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Updated: 6 hours 41 min ago

Leading VCs discuss how COVID-19 has impacted the world of digital health

2020, March 31 - 10:07pm

In December 2019, Extra Crunch spoke to a group of investors leading the charge in health tech to discuss where they saw the most opportunity in the space leading into 2020.

At the time, respondents highlighted startups in digital therapeutics, telehealth and mental health that were improving medical practitioner efficiency or streamlining the distribution of care, amongst a variety of other digital health markets that were garnering the most attention.

Where top VCs are investing in digital health

In the months since, the COVID-19 crisis has debilitated national healthcare systems and the global economy. Weaknesses in healthcare systems have become clearer than ever, while startups and capital providers have struggled to operate while wide swaths of the market effectively shut down.

Given significant volatility and the rapid changes seen in the worlds of healthcare, venture and startups broadly, we wanted to understand which inefficiencies might have been brought to light, what new opportunities might exist for founders looking to reduce friction in healthcare systems, how digital health startups have been impacted and how health tech investing as a whole has changed.

We asked several of the VCs who participated in our last digital health survey to update us on how COVID-19 is impacting digital health startups and broader healthcare systems around the world:

Annie Case, Kleiner Perkins

Our current unprecedented global crisis has put a spotlight on digital health. In the last few weeks alone, we have seen what feels like a decade’s worth of societal and regulatory changes that require digital health companies to step up and embrace new challenges and opportunities.

Categories: Business News

Monzo CEO won’t take salary for 12 months after limited number of staff offered voluntary furlough

2020, March 31 - 8:10pm

This article was updated 1.07pm GMT, to clarify Starling and Revolut’s furlough situation.

Monzo, the U.K. challenger bank with over 4 million account holders, is taking a number of precautionary steps to help see it through the current coronavirus downturn, including voluntary furloughs and its CEO forgoing a salary, TechCrunch understands.

In an internal company-wide memo issued by co-founder and CEO Tom Blomfield, he tells the bank’s over 1,500 staff that he won’t be taking a salary for the next twelve months, and that the senior management team and board have volunteered to take a 25% cut in salary, as have other “Monzonaughts” within the company.

In addition, a limited number of Monzo’s U.K. employees are being offered voluntary furloughing for two months, as part of the scheme rolled out by the U.K. government to protect jobs during the coronavirus lockdown, which is already impacting many companies — not just Monzo — including several other fintechs I know of. Furlough ensures that employees still get paid even when work has decreased and that when things hopefully return to normal there is a job to come back to.

Although well capitalised, like other banks and fintechs, Monzo has seen customer card spend reduce at home and (of course) abroad, meaning it is seeing less revenue from interchange fees. New account signups have also slowed, as has customer support requests. It therefore makes sense to utilise the furlough scheme to help protect jobs in the future when demand picks up again. By making it voluntary, it also means staff with kids to home school or loved ones to take care of, can use the option to hopefully make their lives easier for the time being.

Specifically, I understand Monzo is accepting up to 175 furlough applications in customer support, and up to 120 applications from other parts of the business.

Meanwhile, at least one other U.K. challenger bank is using the government’s furlough scheme. Starling has confirmed that it has put 41 staff on furlough (see statement from Starling founder Anne Boden below). In contrast, Revolut tells TechCrunch it has no current plans to do so. As already mentioned, the scheme is available to U.K. companies right across the board and several startups, including fintechs, have already applied furloughing as a pre-cautionary measure.

Lastly, it should be stressed that none of the above should impact customers at Monzo, which, as a digital bank, is pretty well-positioned to operate during lockdown and with all staff already working from home. It is also a fully licensed bank, with customer deposits up to £85,000 protected as part of the U.K. government’s deposit protection scheme.

Comment from Anne Boden, founder of Starling Bank:

Starling has furloughed 41 people and is topping up their salaries to ensure they get 100%. Most of these employees are relatively new to the bank and have not completed their training, so are unable to work from home. The remainder are facilities staff who are not required at the moment.
The rest of Starling’s customer service team remains busy.
Starling is well-funded, our TV ad campaign is doing extremely well and we are still growing fast, adding new business and personal customers every day. It’s business as usual and no-one is taking a pay cut.

Categories: Business News

Qarnot raises $6.5 million for its computer servers that heat buildings

2020, March 31 - 4:00pm

French startup Qarnot has raised a $6.5 million (€6 million) funding round. The company manufactures heaters and boilers with a special trick — they pack computers as computers tend to generate a lot of heat. Qarnot then lets companies leverage that computing power by running tasks on those unusual servers.

Banque des Territoires, Caisse des Dépôts, Engie Rassembleur d'Énergies, A/O PropTech and Groupe Casino are participating in today’s funding round.

When you design a data center, you transform electricity into computing resources and heat. Data centers always have to find clever new ways to get rid of heat with powerful cooling mechanisms.

Qarnot is designing alternative data centers by taking advantage of heat instead of fighting heat. The company first started with computing heaters, an electrical heater with a server. The company sells those devices to construction companies looking for heaters for their new buildings.

People living or working in those buildings can then control heating directly on the heaters or through a mobile app. Nearly 1,000 social housing units are heated by Qarnot.

At the other end of the equation, companies such as BNP Paribas, Société Générale and Natixis rent those servers for their own needs. Illumination Mac Guff is also using the platform to generate 3D models for animated movies.

Heating suffers from seasonality. That’s why Qarnot has also designed scalable boiler systems. Those boilers pack CPU servers or a mix of CPU and GPU servers. Qarnot has also set up a joint venture with Groupe Casino to heat warehouses with computer racks.

Categories: Business News

Local services marketplace Thumbtack lays off 250 employees

2020, March 31 - 6:32am

Thumbtack CEO Marco Zappacosta announced in a blog post today that the company has laid off 250 employees.

