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Today — January 18th 2021Your RSS feeds

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).

proSapient raises $10M Series A led by Smedvig Capital to expand expert network platform

By Mike Butcher

For several years there has been talk about how to leverage ‘experts’ online. How do you ‘suck their brains’ for information in an efficient manner, whether it be for research into companies or sectors, often for investment purposes. Major players in this arena include GLG, Third Bridge, Guidepoint and Alphasights. With the pandemic destroying many means of hearing experts – conferences and events for instance – and turning the entire world into a remote working experiment, platforms like these are now far more relevant than they ever were before.

So it’s perhaps unsurprising that the expert network and primary research platform, proSapient, has now closed a $10m Series A investment led by Smedvig Capital. Noted high-profile investor Guy Hands and existing investors 24 Haymarket also participated in the round. This brings the total raised by proSapient to date to $18m. The company will use the cash to expand internationally.

proSapient is essentially a SaaS platform for interrogating expert networks. It’s aimed mainly at investors and consultants to gather data. The platform matches experts to projects and provides transcripts. You can gather insight over the phone or in-person; launch bespoke surveys; conduct small strategy projects with a small group of experts. You can search, filter messaging, and also collaborate internally on the platform. It now claims to be servicing over 100 clients across Europe and the USA, with revenue up over 100% year on year. 

Margo Polishchuk, Co-Founder of proSapient, said in a statement: “This funding round will facilitate our strategic objective of being a leading  primary research platform for the private equity and consulting sectors.”

Rob Toms, managing director at Smedvig Capital, commented: “We’re excited to be working with Margo and Jordan to continue their impressive growth and international expansion. They have a great team, strong market position and a clear vision of where the business is going.”

Additionally, proSapient recently appointed Mike Wroe, former group CFO of Just Eat plc, as Chairman.

Personio raises $125M on a $1.7B valuation for an HR platform targeting SMEs

By Ingrid Lunden

With the last year changing how (and where) many of us work, organizations have started to rethink how well they manage their employees, and what tools they use to do that. Today, one of the startups that is building technology to address this challenge is announcing a major round of funding that underscores its traction to date.

Personio — the German startup that targets small and medium-sized businesses (10-2,000 employees) with an all-in-one HR platform covering recruiting and onboarding, payroll, absence tracking and other major HR functions — has picked up $125 million in funding at a $1.7 billion post-money valuation.

The Series D is being co-led by Index Ventures and Meritech, with previous backers Accel, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Northzone, Global Founders Capital and Picus all participating.

The $1.7 billion valuation is a big jump on the company’s $500 million valuation a year ago, and it comes after a year where the startup has doubled its revenues, and was not on the hunt to raise, with much of its previous fundraising still in the bank.

Personio currently counts some 3,000 SMEs in Europe as customers.

In an interview, Hanno Renner, the co-founder and CEO of Personio, said that the startup would be using the funding to continue building out the product — which operates a little like Workday, but built for much smaller organizations — as well as expanding its presence in Europe.

Although SMEs can be a notoriously challenging customer segment, Renner said that a new opportunity has emerged: a new wave of people in the SME sector have started to realise the value of having a modern and integrated HR platform.

“We started Personio in 2016 wanting to become the leading HR platform for mid-market companies, and we knew it could be a great company, but we realize it can be hard to grasp what HR really means,” he said. “But I think what has driven our business in the past year has been the realization that HR is not just an important part, but maybe the most important part, of any business.”

It may take one magic turn to convert users, he said, by providing (as one example) tools to recruit, sign contracts and onboard new employees remotely. Still, he acknowledges that the mid-market — especially those companies not built around technology — has been “lagging for years,” with many still working off Excel spreadsheets, or even more surprisingly, pen and paper. “Supporting them by helping them to digitize in a more efficient way has been driving our business.”

Personio is not the only startup hopeful that the shift in how we work will bring a new appreciation (and appetite) for purchasing HR tools. Others like Hibob have also seen a big boost in their business, and have also been raising money to tap into the opportunity more aggressively.

Hibob is looking to build in more training tools, underscoring the feature race that Personio will also have to run to keep up.

But given the sheer numbers of SMBs in the European market — more than 25 million, and accounting for more than 99% of all enterprises, according to research from the European Union — the fact that many of them have yet to adopt any kind of HR platform at all, there remains a lot of growth for a number of players.

“SMEs are the backbone of the European economy, employing 100 million people across the continent, but it is also a sector that has been neglected by software companies focused predominantly on large enterprises,” Martin Mingot, a partner at Index who sits on Personio’s board, said in a statement. “Personio changes that, having created a set of powerful tools tailored to address the needs of small businesses.”

“We have had the pleasure of working with some of the most successful SaaS companies in the world, and given Personio’s success over the past five years and the immense market potential, we strongly believe in Personio’s ability to build an equally successful and impactful business,” added Alex Clayton, general partner at Meritech Capital, in his own statement. “After many great discussions with Hanno over recent years, we are now excited to be joining the journey.” Clayton is also joining the board with this round.

Yesterday — January 17th 2021Your RSS feeds

After a record year for Israeli startups, 16 investors tell us what’s next

By Mike Butcher

Israel’s startup ecosystem raised record amounts of funding and produced 19 IPOs in 2020, despite the pandemic. Now tech companies across industries are poised for an even better year, according to more than a dozen investors we talked to in the country.

Mainstay sectors like cybersecurity continue to matter, they said, but are maturing (more about that here). Some people are more excited by emerging areas like artificial intelligence, which has been a focus of the country’s military for years, and like cybersecurity is now producing many fresh teams of founders. Other investors felt that a broader range of industries, like fintech and biotech, would eventually produce the biggest companies in the country.

Overall, local investors cited the country’s focus on global markets from day one, general support from the Israeli government and deep relationships with Silicon Valley and other global tech centers as additional factors that are powering it forward today.

Here are the investors in their own words, for any TechCrunch reader who is interested in hiring, investing or founding a company in the country. Oh, and one more thing. We just launched Extra Crunch in Israel. Subscribe to access all of our investor surveys, company profiles and other inside tech coverage for startups everywhere. Save 25% off a one- or two-year Extra Crunch membership by entering this discount code: THANKYOUISRAEL

The investors:


Boaz Dinte, Qumra Capital

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
At Qumra, we get excited about companies that disrupt traditional industries while doing good and improving quality of life. Our portfolio includes some great examples such as Fiverr that has disrupted the labor market by unlocking the global talent pool, or Talkspace, which is providing access to therapy to all.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Our latest investment is At-bay, the insurance company for the digital age. At-bay offers an end-to-end solution with comprehensive risk assessment, a tailored cyber insurance policy, and active, risk-management service.

Traditional insurers don’t have the know-how to properly and continually assess risk and approach digital risk the same way they approach physical products, through a statistical model that tries to predict the future based on past events. This a great example of company that is disrupting a traditional market.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
As a growth fund, we are sector agnostic and diversify our investments across multiple industries. Would be happy to add proptech and agritech startups to our portfolio.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
We stay clear of nonregulated industries and do not invest in cryptocurrency-related companies, gambling, etc.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
We are focused on Israeli and Israeli-related companies. As growth companies they may have moved to NY or CA with their headquarters and maintained their R&D in Israel.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
A great amount of talent is cultivated in the military, which has spawned innovative cyber, AI and machine-learning companies. Also, significant experience and know-how have been accumulated here in big data analytics. SaaS models and cloud technologies have eliminated some of the barriers for Israeli companies and enable companies to quickly set up and set up a proof of concept.

A few highlights in our portfolio include AppsFlyer, JoyTunes, Riskified, Talkspace and Guardicore.

Data-driven AppsFlyer, spearheaded by Oren Kaniel, is an exciting mobile-attribution company that is rapidly growing ($200 million+ ARR in 2020) yet maintains a unique DNA. JoyTunes, led by Yuval Kaminka has developed a music-learning platform that has skyrocketed in 2020. The platform has been widely adopted doing so much good for so many people in a short amount of time. Guardicore is disrupting the traditional firewall market by providing fine-grained segmentation for greater attack resistance. Led by CEO Pavel Gurevich the company is seeing excellent traction. Riskified makes e-ommerce easier and safer and enables a thriving e-commerce environment. Founder duo Eido Gal and Assaf Feldman are a powerhouse of vision and execution capabilities. Talkspace has not only created the leading online therapy business, but is actually improving the quality of life of hundreds of thousands of Americans, which are gaining access to therapy for the first time. Founding husband and wife Oren and Roni Frank are the ultimate power couple — creating an incredible business while creating some real impact.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Tech investors must make sure that Israel is part of their portfolio. Same as VC funds are deeply acquainted with Silicon Valley, tech investors cannot ignore this hub of innovation that has produced global market leading companies and serial entrepreneurs

What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Products and services that require anything requiring on-site visits and integration as well as a long sales cycle involving face-to-face meetings and customer education are negatively impacted during this time. The upside is that companies that will develop a remote and simplified approach can reap gains from this time. Such an example is Augury from our portfolio that has developed an end-to-end solution to provide manufacturers with early, actionable and comprehensive insights into machine health and performance. This has proved to be of crucial value in the supply chain during the pandemic.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy?
Earlier in the month we have closed our third fund, Qumra III, at $260 million. This was done in a short time in a period when traveling and face-to-face meetings were impossible. Commitments to this fund, which is larger than its predecessor, included increased investments form existing LPs as well as new LPs from new geographies. This is a vote of confidence in the Israeli growth market in general and in Qumra in particular and has been a great achievement and source of hope going forward.

Rafi Carmeli, Viola Growth

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Platforms that are transforming how people and businesses operate, go about their business or leverage their core assets, using superior products, data and AI.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Zoomin Software.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Transformation of the CFO and treasury suite of tools.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
A+ team, superior product demonstrated with business/market traction and a sizable market opportunity.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?

Any area that needs to compete both with incumbents and also a set of already successful “new age” companies that made the first step of meaningful disruption.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
More than 50%.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?

Plenty of interesting opportunities but like many places, competitive around the best of the best.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Definitely see changes in evolution of young startups given the behavioral changes caused by COVID.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Any area that is exposed to mass physical engagement (pockets in travel, food, sports, etc.) are at risk. Remote engagement and productivity have potential to disrupt more industries, such as corporate events/virtual events.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Founders are generally resilient and based on their view on the company’s position post-COVID (winner/at risk) and the capital resources available, should decide on appropriate level of caution/aggressiveness.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes in many areas. In general software has proven to be a winner and specifically SaaS as a business model has proven its resilience.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
The speed and decisiveness at which humanity acted to adjust to the effects and aftermath of the pandemic, and importantly to proactively get us all out of the health and economic crisis as quickly as possible (e.g., the speed of creating vaccines).

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
If something won’t matter in five years, don’t waste more than five minutes worrying about it now — easier said than done!

Yonatan Mandelbaum, TLV Partners

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Fintech (specifically embedded finance or financial SaaS), synthetic bio. This is in addition to traditional focus areas that we remain bullish on — cloud infrastructure, ML infra and cyber.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Unit.co, meshpayments.com.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
There simply isn’t enough innovation in fintech from the Israeli ecosystem. Our locale has managed to produce three of the most prolific insurtech companies (Next, Lemonade and Hippo), has a strong history of successful fintech companies (Payoneer, Forter, Riskified) and even has a few very promising earlier-stage ventures (Unit, Melio). That said, only about 10% of our overall deal flow are fintech companies. Areas such as vertical banking, embedded finance, compliance as a service and consumer finance consistently get overlooked by young Israeli founders.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
The cliche VC answer: strong team, big market. This remains constant during all times.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
(1) Cybersecurity — with one caveat. Israel will always be at the forefront of cyber innovation, and thus there will always be an opportunity for fledgling cyber companies in Israel. That said, it is 100% oversaturated, and there are too many examples of strong technical founders creating “yet another” SaaS security startup. (2) Remote work collaboration — clearly an issue that needs solving, but we have unsurprisingly seen an absurd amount of companies in the space. They are largely reactionary companies, and the companies that will prove to be the winners in this market have already been in the market for quite some time (Zoom, Alack, Miro, etc.).

