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As Monday.com targets $6B+ IPO valuation, Zoom and Salesforce commit $150M

By Alex Wilhelm

Team management software company Monday.com dropped a new IPO filing today. The latest document — an F-1/A, because the company is based in Israel — provides what could be Monday.com’s final pre-IPO pricing notes and details planned investments from both Zoom and Salesforce after its public offering closes.


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Monday.com’s price range of $125 to $140 per share values it north of $6 billion at the top end of its target interval, a steep upgrade from its final private price recorded in mid-2019.

Let’s quickly unpack its IPO valuation range, discuss the private placements that Zoom and Salesforce plan, and parse what Monday.com’s IPO news means for the broader public offering window.

Because the company is expected to price tomorrow and trade Thursday, we’re looking at data that could prove final, unless Monday.com manages to push its IPO price range higher or prices above its current estimates. Given the sheer number of IPOs that are either filed or rapidly forthcoming, Monday.com could prove to be a bellwether for the larger unicorn software exit market. Therefore, its debut matters to more than itself, its employees and its venture backers.

What’s Monday.com worth?

There are a few ways to value a company as it goes public. The first is its so-called simple valuation. To calculate a simple price for a debuting entity, we simply multiply the two extremes of its IPO price range by the number of shares it will have outstanding after its debut. That works out as follows in the case of Monday.com:

Kafene raises $14M to offer buy now, pay later to the subprime consumer

By Mary Ann Azevedo

The buy now, pay later frenzy isn’t going anywhere as more consumers seek alternatives to credit cards to fund purchases.

And those purchases aren’t exclusive to luxuries such as Pelotons (ahem, Affirm) or jewelry someone might be treating themselves to online. A new fintech company is out to help consumers finance big-ticket items that are considered more “must have” than “nice to have.” And it’s just raised $14 million in Series A funding to help it advance on that goal.

Neal Desai (former CFO of Octane Lending) and James Schuler (who participated in Y Combinator’s accelerator program as a high schooler) founded New York City-based Kafene in July 2019. The pair’s goal is to promote financial inclusion by meeting the needs of what it describes as the “consumers that are left behind by traditional lenders.”

More specifically, Kafene is focused on helping consumers with credit scores below 650 purchase retail items such as furniture, appliances and electronics with its buy now, pay later (BNPL) model. Consider it an “Affirm for the subprime,” says Desai.

Global Founders Capital and Third Prime Ventures co-led the round, which also included participation from Valar, Company.co, Hermann Capital, Gaingels, Republic Labs, Uncorrelated Ventures and FJ labs.

“Historically, if you could access credit, you could go to the bank or use a credit card,” Third Prime’s Wes Barton told TechCrunch. “But if you had some unexpected expense, and had to miss a payment with the bank, there would be repercussions and you could fall into a debt trap.”

Kafene’s “flexible ownership” model is designed to not let that happen to a consumer. If for some reason, someone has to forfeit on a payment, Kafene comes to pick up the item and the customer is no longer under obligation to pay for it moving forward.

The way it works is that Kafene buys the product from a merchant on a consumers’ behalf and rents it back to them over 12 months. If they make all payments, they own the item. If they make them earlier, they get a “significant” discount, and if they can’t, Kafene reclaims the item and takes the loan loss.

Image Credits: Kafene

It’s a modern take on Rent-A-Center, which charges more money for inferior products, Desai believes.

“This is also a superior product to credit cards, and the size of that market is massive,” Barton said. “We want to take a huge chunk of credit card business in time, and give consumers the flexibility to quit at any point in time, and fly free, if you will.”

Such flexibility, Kafene claims, helps promote financial inclusion by giving a wider range of consumers options to alternative forms of credit at the point of sale.

It also helps people boost their credit scores, according to Desai, because if they buy out of the loan earlier than the 12-month term, their credit score goes up because Kafene reports them as a positive payer.

“In any situation where they don’t steal the item, their credit score improves,” he said. “Even if they end up returning it because they can’t afford it. In the long run, they can have a better credit score to qualify for a traditional loan product.”

Kafene rolled out a beta of its financing product in December of 2019 and then had to pause in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company essentially “hibernated” from March to June 2020 and re-launched out of beta last July.

By October, Kafene stopped all enrollment with merchants because it had more demand that it could handle — largely fueled by more people being financially strained due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2021, the company was handling about $2 million a month in merchandise volume.

With its new capital, Kafene plans to significantly scale its existing lease-to-own financing business nationally, as well as to launch a direct-to-consumer virtual lease card.

ISEE brings autonomy to shipping hubs with self-driving yard trucks

By Devin Coldewey

Robotaxis may still be a few years out, but there are other industries that can be transformed by autonomous vehicles as they are today. MIT spin-off ISEE has identified one in the common shipping yard, where containers are sorted and stored — today by a dwindling supply of human drivers, but tomorrow perhaps by the company’s purpose-built robotic yard truck. With new funding and partnerships with major shippers, the company may be about to go big.

Shipping yards are the buffer zone of the logistics industry. When a container is unloaded from a ship full of them, it can’t exactly just sit there on the wharf where the crane dropped it. Maybe it’s time sensitive and has to trucked out right away; maybe it needs to go through customs and inspections and must stay in the facility for a week; maybe it’s refrigerated and needs power and air hookups.

Each of these situations will be handled by a professional driver, hooking the container up to a short-haul truck and driving it the hundred or thousand meters to its proper place, an empty slot with a power hookup, long term storage, ready access for inspection, etc. But like many jobs in logistics, this one is increasingly facing a labor shortage as fewer people sign up for it every year. The work, after all, is fairly repetitive, not particularly easy, and of course heavy equipment can be dangerous.

ISEE’s co-founders Yibiao Zhao and Debbie Yu said they identified the logistics industry as one that needs more automation, and these container yards especially. “Working with customers, it’s surprising how dated their yard operation is — it’s basically just people yelling,” said Zhao.  “There’s a big opportunity to bring this to the next level.”

Two ISEE trucks without containers on the back.

Image Credits: ISEE

The ISEE trucks are not fully custom vehicles but yard trucks of a familiar type, retrofitted with lidar, cameras, and other sensors to give them 360-degree awareness. Their job is to transport containers (unmodified, it is important to note) to and from locations in the yards, backing the 50-foot trailer into a parking spot with as little as a foot of space on either side.

“A customer adopts our solution just as if they’re hiring another driver,” Zhao said. No safe zone is required, no extra considerations need to be made at the yard. The ISEE trucks navigate the yard intelligently, driving around obstacles, slowing for passing workers, and making room for other trucks, whether autonomous or human. Unlike many industrial machines and vehicles, these bring the current state of autonomous driving to bear in order to stay safe and drive as safely as possible among mixed and unpredictable traffic.

The advantage of an automated system over a human driver is especially pronounced in this environment. One rather unusual limitation of yard truck drivers is that, because the driver’s seat is on the left side of the cabin, they can only park the trucks on the left as well since that’s the only side they can see well enough. ISEE trucks have no such limitation, of course, and can park easily in either direction, something that has apparently blown the human drivers’ minds.

Overhead view of autonomous and ordinary trucks moving around a shipping yard.

