We’re now several weeks into what has become a very big dip for the global economy due to the coronavirus pandemic, but amidst that, we are seeing are some notable pockets of investment activity emerging that will help shape how the future startup landscape will look. Today, one of the biggest venture capital firms in the world announced the closing of a huge fund, money that it will use in large part to help its portfolio businesses weather the storm.
Insight, the firm that has backed the likes of Twitter and Shopify and invests across a range of consumer and enterprise startups (400 in all), today announced that it has closed a fund of $9.5 billion, money it will be using to support startups and “scale-ups” (larger and older startups that are still private) in the coming months. Investments will typically be between $10 million and $350 million, “although larger transactions are also possible,” the company said.
“First and foremost, we want to acknowledge the current climate and the hardships being felt across the globe,” said Jeff Horing, Insight Partners’ founder and MD, in a statement. “We are thankful and humbled by the support of our investors which enables us to continue to deliver world class resources during turbulent economic times. Fund XI gives us continued flexibility to provide the combination of capital and operating support that suits the different needs of every software company in a dynamic world.”
This fund, numbered XI, brought in a number of returning backers alongside new investors, and it is record-sized for the company. It also appears to have been oversubscribed, since back in November when it was launched the fund was estimated to be worth just over $7 billion. All the more impressive, too, is that it closed just this week, at a time when many startups are starting to feel the pinch of a business downturn, and are either laying off staff or freezing hiring to curtail costs, leading investors to get a little shaky.
Insight’s fund is a signal of two themes. One is that there are, even now, some silver linings, where particular business areas are seeing huge surges of activity (videoconferencing to connect all the people now sheltering in place at home; those helping keep food delivery operational; entertainment streaming companies; and those focusing on medical research or telehealth are just five categories seeing a positive impact; there are more). This fund will help Insight invest in these opportunities to help these businesses grow to meet the demand.
The second theme is a little less upbeat but still important, and that is the fact that there are a number of very promising ideas out there that have already been backed by VC money, which will not survive the current economic crunch without some support. VC money will likely be used in a very targeted way to help in those situations, alongside more fiscal belt-tightening and other funding means (for example, loans that the U.S. government will be issuing via the CARES act to help small businesses get through lean times brought by the coronavirus pandemic).
Indeed, a spokesperson said Insight will be “hyper-focused on supporting its portfolio companies” with ongoing and near-future funding.
We’ve reached out to see if we can get more detail on how new investments, versus reinvesting in existing portfolio companies, will figure in future funding, and we’re also asking if there are specific categories that are of particular interest at the moment. We’ll update this post as we learn more.
“Since our first investment 25 years ago, the global software ecosystem has matured even as it continues to innovate, spurring Insight’s own innovation in sourcing, and our data-driven partnership approach to working with ScaleUp companies as a minority or buyout investor,” said Managing Director Deven Parekh. “We are grateful that through economic cycles and unprecedented circumstances, Insight Partners remains a sought-after institutional platform for supporting next generation software companies.”
In a separate letter to investors, Horing and Parekh also noted the complicated climate of the moment — which includes not just the challenge of VCs raising funds right now amid a climate of LPs also feeling the crunch, but also the fact that not all startups will be able to rely on all their investors to support them through these challenging times. Tough decisions will need to be made at all levels.
Modsy, an e-commerce company that creates 3D renderings of customized rooms, has confirmed to TechCrunch that it laid off a number of staff. In addition, several of its executives, including CEO Shanna Tellerman, will take a 25% pay cut. TechCrunch first heard about the layoffs from a source. The company’s confirmation of cuts comes amid a wave of layoffs in the technology and startup communities.
In a statement from the CEO Shanna Tellerman to TechCrunch, Modsy said that “[i]n an effort to maintain a sustainable business during these unprecedented circumstances, we made a round of necessary layoffs and ended a number of designer contracts this week.” The company reaffirmed belief in its “long-term growth plans” in the same statement.
Modsy did not immediately respond when asked about how many individuals were impacted by this layoff. Update: The company declined to share the number of employees impacted.
Modsy bets on individuals looking to glam up their homes by better visualizing the new furniture they want to buy. Users can enter the measurements of their living room and add budget and style preferences, and Modsy will help them with custom designs and finding furniture that fits — literally.
The layoffs show that customer appetite might be changing. Last week, home improvement platform Houzz confirmed that it has scratched plans to create in-house furniture for sale. It also laid off 10 people across three locations: the U.K., Germany and China. Houzz is comparatively larger than Modsy, with a roughly $4 billion valuation. But scratching its in-house plan that would have likely brought in more capital is yet another data point in how e-commerce companies are struggling right now to get consumers to spend on items other than beans, booze and bread starters.
In retrospect there were rumblings that the company was cutting staff. A number of recent reviews from its Glassdoor page note layoffs, with one review from March 25, 2020 calling them “mass” in nature; our original source on the company’s recent cuts also noted their breadth.
