Business News

Hear Charles Hudson explain how to sell an idea (without a product) at Early Stage

Startup News - 2020, July 1 - 12:51am

Startups often dance between selling dreams and building products, and we’ve enlisted the help of noted investor Charles Hudson to help founders sell an idea before they’ve built a product. Hudson is speaking at TechCrunch’s inaugural virtual event, TechCrunch Early Stage. The two-day event runs July 21 and 22 and will feature sessions targeting all aspects of building a startup.

Hudson has seen a lot of startups over his career as an investor and knows what it takes to sell an idea when there isn’t yet a product. As he’ll explain, this is often a tough skill to learn, and it takes practice to craft the correct message that shows obtainable goals while putting the investor at ease.

Charles Hudson is a managing partner at Precursor Ventures, where he focuses on pre-seed investments in companies building B2B and B2C software applications. Before this role, he was an investor at Uncork Capital (formerly SoftTech VC) and In-Q-Tel, the VC arm of the U.S.’s Central Intelligence Agency. Along the way, he’s held various executive and board positions at startups and organizations.

Hudson’s session at TC Early Stage is a must-watch for early-stage founders. Startups begin as an idea, and often that idea needs funds to turn into a product. Hudson will help show founders how to get an investor to buy into the concept before the product is built.

TC Early Stage takes place over two days in July and features 50+ experts across startup core competencies, such as fundraising, operations and marketing. The virtual event features some of the best operators, investors and founders in the startup world. Hear from Ann Miura-Ko on how to find a product-market fit. Ali Partovi is set to talk about how to hire early engineers, and Caryn Marooney’s session will explore how to make your brand stand out.

What’s more, most of the speakers, who happen to be investors, are participating in TechCrunch’s CrunchMatch, our program that connects founders to investors based on shared interests.

Here’s the fine print. Each of the 50+ breakout sessions is limited to around 100 attendees. We expect a lot more attendees, of course, so signups for each session are on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Buy your ticket today, and you can sign up for the breakouts we are announcing today, as well as those already published. Pass holders will also receive 24-hour advance notice before we announce the next batch. (And yes, you can “drop” a breakout session in favor of a new one, in the event there is a schedule conflict.) 

Get your TC Early Stage pass today and jump into the inside track on the sessions we announced today, as well as the ones to be published in the coming days.

Possible sponsor? Hit us up right here.

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Categories: Business News

Société Générale is acquiring freelancer challenger bank Shine

Startup News - 2020, July 1 - 12:45am

Société Générale is acquiring French startup Shine. Terms of the deal are undisclosed. According to a source, Shine is getting acquired for around €100 million in an all-cash deal (around $112.6 million).

The startup had previously raised €10.8 million ($12.2 million) in total from Daphni, Kima Ventures, XAnge and various business angels.

If you’re not familiar with Shine, the startup has been building a challenger bank for freelancers and small companies in France. It lets you create a business account, get a debit card and take care of some of the most boring administrative tasks.

For instance, Shine helps you incorporate your company and also lets you create invoices directly from the app. You can send a link to your client, you get a notification when your client opens the invoice and they can view your Shine IBAN directly on the invoice.

And because the invoicing tool is integrated with your business bank account, your invoices are automatically marked as paid in the app.

When it comes to receipts, you can also open a card transaction and attach a receipt to that transaction. This way, all accounting information remains in the same app. If you’re working with an accountant, you can set up an automatic export of receipts, invoices and transactions once per month.

But the best feature of Shine is that it helps you stay on top of paperwork. You receive notifications to remind you that you should pay your taxes, you can see how much money will be left once you paid your taxes and more.

And it’s been working well with 70,000 freelancers and very small companies using Shine for their bank account. But Shine is built on top of Treezor, a banking-as-a-service company that provides financial services and debit cards to other fintech companies. At this scale, it would make sense for Shine to build its own infrastructure.

Shine has taken a different decision and is joining Société Générale, which also happens to be the company that acquired Treezor a few years ago.

Shine will operate independently from Société Générale and will still accept new customers — the two co-founders are staying at the helm of Shine. But the two companies have plans to cross-promote their respective offerings.

Société Générale could offer Shine to its business customers. And as freelancers start working with other people and turn their small independent business into a full-fledged company, Shine could also tell its customers to choose Société Générale for their business bank account.

Shine will also take advantage of Société Générale’s banking license and products. As a Shine customer, you could imagine getting a credit line from Société Générale. Having a banking giant behind you could greatly improve Shine’s offering. Now, let’s see if Société Générale manages to boost the potential of Shine.

Update: A spokesperson from Société Générale and a spokesperson from Shine have refuted the price of the acquisition. According to new information that I obtained from sources, the acquisition is happening over several tranches with the first payment currently happening. Combined, those tranches represent a total amount of around €100 million. In addition to that, founders will receive cash incentives if they can achieve certain goals over several years.

Image Credits: Shine

Categories: Business News

Google acquires smart glasses company North, whose Focals 2.0 won’t ship

Startup News - 2020, July 1 - 12:35am

Google confirmed today via blog post that it has acquired Canadian smart glasses company North, which began life as human interface hardware startup Thalmic Labs in 2012. The company didn’t reveal any details about the acquisition, which was first reported to be happening by The Globe and Mail, last week. The blog post is authored by Google’s SVP of Devices & Services Rick Osterloh, which cites North’s “strong technology foundation” as a key driver behind the deal.

Osterloh also emphasizes Google’s existing work in building “ambient computing,” which is to say computing that fades into the background of a user’s life, as the strategic reasoning behind the acquisition. North will join Google’s existing team in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, where North is already based, and it will aid with the company’s “hardware efforts and ambient computing future,” according to Osterloh.

In a separate blog post, North’s co-founders Stephen Lake, Matthew Bailey and Aaron Grant discuss their perspective on the acquisition. They say the deal makes sense because it will help “significantly advance our shared vision,” but go on to note that this will mean winding down support for Focals 1.0, the first-generation smart glasses product that North released last year, and cancelling any plans to ship Focals 2.0, the second-generation version that the company had been teasing and preparing to release over the last several months.

Focals received significant media attention following their release, and provided the most consumer-friendly wearable-glasses-computing-interface ever launched. They closely resembled regular optical glasses, albeit with larger arms to house the active computing components, and projected a transparent display overlay onto one frame which showed things like messages and navigation directions.

Around the Focals 1.0 debut, North co-founder and CEO Stephen Lake told me that the company had originally begun developing its debut product, the Myo gesture control armband, to create a way to interact naturally with the ambient smart computing platforms of the future. Myo read electrical pulses generated by the body when you move your arm, and translated that into computer input. After realizing that devices it was designed to work with, including VR headsets and wearable computers like Google Glass, weren’t far enough along for its novel control paradigm to take off, they shifted to addressing the root of the problem with Focals.

