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Uber hit with default ‘robo-firing’ ruling after another EU labor rights GDPR challenge

By Natasha Lomas

Labor activists challenging Uber over what they allege are ‘robo-firings’ of drivers in Europe have trumpeted winning a default judgement in the Netherlands — where the Court of Amsterdam ordered the ride-hailing giant to reinstate six drivers who the litigants claim were unfairly terminated “by algorithmic means”.

The court also ordered Uber to pay the fired drivers compensation.

The challenge references Article 22 of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — which provides protects for individuals against purely automated decisions with a legal or significant impact.

The activists say this is the first time a court has ordered the overturning of an automated decision to dismiss workers from employment.

However the judgement, which was issued on February 24, was issued by default — and Uber says it was not aware of the case until last week, claiming that was why it did not contest it (nor, indeed, comply with the order).

It had until March 29 to do so, per the litigants, who are being supported by the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU) and Worker Info Exchange (WIE).

Uber argues the default judgement was not correctly served and says it is now making an application to set the default ruling aside and have its case heard “on the basis that the correct procedure was not followed”.

It envisages the hearing taking place within four weeks of its Dutch entity, Uber BV, being made aware of the judgement — which it says occurred on April 8.

“Uber only became aware of this default judgement last week, due to representatives for the ADCU not following proper legal procedure,” an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch.

A spokesperson for WIE denied that correct procedure was not followed but welcomed the opportunity for Uber to respond to questions over how its driver ID systems operate in court, adding: “They [Uber] are out of time. But we’d be happy to see them in court. They will need to show meaningful human intervention and provide transparency.”

Uber pointed to a separate judgement by the Amsterdam Court last month — which rejected another ADCU- and WIE-backed challenge to Uber’s anti-fraud systems, with the court accepting its explanation that algorithmic tools are mere aids to human ‘anti-fraud’ teams who it said take all decisions on terminations.

“With no knowledge of the case, the Court handed down a default judgement in our absence, which was automatic and not considered. Only weeks later, the very same Court found comprehensively in Uber’s favour on similar issues in a separate case. We will now contest this judgement,” Uber’s spokesperson added.

However WIE said this default judgement ‘robo-firing’ challenge specifically targets Uber’s Hybrid Real Time ID System — a system that incorporates facial recognition checks and which labor activists recently found mis-identifying drivers in a number of instances.

It also pointed to a separate development this week in the UK where it said the City of London Magistrates Court ordered the city’s transport regulator, TfL, to reinstate the licence of one of the drivers revoked after Uber routinely notified it of a dismissal (also triggered by Uber’s real time ID system, per WIE).

Reached for comment on that, a TfL spokesperson said: “The safety of the travelling public is our top priority and where we are notified of cases of driver identity fraud, we take immediate licensing action so that passenger safety is not compromised. We always require the evidence behind an operator’s decision to dismiss a driver and review it along with any other relevant information as part of any decision to revoke a licence. All drivers have the right to appeal a decision to remove a licence through the Magistrates’ Court.”

The regulator has been applying pressure to Uber since 2017 when it took the (shocking to Uber) decision to revoke the company’s licence to operate — citing safety and corporate governance concerns.

Since then Uber has been able to continue to operate in the UK capital but the company remains under pressure to comply with a laundry list of requirements set by TfL as it tries to regain a full operator licence.

Commenting on the default Dutch judgement on the Uber driver terminations in a statement, James Farrar, director of WIE, accused gig platforms of “hiding management control in algorithms”.

“For the Uber drivers robbed of their jobs and livelihoods this has been a dystopian nightmare come true,” he said. “They were publicly accused of ‘fraudulent activity’ on the back of poorly governed use of bad technology. This case is a wake-up call for lawmakers about the abuse of surveillance technology now proliferating in the gig economy. In the aftermath of the recent UK Supreme Court ruling on worker rights gig economy platforms are hiding management control in algorithms. This is misclassification 2.0.”

In another supporting statement, Yaseen Aslam, president of the ADCU, added: “I am deeply concerned about the complicit role Transport for London has played in this catastrophe. They have encouraged Uber to introduce surveillance technology as a price for keeping their operator’s license and the result has been devastating for a TfL licensed workforce that is 94% BAME. The Mayor of London must step in and guarantee the rights and freedoms of Uber drivers licensed under his administration.”  

When pressed on the driver termination challenge being specifically targeted at its Hybrid Real-Time ID system, Uber declined to comment in greater detail — claiming the case is “now a live court case again”.

But its spokesman suggested it will seek to apply the same defence against the earlier ‘robo-firing’ charge — when it argued its anti-fraud systems do not equate to automated decision making under EU law because “meaningful human involvement [is] involved in decisions of this nature”.

