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A16z doesn’t invest, it manifests

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

Natasha and Danny and Alex and Grace were all here to chat through the week’s biggest tech happenings. In very good Show News™, Chris is back! He’s working on the next iteration of the show, something that you will be able to see starting Very Soon. Get hype!

Today though, we had a delectable dish of dynamic doings, namely news items of the following persuasion:

And that’s our show! We are back early Monday morning for a packed week. So keep your podcast app warm, we’re coming for it.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Creating a prediction machine for the financial markets

By Walter Thompson
Fayze Bouaouid Contributor
Fayze Bouaouid is co-founder and CEO of financial intelligence application Springbox AI. He has a Master's of Science in Banking and Finance and nearly two decades of experience in banking and asset management.

Artificial intelligence and machine-learning technologies have evolved a lot over the past decade and have been useful to many people and businesses, especially in the realm of finance, banking, investment and trading.

In these industries, there are many activities that machines can perform better and faster than humans, such as calculations and financial reporting, as long as the machines are given the complete data.

The AI tools being built by humans today are becoming another level more robust in their ability to predict trends, provide complex analysis, and execute automations faster and cheaper than humans. However, there has not been an AI-powered machine built yet that can trade on its own.

There are many activities that machines can perform better and faster than humans, such as calculations and financial reporting, as long as the machines are given the complete data.

Even if it was possible to train such a system that could replace human judgment, there would still be a margin of error, as well as some things that are only understandable by human beings. Humans are still ultimately responsible for the design of AI-based prediction machines, and progress can only happen with their input.

Data is the backbone of any prediction machine

Building an AI-based prediction machine initially requires an understanding of the problem being solved and the requirements of the user. After that, it’s important to select the machine-learning technique that will be implemented, based on what the machine will do.

There are three techniques: supervised learning (learning from examples), unsupervised learning (learning to identify common patterns), and reinforcement learning (learning based on the concept of gamification).

After the technique is identified, it’s time to implement a machine-learning model. For “time series forecasting” — which involves making predictions about the future — long short-term memory (LSTM) with sequence to sequence (Seq2Seq) models can be used.

LSTM networks are especially suited to making predictions based on a series of data points indexed in time order. Even simple convolutional neural networks, applicable to image and video recognition, or recurrent neural networks, applicable to handwriting and speech recognition, can be used.

Pandemic-era growth and SPACs are helping edtech startups graduate early

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Special purpose acquisition vehicles regained popularity in 2020 as an alternative way to take startups public, and now they are eyeing edtech companies.

So far, Skillsoft has gone public through Churchill Capital, and Nerdy, parent company of Varsity Tutors, did the same through a reverse merger with TPG Pace Tech Opportunities. On the investor side, Edify and Adit EdTech Acquisition are both separate, $200 million SPACs for education companies.

SPACs are not being used to prop up companies that can’t go public through traditional means.

But is there anything specific to SPACs that makes them a better route for edtech companies than a traditional IPO or direct listing? To explore the question, I reached out to Chuck Cohn, CEO of Nerdy, which is currently in the process of being SPACed by TPG, and Susan Wolford, chairperson of Edify Acquisition, a $200 million SPAC for edtech companies.

Nerdy’s business is growing, but the company doesn’t expect to be profitable until 2023 and wants to drive revenues up 31% and 43% from its 2020 and 2021 expectations, respectively. Cohn said the balance sheet looks the way it does because they are heavily investing in product and engineering, and focusing on being well-capitalized.

The SPAC, he said, is an opportunity to accelerate Nerdy’s core business: “It’s less about going into the public markets, and more about that this transaction allows us to take an offensive position and lean into the big opportunities.”

Cohn said they pursued a SPAC because it is a faster route to going public. As vaccines roll out, growth in remote learning will slow, which could hurt growth expectations — especially ones as ambitious as Nerdy’s. For that reason, it’s clear why some edtech companies want to get out to the public markets as soon as possible.

Despite some naysayers, Cohn said SPACs are not being used to prop up companies that can’t go public through traditional means.

“I think that perception was fair a year ago,” he said. “But if you look at companies that have taken this route recently, including OpenDoor, they are very high quality. There’s a fundamental perception change.” He added that “SPACs have been reaching out over the years,” but the timing felt more fortuitous due to TPG’s interest and track record.

On the other side of the table, Wolford said she is currently searching for an edtech company to bring public on behalf of Edify, a $200 million SPAC she has raised. She noted that PIPE instruments, aka private investments in public entities, have helped de-risk SPACs for the general audience. These instruments have been around for decades, but Wolford said they recently became more mainstream to use in SPACs.

Citadel ID raises $3.5M for API-delivered income and employment verification

By Alex Wilhelm

This morning Citadel ID announced a combined $3.5 million raise for its income and employment verification service. The startup provides an API to customer companies, allowing them to rapidly verify details of consumer employment.

The capital came from a blend of venture firms and angels. On the firm side, Abstract and Soma VC were in there, along with ChapterOne. Brianne Kimmel put capital in as well, according to the startup. And denizens with work histories at companies like Zynga (Mark Pincus), Stripe (Lachy Groom), Carta (Henry Ward), and others also put cash into the fundraise.

Citadel was founded back in June of 2020, before raising capital, snagging its first customer, and shipping its product all inside of the same year.

The idea for Citadel ID came when co-founder Kirill Klokov worked at Carta, the cap-table-as-a-service startup that recently built an exchange for the trading of private stock. Klokov discovered while working on the tech side of the company how hard it was to verify certain data, like employment and income and identity.

As Carta deals with money, stock, and the collection and distribution of both, you can imagine why having having a quick way to verify who worked where, and since when, mattered to the company. But Klokov came to realize that there wasn’t a good solution in the market for what Carta needed, sans building integrations to a host of payroll managers by hand and dealing with lots of data with varying taxonomies. That or using an in-the-market product, like Equifax’s The Work Number, which the founder described as expensive and offering relatively low coverage.

