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Gravity Sketch scores $3.7M seed for its VR-based product design and collaboration platform

2020, September 16 - 4:00pm

Gravity Sketch, the London-based product design and collaboration platform that utilises virtual reality, has raised $3.7 million in funding.

The seed round was led by Kindred Capital, with participation from Point Nine Capital and previous investor Forward Partners. It brings the total amount raised by Gravity Sketch to $5.4 million. In addition, the startup previously received grant funding from InnovationRCA and the James Dyson Foundation.

Founded in 2014 by Oluwaseyi Sosanya, Daniela Paredes and Daniel Thomas, Gravity Sketch wants to change the way physical products are designed, developed and brought to market. It offers 3D design software for cross-disciplinary teams so they can “create, collaborate, and review” in a much more frictionless way, including via virtual reality, in which collaboration can take place in 3D and real time. The idea is to help speed up development cycles, especially involving globally distributed and increasingly remote teams.

“Collaboration is increasingly important as time frames are shortened and consumers request products sooner, with more features, and produced more sustainably,” says Oluwaseyi Sosanya, CEO and co-founder of Gravity Sketch. “There is also a surge in multinational companies growing globally distributed design and engineering teams, who need to stay connected in order to deliver with the same accuracy they once did being in the same location. Small-to-mid-sized design firms who service large companies must also adopt this approach in order to win business — they often gain work from international clients that are unable to meet face to face as frequently as their domestic clients, and are also held to extremely high standards of delivery.”

In addition to pressure brought about by faster product cycles and remote working, the product design process itself isn’t always optimum, involving multiple teams with different disciplines and software tools and a jump from 2D to 3D. “When we talk about designing a physical product, we’re imagining this object in 3D,” says Sosanya. “However, for many years we have had to bring out that idea through 2D mediums, or through rough physical models. All physical products start with 2D sketches, which are then painstakingly translated to digital 3D models and then produced through standard manufacturing processes.”

To mitigate this, Gravity Sketch brings the designer into the digital 3D space from the initial sketch phase, which gives them greater control over the initial idea and how it develops. The full design team can then join the same VR space to get a full understanding of the design from the designer’s perspective before investing time and resources.

“The designer can more accurately get all stakeholders on the same page at the ideation phase,” Sosanya explains. “With VR we can leverage the fact that everyone thinks in 3D and offer a solution that sidesteps the 2D visualisation step which is present in every design process, so users can think in 3D and create in 3D. It’s sort of like a Zoom meeting in 3D, helping everyone understand the yet to be materialised product from their own vantage point.”

Furthermore, content created in Gravity Sketch can further the design pipeline, meaning there is no need to create different views of a design or have to create a 3D model in another tool. Gravity Sketch designs can be exported to almost all of the CAD tools on the market with a claimed 100% accuracy.

It seems to be resonating, too, with some of the world’s leading companies, such as Ford, Nissan and Reebok using Gravity Sketch, alongside 60 universities and over 50,000 creative professionals worldwide.

Meanwhile, Gravity Sketch says the new funding will enable the company to scale up the platform to become “entirely hardware-agnostic.” It currently works with a range of virtual reality hardware, and is in beta for iPad, mobile and desktop.

Categories: Business News

Homage’s Gillian Tee on how technology can serve the world’s aging population

2020, September 16 - 3:08pm

It’s always a pleasure to chat with Homage co-founder and chief executive Gillian Tee because of her nuanced take on how technology can help elderly and other vulnerable people. According to the United Nations, the fastest-growing age bracket worldwide is aged 65-years-old and older. At the same time, there is also an acute shortage of caregivers in many countries, complicated by high rates of burnout in the profession.

“It’s absolutely one of the most important social topics and global issues,” Tee said during her Disrupt session (the video is embedded at the bottom of this article).

Founded in Singapore four years ago, Homage’s platform uses a matchmaking engine to help families find the best caregivers, while its telehealth platform provides services like online medical consultations and screenings. It has since launched in Malaysia and yesterday announced a new strategic investment from Infocom, one of the largest healthcare technology companies in Japan. The partnership will enable Homage to accelerate its Asia-Pacific expansion.

Before starting Homage, Tee was co-founder of New York-based Rocketrip. A ticket-booking platform created to reduce work travel-related costs for companies, Rocketrip attracted investors like Google Ventures, Y Combinator and Bessemer Ventures, and raised more than $30 million. But in 2016, Tee decided to return to Singapore, her home country, after living abroad for about 15 years. In her Disrupt session, Tee said this was to be closer to her mother, and because she felt that her startup experience could also be applied to Southeast Asia.

Tee knew that she wanted to launch another company, but she didn’t decide to tackle the caregiving space immediately. That idea materialized when several of her close relatives were diagnosed with chronic conditions that needed specialized care.

“We didn’t know how to cope or how even to start thinking about what was required, and that was when I realized, wow, I needed to get myself schooled in many ways,” Tee said.

Many families around the world are dealing with the same challenges as their populations age and social dynamics shift. Family members who traditionally would have been carers for relatives are unable to do so because they have moved away or need to work.

Families often rely on word-of-mouth or agencies to find caregivers, a complicated, time-intensive and often emotionally difficult process. Homage uses matching algorithms to make it easier. One of the most unique things about the platform is how much detail it goes into. Providers are not only screened based on their certifications and the kind of care they provide (for example, long-term care, respite care, physical therapy or rehabilitation), but specific skills. For example, many patients need mobility assistance, so Homage assesses what kind of transfers they are able to safely perform.

Then its matching technology decides which caregivers are best suited for a patient, and final assignments are made by Homage’s staff. By streamlining the process, Homage also lowers its costs, making its services accessible to more people while increasing pay rates for providers.

Better pay taps into another one of Homage’s goals: expanding the caregiving pool in its markets and retaining talent. Other ways it addresses the issue is by placing caregivers on its platform into the jobs they are best suited for, organizing continuing education programs and making sure they are not over-scheduled. Some caregivers on the platform have long-term contracts, while others work with Homage clients only a few days a week.

A holistic approach to “age-tech”

In June, Homage launched its telehealth service. Called Homage Health, the platform has been in development for a while, but its launch was accelerated because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote consultations fit into the “high-touch,” or in-person, care side of the company’s business because many patients need regular screenings or consultations with doctors and specialists. For patients who have limited mobility or are immunocompromised, this makes it easier for them to make routine consults.

Hardware, including wearable sensors, also show promise to identify potential health issues, like heart conditions, before they require acute care, but one challenge is making them easier for patients to integrate into their daily routines or remember to wear, Tee said.

Overall, Homage’s mission is to create a holistic platform that covers many caregiving needs. Its new partnership with strategic investor Infocom will help bring that forward because the company, which Tee said Homage has been talking to for several years, works with about 13,000 facilities in Japan, including senior residences and hospitals. Infocom develops software for a wide range of verticals, including drug, hospital and medical record management, and medical imaging.

Infocom also runs its own caregiving platform, and its partnership with Homage will enable the two companies to collaborate and reach more patients. Japan has one of the largest populations of elderly people in the world. Tee said at minimum, half a million caregivers need to be mobilized within the next five to 10 years in Japan in order to meet demand.

“We need to start building infrastructure to enable people to be able to access the kind of care services that they need, and so we really align in terms of that mission with Infocom,” said Tee. “They also have a platform that engages caregivers to apply for jobs in Japan and they see the Homage model as being particularly applicable because it’s curated as well.”

Categories: Business News

Roelof Botha shares what Sequoia’s Black Swan memo got wrong

2020, September 16 - 6:33am

In March, famed investment firm Sequoia Capital published the Black Swan Memo, warning founders about the potential business consequences of the coronavirus, which had not yet been labeled a pandemic.

“It will take considerable time — perhaps several quarters — before we can be confident that the virus has been contained. It will take even longer for the global economy to recover its footing,” the memo read.

Six months later, Sequoia’s Roelof Botha is “surprised” at the state of venture capital and startups in the country, which are largely benefitting from — not struggling with — from COVID-19 tailwinds.

