Business News

Propelling deep space flight with a new fuel source, Momentus prepares for liftoff

Startup News - 2 hours 29 min ago

Mikhail Kokorich, the founder of Momentus, a new Y Combinator-backed propulsion technology developer for space flight, hadn’t always dreamed of going to the moon.

A physicist who graduated from Russia’s top-ranked Novosibirsk University, Kokorich was a serial entrepreneur in who grew up in Siberia and made his name and his first fortunes in the years after the fall of the Soviet Union.

The heart of Momentus’ technology is a new propulsion system that uses water as a propellant instead of chemicals.

Image courtesy Momentus

Using water has several benefits, Kokorich says. One, it’s a fuel source that’s abundant in outer space, and it’s ultimately better and more efficient fuel for flight beyond low earth orbit. “If you move something with a chemical booster stage to the moon. Chemical propulsion is good when you need to have a very high thrust,” according to Kokorich. Once a ship gets beyond gravity’s pull, water simply works better, he says.

Some companies are trying to guide micro-satellites with technologies like Phase 4 which use ionized gases like Xenon, but according to Kokorich those are more expensive and slower. “When ionized propulsion is used for geostationary satellites to orbit, it takes months,” says Kokorich, using water can half the time.

“We can carry ten tons to geostationary orbit and it’s much faster,” says Kokorich.

The company has already signed an agreement with ECM Space, a European launch services provider, which will provide the initial trip for the company’s first test of its propulsion system on a micro-satellite — slated for early 2019.

That first product, “Zeal,” has specific impulses of 150 to 180 seconds and power up to 30 watts.

Kokorich started his first business, Dauria, in the mid-90s amid the collapse of the Soviet Union, selling explosives and engineering services to mining companies in Siberia. Kokorich sold that business and went into retail, eventually building a network of stores that sold home goods and housewares across Russia.

That raked in more millions for Kokorich, who then said he diversified into electronics by buying Russia’s BestBuy chain out bankruptcy. But space was never far from his mind, and, eventually he returned to it.

“In 2011 I hit my middle-aged crisis,” Korkorich says. “So I founded the first private Russian aerospace company.”

That company, Dauria Aerospace, was initially feted by the government, garnering the entrepreneur a place in Skolkovo, and its inaugural cohort of space companies. In an announcement of the successes the space program had achieved in 2014 Kokorich co-authored a piece with the Russian cosmonaut Sergey Zhukov, who remains the executive director of the networking and aerospace programs at the multi-billion-dollar boondoggle startup incubator.

Utilis detects water leaks underground using satellite imagery.

A few months later Kokorich would be in the U.S. working to back the first of what’s now a triumvirate of startups focused on space.

“With all the problems with Russia in the Western world, I moved to the U.S.,” says Kokorich. Dauria had quickly raised $30 million for its work, but as this Moscow Times article notes, stiff competition from U.S. firms and the sanctions leveled against Russia in the wake of its invasion and annexation of Crimea were taking their toll on the entrepreneur’s business. “It was a purely political immigration,” Korkorich says. “I don’t have purely business opportunities, because you have to work with the government [and] because the government would not like me.”

For all of his protestations, Kokorich has maintained several economic ties with partners in Russia. It’s through an investment firm called Oden Holdings Ltd. that Kokorich took an investment stake in the Canadian company Helios Wire, which was one of his first forays into space entrepreneurship outside of Russia. That company makes cryptographically secured applications for the transmission and reception of data from internet-enabled devices.

The second space company that the co-founder has built since moving to the U.S. is the satellite company Astra Digital, which processes data from satellites to make that information more accessible.

Now, with Momentus, Kokorich is turning to the problem of propulsion. “When transportation costs decrease, many business models emerge” Kokorich says. And Kokorich sees Momentus’ propulsion technology driving down the costs of traveling further into space — opening up opportunities for new businesses like asteroid mining and lunar transit.

The Momentus team is already thinking well beyond the initial launch. The company’s eyes are on a prize well beyond geostationary orbit.

Indeed, with water as a power source, the company says it will lay the groundwork for future cislunar and interplanetary rides. The company envisions a future where it will power water prospecting and delivery throughout the solar system, solar power stations, in-space manufacturing and space tourism.

Categories: Business News

While tech waffles on going public, biotech IPOs boom

Startup News - 9 hours 59 min ago

For people who make investment decisions based on revenues and projected earnings, biotech IPOs are kind of a non-starter. Not only are new market entrants universally unprofitable, most have zero revenue. Going public is mostly a means to raise money for clinical trials, with red ink expected for years to come.

That pattern may be one reason the venture capital press, Crunchbase News included, tends to devote a disproportionately small portion of coverage to biotech IPOs. It’s more exciting to watch a big-name internet company pop in first-day trading or poke fun at an underperforming dud.

But with our fixation on all things tech, we’re missing out on the big picture. There are actually a lot more biotech and healthcare startup IPOs than tech offerings. In the second quarter of this year, for instance, at least 16 U.S. venture-backed biotech and healthcare companies went public, compared to just 11 tech startups. In three of the past four years, bio offerings outnumbered tech IPOs, according to Crunchbase data.

In the following analysis, we attempt to get up to speed on the pace of biotech offerings, assess where we are in the cycle and spotlight some of the rising stars.

Biotech outpaces tech

As mentioned above, U.S. bio IPOs outnumber tech offerings in most years. However, the bio cohort raises less total capital, partly because the largest technology IPOs tend to be much bigger than the largest bio IPOs. In the chart below, we compare the two sectors over the past four years.

Globally, the numbers are much higher. Using Crunchbase data, we’ve put together a chart looking at global VC-backed biotech and healthcare IPOs over the past four years. While we’re just over halfway through 2018, biotech and health IPOs have already raised more money than in any of the prior three full calendar years.

Fundamentals driven, cycle amplified

It’s pretty clear we’re in an upcycle for all things startup-related. VCs are flush with cash, late-stage rounds are ballooning in size and IPO and M&A action is picking up, too.

So what does that mean for bio IPOs? Is the uptick in the pace and size of offerings mostly a result of bullish market conditions? Or is the current slate of pre-IPO candidates more compelling than in the past?

We turned to Bob Nelsen, co-founder of ARCH Venture Partners, one of the top-performing biotech investors, for his take, which is that it’s a “fundamentals driven, cycle amplified” IPO boomlet.

More companies are launching well-received IPOs because the pace of startup innovation is faster than in the past. Nelson calls it “the result of the previous 30 years of investment and innovation in biotech that has finally led to essentially data-driven innovation.” That’s leading to more curative treatments, disease-modifying therapies and preventative technologies.

Yet we’re also in a bullish segment of the market cycle for biotech. That’s prompting companies that might have stayed private under other conditions to give going public a shot. It’s also providing bigger outcomes for emerging companies that were already on the IPO track.

The latest example of a big outcome IPO is Rubius Therapeutics, which develops drugs based on genetically engineered red blood cells. This week, the five-year-old company raised $241 million at an initial valuation of over $2 billion, making it the largest bio offering of 2018. The Cambridge, Mass. company, which previously raised nearly a quarter-billion-dollars in venture funding, is still in the pre-clinical trial phase.

This year has delivered several other good-sized offerings as well, including drug developers Eidos Therapeutics and Homology Medicines, recently valued around $800 million each, along with Tricida, valued around $1.2 billion. (See the full list of 2018 global bio and health offerings here.)

As for aftermarket performance, that’s been up and down, but includes some big ups. Last year, biotech led the pack for best-performing IPOs on U.S. exchanges. The sector accounted for four of the six top spots, according to Renaissance Capital, led by drug developers AnaptysBioArgenx and UroGen, along with Calyxt, an agbio startup.