To fill the market void Klokov helped found Citadel ID, quickly building integrations into payrolls managers where there were hooks for code, and working around older login systems when needed. Citadel ID’s service allows regular folks to provide access to their employment data to others, allowing for the verification of their income (a rental group, perhaps), or employment (Carta, perhaps) quickly.

Per the startup the market demand for such verifications is in the hundreds of millions every year in the United States. So, Citadel should have plenty of market space to grow into. Citadel ID has around 20 customers today, it told TechCrunch, and charges on a per verification basis.

Finally, while Citadel also offers data via its website and not merely through its API, the startup still fits inside the growing number of startups we’ve seen in recent quarters foregoing traditional SaaS, and instead offering their products via a developer hook (sometimes referred to as a ‘headless’ approach). API-delivered startups are not new, after all Twilio went public years ago. But their model of product delivery feels like its gaining momentum over managed software offerings.

Let’s see how quickly Citadel ID can scale before it raises its Series A.

With Ironspring Ventures, Texas gets a $61 million new fund focused on ‘industrial’ technologies

By Jonathan Shieber

From the chemical refineries that line the Gulf Coast to oilfields of West Texas, heavy industry has always been a big part of the economy in the Lone Star State.

Now, as venture capital moves in to the state as part of an exodus from California, a new fund is combining Texas’ industrial past with its high technology future.

That fund is Ironspring Ventures, which has closed its first investment vehicle with $61 million nearly two years after it launched its fundraising efforts.

The fruit of a partnership between Adam Bridgman and Peter J. Holt, the co-founders of an earlier investment vehicle called Holt Ventures, and Ty Findley, a former investor at G.E. Ventures and the Pritzker Group, the firm’s mission is to “accelerate digital adoption across legacy heavy industries,” according to Bridgman.

Each member of the Ironspring team has a long history with industrial technologies and deep roots in the Texas economy. Findley, a managing partner, grew up “in the middle of nowhere in East Texas” but comes from a family of entrepreneurs who built businesses along the Texas and Louisiana border.

“I joined up with our other co-founder and managing partner, Peter Holt,” said Bridgman. “That was really step one for us pursuing this broader mission of investing in legacy industry at the early stage of digital innovation. We were fortunate to find a strong cultural alignment and rare experience with Ty [Findley]. After co-investing over a period of time we got to know each other very well. We joined forces and it’s been a nice journey over the last year-and-a-half of formally launching and formally closing the fund in December.”

The first deal that the three men invested in together was Augmentir, a service providing information and support for remote workers. “Everything comes back to these words ‘digital industrial’ for us,” said Findley. “There’s this massive gap where people forget that almost the majority of GDP in this country is manufacturing.”

So far, Ironspring has invested in four portfolio companies, Mercado, which is developing a service to improve the import process; Icon Build, a company developing 3-D printing tools and technologies for the building industry;  FastRadius, which brings design tools and services for prototyping and industrial design; and GoContractor, a safety and compliance management service.

The firm’s average check size is around $2.5 million and investments will range from $1 million on the low end to $4 million on the high end, according to the firm’s partners. That means looking for what the firm called “post-seed” deals.

And the firm is looking for technology that is transforming how businesses design products, build them, and provide services and operate across the wide range of industrial output.

“We’re trying to organize around those themes,” said Bridgman. 

From dorm rooms to board rooms: How universities are promoting entrepreneurship

By Brian Heater

Earlier this year, 15 top U.S. universities joined forces to launch a one-stop shop where corporations and startups can discover and license patents.

Working in concert, Brown, Caltech, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, the University of Illinois, Michigan, Northwestern, Penn, Princeton, SUNY Binghamton, UC Berkeley, UCLA, the University of Southern California and Yale formed The University Technology Licensing Program LLC (UTLP)  to create a centralized pool of licensable IP.

The UTLP arrives as more higher education institutions are beefing up their investment in the entrepreneurial pipeline to help more students launch startups after graduation. In some instances, schools serve as accelerators, providing students with resources and helping them connect with VCs to find seed funding.

To get a better look at the new program and more insight into the university-to-startup pipeline, we spoke to:


The UTLP initiative seems to be more focused on licensing IP to existing companies, rather than accelerating university startups.

Orin Herskowitz: The UTLP effort is really much more about licensing to the somewhat broken interface between universities and very large companies in the tech space when it comes to licensing intellectual property. But I know USC and Columbia and many of our peers, especially over the last three to seven years, have pivoted in a massive way to helping our faculty students fulfill their entrepreneurial dreams and launch startups around this exciting university technology.

The word “broken” jumped out at me. Historically, what has the problem been?

Orin Herskowitz: Universities have traditionally been a source of amazing, life-saving and life-improving inventions, for decades. There’s been a ton of new drugs and medical devices, cybersecurity improvements, and search engines, like Google, that have come out of universities over the years, that were federally funded and developed in the labs, and then licensed to either a startup or the industry. And that’s been great. At least over the last couple of decades, that interface has worked really, really well in some fields, but less well in others. So, in the life sciences, in energy, in advanced materials, in those industries, a lot of the time, these innovations that end up having a huge impact on society are based really on one or two or three core eureka moments. There’s like one or two patents that underlie an enormous new cancer drug, for instance.

In the tech space though, it’s a very different dynamic because, a lot of the time, these inventions are incredibly important and they do launch a whole new generation of products and services, but the problem is that a new device, like an iPhone, or a piece of software, might rely on dozens or even hundreds of innovations from across many different universities, as opposed to just one or two.

Obviously not every breakthrough necessitates the launch of a startup. I assume that the vast majority of these things that are coming would make the most sense to work with existing companies.

Jennifer Dyer: We’ve all had this renewed focus on innovation within the university and really helping our students and faculty that want to start companies, launch those companies. If you look at the space, helping educate our students that launching a company in a high-tech space may mean that they have to go out and acquire 100 different licenses, so maybe it doesn’t make sense. We’re going to be doing nonexclusive licensing, and it doesn’t preclude anyone from moving forward with this technology. This is probably the first pool for nonstandard essential patents in the high-tech space, which makes it somewhat unique. Because if you look back, most of the pools have been around standard essential patents.