 

Pale Blue Dot aims to be Europe’s premier early-stage climate investor and has $100 million to prove it

By Jonathan Shieber

When Hampus Jakobsson, Heidi Lindvall, and Joel Larsson, all well-known players in the European venture ecosystem, began talking about their new firm Pale Blue Dot, they began by looking at the problems with venture capital.

For the three entrepreneurs and investors, whose resumes included co-founding companies and accelerators like The Astonishing Tribe (Jakobsson) and Fast Track Malmö (Lindvall and Larsson) and working as a venture partner at BlueYard Capital (Jakobsson again), the problems were clear.

Their first thesis was that all investment funds should be impact funds, and be taking into account ways to effect positive change; their second thesis was that since all funds should be impact funds, what would be their point of differentiation — that is, where could they provide the most impact.

The three young investors hit on climate change as the core mission and ran with it.

As it was closing on €53 million ($63.3 million) last year, the firm also made its first investments in Phytoform, a London headquartered company creating new crops using computational biology and synbio; Patch, a San Francisco-based carbon-offsetting platform that finances both traditional and frontier “carbon sequestration” methods; and 20tree.ai, an Amsterdam-based startup, using machine learning and satellite data to understand trees to lower the risk of forest fires and power outages.

Now they’ve raised another €34 million and seven more investments on their path to doing between 30 and 35 deals.

These investments primarily focus on Europe and include Veat, a European vegetarian prepared meal company; Madefrom, a still-in-stealth company angling to make everyday products more sustainable; HackYourCloset, a clothing rental company leveraging fast fashion to avoid landfilling clothes; Hier, a fresh food delivery service; Cirplus, a marketplace for recycled plastics trading; and Overstory, which aims to prevent wildfires by giving utilities a view into vegetation around their assets. 

The team expects to be primarily focused on Europe, with a few opportunistic investments in the U.S., and intends to invest in companies that are looking to change systems rather than directly affect consumer behavior. For instance, a Pale Blue Dot investment likely wouldn’t include e-commerce filters for more sustainable shopping, but potentially could include investments in sustainable consumer products companies.

The size of the firm’s commitments will range up to €1 million and will look to commit to a lot of investments. That’s by design, said Jakobsson. “Climate is so many different fields that we didn’t want to do 50% of the fund in food or 50% of the fund in materials,” he said. Also, the founders know their skillsets, which are primarily helping early stage entrepreneurs scale and making the right connections to other investors that can add value.

“In every deal we’ve gotten in co-investors that add particular, amazing, value while we still try to be the shepherds and managers and sherpas,” Jakobsson said. “We’re the ones that are going to protect the founder from the hell-rain of investor opinions.”

Another point of differentiation for the firm are its limited partners. Jakobsson said they rejected capital from oil companies in favor of founders and investors from the tech community that could add value. These include Prima Materia, the investment vehicle for Spotify founder Daniel Ek; the founders of Supercell, Zendesk, TransferWise and DeliveryHero are also backing the firm. So too, is Albert Wenger, a managing partner at Union Square Ventures.

The goal, simply, is to be the best early stage climate fund in Europe.

“We want to be the European climate fund,” Lindvall said. “This is where we can make most of the difference.” 

Clim8 raises $8M from 7pc Ventures, launches climate-focused investing app for retail investors

By Mike Butcher

Ethical investing remains something of a confusing maze, with a great deal of ‘greenwashing’ going on. A new UK startup is hoping to fix that with the launch of its new app and platform for retail investors.

Clim8 Invest has raised $8 million from 7pc Ventures (early backers of Oculus, acquired by Facebook),  British Business Bank Future Fund and a numbers of technology entrepreneurs and executives including Marcus Exall (Monese), Marcus Mosen (N26),  Paul Willmott (Lego Digital, McKinsey), Doug Scott (Redbrain), Matt Wilkins (Thought Machine), Andrew Cocker (Skyscanner), Steve Thomson (Redbrain), Monica Kalia (Neyber, Goldman Sachs), Doug Monro (Adzuna), Erik Nygard (Limejump).

Consumers will be able to invest in companies and supply chains that are focused on tackling climate change. It will be competing with similar startups in the space such as London-based Tickr (backed by $3m from Ada Ventures), Helios in Paris, and Yova in Zurich.

Duncan Grierson, CEO of Clim8 said in a statement: “We are launching at an exciting time for sustainable investing. 2020 was an exceptional year for environmentally-focused investment offerings, as investors looked harder at climate-related opportunities. Sustainable investments have continued to outperform markets since the beginning of the Covid-19 Crisis and we believe this will continue.”