Looking ahead

While things are already up, bio VCs, generally an optimistic bunch, see several reasons why bio IPOs could go higher.

Nelson points to what he sees as the lagging pace of in-house innovation at big pharma and biotech players. Increasingly, they need to acquire startups and recently public companies to stay competitive and build out new product pipelines.

There is also tons of fresh capital earmarked for healthcare startups. In the U.S. in 2017, healthcare-focused venture capitalists raised $9.1 billion. That figure was up 26 percent from 2016, per Silicon Valley Bank.

More dollars also are flowing from venture firms that invest in a mix of tech and life sciences through a single fund. That list includes well-established VCs with dry powder to invest, including Polaris PartnersFounders FundKleiner Perkins and Sequoia Capital.

Still, Nelson observes, deep into an IPO bull market, the average quality of offerings does tend to decline. That said, he’s been through similar inflection points in previous cycles and “for the same point in the cycle, the quality is markedly higher.”

Categories: Business News

CowryWise micro-savings service opens high-yield government bonds to everyday Nigerians

Startup News - 2018, July 21 - 8:16am

In emerging market countries where economic volatility is a way of life, there aren’t a lot of relatively safe options for members of the burgeoning middle class to park their money.

For instance, countries like Nigeria have experienced a tremendous growth in the number of citizens entering the middle class, which now accounts for about 23 percent of the population (it’s around 50 percent in the U.S.), according to a recent article citing the African Development Bank.

While Nigeria now faces some significant headwinds from a weak domestic currency (the naira), high interest rates and a manufacturing recession, there are ways that local investment can both protect the wealth that’s been created and encourage investment domestically to potentially spur development.

At least, that’s the conclusion that college friends Razaq Ahmed and Edward Popoola came to while they were thinking about opportunities for new financial services options in their home country of Nigeria.

The two men, Ahmed with a background in finance and Popoola in computer science, are launching a company called CowryWise that gives Nigerian investors a way to save their money by investing in high-yield government bonds. The rates on those products are high enough to absorb the wild swings in value of the naira and still provide a healthy return for investors, according to Ahmed.

Set to present at this year’s demo day from Y Combinator, CowryWise is one of a number of startups that Y Combinator has backed coming from the African continent, and an example of the wellspring of entrepreneurial talent that is flourishing in sub-Saharan Africa.

Using CowryWise, a customer would just have to sign up with their email address and phone number and link their bank account up to the CowryWise platform.

There are already roughly 57 million savings accounts in Nigeria and 32 million unique bank users. By investing in the bonds, these savers gain access to interest rates that range between 10 percent and 17 percent, according to Ahmed.

“The bonds… are similar to the treasuries issued by the U.S. government, which is A-rated,” says Ahmed. Even if there were foreign currency risk from investing in the naira, the inflation rate is currently around 11 percent, according to Ahmed. Given that most of the bonds are yielding interest rates on the higher end, it’s just a better deal for consumers, he said.

“There’s more value in keeping the money in government treasury bills” than in the bank, says Ahmed.

For Ahmed and Popoola, the decision to launch CowryWise was a way to bring investment opportunities to a retail investor that hadn’t been able to access the best that the financial system in Nigeria had to offer.

To target these retail investors meant leveraging technology to scale quickly and cheaply across the country. The two men started developing their service in January and tested it in February and March with friends and family.

CowryWise isn’t without competitors. Another Nigerian company, Piggybank, recently raised $1.1 million for its own automated savings solution. Like CowryWise, Piggybank also taps into government bonds to offer better rates to its investors.

That company already has 53,000 registered users — who have saved in excess of $5 million since 2016, according to a release.

There are subtle differences between the two. Piggybank touts its ability to save through bonds, but it is primarily working with banks to get Nigerians saving money. CowryWise is using Meristem Financial (Ahmed’s old employer) as the asset manager for its investments into the bond market.

Another difference is the time customers’ funds are locked up. Piggybank has a three-month savings period required before investors can withdraw funds, while CowryWise will let its customers withdraw cash immediately, according to this teardown of the two services.

Ultimately, there’s a large enough market for multiple players, and a need for better financial services, according to Ahmed.

“We kept having interest from retail investors on why they want to do micro-savings and micro-investment, but they didn’t have the required capital,” Ahmed says. “That was the major reason for staring the company. Why not democratize the assets? And make them available in investments and savings in this traditional instrument?”

Categories: Business News

What should competitive Fortnite look like?

Startup News - 2018, July 21 - 5:53am

Last weekend, Epic Games put forth its first true effort at official competitive Fortnite Battle Royale. It was a disaster.

The private hosts used for the tournament were about as laggy as could be, with pro players getting eliminated simply because they couldn’t move. This tournament was for a total prize of $250K. That’s big money, and big frustration for pro players who were essentially eliminated by the whims of the server gods. But on top of the lag, the whole thing was, well, boring. A cardinal sin in any sport.

The fact is that when you put 100 pro players in a lobby together and tell them that the last man standing wins, most of them will simply sit in a fort and stay safe as long as possible. This does not generate a whole lot of action.

And when there is action on the map, there was no way for a spectator to know about it. There are, after all, a hundred people to watch out for, and jumping from one engagement to another is not only difficult but lacks a certain narrative quality, making the whole thing feel scattered.

It seems clear that a guided mode or hotspot indicator would go a long way to improving the viewing experience. Being told where the fighting was or could be happening or having a guide that flagged these opportunities could work. There could also be a documentary-style concept that followed a few top players on their entire run, with the hope that they’ll find action and maybe even be pushed into conflict to impress viewers.

Epic recently published a post-mortem on the event, outlining ways that the publisher can improve on the tournament. They’ve also set forth the rules for this weekend’s event, proposing a score-based tournament where both eliminations and Victory Royales count toward players’ overall score. Whether or not this will incentivize more action will be determined following the event.

It’s also worth noting that Epic scheduled today’s event during the Fortnite Friday tournament. Fortnite Friday, hosted by popular YouTuber Keemstar and facilitated by UMG, was a $20,000 elimination-based tournament with top players. In this week of the Summer Skirmish Series, which is worth a total of $8 million, Epic is choosing to host a two-day tournament, effectively rendering Fortnite Friday playerless.

It doesn’t have to be this way, Epic. I know that the concept of 100 of the best players in the world dropping into one map sounds incredible. It does. It sounds great, in theory. But in practice, it’s just a disorderly live stream of a bunch of highly talented players sitting around in bases, or, worse, lagging to the point of being frozen.

And, an invitational tournament (that goes terribly wrong) doesn’t scream “inclusive,” which is what Epic repeatedly says competitive Fortnite should be.

There is another way, and it’s the same way that Fortnite players have been competing for months now. A kill race.

But let’s back up a bit.

What should competitive Fortnite be?

Right now, Fortnite is played by 100 people in a single lobby, and “winning” the game is defined by being the last survivor(s). This can be played in solo mode, with 100 individuals facing off against the storm and each other, or in 50 teams of two (Duos), or 25 teams of four (Squads).

Video games often get tweaks for the competitive scene, whether it’s limiting the resources/gear that players can use or reducing the number of maps that can be played. When skill level is that high, most games must make changes to allow for true competition.

Given it’s still early days, Fortnite Battle Royale featuring purely pro players simply hasn’t worked.

But as it stands now, there are roughly two schools of thought.

Whoever gets the most eliminations wins.

Pros:

  • Super fun to watch
  • Requires skill
  • Inclusive to non-pro players

Cons:

  • A lot of RNG
  • More time-consuming

Gamebattle sites like CMG and UMG have been running minor tournaments for quite a while now using this format. Fortnite Friday, arguably one of the biggest weekly tournaments, also follows this format.

