Earlier this week, ExxonMobil, a company among the largest producers of greenhouse gas emissions and a longtime leader in the corporate fight against climate change regulations, called for a massive $100 billion project (backed in part by the government) to sequester hundreds of millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide in geologic formations off the Gulf of Mexico.
The gall of Exxon’s flag-planting request is matched only by the grit from startup companies that are already working on carbon capture and storage or carbon utilization projects and announced significant milestones along their own path to commercialization even as Exxon was asking for handouts.
These are companies like Charm Industrial, which just completed the first pilot test of its technology through a contract with Stripe. That pilot project saw the company remove 416 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent from the atmosphere. That’s a small fraction of the hundred million tons Exxon thinks could be captured in its hypothetical sequestration project located off the Gulf Coast, but the difference between Exxon’s proposal and Charm’s sequestration project is that Charm has actually managed to already sequester the carbon.
The company’s technology, verified by outside observers like Shopify, Microsoft, CarbonPlan, CarbonDirect and others, converts biomass into an oil-like substance and then injects that goop underground — permanently sequestering the carbon dioxide, the company said.
Eventually, Charm would use its bio-based oil equivalent to produce “green hydrogen” and replace pumped or fracked hydrocarbons in industries that may still require combustible fuel for their operations.
1/ Today we're announcing we've delivered @stripe's 416 ton CO₂e carbon removal purchase ahead of schedule, just 12 months after inventing our new carbon removal pathway. The carbon is now in permanent geological storage. https://t.co/ZIy2plK6n9
— Charm Industrial (@CharmIndustrial) April 20, 2021
While Charm is converting biomass into an oil-equivalent and pumping it back underground, other companies like CarbonCure, Blue Planet, Solidia, Forterra, CarbiCrete and Brimstone Energy are capturing carbon dioxide and fixing it in building materials.
“The easy way to think about CarbonCure we have a mission to reduce 500 million tons per year by 2030. On the innovation side of things we really pioneered this area of science using CO2 in a value-added, hyper low-cost way in the value chain,” said CarbonCure founder and chief executive Rob Niven. “We look at CO2 as a value added input into making concrete production. It has to raise profits.”
Niven stresses that CarbonCure, which recently won one half of the $20 million carbon capture XPrize alongside CarbonBuilt, is not a hypothetical solution for carbon dioxide removal. The company already has 330 plants operating around the world capturing carbon dioxide emissions and sequestering them in building materials.
Applications for carbon utilization are important to reduce the emissions footprints of industry, but for nations to achieve their climate objectives, the world needs to move to dramatically reduce its reliance on emissions spewing energy sources and simultaneously permanently draw down massive amounts of greenhouse gases that are already in the atmosphere.
It’s why the ExxonMobil call for a massive project to explore the permanent sequestration of carbon dioxide isn’t wrong, necessarily, just questionable coming from the source.
The U.S. Department of Energy does think that the Gulf Coast has geological formations that can store 500 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (which the company says is more than 130 years of the country’s total industrial and power generation emissions). But in ExxonMobil’s calculation that’s a reason to continue with business-as-usual (actually with more government subsidies for its business).
Here’s how the company’s top executives explained it in the pages of The Wall Street Journal:
The Houston CCS Innovation Zone concept would require the “whole of government” approach to the climate challenge that President Biden has championed. Based on our experience with projects of this scale, we estimate the approach could generate tens of thousands of new jobs needed to make and install the equipment to capture the CO2 and transport it via a pipeline for storage. Such a project would also protect thousands of existing jobs in industries seeking to reduce emissions. In short, large-scale CCS would reduce emissions while protecting the economy.
These oil industry executives are playing into a false narrative that the switch to renewable energy and a greener economy will cost the U.S. jobs. It’s a fact that oil industry jobs will be erased, but those jobs will be replaced by other opportunities, according to research published in Scientific American.
“With the more aggressive $60 carbon tax, U.S. employment would still exceed the reference-case forecast, but the increase would be less than that of the $25 tax,” write authors Marilyn Brown and Majid Ahmadi. “The higher tax causes much larger supply-side job losses, but they are still smaller than the gains in energy-efficiency jobs motivated by higher energy prices. Overall, 35 million job years would be created between 2020 and 2050, with net job increases in almost all regions.”