Much has been written about the impact that the COVID-19 and the resulting social distancing/shelter in place measures are having on small businesses (and the steps that internet platforms like Facebook and Yelp — which, after all, make money from small businesses advertising — are taking to help)

Similarly, Zappacosta said the local services that Thumbtack showcases in its marketplace are also seeing anything from a “dramatic decline” to an “outright collapse.” Apparently the company’s business has fallen 61 percent in San Francisco, 55 percent in Detroit and 50 percent in New York City.

Thumbtack raised a $150 million round of funding last year, but Zappacosta said, “No business operates with enough of a buffer to sustain prolonged revenue declines of 40%+ without making radical changes.”

Those changes include reduced marketing, a hiring freeze and 25 percent salary reductions for executives. (Zappacosta said he will not take any salary at all, starting today.) And it also includes big layoffs.

Laid off workers will receive a severance package with both “cash and equity components,” Zappacosta said. He also said Thumbtack is doing what it can to help its service providers, such as “building features that support more remote work with customers — like video consults for a sink replacement that would typically be done onsite.”

Categories: Business News

Rebecca Minkoff has some advice for e-commerce companies right now

2020, March 31 - 5:39am

When Rebecca Minkoff first moved to New York City, the then-18-year-old was making $4.75 an hour.

“I just kept working for this designer and someone was telling me what to do every day. I just didn’t like that. And I thought if I’m going to work as hard, it’s going to be for myself and I want to call my own shots,” she said. “I didn’t want to be told what to do, frankly.”

Self-employment for Minkoff turned out just fine; in 2001, she redesigned the iconic “I Love New York” shirt and it appeared on The Tonight Show. After a shout-out from Jay Leno, Minkoff spent the next eight months making T-shirts on the floor of her apartment and quit her job to start designing full time.

We caught up with Minkoff to learn more about how she grew her brand into a global fashion company with the help of her brother, her problem with the unicorn mentality and why she thinks the “invisible barrier” is the future of retail tech.

This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

TechCrunch: What gave you the energy and drive to become an entrepreneur?

Rebecca Minkoff: Long story. My mom would sell these cast covers, like decorative covers for people with broken arms at the flea market. And I was like, I am going to have a booth here. So I made all these tie-dye shirts and no one bought anything but it was just this idea of like, I can make something I can sell. My mom always taught that. When I wanted a dress, she taught me how to sew a dress instead of buying the dress. And so, I just got this bug for creating things out of nothing.

The constant thread was, “I’m not going to pay for this. You’re going to learn how to do it.”

Categories: Business News

Amid concerns that startups could be left out of COVID-19 bailout, investors step up lobbying

2020, March 31 - 3:24am

The massive bailout package that the U.S. government passed last week to stave off an economic collapse from measures put in place to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic is giving out billions to American small businesses. But startups that received venture capital money could be left out.

So the nation’s investment organizations and lobbying firms are stepping up their efforts to get clarification around the specifics of the loan programs established under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Their efforts could mean the difference between some of those billions in loans for small businesses going to startup companies or a whole swath of companies left falling through the cracks.

There appear to be two issues for startup entrepreneurs with the different types of loans that companies can receive.

The first is the “Affiliation Rules” that the Small Business Administration (SBA) uses to determine who is eligible for loans. Under the rules, companies could be required to count all of the employees at every company their investors have backed as part of their employee count — pushing the individual companies above the employee size threshold.

“Regardless of the purpose of these rules for traditional 7(a) loans, allowing the rules to exclude some of our country’s most innovative startups in this new loan program is manifestly contrary to the intent of the legislation: to help small businesses keep their lights on and their employees working despite the double financial squeeze created by the economic and financial market downturns,” according to a letter sent to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza by the NVCA and other startup investment organizations. “Without clear guidance enabling startups and small businesses supported by equity investment to access the loan facility, many of these startups may be rendered ineligible.”

These issues around affiliation and 7(a) loans aren’t the only ones with which startups may contend. Startups could also be eligible for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL). These loans are part of a $10 billion program within the CARES Act that is also overseen by the SBA. However, these loans have to come with a personal guarantee if they’re over $200,000. And that requirement may be too onerous for startups. 

EIDLs less than $200,000 don’t require a personal guarantee, nor do they require real estate as collateral, and will take a general security interest in business property, according to an article in Forbes. Borrowers for EIDLs can take an emergency cash grant of $10,000 that can be forgiven if spent on things like paid leave, maintaining payroll, increased costs due to supply chain disruptions, mortgage or lease payments or repaying obligations that cannot be met due to revenue loss, according to Forbes.

These loans apply to sole proprietors and independent contractors and employee stock ownership plans with fewer than 500 employees, Forbes wrote. The emergency loans are available to companies that don’t qualify for additional funds — and are based on self-certification and a basic credit score, Alex Contreras, director of Preparedness, Communication, & Coordination at the Office of Disaster Assistance for the SBA told Forbes.

While the EIDLs may be interesting, the biggest issue is the lack of clarity around affiliation rules, Justin Field, NVCA’s senior vice president of government affairs, tells me.

“These rules will make it more difficult for small businesses with equity investors to even understand if they can access the program,” he says. “It’s a tough situation… If you have these non-bright-lined rules it’s going to be tough for anybody that has a company that has minority investors.”

There could be significant implications for the U.S. economy if these startups are ineligible for loans, the NVCA wrote. Companies backed by venture investors are involved in the development of technologies of strategic interest to the U.S. in the long term and are currently working on tools to diagnose, track, monitor and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the short term.

“Bottom line: not providing this critical support to startups now will cause both short-term pain and long-term consequences that linger for years,” the organizations wrote. “In 2019 alone, 2.27 million jobs were created in the U.S. by startups across our nation. According to the job site Indeed, 98 percent of firms have fewer than 100 employees and between small and medium sized companies, they jointly employ 55 percent of employees. When implementing the CARES Act, we urge the SBA to issue guidance that makes clear affiliation rules do not arbitrarily exclude our most innovative startups.”