VCs are pouring money at a rapid clip into edtech, SaaS, low-code and no code, as well as telemedicine. In some cases, investors say venture funding has been hotter than ever ahead of the U.S. elections, beating not just March 2020, but 2019 records overall.

Sequoia, it seems, is happy to be wrong. This week, Sequoia Capital will have backed three of the 12 companies going public: Sumo Logic, Unity, and Snowflake. Snowflake is expected to go out at $30 billion valuation, which some say will be the largest U.S. software company to ever go public. Beyond the firm, numbers of unicorns are gearing up, or teasing, to go public in the coming weeks.

“I’m proud of the fact that we saw a few things and anticipated a few things,” he said during TechCrunch Disrupt. “But we also got many things wrong.”

Botha pointed to a few factors that saved startupland from freezing up. First, he said the U.S. government’s stimulus package helped make sure that there was not a “complete economic meltdown.”

“I didn’t quite expect that scale reaction,” Botha said. He’s referring to the $2 trillion CARES Act passed by Congress and signed by President Trump, which included PPP loans designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll. Tech recipients included Bolt Mobility, Getaround, Luminar, Stackin, TuSimple and Velodyne.

Botha addressed how tech companies have helped sustain businesses and operations amid the pandemic, which has trickled down to new customer growth and revenue.

Zoom, a Sequoia portfolio company, might be one of the best examples of how a tech company was poised to skyrocket during the pandemic. According to Botha, the firm, which still owns shares in the company, wishes it had held onto more of its position longer. Sequoia invested in Zoom when it was valued at $1 billion. Today, it is worth more than $100 billion, graduating from an enterprise videoconferencing service to a household consumer product.

To be fair, some of Sequoia’s warning signs proved true: Layoffs inundated Silicon Valley; companies shuttered citing a drop in revenue; and the market remains volatile.

“We also have to realize there’s a lot of pain and there are many mainstream businesses and local services and restaurants and coffee shops that often suffer economically,” he said. “I don’t want to be overly sanguine just because technology stocks have had a good run. As a country, we need to brace ourselves for helping everybody.”

Categories: Business News

In 2020, Warsaw’s startup ecosystem is ‘a place to observe carefully’

2020, September 16 - 6:04am

If you listed the trends that have captured the attention of 20 Warsaw-focused investors who replied to our recent surveys, automation/AI, enterprise SaaS, cleantech, health, remote work and the sharing economy would top the list. These VCs said they are seeking opportunities in the “digital twin” space, proptech and expanded blockchain tokenization inside industries.

Investors in Central and Eastern Europe are generally looking for the same things as VCs based elsewhere: startups that have a unique value proposition, capital efficiency, motivated teams, post-revenue and a well-defined market niche.

Out of the cohort we interviewed, several told us that COVID-19 had not yet substantially transformed how they do business. As Michał Papuga, a partner at Flashpoint VC put it, “the situation since March hasn’t changed a lot, but we went from extreme panic to extreme bullishness. Neither of these is good and I would recommend to stick to the long-term goals and not to be pressured.”

Said Pawel Lipkowski of RBL_VC, “Warsaw is at its pivotal point — think Berlin in the ‘90s. It’s a place to observe carefully.”

Here’s who we interviewed for part one:

For the conclusion, we spoke to the following investors:

Karol Szubstarski, partner, OTB Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Gradual shift of enterprises toward increased use of automation and AI, that enables dramatic improvement of efficiency, cost reduction and transfer of enterprise resources from tedious, repeatable and mundane tasks to more exciting, value added opportunities.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
One of the most exciting opportunities is ICEYE. The company is a leader and first mover in synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) technology for microsatellites. It is building and operating its own commercial constellation of SAR microsatellites capable of providing satellite imagery regardless of the cloud cover, weather conditions and time of the day and night (comparable resolution to traditional SAR satellites with 100x lower cost factor), which is disrupting the multibillion dollar satellite imagery market.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
I would love to see more startups in the digital twin space; technology that enables creation of an exact digital replica/copy of something in physical space — a product, process or even the whole ecosystem. This kind of solution enables experiments and [the implementation of] changes that otherwise could be extremely costly or risky – it can provide immense value added for customers.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
A company with unique value proposition to its customers, deep tech component that provides competitive edge over other players in the market and a founder with global vision and focus on execution of that vision.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
No market/sector is too saturated and has no room for innovation. Some markets seem to be more challenging than others due to immense competitive landscape (e.g., food delivery, language-learning apps) but still can be the subject of disruption due to a unique value proposition of a new entrant.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
OTB is focused on opportunities with links to Central Eastern European talent (with no bias toward any hub in the region), meaning companies that leverage local engineering/entrepreneurial talent in order to build world-class products to compete globally (usually HQ outside CEE).

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
CEE region is recognized for its sizable and highly skilled talent pool in the fields of engineering and software development. The region is well-positioned to build up solutions that leverage deep, unique tech regardless of vertical (especially B2B). Historically, the region was especially strong in AI/ML, voice/speech/NLP technologies, cybersecurity, data analytics, etc.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
CEE (including Poland and Warsaw) has always been recognized as an exceptionally strong region in terms of engineering/IT talent. Inherent risk aversion of entrepreneurs has driven, for a number of years, a more “copycat”/local market approach, while holding back more ambitious, deep tech opportunities. In recent years we are witnessing a paradigm shift with a new generation of entrepreneurs tackling problems with unique, deep tech solutions, putting emphasis on global expansion, neglecting shallow local markets. As such, the quality of deals has been steadily growing and currently reflects top quality on global scale, especially on tech level. CEE market demonstrates also a growing number of startups (in total), which is mostly driven by an abundance of early-stage capital and success stories in the region (e.g., DataRobot, Bolt, UiPath) that are successfully evangelizing entrepreneurship among corporates/engineers.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
I believe that local hubs will hold their dominant position in the ecosystem. The remote/digital workforce will grow in numbers but proximity to capital, human resources and markets still will remain the prevalent force in shaping local startup communities.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
OTB invests in general in companies with clearly defined technological advantage, making quantifiable and near-term difference to their customers (usually in the B2B sector), which is a value-add regardless of the market cycle. The economic downturn works generally in favor of technological solutions enabling enterprise clients to increase efficiency, cut costs, bring optimization and replace manual labour with automation — and the vast majority of OTB portfolio fits that description. As such, the majority of the OTB portfolio has not been heavily impacted by the COVID pandemic.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
The COVID pandemic has not impacted our investment strategy in any way. OTB still pursues unique tech opportunities that can provide its customers with immediate value added. This kind of approach provides a relatively high level of resilience against economic downturns (obviously, sales cycles are extending but in general sales pipeline/prospects/retention remains intact). Liquidity in portfolio is always the number one concern in uncertain, challenging times. Lean approach needs to be reintroduced, companies need to preserve cash and keep optimizing — that’s the only way to get through the crisis.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
A good example in our portfolio is Segron, a provider of an automated testing platform for applications, databases and enterprise network infrastructure. Software development, deployment and maintenance in enterprise IT ecosystem requires continuous and rigorous testing protocols and as such a lot of manual heavy lifting with highly skilled engineering talent being involved (which can be used in a more productive way elsewhere). The COVID pandemic has kept engineers home (with no ability for remote testing) while driving demand for digital services (and as such demand for a reliable IT ecosystem). The Segron automated framework enables full automation of enterprise testing leading to increased efficiency, cutting operating costs and giving enterprise customers peace of mind and a good night’s sleep regarding their IT infrastructure in the challenging economic environment.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
I remain impressed by the unshakeable determination of multiple founders and their teams to overcome all the challenges of the unfavorable economic ecosystem.

Categories: Business News

Incredible Health updates its healthcare career platform to help nurse hiring cope with COVID

2020, September 16 - 5:01am

The healthcare industry, even prior to the current pandemic, has never looked much like other industries when it comes to hiring and career management. That was the impetus behind Incredible Health, a startup founded by medical doctor Iman Abuzeid and Amazon alum Rome Portlock. The platform Incredible Health built is all about connecting nurses with jobs — but it goes above and beyond your typical online job board in order to provide better service both to job seekers and hospitals, and to help nurses throughout the course of their careers.