You can find other social media posts concerning the company’s layoffs, some noting more than one wave. TechCrunch has not confirmed if the recent layoffs are the first of two, or merely the first set of cuts.
A little over 10 months ago the company was in a very different mood. Back in May of 2019, flush with new capital, Modsy’s CEO said that the “home design space, the inspiration category is thriving.”
“Pinterest just IPO’d, and it seems as if every TV channel is entering the home design category,” she said. “Meanwhile, e-commerce sites have barely changed since the introduction of the Internet.”
Against a backdrop where the life-or-death consequences of biotechnology innovation are becoming increasingly apparent as the world races to develop vaccines and therapies to treat COVID-19, life sciences investor ARCH Venture Partners has raised $1.46 billion in funding to finance new tech development.
The two funds, ARCH Venture Fund X and ARCH Venture Fund X Overage, are the latest in the firm’s long line of investment vehicles dedicated to invest in early stage biotechnology companies.
“ARCH has always been driven to invest in great science to impact human health. There isn’t a better illustration of our principles than our all-in battle against COVID-19,” said co-founder and Managing Director Robert Nelsen in a statement. “The healthcare revolution will be accelerated by the changes that are happening now and we are excited to continue to invest aggressively in risk takers doing truly transformational science.”
ARCH portfolio companies Vir Biotechnology, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, VBI Vaccines, Brii Biosciences, and Sana Biotechnology are all working on COVID-19 therapeutics; while Quanterix is developing technology to support clinical testing and clinical trial development. Another company that ARCH has backed, Twist Biosciences, has gene editing tools that the company believes can support therapeutic and vaccine development; and Bellerophon, a developer of inhaled nitric oxide delivery technologies, received emergency access approval from the FDA as a treatment to help alleviate respiratory distress associated with COVID-19.
The firm’s Overage fund will be used to take larger stakes in later-stage companies that require more capital, the firm said.
“Our companies bring cutting-edge science, tools and talent to bear in developing medicines for a wide range of diseases and conditions faced by millions. With these two new funds, we are continuing that work with urgency and a deep sense of purpose,” managing director Kristina Burow said in a statement. “We invest at all levels, whether it’s fifty thousand dollars or hundreds of millions, so that each company and each technology has the best chance to advance and change the landscape.”
The two new funds are roughly the same size as ARCH’s last investment funds, which closed in 2016 with $1.1that billion, but are a big jump from the 2014 ARCH funds that raised $560 million in total capital commitments.
The increasing size of the ARCH funds is a reflection of a broader industry trend which has seen established funds significantly expand their capital under management, but also is indicative of the rising status of biotech investing in the startup landscape.
These days, it’s programmable biology, not software, that’s eating the world.
“ARCH remains committed to our mission of the last 35 years, advancing the most promising innovations from leading life science and physical sciences research to serve the worldwide community by addressing critical health and well-being challenges,” said Keith Crandell in a statement. “ARCH has been privileged to found, support and invest in groundbreaking new companies pursuing advancements in infectious disease, mental health, immunology, genomic and biological tools, data sciences and ways of reimagining diagnostics and therapies.”
Managing directors for the new fund include Robert Nelsen, Keith Crandell, Kristina Burow, Mark McDonnell, Steve Gillis and Paul Thurk.
As the global economy grinds to a halt, every business sector has been impacted, including the linked worlds of startups and venture capital.
But how much has really changed? If you read VC Twitter, you might think that nothing has changed at all. It’s not hard to find investors who say they are still cutting checks and doing deals. But as Q1 venture data trickles in, it appears that a slowdown in VC activity is gradually forming, something that founders have anecdotally shared with TechCrunch.
To get a better handle on how venture capitalists are approaching today’s market, TechCrunch corresponded with a number of active investors to learn how their investment selection process might be changing in light of COVID-19 and its related disruptions. We wanted to know how their investing cadence in Q1 2020 compared to the final quarter of 2019 and the prior-year period. We also asked if their focus had changed, how valuations have shifted and what their take on the LP market is today.
We heard back from Duncan Turner of SOSV, Alex Doll of TenEleven Ventures, Alex Niehenke of Scale Venture Partners, Paul Murphy of Northzone, Sean Park of Anthemis and John Vrionis of Unusual Ventures.
We’ll start with the key themes from their answers and then share each set of responses in detail.
The VCs who responded haven’t slowed their investing pace — yet.
There’s likely some selection bias at work, but the venture capitalists who were willing to answer our questions were quick to note that they wrote a similar number of checks in Q1 2020 as in both Q4 2019 (the sequentially preceding quarter) and Q1 2019 (the year-ago quarter). Some were even willing to share numbers.
Since 2012, Dr. Jeanne Loring, the founder of the eponymous Loring Lab at Scripps Research, has been thinking about how to use pluripotent stem cells as a potential treatment for Parkinson Disease.