Focals had some major limitations, however, including initially requiring that anyone wanting to purchase them go into a physical location for fitting, and then return for adjustments once they were ready. They were also quite expensive, and didn’t support the full range of prescriptions needed by many existing glasses-wearers. Software limitations, including limited access to Apple’s iMessage platform, also hampered the experience for Apple mobile device users.

North (and Myo before it) always employed talented and remarkable mechanical electronics engineers sourced from the nearby University of Waterloo, but its ideas typically failed to attract the kind of consumer interest that would’ve been required for sustained independent operation. The company had raised nearly $200 million in funding since its founding; as mentioned, no word on the total amount Google paid, but it doesn’t seem likely to have been a blockbuster exit.

In an email to North customers, the company also said it would be refunding the full amount paid for any Focals purchases — likely to defray any complaints about the end of software support, which occurs relatively soon, on July 31, 2020.

Categories: Business News

RIOS comes out of stealth to announce $5M in funding for ‘industry-agnostic’ robotics

Startup News - 2020, July 1 - 12:30am

Bay Area-based robotics startup RIOS is coming out of stealth today to announce $5 million in funding. The round is being led by Valley Capital Partners and Morpheus Ventures, with participation from a long list of investors, including Grit Ventures, Motus Ventures, MicroVentures, Alumni Ventures Group, Fuji Corporation and NGK Spark Plug Co.

The move comes during a time of increased interest in factory automation. A number of different startups have received massive funding of late, including Berkshire Grey’s massive $263 million raise in January. RIOS’s raise is considerably smaller, of course, but the young company has more to prove.

Even so, investors are clearly eyeing automation with great interest amid an ongoing global pandemic that has both screeched many industries to a halt and led many to look to alternative production elements that remove the human element of virus transmission.

RIOS was founded in 2018, as a spin-out of Stanford University, with help from a number of Xerox PARC engineers. The startup has operated in stealth for the past year and a half while testing its technologies with a select group of partners.

The company’s first product is DX-1, a robot designed for a variety of industrial tasks, including static bin picking and conveyor belt operations. The system is powered by the company’s AI stack, including a perception system and a variety of tactile sensors mounted on the robotic hand.

The plan is to charge a monthly fee for the robotic system that includes a variety of services, including programming, maintenance, monitoring and regular updates.

Categories: Business News

The Venture Collective launches with a new bet on pre-seed investing

Startup News - 2020, July 1 - 12:00am

Venture capital has a long way to go when it comes to investing in underrepresented founders in a meaningful way. But according to The Venture Collective’s Cat Hernandez, the issue is too complex to solve by just cutting checks and spending time with entrepreneurs.

“You have to be maniacally focused on solutions,” Hernandez said.

So, Hernandez has teamed up with a number of operators-turned-investors to tackle tech’s diversity problem from a creative angle.

The Venture Collective, based in London and New York, launches today to make access to capital more equal. Fair warning: its experimental structure is knotty, as TVC is part investment vehicle and part management company. But it’s a creative strategy in a deserving sector that tech struggles to make progress within.

The team is stacked with a variety of experience: Founding partner Nick Shekerdemian is a former YC startup founder who launched a diversity recruitment platform, and his co-founder, Gina Kirch, was one of his investors, as well as a former director at BlackRock. Other partners include former Primary Venture Partners investor Cat Hernandez and Elliot Richmond, who invests out of the United Kingdom and previously worked at Moelis & Company.

The team was finalized during COVID-19.

TVC’s funding model has two customer bases: startup founders and family offices.

For startups, the business will invest a $100,000 check into one company per month, with the flexibility to do more. TVC intends to reserve between $1 to $5 million for follow-on rounds.

For family offices, TVC charges an annual fee to serve as intel for what they think are lucrative pre-seed deals in the Valley. If a family office or someone within its network wants to invest, TVC will ultimately deploy an allocated amount of capital. It hopes that total capital commitments will increase over time. 

While TVC says the structure model is in stealth, it is reasonable to compare the structures of these family office investments to the structures of special purpose vehicles. SPVs are investment vehicles that exist outside a fund’s capital allotment and are more spur of the moment, versus traditionally syndicated.

The biggest difference is that SPV structure is centered around deals, but TVC’s structure is centered around a capital allotment, deployed into multiple deals. They essentially act as middlemen between promising startups and family offices.

It’s good news for family offices, as they often take the role of institutional investors, which are decade-long relationships. The problem with lengthy bets is that what was hot in 2010 might not be hot in 2020. TVC’s model lets LPs deploy capital in their interest areas on a year by year basis. So an LP who is newly bullish on remote work (for some wild reason) could get their hands in early deals instead of waiting for the AR/VR fund they invested in years ago to make that move.

Putting all these pieces together, TVC gets more funds by:

  • traditional equity raise
  • annual fee to provide information to its network
  • family office checks
  • portfolio exits

Because of all of these mechanisms, TVC’s total “fund size” will change depending on the week. It’s a unique example of how first-time fund managers are tackling investing in a volatile landscape.

Today TVC launches with an undisclosed amount of equity-based financing. The company declined to share total assets under management.

So a big factor in TVC’s success is if it can convince both founders and family offices that its perspective is worth the set up. TVC’s flexibility can be a blessing, but it also can be risky and unreliable in case family offices pull out. Or if there is an extended recession, for example.

As a sweetener, the company says that it will donate two-thirds of partner time to helping portfolio companies.

But how does this fit into diversity? It all goes back to TVC’s goal to make access to capital more equal.

According to the team, pre-seed to Series A is where most companies fail, but the very funds that back pre-seed are also the most strapped for resources (small fund sizes, fixed management fees). Thus, firms have to selectively pick the companies they think are outliers and spend time with those companies on a more regular basis. This disproportionately impacts underrepresented founders, who might have a slower start due to lack of access to resources.

TVC thinks its strategy will help grow the number of startups that are venture-backable by heavily supporting them through this time, without competing and driving up valuations for only a few outliers.

The company defined underrepresented founders through diversity, geography, age and social background. When asked if they will publicly disclose diversity metrics, TVC said “it wants to be thoughtful about how we hold our investments accountable in the long-term and we are balancing that with a desire to not be prescriptive.”

“We believe that part of our job as early investors is to ensure that this intent is top of mind as the business scales. That can come in many forms — tracking/reporting on diversity metrics being one of them. At its core, this isn’t about window dressing,” the firm told TechCrunch. Generally, TVC is focused on helping more people get funding, and pointed toward financial optionality as the “flywheel we’re playing for.”

In terms of sourcing, TVC is partnering with tech-focused groups in New York and London and will identify talent at the university and college level. It also said it will build relationships with underrepresented operators “at the most prominent tech companies” and co-invest with diversity-focused founders.

TVC also launched a group called “The Collective” that includes diverse founders, operators and investors, who will help as a deal flow channel.