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
More than 50%.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Fintech and bio are very well-positioned to thrive in Israel. In 10 years I wouldn’t be surprised if Israel is more well-known for those two sectors than it is for its cyber companies. Some companies to keep an eye on: Next Insurance, Unit, Mesh Payments, Aidoc, Deepcure, Immunai.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
I’m not saying anything new, but Israel is known as the startup nation for a reason. There is an incredible, thriving entrepreneurship culture that breeds fascinating companies weekly. Interestingly, valuation trends seem to trail the U.S. by about 12-18 months. So for later-stage VCs around the globe, Israel can represent an interesting opportunity to do deals of the same quality that they are doing in their locale, but for a more reasonable price.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Not particularly. Israel a small country, and even if there may be a residential exodus from Tel Aviv, there won’t be a commercial one.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Travel and proptech are more exposed due to COVID-19.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
COVID hasn’t impacted our investment strategy much. We have remained steady in our search for interesting early-stage software opportunities and our commitment to invest substantial amounts even at the seed round. The biggest worries of the portfolio founders surround slower enterprise sales cycles due to WFH and smaller budgets from potential customers. Our early advice to founders was to ensure runway for 18 months in order to weather the storm. Recently however, after witnessing the incredibly founder-friendly fundraising landscape, our advice has been to put the pedal to the metal, reach certain benchmarks and raise capital.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
No, there still hasn’t been enough time. That said, I will say that the initial enthusiasm of WFH has faded. The vast majority of our companies are clamoring to be back in the office.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
My grandparents both recently passed away from COVID-19. Despite the tragic loss that it was for my family, there was one moment that truly gave me hope. I had the opportunity to visit my grandmother in the COVID ward at a local hospital before she passed (in full protective gear of course). Before entering the ward, while the nurses were going over the protocols with me and four other individuals who were there to visit their sick family members, I was surprised to realize that the five of us in the room were an eclectic bunch. Jewish, Muslim, religious and not, young and old. In that moment, we all gave each other strength, wished each other well and it gave me hope that we can truly become a unified country in the near future. The next exponential growth that occurs in the Israeli ecosystem will be when there is an influx of minorities (Arabs, ultra-Orthodox) into the workforce.

Natalie Refuah, Viola Growth

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
DevOps, martech, digital health.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
RapidAPI.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Exciting team, hypergrowth, disruptiveness.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Cyber, automotive.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Close to 100%.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
DevOps, cyber, enterprise software.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Very positively.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
There will be changes, that’s for sure.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19?

E-commerce tech-related companies will thrive.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
We lowered our check size per company. My advice — if you are “with COVID trend” push hard, if you are “against COVID trend” — preserve cash.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
More time with my kids, but in general I miss hugging people when i meet them, and I prefer meeting people face to face.

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
Let the vaccine go!

Daniel Cohen, Viola Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Games, vertical AI and AI agencies, digital health.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Hyperguest, creating direct connectivity between hotels and OTAs. It’s the perfect next-gen travel infrastructure for the world post-pandemic.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
The biggest trend in the post-COVID world will be the new work environment. We would love to see more startups that will create corporate solutions that are focused on the future of work. That can be at the workplace or at the home.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Unique, innovative go-to-market. Leveraging technology to reach consumers in a more innovative way. It’s basically innovation in growth hacking, not only in great products.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Cybersecurity — the market is real and important, but there are too many startups with small niche solutions.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
More than 50%.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
The most exciting trends locally are everything AI with focus on B2B apps. Same goes with digital health and consumer-focused health applications.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Israel is the #1 region globally in unicorn production, probably the hottest startup region right now.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
No.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?

The biggest change has been on company culture, which is hard to maintain in a distributed work-from-home environment. Companies need to be innovative and creative in maintaining/building culture, which was so much easier pre-COVID.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic? What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.

The announcements around the vaccines make it clear that the end of the pandemic is near. I think 2021 will be amazing.

Ben Wiener, Jumpspeed Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Jumpspeed invests exclusively in pre-seed and seed-stage startups from the Jerusalem startup ecosystem.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
MDGo.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Not really, we are sector agnostic/bottom-up rather than thesis driven.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
10x better, paradigm-shift solution to a large, near-term, acute business problem, produced and led by a complementary founding team (hacker+hustler+designer).

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Cybersecurity, crypto, telehealth.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
EXCLUSIVELY, see above.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Jerusalem is well-positioned in certain clusters such as computer vision, general enterprise SaaS, AI/ML and healthtech.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Our city’s startup ecosystem is underexploited and generates a few fantastic under-the-radar opportunities per year.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Yes.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Little direct impact on strategy because by definition I am investing in things that will go to market and ripen over years.

Founders’ biggest worries are employee well-being, after that access to overseas customers and markets.

Advice to founders: Stay calm and healthy, play the long game, take care of yourself, your family and your employees, don’t panic or cut staff reactively.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes but not that I can attribute directly to the pandemic.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
No specific moment, just the general resilience and ability to adapt to the radically changing new realities that our portfolio founders have exhibited.

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
“Entrepreneurship in advanced technology, is not merely a matter of decision-making; it is a matter of imposing cognitive order on situations that are repeatedly ill-defined.” — W. Brian Arthur, “The Nature of Technology”

No situation has been this ill-defined in the past century. Keep calm and carry on :-)

Inbal Perlman, TAU Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
At TAU, we are interested in a variety of sectors and evaluate each potential investment independently. In regards to trends, we look at trends with a grain of salt understanding that trends might come and go. When we see a particular trend, we try to understand if there is a need behind the trend and see beyond the initial hype. We want to assure that a startup is meeting a real need in the market. We are particularly interested in technologies that do not require too much time and capital to get to market.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
We invested in a company called Xtend, which is creating human-machine telepresence allowing us to “step into” a machine, anywhere in the world, breaking the limits of physical reality. In particular, it develops solutions that allow people to interact with drones and other unmanned machine technologies. The company’s technology enables humans to extend themselves into the action by allowing them to virtually sit inside the drone for various tactical missions. What is exciting about Xtend is how the technology can be implemented in a variety of ways from defense and homeland security to reimagining entertainment, gaming and cinematography.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
We like to see startups that are disrupting traditional industries by solving basic challenges and needs with innovative means. There are some industries that haven’t changed in many years. And if you create a technology that can be simply integrated into existing markets, it has the potential to gain significant traction and drastically change an industry. So we would love to see more startups going “back to the basics” asking questions about commonly felt pain points and innovating to solve those pains.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
We want to get the feeling from the entrepreneur that they are professional, ready for the entrepreneurial journey, have the right mindset and skill set and will conquer the world. We understand that with early-stage startups, the product or service will likely change and therefore pay significant attention to the entrepreneurs themselves as an early indicator of future success.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Technology trends that often come and go can create an oversaturated market for startups. For example, previously there was hype around drones. Now, only the strongest companies in the drone industry have stuck around. Today, there are many startups responding to needs exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic such as remote learning and remote work. It is important to filter out whether these are solutions that will be around for a while and survive a post-COVID world or are temporary.

We are more cautious about particular industries. In edtech, those who have successfully done exits, have done so at low amounts ($200 million-$300 million). For us, we are seeking larger exits. Blockchain is a difficult sector because it lacks a clear regulatory environment, subsequently raising many questions. Similarly, the cannabis industry also does not have a fixed regulatory environment across countries. Any small regulation change can highly impact the company. These are the sectors and areas that we are more cautious around.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
We invest in startups that are exclusively Israeli startups but are targeted for a global market. At TAU Ventures, we have 1,000 sq. meter coworking office space where majority of our portfolio companies and accelerator program companies sit on a daily basis. On a daily basis we are engaging with our startups through kitchen chats and hallway encounters. Through our coworking space, we are directly investing in our local ecosystem both supporting entrepreneurs and identifying rising entrepreneurs.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
In Israel, many Israeli entrepreneurs bring a high level of technical capabilities that they learn in the army such as in cyber and AI. After acquiring this knowledge and ability, they are well-prepared and able to transfer it to the commercial area. This is why we see many successful startups coming out of Israel particularly in these fields.
For example, founders of our portfolio company, SWIMM all come from leading elite tech training units in the army (Aram, Talpiot) and before founding SWIMM, established ITC (Israel Tech Challenge, a nonprofit high-tech academy that offers in-demand tech training programs in English in Tel Aviv, inspired by the IDF’s 8200 unit).
Furthermore, Tel Aviv University (TAU), our affiliated university, is a leading research institute and academic leader in AI, engineering and other sciences and is producing entrepreneurs with high levels of knowledge. 50% of entrepreneurs in Israel have studied at TAU. And TAU ranked eighth worldwide as a top university producing VC-backed entrepreneurs, and the first outside of the US. So we are very excited by the added advantage we have in being affiliated closely with the university and the talent which it is producing.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
The significant advantage of Israel is its small size. Because there is little to no local market, startups automatically think globally in their marketing and growth strategies. To best understand Israel and Israelis, it’s important to understand the influence of the military and the reality of thriving in a complex political environment in the Middle East. Military service is compulsory for all Israelis at the age of 18. The army plays an important role in the socialization, education, skills development, social network and fabric of Israeli society. Many personal and professional networks are the result of army service. As Israelis, we live in an environment where we need to constantly be innovative and one step ahead to survive. This innovative mindset has been instilled in our state of mind and cultural DNA.
We are proud that In Israel we have academics at the highest level in the world across a variety of fields. Multinationals from all over the world have local R&D centers or innovation hubs in Israel to source from the local talent pool. This presence of multinationals creates mutual exposure for both startups and corporates alike.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
At TAU Ventures, the majority of our portfolio and accelerator companies sit next to us at our 1,000 sq. meter coworking space. At our offices, we love seeing our founders and their employees on a regular basis. This is how we have successfully created a strong familial culture at our VC. Throughout COVID, companies have continued to come in person to the office. This has reinforced to us that there is no exchange for face-to-face engagement. As early-stage investors, we understand that at this stage it is all about the people. At the end of the day, people want to be around people and you can not replace the experience of sharing a cup of coffee and shaking someone’s hand.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19?
COVID affected companies in different ways. For some, it boosted business and for others it led them to shift their strategy and approach. Our companies who had clients in the travel industry or airports were obviously affected. In this situation, the company looked at their technology and reconsidered where and how their technology could be relevant to other consumers and industries. This particular company saw an opportunity to shift to logistics and supply chain clients. COVID is presenting opportunities for companies to reevaluate their target market and discover new applications of their technology for different purposes.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
As a result of COVID, we have come to understand that things simply are taking more time, such as processes of raising funds or achieving the next milestone. We are patient and empathetic to the experiences of our startups.

The startups’ most significant worry is that they will not succeed to raise enough funds before reaching their next milestone. And more so, if they are unable to prove their achievement milestones in time, then they might be forced to close business. As a result, our startups are raising more funds during this time to assure a longer runway. Our startups are also keenly aware of how periods of crisis might call on them to pivot and adapt to the current circumstances. Startups are making decisions around adjusting budgets, determining whether customers are still relevant, anticipating whether the circumstances are temporary or will renormalize and ultimately whether there is a completely new path to pivot to.
In light of the circumstances, we are advising our portfolio startups to raise more funds in next rounds to have runway for at least 1.5 years and not to be afraid of making drastic changes (i.e., pivots, changing budget, raising more funds).

As a fund, we are assuring our entrepreneurs that if they choose to change paths, it is okay. Working from a coworking space alongside many of our founders enables us to stay updated on the startups, foster a strong internal ecosystem and network, and provide ongoing psychological safety for our entrepreneurs, which is ever so needed during these unprecedented times for startups.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Two of our portfolio companies have experienced impressive growth and are thriving in 2020.
1. Gaviti is a SaaS company that specializes in receivable collections acceleration. Its system maps out the collection process to spot inefficiencies and optimize clients’ procedures. Specifically during COVID, many companies had increased economic pain points related to generating cash flow on a timely, efficient basis. Gaviti’s solution helps companies manage their collection payments. As a result of of the economic crisis this year, Gaviti saw fast growth in clients and have thrived during 2020.
2. Medorion understands that health companies and hospitals want us to get regular health checkouts. Using AI and behavioral science, Medorion is driving people to take action for their own health by increasing engagement and communication between insurance companies and patients. During COVID, they are combating the coronavirus pandemic by applying their technology to create highly personalized engagement and communication plans targeted at those individuals who are at highest risk of COVID-19.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
In recent months, it is inspiring to see our entrepreneurs continue fighting despite the uncertain economic and global circumstances. Many of our companies are continuing to recruit and hire. Our founders are resilient and are finding creative means to succeed. It is also a blessing to have a large coworking space hosting the offices of 10 startups and to see employees continue to come in to the office day in and day out working with their teams.