Image Credits: ISEE

Efficiency is also improved through the infallible machine mind. “There are hundreds, even thousands of containers in the yard. Humans spend a lot of time just going around the yard searching for assets, because they can’t remember what is where,” explained Zhao. But of course a computer never forgets, and so no gas is wasted circling the yard looking for either a container or a spot to put one.

Once it parks, another ISEE tech can make the necessary connections for electricity or air as well, a step that can be hazardous for human drivers in bad conditions.

The robotic platform also offers consistency. Human drivers aren’t so good when they’re trainees, taking a few years to get seasoned, noted Yu. “We’ve learned a lot about efficiency,” she said. “That’s basically what customers care about the most; the supply chain depends on throughput.”

To that end she said that moderating speed has been an interesting challenge — it’s easy for the vehicle to go faster, but it needs the awareness to be able to slow down when necessary, not just when there’s an obstacle, but when there are things like blind corners that must be navigated with care.

It is in fact a perfect training ground for developing autonomy, and that’s kind of the idea.

“Today’s robots work with very predefined rules in very constrained environments, but in the future autonomous cars will drive in open environments. We see this tech gap, how to enable robots or autonomous vehicles do deal with uncertainty,” said Zhao.

ISEE co-founders Yibiao Zhao (top), Debbie Yu (left), and Chris Baker.

ISEE Founders

“We needed a relatively unconstrained environment with complex human behaviors, and we found it’s actually a perfect marriage, the flexible autonomy we’re offering and the yard,” he continued. “It’s a private lot, there’s no regulation, all the vehicles stay in it, there are no kids or random people, no long tail like a public highway or busy street. But it’s not simple, it’s complex like most industrial environments — it’s congested, busy, there are pedestrians and trucks coming in and out.”

Although it’s an MIT spinout with a strong basis in papers and computer vision research, it’s not a theoretical business. ISEE is already working with two major shippers, Lazer Spot and Maersk, which account for hundreds of yards and some 10,000 trucks, many or most of which could potentially be automated by ISEE.

So far the company has progressed past the pilot stage and is working with Maersk to bring several vehicles into active service at a yard. The Maersk Growth Fund has also invested an undisclosed amount in ISEE, and one detects the possibility of an acquisition looming in the near future. But the plan for now is to simply expand and refine the technology and services and widen the lead between ISEE and any would-be competitors.

Network security startup ExtraHop skips and jumps to $900M exit

By Ron Miller

Last year, Seattle-based network security startup ExtraHop was riding high, quickly approaching $100 million in ARR and even making noises about a possible IPO in 2021. But there will be no IPO, at least for now, as the company announced this morning it has been acquired by a pair of private equity firms for $900 million.

The firms, Bain Capital Private Equity and Crosspoint Capital Partners, are buying a security solution that provides controls across a hybrid environment, something that could be useful as more companies find themselves in a position where they have some assets on-site and some in the cloud.

The company is part of the narrower Network Detection and Response (NDR) market. According to Jesse Rothstein, ExtraHop’s chief technology officer and co-founder, it’s a technology that is suited to today’s threat landscape, “I will say that ExtraHop’s north star has always really remained the same, and that has been around extracting intelligence from all of the network traffic in the wire data. This is where I think the network detection and response space is particularly well-suited to protecting against advanced threats,” he told TechCrunch.

The company uses analytics and machine learning to figure out if there are threats and where they are coming from, regardless of how customers are deploying infrastructure. Rothstein said he envisions a world where environments have become more distributed with less defined perimeters and more porous networks.

“So the ability to have this high quality detection and response capability utilizing next generation machine learning technology and behavioral analytics is so very important,” he said.

Max de Groen, managing partner at Bain, says his company was attracted to the NDR space, and saw ExtraHop as a key player. “As we looked at the NDR market, ExtraHop, which […] has spent 14 years building the product, really stood out as the best individual technology in the space,” de Groen told us.

Security remains a frothy market with lots of growth potential. We continue to see a mix of startups and established platform players jockeying for position, and private equity firms often try to establish a package of services. Last week, Symphony Technology Group bought FireEye’s product group for $1.2 billion, just a couple of months after snagging McAfee’s enterprise business for $4 billion as it tries to cobble together a comprehensive enterprise security solution.

Croatia’s Gideon Brothers raises $31M for its 3D vision-enabled autonomous warehouse robots

By Mike Butcher

Proving that Central and Eastern Europe remains a powerhouse of hardware engineering matched with software, Gideon Brothers (GB), a Zagreb, Croatia-based robotics and AI startup, has raised a $31 million Series A round led by Koch Disruptive Technologies (KDT), the venture and growth arm of Koch Industries Inc., with participation from DB Schenker, Prologis Ventures and Rite-Hite.

The round also includes participation from several of Gideon Brothers’ existing backers: Taavet Hinrikus (co-founder of TransferWise), Pentland Ventures, Peaksjah, HCVC (Hardware Club), Ivan Topčić, Nenad Bakić and Luca Ascani.

The investment will be used to accelerate the development and commercialization of GB’s AI and 3D vision-based “autonomous mobile robots” or “AMRs”. These perform simple tasks such as transporting, picking up and dropping off products in order to free up humans to perform more valuable tasks.

The company will also expand its operations in the EU and U.S. by opening offices in Munich, Germany and Boston, Massachusetts, respectively.

Gideon Brothers founders

Gideon Brothers founders. Image Credits: Gideon Brothers

Gideon Brothers make robots and the accompanying software platform that specializes in horizontal and vertical handling processes for logistics, warehousing, manufacturing and retail businesses. For obvious reasons, the need to roboticize supply chains has exploded during the pandemic.

Matija Kopić, CEO of Gideon Brothers, said: “The pandemic has greatly accelerated the adoption of smart automation, and we are ready to meet the unprecedented market demand. The best way to do it is by marrying our proprietary solutions with the largest, most demanding customers out there. Our strategic partners have real challenges that our robots are already solving, and, with us, they’re seizing the incredible opportunity right now to effect robotic-powered change to some of the world’s most innovative organizations.”

He added: “Partnering with these forward-thinking industry leaders will help us expand our global footprint, but we will always stay true to our Croatian roots. That is our superpower. The Croatian startup scene is growing exponentially and we want to unlock further opportunities for our country to become a robotics & AI powerhouse.”

Annant Patel, director at Koch Disruptive Technologies, said: “With more than 300 Koch operations and production units globally, KDT recognizes the unique capabilities of and potential for Gideon Brothers’ technology to substantially transform how businesses can approach warehouse and manufacturing processes through cutting edge AI and 3D AMR technology.”

Xavier Garijo, member of the Board of Management for Contract Logistics, DB Schenker, added: “Our partnership with Gideon Brothers secures our access to best in class robotics and intelligent material handling solutions to serve our customers in the most efficient way.”

GB’s competitors include Seegrid, Teradyne (MiR), Vecna Robotics, Fetch Robotics, AutoGuide Mobile Robots, Geek+ and Otto Motors.

Compose.ai raises $2.1M to help everyone write faster

By Alex Wilhelm

In today’s GPT-3 world, it’s not uncommon to hear about new software services that deal with text. Compose.ai is one such company, though it built its own language model to help folks write faster. Its early product work was enough for it to land a $2.1 million seed round led by Craft Ventures, it announced this morning.