I spoke to Abuzeid, who serves as Incredible Health’s CEO, about some new features that Incredible Health has just introduced, in part to address the particular needs of nurses and hospitals considering the constraints of COVID-19 and the ongoing challenges it presents. She first explained why Incredible is a unique platform to begin with, among a sea of relatively undifferentiated job search products.

“There are three unique things about the platform,” she said. “The first is that the employers apply to the nurses instead of the other way around — which we can do because of this huge supply-demand imbalance. The second is that we’ve automated the screening and pre-vetting of the nurses, so we’re able to automatically verify things like licenses and certifications, and experiences and so on, because we’ve integrated with so many databases. And the third thing we do is custom matching algorithms.”

That means Incredible Health provides hospitals with only matches that meet their exact needs for a specific position requirement, rather than forcing them to wade through large numbers of potential applicants who might not have the skills they need. In a field like nursing, which has a lot of specific professional designations and certifications, specificity actually helps both sides quite a bit.

“The end result of all of that is hires that happen at least three or four times faster,” Abuzeid told me. “Our average right now is 13 days, and the efficiency is about 30 times more efficient than a standard job board. Really, some of the biggest impacts we have are financial — we save on average, each hospital we work with, about $2 million per year. We do that by reducing their travel nurse budget, because they don’t have to use as many contract workers when they’re permanently staffed. And we also reduce their overtime costs, and their HR costs.”

Abuzeid also told me that nurses hired through Incredible Health tend to stick around longer. The startup only has about a year of historical data to check against so far, but she said that so far, they’re seeing about 25% higher retention versus the industry average. She added that they suspect this is due largely to the fact that nurses are able to consider multiple offers and hospital options on the platform, since there are often multiple employers vying to hire the same employee, especially in the case of specialization like ICU nurses.

As for what’s new to Incredible Health, the company has introduced automated interview scheduling. Abuzeid says that has led to 70% of interviews being scheduled via automation within 36 hours on the platform currently. The platform has also introduced remote interviewing for safely distanced pre-hiring interactions, and in-app chat between potential employers and nurses right in the iOS, Android and web apps that Incredible Health offers. Profiles for nurses on the platform also now list specialties and skills, from a pre-set catalog of 45 specialties and 250 skills that are specific to the nursing field, like ICU or OR expertise. Abuzeid said that most of these were fast-tracked due to significant changes they were seeing in the hiring process as a result of the COVID pandemic.

“We saw several impacts,” she told me. “First is like the number of offers that started to go out — we see one go out every few hours now. And the number of interview requests is up to one being sent every few minutes. So it’s really accelerated, and that’s been a combination of two things. One is just that we made the software better and more efficient — but the other thing is the urgency also increased on the hospital end, given the pandemic.”

Aside from improving the process of hiring versus traditional methods, and supporting more remote hiring and onboarding workflows, Incredible Health also addresses some of the diversity gaps in the current healthcare industry hiring process. Abuzeid explained that that’s due in part to built-in features of the platform like salary estimate calculators, and adds that some tweaks have been created intentionally to level the playing field.

“Thirty percent of nurses in the U.S. identify as minorities, so we take diversity pretty seriously because that’s a huge chunk of our user base,” she said. “By giving nurses salary data, it democratizes that and makes you more informed. We also provide talent advocates who are also nurses on our team that support every single nurse, helping them almost as career coach to support them throughout the hiring process.”

Incredible Health also takes steps to ensure the product isn’t itself reinforcing any existing biases that may be present, consciously or otherwise, on the part of hiring parties.

“We random sort the list of nurses as they’re displayed in front of employers and the application, or we use avatars instead of profile pictures. We’re also constantly monitoring the data that’s in the platform. So for example, we noticed that recruiters were biasing against nurses that lived farther away. And so we just removed the current location of the nurse, we just stopped displaying that, and that bias went away. So it’s really important that the software and our algorithms actually counter human bias.”

So far, Incredible Health has raised $17 million in funding, including a Series A last year led by Jeff Jordan at Andreessen Horowitz. The company is already in use at more than 200 hospitals across the U.S., as well as at a number of the largest healthcare networks in the country, like HCA and Baylor, and at academic medical centres, including Cedar Sinai and Stanford. The startup is growing quickly by addressing a long-standing need with software designed specifically to the challenge, and looks poised for even more future growth as the demand for qualified, well-supported healthcare professionals grows.

Categories: Business News

The Chainsmokers just closed their debut venture fund, Mantis, with $35 million

2020, September 16 - 4:41am

Alex Pall and Drew Taggart are best known as The Chainsmokers, an electronic DJ and production duo whose first three albums have given rise to numerous Billboard chart-topping songs, four Grammy nominations and one Grammy award, for the song “Don’t Let Me Down.”

Soon, they hope they’ll be known as savvy venture investors, too.

They already have some major-league believers, including investors Mark Cuban, Keith Rabois, Jim Coulter and Ron Conway, who are among the other individuals who provided the Chainsmokers’s new early-stage venture firm, Mantis, with $35 million in capital commitments for its debut fund.

It’s a surprisingly traditional vehicle in many ways. Mantis is being managed day-to-day by two general partners who respectively offer venture and operational experience: Milan Koch graduated in 2012 from UCLA and has been an investor ever since, including as a venture partner with the seed-stage fund Base Ventures; Jeffrey Evans founded the record label Buskin Records and the mobile communications platform TigerText (now TigerConnect), among other companies, and has long known the Chainsmokers’s business manager, Josh Klein.

With fundraising begun earlier this year, the firm has already made a handful of investments, too, including the fitness app Fiton (Pall says they “squeezed into the A round after its close”), and LoanSnap, a mortgage-lending startup that was founded by serial entrepreneur Karl Jacob.

Pall and Taggart take their health seriously, so the fitness app is easy to understand.

As for why the world’s highest-paid DJs would be interested in such a seemingly staid business as mortgage lending, Taggart says the firm’s mission is ultimately to find and fund a wide range of startups that could potentially benefit its young audience, and that he and Pall are happy to use their star power to help related founders when a particular technology catches their eye.

In the case of LoanSnap, he says that he and Pall were impressed by LoanSnap’s promise to process loans more efficiently than other lenders. By getting involved in the company, all sides also recognized a “massive press opportunity for LoanSnap at a time when COVID was hitting and there was going to be billions of dollars in refinancing going on that [the company] wanted to participate in,” he says.

Indeed, despite investing a relatively small amount — $250,000 — in what was ultimately a $10 million round for LoanSnap in May, Mantis was credited in numerous reports as being the deal lead.

Taggart and Pall say they also take inspiration from singer Jimmy Buffett, who has co-created numerous businesses to both benefit, and capitalize off, his own fan base. Though Buffett started with Margaritaville — a hospitality company with a casual dining American restaurant chain, a chain of stores selling Jimmy Buffett-themed merchandise and casinos with lodging facilities — he has more recently begun building retirement communities in Florida for aging Buffett acolytes, and Pall and Taggart say the strategy resonates.

“When we started eight years ago, our fans were primarily all in college,” says Taggart. “Now they are dealing with paying back their college loans, and they’re probably applying to buy their first house, so a company like LoanSnap feels like one of those startups whose services our fans have grown into needing.”

Pall and Taggart aren’t entirely brand new to investing. Pall says they’ve been making seed-stage bets as angel investors for several years, including in Ember, an eight-year-old, LA-based company that makes temperature-controlled mugs and travel mugs and has raised roughly $25 million altogether, shows Crunchbase.

“I’d like to say that we were like thinking in this incredible way about the business at the time, but we were just like, ‘This is a really great product and we love the founder,’ ” Pall says.

In fact, the two got into a number of “diverse deals,” he continues, but “all of it was inbound” until two years ago, when they “decided to kind of change our strategy and go seek out the opportunities that we thought were out there…  We thought that maybe if we institutionalize this process, [we’ll discover] a lot more opportunity out there for us to work with dynamic founders and interesting founders who are going to change the landscape of tomorrow.”

Soon after, Pall and Taggart were introduced to Koch and Evans, who had already joined forces and were looking for an investment partner who was a market influencer. The group spent the next year getting to know one another, and things began coming together from there.

