the big driver for the industry,” Shaam adds.

“On top of that you’ve got shifts towards ground transport, shifts towards app, shifts towards sustainability, which is a big topic — even pre-COVID-19 — that we can actually help drive even more change coming out of this. These are the bigger opportunities for us.”

Uncertainty clearly remains a constant for the travel sector now that COVID-19 has become a terrible ‘new normal’. So even with an unexpected summer travel bump in Europe it remains to be seen what will happen in the coming months as the region moves from summer to winter.

“In general the overall business outlook we’re taking is purely something of more caution,” says Shaam. “We just don’t know. Anything at all with respect to COVID-19, no one knows, basically. I’ve seen a number of reports in the industry but no one really knows. So in general our outlook is one of caution. And that’s why we were surprised in our uptick already through the summer. We didn’t even expect that kind of growth with near zero marketing spend levels.”

“We’ll adapt,” he adds. “The business is high variable costs so we can scale up and down fairly easily, so it’s asset light and these things help us adapt. And let’s see what happens in the winter.”

Over in the US — where Omio happened to launch slightly ahead of the COVID-19 crisis — he says it’s been a very different story, with no bookings bump. “No surprise, given the situation there,” he says, emphasizing the importance of government interventions to help control the spread of the virus.

“Governments play a very important role here. Europe has done a superior job compared to a lot of other regions in the world… But entire economies [in the region] depend on tourism,” he says. “Hopefully entire [European] countries shouldn’t go into shutdowns again because the systems are strong enough to identify local spike in cases and they ring fence it very quickly and can act on it. It’s the same as us as a company. If there’s a second wave we know how to react because we’ve gone through this horrible phrase one… So using those learnings and applying them quickly I think will help stabilize the industry as a whole.”

#berlin, #car-rentals, #car-sharing, #consumer-products, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #europe, #france, #fundings-exits, #germany, #goeuro, #goldman-sachs, #kinnevik, #kleiner-perkins, #london, #ma, #naren-shaam, #nea, #north-america, #omio, #rome2rio, #tc, #temasek, #transport, #transportation, #travel, #travel-industry, #united-kingdom, #united-states

0

Unpacking Duck Creek Technologies’ IPO and hoped-for $2.7B valuation

Tech stocks retain their highs as the second quarter’s earnings season begins to fade into the rearview mirror, and there are still a number of companies looking to go public while the times are good. It looks like a smart move, as public investors are hungry for growth-oriented shares — which is just what tech and venture-backed companies have in spades.

The companies currently looking to go public are diverse. China-based real-estate giant KE Holdings — a hybrid listings company and digital transaction portal for housing — is looking to raise as much as $2.3 billion in a U.S. listing. Xpeng, another China-based company that builds electric vehicles, is looking to list in the U.S as well. Xpeng has the distinction of being gross-margin negative in every key time period detailed in its S-1 filing.


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


And then there’s Duck Creek Technologies, a domestic tech company looking to go public on the back of growing SaaS revenues. This morning let’s quickly spin through Duck Creek’s history, peek at its financial results, calculate its expected valuation and see how its pricing fits compared to current norms.

Duck Creek is a Boston-based software company that serves the property and casualty (P&C) insurance market. Its customers include names like AIG, Geico and Progressive, along with smaller players that aren’t as well known to the American mass market.

The KE IPO will be a big affair because the company is huge and profitable with $3.86 billion in H1 2020 revenue leading to $227.5 million in net income. The Xpeng IPO will be interesting because Tesla’s strong share price has given float to a great many EV boats. But Duck Creek is a company slowly letting go of perpetual license software sales and scaling its SaaS incomes while still generating nearly half its revenues from services. It’s a company we can understand, in other words.

So let’s get under the skin of the Boston-based company that also claims low-code functionality. This will be fun.

Duck Creek by the numbers

#apax-partners, #duck-creek, #extra-crunch, #fundings-exits, #initial-public-offering, #insight-partners, #low-code, #market-analysis, #saas, #software, #software-as-a-service, #startups, #tc, #temasek, #the-exchange, #xpeng

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Brave Robot ice cream launches as the first brand from the Perfect Day-backed Urgent Company

The founders of the alternative dairy protein manufacturer, Perfect Day, have joined with a longtime product developer in the dairy industry to create a new sustainably focused consumer food company called the Urgent Company.

Focused on creating sustainable food brands manufactured, packaged and sold in a more environmentally friendly way, the Urgent Company is unveiling its first product — Brave Robot ice cream.