Grierson has 20 years of experience in the green space and was a winner of the EY Entrepreneur of Year Cleantech award.

The startup will take advantage of new, higher EU rules around the disclosure requirements for sustainable investment funds. Users can choose between either stocks and shares ISAs (up to £20k) or a taxable general investment account.

Job postings hint at winners of NYC and London e-scooter pilots

By Rebecca Bellan

A batch of job listings along with some Twitter whisperings suggests that scooter companies such as Lime and Superpedestrian are gearing up to operate in London and New York City — two of the last remaining frontiers of shared-scooter services.

A review of job listings, company websites and LinkedIn shows that Lime and Dott are preparing to launch in London, while Lime, Superpedestrian and maybe even Spin are getting ready for New York. While the job posts don’t provide definitive proof that these companies have been awarded these coveted permits, it does identify which companies believe they will win.

London’s Department for Transport and the NYC City Council approved their respective e-scooter pilots in the summer of 2020 as city dwellers sought socially distanced modes of travel. London’s pilot should have begun at the start of 2021, and NYC’s was originally meant to launch by March 1, but neither city has even named which companies will be awarded concessions yet. Sources familiar with the dealings say London is holding up the announcement until after the mayoral race on May 6. The NYC Department of Transportation declined to comment.

Dott, Tier and Lime for London?

There has been speculation that Dott, Lime and maybe Tier will be sharing the streets of London once the pilot takes off. Information on Dott’s and Lime’s websites, LinkedIn profiles and hiring pages show that they’re hiring for positions in the city. Sources in the industry told TechCrunch that Tier had a London-focused job posting listed on its page that has since been taken down.

Dott, which doesn’t already appear to have a footprint in the United Kingdom, is hiring a U.K.-based operations manager to “set up operations from scratch within the U.K.” They’re also hiring a public policy manager to be the “voice for the Dott U.K. market.”

On Dott’s website, a map showing service areas shows a little yellow flag over London. Clicking on the flag leads to a 404 “page not found” error page. 

Lime, a mobility company that appears to be swiftly taking over the world, already has a presence in London in the form of its Jump e-bikes, which made an appearance last summer. New job postings on LinkedIn suggests they’re preparing to expand. 

The company’s LinkedIn page reveals a call for a London-based general manager whose responsibilities include building and implementing “the operational infrastructure to ensure market growth in the United Kingdom.” That gig was posted a week ago and they’re actively recruiting for it on LinkedIn. 

About a month ago, Lime also posted a London-based operations manager role, for which it appears to still be recruiting. 

Voi might also still be in the running based on its job postings on LinkedIn. On Thursday, the company added a call for an ambassador supervisor for a six-month position in London. It seems to be an on-the-ground sort of role, and the temporary nature of it could have something to do with London’s year-long pilot. It’s also possible the company is just looking for someone in a central city to manage the other U.K. cities where Voi operates.   

Bird has already been in London’s Olympic Park since the summer, and it actively lobbied for a change in London’s legislation around scooters riding on roads or pavements. This presence could explain why Bird’s operating map highlights London, but to make matters more confusing, the company is hiring an operations associate to ostensibly handle London city operations and general U.K. operations. 

New York might award Lime, Superpedestrian and others

Image Credits: Lime

Lime is no stranger to NYC. Its e-bikes have historically had a presence in The Rockaways, Queens. Now it has two job postings up — for a mechanic and an operations specialist — that specifically mention management, maintenance, deployment and retrieval of Lime’s e-scooters. 

Superpedestrian, which is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has four new job posts up between its website and LinkedIn. On the site, there’s a call for a chief of staff who is ideally based in NYC to support the CEO. Also listed is a general manager position; duties include “being responsible for the growth and success of our scooter share in New York and New Jersey.”

On LinkedIn, Superpedestrian has posted two positions based in NYC. The first, posted a week ago, is an operations associate that will handle things like scooter charging, safety inspections, deployment of scooters and scooter repair and assembly. The second is a scooter mechanic, posted a month ago, but to be fair the post does include the caveat: “If we are awarded the privilege of operating in NYC…”

Spin also posted (about a week ago) an operations lead based in New York. The employee hired for the position will be tasked with “Spin’s day-to-day operations, managing drivers and mechanics and building a highly efficient operations team.” It’s not precisely indicative of the Ford-owned company winning NYC, but the job does appear to be involved with on-the-ground tasks. The post also hints that the new hire would be leading the build-out and deployment of Spin’s vehicles. 