How first-time fund managers are de-risking

Categories: Business News

Fivetran snares $100M Series C on $1.2B valuation for data connectivity solution

Startup News - 2020, June 30 - 11:31pm

A big problem for companies these days is finding ways to connect various data sources to their data repositories, and Fivetran is a startup with a solution to solve that very problem. No surprise then that even during a pandemic, the company announced today that it has raised a $100 million Series C on a $1.2 billion valuation.

The company didn’t mess around, with top flight firms Andreessen Horowitz and General Catalyst leading the investment, with participation from existing investors CEAS Investments and Matrix Partners. Today’s money brings the total raised so far to $163 million, according to the company.

Martin Casado from a16z described the company succinctly in a blog post he wrote after its $44 million Series B in September 2019, in which his firm also participated. “Fivetran is a SaaS service that connects to the critical data sources in an organization, pulls and processes all the data, and then dumps it into a warehouse (e.g., Snowflake, BigQuery or RedShift) for SQL access and further transformations, if needed. If data is the new oil, then Fivetran is the pipes that get it from the source to the refinery,” he wrote.

Writing in a blog post today announcing the new funding, CEO George Fraser added that in spite of current conditions, the company has continued to add customers. “Despite recent economic uncertainty, Fivetran has continued to grow rapidly as customers see the opportunity to reduce their total cost of ownership by adopting our product in place of highly customized, in-house ETL pipelines that require constant maintenance,” he wrote.

In fact, the company reports 75% customer growth over the prior 12 months. It now has more than 1,100 customers, which is a pretty good benchmark for a Series C company. Customers include Databricks, DocuSign, Forever 21, Square, Udacity and Urban Outfitters, crossing a variety of verticals.

Fivetran hopes to continue to build new data connectors as it expands the reach of its product and to push into new markets, even in the midst of today’s economic climate. With $100 million in the bank, it should have enough runway to ride this out, while expanding where it makes sense.

Fivetran hauls in $44M Series B as data pipeline business booms

Categories: Business News

NexHealth’s founder went from a receptionist at a clinic in the Bronx to $12 million in funding

Startup News - 2020, June 30 - 11:27pm

The summer before Alamin Uddin was set to begin medical school, he worked as a receptionist in a small doctor’s office in the Bronx.

There, dealing with the workflow of managing paper and electronic health records, organizing and scheduling patients’ visits and follow-ups, he realized that one of the largest obstacles to quality care for many patients remains the lack of integration of medical records.

In the years since the first electronic medical records laws were passed, the promise of an integrated single source of patient information is still largely illusory.

NexHealth co-founders Alamin Uddin and Waleed Asif (Image courtesy: NexHealth)

That’s why Uddin and Waleed Asif, both graduates of City College, founded NexHealth. And why investors were willing to give the pair $12 million to build out their API providing a gateway between patient data in health records from small and medium-sized independent physicians and clinics and developers.

For most small clinics and independent practices, the benefits of opening up EHRs to developers isn’t entirely clear, so NexHealth is proving the use case for them with an initial suite of tools like online scheduling, automated patient communications and payments, the company said.

So far, the company has developed APIs to support around 50 electronic health record integrations, and is managing the caseload for around 10.4 million patients.

Companies like Quip and DoctorLogic are already using the company’s API to integrate with those health records. 

“The need is that developers don’t have the tools they need to innovate in SMB healthcare,” Uddin wrote in an email. “We’re building those tools to help developers rapidly go to market in the SMB healthcare space.”

Backing the company is a collection of super angels, including James Beshara of Tilt and Airbnb fame; Joshua Hannah, from Betfair; Rahul Vohra, the founder of Superhuman; Harry Stebbings, from The Twenty Minute VC; AngelList’s Naval Ravikant; Scott Belsky from Adobe and Behance; and Christoph Janz of Point Nine Capital.

The independent healthcare market represents 70% of a consumer’s interaction with healthcare and no one is servicing those independent offices, according to Uddin. These are places like dentists, chiropractors, small, minute clinics and urgent care facilities or independent healthcare practitioners.

“We want to enable innovation in the healthcare system,” Uddin said, and he thinks these small businesses are the best place to start.

 

Categories: Business News

Join GGV’s Hans Tung and Jeff Richards for a live chat right now

Startup News - 2020, June 30 - 11:21pm

The good ship Extra Crunch Live sails along today, bringing two noted venture capitalists aboard to discuss the world’s investing patterns, their own deals and much more.

Extra Crunch members can join the conversation with Hans Tung and Jeff Richards from GGV Capital at 3:30 p.m. EDT/12:30 p.m. PDT/7:30 p.m. GMT.

We’ll collect audience questions as we go, so buy an Extra Crunch trial now so you can participate. Of course, TechCrunch has a list of its own queries — GGV Capital invests globally, which means it has eyes and ears in a number of different markets. We’ll dig into how different markets are faring: Is China’s VC scene as slow as it seems? Is Europe bouncing back as we’ve been hearing? And what’s the current temperature here in the United States for Series A through C rounds?

With the stock market back to form, exits are hot again, which gives us a new set of topics to explore, including how GGV views M&A appetite today from a price perspective, and whether any of their later-stage companies are looking more closely at the IPO market.

TechCrunch’s Extra Crunch Live series has featured guests like investor and entrepreneur Mark Cuban, BLCK VC’s Sydney Sykes and Inspired Capital’s Alexa von Tobel, with more to come.

There are other pressing matters: The COVID-19 pandemic is reaccelerating domestically even as it abates abroad. And GGV spoke out against racism during the early days of protests after the killing of George Floyd, so we’ll ask about the venture capital industry and if its efforts to diversify itself will make more material progress this time.

Extra Crunch subscribers, hit the jump and add the event to your calendar. Zoom links and the rest of the goodies are down there as well. (We’ll also stream live on YouTube). If you aren’t an Extra Crunch subscriber, you can get a cheap trial here.

All set? Great. We’ll see you in a few hours.

Details
Categories: Business News

As Uber hunts for a deal, can Postmates leverage an IPO?

Startup News - 2020, June 30 - 10:11pm

It’s been a busy last 24 hours or so for on-demand delivery company Postmates. According to reporting, the company is reviving its IPO plans, possibly selling to Uber, or perhaps looking to go public with the help of a special purpose acquisition vehicle, also known as a SPAC.

For Postmates, a company caught somewhere between DoorDash’s cash-fueled rise and Uber’s ability to lose hundreds of millions on its Uber Eats delivery service every quarter, multiples options are likely welcome.

Postmates first filed to go public in early 2019, but its IPO failed to materialize. The company was also reported to be pursuing a sale in 2019 after it had filed to go public. An M&A exit also failed to appear.

The Exchange is a daily look at startups and the private markets for Extra Crunch subscribers; use code EXCHANGE to get full access and take 25% off your subscription.

But 2020 is very different from 2019. With GrubHub’s bidding war behind us, Uber appears hungry for more volume, and the IPO market is surprisingly hot given the global pandemic. Postmates may have a number of viable options in front of it, instead of a continued grind as a private company.

The IPO market

So what to do?