Compose.ai is essentially an auto-complete function that works wherever you browse the web. The company is also building the capability for its AI-powered backend to learn your voice, imbibe context to help provide better responses, and, in time, absorb a company’s larger voice to help align its aggregate writing output.

Co-founders Landon Sanford and Michael Shuffett told TechCrunch that Compose.ai believes that in five years, average folks won’t type every word that they write. They want to bring that future to more people through the Compose.ai Chrome extension, which hopefully workers can access without having to get corporate permission.

Sanford and Shuffett described their language algorithm as a multi-tier product. Its first tier learns from reading the internet itself, learning English. The second tier deals with specific domains, like email. The third tier learns a user’s voice, and, in time, a fourth tier will deal with a company’s generalized approach to language.

The ability for a company to provide its workers with a shared language model that could offer linguistic and word-choice preferences as they write is an interesting concept. The idea of such a strong, centrally held tone lands somewhere between helpful and intellectually rigid. But lots of folks don’t want to put their own spin on writing; many people don’t like writing at all. So perhaps having more central support won’t be onerous to most — but rather a time-saving hack.

Regardless, Compose.ai is going to staff up modestly with its new raise. The company currently has three full-time workers and some contract help. Sanford and Shuffett told TechCrunch that the company intends to stay small, hiring a few experienced engineering and machine-learning staff to help flesh out its product team.

What’s ahead for Compose? Its founders told TechCrunch that they are starting to talk to the corporate world a bit more than before and are planning on launching a paid service toward the end of the quarter. That could mean early revenue, extending the startup’s runway substantially.

What Compose is building isn’t technically simple, and the company has interesting work ahead of it to get its economics properly tuned. The company’s founders told TechCrunch that the personalization work that its product will execute for customers can be expensive if done incorrectly; the pair said that they could make a future, $10/month plan attractive economically, but if done in a “naive” fashion, Compose.ai could spend $500 in compute costs to support the same account.

That would be bad.

But the company is confident that its impending paid plans should shake out well in financial terms, which makes us all the more interested in giving that version of its product a spin when we get the chance.

Lifted raises $6.2M Series A round led by Fuel Ventures for its long-term social care platform

By Mike Butcher

As people live longer and longer and have long-term health issues like cancer and dementia, caring for elderly relatives is becoming a huge societal and political issue. Right now this care is antiquated and run by incumbents, many of which still run off paper and Excel. We are now seeing a new wave of startups turn up to tackle this space by applying Apple’s age-old model of owning the experience end-to-end and running everything on a platform.

The latest to join this race is U.K. startup Lifted, which has now raised $6.2 million in a Series A funding round led by Fuel Ventures. Also participating were existing investor 1818 Venture Capital as well as new investors Novit Ventures, Perivoli Innovations, the J.B. Ugland family office and a number of angels. This latest funding round takes the total raised by Lifted to $11.2 million.

Lifted says its U.K. market is increasing and claims the number of people caring for adult loved ones has risen exponentially during the pandemic, with almost one in two people supporting people outside their household.

The startup is entering a perfect storm of increasing need, unpopular care homes and the U.K. government still without a long-term plan for social care.

Lifted app

Lifted app

In contrast to a raft of agencies and freelancers, Lifted directly employs its care workforce and uses its platform to “gamify and improve the experience of carers to make them perform better in people’s lives and also to restore respect to the caring profession” with its Care Management Platform, says the company.

Lifted has also acquired the “Live Better With Dementia” website and launched the Lifted Dementia Hub, an online community with a marketplace of products.

Rachael Crook co-founded Lifted with Sam Cohen. She says she was inspired to get into the sector when, at the age of 24, she had to care for her mother, who was diagnosed with dementia at age 56. “I was in that position much younger than most people. And it seemed abundantly clear to me that it was an experience that was hugely emotionally important to me, and financially expensive, was really convoluted and frustrating. It made an already really difficult time, more difficult. My mum brought me up to really fight for the underdog and I felt like the carers themselves were getting a really poor deal. And yet, it’s a huge colossal market. The care market is set to double in the next 20 years, and for the next 10 years, we will look to compete against traditional care companies. We want to transform the care experience. This is a product that is worth four and a half times your mortgage. And yet, it’s predominantly bought in a really antiquated way with paper and pen systems. It’s really hard to keep up to date with your loved ones’ care. We’re also competing against new entrants.”

She added: “In 12 months, we have tripled revenue, launched the first App in the world to offer free care advice, and cut Carer churn to half the industry average, all while maintaining exclusively 5-star reviews on Trustpilot.”

Mark Pearson, managing partner of Fuel Ventures said: “Rachael, Sam and their team have delivered exceptional growth in the past year. They have a unique vision of the future for care and their model is delivering clear results for both sides of the marketplace.”

BuyerAssist launches with $2M in funding to help B2B sales team keep their buyers engaged

By Catherine Shu

A group photo of BuyerAssist founders Shyam HN, Amit Dugar and Shankar Ganapathy

BuyerAssist founders Shyam HN, Amit Dugar and Shankar Ganapathy

Selling enterprise software is much more complicated than convincing a potential customer that your solution is the best and signing a contract. A recent Gartner study found that buying groups for B2B solutions can involve up to six to 10 decision makers, and that the majority of buyers said their most recent purchase was “very complex or difficult” as they came to a consensus while negotiating with vendors.

BuyerAssist, a new startup founded by former employees of sales readiness platform MindTickle, wants to make the buying process as smooth as possible. The company is launching its beta product to the public today with $2 million in seed funding led by Stellaris Venture Partners and Emergent Ventures, with participation from angel investors. The capital will be used for hiring in the U.S. and India, with plans to bring BuyerAssist’s platform out of beta later this year.

Headquartered in San Francisco, with an office in Pune, India, BuyerAssist.io was founded last year by Amit Dugar, Shankar Ganapathy and Shyam HN, all alumni of SoftBank Vision 2-backed MindTickle, a platform that enables companies to train their sales staff at scale. The philosophy behind BuyerAssist draws on HN and Ganapathy’s experience on the sales and marketing side of MindTickle: Ganapathy was its director of strategic accounts, while HN served as head of global sales development.

“We’ve sold half a million dollar deals, and deals where you have anywhere form 10 to 25 people involved from the buyer side,” HN told TechCrunch. “There’s a core team of about five to 10 people, but then there is also an extended team that comes and goes during the process.”

The pandemic added an extra layer of complexity to B2B sales, because many deals were done remotely. Furthermore, sales representatives get less time to interact with buyers. The Gartner report found that when B2B buying teams consider a purchase, they spend only 17% of that time meeting with potential suppliers, and the amount of time they spend interacting with any sales representative may be only 5% to 6%. This means vendors have to find ways to keep potential buyers engaged, while making the process easier for them.

BuyerAssist describes itself as a “operating system for B2B companies to deliver the most effective buying experience.” It helps by providing a centralized place to gather information that would usually be buried in emails and notes, and make it searchable. It also lets both vendors and buyers share information about their needs (like pricing, information security reviews and when they want to deploy software by), creating more transparency for each side, and stores important files like proposals, contracts and legal documentation.

For vendors, having information and questions from potential buyers organized in one place can help them better understand their deals pipeline and meet revenue goals. BuyerAssist also provides analytics that can help them retain more contracts. For example, it alerts vendors when buyers become less engaged, which may mean they are losing interest.