Pall and Taggart — who say that all four members of the team have to want to do a deal for it to move forward — are certainly entrepreneurial themselves. Aside from performing roughly 100 shows last year before beginning work this year on a fourth album, the two also run a production studio. And they are stakeholders in a small-batch spirit brand called JaJa Tequila.

Last year, they also co-founded YellowHeart, a ticketing platform that aims to put more power in the hands of performers, rather than scalpers.

Mantis was originally targeting $50 million in capital commitments, as reported by Bloomberg. Asked if that target proved too ambitious, Koch says the original idea was to raise $30 million, and that though the fund’s limited partner agreement stated that it could raise up to $50 million, the team “just decided that for a first-time fund, in order for us to produce a great IRR, we’d just rather stick to the target.”

You can find our interview with Taggart and Pall at the 21-minute mark.

Pictured at the top of the page, left to right: Jeffrey Evans, Alex Pall, Drew Taggart, Milan Koch.

Categories: Business News

Brightseed raises $27 million for phytonutrient identification tech used in food and nutraceuticals

2020, September 15 - 10:23pm

Brightseed, the company launched by former Hampton Creek head of research and development, Jim Flatt, to identify the presence of specific nutrients in plants that are believed to boost human health, has raised $27 million in its latest round of funding, the company said.

Brightseed will use the financing, in part, to complete clinical studies to prove out the benefits of phytonutrients and the claims that the company and its partners are looking to make.

The company’s first product is a phytonutrient compound believed to be beneficial to metabolic health and a way to manage and treat fatty liver disease.

Using the company’s machine learning platform called “Forager,” Brightseed can identify the presence of phytonutrients in species of plants. Those plants can then be cultivated or their compounds manufactured to produce ingredients for consumer foods.

It’s a variation on the thesis Flatt developed at Hampton Creek. There the idea was to use machine learning to identify combinations of plant proteins that could be used to make protein replacement products for traditional animal-derived foods. 

Hampton Creek Plans For World Food Tech Domination With $90 Million In Series C Funding

Instead of looking at protein replacements broadly, Flatt has shifted the focus at Brightseed to concentrate on human health and functional ingredients — chiefly these phytonutrients. “The strength and the power of nutrition is to make modest changes over a long period of time that have important health benefits,” said Flatt in an interview. 

To make his case, Flatt pointed to a study from Geisinger that followed pre-diabetic patients and showed how their conditions could be controlled and improved by concentrating on their metabolic health.

“With patients that spent $200 on whole foods… they saw a 40 percent reduction in their A1c levels [and] that’s more than double what the existing class drugs can achieve,” said Flatt. “From an economic perspective they reduced their cost of healthcare by 80% thanks to lower hospitalizations and insulin use.”

Brightseed intends to bring its own ingredient discoveries to market itself but will work with partners using the Forager system to collaborate on new ingredient discoveries that can be shared with producers, Flatt said.

The dual path to market is likely one of the reasons why Brightseed was able to raise new capital from Lewis & Clark AgriFood and previous investors, including Seed 2 Growth Ventures, Horizons Ventures, CGC Ventures, Fifty Years, Germin8 and AgFunder. 

“This capital raise is going to really allow us to really accelerate that exploration of the dark matter of nutrition. All of these phytonutrients that we know exist,” said Flatt. “This forager AI platform that we’ve built… we’ve developed a proprietary library that’s about 5 times what the world knows [and] one of the powers of Forager is as we do find known or new compounds we’re able to predict their utility with respect to health.”

The company already has one major partnership in place with Danone North America, which it announced earlier this year.

“As a leader in plant-based food and beverages, Danone North America values external partnerships that can help us improve and optimize the taste, texture and nutritional aspects of our products, and contribute to our biodiversity vision,” said Takoua Debeche, SVP Research & Innovation at Danone North America, in a statement at the time. 

Forager’s nutrient identification technology also has implications far beyond ingredient science, said Flatt.

“What forager can do is really help create what we’ll call a virtuous cycle to incentivize adoption of a more biodiverse food supply chain and to move towards more regenerative agricultural practices and we do this by revealing the hidden qualities or benefits of some of these lesser known crops and highlighting why they can be of greater value and tell a story,” he said.  

For instance, Brightseed is already partnering with a company to evaluate an underutilized superfruit and work on improving and boosting its cultivation.

“There’s some albeit limited data that shows that agricultural practices can influence these phytonutrient contents. What Forager does is help valorize those phyotnutrients and creates a story that helps drive consumer adoption and demand for more restorative products that are produced with more regenerative agricultural practices that lead to more nutrients in crops,” Flatt said. 

Although the company’s revenues are currently hovering under $10 million, Flatt and his investors expect that to change rapidly.

“Brightseed’s application of technology is transforming how we understand the resources available for our health and well-being in nature,” said Dr. David Russell, operating partner at Lewis & Clark AgriFood, in a statement. “These discoveries already have a major impact on ingredient selection and how we’re formulating the things we consume every day. This is a new approach that provides a much deeper understanding of the biological connections between plants and people. We’re looking forward to supporting Brightseed in leading these breakthroughs.”

Categories: Business News

Data virtualization service Varada raises $12M

2020, September 15 - 10:00pm

Varada, a Tel Aviv-based startup that focuses on making it easier for businesses to query data across services, today announced that it has raised a $12 million Series A round led by Israeli early-stage fund MizMaa Ventures, with participation by Gefen Capital.

“If you look at the storage aspect for big data, there’s always innovation, but we can put a lot of data in one place,” Varada CEO and co-founder Eran Vanounou told me. “But translating data into insight? It’s so hard. It’s costly. It’s slow. It’s complicated.”

That’s a lesson he learned during his time as CTO of LivePerson, which he described as a classic big data company. And just like at LivePerson, where the team had to reinvent the wheel to solve its data problems, again and again, every company — and not just the large enterprises — now struggles with managing their data and getting insights out of it, Vanounou argued.

Image Credits: Varada

The rest of the founding team, David Krakov, Roman Vainbrand and Tal Ben-Moshe, already had a lot of experience in dealing with these problems, too, with Ben-Moshe having served at the Chief Software Architect of Dell EMC’s XtremIO flash array unit, for example. They built the system for indexing big data that’s at the core of Varada’s platform (with the open-source Presto SQL query engine being one of the other cornerstones).

Image Credits: Varada

Essentially, Varada embraces the idea of data lakes and enriches that with its indexing capabilities. And those indexing capabilities is where Varada’s smarts can be found. As Vanounou explained, the company is using a machine learning system to understand when users tend to run certain workloads and then caches the data ahead of time, making the system far faster than its competitors.

“If you think about big organizations and think about the workloads and the queries, what happens during the morning time is different from evening time. What happened yesterday is not what happened today. What happened on a rainy day is not what happened on a shiny day. […] We listen to what’s going on and we optimize. We leverage the indexing technology. We index what is needed when it is needed.”

That helps speed up queries, but it also means less data has to be replicated, which also brings down the cost. AÅs Mizmaa’s Aaron Applebaum noted, since Varada is not a SaaS solution, the buyers still get all of the discounts from their cloud providers, too.

In addition, the system can allocate resources intelligently to that different users can tap into different amounts of bandwidth. You can tell it to give customers more bandwidth than your financial analysts, for example.

READ MORE
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  • “Data is growing like crazy: in volume, in scale, in complexity, in who requires it and what the business intelligence uses are, what the API uses are,” Applebaum said when I asked him why he decided to invest. “And compute is getting slightly cheaper, but not really, and storage is getting cheaper. So if you can make the trade-off to store more stuff, and access things more intelligently, more quickly, more agile — that was the basis of our thesis, as long as you can do it without compromising performance.”

    Varada, with its team of experienced executives, architects and engineers, ticked a lot of the company’s boxes in this regard, but he also noted that unlike some other Israeli startups, the team understood that it had to listen to customers and understand their needs, too.