Categories: Business News

Experience Disrupt SF online with the Disrupt Digital Pro Pass

2020, March 31 - 3:23am

Earlier this month we announced the launch of the Disrupt Digital Pass for TechCrunch’s flagship Disrupt SF event (September 14-16) as a way to help ensure that, no matter what, TechCrunch fans everywhere would be able to enjoy the big interviews at the show. We also hinted that we were working on a Pro edition of the Digital Pass for people who really want to engage as fully as possible with Disrupt SF, including all the programming on the four primary stages and lots of real-time interaction with fellow attendees, founders in Startup Alley, engaging Q&A sessions and our all important exhibitors and partners. That was trickier to figure out, but we’re there. 

Today we’re happy to unveil the Disrupt Digital Pro Pass that we’ve been working hard to finalize. Here’s what you get with your Disrupt Digital Pro Pass, starting at $245: 

  • Live stream and VOD (video-on-demand) from the Extra Crunch Stage. Live and on-demand access to TechCrunch editors’ discussions with top experts — growth marketers, lawyers, investors, technologists, recruiters — on topics critical to founders’ success. Pass holders, in-person and virtual, may submit questions in real time to the moderator onstage.
  • Live stream and VOD from the Q&A Stage. Virtual pass holders can submit questions during live Q&A sessions with speakers after they have appeared with TechCrunch editors on the Disrupt and Extra Crunch stages. 
  • VOD from the Showcase Stage. Watch top founders exhibiting in Startup Alley pitch and take questions from TechCrunch editors. 
  • Interact with early-stage startups in Startup Alley virtually. Browse the hundreds of exhibiting startups, organized by category, and watch their product demos on demand. Digital Pro pass holders can arrange 1:1 meetings with founders whether they be virtual or exhibiting on the show floor in-person.
  • Video conference networking with CrunchMatch. TechCrunch’s hugely popular platform to connect like-minded attendees will be accessible to Digital Pro pass holders as well as in-person attendees. Find attendees, request a meeting and connect via a private video conference. 
  • Virtual sponsor engagements. We love our sponsors, and they will be front and center for Digital Pro pass holders, whether that’s opportunities to set up 1:1 meetings virtually with sponsor reps or watch sponsors’ presentations. 

In addition, of course, Pro pass holders also have access to the features of the free Disrupt Digital Pass:

  • Live stream and VOD from the Disrupt Stage. Live and on-demand access to all the great interviews TechCrunch’s editors conduct with the biggest names in tech. 

You can expect to see the TechCrunch team at San Francisco’s Moscone Center during Disrupt, but now attendees can join us in person and/or virtually

Innovator, Founder, Investor and Startup Alley pass holders (except Expo Only passes) will also have access to all the Disrupt Digital Pro Pass features, as well as the opportunity to be present with us in San Francisco. 

Sign up for Disrupt SF today. 2020 marks the 10th anniversary of Disrupt SF, and we hope you will join us to celebrate, online or at Moscone. We would love to have you, either way.

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Categories: Business News

Compete in Startup Battlefield and Launch at Disrupt SF 2020

2020, March 31 - 2:57am

Early-stage founders: Don’t miss your chance to follow in the footsteps of tech giants. We know COVID-19 has created challenges for startup founders, but fear not. Disrupt SF is still proceeding as scheduled, with a Disrupt Digital Pass Virtual option. Launch your startup in the world’s most famous pitch competition, Startup Battlefield. The smackdown goes down live on the Main Stage at Disrupt San Francisco 2020 on September 14-16. Want a shot at $100,000 and the Disrupt Cup? Fill out your application to compete right here.

Companies such as Fitbit, Cloudflare, Mint.com, Dropbox, Vurb, Yammer and Getaround — to name but a few — trace their origins to the Battlefield competition. The Startup Battlefield Alumni Community — 902 companies strong and counting — has collectively raised $9 billion and produced more than 115 successful exits (IPOs or acquisitions). That’s some impressive company to keep. Why not join their ranks?

Here’s how Startup Battlefield works. First, you apply. (Pro tip: Applying and competing in the Battlefield is free and TechCrunch does not take any equity). Next, TechCrunch’s Battlefield-savvy editorial team pours over every application looking for approximately 20 startups to pitch on the Main Stage.

The TechCrunch team will put all participants through rigorous, weeks-long training to hone pitches, business models, presentation skills and any other startup issues that require tightening. You’ll be in fighting trim and ready to step out onto the Main Stage.

Teams have just six minutes to pitch and present a live demo to a panel of expert judges. After each pitch, the judges (we’re talking folks like Cyan Banister, Kirsten Green, Aileen Lee, Alfred Lin and Roelof Botha) will put each team through a Q&A. No flop-sweat here, thanks to all those weeks of pitch coaching.

The judges will select anywhere from four to six teams to advance to the finals. And that means another pitch and Q&A in front of a fresh set of judges. The winning team takes home $100,000, the coveted Disrupt Cup and they bask in a spotlight of media and investor attention. Startup Battlefield can be a life-changing experience for all competitors — not just the ultimate winner.

The action takes place in front of an enthusiastic audience of thousands. Plus, we live-stream the entire event on TechCrunch.com, once you sign up for the digital pass. If all that’s not enough, consider this. Startup Battlefield competitors receive a VIP Disrupt experience.

You’ll have access to private VIP events like the Startup Battlefield Reception, and each team receives four complimentary event tickets. You get to exhibit at the show for all three days, and you’ll have access to CrunchMatch, TC’s investor-founder networking platform. And you also get a complimentary ticket to all future TC events and free subscriptions to Extra Crunch.

Whew. That’s a whole lot of opportunity and exposure. So, what are you waiting for? Disrupt San Francisco 2020 takes place on September 14-16. Apply to compete in Startup Battlefield for a shot at launching your dream to the world.

TechCrunch is mindful of the COVID-19 issue and its impact on live events. You can follow our updates here.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt San Francisco 2020? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Categories: Business News

Anorak’s Greg Castle on early-stage investing during a crisis

2020, March 30 - 11:32pm

As the venture landscape adjusts to the COVID-19 pandemic and seismic shifts in public markets, early-stage VCs are reassessing which bets they’re making, along with questions they’re asking of founders who are exploring bleeding-edge technology.