During its beta stage, BuyerAssist worked with four companies. The platform is currently focused on enterprise software and SaaS companies that do a lot of their sales remotely, but can be used for any complex sales process that involves multiple calls and emails. Other sectors BuyerAssist wants to enter include manufacturing and financial services.

BuyerAssist is part of a new crop of startups focused on helping vendors and buyers work together on complicated sales. Others include Accord, MetaCX, Dealpoint and Redcapped.io. HN said that the space is still very new, so companies are still figuring out their positioning. In BuyerAssist’s case, this means focusing on buyer engagement, instead of mutual success plans or collaborations, from the beginning. HN said the company will double down on investing in two key areas of product development: building its enterprise grade product to support complex sales and becoming the preferred way for buying teams to engage with BuyerAssist’s clients.

In statement about the investment, Stellaris Venture Partners partner Alok Goyal said, “As a venture capitalist focusing on the SaaS space, we get to see hundreds of teams. But it is very rare to find teams that create a perfect storm of domain expertise, functional expertise in different areas of building SaaS companies and at the same time bringing the perfect complementarity between the founders.”

Anupam Rastogi, a partner at Emergent Ventures, said “What excites me about BuyerAssist is that it focuses on reducing friction between buyers and sellers. Buyers want more flexibility and less noise. Sellers want to run a more consistent sales process. BuyerAssist facilitates this, and enables both to build a long term partnership. This is where we see the industry heading in the years and decades to come.”

Relativity Space launches its valuation to $4.2B with $650M in new funding

By Aria Alamalhodaei

3D-printed rocket startup Relativity Space has raised a $650 million Series E, bringing its total raised to over $1.2 billion. Relativity’s post-money valuation now stands at $4.2 billion, a source familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The round was led by Fidelity Management & Research Company, with participation from new investors with funds and accounts managed by BlackRock, Centricus, Coatue, and Soroban Capital, and participation from existing investors Baillie Gifford, K5 Global, Tiger Global, Tribe Capital, XN, Brad Buss, Mark Cuban, Jared Leto, and Spencer Rascoff.

The funds from the Series E will go toward accelerating the production of Terran R, the company’s heavy-lift, fully reusable two-stage rocket. Terran R joins Terran 1, Relativity’s debut rocket, which will conduct its first orbital flight at the end of 2021.

The company has been pretty tight-lipped about Terran R, but are now releasing further details alongside the funding announcement. As expected, Terran 1 and Terran R differ in pretty significant ways: the former is expendable, the latter reusable; the former is designed for small payloads, the latter for large. Even the Terran R’s payload fairing is reusable, and Relativity has devised a system that makes it easier to recover and recycle as it stays attached to the second stage.

The larger rocket will clock in at 216 feet tall with a maximum payload capacity of 20,000 pounds to low Earth orbit. (For comparison, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket stands at around 230 feet with a maximum payload to LEO of 22,800 pounds.)

Relativity’s Terran 1 on the left, and Terran R on the right. Image Credits: Relativity

Terran R will use seven of its new Aeon R engines on the first stage, each capable of 302,000 pounds of thrust. The same 3D printers that will produce Terran R’s engines and rockets also currently make the nine Aeon 1 engines that power the Terran 1, which means Relativity doesn’t have to drastically reconfigure its production line to build the new launch vehicle.

A single Terran R should take around 60 days to build, Ellis estimated. That’s an incredible pace for a rocket with this kind of payload capacity.

Even though Terran 1 has not seen a launch yet, Relativity shows no signs of slowing down Terran R’s development: Ellis said the company will also launch Terran R from its launch site at Cape Canaveral as early as 2024 and that it signed its first anchor customer, “a well-known blue-chip company,” for the new rocket.

Relativity has printed around 85% of the rocket that will perform the company’s first orbital flight at the end of this year. The Terran 1 that will perform that mission will not be carrying any payload. Terran 1’s second launch is scheduled to take place in June ’22, and will carry cubesats to LEO as part of NASA’s Venture Class Launch Services Demonstration 2 (VCLS Demo 2) contract.

Relativity CEO Tim Ellis in an interview with TechCrunch likened 3D printing to a paradigm shift in manufacturing. “I think really the thing people haven’t gotten about our approach, or 3D printing in general, is it’s actually more like transitioning from gas internal combustion engines to electric, or on-premise service to cloud,” Ellis said. “3D printing is a cool technology but more than that, it’s actually software and data-driven manufacturing and automation technology.”

Because the core of 3D printing is a technology stack, the company can produce algorithmically generated structures with “geometries that couldn’t be possible” with traditional manufacturing, Ellis said. And the design can be easily adjusted to fit market demand.

Ellis, who started the metal 3D printing division at Blue Origin before founding Relativity, said that the strategy from day one was to design and build Terran 1 and a heavy-lift counterpart.

The actual mechanisms involved in 3D printing can technically occur in environments even when gravity is much lower – like the gravity on Mars, which is only about 38% of the gravity on Earth. But more importantly, Ellis said it’s an approach that’s “inevitably required” in an uncertain off-planet environment.

“When we founded Relativity, the inspiration was watching SpaceX land rockets and dock with the space station. They were 13 years old and they were, despite all of that pretty inspiring success, the only company that wanted to make humanity a multi-planetary and go to Mars,” Ellis said. “And I thought that 3D printing tech was inevitable to actually build an industrial base on another planet. No one else had actually even tried to go to Mars or said that was their core mission. And that’s still true today, actually, even five years later, it’s still just us and SpaceX. And I really do hope to inspire dozens to hundreds of companies to go after that mission.”

Whatfix nabs $90M to help workers onboard and get the most out of their IT stacks

By Ingrid Lunden

“Digital transformation” has been on the mind of many an organization in the last year: the pandemic and the shift it’s brought to how we work are speeding up investments in new apps, infrastructure and work practices to improve productivity regardless of where we sit all day. Now, it looks like we’re on to the next stage of that journey: actually figuring out how to adopt and run with all that new tech.

In a sign of the times, today a startup called Whatfix — which has built a platform that helps make better use of tech investments by giving chatbot-style guidance to users on how to use apps, with the option also to apply AI to understand what a person is doing to suggest what actions to take next — is announcing $90 million in funding. It will use the money to continue expanding its tech platform and hiring more talent to meet demand, said CEO Khadim Batti, who co-founded the company with Vara Kumar (CTO), in an interview this week.

Sources close to the company — co-headquartered in San Jose and Bangalore — confirmed that the Series D round was made at a valuation of around $600 million, triple Whatfix’s value in its Series C round last year.

That sharp rise is due in part to the state of the market today, but also the company’s growth within that bigger trend. Whatfix today has some 500 global customers on its books, The Netherlands Red Cross, Experian, Sentry Financial Services, Cardinal Health Canada, BMC Software Inc., and Bausch & Lomb among them. Some 75% of its business is coming out of the U.S., with another 18% from Europe. Revenues in the last six months have been growing at a rate of 100% quarter-on-quarter.

“This pandemic has proven an inflection point for adoption,” said Batti (pictured above, left with Kumar, right).

This latest tranche of equity funding is coming from a mix of financial and strategic investors.

SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2 is leading the round, with Eight Roads Ventures, Sequoia Capital India, Dragoneer Investment Group, F-Prime Capital and Cisco Investments also investing. The company has raised just under $140 million in total.

“Digital adoption solutions” — the general term describing what Whatfix has built — have become a popular solution for enterprises that have found themselves in an IT pickle, Batti said.

“We’ve seen more than $500 billion spent on enterprise software, with areas like SaaS growing very fast. There is so much there, and every employee has access to do better work. But most are not adopting or using that software. This means a lot [of inefficiency] in ‘digital transformation,'” said Batti. “We are focusing on fixing this problem.”

Digital adoption and digital experience overall can come in many forms these days.

They include assistants that are embedded directly into apps themselves (with some versions of this — such as Clippy on Word — nearly as old as software itself). The category also includes separate platforms that integrate at the back end with the apps that you use, providing not just a single ingestion point for data but intelligence on how best to use it, and what to use. (Dooly for sales teams is an example of that, although I don’t know if it would describe itself as a “digital adoption solution” per se.)

Others like Pendo are geared more at observing how your sites and apps are being adopted and used by others. And there are a number of others out there specifically looking at digital adoption by enterprises and competing directly with Whatfix: they include Apty, Userlane, Applearn.

One of the biggest — WalkMe — yesterday announced an IPO at an estimated $2.5 billion valuation.

Overall digital adoption and digital experience are big businesses: one analyst estimates that the market is growing currently at a rate of just under 11% annually and will be worth $15.8 billion by 2025.

Whatfix is built around the premise that it sits on top of whatever apps a company may choose to use, and will work with just about any piece of modern software, Batti said. That includes Whatfix being able to provide assistance on apps even when they have been customised for a particular workplace. It most commonly appears like a little chatbot on the user’s screen, like the one in this paragraph, which can expand with more details and information as needed, like this:

The company works with the most popular software packages — including Salesforce, MS Dynamics, Oracle’s CRM platform, ServiceNow, SuccessFactors, SharePoint, Workday — but, since it is used in the form of a browser extension or an overlay integrated by a company’s IT department, it can be used to help guide people with any application that’s available over the web. Batti said that one priority the startup has is to build deeper integrations with specific apps so that Whatfix can be used better across mobile and with local apps in future, not just via the web.

Many might think of “digital adoption” as training someone to use a particular software package, and while Whatfix is used for that, the company has also found a lot of traction as a tool beyond it, providing support on a more regular basis and across a wider variety of use cases, whether it’s to help guide people through app usage, or to monitor what they are doing in order to help suggest what to do next, and even populate relevant fields if “next” means using a different app.

The platform can be used to create usage guides, multilingual support, multi-device support, user tracking and more, and it comes with low-code options (it can be intergrated into an app with a single line of code, the company says).

The company claims its assistants can increase employee productivity by 35%, reduce training time and costs by 60%, reduce employee case tickets by 50% and increase application data accuracy by 20%.

While the field for digital adoption is very crowded today, it’s numbers like these, Whatfix’s own growth, and the fact that software is continuing to get more capable, but also more complex, that have interested investors.

“Digital Adoption Solutions are enhancing the growth and importance of SaaS products for enterprises globally,” said Munish Varma, Managing Partner, SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement. “Whatfix makes it easier for companies to use SaaS products, which increases productivity. Whatfix, with its roster of global clients, is well placed to become a DAS leader, and we are excited to be part of their journey.” Sumer Juneja, Partner, SoftBank Investment Advisers, added: “Enterprises spend billions on applications across multiple functions and yet employee adoption is low. Quick adoption ensures payback on software investments. Whatfix’s solutions will be a key driver for enterprises to achieve this goal, which is reflected in their growth.”

What will be interesting to watch is how platforms like Whatfix’s will evolve over time, and what further functions they might take on. For example, in enterprises, one of the biggest vulnerabilities in security has been how people mistakenly click on dodgy links in emails or otherwise inadvertently pass on information to malicious hackers. Could there be a role for digital adoption assistants to identify when this might happen and alert people before they click the wrong way? Regardless, the question and very existence of loopholes like that are signals for why we’ll probably why we’ll continue to see tools like Whatfix’s around for some time to come.

Nuggs creator Simulate raises $50M

By Brian Heater

New York-based Simulate today announced a $50 million fundraise. Led by Alexis Ohanian’s 776, the Series B brings the meat alternative’s total funding to north of $60 million and values it at $260 million.

Simulate’s first product, Nuggs (formerly also the startup’s name), has already caused a splash, thanks in no small part to aggressive online advertising. The company notes a massive push in retail availability in the last six months. The chicken nugget alternative was available direct to consumers through online ordering when it launched in Summer 2019 — availability that moved the needle during U.S. shutdowns over the past year.

“During the height of the pandemic, people really wanted frozen food shipped directly to their door,” founder and CEO Ben Pasternak tells TechCrunch. “At the time, we were DTC only, so we saw a lot of growth there prior to our pivot to retail.”

He adds that the majority of the company’s sales now currently come from retail, due to accessibility and more restrictive DTC pricing. Currently, the product is available in 5,000 retail locations, a list that includes pretty massive retail names like Walmart/ Sam’s Club, Target and Whole Foods.

“We are getting ready to launch in restaurants and in fast food,” says Pasternak. “Internationally, we recently launched across Canada, and have plans to expand to other countries too.”

Funding will also go toward expanding the company’s headcount. Currently at 20, Simulate expects to expand employment to 50 people by 2022. “Over half of that expansion will be focused on growing our engineering team,” Pasternak says.

 

Airbase raises $60M as the corporate spend market segments, matures

By Alex Wilhelm

This morning Airbase, a corporate spend startup, announced that it has closed a $60 million Series B led by Menlo Ventures. The deal’s announcement comes after Divvy, another corporate-spend focused startup, sold to Bill.com for several billion dollars, and other unicorns in the space like Brex and Divvy each raised nine-figure rounds.

According to Airbase CEO Thejo Kote, his company’s round is not a response to the Divvy sale. Instead, he told TechCrunch in an interview, his company kicked off its fundraising process before that deal was announced.

Not that what Airbase undertook was a process in the traditional sense; Kote did not spend months schlepping a deck along Sand Hill Road, imbibing mediocre architecture, overdressed MBAs and good weather in equal quantities. Instead, he decided that his firm was open to raising more capital in April despite having capital in the bank from previous investments, and 10 days later had signed a term sheet with Menlo.

Menlo partner and new Airbase board member Matt Murphy told TechCrunch in a separate interview that his firm had had its eye on the company for some time before its deal, allowing it to move quickly when Kote opened the door to more funding. (Murphy was candid in sharing that he had spent quite some time getting in front of Airbase, which we pass along as evidence of just how competitive the venture capital market can be in 2021.)

According to Kote, his firm’s new capital was raised on a $600 million valuation, post-money, which means that the Menlo-led transaction involved 10% of the company’s shares.

A segmenting market

TechCrunch’s coverage of the corporate spend market has largely focused on the revenue growth of the competing players, and their decision to either charge for the software that they offer along with corporate cards or not. But Kote views the market as segmenting in a somewhat different manner, namely along target customer scale. Divvy, for example, went after SMBs, while Airbase has more of a mid-market focus.