Here’s how it works: Individual players load up in a Duo match on the same team, or teams of two load up into a Squad match, also on the same team, and race for who can get the most kills in a public match.

This means that these opposing players can’t kill each other, but can keep track of each other’s kills and placement on the map. When you’re racing for kills, understanding where the other duo is fighting and how many kills they have is important information.

Given only four players are competing at a time, that means the rest of the 92 people on the map are regular Fortnite players.

This is where RNG comes into play. RNG is a term used in gaming that means Random Number Generator. It is the gaming equivalent of Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic.” It essentially means there is some level of random luck involved in the game. For example, you might land in a place where there is usually a weapon or chest, but that weapon or chest isn’t there, leaving you vulnerable to other players who land around you.

Great players can work around or overcome a certain level of RNG, but if the opposing team comes up on a squad of noobs and your team rolls up on a squad of great players, the tide of the match will inevitably shift against you, and may even result in a loss.

This is the cost of the 2v2 format that has become popularized with the vast majority of Fortnite competitive players.

While it takes more time to have 100 players compete four at a time, this format allows the viewer to watch no more than four players as they traverse the map and seek eliminations. At most, the audience has to follow along with four separate stories on the map. In most cases, duos play together, which brings that number down to two. In either case, it’s much easier than following along with the stories of 50 separate teams.

Traditional Battle Royale

Pros:

  • Less RNG
  • Amazing build fights
  • Fair, in the sense that players are fighting players of equal skill level

Cons:

  • It’s boring
  • Not inclusive
  • Confusing and scattered for viewers

This format was used during the Ninja Live tournament, the Fortnite ProAm tournament and, most recently, during the $8 million Summer Skirmish series, hosted by Epic Games.

Here’s how it works: 100 pro players/streamers pair off into teams of two and all load into the same lobby, with the goal of lasting the longest.

As I said, Fortnite Battle Royale is built around the idea that there would be a sole survivor, but doesn’t predicate that survival on a certain level of skill. In other words, it’s relatively easy to hide, avoid fights and survive to the near end of a game, or potentially even win. It doesn’t take much skill to squat in a bush or set traps in a house and sit in the bathroom.

Obviously, with pro players, there will be gunfights, and those gunfights should be pretty interesting. But they are few and far between, and are difficult to predict and capture for the live stream.

This also excludes regular players from being a part of the action. Yes, it’s a risk to construct a competitive scene on the backs of public gameplay. But it’s also never been done before in the pro gaming world. And it is the best way to include public players into the competitive scene. A regular player is far more likely to get interested in the competitive scene knowing that, on Friday or Saturday, they have the chance to play against the world’s greatest competitors.

The best way to build on the momentum of Fortnite’s popularity, as well as support the community as a whole, is to build out tournaments focused on eliminations within public lobbies.

It makes sense for Epic to want to control that experience, and it certainly makes sense for Epic to want the competitive scene to fit within the game they built, which is a Battle Royale. But thus far, competitive Battle Royale featuring purely pro players simply hasn’t worked. And it feels slightly underhanded for Epic to barrel over Fortnite Friday, given that the more competitive tournaments around Fortnite, the better for the game.

The community is here, telling you what it wants, Epic. And in true Fortnite fashion, if you build it, they will come.

Categories: Business News

Tempow’s Bluetooth stack can improve your TV setup

Startup News - 2018, July 21 - 12:12am

French startup Tempow has been working on improving the Bluetooth protocol at a low level to make it more versatile. The company is introducing a new audio profile for your TV or set-top box.

TV and set-top box manufacturers can license Tempow’s software and integrate new features in their devices. It works with regular Bluetooth chips, but it opens up new possibilities.

In particular, Tempow has been working on a one-to-many pairing model. You can pair multiple Bluetooth speakers with your TV to create a wireless surround system using good old Bluetooth speakers.

The reason why soundbars slowly replaced 5.1 systems is that you don’t have to run cables on the floor to the back speakers. Tempow solves that, and Bluetooth speakers are much cheaper than a bunch of Sonos speakers.

With Tempow’s stack, you can also stream different audio tracks to different devices. In other words, you could pair multiple headphones with your TV and watch a movie in different languages. If your kid is too young to read subtitles, you no longer need to make compromises.

You can also configure each speaker individually so that you can reproduce the same sound profile across the board, even if you’re using speakers from different brands.

The startup first worked on an audio profile for smartphones. For instance, if you have a Moto X4 phone, you can pair it with multiple Bluetooth speakers at once. With today’s news, the company is expanding beyond smartphones. But it’s still about Bluetooth.

Categories: Business News

Public shareholders got high today on Tilray, the first marijuana company to IPO on Nasdaq

Startup News - 2018, July 20 - 9:22am

Tilray, a five-year-old, British Columbia-based medical cannabis company that sells its products to patients, researchers, pharmacies and even governments, saw its shares get high (sorry) on the Nasdaq today, after the company priced 9 million shares at $17 apiece and watched them soar, closing at $22.39, a jump of slightly more than 32 percent.

The company raised $153 million in the offering, capital it will reportedly use in part to fuel its marijuana growing and processing facilities in Ontario.

It was a huge win for the cannabis industry, which has been growing like a weed (sorry again). Related startups attracted $593 million in funding last year, twice what they raised in 2016 and a meaningful jump from the $121 million invested in related startups in 2014, according to CB Insights. Among the different types of companies to garner investor dollars, shows CB Insights’ research, are: startups focused on research or distribution of medical marijuana products (as with Tilray); tools for ensuring compliance with state and federal marijuana laws; startups focused on payments for marijuana companies; startups collecting data and producing marketing insights about the industry; and companies creating novel strains and types of marijuana using new farming techniques.

Tilray’s performance today is also a very positive signal for Seattle-based Privateer Holdings, a private equity firm that owned 100 percent of the startup as it headed into its offering. In fact, Privateer’s CEO, Brendan Kennedy, is also the CEO of Tilray. (Cannabis companies are weird.)

Privateer has itself raised more than $200 million since its founding in 2010, including from Founders Fund and Subversive Capital, and it has used that capital to fund, acquire and incubate companies. While it incubated Tilray, for example, it also owns Leafly, a large cannabis information resource that it acquired in 2011. Another of its portfolio companies is Marley Natural, a Bob Marley-branded cannabis line that it launched in partnership with the Marley’s estate and that sells a line of cannabis strains, smoking accessories and even body care products.

It isn’t exactly clear how much Privateer had sunk into Tilray (we have a press request into the company). Tilray had announced C$60 million in Series A funding back in February, composed of a “group of leading global institutional investors.” But according to its S-1, it was solely owned until today by Privateer.

What we do know: Tilray remains unprofitable, reporting a net loss of $7.8 million last year. The company also cannot sell its products in the U.S. market, given that marijuana remains illegal under federal law, despite that 30 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized it in some form. The reason: The U.S. government classifies marijuana as a schedule 1 drug, meaning it’s considered to have no medical value and a high potential for abuse.

That could change, but as this Vox explainer makes clear, a review process for the current schedule would need to be initiated by either the secretary of health and human services or the attorney general, and current Attorney General Jeff Sessions despises marijuana, saying once that “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.

He seems to be among a dwindling minority. According to a Gallup Poll published last October, 64 percent of Americans favor legalization.

Categories: Business News

Yelp partners with event management startup Gather to make planning your next party easier

Startup News - 2018, July 20 - 6:43am

Event management software company Gather today announced the introduction of its Gather Booking Network, and inaugural partners Yelp and EVENTup. The network is designed to help party goers, venues and event planners connect more easily and start celebrating sooner.