Despite some blips, if Postmates has managed anything like revenue growth acceleration because people have been staying home and ordering more food and other goods, the company’s IPO story could prove attractive. And if so, the firm could perhaps best what a cash-burning company can afford to part with in an M&A transaction by going public.

Let’s check the tape. It’s a commonly known fact that the public markets have favored technology companies this year, especially software companies. For many venture-backed companies, this is great news. For Postmates, it’s a slightly different equation, as its margins won’t match those of software companies, nor will its revenue recur in a similar fashion.

But, there are IPOs from this year that we can point to featuring companies that also do not feature strong margins or recurring revenue that did great. So, there is an IPO path for venture-backed startups and unicorns to go public even if they are not software entities.

Vroom
Categories: Business News

Hunters raises $15M Series A for its threat-hunting platform

Startup News - 2020, June 30 - 10:00pm

Hunters, a Tel Aviv-based cybersecurity startup that helps enterprises defend themselves from intruders and analyze attacks, today announced that it has raised a $15 million Series A funding round from Microsoft’s M12 and U.S. Venture Partners. Seed investors YL Ventures and Blumberg Captial also participated in this round, as well as new investor Okta Ventures, the venture arm of identity provider Okta. With this, Hunters has now raised a total of $20.4 million.

The company’s SaaS platform basically automates the threat-hunting processes, which has traditionally been a manual process. The general idea here is to take as much data from an enterprise’s various networking and security tools to detect stealth attacks.

“Hunters is basically this layer, a cognitive layer or connective tissue that you put on top of your telemetry stack,” Hunters co-founder and CEO Uri May told me. “So you have your [endpoint detection and response], your firewalls, cloud, production environment sensors — and all of those are shooting telemetry and detections all over the organization, generating huge amounts of data. And, basically, our place in the world depends on our ability to generate that delta. So without being able to find things that you can’t see with a single point solution or without really expediting response procedures and workflows by correlating things in a nontrivial way, we don’t have any excuse to exist. But we got pretty good at those — at showing that delta — and we onboarded customers — nice logos — and that was a very strong validation.”

Image Credits: Hunters

Hunters’ first customer was actually data management service Snowflake, which functioned as the company’s design partner. In addition to being a customer, Snowflake now also features Hunters in its partner marketplace, as does security service CrowdStrike. May also noted that Crowdstrike is a good example for the kind of customer Hunters is going after.

“Not necessarily Global 2000 or Fortune 500. It’s really high-end mid-market organizations, not necessarily tens of thousand employees, but billions of dollars in revenues, a lot of value at risk, born to the cloud, super mature tech stack, not necessarily a big security operation center, but definitely CISO and a team of security engineers and analysts, and they’re looking for the solution, that on-top solution that can make sense of a lot of the data and give them the confidence and also give them results in terms of cybersecurity, posture and their detection and response capabilities.”

Microsoft already has a large security development center in Israel and so it’s no surprise that Hunters appeared on the company’s radar. Hunters also spent some time proactively looking at the Microsoft ecosystem, May told me, but the company’s VCs also made some introductions. All of this culminated in a number of meetings at the Tel Aviv CyberTech conference in January and the RSA Conference in San Francisco in February, just before the coronavirus pandemic essentially shut down travel.

Hunters says it will use the new funding to build out its go-to-market capabilities in the U.S. and expand its R&D team in Israel. As for the product itself, the company will look to broaden its product integration and machine learning capabilities to help it generate better attack stories. May also noted that it plans to give its users capabilities to customize the system for their needs by allowing them to develop their own signals and detections to augment the company’s default tools. This, May argued, will allow the company to go after higher-end enterprise customers that already have threat-hunting teams but that are looking to automate more of the process. With that, it will also look to partner with other security firms to leverage its system to provide better services to their customers as well.

Israel’s maturing cybersecurity startup ecosystem

Categories: Business News

Menten AI’s combination of buzzword bingo brings AI and quantum computing to drug discovery

Startup News - 2020, June 30 - 9:40pm

Menten AI has an impressive founding team and a pitch that combines some of the hottest trends in tech to pursue one of the biggest problems in healthcare — new drug discovery. The company is also $4 million richer with a seed investment from firms including Uncork Capital and Khosla Ventures to build out its business.

Menten AI’s pitch to investors was the combination of quantum computing and machine learning to discover new drugs that sit between small molecules and large biologics, according to the company’s co-founder Hans Melo.

A graduate of the Y Combinator accelerator, which also participated in the round, Menten AI looks to design proteins from scratch. It’s a heavier lift than some might expect, because, as Melo said in an interview, it takes a lot of work to make an actual drug.

Menten AI is working with peptides, which are strings of amino acid chains similar to proteins that have the potential to slow aging, reduce inflammation and get rid of pathogens in the body.

“As a drug modality [peptides] are quite new,” says Melo. “Until recently it was really hard to design them computationally and people tried to focus on genetically modifying them.”

Peptides have the benefit of getting through membranes and into cells where they can combine with targets that are too large for small molecules, according to Melo.

Most drug targets are not addressable with either small molecules or biologics, according to Melo, which means there’s a huge untapped potential market for peptide therapies.

Menten AI is already working on a COVID-19 therapeutic, although the company’s young chief executive declined to disclose too many details about it. Another area of interest is in neurological disorders, where the founding team members have some expertise.

Image of peptide molecules. Image Courtesy: D-Wave

While Menten AI’s targets are interesting, the approach that the company is taking, using quantum computing to potentially drive down the cost and accelerate the time to market, is equally compelling for investors.

It’s also unproven. Right now, there isn’t a quantum advantage to using the novel computing technology versus traditional computing. Something that Melo freely admits.

“We’re not claiming a quantum advantage, but we’re not claiming a quantum disadvantage,” is the way the young entrepreneur puts it. “We have come up with a different way of solving the problem that may scale better. We haven’t proven an advantage.”

Still, the company is an early indicator of the kinds of services quantum computing could offer, and it’s with that in mind that Menten AI partnered with some of the leading independent quantum computing companies, D-Wave and Rigetti Computing, to work on applications of their technology.

The emphasis on quantum computing also differentiates it from larger publicly traded competitors like Schrödinger and Codexis.

So does the pedigree of its founding team, according to Uncork Capital investor, Jeff Clavier. “It’s really the unique team that they formed,” Clavier said of his decision to invest in the early-stage company. “There’s Hans… the CEO who is more on the quantum side; there’s Tamas [Gorbe] on the bio side and there’s Vikram [Mulligan] who developed the research. It’s kind of a unique fantastic team that came together to work on the opportunity.”

Clavier has also acknowledged the possibility that it might not work.

“Can they really produce anything interesting at the end?” he asked. “It’s still an early-stage company and we may fall flat on our face or they may come up with really new ways to make new peptides.”

It’s probably not a bad idea to take a bet on Melo, who worked with Mulligan, a researcher from the Flatiron Institute focused on computational biology, to produce some of the early research into the creation of new peptides using D-Wave’s quantum computing.