    “In Israel, you have a history — and it’s become less and less the case — but historically, there’s a joke that it’s ‘ready, fire, aim.’ You build a technology, you’ve got this beautiful thing and you’re like, ‘alright, we did it,’ but without listening to the needs of the customer,” he explained.

    The Varada team is not afraid to compare itself to Snowflake, which at least at first glance seems to make similar promises. Vananou praised the company for opening up the data warehousing market and proving that people are willing to pay for good analytics. But he argues that Varada’s approach is fundamentally different.

    “We embrace the data lake. So if you are Mr. Customer, your data is your data. We’re not going to take it, move it, copy it. This is your single source of truth,” he said. And in addition, the data can stay in the company’s virtual private cloud. He also argues that Varada isn’t so much focused on the business users but the technologists inside a company.

     

    Categories: Business News

    Verkada adds environmental sensors to cloud-based building operations toolkit

    2020, September 15 - 10:00pm

    As we go deeper into the pandemic, many buildings sit empty or have limited capacity. During times like these having visibility into the state of the building can give building operations peace of mind. Today, Verkada, a startup that helps operations manage buildings via the cloud, announced a new set of environmental sensors to give customers even greater insight into building conditions.

    The company had previously developed cloud-based video cameras and access control systems. Verkdada CEO and co-founder of Filip Kaliszan says today’s announcement is about building on these two earlier products.

    “What we do today is cameras and access control — cameras, of course provide the eyes and the view into building in spaces, while access control controls how you get in and out of these spaces,” Kaliszan told TechCrunch. Operations teams can manage these devices from the cloud on any device.

    The sensor pack that the company is announcing today, layers on a multi-function view into the state of the environment inside a building. “The first product that we’re launching along this environmental sensor line is the SV11, which is a very powerful unit with multiple sensors on board, all of which can be managed in the cloud through our Verkada command platform. The sensors will give customers insight into things like air quality, temperature, humidity, motion and occupancy of the space, as well as the noise level,” he said.

    There is a clear strategy behind the company’s product road map. The idea is to give building operations staff a growing picture of what’s going on inside the space. “You can think of all the data being combined with the other aspects of our platform, and then begin delivering a truly integrated building and setting the standard for enterprise building security,” Kaliszan said.

    These tools, and the ability to access all the data about a building remotely in the cloud, obviously have even more utility during the pandemic. “I think we’re fortunate that our products can help customers mitigate some of the effects of the pandemic. So we’ve seen a lot of customers use our tools to help them manage through the pandemic, which is great. But when we were originally designing this environmental sensor, the rationale behind it were these core use cases like monitoring server rooms for environmental changes.”

    The company, which was founded in 2016, has been doing well. It has 4200 customers and roughly 400 employees. It is still growing and actively hiring and expects to reach 500 by the end of the year. It has raised $138.9 million, the most recent coming January this year, when it raised an $80 million Series C investment led Felicis Ventures on a $1.6 billion valuation.

    Verkada raises $80M at $1.6B to be every building’s security OS

    Categories: Business News

    Sternum raises $6.5M Series A on its IoT security bet

    2020, September 15 - 9:09pm

    If we have learned anything from the mass production of cheap internet-connected devices it is that security was an afterthought. Default passwords are the norm and security flaws aren’t patched, leaving entire fleets of smart devices vulnerable to attack.

    But one Israeli security startup is taking a different approach to protect vulnerable Internet of Things devices.

    Sternum, headquartered in Tel Aviv, provides an embedded integrity verification technology, known as EIV, which verifies that the app hasn’t been maliciously altered in some way. Its technology detects code vulnerabilities to prevent attacks before they are exploited. Its advanced detection system, or ADS, brings real-time threat detection, allowing companies to respond to attacks in real time.

    It’s a novel idea for when there is no other way to secure a vulnerable device.

    Earlier this year, Sternum was first with a fix for a new wave of vulnerabilities that hit millions of Internet of Things devices. Dubbed Ripple20, the vulnerabilities allow hackers to hijack potentially hundreds of millions of affected devices.

    “Patching vulnerabilities is an endless game,” Sternum’s founder and chief executive Natali Tshuva told TechCrunch.

    “Unlike many other solutions, we are not focused on patching every vulnerability on a device. We are solely focused on the exploitation stage, or the point at which the hacker takes advantage of a vulnerability to execute an attack,” she said.

    Tshuva’s roots are as a security researcher, where she found several previously undiscovered vulnerabilities in Linux, Android and other embedded systems.

    “I realized that there are real technological and market challenges to securing these devices properly,” she told TechCrunch. “I wanted to apply my know-how in cybersecurity, research, product and managing talented R&D teams to create innovative solutions that will truly solve the problem, end-to-end.”

    It’s a bet that’s paying off.

    The company revealed its $6.5 million Series A round, the company announced Tuesday. The round was led by Square Peg with participation from Merle Hinrich and European venture firm BTOV.

    Philippe Schwartz, a partner at Square Peg, said he was “impressed with Sternum’s innovative products and diverse team, whose technologies will power our connected future with uncompromising security protection and rich, data-driven insights.”

    Categories: Business News

    HowGood launches Latis, a sustainability assessment tool for consumer product ingredients

    2020, September 15 - 8:30pm

    The New York-based startup HowGood, which provides a sustainability database for consumer product ingredients, is publicly launching its product Latis and has already signed an initial customer with Danone North America, the company said.

    The company said that its Latis tool can be used to determine the impact of any ingredient or product against environmental and social metrics, like biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions, labor risk and animal welfare.

    “Consumers no longer just want the best product at the best price,” said Alexander Gillett, CEO and founder of HowGood, in a statement. “Today’s shoppers place value on protecting the environment and ensuring that the brands they support align with their personal values.”

    Aggregating information from academic papers, industry findings, research from non-governmental organizations and other sources, Latis can be used by product development groups inside corporations to assess the implications of using certain ingredients.

    Because the information is only used by the company to inform product development, there are no guarantees that product developers won’t use toxic or environmentally damaging products — they’ll just have the opportunity to be aware of how those products effect biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions, labor risk, and animal welfare.

    The company currently has data on more than 33,000 ingredients, chemicals and materials, according to a statement. HowGood is backed by investors including FirstMark, Great Oaks Venture Capital, High Line Venture Partners, Joanne Wilson and Contour Venture Partners.

    “Having an impact assessment tool for our product portfolio is raising the sustainability awareness of our product developers and brand teams,” said Takoua Debeche, SVP of Research and Innovation at Danone, in a statement. “This holistic tool is critical to improving the sustainability impact of our brands.”

     

    Categories: Business News

    Virtual events platform Airmeet raises $12M

    2020, September 15 - 8:19pm

    Airmeet, a startup that offers a platform to host virtual events, said on Tuesday it has raised $12 million in a new financing round as the Bangalore-headquartered firm demonstrates accelerating growth in its user base.

    Sequoia Capital India led the $12 million Series A financing round in one-year-old Airmeet. Redpoint Ventures and existing investors Accel India, Venture Highway, Global Founders Capital (GFC) and Gokul Rajaram (Caviar Lead at DoorDash) also participated in the round.

    The new round values Airmeet at about $50 million, more than double of what it was valued in March, when it raised $3 million, according to a person familiar with the matter.

    Airmeet allows users and businesses to host interactive virtual events. Its platform intuitively replicates aspects of a physical event, offering a backstage, grouping people to a table, allowing participants to network with each other and even enabling event organizers to work with sponsors. Airmeet, currently in public beta, is available through a freemium model where it charges businesses based on their usage.

    In an interview with TechCrunch, Lalit Mangal, co-founder of Airmeet, said the usage on the platform has grown 2,000% over the last quarter without any investment in advertisement, he said.

    In recent months, Airmeet has worked to expand the use cases of the platform. In addition to hosting large conferences, Airmeet is now also being used for professional meetups at large film festivals, he said. Recently it held university resource fairs and technical industry summits.

    “Covid-19 has accelerated a permanent behavioral shift across many industries. With digitization of largely traditional spaces leapfrogging by years, the $800+ billion global offline events space is up for grabs. There is massive potential for players who drive the industry’s transition towards online-events,” said Abhishek Mohan, VP at Sequoia Capital India, in a statement.