ExxonMobil and the other oil majors definitely have a role to play in the new energy economy that’s being built worldwide, but the leading American oil companies are not going to be able to rest on their laurels or continue operating with a business-as-usual mindset. These companies run the risk of going the way of big coal — slowly sliding into obsolescence and potentially taking thousands of jobs and local economies down with them.
To avoid that, carbon sequestration is a part of the solution, but it’s one of many arrows in the quiver that oil companies need to deploy if they’re going to continue operating and adding value to shareholders. In other words, it’s not the last 130 years of emissions that ExxonMobil should be focused on, it’s the next 130 years that aim to be increasingly zero-emission.
Chili Piper, which has a sophisticated SaaS appointment scheduling platform for sales teams, has raised a $33 million B round led by Tiger Global. Existing investors Base10 Partners and Gradient Ventures (Google’s AI-focused VC) also participated. This brings the company’s total financing to $54 million. The company will use the capital raised to accelerate product development. The previous $18M A round was led by Base10 and Google’s Gradient Ventures 9 months ago.
It’s main competitor is Calendly, started 21/2 years previously, which recently achieved a $3Bn valuation.
Launched in 2016, Chili Piper’s software for B2B revenue teams is designed to convert leads into attended meetings. Sales teams can also use it to book demos, increase inbound conversion rates, eliminate manual lead routing, and streamline critical processes around meetings. It’s used by Intuit, Twilio, Forrester, Spotify, and Gong.
Chili Piper has a number of different tools for businesses to schedule and calendar accountments, but its key USP is in its use by ‘inbound SDR Sales Development Representatives (SDR)’, who are responsible for qualifying inbound sales leads. It’s particularly useful in scheduling calls when customers hit websites ask for a salesperson to call them back.
Nicolas Vandenberghe, CEO, and co-founder of Chili Piper said: “When we started we sold the house and decided to grow the company ourselves. So all the way until 2019 we bootstrapped. Tiger gave us a valuation that we expected to get at the end of this year, which will help us accelerate things much faster, so we couldn’t refuse it.”
Alina Vandenberghe, CPO, and Co-founder said: “We’re proud to have so many customers scheduling meetings and optimizing their calendars with Chili Piper’s Instant Booker.”
Since the pandemic hit, the husband-and-wife founded company has gone fully remote, with 93 employees in 81 cities and 21 countries.
John Curtius, Partner at Tiger Global said: “When we met Nicolas and Alina, we were fired up by their product vision and focus on customer happiness.”
TJ Nahigian, Managing Partner at Base10 Partners, added: “We originally invested in Chili Piper because we knew customers needed ways to add fire to how they connected with inbound leads. We’ve been absolutely blown away with the progress over the past year, 2020 has been a step-change for this company as business went remote.”
Tines, a no-code automation platform co-founded by two senior cybersecurity operators, today announced that it has raised a $26 million Series B funding round led by Addition. Existing investors Accel and Blossom Capital participated in this round, which also includes strategic investments from CrowdStrike and Silicon Valley CISO Investments. After this round, which brings the total funding in the company to $41.1 million, Tines is now valued at $300 million.
Given that Tines co-founders Eoin Hinchy and Thomas Kinsella were both in senior security roles at DocuSign before they left to start their own company in 2018, it’s maybe no surprise that the company’s platform launched with a strong focus on security operations. As such, it combines security orchestration and robotic process automation with a low-code/no-code user interface.
“Tines is on a mission to allow frontline employees to focus on more business-critical tasks and improve their wellbeing by reducing the burden of ‘busy work’ by helping automate any manual workflow and making existing teams more efficient, effective, and engaged,” the company notes in today’s announcement.
The idea here is to free analysts from spending time on routine repetitive tasks and allow them to focus on those areas where they can have the most impact. The tools features pre-configured integrations with a variety of business and security tools, but for more sophisticated users, it also features the ability to hook into virtually any API.
The company argues that even non-technical employees should be able to learn the ins and outs of its platform within about three hours (sidenote: it’s nice to see a no-code platform acknowledge that users will actually need to spend some time with it before they can become productive).
“If software is eating the world, automation is eating the enterprise,” Hinchy said. “Yet, the majority of progress in this space still requires non-technical teams to depend on software engineers to implement their automation. Other platforms are generally either too hard to use, not flexible enough or not sufficiently robust for mission-critical workflows like cybersecurity. Tines empowers enterprise teams to automate any of their own manual workloads independently, making their jobs more rewarding while simultaneously delivering enormous value for their organizations.”