With a huge presence in Europe but absolutely none in the United States as of yet, Voi has been hoping NYC would be its entry into the country. The company hasn’t posted any NYC-specific job ads, but its job board features a locations dropdown menu that includes NYC.

Finally, Bird is adding to the mess of guesses with two LinkedIn job posts based in New York. The general manager position, posted four weeks ago but still actively recruiting, appears to require someone to be pretty locally involved. The operations associate role, posted on Wednesday, is a bit more vague about whether the new hire would be on the ground in NYC or not. 

Private chef parties at home startup Yhangry raises $1.5M seed from VC angels and Ollie Locke

By Mike Butcher

There’s an “uber for everything” these days and now there are “Ubers for personal chefs”. Just take a look at PopTop or 100 Pleats for instance. Now in London, there is Yhangry (which brands itself as the appropriately shouty YHANGRY). This is a “private chef parties at home” website, and no doubt an app at some point. The startup has now raised a $1.5 million seed round from a number of notable UK angels which also includes a few UK VCs for good measure, as well as ‘Made In Chelsea’ TV star Ollie Locke.

Founders Heinin Zhang and Siddhi Mittal created the startup before the pandemic, which lets people order a made-to-measure dinner party online. Although it trundled along until Covid, it had to pivot into virtual chef classes during lockdowns last year and this. The company is now poised to take advantage of London’s unlocking, which will see legal outdoor and indoor dining return.

The startup also speaks to the decentralization of experiences going on in the wake of the pandemic. In 2019 we were working out in gyms and going to restaurants. In 2021 we are working out at home and bringing the restaurant to us.

Normally booking private dinner parties involves a lot of hassle. The idea here is that Yhangry makes the whole affair as easy to order as an Uber Eats or Deliveroo.

Investors in the Seed round include Carmen Rico (Blossom Capital), Eileen Burbidge (Passion Capital), Orson Stadler (Antler) and Martin Mignot (Index Ventures), Made In Chelsea star Ollie Locke, plus fellow tech founders including Jack Tang (Urban), Adnan Ebrahim (MindLabs), Alex Fitzgerald (Cuckoo Internet), Georgina Kirby (Vinehealth) and Deepali Nangia (Alma Angels). Yhangry’s statement said all the investors are also keen customers. I bet they are.

Co-founder Mittal said in a statement: “By making private chef experiences more accessible and affordable, our customers regularly tell us they are finally able to catch up with friends at home… 70% of our customers have never had a private chef before and for them, the freedom and flexibility to curate their own evening is priceless.”

Yhangry now has 130 chefs on its books. Chefs have to pass a cooking trial and adhere to Covid rules. The funding will be used to double the size of the startup’s team.

The menus start at £17pp for six people. The price of the booking covers everything, including the cost of the fresh ingredients, but customers can add extras, such as wine etc. Since its launch in December 2019, the firm says it has served more than 7,000 Londoners.

Yhangry says it will enter key European markets, such as Paris, Berlin, Lisbon and Barcelona.

How will Yhangry survive post-Covid, with restaurants/bars opening up again?

Mittal said: “When restaurants were open between our launch and March 2020, we saw demand because people want to be able to spend time with their friends in a relaxed setting, and aren’t limited to the two-hour slot you get in a restaurant. Once places start to open up again, we believe Yhangry will follow this trend of at-home dining and socializing – not to mention for people who are not ready yet to go out to a busy pub or restaurant.”

Airtel Africa receives $100M for its mobile money business from Mastercard

By Tage Kene-Okafor

Two weeks ago, TPG’s Rise Fund invested $200 million in Airtel Mobile Commerce BV (AMC BV) — the mobile money business of London-listed telecom Airtel Africa. After closing the deal, the Bharti Airtel subsidiary noted that it was still in discussions to give up more minority stake (25% of the issued share capital) to more potential investors

Today, it has announced another investor — global payments provider Mastercard in a deal that will see Airtel Africa receive an additional $100 million for its mobile money business.

From the statement released, Airtel Africa and Mastercard have “extended commercial agreements and signed a new commercial framework which will deepen their partnerships across numerous geographies and areas including card issuance, payment gateway, payment processing, merchant acceptance and remittance solutions, amongst others.”

AMC BV’s $2.65 billion valuation on a cash and debt-free basis remains unchanged from the last time. This means TPG’s Rise Fund and Mastercard will own 7.55% and 3.775.% stake respectively upon the completion of their deals. For Mastercard, the transaction will close in two tranches — $75 million invested at first close (which will be finalized in the next four months), and $50 million to be invested at the second close.