Novel peptide structures created using D-Wave’s quantum computers. Image Courtesy: D-Wave

While Melo and Mulligan were the initial researchers working on the technology that would become Menten AI, Gorbe was added to the founding team to get the company some exposure into the world of chemistry and enzymatic applications for its new virtual protein manufacturing technology.

The gamble paid off in the form of pilot projects (also undisclosed) that focus on the development of enzymes for agricultural applications and pharmaceuticals.

“At the end of the day what they’re doing is they’re using advanced computing to figure out what is the optimal placement of those clinical compounds in a way that is less based on those sensitive tests and more bound on those theories,” said Clavier. 

Categories: Business News

13 Boston-focused venture capitalists talk green shoots and startup recovery

Startup News - 2020, June 30 - 9:26pm

Welcome back to the second half of our two-part Boston investor survey.

Catching you up, TechCrunch reached out to a host of Boston-area venture capitalists to get their take on the current state of their market, and what they think might be coming up in the future. More VCs than we initially anticipated got back to us, so we broke the survey into two pieces so that there was enough room to include everyone.

Today, in contrast, we’re looking a little further ahead: Are they seeing green shoots? When is a recovery likely to begin? What’s making them feel hopeful in this tenuous era? Here’s who took part:

Boston VC’s vision of tomorrow

Recovery is going to be slow, but most importantly, the comeback is not going to look like one, sole aha moment for any startup or entrepreneur. After poring through dozens of responses, we distilled that Boston-focused VCs think that recovery will favor Boston-area companies to some degree, as the areas they are working on, or the problems that they are working to solve, will still matter after COVID-19.

On the slowness of recovery, NextView’s Rob Go provided TechCrunch with the most vivid prognostication, saying that “while it’s difficult to predict” when the post-COVID recovery will begin, he anticipates “a swoosh-shaped recovery is more likely” than anything V-shaped. “The recovery is likely to be painfully slow,” the VC added.

It’s perhaps unsurprising then that green shoots and fruitful deals are thinner on the ground in Boston today than its startup community probably would have hoped. Momentum through dollars or deals will lead to more sustained recovery. Flare Capital’s Michael Greeley said that it is “still too early” to see green shoots, while other VCs noted that, on a sector-by-sector basis, there are some positive signs that give hope.

Glasswing is an AI-focused fund, making the following comment from its Rudina Seseri interesting, if niche. On the question of green shoots, Seseri said that her firm has “been surprised by the number of companies that are leveraging AI to drive automation, cost savings, optimization and higher performance.” The result of that surprise has been that “over the last five months these companies have beaten their pre-COVID budgets and forecasts for growth.”

The other side of that coin is startup areas that touch on travel or food. It’s hard to find recovery there, for obvious reasons.

The Victress Capital team put the dynamic well: “We’ve also been encouraged by the increased pace in innovation that we’ve seen across sectors where innovation has been slow in the past. From edtech to telehealth to food and beverage and more, we are seeing nimble entrepreneurs pivot or change their businesses to respond to the needs of today.”

Our broadest takeaway is that VC firms have not fully written off any sectors given today’s turbulence. The future, largely according to Boston-focused VCs, is startups that are important after the world opens again and focus on the next generation of businesses. It means that investments might look a bit like a risky game of hopscotch. They’re all trying to land on the deal that accounts for the next generation of businesses.

With that, let’s get into full questions and answers.

Lily Lyman, Underscore VC

When do you expect a startup recovery to begin?

“Recovery” is hard to speak to. We’ve been evaluating different phases of behavior and how that will affect the economy and the startup ecosystem. We have been thinking in terms of (1) lockdown opening up (summer 2020); (2) period of remaining social distancing behavior, likely with intermittent periods of lockdowns (into spring 2021); and (3) new normal (spring/summer 2021). But this changes and we are constantly reassessing it. For startups, we remain believers that great companies with great leadership can not only survive but find ways to thrive in this new environment.

Are you seeing green shoots regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum that you didn’t expect a few weeks ago?

Again, it varies by industry. We have seen a surge in demand for players in the cloud infrastructure space such as CloudZero or for remote collaboration software (an investment not yet announced).

Tell us about the most interesting, Boston-based company you’ve invested in recently.

We are really excited about Popcart and how they are positioned as the world rapidly migrates to e-commerce. The founding team is a pair of engineer leaders from Endeca. Popcart offers consumers price and availability transparency across retail platforms (Amazon, Target, Walmart, etc.). The cross-platform capabilities are particularly unique. When COVID-19 hit, the team quickly created the Supply Finder to help consumers find goods that are in short supply and ensure they are protected against price gouging.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the past 30 days? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.

I’m inspired by the great leadership I’ve seen our founders display. They’ve made hard decisions with imperfect information and managed a difficult time with both empathy and conviction.

I’m also appreciating the humanizing reality that working from home and operating in uncertainty brings that unites people. My hope is that pieces of this uniting and empathy will persist.

Categories: Business News

Upsolver announces $13M Series A to ease management of cloud data lakes

Startup News - 2020, June 30 - 9:25pm

There’s a lot of complexity around managing data lakes in the cloud that often requires expensive engineering expertise. Upsolver, an early stage startup, wants to simplify all of that, so that a database administrator could handle it. Today the startup announced a $13 million Series A.

Vertex Ventures US was lead investor with participation from Wing Venture Capital and Jerusalem Venture Partners. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $17 million, according to the company.

Co-founder and CEO Ori Rafael says that as companies move data to the cloud and store it in data lakes, it becomes increasingly difficult to manage. The goal of Upsolver is to abstract away a lot of those management tasks and allow users to query the data using SQL, making it a lot more accessible.

“The main criticism of data lakes over the years is they become data swamps. It’s very easy to store data there very cheaply, but making it [easy to query] and valuable is hard. For that you need a lot of engineering, which turns the lake into a swamp. So we take the data that you put into a lake and make it easier to query, and we take the biggest disadvantage of using a lake, which is the complexity of doing that process, and we make that process easy,” Rafael explained.

Investor Sik Rhee, who is general partner and co-founder at Vertex Ventures US sees a company that’s creating a cloud-native standard for data lake computing. “Upsolver succeeded in abstracting away the engineering complexity of data pipeline management so that enterprise customers can quickly solve their modern data challenges in real time and at any scale without having to build another silo of expertise within the organization,” he said in a statement.

The company currently has 22 employees spread out between San Francisco, New York and Israel. Rafael says they hope to expand to 50 employees by the end of next year including adding new engineers for their R&D center in Israel and building sales and customer success teams in the U.S.

Rafael says he and his co-founder sat down early on and wrote down the company’s core values and they see a responsibility of running a diverse company as part of that, as they search for these new hires. Certainly the pandemic has shown them that they can hire from anywhere and that can help contribute to a more diverse workforce as they grow.