Now, eight years later, Aspen Neuroscience, the company she founded to bring her research to market has raised $70 million in funding and is set to begin clinical trials.
Roughly 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson disease, which destroys parts of the brain responsible for motor function. The disease causes a debilitating loss of movement as a result of the degradation of a specific type of neuron in the brain responsible for the production of dopamine — a chemical that facilitates the brain’s control of mood and movement.
Aspen’s experimental treatment takes skin cells from patients who already have Parkinson’s disease and converts those cells into pluripotent stem cells using the technique that won Shinya Yamanaka and John Gurdon the Nobel Prize for medicine back in 2012.
It was Yamanaka’s discovery that in some ways served as a trigger for the work that Loring and Aspen’s chief executive officer Dr. Howard Federoff would be bringing to market eight years later.
Other cell replacement therapies for Parkinson’s had run into difficulties because patient’s bodies would reject the introduction of foreign neurons — in much the same way that organ transplants are sometimes unsuccessful because a host rejects the foreign tissue.
Aspen’s technology uses the host’s own tissue to develop the stem cells that will become the basis for treatment. A patient who carries a diagnosis of Parkinsons would be consented to give a biopsy and the tissue collected is then placed in a cell culture. The cells are then converted into pluripotent stem cells through the introduction of an inert viral RNA that recodes the cell structure.
Those pluripotent stem cells are then converted into neurons that are then transplanted into a patient to replace the ones that Parkinson’s disease has destroyed.
Federoff and Loring have known each other for years, and when the former vice chancellor for health affairs at the University of California, Irvine heard what Loring and her team was working on he stepped down to join her company as chief executive.
Federoff previously founded MedGenesis Therapeutix, another privately held company working on a treatment for Parkinsons. “Much of what we do for Parkinsons and the extant gene therapy is stabilizing the disease,” says Federoff. “Cells of fibroblasts help to dial the clock back.”
The key is the use of autologous cells — those collected from the same individual that will receive the transplant, says Federoff.
Aspen’s novel approach was compelling enough to win the support of longtime healthcare investors including OrbiMed, ARCH Venture Partners, Frazier Healthcare Partners, Domain Associates, Section 32, and former Y Combinator President, Sam Altman.
Following the new round, Aspen is significantly expanding its board of directors to include Faheem Hasnain, the founder of Gossamer Bio who’s taking the chairman role at Aspen; Tom Daniel a venture partner at ARCH Ventures, and Peter Thompson, a partner at OrbiMed.
Aspen’s first product is currently undergoing investigational new drug (IND)-enabling studies for the treatment of sporadic forms of Parkinson disease, the company said. Its second product uses gene correction and neuron therapy to try to treat genetic forms of Parkinson disease.
According to the company, the financing will support the completion of all remaining investigational studies and FDA submission of the studies relating to the company’s lead product. In addition, the financing will support data collection from a Phase 1 clinical trial and the expansion into Phase 2 randomized studies.
Just three months after capping what was the best year for Indian startups, having raised a record $14.5 billion in 2019, they are beginning to struggle to raise new capital as prominent investors urge them to “prepare for the worst” and cut spending.
In an open letter to startup founders in India, ten global and local private equity and venture capitalist firms including Accel, Lightspeed, Sequoia Capital and Matrix Partners cautioned that the current changes to the macro environment could make it difficult for a startup to close their next fundraising deal.
The firms, which included Kalaari Capital, SAIF Partners, and Nexus Venture Partners — some of the prominent names in India to back early-stage startups — asked founders to be prepared to not see their startups’ jump in the coming rounds and have a 12-18 month runway with what they raise.
“Assumptions from bull market financings or even from a few weeks ago do not apply. Many investors will move away from thinking about ‘growth at all costs’ to ‘reasonable growth with a path to profitability.’ Adjust your business plan and messaging accordingly,” they added.
Signs are beginning to emerge that investors are losing appetite to invest in the current scenario.
Indian startups participated in 79 deals to raise $496 million in March, down from $2.86 billion that they raised across 104 deals in February and $1.24 billion they raised from 93 deals in January this year, research firm Tracxn told TechCrunch. In March last year, Indian startups had raised $2.1 billion across 153 deals, the firm said.
New Delhi ordered a complete nation-wide lockdown for its 1.3 billion people for three weeks earlier this month in a bid to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
The lockdown, as you can imagine, has severely disrupted businesses of many startups, several founders told TechCrunch.
Vivekananda Hallekere, co-founder and chief executive of mobility firm Bounce, said the firm had cut salary across the board — except for those who make less than $3,950 a year. “Founders would take a 100% pay cut. This will give us run-way of beyond 30 months. Glad we raised money when we didn’t need,” he said.
Founder of a Bangalore-based startup, which was in advanced stages to raise more than $100 million, said investors have called off the deal for now. He requested anonymity.
Food delivery firm Zomato, which raised $150 million in January, said it would secure an additional $450 million by the end of the month. Two months later, that money is yet to arrive.