Gather was founded in 2013 by CEO and co-founder Nick Miller, Alex Lassiter (SVP of Sales) and Tom Merrihew (VP of Engineering) after their experience organizing corporate events for a consulting group led them head-first into the dark, mostly disorganized world of event planning.

“We kind of fell into and uncovered what is a manual and disorganized process,” CEO and co-founder Nick Miller told TechCrunch. “On both sides of the table. For both the person planning the event but also for the folks who work at the restaurants and venues. We set out to fix the problem.”

Since its creation, Gather has teamed up with more than 12,500 venues and restaurants across the United States and expanded its three-person team to 95 Atlanta-based employees. The company helps coordinate a wide range of events, from corporate gatherings to full-blown weddings. As part of its expansion and to refine its services, Gather raised a $2.5 million Series A round in 2016 led by Ryan Floyd of Storm Ventures and a strategic investment and partnership with Vista Equity Partners in 2017.

Now, the company’s sights are on growing its booking network to provide a one-stop shop for event planning needs.

After the company acquired the venue and event space company EVENTup in June — a move that more than doubled the number of venues and restaurants in its roster — the announcement today of its collaboration with Yelp is bringing its services to the average party-goer as well.

“The Gather partnership gives Yelp users a single destination to search and book restaurants and venues, no matter the party size or timeframe,” Chad Richard, Yelp’s senior vice president of Business and Corporate Development, told TechCrunch in an email. “Diners on Yelp have been able to book reservations weeks in advance or snag a table at the last-minute using Yelp Nowait, but to date we haven’t had a solution for diners looking to reserve for large groups or special events.”

As Gather continues looking forward, Miller says that the company has plans in the coming weeks to announce further partnerships for its booking network, as well as work to develop more efficient services for the platform, including real-time booking.

Categories: Business News

Carbyne wants to replace outdated 911 systems

Startup News - 2018, July 20 - 1:27am

Israel-based Carbyne has developed an emergency call-handling platform, supported by an ecosystem that integrates live video streaming, location services and texting capabilities.

After Amir Elichai, founder and CEO, was robbed on Tel Aviv beach in 2013, he called the police and had to trudge through a tedious, long-winded conversation with the dispatcher (“Where are you, what happened, etc.”) before help was finally sent. Out of frustration, he started Carbyne. “If Uber and the pizza delivery guy can determine where we are, why can’t 911?”

The company is currently focused on what they call, “time to dispatch” – the duration from when the call is placed to the moment services are sent to the field. To minimize this length, two crucial pieces of information need to be delivered: exact location and an understanding of the situation. They’ve achieved this by utilizing device-based location technology, but stepped up the game with an indoor positioning solution where first responders can pinpoint a caller’s location within a one-meter accuracy, within a matter of seconds. To assess the situation, they’ve implemented live video streaming, which is accessed through the caller’s permission. “When you combine the two, it cuts the dispatch time by 60-65 percent. In terms of saving lives, that’s huge,” Elichai explained.

The biggest challenge

Emergency response systems are based on landline technology. They’re unable to take advantage of smartphone capabilities such as chat, video or GPS. Rather than trying to integrate their platform into these legacy infrastructures, Carbyne plans to replace them all. They’ve already deployed systems in Israel, Asia, Europe and Latin America, and recently signed their first deal in the United States with Fayette County, Georgia.

Despite the platform’s clear benefits, the challenge lies within strict government regulations, varying from country to country, municipality to municipality. “First you have to convince the authorities,” said Elichai. “Some of them are curious, some of them have fears with new technologies, such as cybersecurity threats. You’re changing and disrupting the way they work so you have to educate them and show them how this system can help them.”

Though they’re currently focused on dispatch times, the next phase will be the ability to deliver medical information to hospitals so the appropriate equipment can be prepared for ambulances. “This entire ecosystem is very huge and complex around the world, and we have a lot of work to do,” Elichai said in closing.

Categories: Business News

Malta paves the way for a decentralized stock exchange

Startup News - 2018, July 20 - 1:09am

Malta AKA “Blockchain Island” has been making waves lately in the world of cryptocurrency and governance. Their latest move involves the crypto exchange Binance and the ICO builders at Neufund.

The plan is simple: Neufund will help MSX, the Malta Stock Exchange’s skunkworks, create tokenized securities. Binance has agreed to carry these securities on its own exchange, essentially creating a straight path to regulated tokens via the already regulated Malta Stock Exchange. In short, this enables Malta to become the first country to be able to offer tokens alongside traditional equities as well as an easy way to go public in multiple ways including via ICO.

The plan is still in the pilot stage. This year they will begin “the public offering of tokenized equity on Neufund’s primary market which may later be tradable on Binance and other crypto exchanges pending regulatory and listing approvals” said Neufund CEO Zoe Adamovicz.

“We are thrilled to announce the partnerships with Malta Stock Exchange and Binance, that will ensure high liquidity to equity tokens issued on Neufund. It is the first time in history, that security tokens can be offered and traded in a legally binding way. The upcoming pilot project will allow us to test the market’s reaction and realize the overall project idea in an environment with minimized risk.” said Adamovicz.

“We are delighted to welcome Neufund as our key partner in building a Blockchain-based exchange that is fully integrated with established financial markets. With the upcoming pilot project we become a worldwide pioneer in digital finance,” said Joseph Portelli, chairman of the Malta Stock Exchange.

This move is interesting in that it offers a parallel track to companies wishing to go public via token sales. While even the terminology isn’t completely hashed out in regards to the future of these systems, having a spot like Malta lead in the matter of token sales selling alongside equities is a solid decision. Malta is increasingly becoming the testbed for these sorts of experiments and, even if this is not yet a real project, it could create a turnkey solution for ICO launches on the island.

Categories: Business News

Ofo shuts down many international markets to focus on profitability

Startup News - 2018, July 20 - 12:20am

Chinese bike-sharing company Ofo is entering a new phase. After a period of aggressive growth, the company is looking back at its international markets and focusing on the most promising ones.

A couple of weeks ago, the company issued a press release highlighting some of the priorities outside of China. As part of this move, Ofo co-founder and CEO Dai Wei is going to be directly in charge of international markets.

“It’s a new strategical phase on the international front,” Ofo France General Manager and Head of EMEA Laurent Kennel told me. “The company wants to focus on the most mature and promising markets.”

So it means that Ofo will stop altogether in some countries, such as Australia, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, India and Israel.

At the same time, there are some markets that work quite well. In particular, the press release highlights Singapore, the U.S., the U.K., France and Italy. But even if you look at a more granular level, Ofo is going to focus on some specific cities in particular going forward.

As Quartz and Forbes highlighted, Ofo hasn’t been a massive success in smaller American cities. “In the U.S., some markets work better than others, and they’re going to focus on that,” Kennel said. Instead of operating in dozens of American cities, the company is going to scale back and focus on the most important ones.

In France, Ofo has only been available in Paris for instance. Numbers are encouraging as the company handles 5,000 to 10,000 rides a day with 2,500 bikes.

“[In Paris,] We crossed an important milestone to prove that our business model is sustainable,” Kennel said. “Our revenue covers all our operational and maintenance costs.” That doesn’t include occasional investments to purchase new bikes.

Overall, Kennel was quite optimistic about those remaining markets. By focusing on a limited number of cities, the company can invest properly on each of those markets. In Europe, Ofo is going to focus on the U.K., France and Italy.

Just like in the U.S., Ofo is also reducing the number of cities in the U.K. and Italy. The company recently shut down its service in Norwich and Sheffield. In Italy, there was an internal reorganization and the company stopped operating in the mid-sized city of Varese.