The question of exclusivity is an interesting one. You wouldn’t grant exclusive rights for the right fee?

Private equity firm Marlin snatches up e-commerce optimization platform Lengow

By Romain Dillet

French startup Lengow has a new landlord as Marlin Equity Partners has acquired a majority stake in the company. Lengow operates a softare-as-a-service platform to optimize e-commerce listings. Terms of the deal are undisclosed.

In particular, many sellers now list their items on multiple e-commerce websites at once. For instance, a company could have its own e-commerce website and also sell products on Amazon, eBay, etc. And you may have noticed the same third-party sellers on different marketplaces.

Manually listing items across multiple e-commerce platforms would be extremely tedious. Behind the scenes, Lengow tries to automate as many steps as possible. First, you can import your products by connecting Lengow with your product information management system (PIM) or your e-commerce back end — it can run on Akeneo, Shopify, Magento, WooCommerce, etc.

You can then publish your products on multiple sales channels at once. It can be a marketplace, a price comparison website, a social network or an adtech platform. Examples include Amazon, Google Shopping, Criteo, Instagram, etc.

Lengow also helps you track orders, create rules when you’re running low on stock and manage your advertising strategy. Essentially, it’s the glue that makes all the moving parts of e-commerce stick together. There are 4,600 merchants using Lengow globally.

Marlin describes the deal as a growth investment. The firm plans to increase the value of Lengow in the coming years as it hasn’t reached its full potential yet. “We are looking forward to leveraging our operational and financial resources to support Lengow’s growth trajectory and continued international expansion,” Marlin principal Roland Pezzutto said in a statement.

Calling Danish VCs: Be featured in The Great TechCrunch Survey of European VC

By Mike Butcher

TechCrunch is embarking on a major project to survey the venture capital investors of Europe, and their cities.

Our survey of VCs in Copenhagen and Denmark will capture how the country is faring, and what changes are being wrought amongst investors by the coronavirus pandemic.

We’d like to know how Denmark’s startup scene is evolving, how the tech sector is being impacted by COVID-19 and, generally, how your thinking will evolve from here.

Our survey will only be about investors, and only the contributions of VC investors will be included. More than one partner is welcome to fill out the survey. (Please note, if you have filled out the survey already, there is no need to do it again).

The shortlist of questions will require only brief responses, but the more you can add, the better.

You can fill out the survey here.

Obviously, investors who contribute will be featured in the final surveys, with links to their companies and profiles.

What kinds of things do we want to know? Questions include: Which trends are you most excited by? What startup do you wish someone would create? Where are the overlooked opportunities? What are you looking for in your next investment, in general? How is your local ecosystem going? And how has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy?

This survey is part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing to help founders find the right investors.

For example, here is the recent survey of London.

You are not in Denmark, but would like to take part? That’s fine! Any European VC investor can STILL fill out the survey, as we probably will be putting a call out to your country next anyway! And we will use the data for future surveys on vertical topics.

The survey is covering almost every country on in the Union for the Mediterranean, so just look for your country and city on the survey and please participate (if you’re a venture capital investor).

Thank you for participating. If you have questions you can email mike@techcrunch.com

(Please note: Filling out the survey is not a guarantee of inclusion in the final published piece.)

Investors’ SPAC push could revamp the private market money game

By Alex Wilhelm

Since last year, we’ve been tracking the growing list of capitalists who got into the SPAC game. You can read an interview we conducted with Amish Jani, the co-founder of FirstMark Capital, about his SPAC here. And if you need a refresher on all things SPAC, we have that for you as well.

This morning, I want to better understand the trend by parsing a few new venture capitalist SPACs. We’ll examine Lerer Hippeau Acquisition Corp. and Khosla Ventures Acquisition Co. I, II and III. The SPACs are, somewhat obviously, associated with New York-based Lerer Hippeau and Menlo Park’s Khosla Ventures. And all four dropped formal S-1 filings last week.


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


Today’s topic may sound dry, but it really does matter. As we’ve reported, Lux Capital is in on the SPAC wager, along with Ribbit and, of course, SoftBank. Adding our latest names to the mix and you have to wonder if every VC worth a damn in the future will have their own raft of SPAC offerings.

In that way, as some late-stage venture capital funds invest earlier — and now later — full-service VC outfits will offer first-check to final liquidity, will such a full-stack venture outfit be able to win more deals than a group offering a limited set of financing options? If so, the recent venture capital SPAC wave could become more of a rising tide in time, to torture a metaphor.

Regardless, let’s quickly parse what Khosla and Lerer Hippeau are telling public investors about why they will be great SPACers before working our way backwards to what the resulting pitch must be to startups themselves.

Full-stack capital

The Lerer Hippeau SPAC is the most interesting of the two firms’ combined four offerings, so we’ll start there. That isn’t to diss Khosla, but the Lerer Hippeau blank-check has some explicit wording I want to highlight.

From the Lerer Hippeau Acquisition Corp. S-1 filing, read the following (bolding: TechCrunch):

As our seed portfolio matured over the last decade, we added a growth strategy to our platform through our select funds. This capital enables us to continue providing financial support to our top performing early stage companies as they scale, and to selectively make new investments in later stage companies in the Lerer Hippeau network. With our portfolio now maturing to the stage at which many are considering the public markets, we view SPACs as a natural next step in the evolution of our platform.

After writing that it has had four portfolio companies “publicly announced business combination agreements with SPACs” and noting that it expects more of the same, Lerer Hippeau added that it considers its “expansion into the SPAC market as a highly complementary element of our strategy to support founders throughout their entrepreneurial journeys.”

Equity Monday: The electric car boom, tech regulation and some sad American VC data

By Alex Wilhelm

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here — and be sure to check out our riff on whether SoftBank has another 20 DoorDashes waiting in the wings.

This morning was a more relaxed Monday than I can recall in months, thanks to a holiday in many parts of the world. But that didn’t stop us from parsing the news:

And, finally, read this if you want to feel let down by American VCs. (American media, to be clear, has similar issues.)