He said running the company and raising money has been stressful during these times, but the company has continued to grow through all of this, adding new customers while staying relatively lean and Rafael says that the investors certainly recognized that.

“We had high revenue compared to the low number of employees with [sales] acceleration during COVID — that was our big trio,” he said.

Categories: Business News

Capital raises $9M for its AI-based ‘capital as a service’ funding platform for startups

Startup News - 2020, June 30 - 8:37pm

In 2019, in the US alone, more than 10,000 startups raised more than $133 billion in venture funding, with a large proportion of that equity investments. Today, a company building a platform to help startups consider alternative routes to financing — specifically less dilutive options that give up less or no equity in the process — is announcing a round of funding of its own to ramp up its activity.

Capital, which has built an AI-based platform called the “Capital Machine” that ingests details about your company to provide tips on how to optimise it and — if you make at least $5 million in annual recurring revenue — to provide offers of financing (typically between $5 million and $50 million, at a 5-15% interest rate, and typically within a day of asking for it), has raised a further $9 million, a “Seed 2” that it will use to continue expanding the Capital Machine’s functionality.

The funding is coming from an interesting group of investors. It’s being led by AME Cloud Ventures (the investment firm led by Jerry Yang, who once founded Yahoo), with participation also from Future Ventures (Steve Jurvetson’s fund), Greycroft, Wavemaker Partners, Partech, and angels including Howard Morgan (of Rentech and First Round Capital) and Stuart Roden (former Chairman of Lansdowne Partners).

Many of these are repeat backers: this second seed round comes about 8 months after Capital launched with its first seed funding of $5 million.

When Capital launched last October, it also announced $100 million on its balance sheet to distribute as loans: it hasn’t disclosed how much of that is now dispersed but Blair Silverberg, the CEO who co-founded Capital with Csaba Konkoly and Chris Olivares, said the company has mostly been “heads down building the Capital Machine” in the last 8 months. It also says that its users have aggregate annual sales of $3 billion between them, so there are definitely customers onboarded.

Silverberg also hinted that in the coming months, it’s due to announce more news on financing sources as it continues to scale, which sounds like it is gearing up to announce strategic partners, perhaps other funds or banks, who will be adding to that investing pool as well.

Before founding Capital, Silverberg worked closely with Steve Jurvetson as an investor at DFJ (which last year rebranded as Threshold Ventures), and in that capacity got a lot of experience with the equity-based investment model.

That wasn’t an entirely happy picture, though: Silveberg could see that for every company that got funded there were so many more that couldn’t be considered, either because of sheer volume, or because of investment theses that VCs are using, or some kind of “investment bias” as Silverberg described it.

On top of that, even when money was there for the taking, founders were giving up equity to take it, in some cases so much after several years and several rounds of funding that one had to question if that was always the best route to take.

And finally, while there have always been alternatives to equity funding, many don’t seem to have the right routes to access them because they are too small. Venture debt has largely been handled by big banks and other institutional firms, and thus has largely been used by the larger startups that these bigger firms consider.

His idea was to use the advances of AI, software-as-a-service and the surge of interest (and, I would add, trust) in fintech and running financial services online to build something that could give founders and CFOs of smaller startups an alternative to consider, which took into account the fact that done right it could be a win-win for financiers and those getting funded.

“A tech company does not instantly mean a risky company these days,” said Silverberg. “It’s fascinating to us that tech companies have not had the tools to slice and dice their financing financing options. But the cost of capital can be the key advantage for a company.”

The aim initially has been to target tech companies, as these are the most typical recipients of equity investments from VCs, but Silverberg said that the picture is bigger than that.

“The Capital Machine is very generalised,” he said about the analytics capabilities of the platform, and thus its customer targets. “We can look at merchant shipping fleets or an insurance agency or a SaaS company or a media property. We can look at and understand any business. But we have found that there is the biggest cultural misunderstanding among those that started life with venture backing.”

He said that thousands have tapped the Machine for insights, which are free to get (indeed the data is helpful for the Capital Machine regardless as it continues to learn more about businesses each time it gets used). But in practice, the pool of those taking loans is smaller and typically splits 50/50 between those that are taking Capital debt to meet all of their funding requirements, and those that are taking it in combination with other kinds of financing, including equity funding.

It’s an interesting idea to bring in punters by offering free insights into how your startup is doing as a business, although it also raises some questions. How does Capital ensure the system is not biased towards favouring too many investments, since funding after all is how it makes money the business, even of those companies that might not have great prospects as they grow. And how does it account for the other kind of health typically talked about at companies, around the culture and how well it’s being led? As we have seen before, sometimes a company can optimise for growth, but other problems like toxic work culture, regulatory issues or other conditions are their downfall.

Given that it’s still early days for Capital, it’s still too early to tell how these questions and possible issues might play themselves out. Silverberg notes that it’s “selective” in where it ultimately allocates capital, so the implication is that its leaps are calculated.

Meanwhile, it is somewhat ironic that Jurvetson — who eschewed making deals for internet and enterprise companies while at DFJ — would now be backing a SaaS company essentially offering a B2B service.

“Since the 1990s I have avoided most of the categories of traditional investment, such as internet and enterprise software,” he admitted in an interview. “Oh, yet another B2B retailer or exchange. There are just too many clones, so I shifted to nanotechnology and other areas and delegated those to my partners.”

But notwithstanding that he knows and seems to really like Silverberg — “We know each other and there is a high degree of trust there,” he said. “It’s a deep business relationship.” — he also through his years of investing also saw the disparities of the model, and decided it was time to back an alternative.

“I was trying to put my finger on what it is that so empowering of bringing frictionless capital to companies that don’t show up on my radar screen,” he said. “Currently venture capital dollars flow into a small small amount of companies that are sucking up too much capital, and on the investor side, you are basing the decision too much on an excel spreadsheet. It’s the worst strategy.”

The idea of applying a new and clever piece of software to fix that is just a good business idea, he added, which has a lot of potential also to extend to offering a range of other financial services to startups. “The more software-centric [the solution] is, the more the headroom you have. It’s enormous and then it’s just, can they execute?”

That may have been the question to ask about startups getting funded in general, but it’s also the big question for Capital, which is not the only one that has identified the opportunity to sit alongside VCs as an alternative for startup funding. Others that have also raised money to build their own non-dilutive financing platforms include Clearbanc, which recently tweaked its model specifically to help startups struggling in Covid-19 times with their runway; Lighter Capital; Wayflyer aimed at e-commerce companies; and many more.

Categories: Business News

Willa secures $3M from EQT Ventures to let freelancers get paid immediately

Startup News - 2020, June 30 - 8:00pm

Willa, the Sweden and U.S.-based fintech that wants to help freelancers request payment and get paid immediately for a fee, has raised $3 million in funding. The company’s founders are former early members of Spotify’s growth team and also created influencer marketing platform Relatable.