Following Mobike’s acquisition by Meituan, Mobike recently announced that it would stop requiring deposits in China. Ofo still asks for a refundable deposit when you sign up in China, but not in Europe.

Mobike’s deep pockets increase the pressure on Ofo. Ofo needs to find a sustainable business model to become a viable independent company in the long term. “It has an impact on international markets, but also on the internal organization in China,” Kennel said.

Ofo doesn’t want to comment on the situation market-by-market. So it’s hard to know for sure where Ofo still operates and where it plans to scale back. On Ofo’s website, you can find a map with all the markets where it claims to operate. I looked at this map, listed the 21 countries and tried to find out what’s happening at a local level.

This isn’t a perfect list, but it gives a good overview of what’s happening at the company.

Still operating normally as far as I know:

  • China
  • France (Paris)
  • Japan
  • Malaysia
  • Portugal (small operation)
  • Singapore
  • Thailand

Scaling back operations:

  • Italy: internal reorganization, shut down in Varese to focus on Milan
  • Spain: available in a handful of cities (Madrid, Valencia, Marbella, Granada) but recently scaled back in Madrid with fewer bikes and a smaller area of service
  • United Kingdom: focusing on London (and potentially Cambridge and Oxford) while shutting down operations in Norwich and Sheffield
  • United States: scaling back to some key cities, such as New York, Seattle and San Diego

Shutting down:

Unclear:

  • Hungary: service is unavailable in the app
  • Kazakhstan: service is unavailable in the app
  • Russia: service is unavailable in the app
Categories: Business News

Lifebit raises $3M to scale-up AI-powered analysis of DNA data

Startup News - 2018, July 20 - 12:08am

Making sense of DNA data is a two-step process, namely the biochemical-sequencing of the DNA and the analyzing and extracting insights from the sequenced DNA data. As of today in 2018, the first part of this process is now almost fully automated requiring minimal human intervention. Even sequencing costs have dropped below $1,000 and soon they will reach $100, according to the industry. The second part of the process, however, is a long way from being automated because it’s very complex, time-consuming and requires highly specialized experts to analyze the data.

Now a startup plans to address this problem.

London-based Lifebit is building a cloud-based cognitive system that can reason about DNA data in the same way humans do. This offers researchers and R&D professionals, with limited-to-no computational and data analysis training, and their corresponding organisations (ie. pharmaceutical companies), a highly scalable, modular and reproducible system that automates the analysis processes, learns from the data and provides actionable insights.

It’s now closed a $3m (£2.25m) Seed funding round led by Pentech and Connect Ventures, with participation from Beacon Capital and Tiny VC (AngelList). The company is simultaneously announcing the launch of its first product, Deploit, what it claims is the world’s first AI-powered genomic data analysis platform, and, says the company, is already being trialled by major pharmaceutical and biotech companies.

The main “competitor” for Lifebit is the DIY process of analysing and getting actionable insights out of genomics and biodata. Organisations, both in industry and research, build custom software and hardware solutions to be able to analyse the huge volumes of genomic and biodata at scale. This leads to a large waste of resources since custom software and hardware is expensive and hard to scale and maintain.

A few platforms have been created like DNAnexus and SevenBridges. However, these platforms tend to lack flexibility, don’t integrate with the way the vast majority of bioinformaticians work, operate like black boxes which fail to provide the user with full control and transparency, can be very costly to use, and enforce lock-downs. All in all, if the user stops using these platform, all their past work is no longer accessible. And they are not designed for AI and advanced learning from previous analysis performed.

Lifebit’s Deploit platform is designed to address all these problems with a particular highlight on the machine learning functionalities that automate the process and on creating the next tool that will be used by everyone in the community who is trying to analyse and understand genomic and bio data, very much like GitHub changed software engineers’ lives.

In fact, Deploit will be priced with a pricing model similar to GitHub. It is free for individual, non-commercial, usage, and then you pay for team functionalities and for enterprise deployment and usage.

Lifebit was incorporated in April 2017 but founders Dr. Maria Chatzou (CEO) and Dr. Pablo Prieto only started working on it full-time in July when we moved to London to join Techstars.

“The problem these organizations face is no longer sequencing vast quantities of genomic data, but rather making sense of this data quickly and affordably,” says Chatzou. “This requires new data analysis technologies, which is where Lifebit comes in. Our mission as a company is to enable cloud-based real-time genomic analysis at scale, anywhere, by anyone.”

Categories: Business News

Uber partners with Cargo to help drivers make money by selling stuff to riders

Startup News - 2018, July 20 - 12:00am

Uber has teamed up with Cargo, a startup that makes it easy for rideshare drivers to sell goods to their passengers. Cargo works by giving drivers free boxes, filled with goods like gum, phone chargers and snacks, to sell to passengers from the center of the car console.

Cargo, which has partnered with brands like Kellogg’s, Starbucks and Mars Wrigley Confectionery, provides these boxes to drivers for free. The only requirement is that drivers must have at least a 4.7 rating and be relatively active on the platform, Cargo founder and CEO Jeff Cripe told TechCrunch.

Each Cargo box comes with both free samples and items for purchase. Drivers earn at least $1 per order, even if what the rider gets is free.

Starting today, Uber drivers in San Francisco and Los Angeles can pick up Cargo boxes at one of Uber’s driver support locations, called Greenlight Hubs. While this is an exclusive business partnership, Cargo will continue to let drivers sell its goods even if they don’t drive for Uber. 

Since launching in 2017, about 7,000 drivers have made more than $1 million. On an annual basis, drivers can earn an average of $1200 a year, while the top 10% of drivers make $3,600 a year in income. This seems like a great deal for drivers and also a way for Uber to attract and retain drivers.

As it stands today, customers request and pay for goods via Cargo’s mobile site, but down the road, Uber envisions integrating Cargo’s functionality into its app. To date, Cargo has raised $7.3 million in funding.

Categories: Business News

Even raises $40M to transform the working class to the savings class

Startup News - 2018, July 20 - 12:00am

The working class of the United States doesn’t get many breaks these days. It’s not just a function of low pay and long hours, but also the incredible uncertainty of income and expenses that makes surviving week-to-week so challenging. One in five Americans have a negative net wealth, even in an economy where the unemployment rate is the lowest in almost two decades. Banks, meanwhile, are actively dissuading the working class from banking with them, creating a permanent class of unbanked and underbanked citizens.

For Jon Schlossberg, CEO and co-founder of Even.com, improving the plight of ordinary Americans and their finances is a deeply personal and professional mission. And now that mission has a huge new bucket of capital behind it, with Keith Rabois of Khosla Ventures leading a $40 million Series B round into the Oakland-based startup. Rabois is a return investor, having previously backed the company in its late 2014 seed round. With this latest round of capital, Even.com has now raised $50.5 million.

When Even.com first launched its eponymous app, the goal was to offer income smoothing for workers, helping them avoid usurious payday loans to make ends meet. Since that first launch several years ago, Schlossberg and his team learned that the only way to improve the finances for the working class is to help them budget better — ending the need for loans in the first place. “To do anything with your life, unless you are just born to the right family, you need to spend your money wisely, but we never teach you how to do that,” Schlossberg explained to me.

Last year, Even.com announced that it had stopped evening through its Pay Protection product. Instead, Schlossberg said that Even.com has evolved and wanted to “build a new kind of financial institution with products that fit your life.” It still has a feature it brands as Instapay, which allows users to request their earned pay in advance of their payday.