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
TAU Ventures is a venture capital fund, affiliated with Tel Aviv University, for investing in early-stage, cutting-edge technologies based in Israel. TAU Ventures is the first and only university-affiliated VC in Israel.

The fund has a unique, triangle model creating ecosystem connections between industry, academy and entrepreneurs. We connect to available resources at Tel Aviv University, foster strong partnerships in the high-tech industry and support entrepreneurs as they work side by side in the coworking office space of the VC located on the university campus.

TAU Ventures also runs incubation programs in a variety of tech fields and offers a vibrant hub for entrepreneurs with concrete opportunities for design partnerships with international leading companies: AlphaC program (in partnership with NEC, Checkpoint, Innogy, Team8 and Cybereason) and The Xcelerator (an acceleration program with the Israeli Security Agency).
In 2018, IVC awarded TAU Ventures an award for one of the most active VCs in Israel. And in 2019, Geektime ranked TAU Ventures among the top five best VCs in Israel.

David (Dede) Goldschmidt, Samsung Catalyst Fund

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Digital transformation and AI.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Solarisbank (Germany).

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
AI-acceleration technologies seems to be overcrowded.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Less than 50%.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
AI, cyber security. Excited about our portfolio company Innoviz (LiDAR). Excited about Avigdor Willenz, serial entrepreneur, including our portfolio company Habana Labs that was acquired for $2 billion.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Highly dynamic and competitive, very global approach of entrepreneurs, risk takers, “can-do” approach.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
I don’t expect that to happen because a strong ecosystem of entrepreneurs, investors and service providers would be needed, and it takes years for that to grow.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19?
Industries serving brick-and-mortars are likely to get weakened by accelerated transition to online.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Our advice has been to be careful with cash. There is a disconnect between the strong momentum in the tech financing vis-a-vis overall economic crisis (unemployment, governments deficits, etc.). We have yet to see the full impact of COVID-19 on tech startups and better be prepared for that.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes, for pure digital plays.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
Frankly, I remain concerned because of the disconnect alluded to above. Vaccine momentum brings some hope, but too early to tell.

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
I am very concerned from potential crunch in early stage. While overall financing numbers are growing almost across all geographies, investments are heavily weighted toward later stage and unicorns, and much fewer new companies are being formed. This will have dramatic impact on the tech ecosystem a few years out, if it does not change in 2021.

Dror Nahumi, Norwest Venture Partners

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
We are a large fund that invests in early-to-late-stage companies across a wide range of sectors with a focus on consumer, enterprise and healthcare. My focus is primarily in Israeli companies and I’m seeing many exciting startups in security, SaaS, enterprise and cloud infrastructure, robotics and semiconductors.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
We are naturally excited about all our latest investments. I recently invested in three seed-stage companies that are in stealth mode: an open-source cloud infrastructure company, a people analytics (HR) SaaS company and a next-generation business-intelligence platform.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
I believe there is a massive opportunity for startups to develop new solutions to fuel the digitization of next-generation enterprises. We’re seeing innovation and activity in this sector, but there’s so much more to be done, especially in light of challenges and vulnerabilities that COVID-19 has exposed. The hottest areas will be in human resources, production, security, infrastructure, sales and remote work.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
We look for a great team, strong intellectual property and compelling execution. The new product idea can be a replacement (i.e., replace existing products that are aging, low performance) or a new category. Gong.io is a great example of a new category we invested in early on. We created the new “revenue intelligence” category that offers businesses automated, unfiltered and real-time insights on customer interactions and deals. This helps businesses understand what’s actually being said to transform the way they go to market.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Security is currently oversaturated. There are too many companies doing similar things, which can make it difficult for newcomers to break through. Additionally, most emerging security startups are all claiming to use machine learning and AI to combat the next level of breaches. These are important areas to focus on, but it’s getting harder for these companies to differentiate themselves. That aside, we have made several great investments in security over the years and will continue to invest in great teams.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Our team in Israel is 100% focused on our local market.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Numerous industries in the Israeli market are poised to thrive and are doing so currently. Examples include startups in the security, SaaS, enterprise and the cloud infrastructure space, and even consumer services. We are especially excited to continue to witness the growth and success of Gong, VAST Data, WekaIO, Cynet, Wiliot, ActiveFence, Ermetic and SundaySky while building new companies who are still in the stealth stage.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
At Norwest and especially among our Israel portfolio companies, we’ve been able to let our companies mature. We’ve given them the time and support they need to reach maturity. This is a very different approach than what we are seeing in other environments.

Today, growth comes before M&A and companies get valuations much quicker. In past years, it was hard to raise money but it’s not so difficult now. In Israel, inside sales and marketing analytics allow companies to sell more effectively now than in the last decade. This gives entrepreneurs flexibility, room to expand into other markets and the ability to hire top talent globally versus just within their own region.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Israel is so small that you are never really too far outside a major city. We expect our startup hub to stay intact even if individuals and businesses choose to move slightly outside of the main CBD.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
The travel industry has been massively impacted in every market globally since the COVID-19 outbreak. That said, that means there is a huge opportunity to fill gaps based on business and consumer needs as we approach a post-pandemic normal.

I would say that solutions with huge potential are those centered on hybrid workforces as enterprises rethink the future of work. These have the potential to significantly benefit from the pandemic in the short and long term.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
COVID-19 has not impacted our investment strategy. However, in recent conversations with our portfolio companies, it’s clear that brands can emerge stronger than ever with an adaptable strategy, adjusted expectations, strong marketing and B2C communications, and compassionate leadership.

Over the past several months, we’ve advised companies in our portfolio to focus on building their business while prioritizing the safety of their workforce, which could mean further extending work-from-home policies or making remote work a standard option in their hiring practices. Companies’ ability to innovate and adapt while building their business around the new normal will be better positioned to succeed in a post-COVID landscape.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
While it’s not one particular moment, there were many times this past year where our portfolio companies faced major challenges due to the pandemic and were still able to continue to expand their businesses. Every sales quarter that shows growth and success gives me hope.

Sharin Fisher, Fort Ross Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
I’m mostly excited about AI/ML technologies, cybersecurity companies and the global opportunity in B2B SaaS companies in general; companies that help to optimize business processes and boost efficiency (e.g., one of our portfolio companies, Kryon, is operating in the robotic process automation space, evaluating business processes, and recommending which ones to automate in order to free up underutilized human talent). We are seeing many successful Israeli SaaS companies across the board, from marketing and collaboration tools, business intelligence products, to payment systems.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
My latest investment was in a B2B SaaS company that disrupts a huge market. I’m mostly excited about the team, which contains senior executives and second-time entrepreneurs with domain expertise.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?

We are looking for companies that have a big market, a compelling story and a clear path to building a large business. When we invest, companies already have traction, a diverse customer base, established and repeatable sales process and metrics. So, when we dive deeper into the company’s metrics we would like to see they support the company’s assumptions and ability to scale up properly.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
WFH enablement tools (from security to communication tools).

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
We are a global VC with a distributed team, focused on investing in midstage companies based in the U.S. and Israel, that can become global leaders. I’m leading our investments in the Israeli companies, globally.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Israel is well-positioned to build and grow large companies that can become segment leaders. We are seeing many leading companies across multiple sectors such as mobility (Moovit, Mobileye), cybersecurity (Armis, Cybereason, SentinelOne), fintech (Lemonade, Payoneer, eToro), information technology (Jfrog, Snyk), etc.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
The Israeli ecosystem has matured significantly over the last decade, mainly due to repeat entrepreneurs who bring knowledge and relevant experience to the table. They aspire to build meaningful companies. On top of that, there’s more available late-stage capital, allowing companies to stay private longer and become mega-acquisitions/IPO.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
The COVID-19 crisis has impacted Israeli founders in terms of how and from where they work. As many Israeli startups aim to tap into the U.S. market, they usually relocate pretty early on, mainly to build relationships with potential customers. Since the pandemic has created a situation where you have to sell your product/service remotely, physical location has become less relevant. In the short term, I believe we’ll see more Israeli founders working out of Israel, especially when taking into account the advantages (e.g., lower cost of living compared to other places like NYC/San Francisco). In the long run, there’s a high probability that founders who can keep the same sales efficiency remotely will continue to work out of their home country.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
All of the segments we look at are thriving or haven’t changed significantly. I’m mostly interested in startups that are able to sell remotely and have an established inside sales team with a simple integration/deployment, because I believe they are in a better position to scale faster even in this climate.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Our investment strategy remains the same; we are still looking to back companies that can become global leaders and aspire to disrupt huge markets. In terms of the work with our portfolio companies, our founders have already made the needed adjustments and are now more focused on capital efficiency and expanding the runway.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Most of our portfolio adapted to the crisis quite fast and have enough runway to reach their next milestone. For some of our portfolio companies, especially those that support the digital transformation, the pandemic has created business opportunities and accelerated the adoption of their technology. As a result, we deployed additional capital to help them leverage this momentum.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
Although the pandemic has created uncertainty for all of us, we have still been seeing more (+14) Israeli companies reaching unicorn status/going public during the past months.

Adi Levanon Chazan, Flint Capital

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Sensi.ai.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
A bit over 50% of the portfolio are Israeli startups, the remaining 50% divide between Europe and the U.S.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Fintech has been continuing to grow and will thrive over time. I’m excited about companies like Melio, Unit, Acrocharge and Rapyd.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Very important to have local partners and try to expand the local network as much as possible, best would be to have a person on the ground dedicated to Israeli investments.

Chaim Meir Tessler, partner, OurCrowd

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Fintech, cloud services, quantum software, cyber.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Closed at time of writing this: D-ID.
Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Built from the ground up remote educational platforms.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Founders I like to work with and believe in.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Micromobility, autonomous car sensors.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
60%-70% local.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Cyber, computer vision, semiconductor, quantum computing all thrive.

The banking infrastructure companies starting to emerge look fantastic.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Great market, easy to network, mostly friendly to coinvestment.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
With the world becoming flat, innovation will definitely sprout up in new areas.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy?
COVID hasn’t strongly affected our overall strategy other than a slowdown in March/April. The biggest worry is inadequate funding/runway.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
Realizing that we landed in this pandemic on a moment in history that we had the tools needed to enable a large amount of the world’s population to continue working without having to be in a specific physical location.

Noam Kaiser, Intel Capital

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Cloud adoption through digital transformation to hybrid cloud, 5G, vertical AI-based SaaS.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Cellwize — basically opening up RAN (4G and 5G) to any API, cloud environment compatibility.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Solution allowing application to run across data sources in multiple buckets across hybrid/multicloud environments.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Deep understanding of the area and the customer needs, a complementing trend, high revenue potential within five years.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
MLOps, too many, too quickly, Storage at large.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
More.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Safebreach — Red Team automation for cybersecurity teams, Verbit — vertical AI, transcription.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
It hasn’t slowed down, plenty of opportunity, you have to move fast.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
I don’t see the pandemic having that effect. Hubs will remain as are.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19?
Anything relying on on-prem slowed down; this can be semiconductors and retail. but it’s recovering.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Not really, we invest the same amount into the same amount of companies at same stages as before.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes, deals are closing, financing is taking place as well as M&As.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
Simply lively investment atmosphere, new up rounds and several M&A processes emerging.

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
Careful optimism, raise aggressively and cash up when possible, refresh the pipeline and get to it, corporates are back into closing deals.