    Airmeet is built on top of WebRTC, a standard that most modern browsers follow. This has enabled Airmeet to be fully accessible through Chrome and Firefox. All the sessions are also end-to-end encrypted, said Mangal. It does not have a mobile app. Mangal said people tend to use their laptop or desktop or their iPads for professional events. (Users can consume a session through their mobile browser, however.)

    The startup, which is in the same space as Hopin and Andreessen Horowitz-backed Run The World, will use the fresh capital to add new features to Airmeet and also scale globally, said Mangal.

    “Airmeet’s mission is to create a global platform to enable millions of community managers and event organizers across the world to engage with and expand their audience. And with Lalit and team’s focus, execution and innovative thinking, they are strongly placed to achieve their goal,” said Mohan.

    Categories: Business News

    Austin-based EmPath’s employee training and re-skilling service snags seed funding from B Capital

    2020, September 15 - 8:05pm

    By the time Felix Ortiz III left the Army in 2006, the Brooklyn, New York native had spent time taking classes at the City University of New York and St. John’s. Those experiences led him to found Viridis Learning, which aimed to give universities a better way to track student development to help graduates land jobs.

    Now he’s taken the learnings of that attempt to reshape education into the corporate world and raised more than $1 million in financing from investors, including B Capital, the investment firm launched jointly by the Boston Consulting Group and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, and Subversive Capital.

    The goal of Ortiz’s newest startup, EmPath, is to provide corporate employees with a clear picture of their current skills based on the work they’re already doing at a company and give them a road map to up-skilling and educational opportunities that could land them a better, higher-paying job.

    The company has an initial customer in AT&T, which has rolled out its services across its entire organization, according to Ortiz.

    From starting out in a shared apartment in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, Ortiz’s family history took a turn as his father became assistant speaker of the house in New York’s legislature and his mother operated a mental health clinic in the city.

    When Ortiz enlisted in the Army at 17, he continued to pursue his education, and served in the Judge Advocate General’s office for the Army at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. From there, Ortiz launched his first education venture, a failed startup that attempted to teach skills for renewable energy jobs online. The Green University may no longer exist, but it was the young entrepreneur’s first foray into education — a road that would continue with Viridis Learning and lead to the launch of EmPath.

    Along the way, Ortiz enlisted the help of an experienced developer in the online education space — Adam Blum.

    The creator of OpenEd, the largest educational open resource catalog online, which used machine learning to infer skills from the online activity of children, and the founder of Auger.ai, a toolkit to bring machine learning and predictive modeling to skill development, Blum immediately saw the opportunity EmPath presented.

    “Inferring skills for employees using their corporate digital footprint and inferring those skills for potential jobs… where you identified skill gaps using inferred skills for courses to suggest remedial resources to plug education gaps,” just makes sense, Blum said. “It was a much more powerful vision.”

    Blum still holds an equity stake in Auger.ai, but considers the work he’s doing with EmPath as the company’s chief technology officer to be his full-time job now. “Building this out with Felix was more exciting in terms of the impact it would have,” Blum said. 

    EmPath already is fully deployed with AT&T and will be adding three Fortune 1,000 companies as customers by the end of the month, according to Ortiz.

    The young startup also has a powerful and well-connected supporter in Carlos Gutierrez, the former chief executive officer of Kellogg, and the Secretary of Commerce in the George W. Bush White House.

    “Lacking a college degree throughout my career, I had to develop my own skills to enable my climb up the corporate ladder. The technology didn’t exist to help guide me, but in today’s world, professionals should not have to upskill blindly,” said former Commerce Secretary and EmPath co-founder Carlos Gutierrez, in a statement. “We created a technology platform that can help transform an organization’s culture by empowering employees and strengthening talent development. This technology was a game changer even before the Covid-19 pandemic, and now that corporate budgets are tighter, it is even more important for companies to accelerate skills development and talent growth.” 

    Categories: Business News

    Indian decacorn Byju’s CEO talks about future acquisitions, coronavirus and international expansion

    2020, September 15 - 5:55pm

    Since India enforced a lockdown across the country in late March, shutting schools and other public places, Bangalore-headquartered startup Byju’s has emerged as one of the quintessential platforms for school-going students in the world’s second largest internet market.

    It took the startup about four and a half years to amass 40 million students. Since the lockdown, its user base has ballooned to 65 million, its co-founder and chief executive Byju Raveendran said at the Disrupt 2020 conference Tuesday.

    Students say they were attracted to Byju’s platform because of the way it taught them subjects. Byju, who is a teacher himself, found intuitive ways like using real-life objects such as a pizza to teach complex math problems.

    His startup is valued at nearly $11 billion as of last week (which makes it India’s second most valuable startup), and has presence across several international markets. Late last year, Byju’s announced it has also turned profitable. It’s not everyday that we see an Indian startup with any of these three characteristics — let alone all three in one.

    In a wide-ranging interview at Disrupt 2020, Raveendran shared the journey of Byju’s, which started as an offline platform that taught students at classrooms, auditoriums and stadiums; the startup’s plans for further expansion in international markets; his views on merger and acquisition opportunities; and how the coronavirus pandemic has affected his business and the education landscape at large in India, among a number of other things.

    “Unfortunately it took a pandemic for most stakeholders to try out digital learning. Parents are now accepting the online segment more than before. This sector is clearly at an inflexion point,” said Raveendran.

    To make online learning more accessible to students, Byju’s made all of its offerings free during the pandemic. But the platform’s paying subscribers, now at more than 4 million, remains on a steady path of growth, he said.

    The startup expects to generate more than $1 billion in revenue this year from India itself and take home profits between $150 million to $180 million, he said.

    “I would still call it a relative success. What we consider as the target audience, we have less than 4% of penetration in that segment,” he said. “More than one-third of school-going students don’t have a smartphone. There’s still a lot of catch up to do.”

    Another phenomenon that the pandemic has kickstarted in India is some consolidation in the edtech startup space. Byju’s itself acquired WhiteHat Jr., an 18-month-old startup that teaches coding skills to students, for $300 million.

    TechCrunch has reported that the startup is engaging with several more startups, including Indian firm Doubtnut, which through its app allows students to take a picture of a math problem and delivers a step-by-step solution.

    Here’s what Raveendran had to say about that: “The long-term potential of the sector is at an all-time high. […] We are looking for companies that can add strong product components to either our existing user base or potential new customers in new markets, or companies that can give us some kind of distribution so that we get a head start to launch in a new market — especially English speaking markets.”

    “You will hear of a few more acquisitions from us. We are exploring some of them very seriously,” he added. The future acquisitions will again be all-cash deals, Raveendran said, as he “values equity more than others.”

    On IPO, fundraise and international expansion

    Byju’s isn’t looking to go public for at least two years, the chief executive said. “We have strong business fundamentals; we have been able to find the right balance between high-growth and sustainable growth and created a very profitable model in such a short period of time. But we have not seriously thought about the public listing,” he added.

    And it appears that investors in Byju’s are also not in a hurry. “We don’t need to do public listing to give exit to some of the early investors because the business itself will generate enough cash. A good number of them have already taken the money they invested out in the last few rounds,” he said.

    Byju’s has raised more than $700 million this year. We asked Raveendran why is the startup raising capital. “We have been very capital-efficient in terms of how we have used the primary capital we have raised. In the first five years, we have utilized less than $350 million of the primary capital — which shows how we have efficiently scaled the model,” he said.

    “Most of the recent fundraising is to finance inorganic growth, like full-cash acquisitions. We are utilizing it to add some strong business models. We never raised money because we needed it. It was always to add the right partner. In recent times, we have added long-term, patient investors,” he said. Byju’s is likely not done with its fundraising spree yet, as the startup is currently engaging with at least two more investment firms.

    For expansion in international markets, Raveendran said it plans to launch a digital learning app aimed at kids in several English-speaking markets. He said WhiteHat Jr., will introduce math subjects to its offering to serve customers in several markets, including Australia, New Zealand.

    We also talked about what he thinks of other giant startups in India that are not profitable today, the kind of message that sends to international investors and whether there is room for any new player in the education market in India, and much more. You can watch the full interview below.