But Even.com is increasingly focused on improving the quality of its intelligent budgeting feature. Using artificial intelligence models honed over the past few years, the company now gives users of its Even app an “Okay to spend” figure that helps them think through their cash flow. By giving a predictive figure rather than a checking account balance, Even can help its users avoid sudden surprise expenses that can trigger the kind of financial death spiral that has become a familiar story in America. The company will also soon launch an automatic savings feature similar to Digit or Acorns that helps people build up regular savings.

Even’s Okay to spend feature gives insight into future cash flows before it is too late

While the company offers an increasingly comprehensive suite of financial tools, it has decided to avoid charging users specific use fees, opting instead for a subscription model. Schlossberg explained that “We are a mission-oriented company, but talk is cheap and where the rubber hits the road, it’s how you make money.” Even is free for users participating through partner employers, or $2.99 a month for individuals without a sponsor.

The company’s highest expense feature is Instapay due to underwriting, and so the company makes higher profits when fewer of its customers need access to payday credit. In other words, the better that its users budget, the fewer loans it will underwrite, and the more money the company makes. We are “directly incentivized to help people with their financial health,” Schlossberg noted.

Even has proven attractive to corporate customers, including Walmart, which partnered with the startup last December to offer its service to all 1.4 million employees at the retailer. Since the launch of that partnership, more than 200,000 Walmart employees regularly use the app, according to Even, and the typical active user checks their Okay to spend balance four times a week. A majority of active users have also taken out an Instapay through Even.

More interestingly, salaried employees at Walmart used the app slightly more than hourly workers, proving that just having a guaranteed income isn’t necessarily a panacea to financial trouble for many American households.

Even.com’s Series B round is all about expansion and growth for the company. Even intends to open an East Coast office this year, and intends to expand its product further into the Fortune 500 with partnerships similar to its Walmart deal. The company currently has 37 employees. In addition to Khosla, the startup raised funding from Valar Ventures, Allen & Company, Harrison Metal, SV Angel, Silicon Valley Bank and others.

Categories: Business News

Printrbot has shut down

Startup News - 2018, July 19 - 11:04pm

Printrbot, a popular Kickstarter-backed 3D printer company, has shut down, leaving only a barebones website and little explanation. The founder, Brook Drumm, wrote that “Low sales led to hard decisions.”

“We will be forever grateful to all the people we met and served over the years,” he wrote. “Thank you all.”

Printrbot’s machines costs about $200 during the Kickstarter and Drumm created multiple add-ons including a belt for printing multiple objects.

Drumm also ran Vault Multimedia and appeared on Science Channel’s All-American Makers TV and a pastor. Drumm created his product after having trouble assembling an early Makerbot and finding the hardware and software difficult to use.

There is no clear information on future support or parts availability for current customers. I’ve reached out to the company for comment.

Categories: Business News

Sinemia drops prices for its movie ticket subscriptions, which now start a $3.99 per month

Startup News - 2018, July 19 - 11:00pm

MoviePass competitor Sinemia is lowering prices on the already low-cost movie ticket subscription plans that it introduced earlier this year.

Its monthly prices are being cut by $1 across-the-board. The cheapest plan now costs $3.99 per month, which gets you one standard movie ticket for that month. The priciest one, which covers three tickets (and includes 3D, 4D and IMAX screens), now costs $13.99 per month.

Sinemia says it’s also offering discounts on its family plans, and on plans in Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia.

You might think that this summer promotion (which ends on September 3) seems timed to take advantage of the negative publicity around MoviePass’ new “peak pricing” for popular movies, and Sinemia’s press release doesn’t exactly deny it — the release literally begins: “At a time when MoviePass is running surge pricing …”

Sinemia subscribers also benefit from being able to purchase tickets in advance. And unlike AMC’s Stubs A-List program, Sinemia isn’t limited to a specific theater chain.

One caveat is that these plans are billed annually, so you’ll be making a bigger commitment upfront. On the bright side, this presumably locks in the lower price for a full year.

“With the release of highly-anticipated summer blockbusters, and with seasonal temperatures hitting record highs, we want to provide moviegoers a more affordable way to see must-watch films and get a break from the heat,” said Sinemia founder and CEO Rifat Oguz in the release.

Categories: Business News

PureSec exits Beta to secure serverless code

Startup News - 2018, July 19 - 10:00pm

PureSec, a startup out of Israel emerged from Beta today to provide a way to make serverless computing more secure.

Serverless computing reduces programming to writing functions, so that when a certain event happens, it triggers an automated action. The cloud vendor takes care of the underlying infrastructure and developers just write the code. It may sound like Shangri La for tech, but in reality there are still security concerns.

You might think that a process that lasts only milliseconds wouldn’t be subject to conventional kinds of attacks, but the fact is serverless functions are designed to take human checks and balances out of the equation, says company co-founder Ory Segal, and if you don’t set up the functions correctly you could be vulnerable.

As with any type of cloud security, there is a shared security model with serverless computing. On the vendor side, they ensure their data centers and systems are secure, but at the application level, it’s up to the developer. Certainly we have seen many instances where applications have been left exposed and data has leaked.

Segal says the function may be only a few lines of code triggering an action, but the action usually involves interacting with one or more external services. When that happens, there is an opportunity to manipulate the function and make it do something it wasn’t designed to do such as inject malicious code.

The product looks at your serverless code and lets you know which vulnerabilities you may have left exposed. It can even fix those problems for you if you wish. It also allows you to configure a security profile for your code from a dashboard and see a log of activity to track problems when they occur.

Screenshot: PureSec

Segal says when the company launched in 2016, it was just a couple of years after AWS launched its Lambda serverless product. At the time, it was not widely used or understood. Serverless computing remains very early in its development, but in order to grow it needs a set of underlying tools like security to really take off.

PureSec is built from the ground up to provide serverless security, and itself is built on top of serverless architecture. As Segal points out, traditional security products require underlying infrastructure to deploy something either on the server or network. With serverless architecture, there is no underlying architecture on which to deploy until event is triggered and the cloud provider figures out what compute, memory and storage is required to complete the process.

The company had been in Beta mode up until today and has raised $3 million in seed investment, according to Crunchbase. It has 11 employees based in Tel Aviv.

Categories: Business News

Landbot gets $2.2M for its on-message ‘anti-AI’ chatbot

Startup News - 2018, July 19 - 9:32pm

Who needs AI to have a good conversation? Spanish startup Landbot has bagged a $2.2 million seed round for a ‘dumb’ chatbot that doesn’t use AI at all but offers something closer to an old school ‘choose your adventure’ interaction by using a conversational choice interface to engage potential customers when they land on a website.

The rampant popularity of consumer messaging apps has long been influencing product development decisions, and plenty of fusty business tools have been consumerized in recent years, including by having messaging-style interfaces applied to simplify all kinds of digital interactions.

In the case of Landbot, the team is deploying a familiar rich texting interface as a website navigation tool — meaning site visitors aren’t left to figure out where to click to find stuff on their own. Instead they’re pro-actively met with an interactive, adaptive messaging thread that uses conversational choice prompts to get them the information they need.

Call it a chatty twist on the ‘lazyweb’…

It’s also of course mobile first design, where constrained screen real estate is never very friendly to full fat homepages. Using a messaging thread interface plus marketing bots thus offers an alternative way to cut to the navigational chase, while simultaneously creaming off intent intelligence on potential customers. (Albeit it does risk getting old fast if your site visitors have a habit of clearing their cookies.)

Landbot, which was launched just over a year ago in June 2017, started as an internal experiment after its makers got frustrated by the vagaries of their own AI chatbots. So they had the idea to create a drag-and-drop style bot-builder that doesn’t require coding to support custom conversation flows.