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

The only take about the future of media is that media is the future

By Alex Wilhelm

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture-capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week we — Natasha and Danny and Alex and Grace — had more than a little to noodle over, but not so much that we blocked out a second episode. We try to stick to our current format, but, may do more shows in the future. Have a thought about that? equitypod@techcrunch.com is your friend and we are listening.

Now! We took a broad approach this week, so there is a little of something for everything down below. Enjoy!

Like we said, it’s a lot, but all of it worth getting into before the weekend. Hugs from the team, we are back early Monday.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Soci raises $80M for its localized marketing platform

By Anthony Ha

Soci, a startup focused on what it calls “localized marketing,” is announcing that it has raised $80 million in Series D funding.

National and global companies like Ace Hardware, Anytime Fitness, The Hertz Corporation and Nekter Juice Bar use Soci (pronounced soh-shee) to coordinate individual stores as they promote themselves through search, social media, review platforms and ad campaigns. Soci said that in 2020, it brought on more than 100 new customers, representing nearly 30,000 new locations.

Co-founder and CEO Afif Khoury told me that the pandemic was a crucial moment for the platform, with so many businesses “scrambling to find a real solution to connect with local audiences.”

One of the key advantages to Soci’s approach, Khoury said, is to allow the national marketing team to share content and assets so that each location stays true to the “national corporate personality,” while also allowing each location to express  a “local personality.” During the pandemic, businesses could share basic information about “who’s open, who’s not” while also “commiserating and expressing the humanity that’s often missing element from marketing nationally.”

“The result there was businesses that had to close, when they had their grand reopenings, people wanted to support that business,” he said. “It created a sort of bond that hopefully lasts forever.”

Khoury also emphasized that Soci has built a comprehensive platform that businesses can use to manage all their localized marketing, because “nobody wants to have seven different logins to seven different systems, especially at the local level.”

The new funding, he said, will allow Soci to make the platform even more comprehensive, both through acquisitions and integrations: “We want to connect into the CRM, the point-of-sale, the rewards program and take all that data and marry that to our search, social, reviews data to start to build a profile on a customer.”

Soci has now raised a total of $110 million. The Series D was led by JMI Equity, with participation from Ankona Capital, Seismic CEO Doug Winter and Khoury himself.

“All signs point to an equally difficult first few months of this year for restaurants and other businesses dependent on their communities,” said JMI’s Suken Vakil in a statement. “This means there will be a continued need for localized marketing campaigns that align with national brand values but also provide for community-specific messaging. SOCi’s multi-location functionality positions it as a market leader that currently stands far beyond its competitors as the must-have platform solution for multi-location franchises/brands.”

Israel’s startup ecosystem powers ahead, amid a year of change

By Mike Butcher

Released in 2011 “Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle” was a book that laid claim to the idea that Israel was an unusual type of country. It had produced and was poised to produce, an enormous number of technology startups, given its relatively small size. The moniker became so ubiquitous, both at home and abroad, that “Israel Startup Nation” is now the name of the country’s professional cycling team.

But it’s been hard to argue against this position in the last ten years, as the country powered ahead, famously producing ground-breaking startups like Waze, which was eventually picked up by Google for over $1 billion in 2013. Waze’s 100 employees received about $1.2 million on average, the largest payout to employees in Israeli high tech at the time, and the exit created a pool of new entrepreneurs and angel investors ever since.

Israel’s heady mix of questioning culture, tradition of national military service, higher education, the widespread use of English, appetite for risk and team spirit makes for a fertile place for fast-moving companies to appear.

And while Israel doesn’t have a Silicon Valley, it named its high-tech cluster “Silicon Wadi” (‘wadi’ means dry desert river bed in Arabic and colloquial Hebrew).

Much of Israel’s high-tech industry has emerged from former members of the country’s elite military intelligence units such as the Unit 8200 Intelligence division. From age 13 Israel’s students are exposed to advanced computing studies, and the cultural push to go into tech is strong. Traditional professions attract low salaries compared to software professionals.

Israel’s startups industry began emerging in the late 19080s and early 1990s. A significant event came with acquisitor by AOL of the the ICQ messaging system developed by Mirabilis. The Yozma Programme (Hebrew for “initiative”) from the government, in 1993, was seminal: It offered attractive tax incentives to foreign VCs in Israel and promised to double any investment with funds from the government. This came decades ahead of most western governments.

It wasn’t long before venture capital firms started up and major tech companies like Microsoft, Google and Samsung have R&D centers and accelerators located in the country.

So how are they doing?

At the start of 2020, Israeli startups and technology companies were looking back on a good 2019. Over the last decade, startup funding for Israeli entrepreneurs had increased by 400%. In 2019 there was a 30% increase in startup funding and a 102% increase in M&A activity. The country was experiencing a 6-year upward funding trend. And in 2019 Bay Area investors put $1.4 billion into Israeli companies.

By the end of last year, the annual Israeli Tech Review 2020 showed that Israeli tech firms had raised a record $9.93 billion in 2020, up 27% year on year, in 578 transactions – but M&A deals had plunged.

Israeli startups closed out December 2020 by raising $768 million in funding. In December 2018 that figure was $230 million, in 2019 it was just under $200 million.

Late-stage companies drew in $8.33 billion, from $6.51 billion in 2019, and there were 20 deals over $100 million totaling $3.26 billion, compared to 18 totaling $2.62 billion in 2019.

Top IPOs among startups were Lemonade, an AI-based insurance firm, on the New York Stock Exchange; and life sciences firm Nanox which raised $165 million on the Nasdaq.

The winners in 2020 were cybersecurity, fintech and internet of things, with food tech cooing on strong. But while the country has become famous for its cybersecurity startups, AI now accounts for nearly half of all investments into Israeli startups. That said, every sector is experiencing growth. Investors are also now favoring companies that speak to the Covid-era, such as cybersecurity, ecommerce and remote technologies for work and healthcare.