Many startups are already beginning to cut salaries of their employees and let go of some people to survive an environment that aforementioned VC firms have described as “uncharted territory.”
Travel and hotel booking service Ixigo said it had cut the pay of its top management team by 60% and rest of the employees by up to 30%. MakeMyTrip, the giant in this category, also cut salaries of its top management team.
Beauty products and cosmetics retailer Nykaa on Tuesday suspended operations and informed its partners that it would not be able to pay their dues on time.
Investors cautioned startup founders to not take a “wait and watch” approach and assume that there will be a delay in their “receivables,” customers would likely ask for price cuts for services, and contracts would not close at the last minute.
“Through the lockdown most businesses could see revenues going down to almost zero and even post that the recovery curve may be a ‘U’ shaped one vs a ‘V’ shaped one,” they said.
And then Nadella and Anant Maheshwari, president of Microsoft India, discussed the success story of B2B platform Udaan in three separate onstage public appearances.
Headquartered in Bangalore, Udaan is a business-to-business e-commerce marketplace founded by former Flipkart executives Amod Malviya, Vaibhav Gupta and Sujeet Kumar. The startup used Microsoft’s free Azure credits to scale in its early days; as in some other markets, Microsoft, Amazon and Google offer free cloud credits in bulk to early, promising Indian startups in a bid to onboard them and see if their solutions could be relevant to other clients down the road.
More often than not, these bets don’t work, but sometimes they pay off. Udaan, valued at about $2.7 billion after raising nearly $900 million from investors like Lightspeed Venture Partners, Tencent Holdings, GGV Capital and Hillhouse Capital, has become one of Microsoft India’s biggest clients in the last three years.
Udaan was founded in 2016 at the tail end of India’s e-commerce frenzy, when scores of startups that had attempted to build business-to-consumer online shopping platforms were conceding defeat.
At the time, very few players — like Power2SME and Moglix (industrial products) and Bizongo (packaging for businesses) — were looking at the business-to-business market in India.
Udaan is valued at about $2.7B after raising nearly $900M from investors like Lightspeed Venture Partners, Tencent Holdings, GGV Capital and Hillhouse Capital and has become one of Microsoft India’s biggest clients.
But despite venturing into a road less traveled, Udaan had ambitious dreams. The startup was building its own logistics network, a herculean task that even Flipkart and Amazon avoided to a certain measure for years, yet it was reaching an audience that had never sold online.
Four years ago, mathematician Vlad Voroninski saw an opportunity to remove some of the bottlenecks in the development of autonomous vehicle technology thanks to breakthroughs in deep learning.
Now, Helm.ai, the startup he co-founded in 2016 with Tudor Achim, is coming out of stealth with an announcement that it has raised $13 million in a seed round that includes investment from A.Capital Ventures, Amplo, Binnacle Partners, Sound Ventures, Fontinalis Partners and SV Angel. More than a dozen angel investors also participated, including Berggruen Holdings founder Nicolas Berggruen, Quora co-founders Charlie Cheever and Adam D’Angelo, professional NBA player Kevin Durant, Gen. David Petraeus, Matician co-founder and CEO Navneet Dalal, Quiet Capital managing partner Lee Linden and Robinhood co-founder Vladimir Tenev, among others.
Helm.ai will put the $13 million in seed funding toward advanced engineering and R&D and hiring more employees, as well as locking in and fulfilling deals with customers.
Helm.ai is focused solely on the software. It isn’t building the compute platform or sensors that are also required in a self-driving vehicle. Instead, it is agnostic to those variables. In the most basic terms, Helm.ai is creating software that tries to understand sensor data as well as a human would, in order to be able to drive, Voroninski said.
That aim doesn’t sound different from other companies. It’s Helm.ai’s approach to software that is noteworthy. Autonomous vehicle developers often rely on a combination of simulation and on-road testing, along with reams of data sets that have been annotated by humans, to train and improve the so-called “brain” of the self-driving vehicle.
Helm.ai says it has developed software that can skip those steps, which expedites the timeline and reduces costs. The startup uses an unsupervised learning approach to develop software that can train neural networks without the need for large-scale fleet data, simulation or annotation.
“There’s this very long tail end and an endless sea of corner cases to go through when developing AI software for autonomous vehicles, Voroninski explained. “What really matters is the unit of efficiency of how much does it cost to solve any given corner case, and how quickly can you do it? And so that’s the part that we really innovated on.”
Voroninski first became interested in autonomous driving at UCLA, where he learned about the technology from his undergrad adviser who had participated in the DARPA Grand Challenge, a driverless car competition in the U.S. funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. And while Voroninski turned his attention to applied mathematics for the next decade — earning a PhD in math at UC Berkeley and then joining the faculty in the MIT mathematics department — he knew he’d eventually come back to autonomous vehicles.