“Since we already had a product, a business model, and some customers, we developed Landbot as an internal experiment. “What would happen with a full-screen conversation instead of the regular live-chat?,” we thought. What we got? A five times higher conversion rate on our homepage! Ever since, our whole strategy changed and Landbot, born from an experiment, became our core product,” explains CEO and co-founder Jiaqi Pan.

At the same time, the current crop of ‘cutting-edge’ AI chatbots are more often defined by their limitations than by having impressively expansive conversational capacities. Witness, for example, Google’s Duplex voice AI, heavily trained to perform very specific and pretty formulaic tasks — such as booking a hair appointment or a restaurant. Very few companies are in a position to burn so much engineering resource to try to make AI useful.

So there’s something rather elegant about eschewing the complexity and chaos of an AI engine (over)powering customer engagement tools — and just giving businesses user-friendly building blocks to create their own custom chat flows and channel site visitors through a few key flows.

After all, a small business knows its customers best. So a tool that helps SMEs create an engaging interface themselves, without having to plough resources they likely don’t have into training high maintenance chat AIs which are probably overkill for their needs anyway, seems a good and sensible thing.

Hence Pan talks about “democratizing the power of chatbots”. “Most landbot customers are marketing managers from small and medium companies that want to discover new ways of optimizing their conversion rates,” he tells us, saying that most are using the tool to convert more leads in their home/landing page; add dynamic surveys/forms to their websites; or explain their services — “in a more engaging way while scoring leads and being able to take over conversations when necessary”. (Buddy Nutrition is a Landbot customer, for example).

“We started our chatbot journey using Artificial Intelligence technology but found out that there was a huge gap between user expectations and reality. No matter how well trained our chatbots were, users were constantly dropped off the desired flow, which ended up in 20 different ways of saying “TALK WITH A HUMAN”,” he adds. “But we were in love with the conversational approach and, inspired by some great automation flow builders out there, we decided to give Conversational User Interfaces a try. Some would call them ‘dumb chatbots’.

“The results were amazing: The implementation process was way shorter, the technical background was removed from the equation and, finally, costs dropped too! Now, even companies with 100% focus on AI-based chatbots use Landbot as a truly cost-effective prototyping tool. We ended up creating the easiest and fastest chatbot builder out there. No technical knowledge, just a drag and drop interface and unlimited possibilities.”

Despite the startup-y hyperbole, the team does seem to have hit a sweet spot for their product. In less than a year since launching — via Product Hunt — Landbot has signed up more than 900 customers from 50+ countries, and is seeing a 30-40% MRR Growth MoM, according to Pan. Although they are offering a (branded) freemium version to help stoke the product’s growth, as well as paid tiers.

The $2.2M seed round is led by Nauta Capital, with Bankinter and Encomenda Smart Capital also participating. The plan for the funding is to grow headcount and pay for relocating Landbot’s head office from Valencia to Barcelona — to help with their international talent hunt as they look to triple the size of the team.

They’ll also be using the funding on their own brand marketing, rather than relying on viral growth —   acknowledging that marketing spend is going to be important to stand out in such a crowded space, with thousands of competing solutions also vying for SMEs’ cash.

And, indeed, other conversational UIs out in the wild delivering a similarly chatty experience on the customer end, though Landbot’s claim is it’s differentiating in the market behind the scenes, with easy to use, ‘no coding necessary’ customization tools.

On the competition from, Pan names the likes of Chatfuel and Manychat as “powerful but channel-dependent” rival chatbot builders, while at the more powerful end he points to DialogFlow or IBM Watson but notes they do require technical knowledge, so the market positioning is different.

“Landbot tries to bring chatbots to the average Joe,” he adds. “While still keeping features for developers that demand complex functionalities in their chatbots (they can achieve by configuring webhooks, callbacks, CSS and JS customization).”

He also identifies players in the automated lead generation space — such as Intercom (Operator) and Drift (Drift bot) — saying they are aiming to transform sales and marketing processes “into something more conversational”. “The flow customization possibilities are fewer but the whole product is robust as they cover each stage of the conversion funnel, all the way to customer service,” he adds.

In terms of capabilities, Landbot also rubs up against survey/form offerings like SurveyMonkey and Google Form — or indeed Barcelona-based Typeform, which has raised around $50M since 2012 and bills itself as a platform for “conversational data collection”.

Pan rather delightfully characterizes Typeform as “bringing that conversational essence to the almighty sequences of fields”. Though he argues it’s also more limited “in terms of integrations and real-time human take-over capabilities”, i.e. as a consequence of wrangling those “almighty sequences”. So basically his argument is that Landbot isn’t saddled with Typeform’s form(ulaic) straightjacket. (Though Typeform would probably retort that its conversational platform is flexible.)

Still, where customer engagement is concerned, there’s never going to be one way. Sometimes the straight form will do it, but for another brand or use case something more colloquial might be called for.

Commenting on the seed round in a statement, Jordi Vinas, general partner at Nauta Capital, adds: “Landbot has experienced strong commercial traction and virality over the past months and the team has been able to attract customers from a variety of countries and verticals. We strongly believe in Jiaqi’s ability to continue scaling the business in a capital efficient way.”

Categories: Business News

Sweden’s Engaging Care raises $800,000 for its digital healthcare SaaS

Startup News - 2018, July 19 - 7:51pm

Engaging Care, a Swedish heathtech startup co-founded by Charlotta Tönsgård, who was previously CEO of online doctor app Min Doktor before being asked to step down, has raised $800,000 in “pre-seed” funding to continue building out its digital healthcare SaaS. Backing the burgeoning company are a host of well-established angel investors in the region.

They include Hampus Jakobsson (venture partner at BlueYard Capital and co-founder of TAT, which sold to Blackberry for $150 million), Sophia Bendz (EIR at Atomico and the former Global Marketing Director at Spotify), Erik Byrenius (founder of OnlinePizza, an online food ordering company sold to Delivery Hero) and Neil Murray’s The Nordic Web Ventures.

With the aim of dragging healthcare into the digital age, but in a more patient-friendly and patient-centred way than tradition electronic medical record systems, Engaging Care is developing a SaaS and accompanying apps to bring together patients, healthcare providers and partners to be “smarter and better connected”. Unlike software and digital services that work outside existing healthcare systems, the startup’s wares are billed as being designed to work within them. It is initially targeting people with long-term health conditions.

“There has been tremendous progress made in the healthcare sector over the last decade. New advanced drugs, new methods for surgery and other treatments, but how healthcare workers share important information with the patient and the interaction between caregiver and patient still basically happens the same way it did 50 years ago,” Tönsgård tells me.

“The systems of today are still designed around the doctor – even though we might spend as little as 15 minutes with him or her every year, but hours, days and years alone with our condition. On top of this, most western healthcare systems are struggling financially, with an ageing population, more prevalence of chronic diseases and a shift in expectations from the public, adding to the challenges”.

In order to maintain current levels of service and make room for medical breakthroughs and new treatments that are happening at an increasing pace, Tönsgård argues that individual patients and healthcare providers need to work together in a different way. And that begins with empowering patients to better understand and take greater control of their health conditions and treatment — which is where a platform like Engaging Care can help.

“Our ambition is to become the first truly global healthcare system; supporting us as individuals to be more in control, and to make better decisions about our healthcare and to provide digital tools for healthcare providers to share knowledge and use their resources more efficiently,” she says.

“Our goal is to become the end-users first point of contact, but the clinics/healthcare providers are our customers. Right now we’re targeting specific clinics, but in the end, our platform will support any type of healthcare”.

The first “vertical” Engaging Care is exploring is patients who have gone through an organ transplant. “It might sound like a strange place to start, but it’s actually perfect in many ways,” says Tönsgård. “Both in terms of the possibility to make a difference for the patients and the care teams, but also in terms of a landing pod when going international”.