There are currently over 30 tech companies in Israel that are valued over $1 Billion. And four startups passed the $1 billion valuation just last year: mobile game developer Moon Active; Cato Networks, a cloud-based enterprise security platform; Ride-hailing app developer Gett got $100 million ahead of its rumored IPO; and behavioral biometrics startup BioCatch.

And there was a reminder that Israel can produce truly ‘magical’ tech: Tel Aviv battery storage firm StorDot raised money from Samsung Ventures and Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich for its battery which can fully charge a motor scooter in five minutes.

Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic put a break on mergers and acquisitions in 2020, as the world economy closed down.

M&A was just $7.8 billion in 93 deals, compared to over $14.2 billion in 143 M&A deals in 2019. RestAR was acquired by American giant Unity; CloudEssence was acquired by a U.S. cyber company; and Kenshoo acquired Signals Analytics.

And in 2020, Israeli companies made 121 funding deals on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and global capital markets, raising a total of $6.55 billion, compared to $1.95 billion raised in capital markets in Israel and abroad in 2019, as IPOs became an attractive exit alternative.

However, early-round investments (Seed + A Rounds) slowed due to pandemic uncertainty, but picked-up again towards the end of the year. As in other countries in ‘Covid 2020’, VC tended to focus on existing portfolio companies.

Covid brought unexpected upsides: Israeli startups, usually facing longs flight to Europe or the US to raise larger rounds of funding, suddenly found that Zoom was bringing investors to them.

Israeli startups adapted extremely well in the Covid era and that doesn’t look like changing. Startup Snapshot found that 55% startups profiled had changed (or considered changing) their product due to Covid-19. Meanwhile, remote-working – which comes naturally to Israeli entrepreneurs – is ‘flattening’ the world, giving a great advantage to normally distant startup ecosystems like Israel’s.

Via Transportation raised $400 million in Q1. Next Insurance raised $250 million in Q3. Seven exit transactions with over the $500 million mark happened in Q1–Q3/2020, compared to 10 for all of 2019. These included Checkmarx for $1.1 billion and Moovit, also for a billion.

There are three main hubs for the Israeli tech scene, in order of size: Tel Aviv, Herzliya and Jerusalem.

Jerusalem’s economy and therefore startup scene suffered after the second Intifada (the Palestinian uprising that began in late September 2000 and ended around 2005). But today the city is far more stable, and is therefore attracting an increasing number of startups. And let’s not forget visual recognition company Mobileye, now worth $9.11 billion (£7 billion), came from Jerusalem.

Israel’s government is very supportive of it’s high-tech economy. When it noticed seed-stage startups were flagging, the Israel Innovation Authority (IIA) announced the launch of a new funding program to help seed-stage and early-stage startups, earmarking NIS 80 million ($25 million) for the project.

This will offer participating companies grants worth 40 percent of an investment round up to $1.1 million and 50 percent of a total investment round for startups in the country or whose founders come from under-represented communities – Arab-Israeli, ultra-Orthodox, and women – in the high-tech industry.

Investments in Israeli seed-stage startups decreased both absolutely and as a percentage of total investments in Israeli startups (to 6% from 11%). However, the decline may also be a function of large tech firms setting up incubation hubs to cut up and absorb talent.

Another notable aspect of Israel’s startups scene is its, sometimes halting, attempt to engage with its Arab Israeli population. Arab Israelis account for 20% of Israel’s population but are hugely underrepresented in the tech sector. The Hybrid Programme is designed to address this disparity.

It, and others like it, this are a reminder that Israel is geographically in the Middle East. Since the recent normalization pact between Israel and the UAE, relations with Arab states have begun to thaw. Indeed, Over 50,000 Israelis have visited the United Arab Emirates since the agreement.

In late November, Dubai-based DIFC FinTech Hive—the biggest financial innovation hub in the Middle East—signed a milestone agreement with Israel’s Fintech-Aviv. Both entities will now work together to facilitate the cross-border exchange of knowledge and business between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

Perhaps it’s a sign that Israel is becoming more at ease with its place in the region? Certainly, both Israel’s tech scene and the Arab world’s is set to benefit from these more cordial relations.

Our Israel survey is here.

Eight Roads Ventures Europe appoints Lucile Cornet to Partner

By Mike Butcher

Lucile Cornet has been appointed Partner with Eight Roads Ventures Europe, a firm focusing on startups in Europe and Israel. Cornet is its first female Partner. Eight Roads is backed by Fidelity and has over $6 billion assets under management globally.

Cornet will be focusing on the software and fintech sectors and previously led a number of investments for the firm, having risen from Associate to Partner within five years. It’s an out of the ordinary career trajectory when VC is notorious for having a ‘no succession’ culture, unless partners effectively buy into funds.

Cornet commented: “I am hugely optimistic about what is to come for European technology entrepreneurs. We are seeing more and more amazing founders and innovative businesses across the whole European region with ambitions and abilities to become global champions, and I look forward to helping them scale up.”

Speaking with TechCrunch, Cornet added: “I feel so, so fortunate because I think we’ve been living during a once in a lifetime transformation in general in tech and also in Europe. To build some of those companies, and just be part of the ecosystem has been fantastic. I know how much more exciting things are going to be in the next couple of years.”

Cornet previously led investments into Spendesk, the Paris-based spend management platform; Thinksurance, the Frankfurt-based B2B insurtech; and Compte-Nickel, one of the first European neobanks which was successfully acquired by BNP Paribas in 2017. She also sits on the boards of VIU Eyewear, OTA Insight and Fuse Universal.

France-born Cornet’s previous career includes investment banking, Summit Partners, and she joined Eight Roads Ventures in 2015. She was a ‘rising star’ at the GP Bullhound Investor of the Year Awards 2020.

Commenting, Davor Hebel, managing partner at Eight Roads Ventures Europe, said: “We are delighted with Lucile’s success so far at Eight Roads. She has made a huge impact in Europe and globally since joining the firm. She has a tremendous work ethic and drive… identifying the best European companies and helping them scale into global winners. Her promotion also speaks to our desire to continue to develop our best investment talent and promote from within.”