Anorak’s Greg Castle

Anorak Ventures is a small seed-investment firm that bets on emerging tech like AR/VR, machine learning and robotics. I recently hopped on a Zoom call with founder Greg Castle to talk about what he’s seen recently in seed investing and how the sector is responding to the crisis. Castle was an early investor in Oculus; his other bets at Anorak include Against Gravity, 6D.ai and Anduril.

Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

TechCrunch: Has this pandemic affected the types of companies that you’re looking at?

Greg Castle: From my experience as an investor thus far, being reactive as an investor and looking at “hot” areas has a lot of pitfalls to be mindful of. I think a lot of the areas that excite me as an investor could benefit from what’s going on here, those areas including robotics, automation, immersive entertainment and immersive computing.

Just generally, do you feel like a recession is likely to negatively impact emerging tech more so than other areas?

Categories: Business News

Turbo Systems hires former Looker CMO Jen Grant as CEO

2020, March 30 - 11:00pm

Turbo Systems, a three-year old, no-code mobile app startup, announced today it has brought on industry veteran Jen Grant to be CEO.

Grant, who was previously vice president of marketing at Box and chief marketing officer at Elastic and Looker, brings more than 15 years of tech company experience to the young startup.

She says that when Looker got acquired by Google last June for $2.6 billion, she began looking for her next opportunity. She had done a stint with Google as a product manager earlier in her career and was looking for something new.

She saw Looker as a model for the kind of company she wanted to join, one that had a founder focused on product and engineering, who hired an outside CEO early on to run the business, as Looker had done. She found that in Turbo where founder Hari Subramanian was taking on that type of role. Subramanian was also a successful entrepreneur, having previously founded ServiceMax before selling it to GE in 2016.

“The first thing that really drew me to Turbo was this partnership with Hari,” Grant told TechCrunch. While that relationship was a key component for her, she says even with that, before she decided to join, she spoke to customers and she saw an enthusiasm there that drew her to the company.

“I love products that actually help people. And so Box is helping people collaborate and share files and work together. Looker is about getting data to everyone in the organization so that everyone could be making great decisions, and at Turbo we’re making it easy for anyone to create a mobile app that helps run their business,” she said.

Grant has been on the job for just 30 days, joining the company in the middle of a global pandemic. So it’s even more challenging than the typical early days for any new CEO, but she is looking forward and trying to help her 36 employees navigate this situation.

“You know, I didn’t know that this is what would happen in my first 30 days, but what inspires me, what’s a big part of it is that I can help by growing this company, by being successful and by being able to hire more and more people, and contribute to getting our economy back on track,” Grant said.

She also recognizes that there is a lack of diversity in her new CEO role, and she hopes to be a role model. “I have been fortunate to get to a position where I know I can do this job and do it well. And it’s my responsibility to do this work, my responsibility to show it can be done and shouldn’t be an anomaly.”

Turbo Systems was founded in 2017 and has raised $8 million, according to Crunchbase. It helps companies build mobile apps without coding, connecting to 140 different data sources such as Salesforce, SAP and Oracle.

Categories: Business News

Equity Monday: Three funding rounds and a downturn

2020, March 30 - 10:52pm

Good morning friends, and welcome back to TechCrunch’s Equity Monday, a short-form audio hit to kickstart your week.

If you missed Friday’s main episode, it was a fun one so take the time if you have the minutes; we’re settling into a new hosting lineup that is shaping up to be our best ever, so we’re having a blast even if we have to record remotely instead of in the same room.

This morning was a bit of a mixed bag. The world is still in pretty bad shape as societies and governments work to combat COVID-19 and the private and public markets convulse. But there was still news to be found, so we hit on a few key news items, including: The return of HQ Trivia at a perfect time, Microsoft’s booming cloud services demand and the return of tech layoffs.

Not all news was bad, however, as we looked at three early-stage funding events and three seed rounds from Indo, Kaizo, and Lanistar.

Looking ahead left us little joy other than to note that it is very nearly earnings season; Q1 2020 business results should prove to be the most interesting in memory given how much the world changed during the three-month period. Regardless of whether or not you care about the financial side of business or not, it’s going to be a wild ride.

Wrapping today, unicorn layoffs are back in a big way. Bird, TripActions, ZipRecruiter, and others are cutting staff in big chunks. A lot of folks hired to help companies scale look pretty expensive when growth turns negative; layoffs suck and a struggling economy is crap for everyone, but the business cycle is real, so it’s not a huge shock to find ourselves here today. We’re going to cover the cuts, but only with a grimace and good thoughts for the laid off.

And that’s it for this week. Other than that the new Trivium single is epic, we’re out of here.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 AM PT and Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Categories: Business News

Cell and gene therapy startup ElevateBio raises $170 million

2020, March 30 - 9:18pm

While economic conditions and the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic may not make for the best atmosphere for raising funding, some companies are still announcing round closures with significant money committed. Cambridge-based ElevateBio, for instance, revealed a $170 million Series B funding on Monday, with participation from new investors The Invus Group, Surveyor Capital, EDBI, and Vertex Ventures, along with existing investors F2 Ventures, MPM Capital, EcoR1 Capital, Redmile Group and Samsara BioCapital.

ElevateBio, which was officially launched to the public less than a year ago, specializes in development of new types of cellular and genetic therapies, and operates by the creation of new companies under its portfolio each dedicated to the development and manufacturing of a specific type of therapeutic approach. This funding brings the total raised by ElevateBio to over $300 million, on top of a $150 million Series A round that the company announced last year, led by Swiss investment bank UBS’ Oncology Impact Fund.

The biotech company has ramped up quickly, nearing completion of a 140,000 square foot facilitating in Massachusetts to focus on R&D. It also launched a company called AlloVir that’s working on T-cell immunotherapy for combating viruses that specifically arise stem cell transplantations, and is already in the later stages of clinical trials. Finally, it launched another company called HighPassBio, which is also aimed at helping treat stem cell-related diseases using T-cell therapies, in this case specifically around the potential relapse of leukaemia following a transplant.