    Categories: Business News

    Klarna raises $650 million at a $10.6 billion valuation

    2020, September 15 - 5:25pm

    Fintech startup Klarna has raised a mega-round of funding led by Silver Lake. The company is raising $650 million at a post-money valuation of $10.65 billion. Klarna says it is now the highest-valued private fintech company in Europe following today’s funding round.

    In addition to Silver Lake, GIC (Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund) and funds and accounts managed by BlackRock and HMI Capital are also participating in today’s funding round. Merian Chrysalis, TCV, Northzone and Bonnier have bought out existing shareholders.

    Klarna’s main product is an alternative payment method on e-commerce platforms. It lets you buy now and pay later over three or four installments with 0% interest. It has been quite popular in different European markets as many customers don’t have credit cards and/or don’t want to pay the fees involved with revolving credit lines.

    Merchants get paid when the initial transaction occurs with Klarna transparently managing credit lines for customers. In addition to transaction fees, the company also generates revenue from late fees.

    More recently, the company expanded to the U.S. where it now has 9 million customers out of 90 million customers in total. It mainly competes with Affirm in the U.S. Klarna has also been expanding its offering by targeting consumers directly — not just e-commerce companies.

    You can now download the Klarna app to see all your Klarna payments, access a marketplace of stores, track deliveries and set up price-drop notifications. Using the app, you can also create virtual cards to pay with Klarna on unsupported stores, such as Amazon. It’s not as straightforward as clicking Klarna when you check out, but it works. The app has 12 million monthly active users and 55,000 daily downloads.

    The company launched a rewards program this summer called Vibe. It is only available in the U.S. for now. It lets you earn points for every dollar you pay back on time when you use Klarna as your payment method. You can exchange points for gift cards at H&M, Amazon, Walmart, Uber, etc.

    Klarna is now working with 200,000 retail partners, such as Sephora, Groupon and Ralph Lauren. During the first half of 2020, the company reported $466 million in revenue and $59.8 million in losses.

    Categories: Business News

    Bank-as-a-service startup Swan helps other companies issue cards, accounts and IBANs

    2020, September 15 - 4:10pm

    Meet Swan, a new French startup that wants to let other companies offer financial services by issuing cards, bank accounts and IBANs with just a few lines of codes. The company could be considered as a bank-as-a-service platform, like Treezor or solarisBank.

    Originally founded by startup studio eFounders, the startup just raised a $5.9M million (€5 million) seed round led by Creandum with Bpifrance’s Digital Venture fund also participating.

    Swan has obtained an e-money license from the French regulator, which lets them operate payment services and hold user funds. Unlike a bank, it can’t issue credit lines. The company also handles risk, which means that it handles KYC processes (“know your customer”). Essentially, if you’re working with Swan, they take care of all the risky aspects of managing money.

    Compared to other bank-as-a-service companies, Swan doesn’t necessarily want to power neobanks and help them get started. The startup thinks a ton of companies touch on financial services but can’t offer those services because it’s such a big investment.

    For instance, you can imagine an invoicing product that generates IBANs for you so that it automatically matches incoming transactions to the right invoice (like Upflow). On-demand companies could issue cards to their delivery employees partners so that they can pay for groceries and food directly using a Swan-powered card. Marketplace companies could handle pay-ins and pay-outs at a more granular level with each client managing their own e-money wallet.

    This vision is part of a bigger trend called embedded finance. By expanding your product to control a bigger stack of the experience, you can provide new products and services and make your customers stick around for a long time.

    As a Swan customer, you can customize the branding with your own logo and colors. When you issue cards, you can choose between a physical Mastercard card or a virtual one. They work with Apple Pay and Google Pay. You pay €900 per month and a flat monthly fee for each account and card that you issue.

    Swan is taking a developer-oriented approach. The company says it can take several months to integrate a banking-as-a-service product into your own product. With an API-driven approach, Swan wants to make it as easy as integrating Stripe on your e-commerce website.

    Categories: Business News

    Homage announces strategic partnership with Infocom, one of Japan’s largest healthcare IT providers

    2020, September 15 - 2:44pm

    Homage, a Singapore-based caregiving and telehealth company, has taken a major step in its global expansion plan. The startup announced today that it has received strategic investment from Infocom, the Japanese information and communications technology company that runs one of the largest healthcare IT businesses in the country. Infocom’s solutions are used by more than 13,000 healthcare facilities in Japan.

    During an interview with TechCrunch that will air as part of Disrupt tomorrow, Homage co-founder and chief executive Gillian Tee said “Japan has one of the most ageing populations in the world, and the problem is that we need to start building infrastructure to enable people to be able to access the kind of care services that they need.” She added that Homage and Infocom’s missions align because the latter is also building a platform for caregivers in Japan, in a bid to help solve the shortage of carers in the country.

    Homage raised a Series B earlier this year with the goal of entering new Asian markets. The company, which currently operates in Singapore and Malaysia, focuses on patients who need long-term rehabilitation or care services, especially elderly people. This makes it a good match for Japan, where more than one in five of its population is currently aged 65 or over. In the next decade, that number is expected to increase to about one in three, making the need for caregiving services especially acute.

    The deal includes a regional partnership that will enable Homage to launch its services into Japan, and Infocom to expand its reach in Southeast Asia. Homage’s services include a caregiver-client matching platform and a home medical service that includes online consultations and house calls, while Infocom’s technology covers a wide range of verticals, including digital healthcare, radiology, pharmaceuticals, medical imaging and hospital information management.

    In a statement about the strategic investment, Mototaka Kuboi, Infocom’s managing executive officer and head of its healthcare business division, said, “We see Homage as an ideal partner given the company’s unique cutting-edge technology and market leadership in the long-term care segment, and we aim to drive business growth not only in Homage’s core and rapidly growing market in Southeast Asia, but also regionally.”

    Categories: Business News

    Indian e-commerce deals site CashKaro gets $10 million Series B led by Korea Investment Partners

    2020, September 15 - 1:52pm

    CashKaro co-founders Rohan and Swati Bhargava

    CashKaro, one of the leading cashback and coupon sites in India, will expand its range of services for e-commerce after raising $10 million in Series B funding, the New Delhi-based startup announced today. The round was led by Korea Investment Partners, with participation from returning investor Kalaari Capital.

    TechCrunch last covered CashKaro five years ago when it raised a $3.8 million Series A. The latest round brings the company’s total funding so far to $15 million.

    Over the past five years, the company has introduced new products, including a price comparison service, and EarnKaro, a social commerce cashback app that launched about 18 months ago. Part of the Series B will be used to expand EarnKaro, which has about one million registered users. It allows social commerce sellers, or people who use social media platform and messaging apps like WhatsApp to sell items, make extra cash by creating affiliate links to major e-commerce sites like Amazon and Flipkart. The launch of EarnKaro also allowed CashKaro to reach into smaller cities and rural areas, where shoppers often prefer to order from people whose recommendations they trust (i.e. “micro-influencers”) instead of e-commerce sites.

    Founded in 2013 by husband-and-wife team Swati and Rohan Bhargava, CashKaro currently claims about five million users and has partnerships with more than 1,500 e-commerce sites, including some of the biggest players in India, like Amazon, Flipkart, Myntra and Ajio. The company monetizes by charging brands a commission for transactions made through CashKaro links. The commissions are also how CashKaro is able to give cash back to shoppers, which can be deposited into their bank accounts or redeemed as gift vouchers for Flipkart and Amazon. CashKaro’s founders says it currently processes more than one million monthly transactions.

    CashKaro competes for the attention of online shoppers with a bevy of other coupon and cashback services in India. Some of its rivals include CouponDunia, GrabOn and GoPaisa.

    “We are the only VC-funded cashback site in India. While capital itself is not the differentiator, it is what we have been able to do with that capital which sets us apart,” Bhargava told TechCrunch, adding that CashKaro’s cashback rates are among the highest in the market.

    “Given that we now drive close to a half a billion dollars in GMV through CashKaro and EarnKaro to our partner sites, we are able to get higher commission rates from partner sites, which in turn helps us pass the most benefit to our members.”