By selling off a minority stake in the mobile money business to The Rise Fund, Mastercard and other potential investors, the telecom operator believes it can raise enough cash to monetize its mobile money business and pursue a possible listing in four years

In addition to receiving investments from TPG’s Rise Fund and Mastercard, Airtel Africa has begun selling off some assets as well. Last week, the company sold 1,424 telecommunications towers companies in Madagascar and Malawi to Helios Towers for $119 million. Both Helios and Airtel Africa also agreed to trade tower assets in Chad and Gabon, although the details remain undisclosed.

These efforts are geared towards the company’s pursuit of strategic asset monetisation, investment opportunities, and, ultimately, debt reduction.

“With today’s announcement, we are pleased to welcome Mastercard as an investor in our mobile money business, joining The Rise Fund, which we announced two weeks ago,” CEO of Airtel Africa, Raghunath Mandava said of the investment. “This is a continuation of our strategy to increase the minority shareholding in our mobile money business with the further intention to list this business within four years. We are significantly strengthening our existing strategic relationship with Mastercard to help us realise the full potential from the substantial opportunity to improve financial inclusion across our countries of operation.” 

European branded payments startup Recharge raises $11.8M debt round led by Kreos Capital

By Mike Butcher

Online branded payments now run the gamut of anything from Spotify vouchers, Netflix vouchers, Neosurf, PaySafe cards, and everything in between. Consumers use them to pay for a variety of things. In Europe, they are an increasingly big business. Now, European branded payments company Recharge.com has raised €10m ($11.8m) in a debt funding round led by London-based Kreos Capital, a growth debt provider for high-growth companies. In 2019 the Dutch fintech Creative Group, which owns the Recharge.com and Rapido.com brands, took investment of €22m from Prime Ventures.

Rehcharge has also appointed Michael Kent – who previously founded payments companies Small World and Azimo, along with UK neobank Tandem – as its non-executive chairman.

Recharge.com says it plans to use the funding to extend its mobile offering, product range, and expand in in regions such as North America, Latin America and the GCC. It’s also aiming for sales of €450m in 2021.

Günther Vogelpoel CEO of Recharge.com said in a statement: “We live in a world of instant wish fulfillment, from taxis that appear on demand to same-day delivery of consumer goods. Recharge.com gives customers a fast, safe and simple way to fulfill their wishes, whether that’s an essential remittance or access to digital goods and services.”

Commenting, Kent said: “The era of supermarket gift cards and mobile top-ups is drawing to a close. Branded payments have exploded during the global lockdown as consumers seek digital alternatives to the high street. People are now aware that online branded payments are safe, fast, and convenient.”

Through a range of digital vouchers from brands including Apple, Google, Spotify, Xbox and PlayStation as well as cross-border remittances of call, data credits etc Recharge is attacking the market from the consumer angle.

The biggest company in this space is Blackhawk networks which is owned by private equity group Silverlake. It’s considered a large player in Europe which has a direct-to-consumer model.

As Kent told me over a Zoom call: “Nobody actually owns the consumer side of this business globally so that’s the big opportunity.”

Bill Gates wants Western countries to eat “synthetic meat”; Meatable has raised $47 million to make it

By Jonathan Shieber

In a recent interview discussing Bill Gates’ recent book “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster“, the Microsoft and Breakthrough Energy founder (and the world’s third wealthiest man) advocated for citizens of the richest countries in the world to switch to diets consisting entirely of what he called synthetic meat in an effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Gates’ call is being met by startups and public companies hailing from everywhere from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv, London to Los Angeles, and Berkeley to… um… Chicago.

Indeed, two of the best funded companies in the lab-grown meat market hail from The Netherlands, where Mosa Meat is being challenged by a newer upstart, Meatable, which just announced $47 million in new financing.

The company aims to have its first product approved by European regulators by 2023 and notching commercial sales by 2025.

Meatable has a long road ahead of it, because, as Gates acknowledged in his interview with MIT Technology Review (ed. note: I’m available for a call, too, Bill), “the people like Memphis Meats who do it at a cellular level—I don’t know that that will ever be economical.”

Beyond the economics, there’s also the open question of whether consumers will be willing to make the switch to lab grown meat. Some companies, like the San Francisco-based Just Foods and Tel Aviv’s Supermeat are already selling chicken patties and nuggets made from cultured cells at select restaurants.

These products don’t get at the full potential for cellular technology according to Daan Luining, Meatable’s chief technology officer. “We have seen the nugget and the chicken burger, but we’re working on whole muscle tissue,” Luining said.

The sheer number of entrants in the category — and the capital they’ve raised — points to the opportunity for several winners if companies can walk the tightrope balancing cost at scale and quality replacements for free range food.