The customer targeting matters, with Kote telling TechCrunch that mid-market companies are looking for a single solution to replace various point-services that they have traditionally paid for. In the case of corporate spend, that could mean that many companies are willing to pay for new software so long as it can replace several services that they were buying discretely before; say, corporate cards and expense management software.

Kote said that the Divvy-Bill.com news was a “massive validation” of his company’s thesis that software would prove key in the market formerly focused on corporate cards, and that offering cards was itself a “race to the bottom.”

In the view of Airbase’s CEO, his company has a six to eight quarter lead on its competitors in product terms. The market will vet that perspective, but the company’s confidence in its vision and new capital should provide it with ample opportunity to prove out its thesis in the coming quarters, and see whether where it views its product in terms of market positioning viz. demand and competitors is correct.

The investor perspective

Menlo Ventures seems to think so, to the tune of its largest single check to date from a non-growth fund. What did Murphy et al. find so compelling about the company? In the investor’s view, Airbase has a shot at replacing point-solutions in mid-market companies, precisely as Kote imagines:

Airbase consolidates all the different spend apps which greatly decreases complexity in workflows as finance teams previously had to jump from app to app and don’t have a real time, holistic view in one place. […] Of course there is an advantage in not having to pay for multiple apps, but the biggest benefits are simplicity of workflows which is where we heard most of the product love.

Murphy continued, adding that at many companies “a manager won’t know until after [a quarter ends] whether the team for example spent above or below budget,” which makes integrated solutions more attractive.

Why does the viewpoint matter? It implies that the market that Airbase can sell into is rather large; instead of considering the aggregate non-payroll spend that its possible customer companies may generate and then applying an interchange vig to the total to calculate its potential scale, we might tabulate mid-market software spend on expenses, accounting and other categories as the startup’s true TAM. And as Airbase can still generate top-line from interchange and other sources, it could be well-situated for long-term growth.

Of course, its competitors are not interested in letting Airbase have all the fun. Ramp recently raised lots of capital, and is investing in its own software stack. With a free price point, it’s perhaps the most aggressive player on the interchange-first side of its market. And Brex is working to make lots of public noise, again, and has its own tower of cash, software focus and recently launched paid-SaaS service.

Now Airbase has more cash than it has ever had in its accounts, and has been busy hiring. The company has picked up a CFO, a general counsel and a VP of sales, from Mattermost, Robinhood and Dropbox, respectively.

Which all sounds very much like the long-term prep work for an eventual IPO. Set your timers for 2024.

Fintech all-star Nubank raises a $750M mega round

By Marcella McCarthy

In 2013, Colombian businessman David Velez decided to reinvent the Brazilian banking system. He didn’t speak Portuguese, nor was he an engineer or a banker, but he did have the conviction that the system was broken and that he could fix it. And as a former Sequoia VC, he also had access to capital.

His gut instinct and market analysis were right. Today, Nubank announced a $750 million extension to its Series G (which rang in at $400 million this past January), bringing the round to a total of $1.15 billion and their valuation to $30 billion — $5 billion more than when we covered them in January.

The extension funding was led by Berkshire Hathaway, which put in $500 million, and a number of other investors.

Velez and his team decided now was a good time to raise again, because, “We saw a great opportunity in terms of growth rate and we’re very tiny when compared to the incumbents,” he told TechCrunch.”

Nubank is the biggest digital bank in the world by number of customers: 40 million. The company started as a tech company in Brazil that offered only a fee-free credit card with a line of credit of R$50 (about USD$10). 

It now offers a variety of financial products, including a digital bank account, a debit card, insurance, P2P payment via Pix (the Brazilian equivalent of Zelle), loans, rewards, life insurance and an account and credit card for small business owners. 

Nubank serves unbanked or underserviced citizens in Brazil — about 30% of the population — and this approach can be extremely profitable because there are many more clients available.

The banking system in Brazil is one of the few bureaucracies in the country that is actually quite skillful, but the customer service remains unbearable, and banks charge exorbitant fees for any little transaction. 

Traditionally, the banking industry has been dominated by five major traditional banks: Itaú Unibanco, Banco do Brasil, Bradesco, Santander and Caixa Economica Federal. 

While Brazil remains Nubank’s primary market, the company also offers services in Colombia and Mexico (services launched in Mexico in 2018). The company still only offers the credit card in both countries.

“The momentum we’re seeing in Mexico is terrific. Our Mexican credit card net promoter score (NPS) is 93, which is the highest we’ve had in Nubank history. In Brazil the highest we’ve had was 88,” Velez said.

The company has been on a hiring spree in the last few months, and brought on two heavyweight executives. Matt Swann replaced Ed Wible (the original CTO and co-founder). Wible continues to be an important player in the company, but more in a software developer capacity. Swann previously served as CTO at Bookings.com and StubHub, and as CIO of the Global Consumer Bank at Citi, so he brings years of experience of scaling tech businesses, which is what Nubank is focused on now, though Velez wouldn’t confirm which countries are next.

The other major hire, Arturo Nunez, fills the new role of chief marketing officer. Nunez was head of marketing for Apple Latin America, amongst other roles with Nike and the NBA. 

It may sound a little odd for a tech company not to have had a head of marketing, but Nubank takes pride in having a $0 cost of acquisition (CAC). Instead of spending money on marketing, they spend it on customer service and then rely on word of mouth to get the word out.

Since we last spoke with Velez in January regarding the $400 million Series G, the company went from having 34 million customers to now having 40 million in a span of roughly 6 months. The funds will be used to grow the business, including hiring more people.

“We’ve seen the entire market go digital, especially people who never thought they would,” Velez said. “There is really now an avalanche of all backgrounds [of people] who are getting into digital banking.”

Chinese lidar maker Hesai lands $300M led by Hillhouse, Xiaomi, Meituan

By Rita Liao

The rush to back lidar companies continues as more automakers and robotaxi startups include the remote sensing method in their vehicles.

Latest to the investment boom is Hesai, a Shanghai-based lidar maker founded in 2014 with an office in Palo Alto. The company just completed a $300 million Series D funding round led by GL Ventures, the venture capital arm of storied private equity firm Hillhouse Capital, smartphone maker Xiaomi, on-demand services giant Meituan and CPE, the private equity platform of Citic.

Hesai said the new proceeds will be spent on mass-producing its hybrid solid-state lidar for its OEM customers, the construction of its smart manufacturing center, and research and development on automotive-grade lidar chips. The company said it has accumulated “several hundred million dollars” in funding to date.

Other participants in the round included Huatai Securities, Lightspeed China Partners and Lightspeed Venture Capital, as well as Qiming Venture Partners. Bosch, Baidu, and ON Semiconductor are also among its shareholders.

Another Chinese lidar startup Innovusion, a major supplier to electric vehicle startup Nio, raised a $64 million round led by Temasek in May. Livox is another emerging lidar maker that was an offshoot of DJI.

Lidar isn’t limited to powering robotaxis and passenger EVs, and that’s why Hesai got Xiaomi and Meituan onboard. Xiaomi makes hundreds of different connected devices through its manufacturing suppliers that could easily benefit from industrial automation, to which sensing technology is critical. But the phone maker also unveiled plans this year to make electric cars.

Meituan, delivering food to hundreds of millions of consumers in China, could similarly benefit from replacing human riders with lidar-enabled unmanned vans and drones.