It’s also the first indication of how Perfect Day will deploy some of the massive amounts of money it raised since it closed on its mammoth $300 million funding round led by the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board with additional commitments from Temasek and Horizons Ventures.

Perfect Day founders Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi first met their Urgent Company co-founder and general manager, Paul Kollessoff, when Kollessoff was performing due diligence on Perfect Day while working for the Irish dairy company Glanbia.

“What I was doing there was actually looking at new business ventures,” said Kollessoff. “I met the guys three years ago when we were doing some flavor work with them.”

The conversation ended there while Pandya and Gandhi built up Perfect Day, but around three months ago the two founders reached back out with idea for a new consumer food company, based on the latest in plant-based, or genetically modified proteins (including their own), that also used the latest in packaging technology, logistics, and other technologies to reduce the entire carbon footprint of a CPG company. 

Image Credit: The Urgent Company

“It’s not that we are trying to create a company that’s going to commercialize Perfect Day proteins,” said Pandya. “There are so many other things across the value chain of food that need to be improved and modernized including all of the things around how a food gets to the consumer.”

So Brave Robot’s commitment to sustainability extends beyond the use of alternative proteins to replace animal husbandry and the particularly ecologically disastrous dairy industry and its cows. “There’s a load of exciting stuff going on in ingredient innovation and packaging innovation,” said Kollessoff.

Those innovations help The Urgent Company not only become more sustainable, but give the company the ability to move products into the market more quickly, according to Kollessoff.

With only eight full-time members of the Urgent Company staff it managed to shepherd its ice cream business from inception to product launch within a three-month timeframe according to Kollessoff.

Co-founders of Perfect Day, Ryan Pandya (L) and Perumal Gandhi (R), showcase the prospective product portfolio fueled by its flora-based dairy protein. Image Credit: Business Wire. 

So Brave Robot will be launching with a direct to consumer pitch for its dairy-replacement pints of ice cream for a $5.99 price point. Initially available to customers in the California region, any number of buyers are talking to the company, Kollessoff said. “We’ll be on store shelves through the next month. Working with a national broker… we will have a direct to consumer platform as well.”

Before anything could happen with bringing a product to commercial scale, Kollessoff said he had to go through a rigorous process of testing the product — with his kids. At one point, there were 400 pints of ice cream in the Kollessoff freezer. He and his team whittled the initial over thirty flavors of ice cream and settled on a core group of eight.

They include: Vanilla, A Lot of Chocolate, Vanilla ‘N Cookies, Buttery Pecan, PB ‘N Fudge, Blueberry Pie, Hazelnut Chocolate Chunk and Raspberry White Truffle.

“We wanted to create something that is bigger and broader in vision that can bring innovation across the board,” said Gandhi of the drive to build another business with a broader scope than Perfect Day. “What Perfect Day is focusing on …we made cow 2.0… we’ve reimagined the cow… [but] we want [The Urgent Company] to use any protein on planet earth.”

Part of the reason why the company is so unfettered is to encourage speedy experimentation for the simple reason that there’s not much time to take the steps needed to slow down — and ideally reverse — climate change.

“You only get so much time on earth… and we wanted to do more… That’s why it’s called the urgent company.. [because] let’s hurry the fuck up world.”

#dairy, #food, #food-and-drink, #horizons-ventures, #ice-cream, #tc, #temasek

0

Project Ubin, the Singaporean money authority’s blockchain initiative, moves closer to commercialization

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and state investment firm Temasek announced today that Project Ubin, its blockchain-based multi-currency payments network, has proven its commercial potential after tests with more than 40 companies.

The initiative was launched in 2016. A prototype developed by Temasek and J.P. Morgan began undergoing testing last year to see how well it would integrate with commercial blockchain applications.

A report released today, commissioned by MAS and Temasek, said Project Ubin’s prototype was validated through workshops with more than 40 financial and non-financial firms. Its potential uses include faster, less costly cross-border transactions; foreign currency exchange; and smart contracts for escrow and trade.

The report also said that Project Ubin’s prototype can potentially pave the way to enable more collaborations with central banks and other financial institution to build better cross-border payments networks.

In a statement, Chia Song Hwee, Temasek’s deputy chief executive officer, said “This validates Temasek’s efforts in exploring and building blockchain solutions focusing on digital identity, digital currencies and financial asset tokenization. We look forward to supporting commercialization efforts emanating from Project Ubin and other application areas, with a view to drive greater adoption of blockchain technology.”