Speaking to me in an interview Hebel added: “We always believed in a slightly different approach and we say when we hire people, even from the start, we want them to have judgment, and we want them to have that presence when they meet entrepreneurs. So it was always part of the model for us to say, we might not hire many people, but we really want them to have the potential to grow and stay with us and have the path and the potential to do so.”

In 2020, Eight Roads Ventures Europe invested in Cazoo, Otrium, Spendesk, Odaseva and most recently Tibber, completed eight follow-on investments and exited Rimilia. The firm also saw its portfolio company AppsFlyer reach a $2 billion valuation.

Citrix is acquiring Wrike from Vista for $2.25B

By Ron Miller

Citrix announced today that it plans to acquire Wrike, a SaaS project management platform, from Vista Equity Partners for $2.25 billion. Vista bought the company just two years ago.

Citrix, which is best known for its digital workspaces, sees this as a good match, especially at a time where employees have been forced to work from home because of the pandemic. By combining the two companies, it produces a powerful combination, one that didn’t escape Citrix CEO and president David Henshall

“Together, Citrix and Wrike will deliver the solutions needed to power a cloud-delivered digital workspace experience that enables teams to securely access the resources and tools they need to collaborate and get work done in the most efficient and effective way possible across any channel, device or location,” Henshall said in a statement.

Andrew Filev, founder and CEO at Wrike, who has managed the company through these multiple changes and remains at the helm, believes his company has landed in a good spot with the Citrix purchase.

“First, as part of the Citrix family we will be able to scale our product and accelerate our roadmap to deliver capabilities that will help our customers get more from their Wrike investment. We have always listened to our customers and have built our product based on their feedback — now we will be able to do more of that, faster.,” Filev wrote in a company blog post announcing the deal, stating a typical argument from CEOs of acquired companies.

The startup reports $140 million ARR, growing at 30% annually, so that comes out to approximately 16x its present-day revenue, which is the price companies are generally paying for acquisitions these days. However, as Wrike expects to reach $180 million to $190 million in ARR this year, the company’s sale price could look like a bargain in a few years’ time if the projections come to pass.

The price was not revealed in the 2018 sale, but it surely feels like a big win for Vista. Consider that Wrike has previously raised just $26 million.

Equity Tuesday: Everyone’s raising money, and Wrike exits yet again

By Alex Wilhelm

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday Tuesday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here — and make sure to check out last week’s two episodes, covering all the news sans e-commerce, and then all the e-commerce news.

We’re here on a Tuesday due to an American holiday, but that short break did not mean that the world’s news volume slowed down in the slightest. Here’s the rundown:

And that’s that for today, we are back in short order on Thursday afternoon!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

K Health expands into virtual childcare and raises $132 million at a $1.5 billion valuation

By Jonathan Shieber

K Health, the virtual healthcare provider that uses machine learning to lower the cost of care by providing the bulk of the company’s health assessments, is launching new tools for childcare on the heels of raising cash that values the company at $1.5 billion.

The $132 million round raised in December will help the company expand and help pay for upgrades including an integration with most electronic health records — an integration that’s expected by the second quarter.

Throughout 2020 K Health has leveraged its position operating at the intersection of machine learning and consumer healthcare to raised $222 million in a single year.

This appetite from investors shows how large the opportunity is in consumer healthcare as companies look to use technology to make care more affordable.

For K Health, that means a monthly subscription to its service of $9 for unlimited access to the service and physicians on the platform, as well as a $19 per-month virtual mental health offering and a $19 fee for a one-time urgent care consultation.

To patients and investors the pitch is that the data K Health has managed to acquire through partnerships with organizations like the Israel health maintenance organization Maccabi Healthcare Services, which gave up decades of anonymized data on patients and health outcomes to train K Health’s predictive algorithm, can assess patients and aid the in diagnoses for the company’s doctors.

In theory that means the company’s service essentially acts as a virtual primary care physician, holding a wealth of patient information that, when taken together, might be able to spot underlying medical conditions faster or provide a more holistic view into patient care.

For pharmaceutical companies that could mean insights into population health that could be potentially profitable avenues for drug discovery.

In practice, patients get what they pay for.

The company’s mental health offering uses medical doctors who are not licensed psychiatrists to perform their evaluations and assessments, according to one provider on the platform, which can lead to interactions with untrained physicians that can cause more harm than good.

While company chief executive Allon Bloch is likely correct in his assessment that most services can be performed remotely (Bloch puts the figure at 90%), they should be performed remotely by professionals who have the necessary training.

There are limits to how much heavy lifting an algorithm or a generalist should do when it comes to healthcare, and it appears that K Health wants to push those limits.

“Drug referrals, acute issues, prevention issues, most of those can be done remotely,” Bloch said. “There’s an opportunity to do much better and potentially cheaper. 

K Health has already seen hundreds of thousands of patients either through its urgent care offering or its subscription service and generated tens of millions in revenue in 2020, according to Bloch. He declined to disclose how many patients used the urgent care service vs. the monthly subscription offering.

Telemedicine companies, like other companies providing services remotely, have thrived during the pandemic. Teladoc and Amwell, two of the early pioneers in virtual medicine have seen their share prices soar. Companies like Hims, that provide prescriptions for elective conditions that aren’t necessarily covered by health, special purpose acquisition companies at valuations of $1.6 billion.

Backing K Health are a group of investors led by GGV Capital and Valor Equity Partners. Kaiser Permanente’s pension fund and the investment offices of the owners of 3G Capital (the Brazilian investment firm that owns Burger King and Kraft Heinz), along with 14W, Max Ventures, Pico Partners, Marcy Venture Partners, Primary Venture Partners and BoxGroup, also participated in the round. 

Organizations working with the company include Maccabi Healthcare; the Mayo Clinic, which is investigating virtual care models with the company; and Anthem, which has white labeled the K Health service and provides it to some of the insurer’s millions of members.