By 2016, Voroninski said breakthroughs in deep learning created opportunities to jump in. Voroninski left MIT and Sift Security, a cybersecurity startup later acquired by Netskope, to start Helm.ai with Achim in November 2016.
“We identified some key challenges that we felt like weren’t being addressed with the traditional approaches,” Voroninski said. “We built some prototypes early on that made us believe that we can actually take this all the way.”
Helm.ai is still a small team of about 15 people. Its business aim is to license its software for two use cases — Level 2 (and a newer term called Level 2+) advanced driver assistance systems found in passenger vehicles and Level 4 autonomous vehicle fleets.
Helm.ai does have customers, some of which have gone beyond the pilot phase, Voroninski said, adding that he couldn’t name them.
Espressive, a four-year-old startup from former ServiceNow employees, is working to build a better chatbot to reduce calls to company help desks. Today, the company announced a $30 million Series B investment.
Insight Partners led the round with help from Series A lead investor General Catalyst along with Wing Venture Capital. Under the terms of today’s agreement, Insight founder and managing director Jeff Horing will be joining the Espressive Board. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $53 million, according to the company.
Company founder and CEO Pat Calhoun says that when he was at ServiceNow he observed that, in many companies, employees often got frustrated looking for answers to basic questions. That resulted in a call to a Help Desk requiring human intervention to answer the question.
He believed that there was a way to automate this with AI-driven chatbots, and he founded Espressive to develop a solution. “Our job is to help employees get immediate answers to their questions or solutions or resolutions to their issues, so that they can get back to work,” he said.
They do that by providing a very narrowly focused natural language processing (NLP) engine to understand the question and find answers quickly, while using machine learning to improve on those answers over time.
“We’re not trying to solve every problem that NLP can address. We’re going after a very specific set of use cases which is really around employee language, and as a result, we’ve really tuned our engine to have the highest accuracy possible in the industry,” Calhoun told TechCrunch.
He says what they’ve done to increase accuracy is combine the NLP with image recognition technology. “What we’ve done is we’ve built our NLP engine on top of some image recognition architecture that’s really designed for a high degree of accuracy and essentially breaks down the phrase to understand the true meaning behind the phrase,” he said.
The solution is designed to provide a single immediate answer. If, for some reason, it can’t understand a request, it will open a help ticket automatically and route it to a human to resolve, but they try to keep that to a minimum. He says that when they deploy their solution, they tune it to the individual customers’ buzzwords and terminology.
So far they have been able to reduce help desk calls by 40% to 60% across customers with around 85% employee participation, which shows that they are using the tool and it’s providing the answers they need. In fact, the product understands 750 million employee phrases out of the box.
The company was founded in 2016. It currently has 65 employees and 35 customers, but with the new funding, both of those numbers should increase.
If you’re looking for toothbrushes, skin-care face masks, mattresses, glasses or even socks, there’s a digitally-native, direct-to-consumer (D2C) company or two that can help you out.
And thanks to smart digital marketing, the cult followings that ensue and the economics of e-commerce, D2C has changed how we relate to consumer goods (while attracting a waterfall of investment dollars).
Globally, D2C startups have raised between $8 billion to $10 billion in known venture capital across more than 600 deals since the start of 2019, according to Crunchbase data. The industry was catalyzed by a number of nine-figure deals for companies like Glossier, which sells makeup products, and Ro, which is a telehealth startup.
Indeed, when prepping this post for publication, our list of notable D2C rounds since the start of 2019 grew long enough that we abandoned the idea of including a digest. The sector has been active across a host of verticals, making it hard to sum up in terms other than rounds and dollars invested.
But those are trailing indicators of what is going on between D2C startups and their investors. TechCrunch was curious, especially in the wake of the troubled Casper IPO, how investor sentiment might have shifted and what venture capitalists are looking for in the category.
To get a grip on the matter, we caught up with Nicole Quinn from Lightspeed Venture Partners, Ben Lerer and Caitlin Strandberg from Lerer Hippeau, Gareth Jefferies from Northzone, Matthew Hartman of Betaworks Ventures, Alexis Ohanian of Initialized Capital and Luca Bocchio of Accel.
We got into advice for founders looking to raise, whether influencer marketing is worth it and which channel one investor says is an “all-but-closed door for most D2C companies.” We’ll start with a summary of the three trends that stood out the most from our collected answers and then share the full investor digests.
Chinese gaming giant Beijing Kunlun has agreed to sell popular gay dating app Grindr for about $608 million, ending a tumultuous four years under Chinese ownership.
Reuters reports that the Chinese company sold its 98% stake in Grindr to a U.S.-based company, San Vicente Acquisition Partners.
The app, originally developed in Los Angeles, raised national security concerns after it was acquired by Beijing Kunlun in 2016 for $93 million. That ownership was later scrutinized by a U.S. government national security panel, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which reportedly told the Beijing-based parent company that its ownership of Grindr constituted a national security threat.