#blockchain, #cross-border-payments, #monetary-authority-of-singapore, #project-ubin, #singapore, #tc, #temasek

0

Pipo Saude raises $4.6 million to bring healthcare benefits management services to Brazil

Pipo Saude, a Brazilian provider of healthcare services for businesses and their employees, has raised $4.6 million in a new round of funding to expand its footprint in Brazil.

“The company’s platform offers recommendations for the healthcare products that fit the team, enabling businesses to improve the quality of life of their employees,” said chief executive and co-founder, Manoela Ribas Mitchell. “We go all the way to the end beneficiaries.”

Pipo Saude helps companies price their insurance appropriately and bring down the medical loss ratio that companies suffer. Medical inflation in Brazil may be worse than in the US, with prices rising at around 20 percent per year.

Like the US, people in Brazil often default to hospitals and urgent care facilities when they’re sick or injured, that “urgent care culture” as Mitchell calls it drives up the cost for providers and employers. “We try to move the needle toward preventive care and specialist doctors” Mitchell said.

Backing the company with a $4.6 million round are two of Latin America’s top investment firms — Monashees and Kaszek Ventures . OneVC, the San Francisco-based investment firm that also invests in Latin American tech companies also participated in the round.

Pipo Saude makes money off of commissions and has a few corollaries in companies like Zenefits (in its earliest days), Amino, or the Canadian care benefit management company, Mitchell said.

The company currently has about thirty employees on staff, and some of the new cash will be used to scale the business.

For co-founders Mitchell, Vinicius Correa, and Thiago Torres, the healthcare market was an obvious choice when they looked to start their own company. Torres and Mitchell had known each other as students at the University of Sao Paolo where they both studied economics. Mitchell and Torres both pursued careers in private equity, where she worked at Temasek and then at Actis, focusing on healthcare, while Torres also went to Agavia Investimentos.

Correa worked in startups, initially as an employee at Nubank where he met Mitchell through a mutual friend.

While healthcare may be a tough knot to unravel — especially for a startup — the size of the Brazilian market alone is enormous. “We’re talking about a $50 billion revenue pool,” says Mitchell. “If we want to build a very robust product we have to focus on Brazil for quite a while.”

#amino, #articles, #brazil, #health, #healthcare, #kaszek-ventures, #latin-america, #monashees, #nubank, #san-francisco, #tc, #temasek, #united-states, #zenefits

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With $84 million in new cash, Commonwealth Fusion is on track for a demonstration fusion reactor by 2025

Commonwealth Fusion Systems closed on its latest $84 million in new funding two weeks ago. The U.S. was still very much in the lockdown phase and getting a deal done, especially a multi-million dollar investment in a new technology aiming to make commercial nuclear fusion a reality after decades of hype, was “an interesting thing” in the words of Commonwealth’s chief executive, Bob Mumgaard. 

It was actually one time when the technical complexity of what Commonwealth Fusion is trying to achieve and the longterm horizon for the company’s first test technology was a benefit instead of an obstacle, Mumgaard said. 

We’re in a unique position where it’s still something that’s far enough in the future that any of the recovery models are not going to affect the underlying needs that the world still has a giant climate problem,” he said. 

Commonwealth Fusion Systems purports to be one solution to that problem. The company is using technology developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to leapfrog the current generation of nuclear fusion reactors currently under development (there are, in fact, several nuclear fusion reactors currently under development) and bring a waste-free energy source to industrial customers within the next ten years.

Commonwealth Fusion Systems core innovation was the development of a high power superconducting magnet that could theoretically be used to create the conditions necessary for a sustained fusion reaction. The reactor uses hydrogen isotopes that are kept under conditions of extreme pressure using these superconducting magnets to sustain the reaction and contain the energy that’s generated from the reaction. Designs for reactors require their hydrogen fuel source to be heated to tens of millions of degrees.

The design that Commonwealth is pursuing is akin to the massive, multi-decade International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project that’s currently being completed in France. Begun under the Reagan Administration in the eighties, as a collaboration between the U.S., the Soviet Union, various European nations and Japan. Over the years, membership in the project expanded to include India, South Korea, and China.

While the ITER project also expects to flip the switch on its reactor in 2025, the cost has been dramatically higher — totaling well over $14 billion dollars. The project, which began construction in 2013, will also represent a much longer timeframe to completion compared with the schedule that Commonwealth has set for itself.