Calling Bucharest VCs: Be featured in The Great TechCrunch Survey of European VC

By Mike Butcher

TechCrunch is embarking on a major project to survey the venture capital investors of Europe, and their cities.

Our <a href=”https://forms.gle/k4Ji2Ch7zdrn7o2p6”>survey of VCs in Bucharest and Romania will capture how the country is faring, and what changes are being wrought amongst investors by the coronavirus pandemic.

We’d like to know how Romania’s startup scene is evolving, how the tech sector is being impacted by COVID-19, and, generally, how your thinking will evolve from here.

Our survey will only be about investors, and only the contributions of VC investors will be included. More than one partner is welcome to fill out the survey. (Please note, if you have filled the survey out already, there is no need to do it again).

The shortlist of questions will require only brief responses, but the more you can add, the better.

You can fill out the survey here.

The deadline is January 22, 2021.

Obviously, investors who contribute will be featured in the final surveys, with links to their companies and profiles.

What kinds of things do we want to know? Questions include: Which trends are you most excited by? What startup do you wish someone would create? Where are the overlooked opportunities? What are you looking for in your next investment, in general? How is your local ecosystem going? And how has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy?

This survey is part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing to help founders find the right investors.

https://techcrunch.com/extra-crunch/investor-surveys/

For example, here is the recent survey of London.

You are not in Romania, but would like to take part? That’s fine! Any European VC investor can STILL fill out the survey, as we probably will be putting a call out to your country next anyway! And we will use the data for future surveys on vertical topics.

The survey is covering almost every country on in the Union for the Mediterranean, so just look for your country and city on the survey and please participate (if you’re a venture capital investor).

Thank you for participating. If you have questions you can email mike@techcrunch.com

(Please note: Filling out the survey is not a guarantee of inclusion in the final published piece).

Checkout wants to be Rapyd and Fast

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture-capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. We’re back on this lovely Saturday with a bonus episode!

Again!

There is enough going on that to avoid failing to bring you stuff that we think matters, we are back yet again for more. This time around we are not talking Roblox, we’re talking about ecommerce, and a number of rounds — big and small — that have been raised in the space. Honest question: do y’all plan to release news on the same week? Are trends a social construct?

From Natasha, Grace, Danny, and your humble servant, here’s your run-down:

  • Webflow raised $140 million in a round that it says it did not need. This is not a new thing. Some startups are doing well, and don’t burn much. So investors offer them more at a nice price. In this case $2.1 billion. (Webflow does no-code
  • Checkout.com raised $450 million. The rich really do get richer. In this case the founders of Checkout.com, whose company is now worth around $15 billion Checkout.com does, you guessed, online checkout work. Which as Danny explains is complicated and critical.
  • We also talked about this Bolt round, for context.
  • And sticking to the ecommerce theme, Rapyd raised $300 million at around a $2.5 billion valuation. There is infinte money available for late-stage fintech.
  • Early stage as well, it turns out, with Tradeswell raising $15.5 million to help businesses improve their net margins.
  • Finally, ending with a chat on infrastructure, Nacelle closed an $18 million Series A. 

And now we’re going back to bed.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Extra Crunch roundup: Antitrust jitters, SPAC odyssey, white-hot IPOs, more

By Walter Thompson

Some time ago, I gave up on the idea of finding a thread that connects each story in the weekly Extra Crunch roundup; there are no unified theories of technology news.

The stories that left the deepest impression were related to two news pegs that dominated the week — Visa and Plaid calling off their $5.3 billion acquisition agreement, and sizzling-hot IPOs for Affirm and Poshmark.

Watching Plaid and Visa sing “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” in harmony after the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit to block their deal wasn’t shocking. But I was surprised to find myself editing an interview Alex Wilhelm conducted with Plaid CEO Zach Perret the next day in which the executive said growing the company on its own is “once again” the correct strategy.


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In an analysis for Extra Crunch, Managing Editor Danny Crichton suggested that federal regulators’ new interest in antitrust enforcement will affect valuations going forward. For example, Procter & Gamble and women’s beauty D2C brand Billie also called off their planned merger last week after the Federal Trade Commission raised objections in December.

Given the FTC’s moves last year to prevent Billie and Harry’s from being acquired, “it seems clear that U.S. antitrust authorities want broad competition for consumers in household goods,” Danny concluded, and I suspect that applies to Plaid as well.

In December, C3.ai, Doordash and Airbnb burst into the public markets to much acclaim. This week, used clothing marketplace Poshmark saw a 140% pop in its first day of trading and consumer-financing company Affirm “priced its IPO above its raised range at $49 per share,” reported Alex.

In a post titled “A theory about the current IPO market”, he identified eight key ingredients for brewing a debut with a big first-day pop, which includes “exist in a climate of near-zero interest rates” and “keep companies private longer.” Truly, words to live by!

Come back next week for more coverage of the public markets in The Exchange, an interview with Bustle CEO Bryan Goldberg where he shares his plans for taking the company public, a comprehensive post that will unpack the regulatory hurdles facing D2C consumer brands, and much more.

If you live in the U.S., enjoy your MLK Day holiday weekend, and wherever you are: Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

I'm taking the credit/blame for this headline https://t.co/2KYLsTxeHq

— Walter Thompson (@YourProtagonist) January 12, 2021

 

Rapid growth in 2020 reveals OKR software market’s untapped potential

After spending much of the week covering 2021’s frothy IPO market, Alex Wilhelm devoted this morning’s column to studying the OKR-focused software sector.

Measuring objectives and key results are core to every enterprise, perhaps more so these days since knowledge workers began working remotely in greater numbers last year.

A sign of the times: This week, enterprise orchestration SaaS platform Gtmhub announced that it raised a $30 million Series B.

To get a sense of how large the TAM is for OKR, Alex reached out to several companies and asked them to share new and historical growth metrics:

  • Gthmhub
  • Perdoo
  • WorkBoard
  • Ally.io
  • Koan
  • WeekDone

“Some OKR-focused startups didn’t get back to us, and some leaders wanted to share the best stuff off the record, which we grant at times for candor amongst startup executives,” he wrote.