“The mission of the company is to be a global leader in providing proteins for the planet. Pork and beef and regularly eaten cuts have on environmental and land management,” Luining said. “The technology that we are using allows us to go into different species. First we’re focused on the animals that have the biggest impact on climate change and planetary health.”

For Meatable right now, price remains an issue. The company is currently producing meat at roughly $10,000 per pound, but, unlike its competitors, the company said it is producing whole meat. That’s including the fat and connective tissue that makes meat… well… meat.

Now with 35 employees and new financing, the company is trying to shift from research and development into a food production company. Strategic investors like DSM, one of the largest food biotech companies in Europe should help. So should angel investors like Dr. Jeffrey Leiden, the executive chairman of Vertex Pharmaceuticals; and Dr. Rick Klausner, the former executive director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a founder of Juno Therapeutics, GRAIL, and Mindstrong Health, after leaving Illumina where he served as chief medical officer.

Institutional investors in the company’s latest round include Google Ventures founder Bill Maris’ new fund, Section 32,  and existing investors like: BlueYard Capital, Agronomics, Humboldt, and Taavet Hinrikus. 

The company’s first commercial offering will likely be a lab-grown pork product, but with expanded facilities in Delft, the location of one of the top universities in The Netherlands, a beef product may not be far behind.

“[Meatable has] a great team and game-changing technology that can address the challenges around the global food insecurity issues our planet is facing,” said Klausner. “They have all the right ingredients to become the leading choice for sustainably and efficiently produced meat.”

Aldea Ventures creates ‘hybrid’ European €100M fund to invest both in Micro VCs, plus follow-on

By Mike Butcher

The historical trajectory of venture capital has been to move to earlier and earlier finding rounds in order to capture the greatest potential multiple on exit. In the US, we’ve seen an explosion of Pre-series A funds, and similarly in Europe. But there’s been an opportunity to tie a lot of that activity together and also produce data that can feed into decision-making about growth rounds, further up the funding pipeline. Now, newly-formed Aldea Ventures intends to do just that.

Today’s it’s announcing a €60M first close of its Pan-European fund with the aim of reaching its target €100M first fund. The idea is ambitious: to invest in 700 startups across Europe, but with an unusual, “hybrid” strategy. First up, it will operate as a fund-of-funds, investing in up to 20 early-stage ‘micro VC funds’ across Europe. Second of all, it will act as a co-investment platform from Series A upwards.  So far it has invested in London-based Job and Talent and most recently, Copenhagen-based Podimo.

The model is more common in Silicon Valley than in Europe, so Aldea Ventures hopes to capitalize on this trend as one of the earlier players with this strategy. Aldea is also effectively stepping into the gap where corporate VCs in the US would normally fill, but in Europe is generally a gaping hole.

Aldea Ventures is led by managing partners Carlos Trenchs, formerly at Caixa Capital Risc; Alfonso Bassols, previously at Nauta Capital; Josep Duran, formerly with the European Investment Fund; and Gonzalo Rodés, Chairman. Aldea Ventures is partnering with Meridia Capital, a leading Spanish alternative investment fund manager.

Carlos Trenchs, managing partner of Aldea Ventures, said: “We believe Europe will continue to grow in influence and play an integral part in the next decade of technology… Our dual model as a fund of funds and co-investor into scaleups is the first of its kind in Europe. Seen only in Silicon Valley until today, we’re putting this model to work to fuel the next generation of growth across the European ecosystem.”

Aldea will look for five factors to selecting micro VCs: the firm’s thesis (specialist, thematic or generalist); location (pan-European or local); the experience of the partners; the size of the fund, and whether the fund is emerging or established. The fund will also take a long hard look at AI, Blockchain and DeepTech companies.

Trenchs explained to me during an interview that “we will have exposure to seed capital in different geographies with the 700 companies, and we reserve the other half of the fund to invest directly on the growth stage in the best performers in their portfolios.” This, he says, will establish a roadmap from direct investing all the way up to later-stage rounds.

Aldea has so far made investments into six micro VCs; Air Street Capital and Moonfire in London; Helloworld in Luxembourg; Inventures in Munich; Mustard Seed Maze in Lisbon; and Nina Capital in Barcelona. 

Nathan Benaich, Founding Partner of Air Street Capital, commented: “Investing in  European AI-first companies is a huge opportunity, with almost one-quarter of top global AI talent earning their university degrees here.. Our partnership with Aldea demonstrates a shared conviction that specialist managers with deep sector-specific knowledge will accelerate the success of tomorrow’s category-defining European companies that are AI-first by design.”

There’s clearly also a data play here because Aldea is likely to end up with a lot of data across companies, sectors and also across various stages.