Current Tines customers include the likes of Box, Canva, OpenTable and Sophos.
The company, which was founded in Dublin, Ireland and recently opened an office in Boston, plans to use the new funding to double its 18-person team in order to support its product growth.
“Tines has quickly established itself as a market leader in enterprise automation,” said Lee Fixel, founder of Addition. “We look forward to supporting Eoin and the Tines team as they continue to scale the business and enhance their product — which is beloved by their unmatched customer base.”
Men’s health and wellbeing startup Manual has raised a $30m Series A round from US-based Sonoma Brands and Waldencast, and Manual’s existing European investors Felix Capital and Cherry Ventures. FJ Labs and the GISEV Family Office also participated in the round. The cash will be used for product development and international expansion. Manual provides diagnostics, treatments and ongoing care and plans to expand across Europe, Asia and Latin America. The company has already expanded to Brazil.
Manual is competing with Numan (raised $13M), also from the UK (Manual launched a month earlier than them). In the US it is competing with Ro (raised $876.1M) and Hims (listed). All these brands tend to focus on issues like vitamins and erectile dysfunction, with the, often common refrain of, ‘normalizing’ the idea that men should look after themselves better, across a number of fronts and removing stigma’s around sexual health. It performs blood tests and other tests to analyze heart health, gut health, testosterone, sleep, energy, and immunity. They are pushing at a large market, as men historically avoid doctors.
George Pallis, CEO and Founder, previously led marketing at Wise and Deliveroo. In a statement he said: “We’ve been encouraged to see men of all ages increasingly turning to Manual to solve multiple health problems, with almost half of our customers seeking help for more than one issue. It’s clear that a health concern may have more than one cause, and we can provide customers with the ability to treat their health in a more holistic way. Using different treatments to understand and improve their wellbeing.”
Speaking to during an interview Pallis added: “We built our own teleconsultation product and have different applications for the blood test offering. When you get your results we will offer a clinician, we’ll walk you through all the data and the learnings. We offer tools where people can monitor their progress and have regular check-ins with our medical team.”
Antoine Nussenbaum, co-Founder and partner of Felix Capital, commented: “There is still much work to be done to remove the taboo when it comes to men looking after their wellbeing and talking openly about health concerns. But we’re starting to see a shift happen amongst consumers.”
Kevin Murphy, Managing Director of Sonoma Brands, commented: “Manual exists to empower men to take better care of themselves and to live fuller lives by doing so. George and his team have the clarity of vision and the skill to make Manual a leader in this exciting and important area.”
Polish startup Tylko, a modular furniture company that employs Augmented Reality as part of its sales cycle, has closed a €22 million ($26m) investment Series C funding round, led by Israel-based Pitango Growth and Finnish Evli Growth Partners, following previous investors TDJ Pitango and Experior Venture Fund. Additionally, Brian Walker, former CEO of Hermann Miller, and Mark Williamson, COO of US-based MasterClass, join as new investors. Tylko has now raised a total of €33 million since its inception in 2015.
It now plans to more than double its team of 140, as well as launch in new markets, and expand its portfolio, which right now is limited to shelving only.
Tylko is not dissimilar from made.com which, to some extent, pioneered the direct-to-consumer furniture market. Like Made, the idea behind Tylko is also direct-to-consumer, ‘design-on-demand’. The company says it has taken advantage of the period when people have been stuck at home during the pandemic, ordering online, to hit a 132% increase in sales in 2020 in comparison to previous years.
Jacek Majewski, co-founder, Co-CEO Tylko, commented in a statement: “Tylko’s vision has always been about putting the user experience first, in order to create a product that is perfectly designed, high-quality and sustainable. We believe that driving sustainability into this huge industry can only be done by creating highly desirable products that will win over customers by their features rather than certificates.”
Tylko says its furniture of based on ‘parametric design’, with each item being quite individual. Tylko’s platform then automates the manufacturing process for its production partners.
Mikko Kuitunen, Growth Partner at Evli Growth Partners, added: “We are impressed by Tylko’s exceptional growth and ability to scale the company as a market leader, offering new, customized solutions within the furniture market. Tylko’s strong impact-driven vision and made-to-order business model drives the market’s transition towards more sustainable solutions.”
Rami Kalish, General Managing Partner & Co-Founder at Pitango Venture Capital commented: “Tylko has a huge vision to disrupt the furniture industry.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to people everywhere shopping more online and Latin America is no exception.