Tal Slobodkin, StageOne Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Cloud computing and​ software infrastructure​/cybersecurity/DevOps/connected everything/deep compute, big data and AI/next-generation storage and data center.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
R-Go Robotics are pioneering an artificial perception technology that enables mobile robots to understand complex surroundings and operate autonomously just like humans.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
More sophisticated cyber solutions, additional MLOps technologies, AI solutions.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Deep-tech technology solving complex enterprise challenges.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
We see a lot of could monitoring services/SaaS cloud startups all competing with very similar technologies.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Israel 85%; USA 15% — always looking to expand in the U.S. market as well.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
StageOne portfolio companies: Coralogix, Silverfort, Epsagon, Avanan, Neuroblade. Other companies: OwnBackup/RunAI/Verbit/Indegy — all based in Israel.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Less relevant for Israel and more for the U.S., but yes we will probably see new founders from different geographies, which is a good thing, giving new opportunities to people that before may have not considered starting a company.

What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
We do see that COVID-19 has less of an effect on the cybersecurity industry as many organizations are looking for new solutions, as the risk of cyberattacks increases due to remote working and refocusing a lot of their activity to the digital world.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Our companies continue to adapt and make the necessary changes and plans for the near future. Most of the companies have continued the work-from-home policy.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Seeing our companies continue to grow and expand both in people and product. They all adapted to the situation for both the short term and long run. They have continued to raise funds and some companies have even developed additional products to assist with COVID-19-related issues.

Ayal Itzkoviz, partner, Pitango First

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Disruption in traditional markets yearning innovation, such as retail, insurtech, logistics, etc.

B2B2B: Companies no longer wish to build things they can buy. Buying key components of the product/software enables companies to focus on the innovation side. One example is Frontegg — the company provides a set of pre-built, essential SaaS product capabilities that can easily and seamlessly integrate within any new or existing SaaS application. This enables dev teams to focus on perfecting the truly differentiating and valuable features at the heart of their SaaS offering. Another viable example is Stripe and its offering in the payments market.

Cyber: 2020 taught us many lessons, one of them is that tech is just getting more exciting as digital transformation is enhanced, and the other is that the digital revolution presents cyber challenges that didn’t exist before. This results in continued opportunities for disruption in this domain.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Frontegg — a startup that transforms the way SaaS is being built, so that developers don’t need to develop nondifferentiating code and features. Frontegg provides a state of the art SaaS-as-a-service platform, perfectly integrated within the company’s stack and allowing it to do what it’s best at: building their own product. Frontegg is the first pre-built suite of universal SaaS capabilities, enabling teams to focus on core features, shorten time-to-market and drive user adoption. Frontegg’s mission is to accelerate the delivery of enterprise-grade SaaS applications while providing the safest, most secure and optimal user experience.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
First: more open-source projects. They do exist, but usually operate under the radar and come out of stealth mode when they’re already mature and beyond the phase of seed and stage on which Pitango First is focused.

Quantum computing, in our view, has reached a point of no return. We’ll be happy to see entrepreneurs, scientists and business people in Israel jumping on the opportunity wagon already now, and build companies now, before the quantum market begins what will surely be an exponential growth.

Lastly are startups with a double bottom line, i.e., startups that while solving a pain point in the market they’re in and have a potential to become category leader, also address an impact category. Pitango is the first VC to integrate ESG practices into its mainstream activities. As part of this strategy, and as a first step, we are focusing on our vast portfolio of companies and work closely with them to embed

ESG into their core practices through a “migration” process.

Pitango aims to move the needle in the venture capital space through the “AND” philosophy: profit AND purpose, capital AND impact. Pitango is introducing a new paradigm of how venture capital does impact and integrates the “AND” philosophy by turning to a new opportunity set: the impact migrants. i.e., those startups that, although might not have been created under the SDG narrative, have the potential and a desire to embrace and track their impact. They will define their impact mission, integrate SDG targets within their business performance and track impact in alignment with financial targets, all without losing sight of their primary mission to deliver superior financial returns.

Furthermore, Pitango applies this AND philosophy beyond its existing portfolio and onto future deal flow review. We call it the “mainstreaming” of impact investing.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
The Israeli market has evolved tremendously in recent years. While the IPO market used to be out of reach for Israeli-born companies, this is no longer the case. We are looking for the visionaries, the dent blowers, the unconventional types who are eager to solve the biggest of challenges and are aiming at building an IPO-able business rather than an M&A one.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Pitango First is focused on Israeli/Israeli-related startups. From time to time we identify an investment opportunity in areas we have defined as strategic, in which the Israeli market isn’t mature enough and for which we believe we can add significant value and then invest in non-Israeli companies.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Israel is a super strong innovation hub. One of the major evolution trends of recent years is that the traditional glass ceiling that Israeli startups used to tackle has been shattered. Global players realize that now they can get the same upside like SV-based companies, in much more reasonable terms, and sometimes, less competition.
Somewhat counterintuitively, we see the investment climate in these times of COVID-19 being extremely vibrant and competitive. Strong teams are raising significant rounds at record high valuations, which add up to the current belief that COVID-19 didn’t slow, but accelerated the digital transformation.

What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
For many seed early-stage startups that have secured funding, COVID-19 didn’t set setbacks in their plans, as they are further from the market from more mature companies. However, such companies, when backed by strong investors, while they may experience decrease in their revenues, are using this period to gain strength by acquiring companies within their ecosystem and position themselves better toward the out-of-pandemic curve that will eventually be here in a few short quarters.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
The pattern of investing for the long run during the pandemic. Looking far into the horizon, as veterans of previous crises we were able to share our experience and insights and help them better deal with the crisis. Also, this question can’t be answered without mentioning the COVID-19 vaccines, which set a magnificent example to the extent humanity can benefit when tech, medical companies and governments join hands and engage in a group effort.

Ittai Harel, Pitango HealthTech

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
The consumerization of healthcare.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
HomeThrive — a tech-enabled healthcare services company tackling the aging-in-home challenge and helping families help their loved ones age happily.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
An all-star team building a category-defining or category-leading company with demonstrable clinical AND financial outcomes.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Narrow wearables that do not integrate into a clinical or life workflow.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Pitango HealthTech is focused on Israeli/Israeli-related startups. From time to time we identify an investment opportunity in areas we have defined as strategic, in which the Israeli market isn’t mature enough and for which we believe we can add significant value, and then invest in non-Israeli companies.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Israel has many thriving healthcare sectors — from RPM and computer vision in digital health to cardiovascular in med devices to drug research in biotech and pharma. We are excited about our portfolio company Variantyx (a provider of whole genome sequencing and analytics unique platform solution) and Alike (a patient-facing platform to allow individuals to access and analyze their medical data and to connect to others similar to them). We are also excited to be part of this ecosystem and to lead thought leadership in it.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
The healthcare innovation ecosystem in Israel is thriving. There are incredible entrepreneurs and opportunities with global potential and reach that global investors should be aware of.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
To some extent we are witness more disbursement in Israel, but there is nonetheless a strong draw to co-locating in hubs and we expect to see Tel-Aviv and the central area in Israel to continue dominating in terms of attractiveness to strong teams.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19?

Hospitals have seen a drastic decline in elective procedures and an overall disruption to their operations and budgets. Startups that are able to introduce new technologies to make this shift efficient and painless stand to win from the current trend.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
For the healthcare industry, COVID-19 has brought challenges — but also opportunities. We believe overall that our companies (and the industry overall) stand to gain from the shift as stakeholders are quicker to adopt changes that before took much longer. We advise our — and all — portfolio companies to prepare for the days after COVID and think through what changes in their specific segment will be long-lasting and are “here to stay.”

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
When the first individual in the U.K. — a 90-year-old woman — received the vaccine. A turning point hopefully for the entire world.

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Medium acquires social book reading app Glose

By Romain Dillet

Medium is acquiring Paris-based startup Glose for an undisclosed amount. Glose has been building iOS, Android and web apps that let you buy, download and read books on your devices.

The company has turned reading into a multiplayer experience as you can build a bookshelf, share notes with your followers and start conversations in the margins. Sure, there are social platforms that let you talk about books, such as Goodreads. But Glose’s differentiating point is that the social features are intrinsically linked with the reading features — those aren’t two separate platforms. There are also some gamification features that help you stay motivated as you read difficult books — you get streak rewards for instance.

In many ways, Glose’s one-tap highlighting and commenting features are reminiscent of Medium’s features on this front. Sure, you can highlight text in any reading app on your phone or tablet. But you can’t do much with it.

More recently, Glose has launched a separate service called Glose Education. As the name suggests, that version is tailored for universities and high schools. Teachers can hand out assignments and you can read a book as a group.

Over 1 million people have used Glose and 25 universities have signed up to Glose Education, including Stanford and Columbia University.

But Glose isn’t just a software play. The company has also put together a comprehensive book store. The company has partnered with 20,000 publishers so that you can buy ebooks directly from the app.

And if you are studying Virginia Wolf this semester, Glose also provides hundreds of thousands of public domain books for free. Glose also supports audio books.

This is by far the most interesting part as Medium now plans to expand beyond articles and blogs. While Glose is sticking around for now, Medium also plans to integrate ebooks and audio books to its service.

It’s a smart move as many prolific bloggers are also book writers. Right now, they write a blog post on Medium and link to a third-party site if you want to buy their books. Having the ability to host everything written by an author is a better experience for both content creators and readers.

“We’re impressed not only by Glose's reading products and technology, but also by their experience in partnering with book authors and publishers," Medium CEO Ev Williams said in a statement. “Books are a means of exploring an idea, a way to go deeper. The vast majority of the world’s ideas are stored in books and journals, yet are hardly searchable nor shareable. With Glose, we want to improve that experience within Medium’s large network of engaged readers and writers. We look forward to working with the Glose team on partnering with publishers to help authors reach more readers."

The Glose team will remain in Paris, which means that Medium is opening its first office outside of the U.S. Glose will continue to honor its partnerships with authors, publishers, schools and institutions.

E2E encrypted email providers also see sign-ups surge as chat app users flock to Signal and Telegram in search of privacy

By Natasha Lomas

Privacy concerns that have been driving app users to alternative chat apps like Signal and Telegram in recent weeks, since Facebook-owned WhatsApp announced a T&Cs change, appear to also be generating some uplift for end-to-end encrypted email providers.

Two Europe-based Protonmail and Tutanota have reported an uptick in sign ups in recent weeks.

Protonmail founder Andy Yen told TechCrunch it’s seen a 3x rise in sign ups for its end-to-end encrypted webmail service “in recent weeks”. While Germany’s Tutanota said usage has doubled since privacy concerns about WhatsApp’s new T&Cs sharing data with Facebook started circulating online.

“We are thrilled to see so many new users coming in. We already said in 2017 that the privacy-era has started, and we have been proven right ever since. People around the world are increasingly understanding that privacy matters and are no longer okay with fuelling the surveillance capitalism and the exploitation of their data by big tech such as Facebook. That’s why alternatives like Signal and Tutanota are constantly growing,” said Tutanota co-founder Matthias Pfau in a statement.

The fully e2e encrypted chat app Signal hasn’t disclosed how many new users it’s racked up in recent weeks but WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton — who joined forces with Signal after he left Facebook in 2018told us earlier this week that usage has “exploded”.

Anecdotal reports of newbies to the app — whose tagline is “say ‘hello’ to privacy” — abound.

In my case, among the UK contacts joining what had previously been a tight clique of privacy nerds, I can report a couple of ex London neighbours, an old university acquaintance, an antique Tinder date and two former colleagues — while my India-based TC colleague, Manish Singh, showed me three full screenshots of sign-ups his Signal app had alerted him to in just “the last few days”.

Telegram, another long-standing WhatsApp chat app alternative, has also reported a huge influx of new users in recent weeks.

The platform offers end-to-end encryption as an option for one-to-one chats (via its ‘Secret Chats’ feature), although unlike Signal e2e encryption is not the default rule. Nonetheless its founder, Pavel Durov, has been a very vocal critic of how Facebook treats users and their data. And that reputation baiting looks to be paying off.

“I hear Facebook has an entire department devoted to figuring out why Telegram is so popular,” Durov wrote in his Telegram Channel on January 8, seeking to capitalize on concerns about the looming WhatsApp’s T&Cs change. “Imagine dozens of employees working on just that full-time.

“I am happy to save Facebook tens of millions of dollars and give away our secret for free: respect your users,” he added.