CFIUS expressed concern that data from the app’s some 27 million users could be used by the Chinese government. Last year, it was reported that while under Chinese ownership, Grindr allowed engineers in Beijing access to the personal data of millions of U.S. users, including their private messages and HIV status.
Beijing Kunlun had agreed to sell the unit by June.
Little is known about San Vicente Acquisition, but a person with knowledge of the deal said that the company is made up of a group of investors that’s fully owned and controlled by Americans. Reuters said that one of those investors is James Lu, a former executive at Chinese search giant Baidu.
The deal is subject to shareholder approval and a review by CFIUS.
A spokesperson for Grindr declined to comment on the record.
The company’s recent launches focused on improving its support for AI, high-performance computing and accelerated computing workloads, which is surely what Nvidia is most interested in here.
“Building AI supercomputers is exciting to the entire SwiftStack team,” says the company’s co-founder and CPO Joe Arnold in today’s announcement. “We couldn’t be more thrilled to work with the talented folks at NVIDIA and look forward to contributing to its world-leading accelerated computing solutions.”
The two companies did not disclose the price of the acquisition, but SwiftStack had previously raised about $23.6 million in Series A and B rounds led by Mayfield Fund and OpenView Venture Partners. Other investors include Storm Ventures and UMC Capital.
SwiftStack, which was founded in 2011, placed an early bet on OpenStack, the massive open-source project that aimed to give enterprises an AWS-like management experience in their own data centers. The company was one of the largest contributors to OpenStack’s Swift object storage platform and offered a number of services around this, though it seems like in recent years it has downplayed the OpenStack relationship as that platform’s popularity has fizzled in many verticals.
SwiftStack lists the likes of PayPal, Rogers, data center provider DC Blox, Snapfish and Verizon (TechCrunch’s parent company) on its customer page. Nvidia, too, is a customer.
SwiftStack notes that it team will continue to maintain an existing set of open source tools like Swift, ProxyFS, 1space and Controller.
“SwiftStack’s technology is already a key part of NVIDIA’s GPU-powered AI infrastructure, and this acquisition will strengthen what we do for you,” says Arnold.
Tens of thousands of Indians move to the United States to pursue higher education each year. But like many others who have arrived from a foreign land, they can’t secure education loans or personal loans from the banks at interest rates on par with those levied on local students.
The reason why these students — or anyone else moving to a different country — have to abide by a higher interest rate is because they don’t have a credit score with any local credit bureau. So for banks and other financial institutions, there is more risk when they engage with foreigners. So they charge more.
An Indian student studying in the U.S., for instance, borrows money at an interest rate over 13%, compared to their local peers who can secure the same amount of credit, if not more, at less than half of that interest rate.
Bangalore and San Francisco-based startup Leap Finance, which was founded last year, announced on Tuesday that it is tackling this very challenge, and has started to serve Indian students in the U.S.
Indian students in the U.S. can secure financing from Leap Finance at an interest rate of between 8% to 10%, said Arnav Kumar, co-founder of the startup, in an interview with TechCrunch.
The startup said it is underwriting the loans based on several alternative and derived data points to assess a student’s future income.
Kumar and Vaibhav Singh, the other co-founder who previously worked at financial services groups InCred and Capital Float, arrived at the idea of creating Leap Finance partly because they too faced similar challenges in foreign markets.
Leap Finance founders pose for a picture
“It affects all sorts of things. You often end up with a credit limit on your credit card, for instance, that is only a fraction of your earnings,” he said.
Serving Indian students is a big addressable market in itself. “Indian students make up 25% of a class in many top graduate programs in the U.S. These are smart, hard-working students who got in the best programs and have a great future ahead. Yet, the education loans they avail of are at interest rates twice as high as their American peers,” said Singh.
“This disparity stems from systemic inefficiencies and lack of innovation. We have innovated on multiple dimensions — technology, financial structuring and risk — to bring down the interest rate and improve customer experience,” he added.
The startup, which currently employs more than two dozen people and is hiring for a number of technology roles, began to disburse loans in recent weeks and said more than 100 students are already benefiting from the service.
The startup said it is currently serving Indian students in the U.S., but plans to serve such Indian students in Canada, the U.K. and Indonesia, where the interest rate could go as high as 20%, said Kumar, who previously served as an Associate VP at VC fund SAIF Partners .
As part of the announcement, the duo said they have raised $5.5 million led by Sequoia Capital India. Bhupinder Singh, chief executive of financial services group InCred and Kunal Shah, founder and chief executive of financial services firm Cred also participated in the round.
In a statement, Ashish Agrawal, principal at Sequoia Capital India, said, “Indian students studying abroad today spend $15B annually and we estimate an annual credit need for >$5B against this. This attractiveness of the market, strong founder-market fit and Leap’s mission-driven team is what led to our belief in an early partnership with them.”