São Paulo-based Nuvemshop has developed an e-commerce platform that aims to allow SMBs and merchants to connect more directly with their consumers. With more people in Latin America getting used to making purchases digitally, the company has experienced a major surge in business over the past year.
Demand for Nuvemshop’s offering was already heating up prior to the pandemic. But over the past 12 months, that demand has skyrocketed as more merchants have been seeking greater control over their brands.
Rather than selling their goods on existing marketplaces (such as Mercado Libre, the Brazilian equivalent of Amazon), many merchants and entrepreneurs are opting to start and grow their own online businesses, according to Nuvemshop co-founder and CEO Santiago Sosa.
“Most merchants have entered the internet by selling on marketplaces but we are hearing from newer generations of merchants and SMBs that they don’t want to be intermediated anymore,” he said. “They want to connect more directly with consumers and convey their own brand, image and voice.”
The proof is in the numbers.
Nuvemshop has seen the number of merchants on its platform surge to nearly 80,000 across Brazil, Argentina and Mexico compared to 20,000 at the start of 2020. These businesses range from direct-to-consumer (DTC) upstarts to larger brands such as PlayMobil, Billabong and Luigi Bosca. Virtually every KPI tripled in the company in 2020 as the world saw a massive transition to online, and Nuvemshop’s platform was home to 14 million transactions last year, according to Sosa.
“With us, businesses can find a more comprehensive ecosystem around payments, logistics, shipping and catalogue/inventory management,” he said.
Nuvemshop’s rapid growth caught the attention of Silicon Valley-based Accel. Having just raised $30 million in a Series C round in October and achieving profitability in 2020, the Nuvemshop team was not looking for more capital.
But Ethan Choi, a partner at Accel, said his firm saw in Nuvemshop the potential to be the market leader, or the “de facto” e-commerce platform, in Latin America.
“Accel has been investing in e-commerce for a very long time. It’s a very important area for us,” Choi said. “We saw what they were building and all their potential. So we pre-emptively asked them to let us invest.”
Today, Nuvemshop is announcing that it has closed on a $90 million Series D funding led by Accel. ThornTree Capital and returning backers Kaszek, Qualcomm Ventures and others also put money in the round, which brings Nuvemshop’s total funding raised since its 2011 inception to nearly $130 million. The company declined to reveal at what valuation this latest round was raised but it is notable that its Series D is triple the size of its Series C, raised just over six months prior. Sosa said only that there was a “substantial increase” in valuation since its Series C.
Nuvemshop is banking on the fact that the density of SMBs in Latin America is higher in most Latin American countries compared to the U.S. On top of that, the $85 billion e-commerce market in Latin America is growing rapidly with projections of it reaching $116.2 billion in 2023.
“In Brazil, it grew 40% last year but is still underpenetrated, representing less than 10% of retail sales. In Latin America as a whole, penetration is somewhere between 5 and 10%,” Sosa said.
Nuvemshop co-founder and CEO Santiago Sosa;
Image courtesy of Nuvemshop
Last year, the company transitioned from a closed product to a platform that is open to everyone from third parties, developers, agencies and other SaaS vendors. Through Nuvemshop’s APIs, all those third parties can connect their apps into Nuvemshop’s platform.
“Our platform becomes much more powerful, vendors are generating more revenue and merchants have more options,” Sosa told TechCrunch. “So everyone wins.” Currently, Nuvemshop has about 150 applications publishing on its ecosystem, which he projects will more than triple over the next 12 to 18 months.
As for comparisons to Shopify, Sosa said the company doesn’t necessarily make them but believes they are “fair.”
To Choi, there are many similarities.
“We saw Amazon get to really big scale in the U.S.. Merchants also found tools to build their own presence. This birthed Shopify, which today is worth $160 billion. Both companies saw their market caps quadruple during the pandemic,” he said. “Now we’re seeing the same dynamics in LatAm…Our bet here is that this company and business has all the same dynamics and the same really powerful tailwinds.”
For Accel partner Andrew Braccia, Nuvemshop has a clear first mover advantage.
“Over the past decade, direct-to-consumer has become one of the most important drivers of entrepreneurship globally,” he said. “Latin America is no exception to this trend, and we believe that Nuvemshop has the level of sophistication and ability to understand all that change and fuel the continued transformation of commerce from offline to online.”