As you might expect, ElevateBio is also turning the attention of some of its efforts towards research focused on mitigating the impact of COVID-19; specifically, its AlloVir subsidiary has expanding an existing research agreement in place with the Baylor College of Medicine to work on developing a type of T-cell therapy that can help protect patients with conditions that compromise their immune systems and put them at increased risk for COVID-19.

Categories: Business News

One.com acquires Hostnet as hosting providers continue consolidation in Europe

2020, March 30 - 8:54pm

The coronavirus pandemic has all but halted a lot of business activity, but today comes news of a deal that underscores how M&A is still happening in some sectors despite (not because of) everything else going on. One.com — the big hosting provider in Europe with around 1.5 million customers, itself acquired just over a year ago by PE firm Cinven — has acquired Hostnet, a smaller Netherlands-based competitor with about 210,000 customers.

Financial terms of the deal are not being disclosed but a spokesperson for One.com said that it includes all of Hostnet’s existing business — which includes management of 810,000 domain names and 85,000 websites; domain registration, web hosting and SaaS applications services; and managed and virtual private services — and its existing employees.

The spokesperson added that the deal has been in the works for several weeks and closed in the last couple of weeks, with the teams “working through the coronavirus pandemic” to finalise it.

“We are pleased to announce the acquisition of Hostnet given its focus on operational excellence and high brand awareness,” said Stephan Wolfram, Group CEO of One.com, in a statement. “As a result of this transaction, we are now a leading operator in the Dutch hosting market that is core to the development of our business strategy. We look forward to working with the team at Hostnet and significantly enhancing our European presence and product range for our customers.”

You might wonder if Hostnet and One.com are being impacted by the pandemic — specifically, whether the fact that both count small businesses, which have been some of the hardest-hit in terms of operations, as a primary customer base, and whether that is impacting their own bottom line or leading to payment delinquency. The spokesperson said that this was not a factor in this deal or in the financial terms.

There is some data to support that: the consolidation of multiple smaller hosting providers has been a theme for a while now, with companies looking for more economies of scale.

“Hostnet is a highly regarded player in the hosting market with capabilities, awareness and products that will contribute to further accelerate the development of one.com’s business,” Harold Douwes, founder and CEO of Hostnet, said in a statement. “Within the consolidating hosting market, it was important for Hostnet to connect with a strong partner. We found it in one.com, an ambitious party with a lot of knowledge and experience. This offers plenty of possibilities and opportunities for the future.”

As we have pointed out before, web hosting and related services represent a significant, if not wildly evolving, part of the tech landscape. So, for as long as businesses and consumers continue to use the web — and, as everyone is staying at home, we have had even more web traffic of late than ever — there will be a need for companies who sell and host domain names and provide various cloud services around that.

But since there  is a lot of competition in this space, that means prices are competitive to customers, and that, in turn, also means that margins, particularly in the resale of SaaS tools, are low. In other words, we’re likely to see more consolidation in this area over time.

Now backed by Cinven, One.com itself has been pursuing that strategy over the last year. Its other acquisitions have included other regional leaders such as SYSE and Digital Garden in the nordics.

Categories: Business News

Online tutoring marketplace Preply banks $10M to fuel growth in North America, Europe

2020, March 30 - 8:30pm

Online learning looks likely to be a key beneficiary of the social distancing and quarantine measures that are being applied around the world as countries grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.

In turn, this looks set to buoy some relative veterans of the space. To wit: Preply, a 2013-founded tutoring marketplace, is today announcing a $10 million Series A. It said the funding will be used to scale the business and beef up its focus on the US market, where it plans to open an office by the end of the year.

The Series A is led by London-based Hoxton Ventures, with European VC funds Point Nine Capital, All Iron Ventures, The Family, EduCapital, and Diligent Capital also participating.

Preply’s press release also notes a number of individual angel investors jumped aboard this round: Arthur Kosten of Booking.com; Gary Swart, former CEO of Upwork; David Helgason, founder of Unity Technologies; and Daniel Hoffer, founder of Couchsurfing.

The startup said it has seen a record number of daily hours booked on its platform this week. It also reports a spike in the number of tutors registering in markets including the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, Italy and Spain — which are among the regions where schools have been closed as a coronavirus response measure.

Also this week Preply said some countries have seen the number of tutor registrations triple vs the same period in February, while it also reports a doubling of the number of hours students are booking on the platform in some markets.

The former Techstars Berlin alum closed a $1.3M seed back in 2016 to expand its marketplace in Europe, when it said it had 25,000 “registered” tutors — and was generating revenue from more than 130 countries.

The new funding will be used to help scale mainly in North America, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the UK, it said today.

Another core intent for the funding is to grow Preply’s current network of 10,000 “verified” tutors, who it says are teaching 50 languages to students in 190 countries around the world. So tackling the level of tutor churn it has evidently experienced over the years — by getting more of those who sign up to stick around teaching for a longer haul — looks to be one of the priorities now it’s flush with Series A cash.

It also plans to spend on building additional data-driven tools — including for assessments and homework.

The aim is to increase the platform’s utility by adding more features for tutors to track students’ progress and better support them to hit learning goals. “Preply wants to engage and enable tutors to develop alongside the platform, giving them the opportunity to explore training and lessons plans so they can streamline their income and maximize their classes,” it said in a press release.

Another area of focus on the product dev front is mobile. Here, Preply said it will be spending to boost the efficiency and improve the UX of its Android and iOS apps.

​“The new funding allows us to bring a more in-depth, immersive and convenient experience to both tutors and learners all over the world. Today, we are laser focused on language learning, but ultimately, I envision a future where anyone can learn anything using Preply,” said Kirill Bigai, CEO of Preply, in a statement.

Asked about growth during the coronavirus crisis, he also told us: “Italy has been one of the countries where we’ve seen the most traction. We started seeing growth around 3 weeks ago with a 2.5x spike in new students joining the platform, and tutor registrations tripled in Italy last week, compared to the same week in February. It therefore looks like there may be a lag effect with countries that have been on lockdown for longer, exploring platforms like ours more actively now.