Brooklinen, a startup that sells bedding and other home goods online, has raised $50 million in new funding from Summit Partners.
Recent headlines are spurring bigger questions about the direct-to-consumer retail business, with Blue Apron exploring a potential sale and Casper also disclosing disappointing growth and persistent losses. but Brooklinen co-founder and CEO Rich Fulop said his company is different in one key way: It’s profitable.
In fact, Fulop said that the startup has been profitable for three of the last five years. When Brooklinen first launched in 2014,, it had to be profitable, because investors were skeptical about the idea, leaving Rich and Viki Fulop (they’re husband-and-wife co-founders) to bootstrap the company until raising $10 million from FirstMark Capital in 2017.
Even then, Fulop told me he was “kind of uncomfortable” spending more money than he was taking in, so Brooklinen got back to profitability in 2019. At the same time, he said topline revenue grew 40 percent last year.
Asked how he balanced growth and profitability, Fulop said, “It’s honestly basic stuff. We focused on margins.”
For example, he said that the company lowered its customer acquisition costs by taking “a hard look” at its different marketing channels and cutting back on the ones that “weren’t carrying their weight.” It also “invested in site analytics and A/B testing platforms,” while launching new products like robes, shower curtains and bath rugs.
Fulop said the company’s focus has now expanded beyond sleep and bedding, allowing it offer a range of goods around comfort at home.
“We talk religiously to our customers,” he added — and apparently, surveys showed that Brooklinen customers were interested in buying comfortable loungewear from the company.
The startup also opened its first permanent store in Brooklyn earlier this year, selling both Brooklinen products and goods from other brands that sell through the company’s Spaces marketplace. Fulop said the store is already profitable on “a four-wall basis” (basically, it’s profitable if you don’t include the initial start up costs), and one of the plans for the new funding is to open many more brick-and-mortar businesses.
He also said that Brooklinen’s business is almost entirely U.S.-based currently, so he plans to expand internationally.
“Brooklinen’s profitability, customer repeat rate, and consistently smart and deliberate growth decisions make them a rare brand to partner with,” said Summit Partners Managing Director Chris Dean in a statement. “Many brands focus on a growth-at-all-costs model that we believe isn’t sustainable for longevity; we are thrilled to find a like-minded partner and to work together on the next stage of growth for Brooklinen.”
Spinny, an online platform for selling used cars, has secured $43.7 million from a cohort of influential investors in a new financing round as it looks to expand to more Indian cities.
The Series B financing round for the Gurgaon-based startup was led by the Fundamentum Partnership, the growth-capital fund backed by tech veterans Nandan Nilekani and Sanjeev Aggarwal. US-based General Catalyst Partners, Korea based KB Financial Group and existing investors Accel, SAIF Partners and Alteria Capital also participated in the round.
The four-year-old startup has raised about $57 million to date, and according to a person familiar with the matter, the new round gave it a post money valuation of about $150 million.
Spinny runs a platform to facilitate sale and purchase of used cars. Niraj Singh, co-founder and chief executive of the startup, told TechCrunch in an interview that Spinny brings the trust factor that people are looking for when they are purchasing a car.
“Most of these people are aged under 35. They are aspirational and want to get better cars. But it’s a hassle for them to find a trustworthy place and deal with agents,” he said.
The Gurgaon-based four-year-old startup is solving that by inspecting and purchasing the cars and then selling them itself. “Since there is no middlemen, we are able to sell the cars at more affordable prices and we offer a five-day, no-question asked full-refund if someone is not satisfied with their purchase. On top of that, we also offer a year-long warranty on these cars,” he said.
Spinny operates in four cities in India today and has sold nearly 10,000 cars. Until 2017, the startup acted as a marketplace for sale and purchase of cars, essentially serving as a listing platform. “Then, we pivoted as we wanted to control the full supply chain,” he said.
Nandan Nilekani, co-founder and Chairman of Fundamentum said, the fund was impressed by Spinny’s “full stack business” that is building a competitive differentiation as it scales.
“This fits into Fundamentum’s thesis of backing long term oriented entrepreneurs to solve complex business problems using technology and who aspire to build a company at scale and to last,” he said.
On Spinny’s website, people can find the car they want to purchase and then inspect and test drive it from the startup’s physical hubs. Spinny currently has nine hubs in India, something it plans to scale to 20 by the end of the year as it scales to more cities in the country.
It competes with heavily-backed Cars24 and CarDekho, both of which count Sequoia Capital as an investor, as well as Droom, which has raised over $130 million, and Naspers-owned marketplace Olx.
At stake is a huge opportunity. The market for used cars in India is estimated to grow from $13 billion to $25 billion by 2023, despite the slowdown in automobile industry in the country.
Magma Partners has more than doubled the size of its investable capital with the close of its latest $50 million fund. The Santiago, Chile-based venture firm founded in 2013 had secured $21 million that made up the outfit’s second fund, which it raised after closing its debut fund with just $2.5 million. The firm’s largest fund to date comes as investment in Latin America has reached a record high.