And that was confirmed by Trenchs: “We want to make the VC world more transparent. If you have the 700 companies, in a few years from now, we’ll be able to collect a lot of data about what’s going on at seed stage in European valuations, geographies and sectors. Our intention is of course to use it as intelligence.” He also said the firm intended to share a lot of anonymized data with the wider European ecosystem.

“There is a funnel of few thousands of companies that get funded, but only a few make it through the funnel. As investors, we are looking for venture capitalists that can transform their seed portfolio into a portfolio that graduates from Series A to Series B,” he added.

Emerging as an Eastern powerhouse, Earlybird Digital East Fund launches new $242M fund

By Mike Butcher

Earlybird Digital East Fund — a fund associated with Germany’s Earlybird VC, but operating separately — has launched a €200m ($242m) successor fund. The fund’s focus will remain the same as before: a Seed and Series-A fund focusing on what’s known as ‘Emerging Europe’, in other words, countries stretching from the Baltics to Central and Eastern Europe, and Turkey. The firm has also promoted Mehmet Atici, who’s been with the firm for eight years, to Partner. The new fund has made four investments so far: FintechOS, Payhawk, Picus, and Binalyze.

The back-story to DEF is a fascinating tale of what happened to Europe in the last 15 years, as tech took off and Europeans returned from Silicon Valley.

Following his exit from SelectMinds (where he was the Founder & CEO) in 2005, Cem Sertoglu moved back to Turkey. Although he says he “accidentally became the first angel investor” there, he was clearly the right man, in the right place, at the right time. He told me: “I was very lucky and ended up writing the first checks in some of the first large outcomes in Turkey.”

In 2013, Sertoglu partnered with Evren Ucok (the first angel in Peak Games and Trendyol), and Roland Manger (Earlybird). Dan Lupu, a Romanian investor who had covered the region for Intel Capital, joined them, and together they raised the ‘Earlybird Digital East Fund I’ set at $150m fund in 2014, focusing on CEE and Turkey. This was and is an area where there can be high-quality ventures to be found, but very little in the way of VC. 

Thereafter, between 2014 and 2019, the fund invested in UiPath, Hazelcast, and Obilet. UiPath has become a global leader in the area known as ‘Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Hazelcast is a low latency data processing platform startup with Turkish roots. Obilet is a marketplace focused for the massive Turkish intercity bus travel market. DEF has also exited Vivense, Dolap, and EMbonds and in more recent times the fund has exited Vivense, the “Wayfair of Turkey” to Actera, the top local PE fund.

The team had spectacular early success. Peak Games, Trendyol, YemekSepeti and GittiGidiyor are the four largest Turkish tech exits to date. Digital East Fund was an investor in all of them. Peak games exited for $1.8 billion in cash to Zynga only last year.

As of Q4 2020, the fund’s metrics are:
Investment Multiple: 24.9x
Gross IRR: 104.4%
Net IRR: 84.1%

So in VC terms, they have done pretty well.

I interviewed Sertoglu to unpack the story of Earlybird Digital East Fund.

He told me DEF has achieved a 17 times investment multiple on a $150 million fund. He thinks “this might be the biggest European VC fund performance in history, and it’s not coming from Berlin, it’s not coming from London, but it’s coming from Eastern Europe. We have been told by some of our LPs that they think we’re the top 2014 vintage VC fund in the world, nobody’s seen stronger numbers than this.”

“Peak Games turned out to be a phenomenal story. When you look at how tough it’s been for Turkey, macroeconomically. The fact that a single company with 100 people essentially sold for $1.8 billion in cash, was just… it was staggering for the local market here.”

DEF’s emergence from Turkey, together with its relationship with a fund in Berlin, was not the most obvious path for the VC fund.

“One thing we realized early one was that we could invest with our own capital and syndicating to our friends, but for follow-on funding, we’d always have to go global. And that made us feel vulnerable. It made us feel we were always dependent on others’ comprehension of the opportunity that we were facing. So that’s when the first fund idea came out this was,” said Sertoglu.

“We felt that there was this unusual dislocation between opportunity and capital in Eastern Europe. Our first fund was $150 million funds – I mean, a very quaint size compared to Western markets. But we became the largest fund in the region, and decided to focus on this series A gap where we felt that there was this big opportunity, because of the way we think series A is still very much a local play.”

“Being a local player that understands the region would be an advantage, so this was proven to be true. We could essentially see pretty much everything in Eastern Europe for the last eight years. And we caught the biggest one, fortunately, which was UiPath. I think very few funds around the world can say that they see the majority if not all of the opportunities that fall into their mandate,” he said.