“Saying that, we’re certainly already seeing a clear surge in other markets. In France, for example, we’ve witnessed a 2.5x spike in new students vs. two weeks ago, new students to the platform doubled in the U.S. last week, and we’re seeing a 30% growth in demand for the U.K.”

“We closed this round in January, before the effects of Coronavirus on our business were really evident. The current circumstances have heightened traction we were already seeing,” he added. “I think online businesses — whether it’s video conferencing broadly, online video and audio streaming, or online learning platforms such as Preply will continue to see growth. Longer term, we’re all proving to ourselves how much really can be done remotely.”

“Getting to know Kirill and the team at Preply we were most impressed with their tremendous growth already in the US market as well as the size of the global market in online language tutoring. We believe the team has vast opportunity ahead of it, especially in the English-learning segment of the market where Preply already demonstrates market leadership,” added Hoxton Ventures’ Rob Kniaz in another supporting statement.

To date, Preply says some two million classes have been taken with teachers of 160 nationalities, via its marketplace. The platform maintains a strong focused on language learning (it says this is 95% of its business), although topic-based lessons are also offered — such as maths and physics.

The business model entails taking a lead generation fee — in the form of the entire fee for the first lesson — after which it takes a revenue share of any lessons booked thereafter. The average price of a lesson on the platform is $15 to $20 per hour, per Preply, with tutors having leeway to set prices (within some fixed bounds, such as a minimum per lesson price).

The company currently employs 125 staff, based out of Kyiv (Ukraine) and Barcelona (Spain) and says its revenues have grown tenfold in the last three years.

A core tech component of the marketplace is a machine-learning matching system which it uses to increase the efficiency of pairing tutors with learners — touting this as a way to make “smarter connections” that “crack the code of effective language learning”.

In plainer language, it’s using automated decision-making to help users find a relevant teacher without having to do lots of search legwork themselves, while the platform can use AI-matching to drive bookings by managing the experience of tutor discovery in a way that also avoids students being overwhelmed by too much choice.

“Prior to 2017 we remained true to a pure open marketplace model with a primary objective of providing a space where any tutor could market their services. However, as our business matured so did the demands of our student market who sought a highly curated experience to pair them with the most effective tutors on the market. So in 2017, in addition to imposing stiffer tutor requirements such as video introductions and photo quality, we levelled up our tutor performance review process to ensure a quality experience on the platform. These tutor pipeline controls are now an essential part of our machine learning that facilitates our current pairing process,” Bigai added.

This report was updated with additional comment

Categories: Business News

Air Doctor scores $7.8M to connect travellers with local doctors

2020, March 30 - 4:00pm

Air Doctor, the health tech startup that connects travellers with local doctors, has raised $7.8 million in Series A funding. The round is led by Kamet Ventures (the AXA-backed venture builder), and The Phoenix Insurance Company.

Founded in 2016, Air Doctor aims to empower travellers who get sick when abroad and need non-emergency advice or treatment. It has created a network of local private physicians that travellers can access, typically via travel insurance or perks. The platform is available across 42 countries in 5 continents, and lets you search by location, language, specialty, and cost.

“Air Doctor was born out of the founding team’s own travelling experiences, out of that terrible feeling you get when you fall ill in a foreign country and don’t know who to turn to or how to get the fast response you need,” says Jenny Cohen Derfler, CEO and co-founder of Air Doctor.

“Yam [Derfler, Head of Product Innovation] came up with the idea after eight months of travelling around South America, in which both he and his friends at different times felt completely helpless when they got sick and, more often than not, couldn’t find English-speaking doctors”.

Derfler says Air Doctor’s initial focus was that of the travelling patient, but the team quickly realised that this is a problem that affects an entire ecosystem around medical care for travellers.

“Local doctors have no reliable way of accessing a whole new group of private customers, insurance companies waste huge amounts of money on tedious and questionable medical services, and also want to improve the customer experience of being connected to healthcare, and travel agents want a reliable service to bundle up as part of their packages. It became clear we needed to build a platform that would benefits all parties,” she says.

By combining a global network of medical professionals with a digital platform, Air Doctor is able to lower costs for insurance companies, and offer value-added solutions for credit card companies and mobile operators. On the supply end, it also claims to increase physicians’ income and digital presence, while providing “the highest level of healthcare” for international travellers in their native languages.

“Our aim is to provide every traveler in the world access to experienced local doctors and specialists when they need it, and by doing so to help them avoid having to go to hospitals or tourist clinics,” adds Derfler.

The that end, Air Doctor’s first customer was The Phoenix, one of Israel’s leading insurance companies, which has subsequently invested as part of this Series A round. By offering Air Doctor to its customers, The Phoenix was able to reduce its loss ratio by reducing claim costs, reorienting patients to outpatient clinics rather than emergency services, and streamlining payments.

“Our big selling point for the travellers themselves is control,” underlines the Air Doctor CEO. “When you’re sick while away from home, you want to feel like you are in control of your situation. Our online platform helps patients find immediate solutions, by providing them with a wealth of information about a wider range of local practitioners so they can choose the most appropriate doctor for their needs and preferences. Most importantly, we help them access medical care in their native language, which is one of the biggest things when it comes to feeling in control of your situation”.

Meanwhile, this latest round follows Air Doctor’s seed round of $3.1 million in July 2018. The new investment will be used to bolster Air Doctor’s medical network and R&D capabilities and for international expansion across the insurance, telecom, and credit card industries.

Categories: Business News

John Borthwick & Matt Hartman of betaworks discuss coronavirus adaptation strategies

2020, March 28 - 7:17am

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of hopping on Zoom with betaworks’ John Borthwick and Matt Hartman to discuss the tech world’s adaptation to this new locked-down world, the future of new media and answer questions from the audience.

We discussed whether new media companies can raise capital right now, and touched on emerging trends around audio, voice, AR, live events, travel-related companies and many other topics.

It was a delight, and I’m excited to do more of these in the future.

For those of you who missed the Zoom, here’s a rundown of what we discussed (audio embed below).