    While COVID-19 has affected e-commerce businesses around the world because of sudden changes in consumer habits, the situation in India was particularly complicated in April and May because there were containment zones throughout the country, and in some zones, deliveries of non-essential items was not allowed until May.

    “COVID-19 caught us by surprise and Indian e-commerce was neither prepared to handle the surge in demand, nor did we expect so many supply side and delivery issues,” said Bhargava. “Given CashKaro works with all e-commerce sites, we saw these trends as well.”

    Since June, however, sales have started to recover and is seeing growth as people continue to stay home and shop online.

    “Our business is growing month on month and, in fact, the pandemic spurred our expansion into new digital categories, like education, gaming and online video streaming, which have seen exponential growth,” Bhargava added. Sales of electronics, home and kitchen items, personal care and beauty have also increased over the past few months.

    At the same time, the economic impact of the pandemic has prompted more people to seek cashback offers and other money-saving deals.

    “We are seeing that saving consciousness has gone up amongst online shoppers and people are finding services like CashKaro and EarnKaro more useful than ever before,” Bhargava said. “On the client side, our partners, such as Amazon, Myntra and Ajio, are also working with us more closely because they are seeing that our performance marketing model is the perfect way to scale while keeping profitability in mind amidst these tough times.”

    The new round of capital will be used for CashKaro’s goal of doubling its registered member base over the next 12 months from the current 5 million. Bhargava told TechCrunch that it will expand cashback offers into categories like credit cards and education, and launch new marketing campaigns focused around events like upcoming festivals and the Indian Premier League season, which starts this weekend.

    The company is also “chasing aggressive growth for EarnKaro and reaching out to more influencers, resellers, housewives and students who are our primary target market for this product,” she added. Finally, part of the Series B will be used for hiring, including leadership positions.

    For Korea Investment Partners, one of the largest South Korean venture capital firms, CashKaro represents a chance to tap into India’s fast-growing e-commerce market. In a statement, managing partner Hudson Kyung-sik Ho said, “We believe this is a highly scalable opportunity and both Swati and Rohan have set it on a truly exciting growth trajectory. CashKaro and EarnKaro together have shown exceptional unit metrics and we are really excited to be a part of India’s affiliate story.”

    Categories: Business News

    Airtable’s Howie Liu has no interest in exiting, even as the company’s valuation soars

    2020, September 15 - 7:12am

    In the middle of a pandemic, Airtable, the low-code startup, has actually had an excellent year. Just the other day, the company announced it had raised $185 million on a whopping $2.585 billion valuation. It also announced some new features that take it from the realm of pure no-code and deeper into low-code territory, which allows users to extend the product in new ways.

    Airtable CEO and co-founder Howie Liu was a guest today at TechCrunch Disrupt, where he was interviewed by TechCrunch News Editor Frederic Lardinois.

    Liu said that the original vision that has stayed pretty steady since the company launched in 2013 was to democratize software creation. “We believe that more people in the world should become software builders, not just software users, and pretty much the whole time that we’ve been working on this company we’ve been charting our course towards that end goal,” he said.

    But something changed recently, where Liu saw people who needed to do a bit more with the tool than that original vision allowed.

    “So, the biggest shift that’s happening today with our fundraise and our launch announcement is that we’re going from being a no-code product, a purely no-code solution where you don’t have to use code, but neither can you use code to extend the product to now being a low-code solution, and one that also has a lot more extensibility with other features like automation, allowing people to build logic into Airtable without any technical knowledge,” he said.

    In addition, the company, with 200,00 customers, has created a marketplace where users can share applications they’ve built. As the pandemic has taken hold, Liu says that he’s seen a shift in the types of deals he’s been seeing. That’s partly due to small businesses, which were once his company’s bread and butter, suffering more economic pain as a result of COVID.

    Airtable raises $185M and launches new low-code and automation features

    But he has seen larger enterprise customers fill the void, and it’s not too big a stretch to think that the new extensibility features could be a nod to these more lucrative customers, who may require a bit more power than a pure no-code solution would provide.

    “On the enterprise side of our business we’ve seen, for instance this summer, a 5x increase in enterprise deal closing velocity from the prior summer period, and this incredible appetite from enterprise signings with dozens of six-figure deals, some seven-figure deals and thousands of new paid customers overall,” he said.

    In spite of this great success, the upward trend of the business and the fat valuation, Liu was in no mood to talk about an IPO. In his view, there is plenty of time for that, and in spite of being a seven-year-old company with great momentum, he says he’s simply not thinking about it.

    Nor did he express any interest in being acquired, and he says that his investors weren’t putting any pressure on him to exit.

    “It’s always been about finding investors who are really committed and aligned to the long-term goals and approach that we have to this business that matters more to us than the actual valuation numbers or any other kind of technical aspects of the round,” he said.

    Categories: Business News

    Quantum startup CEO suggests we are only five years away from a quantum desktop computer

    2020, September 15 - 4:29am

    Today at TechCrunch Disrupt 2020, leaders from three quantum computing startups joined TechCrunch editor Frederic Lardinois to discuss the future of the technology. IonQ CEO and president Peter Chapman suggested we could be as little as five years away from a desktop quantum computer, but not everyone agreed on that optimistic timeline.

    “I think within the next several years, five years or so, you’ll start to see [desktop quantum machines]. Our goal is to get to a rack-mounted quantum computer,” Chapman said.

    But that seemed a tad optimistic to Alan Baratz, CEO at D-Wave Systems. He says that when it comes to developing the super-conducting technology that his company is building, it requires a special kind of rather large quantum refrigeration unit called a dilution fridge, and that unit would make a five-year goal of having a desktop quantum PC highly unlikely.

    Itamar Sivan, CEO at Quantum Machines, too, believes we have a lot of steps to go before we see that kind of technology, and a lot of hurdles to overcome to make that happen.

    “This challenge is not within a specific, singular problem about finding the right material or solving some very specific equation, or anything. It’s really a challenge, which is multidisciplinary to be solved here,” Sivan said.

    Chapman also sees a day when we could have edge quantum machines, for instance on a military plane, that couldn’t access quantum machines from the cloud efficiently.

    “You know, you can’t rely on a system which is sitting in a cloud. So it needs to be on the plane itself. If you’re going to apply quantum to military applications, then you’re going to need edge-deployed quantum computers,” he said.

    READ MORE
  • Q-CTRL and Quantum Machines team up to accelerate quantum computing
  • IonQ raises additional funding for its quantum computing platform
  • D-Wave sticks with its approach to quantum computing
  • One thing worth mentioning is that IonQ’s approach to quantum is very different from D-Wave’s and Quantum Machines’ .

    IonQ relies on technology pioneered in atomic clocks for its form of quantum computing. Quantum Machines doesn’t build quantum processors. Instead, it builds the hardware and software layer to control these machines, which are reaching a point where that can’t be done with classical computers anymore.

    D-Wave, on the other hand, uses a concept called quantum annealing, which allows it to create thousands of qubits, but at the cost of higher error rates.

    As the technology develops further in the coming decades, these companies believe they are offering value by giving customers a starting point into this powerful form of computing, which when harnessed will change the way we think of computing in a classical sense. But Sivan says there are many steps to get there.

    “This is a huge challenge that would also require focused and highly specialized teams that specialize in each layer of the quantum computing stack,” he said. One way to help solve that is by partnering broadly to help solve some of these fundamental problems, and working with the cloud companies to bring quantum computing, however they choose to build it today, to a wider audience.

    “In this regard, I think that this year we’ve seen some very interesting partnerships form which are essential for this to happen. We’ve seen companies like IonQ and D-Wave, and others partnering with cloud providers who deliver their own quantum computers through other companies’ cloud service,” Sivan said. And he said his company would be announcing some partnerships of its own in the coming weeks.

    The ultimate goal of all three companies is to eventually build a universal quantum computer, one that can achieve the goal of providing true quantum power. “We can and should continue marching toward universal quantum to get to the point where we can do things that just can’t be done classically,” Baratz said. But he and the others recognize we are still in the very early stages of reaching that end game.

    Categories: Business News

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