Hesai, with a staff of over 500 employees, says its clients span 70 cities across 23 countries. The company touts Nuro, Bosch, Lyft, Navya, and Chinese robotaxi operators Baidu, WeRide and AutoX among its customers. Last year, it kickstarted a partnership with Scale AI, a data labeling company, to launch an open-source data set for training autonomous driving algorithms, with data collected using Hesai’s lidar in California. 

Last July, Hesai and lidar technology pioneer Velodyne entered a long-term licensing agreement as the two dismissed legal proceedings in the U.S., Germany and China.

Tiger Global leads $30M investment into Briq, a fintech for the construction industry

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Briq, which has developed a fintech platform used by the construction industry, has raised $30 million in a Series B funding round led by Tiger Global Management.

The financing is among the largest Series B fundraises by a construction software startup, according to the company, and brings Briq’s total raised to $43 million since its January 2018 inception. Existing backers Eniac Ventures and Blackhorn Ventures also participated in the round.

Briq CEO and co-founder Bassem Hamdy is a former executive at construction tech giant Procore (which recently went public and has a market cap of $10.4 billion) and Canadian software giant CMiC. Wall Street veteran Ron Goldshmidt is co-founder and COO.

Briq describes its offering as a financial planning and workflow automation platform that “drastically reduces” the time to run critical financial processes, while increasing the accuracy of forecasts and financial plans.

Briq has developed a toolbox of proprietary technology that it says allows it to extract and manipulate financial data without the use of APIs. It also has developed construction-specific data models that allows it to build out projections and create models of how much a project might cost, and how much could conceivably be made. Currently, Briq manages or forecasts about $30 billion in construction volume.

Specifically, Briq has two main offerings: Briq’s Corporate Performance Management (CPM) platform, which models financial outcomes at the project and corporate level and BriqCash, a construction-specific banking platform for managing invoices and payments. 

Put simply, Briq aims to allow contractors “to go from plan to pay” in one platform with the goal of solving the age-old problem of construction projects (very often) going over budget. Its longer-term, ambitious mission is to “manage 80% of the money workflows in construction within 10 years.”

The company’s strategy, so far, seems to be working.

From January 2020 to today, ARR has climbed by 200%, according to Hamdy. Briq currently has about 100 employees, compared to 35 a year ago.

Briq has 150 customers, and serves general and specialty contractors from $10 million to $1 billion in revenue.  They include Cafco Construction Management, WestCor Companies and Choate Construction and Harper Construction. The company is currently focused on contractors in North America but does have long-term plans to address larger international markets, Hamdy told TechCrunch.  

Some context

Hamdy came up with the idea for Santa Barbara, California-based Briq after realizing the vast amount of inefficiencies on the financial side of the construction industry. His goal was to do for construction financials what Procore did to document management, and PlanGrid to construction drawing. He started Briq with his own cash, amassed through secondary sales as Procore climbed the ranks of startups to become a construction industry unicorn.

Briq CEO and co-founder Bassem Hamdy. Image Credits: Briq

“I wanted to figure out how to bring the best of fintech into a construction industry that really guesses every month what the financial outcomes are for projects,” Hamdy told me at the time of the company’s last raise – a $10 million Series A led by Blackhorn Ventures announced in May of 2020. “Getting a handle on financial outcomes is really hard. The vast majority of the time, the forecasted cost to completion is plain wrong. By a lot.”

In fact, according to McKinsey, an astounding 80 percent of projects run over budget, resulting in significant waste and profit loss.

So at the end of a project, contractors often find themselves having doled out more money and resources than originally planned. This can lead to negative cash flow and profit loss. Briq’s platform aims to help contractors identify outliers, and which projects are more at risk.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Briq has proven to be “extremely valuable” to contractors, Hamdy said.

“In an industry where margins are so thin, we have given contractors the ability to truly understand where they stand on cash, profit and labor,” he added.

This SPAC is betting that a British healthcare company can shake up the US market

By Alex Wilhelm

Welcome back to the week, and welcome back to The Exchange. Robinhood has yet to file its IPO, so we’re looking at other companies in the meantime. Today it’s Babylon Health, a British healthtech company that is pursuing a U.S. listing via a blank-check company, or SPAC.

You have questions. I have questions. We’ll get to some answers.

But before we do, we wanted to note that Anna and I are looking into the AI startup market tomorrow morning. If you are a VC with notes regarding the current pace of investment into the sector or thoughts on where customer traction is highest, let us know. If you are a founder building an AI-powered startup, we’d also like to hear from you about what you are seeing. Use the subject line “AI startups,” please.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. 

Read it every morning on Extra Crunch or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


With that out of the way, let’s get into Babylon Health. We’ll kick off with a short riff on its fundraising history, talk about its product, and then dive into its numbers and, bracing ourselves for impact, its projections.

The larger context this morning is that we’re doing legwork ahead of what could be a super active Q3 2021 IPO cycle. Kanzhun, a Chinese company, has also filed for a U.S. listing. Toss in Robinhood whenever it gets off its duff and gives us its own filing, and we’re being promised a good time.

Babylon Health

Per Crunchbase data, Babylon has raised north of $600 million as a private company. Its funding, however, has not come from sources that we tend to discuss here at TechCrunch. Instead, the company raised some money from more traditional investors like Hoxton Ventures and Kinnevik, but the bulk of its capital was raised from the Saudi Arabian “Public Investment Fund,” or PIF. The PIF led a $550 million round into the British healthtech company back in August 2019.

PitchBook has the round cut into two parts, the larger, first portion of which valued the company at $1.9 billion on a post-money basis.

That figure brings us to the SPAC deal that Babylon is now pursuing. The company’s new equity value after its SPAC deal will land around $4.2 billion, with Babylon sitting on around $540 million in cash after the deal is completed. The company will sport a lower, $3.6 billion enterprise valuation after its merger with SPAC Alkuri.

Equity Monday: Jeff’s going to space, and everyone wants a piece of Flipkart

By Alex Wilhelm

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

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here.

It’s WWDC week, so expect a deluge of Apple news to overtake your Twitter feed here and there over the next few days. But there’s a lot more going on, so let’s dig in:

And that’s your start to the week. More to come from your friends here on Wednesday, and Friday. Chat soon!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

Mendel raises $18M to tease out data structure from medicine’s disparate document trove

By Ingrid Lunden

The medical industry is sitting on a huge trove of data, but in many cases it can be a challenge to realize the value of it because that data is unstructured and in disparate places.

Today, a startup called Mendel, which has built an AI platform both to ingest and bring order to that body of information, is announcing $18 million in funding to continue its growth and to build out what it describes as a “clinical data marketplace” for people not just to organize, but also to share and exchange that data for research purposes. It’s also going to be using the funding to hire more talent — technical and support — for its two offices, in San Jose, CA and Cairo, Egypt.

The Series A round is being led by DCM, with OliveTree and MTVLP, and previous backers Launch Capital, SOSV, Bootstrap Labs and Chairman of UCSF Health Hub Mark Goldstein also participating.

The funding comes on the heels of what Mendel says is a surge of interest among research and pharmaceutical companies in sourcing better data to gain a better understanding of longer-term patient care and progress, in particular across wider groups of users, not just at a time when it has been more challenging to observe people and run trials, but in light of the understanding that using AI to leverage much bigger data sets can produce better insights.