Categories: Business News

Rocket startup Skyrora shifts production to hand sanitizer and face masks for coronavirus response

2020, March 28 - 6:49am

One of the newer companies attempting to join the rarified group of private space launch startups actually flying payloads to orbit has redirected its entire UK-based manufacturing capacity towards COVID-19 response. Skyrora, which is based in Edinburgh, Scotland, is answering the call of the UK government and the NHS to manufacturers to do what they can to provide much-needed healthcare equipment for frontline responders amid the coronavirus crisis.

Skyrorary says that the entirety of its UK operations, including all human resources and its working capital are now dedicated to COVID-19 response. The startup, which was founded in 2017, had been working towards test flights of its first spacecraft, making progress including an early successful engine test using its experimental, more eco-friendly rocket fuel that was completed in February.

For now, though, Skyrora will be focusing full on building hand sanitizer, its first effort to support the COVID-19 response. The company has already produce their initial batch using WHO guidelines and requirements, and now aims to scale up its production efforts to the point where it can manufacture the sanitizer at a rate of over 10,000 250 ml bottles per week.

There’s actually a pretty close link between rocketry and hand sanitizer: Ethanol, the form of alcohol that provides the fundamental disinfecting ingredient for hand sanitizer, has been used in  early rocket fuel. Skyrora’s ‘Ecosene’ fuel is a type of kerosene, however, which is a much more common modern aviation and rocket fuel.

In addition to sanitizer, Skyrora is now in talks with the Scottish Government to see where 3D-printed protective face masks might have a beneficial impact on ensuring health worker safety. It’s testing initial prototypes now, and will look to mass produce the protective equipment after those tests verify its output.

Plenty of companies are pitching in where they can, including by shifting their production lines and manufacturing capacity towards areas of greatest need. It’s definitely an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ moment, but there’s definitely a question of what happens to businesses that shift their focus this dramatically once the emergency passes, especially for young startups in emerging industries.

Categories: Business News

Attract, engage and retain employees in the new remote-work era

2020, March 28 - 6:25am
Irene DeNigris Contributor Share on Twitter Irene DeNigris, chief people officer of iCIMS, has a passion for cultivating a highly engaged, high-performance culture.

When looking for answers, where do people first turn? For many, it’s Google.

During the first half of March, we saw Google searches for “work from home” reach a 12-month high, garnering at least 50% more search interest than the anticipated peak, which usually occurs within the first week of January. This number will continue to grow as outside circumstances evolve.

This search behavior reflects the world around us. Today, employees and employers alike are grappling with the new norm — at least for the short-term — which is working remotely. While having a remote-ready model in place was once viewed as a competitive advantage to attract talent, it’s now a must-have to keep organizations afloat.

With vacant positions costing organizations around $680 daily, the impact that interrupted recruiting efforts can have on a business’ bottom line is jarring. As such, HR professionals were early adopters of successful remote communication practices, learning lessons that can be applied across the business to successfully make personal connections without being in-person. Employers are doing all they can to address their existing employee base at this critical time, while also working hard to maintain their hiring efforts.

Having the right technology in place to sustain work-from-home practices is more important now than ever before. There are four steps that employers can take to successfully integrate and adapt successful virtual hiring technologies into their business continuity plans, considering all outside circumstances, and without sacrificing their productivity and unique company culture.

Prepare and plan. Employers have an obligation to provide their people with clear direction in times of disruption.

Categories: Business News

When is it time to stop fundraising?

2020, March 28 - 4:04am
Russ Heddleston Contributor Share on Twitter Russ is the co-founder and CEO of DocSend. He was previously a product manager at Facebook, where he arrived via the acquisition of his startup Pursuit.com, and has held roles at Dropbox, Greystripe, and Trulia. Follow him here: @rheddleston and @docsend More posts by this contributor

No one wants to prepare for their fundraising round to fail. Many founders spend months (or even years) getting their businesses to a point where they’re ready to pitch investors. But there are times when, no matter how hard you try, you’re just not going to be able to close a deal.

With the current COVID-19 pandemic, the entire VC community is in a state of uncertainty, and there is no clear answer when it comes to the question, “can I still raise funds for my company?” However, there’s hope for early-stage startups. We used the 2020 DocSend Startup Index to track Pitch Deck Interest among investors and found that last week, despite seismic changes across the country, pitch deck interest has only been 11.6% lower than the same week in 2019 so far.

We will be monitoring the Pitch Deck Interest Metric in the coming weeks, but if you’re an early-stage startup and you were planning to raise, there is still opportunity to come away with a term sheet. But if things don’t go as planned, how do you know if it’s time to give up or if you just need to push through?

According to recent DocSend data, you’ll know pretty quickly if it’s time to call it quits. While the average founder who was successful in fundraising contacted 63 investors during their process, startups that weren’t able to raise funds stopped at 27. Why stop? Because the founder listened to the feedback they were getting. If you hear the same concern or piece of feedback twice you should take it to heart, but if you hear it three times you probably need to stop and rethink things.

The Pitch Deck Interest Metric declined 11.6% compared to the same week in 2019

According to our study on the fundraising process of pre-seed startups, founders who were unsuccessful in raising had just nine meetings. That should give you enough feedback to know if you have a deal breaker in your deck.

But negative feedback doesn’t mean all is lost. In fact, of startups studied in the 2020 DocSend Startup Index, 86% reported that they were going to try to fundraise again after addressing the feedback they’d received.

Categories: Business News

Now might be the perfect time to rethink your fundraising approach

2020, March 28 - 4:04am
Russ Heddleston Contributor Share on Twitter Russ is the co-founder and CEO of DocSend. He was previously a product manager at Facebook, where he arrived via the acquisition of his startup Pursuit.com, and has held roles at Dropbox, Greystripe, and Trulia. Follow him here: @rheddleston and @docsend More posts by this contributor

Many founders will have kicked off the new year with a new fundraising round. According to the data we shared last year, March, October and November were the months when VCs were reviewing the most decks.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has ground to a halt many industries, and there are even warnings that this will affect the next two quarters in regards to fundraising.