A few days later Durov posted again to report Telegram’s user-base had surpassed 500M monthly actives in the first week of this year — adding 25M new users “in the last 72 hours alone”.

“These new users came from across the globe — 38% from Asia, 27% from Europe, 21% from Latin America and 8% from MENA,” he went on, implying around 6% of the new sign-ups came from North America (where there have also been reports of Trump supporters turning to Telegram as an alternative channel to organize protests as mainstream social networks have closed down accounts and pages linked to threats of violence and insurrection).

“This is a significant increase compared to last year, when 1.5M new users signed up every day,” he also said, adding: “We’ve had surges of downloads before, throughout our 7-year history of protecting user privacy. But this time is different. People no longer want to exchange their privacy for free services. They no longer want to be held hostage by tech monopolies that seem to think they can get away with anything as long as their apps have a critical mass of users.”

Durov has posted another update today — saying sign ups have “only accelerated” (and welcoming a couple more heads of state to the platform).

The privacy-flavored mass migration of users to WhatsApp alternatives has pushed the Facebook-owned company to attempt a public firefight over what it couches as “rumours” about the looming T&Cs changes.

We want to address some rumors and be 100% clear we continue to protect your private messages with end-to-end encryption. pic.twitter.com/6qDnzQ98MP

— WhatsApp (@WhatsApp) January 12, 2021

A Facebook spokesperson told us there are no changes to WhatsApp’s data sharing practices anywhere in the world with this update — which they said is about providing clearer, more detailed information to users on how and why the company uses their data, and also provides information about how businesses can use WhatsApp to connect with their customers.

But Facebook’s problem is it’s spent 15+ years torching user trust around privacy. And all those broken promises are coming home to roost as users fly elsewhere — searching for a platform whose business model isn’t predicated on exploiting their attention.

Whatever the specific detail of the latest WhatsApp T&Cs change, there’s no escaping the ugly truth that Facebook is an adtech giant. And it did already screwed over WhatsApp users’ privacy — when it U-turned on data-sharing with Facebook just a few short years after it shelled out $19BN to line up all those extra eyeballs for its surveillance business.

That’s why e2e encryption in the hands of Mark Zuckerberg’s advertising empire simply can’t protect users’ privacy in the same way that a not-for-profit app like Signal can. And all those ‘personalized’ Facebook features — be they stickers, filters, lens or whatever — are just a distraction from the underlying truth that Facebook makes money by removing users privacy through an interconnected mesh of apps and tools that are dedicated to tracking and linking digital activity to eyeballs.

The techie obscurity that cloaked Facebook’s surveillance for years is steadily being unpicked — and it’s clear that plenty of people don’t at all like what they see. 

Data linked to you.. Signal, IMessage, Whatsapp, Facebook messenger pic.twitter.com/hWcy6Oo9wn

— Carlos Cota (@TylerDurdenMx) January 8, 2021

 

Minna Technologies, a subscription management tool for banking customers, raises $18.8M

By Mike Butcher

With the proliferation of subscription services, combined with our lives becoming almost 100% digital, there’s a rising need to be able to manage these services. But most banks don’t have much of an answer. Step in Minna Technologies, which sells in its subscription management services into banking apps.

It’s now raised $18.8 million (€15.5m / £14m) in Series B fundraising from Element Ventures, MiddleGame Ventures, Nineyards Equity and Visa, to expand its open banking technology to banks globally.

Founded in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2016, Minna enables customers to manage subscription services via their existing bank’s app. Using Minna, customers can terminate subscriptions just from their banking app, automatically, cutting the data and financial ties between the merchant and customer. The platform can also notify customers when a free trial is about to end and facilitates utilities switching allowing them to find better deals. So far, Minna has partnerships with Lloyds Banking Group, Swedbank and ING.

Minna’s technology reduces the burden on a bank’s call centers, plus banks can also benefit financially from Minna’s role in facilitating utility switching, raising the prospect of banks becoming marketplaces.

The appearance of Minna suggests that the first wave of neo-banks is about to be accompanied by a second wave of overlayed services such as this. The average European is spending £301 (€333) a month on 11 subscriptions, which is predicted to increase to £459 (€508) a month on 17 subscriptions by 2025. IDC predicts that by 2050, 50% of the world’s largest enterprises will focus the majority of their businesses on digitally enhanced products, services, and experiences. Subscriptions are even coming from car makers such as Volvo.

Joakim Sjöblom, CEO and co-founder of Minna Technologies, said: “Over the past four years the subscription economy has exploded from Spotify and Netflix to even iPhones and cars. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for consumers to keep track of the payments and harder for banks to handle inquiries to shut them down. Minna’s tech improves the procedure for banks by simplifying the process, as well as providing an in-demand digital product that consumers are starting to expect from their financial institutions.”

Sjöblom told me that by largely working with incumbent banks, Minna is providing them with a way to fight back against challenger banks.

Pascal Bouvier, Managing Partner, MiddleGame Ventures said: “We strongly believe in a vision where banks develop their checking account offerings into “connected and intelligent” platforms and where retail clients are able to interact in many more ways than in the recent past.”

Germany’s Xentral nabs $20M led by Sequoia to help online-facing SMBs run back offices better

By Ingrid Lunden

Small enterprises remain one of the most underserved segments of the business market, but the growth of cloud-based services — easier to buy, easier to provision — has helped that change in recent years. Today, one of the more promising startups out of Europe building software to help SMEs run online businesses is announcing some funding to better tap into both the opportunity to build these services, and to meet a growing demand from the SME segment.

Xentral, a German startup that develops enterprise resource planning software covering a variety of back-office functions for the average online small business, has picked up a Series A of $20 million.

The company’s platform today covers services like order and warehouse management, packaging, fulfillment, accounting and sales management, and the majority of its 1,000 customers are in Germany — they include the likes of direct-to-consumer brands like YFood, KoRo, the Nu Company and Flyeralarm.

But Benedikt Sauter, the co-founder and CEO of Xentral, said the ambition is to expand into the rest of Europe, and eventually other geographies, and to fold in more services to its ERP platform, such as a more powerful API to allow customers to integrate more services — for example in cases where a business might be selling on their own site, but also Amazon, eBay, social platforms and more — to bring their businesses to a wider market.

Mainly, he said, the startup wants “to build a better ecosystem to help our customers run their own businesses better.”

The funding is being led by Sequoia Capital, with Visionaires Club (a B2B-focused VC out of Berlin) also participating.

The deal is notable for being the prolific, high-profile VC’s first investment in Europe since officially opening for business in the region. (Sequoia has backed a number of startups in Europe before this, including Graphcore, Klarna, Tessian, Unity, UiPath, n8n and Evervault — but all of those deals were done from afar.)

Augsburg-based Xentral has been around as a startup since 2018, and “as a startup” is the operative phrase here.

Sauter and his co-founder Claudia Sauter (who is also his co-founder in life: she is his wife) built the early prototype for the service originally for themselves.

The pair were running a business of their own — a hardware company they founded in 2008, selling not nails, hammers and wood, but circuit boards they they designed, along with other hardware to build computers and other connected objects. Around 2013, as the business was starting to pick up steam, they decided that they really needed better tools to manage everything at the backend so that they would have more time to build their actual products.

But Bene Sauter quickly discovered a problem in the process: smaller businesses may have Shopify and its various competitors to help manage e-commerce at the front end, but when it came to the many parts of the process at the backend, there really wasn’t a single, easy solution (remember this was eight years ago, at a time before the Shopifys of the world were yet to expand into these kinds of tools). Being of a DIY and technical persuasion — Sauter had studied hardware engineering at university — he decided that he’d try to build the tools that he wanted to use himself.

The Sauters used those tools for for years, until without much outbound effort, they started to get a some inbound interest from other online businesses to use the software, too. That led to the Sauters balancing both their own hardware business and selling the software on the side, until around 2017/2018 when they decided to wind down the hardware operation and focus on the software full-time. And from then, Xentral was born. It now has, in addition to 1,000 customers, some 65 employees working on developing the platform.

The focus with Xentral is to have a platform that is easy to implement and use, regardless of what kind of SME you might be as long as you are selling online. But even so, Sauter pointed out that the other common thread is that you need at least one person at the business who champions and understands the value of ERP. “It’s really a mindset,” he said.

The challenge with Xentral in that regard will be to see how and if they can bring more businesses to the table and tap into the kinds of tools that it provides, at the same time that a number of other players also eye up the same market. (Others in the same general category of building ERP for small businesses include online payments provider Sage, Netsuite and Acumatica.) ERP overall is forecast to become a $49.5 billion market by 2025.

Sequoia and its new partner in Europe Luciana Lixandru — who is joining Xentral’s board along with Luciana Lixandru and Visionaries’ Robert Lacher — believe however that there remains a golden opportunity to build a new kind of provider from the ground up and out of Europe specifically to target the opportunity in that region.

“I see Xentral becoming the de facto platform for any SMEs to run their businesses online,” she said in an interview. “ERP sounds a bit scary especially because it makes one think of companies like SAP, long implementation cycles, and so on. But here it’s the opposite.” She describes Xentral as “very lean and easy to use because you an start with one module and then add more. For SMEs it has to be super simple. I see this becoming like the Shopify for ERP.”

Digital road freight forwarder Sennder raises $160M Series, plans European expansion

By Mike Butcher

Sennder, a large digital road freight forwarder based out of Germany, has raised $160m in Series D financing. The round was led by an unnamed party, but round participants included Accel, Lakestar, HV Capital, Project A and Scania. To date, Sennder has raised more than $260m, allowing it to lay claim to a potential $1bn valuation.

Sennder directly connects enterprise shippers with trucking companies, thus disintermediating the traditional freight model. It says it will move over 1 million truckloads this year. So far it’s concentrated on the lucrative European market. In June 2020 it merged with French competitor Everoad and acquired Uber Freight’s European business last September. The European logistics and freight sector has a market size of $427bn.

Sennder competes with large incumbents like Wincanton and CH Robinson as well as other startups such as OnTrac in Spin, and Instafreight.

The whole digital freight forwarding market is booming. Only last November, Germany’s Forto, a digital freight forwarder raised another $50 million in funding taking its total raised to $103 million. And in 2018 FreightHub, another European digital freight forwarder, raised $30 million in Series B financing.

Sennder’s new investment will mean it can expand in European markets. It already partners with Poste Italiane in Italy, as well as Scania and Siemens, and is now supplying transport services to over 10 organizations listed in the German DAX 30, and 11 companies comprising the Euro Stoxx 50.

Since its founding in 2015 by David Nothacker, Julius Köhler and Nicolaus Schefenacker, the company has grown to 800 employees and seven international offices.

David Nothacker, CEO and Co-Founder of Sennder, said: “We are now an established industry player on equal terms with other more traditional sector pioneers, but have maintained our founding spirit. As a data-driven company, we contribute to making the logistics industry fit for a sustainable future; ensuring transparency, flexibility and efficiency in the distribution of goods. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of a digitalized logistics industry.

Sonali De Rycker, Partner at Accel commented: “It is always fantastic to see a portfolio company reach such a significant milestone. 2020 highlighted the value that Sennder’s innovative digital offering brings to the freight industry.”

UK on-demand supermarket Weezy raises $20M Series A led by NYC’s Left Lane Capital

By Mike Butcher

Weezy — an on-demand supermarket that delivers groceries in fast times such as 15 minutes — has raised $20 million in a Series A funding led by New York-based venture capital fund Left Lane Capital. Also participating were UK-based fund DN Capital, earlier investors Heartcore Capital and angel investors, notably Chris Muhr, the Groupon founder.

Although the company hasn’t made mention of a later US launch, the presence of US investors would tend to suggest that. Weezy is reminiscent of Kozmo, the on-demand groceries business from the dotcom boom of the late ’90s. However, it differs from Postmates in that it doesn’t do pickups.

The cash injection will be used to expand its grocery delivery service across London and the broader UK, and open two fulfillment centers across London. Some 40 more UK sites are planned by the end of 2021 and it plans to add 50 new employees in the next 4 months.

Launched in July 2020, Weezy uses its own delivery people on pedal cycles or electric mopeds to deliver goods in less than 15 minutes on average. As well as working with wholesalers, it also sources groceries from independent bakers, butchers and markets.