This has seen the company work with a small number of clinics in Sweden that are performing organ transplants to put patients through a pilot of the software. The first stages of commercial discussions are underway and Tönsgård is hopeful of securing the first customer this Fall, which will coincide with a full launch of the Engaging Care platform. “In parallel, we’re exploring multiple options for which verticals to kick off next,” she adds.

Meanwhile, Murray of The Nordic Web Ventures concedes that Engaging Care’s goal to be the first platform that enables a truly global healthcare system is “incredibly lofty,” but says that if anyone has the “drive, passion, ambition and guts to pull this off then it’s Charlotta and team”.

Categories: Business News

The Accel team is coming to Disrupt Berlin

Startup News - 2018, July 19 - 4:17pm

Every time Accel invests in a startup, it’s an instant positive sign in the startup community. The venture capital firm has a rich history with decades of investments in successful startups. That’s why we’re excited to have four partners at Accel on stage at Disrupt Berlin.

Philippe Botteri, Sonali De Rycker, Luciana Lixandru and Harry Nelis will all relocate their partner meeting to our stage.

Accel is a different VC firm for many reasons. First, while the firm started in Silicon Valley, the team bet early on the European startup scene, back in 2001. With an office in London, the team keeps an eye on the entire continent for investment opportunities.

The firm has invested in Deliveroo, BlaBlaCar, Supercell, Spotify and so many others. With such a good track record, it’s clear that some recent investments are also going to become massive companies — nobody has realized it just yet.

In November, we will have four Accel partners on stage to discuss the firm’s investment thesis, each partner’s current obsessions and their collective thoughts on the startup scene in Europe.

It’s going to be a great way to hear the granularity of a team with strong beliefs. I’m sure they don’t always agree on everything, but somehow they manage to invest together as a firm.

TechCrunch is coming back to Berlin to talk with the best and brightest people in tech from Europe and the rest of the world. In addition to fireside chats and panels, new startups will participate in the Startup Battlefield Europe to win the coveted cup.

Grab your ticket to Disrupt Berlin before August 1st as prices will increase after that. The conference will take place on November 29-30.

Philippe Botteri, Partner, Accel

Philippe Botteri focuses on SaaS, enterprise and marketplace businesses.

Philippe led Accel’s investments in DocuSign (IPO), PeopleDoc, Qubit, Algolia, BlaBlaCar, Doctolib and Zenaton. He also works closely with the team at Fiverr and CrowdStrike. Prior to joining Accel, Philippe was with Bessemer, where he worked with the firm’s SaaS and Ad Tech investments including Cornerstone OnDemand (public), Eloqua (public) and Criteo (public).

Philippe is from Paris and graduated from Ecole Polytechnique, where he is a member of the Entrepreneurship Advisory Board, and Ecole des Mines.

Sonali De Rycker, Partner, Accel

Sonali De Rycker focuses on consumer, software and financial services businesses.

She led Accel’s investments in Avito (acquired by Naspers), Lyst, Spotify (IPO), Wallapop, KupiVIP, Calastone, Catawiki, JobToday, Shift Technology, SilverRail (acquired by Expedia)​, Kry and Soldo. Prior to Accel, Sonali was with Atlas Ventures.

Sonali grew up in Mumbai and graduated from Bryn Mawr College and Harvard Business School.

Luciana Lixandru, Partner, Accel

Luciana Lixandru focuses on consumer internet, software and marketplace businesses.

She helped lead Accel’s investments and ongoing work in UiPath, Deliveroo, Framer, Avito, Catawiki, Vinted and others. She is also an independent director of Showroomprive (public). Prior to Accel, Luciana was with Summit Partners.

Luciana is from Romania and graduated from Georgetown University.

Harry Nelis, Partner, Accel

Harry Nelis focuses on consumer internet, financial services and software companies.

He led Accel’s investments in CHECK24, Funding Circle, KAYAK (IPO; acquired by Priceline), Showroomprive (IPO), WorldRemit, Celonis, Callsign, Instana and others.

Harry started his career as an engineer at Hewlett-Packard before founding the venture-backed software company E-motion.

Harry is from the Netherlands and graduated from Delft University of Technology and Harvard Business School.

Categories: Business News

With eyes on Europe, Open Banking API provider TrueLayer raises $7.5M

Startup News - 2018, July 19 - 4:00pm

TrueLayer, the London startup that’s built a developer platform to make it easy for fintech and other adjacent companies, such as retailers, to access bank APIs — and ride the Open Banking and PSD2 gravy train — has picked up further $7.5 million in funding.

Leading the round is venture capital fund Northzone. It follows a $3 million Series A in June last year, and will be used for European expansion, starting with Germany and France.

The new capital will also be invested in growing the TrueLayer team and to develop new products to help companies and consumers make the most of Open Banking and PSD2, where co-founder Francesco Simoneschi tells me the opportunities are huge, even if they remain largely untapped, thus far.

“I think the first quarters of 2018 have been about working and educating companies on Open Banking and how to build propositions on top of it,” he says. “This has seen a silent yet massive stream of inbound demand for us. To put things in context, we grew 500 percent in terms of the developer community averaging hundreds of companies a month asking how to start using TrueLayer and the services that we enable — from two people in a garage to the largest enterprise”.

Since Open Banking was tentatively launched in the U.K. January, TrueLayer has secured partnerships and integrations with a number of fintech companies including challenger banks Monzo and Starling Bank, along with the likes of Zopa, ClearScore, Canopy, Plum, BitBond, Emma, Anorak, and CreditLadder.

This has happened in despite of a press narrative around a “failed Big Bang kind of uptake” and incumbent banks not cooperating or meeting their minimum statutory requirements in time (which is undeniably true, in some instances). The reality on the ground, however, is quite different, argues Simoneschi.

“Remember that exponential growth often looks sub-linear at the very beginnings,” he says. “Based on the view of the market that we have, contracts signed, POCs and advanced conversations, I can assure you that you will see a wealth of high street banks and retailers, financial institutions, global platforms, marketplaces, loyalty and rewards propositions, crypto exchanges, wallets and fintech applications experimenting and launching Open Banking-based propositions in the next 12 months”.

To that end, TrueLayer offers a single platform/API to connect to 16 major and not so major banks and credit cards in the U.K., using a mixture of official Open Banking APIs, access to private APIs, and, at a push, screen scraping — depending on a developer’s data needs and stomach for the different kinds of official and unofficial access available. As well as account verification, the platform supports KYC processes, and transactional data for things like account aggregation, credit scoring, and risk assessment.

In addition to its developer-friendly ‘universal’ API, TrueLayer is also developing a number of other value-add services that do even more heavy-lifting and negate the need for other fintechs to keep re-inventing the wheel. These include features such as data cleansing, enhanced security and transaction categorisation.

However, Simoneschi says there is a lot more Open Banking goodness to come yet, especially in the payments space.

“We got FCA authorization for both access to data (AISP) and access to payments (PISP). The demand for the latter has been going through the roof in the last few months and we are taking steps to release a Payment API to the general public later this fall,” he tells me.

This means that companies, such as online retailers, will be able to use TrueLayer to connect directly to customers’ bank accounts as a means of taking payment, therefore bypassing traditional debit and credit card charges, which legislators hope will help to break the duopoly of Visa and MasterCard.

On that note, Jeppe Zink, Partner at Northzone, says that the “walled gardens” of financial institutions, such as banks, are being knocked down, and that banking transactions will increasingly take place away from a bank’s main interface. “To enable this to function, you need thousands of banks to deliver transaction data in a single, secure and compliant way,” he says. “This is a massive undertaking which TrueLayer intends to be the centrepiece of”.

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