Picture taken on January 17, 2013 in Saint-Paul-les-Durance, southern France shows the model of the reactor of the future International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) . The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter), based at the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) research center of Cadarache in Saint-Paul-lès-Durance, was set up by the EU, which has a 45 percent share, China, India, South Korea, Japan, Russia and the US to research a clean and limitless alternative to dwindling fossil fuel reserves. AFP PHOTO / GERARD JULIEN (Photo credit should read GERARD JULIEN/AFP via Getty Images)

“We have set off to build what has been our big goal all along, which is to build the full scale demonstration magnet… we’re in the act of building that,” said Mumgaard. “We’ll turn that on next year.”

Upon completion, Commonwealth Fusion Systems will have built a ten-ton magnet that has the magnetic force equivalent to twenty MRI machines, said Mumgaard. “After we get the magnet to work, we’ll be building a machine that will generate more power than it takes to run. We see that as the Kitty Hawk moment,” for fusion, he said.

Other startup companies are also racing to bring technologies to market and hit the 2025 timeline. They include the Canadian company General Fusion and the United Kingdom’s Tokamak Energy.

Within the next six to eight months, Commonwealth Energy hopes to have a site selected for its first demonstration reactor.

Financing the company’s most recent developments are a slew of investors new and old who have committed over $200 million to the company, which formally launched in 2018.

The round was led by Temasek with participation from new investors Equinor, a multinational energy company, and Devonshire Investors, the private equity group affiliated with FMR LLC, the parent company of Fidelity Investments.

Current investors including the Bill Gates-backed Breakthrough Energy Ventures; MIT’s affiliated investment fund, The Engine; the Italian energy firm ENI Next LLC; and venture investors like Future Ventures, Khosla Ventures; Moore Strategic Ventures, Safar Partners LLC, Schooner Capital, and Starlight Ventures also participated. 

“We are investing in fusion and CFS because we believe in the technology and the company, and we remain committed to providing energy to the world, now and in a low carbon future,” said Sophie Hildebrand, Chief Technology Officer and Senior Vice President for Research and Technology at Equinor, in a statement.

The company said it would use the new financing to continue developing its technology which would offer fusion power plants, fusion engineering services, and HTS magnets to customers. Funding will also be used to support business development initiatives for other applications of the company’s proprietary HTS magnets, the key component to its SPARC reactor, which also has various other commercial uses, the company said. 

Helping the cause, and potentially accelerating the timelines for many fusion players is a new initiative from the federal government that could see government dollars go to support construction of new facilities. The Department of Energy recently released a request for information (RFI) on potential cost share programs for the development of nuclear fusion reactors in the U.S.

Modeled after the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program which brought the world SpaceX, Blue Origin, and other U.S. private space companies, a cost-sharing program for fusion development could accelerate the development of low-cost, pollution free fusion reactors across the U.S.

“The COTS program transitioned the space industry from ‘Here’s a government dictated space sector’ to a vibrant commercial launch industry,” said Mumgaard.

One investor who’s seen the value of public private partnerships to spur commercial innovation is Steve Jurvetson, the founder of Future Ventures, and a backer of Commonwealth Fusion Systems. Jurvetson acknowledged the necessity of fusion investment for the future of the energy industry.

“Fusion energy is an investment in our future that offers an important path toward combating climate change. Our continued investment in CFS fits strongly within our mission as we seek long-term solutions to address the world’s energy challenges,” said Steve Jurvetson, Managing Director and Founder, Future Ventures.

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With fresh support from its billionaire backers Pivot Bio is ushering in a farming revolution

In the first decade of the twentieth century two German chemists, Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch, invented fertilizer — the nitrogen compound which ushered in modern agriculture and saved the world from potential starvation.

Now, over a century later, a new group of scientists backed by government-owned international investment funds and some of the world’s wealthiest men and women is trying to save the world from their invention.

In the hundred years since companies began manufacturing fertilizer at an industrial scale, the chemical has become one of the main sources of the pollution that’s choking the planet and putting millions of the lives its use has helped to feed at risk from severe droughts, fires, floods, and storms caused by climate change.

That’s why investors including Breakthrough Energy Ventures (the investment fund backed by Mukesh Ambani, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Masayoshi Son) and the Singapore-owned investment fund Temasek along with DCVC; Prelude Ventures; Spruce Capital Partners; Codon Capital; Bunge Ventures; Continental Grain Company; Tekfen Ventures; Pavilion Capital; and individual investors Alan Cohen and Roger Underwood have backed Pivot Bio with a new $100 million investment.