It has pushed at an open door during the pandemic. In Q2 2020 half a million new shoppers joined the grocery delivery sector, which is now worth £14.3bn in the UK, according to research.

Kristof Van Beveren, Co-founder and CEO of Weezy, said in a statement: “People are no longer happy to wait around for deliveries, and there is strong demand for a more efficient service.”

Weezy’s co-founders are Kristof Van Beveren and Alec Dent. Van Beveren is formerly from the consumer goods world at Procter & Gamble and McKinsey & Company, while Dent headed up operations at UK startup Drover and business development at BlaBlaCar.

Harley Miller, managing partner, Left Lane Capital, commented: “Weezy’s founding team have the right balance of drive, experience and temperament to lead in e-commerce innovation
and convenience within the UK grocery market and beyond.”

Nenad Marovac, founder and managing partner, DN Capital, said: “Even before the pandemic, interest in online grocery shopping was on the rise. The first time I ordered from Weezy, my delivery arrived in seven minutes and I was hooked.”

Iziwork raises $43 million for its temporary work platform

By Romain Dillet

French startup Iziwork has raised a $43 million funding round. Cathay Innovation and Bpifrance’s Large Venture fund are participating in this funding round. The company has been building a platform focused on improving temporary employment.

While it’s a relatively large funding round, the startup is quite young. It was founded in September 2018 and it has raised $68 million overall.

Iziwork manages a marketplace of temporary work; 2,000 companies are using the platform in France and Italy, and 800,000 candidates have used the app to access job opportunities. You can consider it as a tech-enabled version of the good old employment agency.

Candidates can onboard directly from the mobile app. You then get personalized recommendations based on your profile (95% of assignments are filled in less than four hours). And of course, all your documents are managed from the app.

Iziwork tries to add some benefits to compensate for the fact that temporary workers often jump from one company to another. For instance, you get a time savings account, you can request a down payment on your pay every week, etc.

The startup has realized that it can’t open offices in every big and intermediate city. That’s why third-party companies can join the Iziwork network. As a partner, you find new clients and new job opportunities. You can then leverage Iziwork’s app, service and pool of candidates.

This is an interesting strategy, as it greatly increases supply on the Iziwork marketplace. Partners get a revenue sharing deal with Iziwork.

With today’s funding round, the company plans to expand to new countries and improve its tech product. There are still some growth opportunities in its existing markets as well.

Jobandtalent, another company in this space, has attracted some headlines as it raised $108 million last week. Founded in 2009 and based in Madrid, it generated €500 million in revenue last year.

But, let’s be honest, the temporary work market is huge. Adecco, Randstad and other legacy players still represent a bigger threat for this recent wave of temp staffing startups. Let’s see how it plays out in the coming years.

Vdoo raises $25M more to develop its AI-based security for IoT and connected devices

By Ingrid Lunden

It’s estimated that there were some 50 billion connected devices globally in 2020, and while that really says a lot about how far we’ve come in tech, for many it also speaks to a big issue: security vulnerabilities, with the devices themselves, plus all the components and services running on them, all potential targets for anything from malicious hackers to not-so-intentional data leaks.

Today, an Israeli startup Vdoo — which has been developing AI-based services to detect and fix those kinds of vulnerabilities in IoT devices — is announcing $25 million in funding, money that it plans to use to help it better address the wider issue as it applies to all connected objects. With its initial focus on large industrial deployments, medical systems, communications infrastructure and automotive, Vdoo also looking more deeply now at the wider network of devices that use communications chips, providing quick (as in minutes) assessments to identify and remediate or directly fix various issues: it cites zero-day vulnerabilities, CVEs, configuration and hardening issues, and standard incompliances among them.

The funding — an extension to the $32 million round that Vdoo announced in April 2019 — is coming from two investors, Israel’s Qumra Capital and Verizon Ventures (the investing arm of Verizon, which — by way of its acquisition of Aol many years ago — also owns TechCrunch).

Verizon’s interest in Vdoo is strategic and speaks to the opportunity in the market. As CEO Netanel Davidi (who co-founded the company with Uri Alter and Asaf Karas) describes it, operators like Verizon are interested because of their role as a distributer and reseller of hardware as part of their wider services play, be it for broadband access, or a telematics service, or something for the connected home or connected office.

“They sell connected devices to enterprises and home users that are not made by them, yet the carriers are responsible for the security,” he said, “so the solution is to bake that into devices” to make it work more seamlessly, he said.

Verizon is not the startup’s only strategic backer. Others in the first tranche of this round included another carrier, Japan’s NTT Docomo, MS&AD Ventures (the venture arm of the global cyber insurance firm) and Dell Technology Capital, the VC arm of Dell.

The company has now raised around $70 million, and while it’s not disclosing valuation, Davidi confirmed that it has more than doubled this year.

(In April 2019, PitchBook estimated that it was just under $100 million, which would make it now at over $200 million if that figure is accurate.)

Davidi said that the decision to raise this money as an extension to the previous round rather than a new round was strategic: it gave the company the chance to raise funding more quickly, and to take more time to prepare for a bigger funding round in the near future.

And the reason for raising quickly was to address what was a quickly moving target: one of the by-products of the Covid-19 pandemic has been a dramatic shift to people working from home, buying new devices to enable that and in general using their communications networks much more heavily than before.

Connected device security typically focuses on monitoring activity on the hardware, how data is moving in and out of them. Vdoo’s approach has been to build a platform that monitors the behavior of the devices themselves, using AI to compare that behavior to identify when something is not working as it should. 

“For any kind of vulnerability, using deep binary analysis capabilities, we try to understand the broader idea, to figure out how a similar vulnerability can emerge,” is how Davidi described the process when we talked about the first part of this round back in 2019.

Vdoo generates specific “tailor-made on-device micro-agents” to continue the detection and repair process, which Davidi likens to a modern approach to some cancer care: preventive measures such as periodic monitoring checks, followed by a “tailored immunotherapy” based on prior analysis of DNA.

Vdoo is a play on the Hebrew word that sounds like “vee-doo” and means “making sure”, and points to the basic idea of how it approaches the verification around its device monitoring. It also feels somewhat like the next step in endpoint security, which was the focus of Davidi and Alter’s previous startup, Cyvera, which was eventually acquired by Palo Alto Networks.

The focus on devices, in some ways, is a significantly more complex approach given that it’s not just about the device, but the many components that go into them. As we have seen with Meltdown and Spectre, vulnerabilities might exist at the processor level.

And as Davidi pointed out to me this week, at times those issues aren’t even intentional but still mean data can leak out, and at worst that can be exploitable by bad actors.

“Backdoors are being built into many devices, and some are not even intentional,” he said. “It may be that the developer wanted to create a shortcut to make something else easier in the future. Some will see that as a back door, and some will not.”

The fractal-like nature of the issue what Vdoo is digging into with its widening approach.

“Initially we wanted to serve the ecosystem of manufacturers, since they are the cause of the problem and the origin of the security issues,” he said. “We started there with Fortune 500 customers in areas like automotive and industrial and medical and telco and aviation. The idea was to make a platform that could serve and product security stakeholders. But then we saw that this was a big unserved market.”

Indeed, Vdoo quotes figures from research firm Markets and Markets that forecast that the global device security market will grow to $36.6 billion by 2025 from $12.5 billion in 2020.

“The number of connected IoT devices is rapidly growing, creating greater opportunities for security breaches,” said Boaz Dinte, Managing Partner of Qumra Capital, in a statement. “Vdoo’s unique device-centric, deep technology automated approach has already brought immediate value to vendors in a very short period of time. We believe the market opportunity is huge, and with newly infused growth capital, Vdoo is well-positioned to become the leading global player for securing connected devices.”

“With the expansion of 5G networks and mobile edge compute, there’s a need for an end-to-end, device-centric security approach to IoT,” added Verizon Ventures MD Tammy Mahn in a statement. “As the venture arm of a leading telco, Verizon Ventures is proud to invest in  Vdoo and its world-class team on their journey to solve this global need, while ushering in a new era of security by design in our increasingly connected world.”

Rapyd raises $300M on a $2.5B valuation to boost its fintech-as-a-service API

By Ingrid Lunden

A wave of organizations — propelled by global Covid-19 pandemic circumstances — are moving their commercial and financial interactions online, and today one of the big players helping to enable that shift is announcing a significant round of growth funding to expand the tools and services that it provides to them.

Rapyd, which provides an API-based “fintech-as-a-service” platform covering payments, banking services, fraud protection and more, has raised $300 million, funding that CEO and co-founder Arik Shtilman said in an interview will be used to expand its team, build out more technology (next up: expanded fraud ID services and a wider marketplace), and to make selected acquisitions.

Rapyd’s customer base now numbers about 5,000 businesses, which includes marketplaces (labor marketplaces, and marketplaces for goods), e-commerce businesses, other kinds of lenders, and any business that might want to incorporate transactions or new financial services into their wider offerings. Shtilman said that at the moment, Rapyd is seeing its strongest growth yet, onboarding about 500 new customers each week.

The funding is coming at a $2.5 billion post-money valuation, Shtilman confirmed. (For some context on that, Rapyd was last valued at $1.2 billion in December 2019.)

The round is a Series D and is being led by prolific growth-round VC Coatue, with Spark Capital, Avid Ventures, FJ Labs, and Latitude (all new backers) and General Catalyst, Oak FT, Tiger Global, Target Global, Durable Capital, Tal Capital, and Entrée Capital (all previous backers) also participating. Other past investors, notably, include another major player in the world of API-based financial services, Stripe.

As with other companies in categories that have seen a huge surge of demand in the last year, financial services — and in particular those providing services to be able to carry out transactions online via the internet or phone — have proven to be some of the most mandatory and most used. (And no wonder, since bills still need paying, food and other items still need to be purchased, loans very much still need to be made, and so on.)

This was what many would call an “opportunistic” raise, made not to keep the lights on or to extend runway, but because the money was being offered to Rapyd at good terms, and there were smart places where it could be put to use to grow the business.

“We didn’t plan to raise money when we raised this round, but when the pandemic came in our business started to boom,” Shtilman said. “We were approached by existing investors to scale beyond our original business plans after we completed our 2021 growth plans in three months in 2020. So we thought the timing was probably right for world domination.”

Shtilman was partly (only partly) joking — he has a sort of deadpan delivery that I can’t quite capture here — but it’s a far cry from the startup’s early days, when “no one wanted to invest because everyone thought it would be too hard to execute. Even our early investors advised us to focus on a smaller concept. But we thought building globally doesn’t work. To start small is against the idea. Over the last several years, the need to explain what we do [has] almost vanished.”

The challenge (and opportunity) that Rapyd identified back in 2017 when it first opened for business is that the global commerce and financial markets are very highly fragmented: consumers and businesses in individual markets have their own preferred payment methods and demands, regulations differ, and the key companies involved vary from country to country.

Meanwhile, APIs have long been a great instrument for integration and connection: using a few lines of code — and presuming your own services are built on code too — you can knit together services, and bring in commoditized functionality that would take ages to build from the ground up, cutting down the effort and work needed, to focus on making your core business more unique.

While companies like Stripe, Twilio and many others had identified the opportunity of leveraging APIs to scale out a world of functionality to a wider set of would-be customers, what Rapyd really identified and built out was the idea of loading not just one, two, or three services, but hundreds (even thousands) of features into that proposition. In fintech, where those services are complex, there is a big array of them from which to choose what to build, and also a big pool of would-be customers to use them, if you are aiming wide.

The idea is smart and, as Shtilman noted, very much in keeping with the economies of scale that exist in e-commerce and fintech: individual transactions are at the end of the day very incremental, so services that bring many together can finally start to conceive of interesting returns.

That, of course, is not just something Rapyd has identified and run with. That is to say, the company has a number of competitors now in the market.

Just last week, Germany-based Mambu, which also provides an API-based suite of services (7,000 at last count) under the idea of “banking as a service” raised $135 million at a valuation of over $2 billion. Stripe, a backer of Rapyd, also has continued to expand and add in a number of services well beyond payments. Thought Machine also raised a big round last year; Temenos and Italy’s Edera are also strong players here.