Looking ahead, Sosa expects Nuvemshop will use its new capital to significantly invest in: continuing to open its APIs; payments processing and financial services; “everything related to logistics and logistics management” and attracting smaller merchants. It also plans to expand into other markets such as Colombia, Chile and Peru over the next 18-24 months. Nuvemshop currently operates in Mexico, Brazil and Argentina.
“While the countries share the same secular trends and product experience, they have very different market dynamics,” Sosa said. “This requires an on the ground local knowledge to make it all work. Separate markets require distinct knowledge. That makes this a more complicated opportunity, but one that enables a long-term competitive advantage.”
In recent years, the U.S. has seen more renters than at any point since at least 1965, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau housing data.
Competition for renters is fierce and property managers are turning to technology to get a leg up.
To meet that demand, Seattle-based Knock – one startup that has developed tools to give property management companies a competitive edge – has raised $20 million in a growth funding round led by Fifth Wall Ventures.
Existing backers Madrona Venture Group, Lead Edge Capital, Second Avenue Partners and Seven Peaks Ventures also participated in the financing, which brings the company’s total capital raised to $47 million.
Demetri Themelis and Tom Petry co-founded Knock in 2014 after renting “in super competitive markets” such as New York City, San Francisco and Seattle.
“After meeting with property management companies, it was eye-opening to learn about the total gap across their tech stacks,” Themelis recalled.
Knock’s goal is to provide CRM tools to modernize front office operations for these companies so they can do things like offer virtual tours and communicate with renters via text, email or social media from “a single conversation screen.” For renters, it offers an easier way to communicate and engage with landlords.
“Apartment buildings, like almost every customer-driven business, compete with each other by attracting, converting and retaining customers,” Themelis said. “For property management companies, these customers are renters.”
The startup — which operates as a SaaS business — has seen an uptick in growth, quadrupling its revenue over the past two years. Its software is used by hundreds of the largest property management companies across the United States and Canada and has more than 1.5 million apartment units using the platform. Starwood Capital Group, ZRS, FPI and Cushman & Wakefield (formerly Pinnacle) are among its users.
As Petry explains it, Knock serves as the sales inbox (chat, SMS, phone, email), sales calendar and CRM systems, all in one.
“We also automate certain sales tasks like outreach and appointment scheduling, while also surfacing which sales opportunities need the most attention at any given time, for both new leases as well as renewals,” he said.
Image Credit: Knock
The company, Themelis said, was well-prepared for the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our software supports property management companies, which operate high-density apartment buildings that people live and work in,” he told TechCrunch. “You can’t just ‘shut them down,’ which has made multifamily resilient and even grow in comparison to retail and industrial real estate.”
For example, when lockdowns went into effect, in-person property tours declined by an estimated 80% in a matter of weeks.
Knock did things like help property managers transition to a centralized and remote leasing model so remote agents could work across a large portfolio of properties rather than in a single on-site leasing office, noted Petry.
It also helped them adopt self-guided, virtual and live video-based leasing tools, so prospective renters could tour properties in person on their own or virtually.
“This transformation and modernization became a huge tailwind for our business in 2020,” Petry said. “Not only did we have a record year in terms of new customers, revenue growth and revenue retention, but our customers outperformed market averages for occupancy and rent growth as well.”
Looking ahead, the company says it will be using its new capital to (naturally!) hire across product, engineering, sales, marketing, customer success, finance and human resources divisions. It expects to grow headcount by 40% to 50% before year-end. It also plans to expand its product portfolio to include AI communications, fraud prevention, applicant screening and leasing, and intelligent forecasting.
Fifth Wall partner Vik Chawla, who is joining Knock’s board of directors, pointed out that the macroeconomic environment is driving institutional capital into multifamily real estate at an accelerated pace. This makes Knock’s offering even more timely in its importance, in the firm’s view.
The startup, he believes, outshines its competitors in terms of quality of product, technical prowess and functionality.
“The Knock team has accomplished so much in just a short period of time by attracting very high quality product design and engineering talent to ameliorate a nuanced pain point in the tenant acquisition process,” Chawla told TechCrunch.
In terms of fitting with its investment thesis, Chawla said companies like Knock can both benefit from Fifth Wall’s global corporate strategic partners “and simultaneously serve as a key offering which we can share with real estate industry leaders in different countries as a potential solution for their local markets.”