We’ve reviewed the data in our 2020 DocSend Startup Index and we’ve begun tracking the Pitch Deck Interest Metric. With San Francisco under a shelter-in-place order and many VCs scrambling to adjust their processes to an all-remote world, we saw pitch deck interest drop 11.6% when compared to the same week in 2019. While there has been a drop in interest so far, there is still a lot of activity, and VCs seem to still be reading pitch decks.

We will be monitoring the Pitch Deck Interest Metric in the coming weeks, but if you’re an early-stage startup and are in the middle of your fundraise, or are about to fundraise, there are some things you can do to help insure your startup is ready for funding before you meet with any (more) investors.

The Pitch Deck Interest Metric declined 11.6% compared to the same week in 2019

Expectations have shifted and will continue to do so

If you were about to kick off a fundraising round, you should have been prepared to contact 50 or more investors, have 20-30 meetings and spend somewhere around 20 weeks before you signed your term sheet. That’s a lot of time and energy to invest, especially when the economy is poised for a downturn and you’re most likely needed in other parts of your business.

If you’ve already started your round and are wondering if you should push through, I’ve written a piece on knowing when to quit and recalibrate versus when to push through (Extra Crunch membership required).

Many factors play into navigating a successful fundraising round, and the expectations of investors are constantly changing — specifically when it comes to the pre-seed round.

Investors are now looking for market-ready products and want to see pitch decks that feature the content they’re expecting. We expect to see this focus intensify over the coming months as VCs have more time to spend not just to review pitch decks, but on due diligence for companies in which they plan to invest. Our new report outlines advice for pre-seed startups that are looking to adjust their fundraising strategy.

Focus on an MVP, not just a great PowerPoint

Our analysis reveals a shift in the level of readiness required by institutional investment to receive pre-seed funding. In the past, pre-seed startups could get by with just an MVPP (Minimum Viable PowerPoint). But now, investors are placing their bets on pre-seed startups that have already entered the market and developed an alpha, beta or shipping product.

In fact, 92% of companies with successful pitch decks had either an alpha, beta or shipping product, where only 68% of companies with unsuccessful pitch decks presented the same type of product readiness.

As the economy moves closer to a downturn we can expect VCs to be more cautious with their investments. The current data already shows a preference for companies that have live products; it’s worth the time and effort to be product-ready coming into a pre-seed round or if you’re a startup ready to tackle the round again with a fresh perspective.

Rethink your deck

That said, even if you do have an MVP, rethinking your pitch deck may be something else to consider. Here’s a good test. Using your pitch deck, spend three to four minutes (that’s all the time you’ll get from a VC) to pitch your business to a friend or family member who knows nothing about your business. Afterward, ask them for a one-sentence description of your company. If they’re not clearly describing what your company does and the problem it’s trying to solve, you probably need to rethink your pitch deck.

According to our recent report, a “less is more” attitude toward creating a compelling pitch deck for meetings could mean more success in pre-seed fundraising.

Your pitch deck will be your main calling card right now. As community events are being replaced with online gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic, we can expect to see less one-to-one engagement at these events. So pitching a VC in person is not likely to happen anytime soon. Whether you’re sending them a cold email, or getting a warm intro from a portfolio company, you’re going to need to lead with your pitch deck.

Despite the product taking a more prominent role in the fundraising round, the pitch deck is still a focal point and should be tailored to tell your story in the most effective way, as investors are spending less time evaluating them. On average, investors are spending just 3 minutes and 21 seconds on the pitch deck and the average deck is just 20 slides.

If you are in the process of reevaluating your pitch deck, it could be helpful to make sure your slides feature the right content in the right order. Investors spend nearly 50% more time on the product slides in successful pitch decks and over 18% longer on the business model in unsuccessful pitch decks. Additionally, investors spent more time on solution slides in successful decks than unsuccessful decks.

It’s a numbers game… to a certain extent

Another area that could benefit from reevaluation is the number of investors contacted, meetings held and the number of weeks spent in a funding round. Generally speaking, the average amount of investors contacted for successful fundraising rounds is 56, resulting in 26 meetings. On average, successful pre-seed startups will spend 20.5 weeks on fundraising.

When it comes to fundraising, there are diminishing returns for investor outreach. You shouldn’t need to send your deck to more than 60-70 investors and have more than 20-30 meetings. If you’re doing more than that, the ROI on your time just isn’t worth it. Because the current crisis is affecting VCs’ willingness to invest, you’re better off finding a small list of investors who are active and targeting your pitch to them. If you’ve reached out to more than 70 investors, but you’re still faced with a wall of “nos” you’re better off pausing your fundraising and addressing the feedback you’ve received so far. For more on when you should quit and reevaluate versus push through you can read my article here (Extra Crunch membership required).

Another area pre-seed startups should evaluate is the number of founders of a company. Our data shows investors still prefer teams of two-three founders, though our data shows that being a solo founder is preferable to having too many founders. For teams of five founders, they averaged earning $195,085 while founding teams of three garnered $511,522.

This may be the right time to find a co-founder. With many people working from home or out of work, this could be the opportunity to take your idea and bring on the technical founder you need. There are online groups and events popping up everywhere in response to social distancing. If you’re worried being a solo founder is going to hold you back, you may want to invest time in those new communities.

Get some perspective

For many startups, especially if you are not in Silicon Valley where a substantial amount of funding happens, the process of fundraising can be very opaque. DocSend’s purpose in analyzing this data is to bring some transparency to the process. This in turn provides perspective.

But what founders should do, if they haven’t done so already, is to get some additional perspective. Talk to experts outside your immediate circle of influence. Don’t have a mentor or advisors? Find them. Get a different take on your product idea or the market conditions. Especially now that community events are going virtual, location doesn’t have to hold you back from joining the startup community and finding people to offer feedback on your product or company.

Fundraising is both an art and science. Combining the insights from our data with the benefit of your own community can help you get back on your feet and pitching your company with hopefully a better outcome.

Categories: Business News

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