And the field has so much opportunity that it’s even attracting a lot of newer entrants: witness Unit, another interesting player that came out of stealth in the U.S. in December with an interesting list of backers of its own.

“To build financial infrastructure, it doesn’t matter whether you are a small mom and pop or something bigger, you need many things, and if you want to sell in more than one jurisdiction you need a lot of those services,” Shtilman noted about the need for scale and breadth in a fintech platform proposition. He’s also very sanguine about competition.

“They have emerged like mushrooms after the rain,” he said. “But if you don’t have competition it means you don’t have a business, so this is good. It means there is a lot of demand. But for now we are the market leader. We think we will become the AWS of this space.”

That’s where investors like Coatue are also landing for now.

“The payment landscape varies dramatically across countries. A company doing business globally might need to accept hundreds of local payment methods. Rapyd’s API, which abstracts away this complexity, is currently powering what we think are many of the world’s most exciting companies,” said Kris Fredrickson, Managing Partner at Coatue, in a statement. “We are honored to partner with Arik and team for the next phase of the Rapyd journey.”

Business trip platform TravelPerk buys YC-backed rival NexTravel

By Natasha Lomas

Barcelona-based TravelPerk has scooped up US-based rival NexTravel as the pandemic drives consolidation in one of the sector’s hardest hit by COVID-19.

It’s not disclosing how much it’s shelling out for NexTravel, which has some 700 customers globally and has processed around 300,000 trips since being founded back in 2013, but says the deal is its largest acquisition to date — with the aim of beefing up its business in the US. (Also today it’s announcing a partnership with Southwest Airlines that plugs a key gap in its US offering.)

The US has always been a top five market for TravelPerk, per CEO and co-founder, Avi Meir, but after the NexTravel acquisition it becomes its largest market.

“US customers, US know-how, [US-based] team,” he said, listing the drivers for the acquisition. “They’ve built an amazing product. It’s a Y Combinator company who started 2-3 years before us and they focused only or mostly on the US market so they have an expertise that is very complementary to what we’re doing.”

Meir confirmed NexTravel’s founders and team are joining TravelPerk as part of the deal. Existing customers include the likes of Yelp, Stripe and Harry’s.

“They’re a great company. I really think we have great execution and we got into the crisis with a much better cash position and COVID-19 is creating opportunities that didn’t exist before,” he added. “We had friendly competition and just the context of the situation was we were in a better position to acquire them vs them acquiring us.”

The plan is to migrate users of the US product onto TravelPerk’s platform over time but Meir said the NexTravel team will continue to support the product for the foreseeable future while it works on understanding and plugging any functionality gaps with the aim of ensuring a smooth, eventual transition for NexTravel customers in the future.

The acquisition is only TravelPerk’s second after it picked up risk management startup Albatross last summer — underlining how the coronavirus crisis is retooling priorities for businesses in the travel sector.

Or at least those that have enough funding to see them through the revenue crunch. And Meir confirmed TravelPerk has its eye on more acquisition targets.

“We are in the process of talking with a few more [potential acquisitions],” he said, adding: “In a moment of crisis consolidation typically happens so I think it’s fair to expect more of this.”

While a couple of years ahead of TravelPerk in starting up a business travel booking business, NexTravel has raised considerably less over its run — pulling in circa $4.5M in funding, according to Crunchbase.

The younger Spain-based startup, meanwhile, grew faster and has raised orders of magnitude more (~$134M to date) — including a $60M top-up to its Series C in 2019 when it was reporting 2,000 customers globally.

“We just happen to be in Europe,” Meir told TechCrunch, discussing how his European startup is in a position to buy a US rival (when the reverse is all too often the case in tech) — and pointing to knowledge of how to localize as a key advantage. “We were never targeting the Spanish market exclusively or not even the European market.

“To win in business travel, one of the paradoxes is you have to build a very localized product… So we never saw ourselves as a European business we just recognize that we have to really localize deeply in order to be successful anywhere. But we have to do it across the world. So this acquisition is just another step in localizing for the US.”

“[The acquisition] will obviously drive a lot of product development, of commercial investments, of partnerships,” he added. “In a way we’re doing it knowing that it will force us to do more of the US — so it’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophesy — but it’s a $300BN business travel market so we should better make some moves around it.”

With the pandemic continuing to ravage much of the globe — including both the US and Europe — there’s likely to be considerably fewer billions of dollars on business travel value up for grabbed for a sizeable chunk of 2021. And Meir confirmed that TravelPerk isn’t expecting to see a revival in the market before the second half of this year.

Nonetheless, he remains bullish that once vaccinations are rolled out to the most vulnerable groups in society business travellers will be on the move once again — predicting that Zoom fatigue and the boom in remote working will rekindle demand for face-to-face human contact.

“My best guess right now is everything converges to around the second half of this year — around May-June maybe — where seasonality should hopefully hit. Meaning we’ll see the same decline in hospitalizations and deaths as we saw last year. That’s my hope,” he predicted. “On top of that we have the vaccines… Within the next 4-5 months there is reason to expect that we’ll see [vaccine rollouts] accelerating and then everything converges. We just need the at risk population to be safe for the world to be open again.”

“It doesn’t mean we’ll be completely done with corona but it won’t be as deadly as it is now so we’ll be able to open up more and remove restrictions and see travel coming back again,” he added.

Pressed on whether businesses might not have adjusted to a new, ‘more digital’ normal after 1.5 years of living with COVID-19 — having come to rely on a suite of videoconferencing and virtual meeting tools — Meir quashes the idea of a smaller business travel market replacing the pre-pandemic industry, predicting a “roaring ’20s” revival for business travel instead, fuelled by “Zoom fatigue” and networking FOMO once social distancing restrictions can be lifted.

“If you still own any Zoom shares you should sell them!” he quipped, speaking via Zoom call (obviously). “This is going down from now. Everybody is tired of this. The Zoom fatigue is real. It creates a lot of mental health concerns, social isolation… Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs is still here, and it’s even stronger than ever, I think, because we realize how bad it is when we don’t meet people in real life. When everything has to be through this weird, proxy to human connection. The virus doesn’t change human nature. We still need to meet each other face to face.”

“The first sales person who’s going to lose a sale because the competition went and took the customer to dinner and they wanted to do it via Zoom, they’re on a plane the next day. So competition will solve it — even if we put aside human nature,” he added. “I think we all recognize even more how much we need human connection.”

So even if some some “transactional meetings” do move permanently to Zoom, as Meir conceded “maybe” happens, he said they’re not the primary driver for the bulk of business travel anyway.

Furthermore, the pandemic will create new demand for business travel because of the boom in remote working creating ongoing need for distributed colleagues to travel to meet each other face to face, with Meir arguing that more flexible working is certainly here to stay.

“My team, like many other teams, used to be all in Barcelona in the same building — and now we allow them to work from anywhere in the world. Because why not? Many companies will stick to that I think,” he said. “We have recognized that people like it, the employees like it and it’s cheaper, because you don’t have to have as much office real estate — and people are more productive and they’re happier and they have a better balance between their personal and work life.

“So this requires a new type of travel because… you have to bring [your team] together for a week of work together. So I think the small decline in business travel due to this one hour transactional call that you can move to Zoom will be compensated even more — increased by — this new way of working that requires a new type of business travel.”

While TravelPerk was fortunate enough to go into the pandemic well-capitalized, having topped up its Series C in 2019, investor interest in travel startups undoubtedly went on holiday for a considerable chunk of last year. But, again, Meir suggests, an uptick on that front.

“We don’t need to raise any time soon — we have enough cash. The expectation is for the business to go back to growing year on year sometime in Q3, Q4 of this year,” he told us. “Having said that, what’s interesting — and I don’t know if I’m the only one — is we went from [being a fast-growing company] and you get a lot of inbound from investors and then COVID-19 hit and my inbox was empty for a while.

“It was pretty sad, pretty pathetic. And then the last few weeks — since the beginning of the school year — September/October, my inbox is not empty anymore. So there is some movement in the market. There’s a lot of money looking for a home — for good investments. And I think even in an industry which is suffering obviously, the good companies can raise at good terms right now. So I’m not looking to raise but I’m always open to the opportunity.”

Molotov starts its international expansion with seven African countries

By Romain Dillet

French startup Molotov provides an OTT TV streaming service in France with live TV, premium channels, a cloud DVR and on-demand content. While the service has managed to attract 13 million users in France, it has yet to expand to other countries.

Molotov is starting its international expansion this year with a dozen countries on the roadmap. First, the service will be available in seven African countries, starting with Ivory Coast where it’s already live, Senegal in January, Cameroon in February, Burkina Faso in March, Tunisia in April, Guinea and Democratic Republic of Congo after that.

“When it comes to features, the service is more or less the same but content is different,” co-founder and CEO Jean-David Blanc told me. Molotov is betting on local partnerships to launch its service in new countries.

In today’s case, Molotov is partnering with Digital Virgo, a mobile payments company available in 40 countries. Digital Virgo is handling the relationships with local content owners. Molotov is taking care of operations and the tech stack.

There will be 15 channels at launch, such as Nina TV, Passions TV, Trace Urban, Trace Africa, Trace Urban Africa, Savannah TV, Gametoon, Africanews, Euronews, France24, Trace Sport Stars and DocuBox. Molotov will also grant access to its ad-supported on-demand streaming service Mango.

Image Credits: Molotov

In order to support its international expansion plans, the startup had to rework its infrastructure so that it’s more robust — it relies more on cloud hosting and it is partnering with more CDN companies. For instance, the service should work better if you don’t have as much bandwidth as before.

And this is just a start as Molotov is already talking with different B2B partners in Asia, South America and Europe. “Our strategy is that we lean on local players to launch Molotov in new countries,” Blanc said. So you can expect more news on the international front with new countries and new partners.

Gett raises $115M for its on-demand ride-hailing platform for business users

By Ingrid Lunden

As ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft continue to find their feet in a new landscape for transportation services — where unessential travel is being actively discouraged in many markets and people remain concerned about catching the coronavirus in restricted, shared spaces — a smaller player that has carved out a place for itself targeting business users is announcing more funding.

Gett, which started out as a more direct competitor to the likes of Uber and Lyft but now focuses mainly on ground transportation services for business clients in major cities around the world, said in a short statement that it has closed a round of $115 million. The company — co-headquartered in London and Israel — also said it is now “operationally profitable” and is hitting its budget targets.

The funding is being led by new backer Pelham Capital Investments Ltd. and also included participation from unnamed existing investors.

Including this round, Gett has now raised $865 million, with past investors including VW, Access and its founder Len BlavatnikKreos, MCI and more. Gett’s last confirmed valuation was $1.5 billion, pegged to a $200 million fundraise in May 2019. It’s not talking about current valuation, or any recent customer numbers, today.

Dave Waiser, Gett’s founder and CEO, described the funding earlier today in a note to me as an extension to the company’s previous round, a $100 million equity investment that it announced in July last year.

Chairman Amos Genish, said in a statement that the funding round was oversubscribed, “which shows the market’s interest in our platform and long-term vision. Gett is disrupting and transforming a fragmented market delivering ever-critical cost optimisation and client satisfaction.”

The company has been building out a focus on the B2B market for several years now — a smart way of avoiding the expensive and painful race to compete like-for-like against the Ubers of the world — and this most recent round is focused on doubling down on that.

The Gett of the past — it was originally founded in 2010 under the name GetTaxi — did indeed try to build a business around both consumers and higher-end users, but the idea behind Gett today is to focus on corporate accounts.

Gett provides those businesses’ employees with a predictable and reliable app-based platform to make it easier to order car services wherever they happen to be traveling, and those businesses — which in the past would have used a fragmented mix of local services — then have a consolidated way of managing, accounting for and analysing those travel expenses. It claims to be able to save companies some 25%-40% in costs.

The company previously said that its network covered some 1,500 cities. In certain metropolitan areas like London and Moscow, Gett provides transportation services directly. In markets where it does not have direct operations (such as anywhere in the U.S., including New York), it partners with third parties, such as Lyft.