5 consumer hardware VCs share their 2021 investment strategies

For our latest investor survey, Matt Burns interviewed five VCs who actively fund consumer electronics startups:

  • Hans Tung, managing partner, GGV Capital
  • Dayna Grayson, co-founder and general partner, Construct Capital
  • Cyril Ebersweiler, general partner, SOSV
  • Bilal Zuberi, partner, Lux Capital
  • Rob Coneybeer, managing director, Shasta Ventures

“Consumer hardware has always been a tough market to crack, but the COVID-19 crisis made it even harder,” says Matt, noting that the pandemic fueled wide interest in fitness startups like Mirror, Peloton and Tonal.

Bonus: Many VCs listed the founders, investors and companies that are taking the lead in consumer hardware innovation.

A theory about the current IPO market

Digital generated image of abstract multi colored curve chart on white background.

Image Credits: Getty Images/Andriy Onufriyenko

If you’re looking for insight into “why everything feels so damn silly this year” in the public markets, a post Alex wrote Thursday afternoon might offer some perspective.

As someone who pays close attention to late-stage venture markets, he’s identified eight factors that are pushing debuts for unicorns like Affirm and Poshmark into the stratosphere.

TL;DR? “Lots of demand, little supply, boom goes the price.”

Poshmark prices IPO above range as public markets continue to YOLO startups

Clothing resale marketplace Poshmark closed up more than 140% on its first trading day yesterday.

In Thursday’s edition of The Exchange, Alex noted that Poshmark boosted its valuation by selling 6.6 million shares at its IPO price, scooping up $277.2 million in the process.

Poshmark’s surge in trading is good news for its employees and stockholders, but it reflects poorly on “the venture-focused money people who we suppose know what they are talking about when it comes to equity in private companies,” he says.

Will startup valuations change given rising antitrust concerns?

GettyImages 926051128

Image Credits: monsitj/Getty Images

This week, Visa announced it would drop its planned acquisition of Plaid after the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit to block it last fall.

Last week, Procter & Gamble called off its purchase of Billie, a women’s beauty products startup — in December, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission sued to block that deal, too.

Once upon a time, the U.S. government took an arm’s-length approach to enforcing antitrust laws, but the tide has turned, says Managing Editor Danny Crichton.

Going forward, “antitrust won’t kill acquisitions in general, but it could prevent the buyers with the highest reserve prices from entering the fray.”

Dear Sophie: What’s the new minimum salary required for H-1B visa applicants?

Image Credits: Sophie Alcorn

Dear Sophie:

I’m a grad student currently working on F-1 STEM OPT. The company I work for has indicated it will sponsor me for an H-1B visa this year.

I hear the random H-1B lottery will be replaced with a new system that selects H-1B candidates based on their salaries.

How will this new process work?

— Positive in Palo Alto

Venture capitalists react to Visa-Plaid deal meltdown

A homemade chocolate cookie with a bite and crumbs on a white background

Image Credits: Ana Maria Serrano/Getty Images

After news broke that Visa’s $5.3 billion purchase of API startup Plaid fell apart, Alex Wilhelm and Ron Miller interviewed several investors to get their reactions:

  • Anshu Sharma, co-founder and CEO, SkyflowAPI
  • Amy Cheetham, principal, Costanoa Ventures
  • Sheel Mohnot, co-founder, Better Tomorrow Ventures
  • Lucas Timberlake, partner, Fintech Ventures
  • Nico Berardi, founder and general partner, ANIMO Ventures
  • Allen Miller, VC, Oak HC/FT
  • Sri Muppidi, VC, Sierra Ventures
  • Christian Lassonde, VC, Impression Ventures

Plaid CEO touts new ‘clarity’ after failed Visa acquisition

Zach Perret, chief executive officer and co-founder of Plaid Technologies Inc., speaks during the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. The summit brings together the leading minds in the tech industry for two-days of keynote speakers, breakout sessions, and networking opportunities. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Image Credits: George Frey/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Alex Wilhelm interviewed Plaid CEO Zach Perret after the Visa acquisition was called off to learn more about his mindset and the company’s short-term plans.

Perret, who noted that the last few years have been a “roller coaster,” said the Visa deal was the right decision at the time, but going it alone is “once again” Plaid’s best way forward.

2021: A SPAC odyssey

In Tuesday’s edition of The Exchange, Alex Wilhelm took a closer look at blank-check offerings for digital asset marketplace Bakkt and personal finance platform SoFi.

To create a detailed analysis of the investor presentations for both offerings, he tried to answer two questions:

  1. Are special purpose acquisition companies a path to public markets for “potentially promising companies that lacked obvious, near-term growth stories?”
  2. Given the number of unicorns and the limited number of companies that can IPO at any given time, “maybe SPACS would help close the liquidity gap?”

Flexible VC: A new model for startups targeting profitability

12 ‘flexible VCs’ who operate where equity meets revenue share

Spotlit Multi Colored Coil Toy in the Dark.

Image Credits: MirageC/Getty Images

Growth-stage startups in search of funding have a new option: “flexible VC” investors.

An amalgam of revenue-based investment and traditional VC, investors who fall into this category let entrepreneurs “access immediate risk capital while preserving exit, growth trajectory and ownership optionality.”

In a comprehensive explainer, fund managers David Teten and Jamie Finney present different investment structures so founders can get a clear sense of how flexible VC compares to other venture capital models. In a follow-up post, they share a list of a dozen active investors who offer funding via these nontraditional routes.

These 5 VCs have high hopes for cannabis in 2021

Marijuana leaf on a yellow background.

Image Credits: Anton Petrus (opens in a new window)/Getty Images

For some consumers, “cannabis has always been essential,” writes Matt Burns, but once local governments allowed dispensaries to remain open during the pandemic, it signaled a shift in the regulatory environment and investors took notice.

Matt asked five VCs about where they think the industry is heading in 2021 and what advice they’re offering their portfolio companies:

❌