“We have this dual strategy of backing local champions as well as contenders for global markets as well. 20 years ago you had to be in Silicon Valley. Now, Transferwise comes out of Estonia, UiPath comes out of Romania. And that was even before the pandemic.”

Sertoglu concluded: “So we now have fresh capital, coming on the heels of a very successful first fund, which we’re keen to deploy. We’re calling all the opportunities, seeing very ambitious, strong teams coming out of the region. And we have 200 million euros to focus on these types of opportunities in the region.”

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

By Mike Butcher

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

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

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

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

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

You can fill out the survey here.

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

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

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

For example, here is the recent survey of London.

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

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

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

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

Omnipresent raises $15.8M Series A for its platform to employ remote-workers globally

By Mike Butcher

Omnipresent, which helps companies employ remote-working local teams worldwide, has closed a $15.8M Series A funding round. The fundraise was led by an undisclosed investor with participation from existing investors, Episode 1, Playfair Capital and Truesight Ventures. The company said it closed the round five months after it’s July 2020 $2m in seed round.

Founders Matthew Wilson and Guenther Eisinger started the company as part of Entrepreneur First’s London cohort in 2019.

Omnipresent says it ensures the process of remote-hiring costs a fraction of what it would if the company did it on their own, by using Omnipresent’s platform to onboard employees compliantly in 150 countries. It provides employees with local contracts, tax contributions, and local and international benefits such as health insurance, pensions and equity options. 

In a joint statement, Guenther Eisinger and Matthew Wilson, Co-CEOs of Omnipresent said: “Even before the pandemic we recognized the revolutionary potential of breaking down legal and administrative barriers of international employment. As former business owners, we had first-hand experience of what a headache it is to navigate the complexity and bureaucracy of building global teams. Now with the pandemic and the global shift towards remote working it’s confirmed that we are on the right track.”

Wilson told me in an interview: “For instance, in Canada, we have a Canadian entity and we enter into an employment relationship with that person in Canada, on behalf of our client, so they don’t have to set up any of the legal infrastructure themselves in Canada, or any of the 149 countries that we operate in. We then manage all the ongoing administration of the employment relationship, whether that’s from an HR perspective, from an employee benefits perspective, or if they want to get health care for instance.”

The company competes with other firms like Remote.com and Boundless HQ.

Carina Namih, General Partner at Episode 1 Ventures commented: “While talent is evenly distributed around the world, for too long, opportunities have not been. I have experienced first hand the challenge of hiring globally. Omnipresent has already become a crucial piece of infrastructure for global teams working across different countries.”

Joe Thornton, General Partner at Playfair Capital commented: “Remote work undoubtedly represents the future of the modern workforce. The sooner companies adapt, the sooner they will reap the massive competitive advantage associated with a globally distributed workforce, including increased workforce productivity and satisfaction and a larger and more diverse pool of talent from which to recruit workers.”

Omnipresent said its own employer surveys show that over 85% of employers will be employing remote or international employees in 2021.

Drone-focused construction startup TraceAir raises $3.5M

By Brian Heater

Bay Area-based construction startup TraceAir today announced a $3.5 million Series A. Led by London-based XTX Ventures, this round brings the company’s total funding up to $7 million. The raise includes existing investor Metropolis VC, along with new additions Liquid 2 Ventures, GEM Capital, GPS Ventures and Andrew Filev.

We first noted the company back in 2016, when it pitched a method for using drones to spot construction errors before they become too expense. It’s a pretty massive field that various technology companies are attempting to solve through a variety of different means, ranging from quadrupedal robots to site-scanning hard hats.

Last February, TraceAir announced a new drone management tool. “Haul Router provides the best mathematically objective hauls for each given drone scan,” the company noted at the time. “Any employee can use the tool to design a haul road and export the results to feed into grading equipment.”

The pandemic has thrown the construction industry for a loop (along with countless others). But unlike other sectors, demand still remains high in many places. TraceAir is hoping its solution will prove beneficial as many outfits seek a way to continue the process in spite of uncertainty.

“The Covid-19 pandemic created new challenges for the U.S. and worldwide construction industries, resulting in delayed projects and growing unemployment rates,” CEO Dmitry Korolev said in a release tied to the news. “Our platform allows industry leaders to manage projects more efficiently and collaborate with their teams remotely, minimizing the need for a physical presence on-site.”

TraceAir says the additional funding will go toward its sales and marketing, along with future product developments, including an unnamed product set for release this quarter.

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

By Mike Butcher

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

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

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

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

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

You can fill out the survey here.

The deadline is January 22, 2021.

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

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

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

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

For example, here is the recent survey of London.

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

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

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

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

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