Leading the seed round is EQT Ventures. Also participating is ex-Atomico partner Mattias Ljungman’s Moonfire Ventures, Nordic Makers, Michael Hansen and Johan Lorenzen. Willa says the injection of cash will enable it to launch “Willa Pay,” an app that promises to remove the paperwork required when billing corporations for freelance work and comes with a payment process that claims to make it easier to collect payments.

One you’ve completed a job, you use the Willa Pay app to enter the details of the work, how much you are supposed to get paid, and who you did the job for. Willa Pay then contacts the corporation and issues the paperwork.

If you wish to get paid earlier than a corporation’s standard terms, which is often anything from 30-90 days, for a small fee Willa will pay you directly. The idea is that freelancers gain more predictable income, and can pay their bills on time and protect their credit score.

“The payment process between freelancers and corporations is completely broken,” says co-founder and CEO Kristofer Sommestad. “It’s built for the old world, by people of the old world. Both freelancers and corporations are suffering a lot from this. At least half of freelancers experience problems getting paid, while a third of payments are late. The result? Credit scores decline”.

Sommestad says Willa Pay solves this problem by “re-engineering” the payment process. “We’re creating it from scratch with the new freelance economy in mind. And we’re starting with freelancers’ biggest problem: getting paid, on time, every time. As a freelancer, using the Willa Pay app is a faster, simpler and better way of requesting payment for your work”.

To help with Willa Pay’s launch, Sommestad says the product’s first 10,000 users will be influencers, averaging a 100,000-plus following. “They are brilliant creators, the world’s best product marketeers and suffering as much as anyone from the payment problems,” he tells me. “This is, by the way, a brilliant distribution move from the Spotify growth playbook”.

Meanwhile, on the question of competitors, the Willa CEO says financial services are typically built by massive companies like PayPal and Intuit, along with many startups “building shiny tools or launching yet-another challenger bank”.

“But none of them are solving the core problem for freelancers… That’s what we do at Willa. We’re focusing on solving the biggest problem, for the people that suffer the most”.

Categories: Business News

Berlin’s DeepSpin raises seed funding for its ‘portable, ultra-low-cost’ MRI system

Startup News - 2020, June 30 - 6:39pm

DeepSpin, a Berlin-based startup that is developing what it describes as a “next-generation, AI-powered MRI imaging machine”, has raised €600,000 in seed funding.

Backing the round is APEX Digital Health, with participation from existing investors Entrepreneur First (EF) and SOSV, along with a number of unnamed angel investors. Including grants and earlier investment, it brings the total raised to €1 million pre-launch.

DeepSpin is a graduate of EF’s company builder programme, where its two founders — Clemens Tepel, a former McKinsey consultant, and Pedro Freire Silva, a PhD researcher from KIT — decided to partner in September 2019. Freire Silva drew on his research into small-scale, mass-manufacturable MRI systems and pitched the idea to his future co-founder.

“From the beginning I found the idea very intriguing and so we directly jumped into attempting to prove its feasibility,” says Tepel. “Within 4 weeks we were able to prove it in simulation, get industry-leading advisors on board and get first LOIs [letter of intent] from interested clinicians”.

Yet-to-launch and still in the development phase, DeepSpin aims to build a new type of MRI system at a “fraction of the cost, weight and size” of existing systems. To make this possible, the startup is has developed a new antenna technology combined with AI-controlled operation, which the startup is currently patenting.

“The problem we are solving is that MRI, the most advanced medical imaging method, is currently not easily accessible because it is incredibly expensive, requires specialised operators and needs specifically shielded rooms,” explains Tepel. “We are removing all of these constraints based on our proprietary technology, making MRI universally accessible for any patient, anywhere in the world”.

Adds Freire Silva: “Instead of combining highly expensive hardware with standard software, as it is done on conventional MRI scanners, we will be able to obtain the same clinical information by applying very sophisticated algorithms on simplified hardware, thereby reducing our system’s cost by orders of magnitude”.

Tepel tells me this approach has not been taken before because both key enablers — highly capable AI-algorithms and the specific antenna design – were only available very recently.

Having proven DeepSpin’s methods in simulation, the next step and the team’s current focus is to develop a first fully AI-driven prototype. “Based on that, we will develop an initial product version, aimed at pre-clinical applications, before going into medical certification, which then will allow us to sell our product for clinical use across a range of medical domains and to new geographies that can’t afford conventional systems,” says Tepel.

Categories: Business News

After losing Grubhub, Uber reportedly hails Postmates

Startup News - 2020, June 30 - 11:58am

Uber has reportedly made an offer to buy food delivery service Postmates, according to The New York Times.

According to the Times, the talks are still ongoing and the deal could fall through.

For those that have been paying attention to Uber, this appetite is not new, albeit consistent. A little over a month ago, the ride-hailing company was reportedly pursuing an acquisition of Grubhub,  another food delivery company. Grubhub was ultimately acquired by Just Eat Takeaway in a $7.3 billion deal, but only after the deal with Uber fell through over a variety of concerns.

Food delivery market has set to benefit largely from the COVID-19 pandemic, as stores remain shuttered or switch operations to takeout only. Latest earnings from the public ride-hailing company show that its ride-hailing business is slowing while its food delivery service is growing like hell. Gross bookings for Uber Eats last quarter were $4.68 billion.

So even though Uber still loses a ton of money ($2.94 billion including all costs), its Uber Eats growth is staggering. And the green shoots might be fueling some of this interest in other competitors.

Sources close to Uber told TechCrunch that regulatory concerns scuttled the company’s bid for GrubHub, but its chief executive later said the JustEat deal was better.

Democratic senators flag Uber’s possible Grubhub deal over antitrust concerns

If regulatory concerns were an issue, Postmates may make a better fit.

With a valuation of $2.4 billion, Postmates is significantly smaller than Grubhub. And while the company filed to go public nearly 16 months ago, it held off eventually citing “choppy market” conditions.

So if Uber Eats and Postmates combined, the result would still be smaller than Doordash’s market hold, but would be competitive nonetheless. DoorDash, last valued at $13 billion, confidentially filed for an IPO nearly four months ago. 

Also, Postmates delivers more than just food.

If the merger goes through, the food delivery race would get refueled in an interesting way: Uber Eats and Postmates versus Grubhub and Takeaway versus DoorDash .

Postmates declined to comment on rumors or speculation. Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Categories: Business News

Banking platform solarisBank raises $67.5 million at $360 million valuation

Startup News - 2020, June 30 - 11:00am

Despite the Wirecard fallout, German fintech startup solarisBank has raised a Series C funding round of $67.5 million (€60 million). Following today’s funding round, solarisBank is now valued at $360 million (€320 million). solarisBank doesn't have any consumer product directly. Instead, it offers financial services to other fintech companies through a set of APIs.

With solarisBank, you can build a fintech startup and leverage solarisBank’s line of products to do the heavy lifting. It’s an infrastructure company in the banking space.

While solarisBank might not be a familiar name, some of its clients have become quite popular. They include challenger banks, such as Tomorrow, Insha and a newcomer called Vivid, business banking startups, such as Penta and Kontist, trading app Trade Republic, cryptocurrency startups Bison and Bitwala, etc.