Pivot uses genetically edited microbes to replicate the work that naturally occurring bacteria had done for millions of years to fix nitrogen in the soil, where it could be absorbed through plants’ root structures.

Crops like peas, beans, and soybeans have developed a symbiotic relationship with bacteria in the soil that take nitrogen from the air and convert it into a form that the plants can use. But grains like corn and wheat don’t have a link with any nitrogen-fixing bacteria, so they’re not able to grow as robustly. Some farmers rotate crops between plants that have nitrogen fixing bacteria and those that don’t so the soil can remain nutrient rich.

Using the company’s products, Pivot Bio estimates that farmers can improve yields and remove one gigaton of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions from the atmosphere. The company also said that it can reduce approximately $4.1. billion in spending on water purification across the U.S. Spending which can be traced back to the water pollution associated with industrial farming and its use of synthetic fertilizers.

Over time, the run off of excess fertilizer from farms can lead to environmental degradation and the poisoning of local and regional water supplies.

Farmers are already using Pivot Bio’s microbes to improve crop yields and reduce fertilizer use for corn crops — with typically gains of 5.8 bushels per acre on fields that used the company’s treatments compared to fields using only synthetic nitrogen, the company said.

“Growers and our planet deserve a better fertilizer – one that balances on-farm economics with the farmer’s commitment to leave the land better for the next generation, and Pivot Bio’s technology helps them do just that,” said Karsten Temme, CEO and co-founder of Pivot Bio.

Pivot will use the money from the new round to expand internationally into Latin America and Canada and begin marketing a new product that it’s introducing into the U.S. market for wheat crops, the company said.

“Pivot Bio’s microbial nitrogen fertilizers are revolutionizing how farmers apply nitrogen to their crops, and we’re excited to continue our investment to support this important mission,” said Carmichael Roberts of Breakthrough Energy Ventures, in a statement. “The company is leading the charge on truly sustainable farming techniques, and we’re confident that they’ll continue to innovate their product offerings to solve this critical climate and societal challenge.”

As Temme notes, the thesis around using microbes in agriculture dates back at least fifty years. However DNA sequencing, machine learning, and gene editing made possible by advances like CRISPR all equate to new abilities for researchers to develop products that can fulfill the promise that microbial soil enrichment promised.

For Pivot Bio, the proof is in the sales. Even as the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 epidemic continues to wreak its havoc on a range of industries, Temme said that Pivot’s sales remain consistent.

Typically when farmers face tough times, they go back to basics and don’t experiment with new, relatively unproven products, Temme said. However, Pivot’s product is already sold out for the season.

“Pivot Bio is addressing one of the most difficult challenges facing agriculture in the 21st century – reducing dependence on damaging synthetic fertilizer while increasing crop yields and creating better outcomes for farmers,” said Matt Ocko, Managing Partner, DCVC, in a statement.

Pivot may be the company that’s managed to get to market first, but they’re far from the only company looking at replacing fertilizer with microbes. In Boston, a joint venture between Gingko Bioworks and Bayer, called Joyn Bio, is developing a microbial-based nitrogen fixing technology of its own.

However, its product has yet to come to market and the company’s planned trials have been delayed by the COVID-19 outbreak, the company said.

“We are following the strict guidelines of our facilities in Boston and Woodland that dramatically reduces the number of employees in our labs and greenhouses, while the remainder of our staff are continuing our efforts from home,” the company wrote in a statement on its website. “We are currently focused on preparing for our 2020 field and greenhouse trials as best we can under these new conditions.”

Meanwhile, Pivot Bio continues to sell.

“Farmer acceptance of our technology and support of our vision is far beyond our expectations,” said Temme, in a statement. “They understand the economics and efficiencies our product offers – more consistent yields, 100 percent nitrogen efficiency with the crop, and a lighter environmental footprint. It’s a triple bottom line for them and our planet.”

#agriculture, #bayer, #bill-gates, #boston, #breakthrough-energy-ventures, #canada, #crispr, #crops, #dcvc, #dna-sequencing, #jeff-bezos, #latin-america, #machine-learning, #managing-partner, #masayoshi-son, #matt-ocko, #mukesh-ambani, #pavilion-capital, #prelude-ventures, #tc, #temasek, #united-states

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