This can be important, for example, in proactive identifying symptoms of particular ailments or the pathology of a disease, but also recurring and more typical responses to specific treatment courses.

We previously wrote about Mendel back in 2017 when the company had received a seed round of $2 million to better match cancer patients with the various clinical trials that are regularly being run: the idea was that certain trials address specific types of cancers and types of patients, and those who are willing to try newer approaches will be better or worse suited to each of these.

It turned out, however, that Mendel discovered a problem in the data that it would have needed to enable its matching algorithms to work, said Dr. Karim Galil, Mendel’s CEO and founder.

“As we were trying to build the trial business, we discovered a more basic problem that hadn’t been solved,” he said in an interview. “It was the reading and understanding medical records of a patient. If you can’t do that you can’t do trial matching.”

So the startup decided to become an R&D shop for at least three years to solve that problem before doing anything with trials, he continued.

Although there are today many AI companies that are parsing unstructured information in order to extract better insights, Mendel is what you might think of as part of the guard of tech companies that are building out specific AI knowledge bases for distinct verticals or areas of expertise. (Another example from another vertical is Eigen, working in the legal and finance industries, while Google’s DeepMind is another major AI player looking at ways of better harnessing data in the sphere of medicine.)

The issue of “reading” natural language is more nuanced than you might think in the world of medicine. Gali compared it to the phrase “I’m going to leave you” in English, which could just as easily mean someone is departing, say, a room, as someone is walking out of a relationship. The “true” answer — and as we humans know even truth can be elusive — can only start to be found in the context.

The same goes for doctors and their observation notes, Galil said. “There is a lot hidden between the lines, and problems can be specific to a person,” or to a situation.

That has proven to be a lucrative area to tackle.

Mendel uses a mix of computer vision and natural language processing built by teams with extensive experience in both clinical environments and in building AI algorithms and currently provides tools to automate clinical data abstraction, OCR, special tools to redact and remove personal identifiable information automatically to share records, search engines to search clinical data, and — yes — an engine to enable better matching of people to clinical trials. Customers include pharmaceutical and life science companies, real-world data and real-world evidence (RWD and RWE) providers and research groups.

And to underscore just how much there is still left to do in the world of medicine, along with this funding round, Mendel is announcing a partnership with eFax, an online faxing solution used by a huge number of healthcare providers.

Faxing is totally antiquated in some parts of the world now — I’m not even sure that people the age of my children (tweens) even know what a “fax” is — but they remain one of the most-used ways to transfer documents and information between people in the worlds of healthcare and medicine, with 90% of the industry using them today. The partnership with Mendel will mean that those eFaxes will now be “read” and digitized and ingested into wider platforms to tap that data in a more useful way.

“There is huge potential for the global healthcare industry to leverage AI,” said Mendel board member and partner at DCM, Kyle Lui, in a statement. “Mendel has created a unique and seamless solution for healthcare organizations to automatically make sense of their clinical data using AI. We look forward to continuing to work with the team on this next stage of growth.”

Endua creates hydrogen-powered clean energy storage, using tech from Australia’s national science agency

By Catherine Shu

Hydrogen-based generators are an environmentally-friendly alternative to ones powered by diesel fuel. But many rely on solar, hydro or wind power, which aren’t available all the time. Brisbane-based Endua is making hydrogen-based power generators more accessible by using electrolysis to create more hydrogen and storing it for long-term use. The startup’s technology was developed at CSIRO, Australian’s national science agency, and is being commercialized by Main Sequence, the venture fund founded by CSIRO and Ampol, one of the country’s largest fuel companies.

Main Sequence’s venture science model means that it first identifies a global challenge, then brings together the technology, team and investors to launch a startup that can address that problem. Through the program, Paul Sernia, the founder of electric vehicle charger maker Tritium, was brought on to serve as Endua’s chief executive officer, working with Main Sequence partner Martin Duursma to commercialize the hydrogen-based power generation and storage technology developed at CSIRO. Ampol will serve as Endua’s industry partner.

Endua is backed by $5 million AUD (about $3.9 million USD) from Main Sequence, CSIRO and Ampol. The company plans to launch in Australia first before expanding into other countries.

Sernia told TechCrunch that Endua was created to “solve one of the biggest problems facing the transition to renewable energy—how to store renewable energy in large quantities, for long periods of time.”

Endua’s modular power banks can run up to 150 kilowatts per pack and be extended for different use cases, serving as an alternative to power generators that run on diesel fuel. Batteries serve as backup, but Endua’s goal is to deliver renewable energy that can be stored in large quantities, enabling off-grid infrastructure and communities to have self-sustaining power sources.

“Hydrogen electrolysis technology has been around for quite some time but it still has a long way to go to meet the expectations of commercial markets and be cost-effective when compared to existing energy sources,” Sernia said. “The technology we’ve developed with CSIRO enables us to make the cost more affordable compared to fossil fuel sources, more reliable and easily maintained in remote communities.”

The startup plans to focus on industrial clients before reaching smaller businesses and residences. “One of the biggest opportunities, that few have really tackled, is that of diesel generator users like regional communities, mines or remote infrastructure,” Sernia said. “In farming, Endua’s solution could be used to power equipment such as a bore or irrigation pumps.” The power banks can plug into existing renewable energy systems, including solar and wind, to make the switch economical for users, he added. Water is part of the electrolysis process, but only a small amount is needed.

“Batteries are a great way to deliver dispatchable power in small increments and are a complementary part of the overall transition plan, but we’re focusing on delivering renewable energy that can be stored in large quantities, for large periods of time, so communities and remote infrastructure can access reliable, renewable energy at any time of day,” Sernia told TechCrunch.

Ampol is working with Endua as part of its Future Energy and Decarbonisation Strategy. It will test and commercialize Endua’s tech to reach its 80,000 B2B customers, focusing first on the off-grid diesel generator market, which the company said generates 200,000 tonnes of carbon emissions per year.

In press statement, Ampol managing director and CEO Matthew Halliday said, “We are excited to be involved with Endua, which is part of our commitment to extending our customer value proposition by finding and developing new energy solutions that will assist with their energy transition.”

Indian giant Tata Digital to invest $75 million in fitness startup CureFit

By Manish Singh

Tata Digital, a subsidiary of Indian conglomerate Tata Sons, said on Monday it has signed a deal to invest up to $75 million in fitness startup CureFit. As part of the deal, CureFit co-founder and chief executive Mukesh Bansal will join Tata Digital as President and continue in his role at the Bangalore-headquartered startup.

Monday’s investment is the salt-to-steel giant’s latest effort to expand its presence in the consumer tech space. Earlier this year, Tata Group acquired majority stakes in online grocery startup BigBasket, and is reportedly in talks to acquire online pharmacy 1mg, according to local media reports.

Prior to today’s announcement, CureFit had raised about $418 million and was last valued at $815 million, according to insight firm Tracxn.

“Joining Tata Digital marks an exciting new step for me and my team and is a recognition of the value we have created with CureFit for fitness enthusiasts in India. Being part of Tata Digital will enable us to nationally scale up our offerings for our customers,” said Bansal, who sold his previous venture Myntra to Flipkart, in a statement.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

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