Overall, solarisBank works with 70 companies that have attracted 400,000 clients in total.

HV Holtzbrinck Ventures is leading the round with existing investor yabeo committing a substantial follow-on investment. Other new investors include Vulcan Capital, Samsung Catalyst Fund and Storm Ventures. Existing investors BBVA, SBI Group, ABN AMRO Ventures, Global Brain, Hegus and Lakestar are investing again.

The company started the fundraising process back in December. Due to the economic prospects, it has been a mixed process. “A lot of investors looked at their portfolio companies and the appetite to look at something new was not there,” solarisBank CEO Roland Folz told me. But everything worked out eventually as around half of the funding comes from existing investors.

“We originally were looking for €40 million but we were overwhelmed by the interest of investors in spite of Covid,” solarisBank Head of Strategy and Shareholder Relations Layla Qassim told me.

solarisBank’s vision could be summed up in two words — regulation and modularity. The company is a fully licensed bank, which means that its clients don’t have to apply to a banking license themselves.

And the startup lets you pick the modules that you want to use for your product. Maybe you’re building a mobile cryptocurrency wallet and you just want to be able to give an IBAN and a debit card to your users. Maybe you’re building a used car marketplace like CarNext and you want to offer credit. Maybe you want to build a challenger bank but address a specific vertical.

With solarisBank, you can open bank accounts and issue payment cards attached to those accounts. You can also issue cards and attach them to a different account in case you’re integrating with existing bank accounts. The startup also offers various services around payments, vouchers, cross-border transactions and more.

More recently, the company launched a new feature called Splitpay with American Express. When customers check out on an e-commerce platform in Germany, American Express customers will be able to choose a repayment plan to pay over multiple months.

solarisBank generates revenue from its clients as they pay to use the company’s APIs and enable accounts and cards. solarisBank also collects the interchange fees on card transactions and share revenue with its clients. Similarly, solarisBank can offer to share revenue on credit interests with its clients.

In the future, solarisBank plans to make its portfolio of financial services even more compelling by introducing local IBANs in the most important European markets. It should make it easier to convince potential clients outside of Germany to use solarisBank as their banking infrastructure.

Categories: Business News

The virtual state of corporate venture capital today

Startup News - 2020, June 30 - 6:25am
BIll Taranto Contributor GHI Fund President Bill Taranto has spent more than two decades in the healthcare industry and has 15 years of experience in healthcare investing. In addition to his venture investing knowledge, Bill has decades of management operations experience.

When the going gets tough, it’s common for some corporate VCs to head for the hills.

Today, it’s a narrative that’s emerging again amid the COVID-19 crisis. Global corporate venture deals fell from a total of 580 in April/May of 2019 to 486 in the same period this year, according to Global Corporate Venturing.

However, institutional VC deals are also headed for a decline, with PitchBook anticipating a drop in transaction volume over the next several quarters, as well as a downturn in valuations.

Image Credits: Global Corporate Venturing

It remains to be seen how it will play out this time, but I believe corporate venture capital (CVC) will not only stick around, but also be a vital part of the innovation ecosystem going forward.

I know that Merck Global Health Innovation Fund (MGHIF) remains fully committed to “doing” venture. Now, more than ever, health innovation is vital. Second, we understand that many of today’s most successful companies were funded in times of uncertainty. In fact, to put our money where our mouth is, we’ve recently completed two spinouts, three follow-on investments, and two new deals in 2020 — all since COVID hit. We intend to increase that pace going forward in 2020 and beyond.

It hasn’t been easy. It’s hard to do venture when you can’t venture out into the world, meet founders and do diligence the way we did in the past. But it is possible, if you do some innovating of your own and set up a smoothly functioning system to do CVC virtually.

Here’s how we’ve done it.

Finding real benefits in virtual CVC
Categories: Business News

Nacelle raises $4.8M for its headless e-commerce platform

Startup News - 2020, June 30 - 4:09am

As e-commerce companies aim to capitalize on the online spending boom connected to shelter-in-place and keep the party going as physical retailers open back up, more are turning their attention to how they can juice the functionality of their online storefronts and improve experiences for shoppers. Enter Nacelle, an LA-based startup in the burgeoning “headless” e-commerce space.

The startup bills itself as a JAMstack for e-commerce, offering a developer platform that delivers greater performance and scalability to online storefronts. Nacelle has raised about $4.8 million to date in fundings led by Index Ventures and Accomplice. Some of the company’s other angel investors include Shopify’s Jamie Sutton, Klaviyo CEO Andrew Bialecki and Attentive CEO Brian Long.

Nacelle builds an easier path for e-commerce brands to embrace a headless structure. Headless web apps essentially mean a site’s front end is decoupled from the backend infrastructure, so it’s leaning fully on dedicated frameworks for each to deliver content to users. There are some notable benefits for sites going headless, including greater performance, better scalability, fewer hosting costs and a more streamlined developer experience. For e-commerce sites, there are also some notable complexities due to how storefronts operate and how headless CMSs need to accommodate dynamic inventories and user shopping carts.

“We asked how do you pair a very dynamic requirement with the generally static system that JAMstack offers, and that’s where Nacelle comes in,” CEO Brian Anderson tells TechCrunch.

Anderson previously operated a technical agency for Shopify Plus customers building custom storefronts, a venture that has led to much of the company’s early customers. Nacelle also recently hired Kelsey Burnes as the startup’s first VP of marketing; she joins from e-commerce plug-in platform Nosto.

Though Anderson described a flurry of benefits regarding Nacelle’s platform, many are the result of reduced latency that he says converts more users and pushes them to spend more. The startup has a particular focus on mobile storefronts, with Anderson noting that most desktop storefronts dramatically outperform mobile counterparts and that the speedier load times Nacelle enables on mobile can do a lot to overcome this.

Image Credits: Nacelle

As more brands embrace headless structures, Nacelle is aiming to manage the experience. Nacelle is optimized for Shopify users to get up and running the most quickly. Users can also easily integrate the system with popular CMSs like Contentful and Sanity. All in all, Nacelle sports integrations for more than 30 services, including payments platforms, SMS marketing platforms, analytics platforms and more. The goal is to minimize the need for users to migrate data or learn new workflows.

The company is unsurprisingly going after direct-to-consumer brands pretty heavily. Some of Nacelle’s early customers include D2C bedding startup Boll & Branch, cozy things marketplace Barefoot Dreams and fashion brand Something Navy. Most of Nacelle’s rollouts launch later this summer. Last month, Nacelle went live with men’s toiletries startup Ballsy and says that the storefront has already seen conversions increase 28%.

Nacelle is far from the only young entrant in this space. Just last month, Commerce Layer announced that it had raised $6 million in funding from Benchmark.

Italy’s Commerce Layer raises $6M led by Benchmark for its headless e-commerce platform

Categories: Business News

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