“We are on a journey to transform corporate ground travel and I’m delighted that investors find our model attractive,” Waiser said in a statement today. “This investment will allow us to further develop our SaaS technology and deepen our proposition within the corporate ground travel market.”

Updated to correct that this is an extension to the $100 million round.

UK tests ‘Space Tug’ capable of refiring its engine several times in orbit, and collecting space junk

By Mike Butcher

UK SpaceTech startup Skyrora is currently the only private company capable of launching rockets from UK soil. On Christmas Eve at its testing facility in Fife, Scotland, the team performed a third-stage static fire engine test onboard a new vehicle that will ultimately carry satellites to their final destination. But what’s more interesting is that the vehicle can refire it’s engine several times in orbit and conduct multiple missions in a single trip. This makes it “Space Tug” able to perform a number of maneuvers in space including the extraction of space junk or maintenance if are satellites already in orbit.

Skyrora went rough one of the early Space Camp accelerator programme from Seraphim Capital.

The Space Tug is the first “mission ready” vehicle of its kind to be developed in the UK and once in orbit it can navigate to any location under its own power, with the ability to make multiple stops etc.

The Space Tug is powered by a 3D-printed 3.5kN engine and the first stage of is launch is fueled using an eco-friendly fuel (Ecosene) made in part from waste plastics

Volodymyr Levykin, CEO Skyrora commented: “We have been deliberately quiet about this aspect of our Skyrora XL launch vehicle as we had huge technical challenges to get it to this stage and we wanted to ensure all tests had a satisfactory outcome, which they now have. With the current climate and a real shortage of good news, we feel it is the right time to share this with the world… We aim not only to conduct efficient launches from UK soil in the most environmentally friendly way, but then also to ensure that each single launch mission has the possibility of conducting the level of work that would have historically taken multiple launches.”

Sir Tim Peake, Astronaut, commented: “It’s fantastic that companies such as Skyrora are persisting in their ambition to make the UK a “launch state”. By driving forward and constantly investing into their engineering capabilities, the UK continues to benefit from these impressive milestones achieved. In undertaking a full fire test of their third stage, which fulfils the function of an Orbital Manoeuvring Vehicle capable of delivering satellites into precision orbits, Skyrora is one step closer to launch readiness. This vehicle will also be able to perform vital services such as satellite removal, refuelling and replacement and debris removal from orbit.”

LAUNCHub Ventures heading towards a $85M fund for South Eastern European startups

By Mike Butcher

LAUNCHub Ventures, an early-stage European VC which concentrates mainly on Central Eastern (CEE) and South-Eastern Europe (SEE), has completed the first closing of its new fund at €44 million ($53.5M), with an aspiration to reach a target size of €70 million. A final close is expected by Q2 2021.

Its principal backer is the European Investment Fund, corporates and a number of Bulgarian tech founders and investors.

With this new fund, LAUNCHub aims to invest in 25 startups in the next 4 years. The initial investment range will be between €500K and €2M in verticals such as B2B SaaS, Fintech, Proptech, Big Data, AI, Marketplaces, Digital Health. The fund will also actively invest in the Web 3.0 / Blockchain space, as it has done so since 2014.

LAUNCHub has also achieved a 50:50 gender split in its team, with Irina Dimitrova being promoted to operating partner while Raya Yunakova who joins as an Investor, previously working for PiLabs in London and Mirela Yordanova joins as an Associate, previously leading the startup community at Google for Startups Campus in London.

The investor is mining a rich view of highly skilled developers in the CEE countries where there are approximately 1.3 developers for every 100 people in the workforce. “Central and Eastern Europe’s rapid economic growth has caught the attention of Western investors searching for the next unicorn. The region has huge and still untapped potential with more and more local success stories, paving the way for the next generation of CEE tech founders.” said Todor Breshkov, Founding Partner at LAUNCHub Ventures .

LAUNCHub Ventures competes with other investors like Earlybird in the region, but they tend to invest at a later stage and is more typically a co-investor with LAUNCHub. Nearby Greece also features Greek funds such as Venture Friends and Marathon, but these tend to focus on their core country and diaspora entrepreneurs. Others include Speedinvest (usually focused on DACH) and Credo Ventures, more focused on the Czech Republic and CEE.

LAUNCHub partner and cofounder Stefan Grantchev told me: “Our strategy is to be regional, not to focus specifically on Bulgaria – but to look at all the opportunities in the region of South-Eastern Europe.”

LAUNCHub Ventures has backed companies including:

  • Giraffe360 (Robotic camera for real estate listing automation, co-investment with Hoxton Ventures and HCVC)

  • Fite (Premium direct to consumer digital live streaming for sports, followed-on by Earlybird)

  • GTMHub (The world’s leading and most intuitive OKR software, followed-on by CRV)

  • FintechOS (Banking and Insurance middleware for automation and digital innovation acceleration, followed-on by Earlybird and OTB)

  • Cleanshelf (Enterprise SaaS management and optimization platform, followed-on by Dawn Capital)

  • Office RnD (Co-working and flexible office space management, followed-on by Flashpoint Ventures)

  • Ferryhopper (Ferry ticketing platform for Southern Europe, co-investment with Metavallon)

Curve says closing its new $95M Series C funding caused the delay on accounts filing

By Mike Butcher

Curve, the London-based fintech that combines multiple cards and accounts into one smart card and an app, has secured a Series C finding round of $95 million. The financing was led by IDC Ventures, Fuel Venture Capital and Vulcan Capital (the investment arm of the estate of Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul G. Allen), with participation from OneMain Financial, the US personal finance company, and Novum Capital. Several previous investors also participated. The fundraise brings the total investment in Curve to almost $175 million. Curve says it plans to use the funds to expand internationally, including to the US, and to deepen its European reach. It will also be pushing its Curve Credit product. 

The startup is now claiming 2 million customers and now covers Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Google Pay in 31 European markets. In December, Curve created a JV with Plaid to bring open banking to the UK, allowing users to connect and see their bank accounts in one place.  It also now has a subsidiary in Vilnius, Lithuania, in order to serve its EU-based following Brexit, and partnered with Samsung for its Pay Card.

However, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Its ‘Go Back in Time’ feature which can roll-back purchase 14 to 90 days, has come under fire for potentially allowing customers to fall into a debt spiral. 

Speaking to TechCrunch, Shachar Bialick, founder and CEO of Curve, said: “We tried to remove the friction customers have at the checkout. For instance, you might be out and not have an internet connection, or you want to switch the card to be charged, so you can pay, and then later go back in time and change the accounts that were used. And then what transpired is that customers were using this feature because they wanted to free up cash in their checking account during COVID times. In March, many of our customers asked us to be able to ‘go back in time’ from the debit cards to their credit cards for transactions they’ve made in January and in December, 2019, and because they need to free more cash in their checking account.” He said it’s also led to a new product allowing customers to split payments into installments.

Curve also came under fire this month for failing to file its accounts with Companies House in London. Bialick said: “We missed the filing and the reason for that is because we had a very tight fundraising and we have limited resources so we had to prioritize it over something else. But we’re already in the process of submitting [the accounts] this week.”

Bobby Aitkenhead, Managing Partner of IDC Ventures, said: “Curve’s pioneering approach to finance is more necessary than ever as we accelerate globally to a digital-first world.”

Rick Roberts, from Vulcan Capital, said: “Curve’s model is redefining the future of banking by bringing diverse financial products and solutions together into one digital wallet, for the benefit of banks and customers alike. Their friction-free offering is coming at the ideal time for American consumers, who are looking for safer payment options and greater financial control in the wake of the pandemic.”

Inadequate federal privacy regulations leave US startups lagging behind Europe

By Walter Thompson
Cillian Kieran Contributor
Cillian Kieran is CEO and co-founder of Ethyca, a New York-based privacy company.

“A new law to follow” seems unlikely to have featured on many business wishlists this holiday season, particularly if that law concerned data privacy. Digital privacy management is an area that takes considerable resources to whip into shape, and most SMBs just aren’t equipped for it.

But for 2021, I believe startups in the United States should be demanding that legislators deliver a federal privacy law. Yes, they should demand to be regulated.

For every day that goes by without agreed-upon federal standards for data, these companies lose competitive edge to the rest of the world. Soon there may be no coming back.

For every day that goes by without agreed-upon federal standards for data, these companies lose competitive edge to the rest of the world.

Businesses should not view privacy and trust infrastructure requirements as burdensome. They should view them as keys that can unlock the full power of the data they possess. They should stop thinking about privacy as compliance and begin thinking of it as a harmonization of the customer relationship. The rewards flowing to each party from such harmonization are bountiful. The U.S. federal government is in a unique position to help realize those rewards.

To understand what I mean, cast your eyes to Europe, where it’s become clear that the GDPR was nowhere near the final destination of EU data policy. Indeed it was just the launchpad. Europe’s data regime can frustrate (endless cookie banners anyone?), but it has set an agreed-upon standard of protection for citizens and elevated their trust in internet infrastructure.

For example, a Deloitte survey found that 44% of consumers felt that organizations cared more about their privacy after GDPR came into force. With a baseline standard established — seatbelts in every car — Europe is now squarely focused on raising the speed limit.

EU lawmakers recently unveiled plans for “A Europe fit for the Digital Age.” in the words of Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton, it’s a plan to make Europe “the most data-empowered continent in the world.”

Here are some pillars of the plan. While reading, imagine that you are a U.S.-based health tech startup. Imagine the disadvantage you would face against a similar, European-based company, if these initiatives came to fruition:

  • A regulatory framework covering data governance, access and reuse between businesses, between businesses and government, and within administrations to create incentives for data sharing.
  • A push to make public-sector data more widely available by opening up “high-value datasets” to enable their reuse to foster innovation.
  • Support for cloud infrastructure, platforms and systems to support the data reuse goals, with investments in European high-impact projects on European data spaces and trustworthy, energy-efficient cloud infrastructures.
  • Sector-specific actions to build European data spaces that focus on specific areas such as industrial manufacturing, the Green New Deal, mobility or health.

There are so many ways governments can help businesses maximize their data leverage in ways that improve society. But the American public currently has no appetite for that. They don’t trust the internet.

They want to see Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos sweating it out under Senate Committee questioning. Until we trust our leaders to protect basic online rights, widespread data empowerment initiatives will not be politically viable.

In Europe, the equation is totally different. GDPR was the foundation of a European data strategy, not the capstone.

While the EU powers forward, America’s ability to enact federal privacy reform is stymied by two quintessentially American privacy sticking points:

  • Can I personally sue a business that violates my privacy rights?
  • Can individual states build additional privacy protections on top of a federal law, or will it act as a nationwide “ceiling”?

These are important questions that must be answered as a function of our country’s unique cultural and political history. But currently they’re the roadblocks that stall American industry while the EU, seatbelts secure, begins speeding down the data autobahn.

If you want a visceral example of how this gap is already impacting American businesses, look no further than the fallout of the ECJ’s Schrems II decision in the middle of last summer. Europe’s highest court invalidated a key agreement used to transfer EU data back to the U.S., essentially because there’s no federal law to ensure EU citizens’ data would be protected once it lands in America.

The legal wrangling continues, but the impact of this decision was so considerable that Facebook legitimately threatened to quit operating Europe if the Schrems II ruling was enforced.

While issues generated for smaller businesses don’t grab as many headlines, rest assured that on the front lines of this issue, I’ve seen many SMB’s data operations thrown into total chaos. In other words, the geopolitical battle for a data-driven business edge is already well underway. We are losing.

To sum it up, the United States increasingly finds itself in a position that’s unprecedented since the dawn of the internet era: laggard. American tech companies still innovate at a fantastic rate, but America’s inability to marshal private sector practices to reflect evolving public sentiment threatens to become a yoke around the economy’s neck.

The catastrophic response to the COVID-19 pandemic fell far short of other nations’ efforts. Our handling of data privacy protection costs far less in human terms, but it grows astronomically more expensive in dollar terms with every passing day.

The technology exists to treat users respectfully in a cost-effective manner. The public will is there.

The business will is there. The legislative capability is there.

That’s why I believe America’s startup community should demand federal lawmakers follow the recent example of Europe, India, New Zealand, Brazil, South Africa and Canada. They need to introduce federally guaranteed modern data privacy protections as soon as possible.

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