Magma has made 70 deals and its portfolio has seen three exits. General Partner Nathan Lustig tells me that Magma will continue to write $50,000 to $100,000 seed checks, and that its larger investments will range from up to $5 million to $7 million. The firm is targeting a few niches:
The fund won’t touch hardware or biotech and isn’t really looking at anything outside its fintech and insurtech thesis.
With fund three, Magma has attracted its first institutional investor. IDB Lab, the innovation laboratory of the IDB Group, has approved an investment of $4 million in the fund. This now puts Magma on a more global radar, and, depending on success of fund three, could enable an even larger future fund four.
Chilean, Colombian and Mexican family offices were the biggest cohort of contributors to the fund, along with angel investors in both Latin America and the U.S.
Magma itself is made up of 15 people across both operations and investing, and the team is spread remotely across Santiago, Bogota, Mexico City and Guadalajara.
While a relatively young firm, Magma has been focused from the start on developing an agency model to support its founders — one that serves as both educator and, in many cases, connector. Latin America suffers from a lack of educational content around company building. That’s why Magma is launching Magma Media, an in-house, media operations unit determined to help its portfolio companies succeed.
“If you’ve only raised a small round, hiring the wrong person could kill your startup.”
Lustig says that the Magma team is made up of former entrepreneurs, and that the goal of Magma Media is to build from the ground up the services they wish they’d had as founders. Inspired by the Andreessen Horowitz agency model, Magma also offers to its startup founders content marketing, sales, recruiting and PR services. Regarding the importance of content marketing, he notes that “if you have a great product and a great idea but you can’t communicate what you’re doing, no one will buy it.” As for the in-house recruiter who is helping to educate founders on making the right hires, Lustig says, “If you’ve only raised a small round, hiring the wrong person could kill your startup.” These are the kind of company building tips that aren’t as widely circulated in Latin America’s comparatively nascent startup scene as they are in Silicon Valley.
Magma has been hustling to expand a network of twenty corporations across Latin America — similar to the Andreessen agency model — that will take meetings with their portfolio, given that the lockdown of an early corporate partnership is a big win for a startup.
The firm encourages successful Latin American startups to feed back into the ecosystem by adapting agency-like networks similar to a16z and Y Combinator, through which startups leverage a network of pre-vetted services and sign on as each other’s first customers. One Magma company, OmniBank, is already factoring out its financial loan services to a few other companies in its portfolio in efforts to emulate this network model that has seen success in the U.S.
As for diversity and inclusion, Lustig says that 35% of the Magma portfolio has at least one female founder and that they hope to grow that percentage.
Despite Lustig’s admiration for some American models of investment, he observes that “China is eating the U.S.’s lunch in Latin America,” referring to the capital flowing into the region from Asian sources. Didi entered Latin America in 2018 via its $1 billion acquisition of Brazilian ridesharing company 99. Tencent’s $180 million strategic investments into Nubank propelled the Brazilian neobank’s valuation to reach $10 billion. And of course, Tokyo-based SoftBank committed $6 billion to invest in Latin American companies via its Latin American Innovation Fund, fueling Colombia’s Rappi and Brazil’s Creditas with growth-stage investments that have allowed the companies to scale aggressively.
In fact, while U.S. funds are beginning to wake up to the Latin America opportunity, Lustig believes that Asian capital in Latin America is smarter capital. Some of it has to do with pattern matching. Globally, Southeast Asia and Latin America count similar population sizes of around 640 million, and 18 out of the 25 biggest cities in the world are in either Southeast Asia or Latin America.
Congruent geographic patterns and likeness in population volume means that tech solutions achieved by startups in Southeast Asia could also function in Latin America — warranting heavier investment, especially when considering how much has been invested into Southeast Asia. Lustig estimates that Southeast Asia saw somewhere between $16 billion and $20 billion invested in 2019, and it has a lower GDP than Latin America.
Lustig highlights online education as just one example of technology that’s more developed in Asia and that could be used to reach rural areas in Latin America that don’t have as much access. Asian e-commerce and mobile payments models are other sectors that Latin American companies can borrow from, he says, stressing that Latin America features a very social culture. It explains why Brazil is one of Facebook’s largest markets, but also, linking social to commerce is a huge opportunity that could show up and generate big returns in Latin America.
Latin American startups should borrow success from the pioneering agency models invented by Andreessen Horowitz and Y Combinator on their home ground, while pattern matching the tech solutions that worked for startups in geographically analogous Southeast Asia and China.
Asian investors may not share the same racist and xenophobic rhetoric around Latins that exists in the United States, too, says Lustig. Though an American himself, he believes a bias against Latins exists in the U.S. “There are still many very educated people in the U.S. who think that Colombia is Narcos on Netflix.” In his experience, he observes that Asian investors aren’t wired to think like that and are instead focused on the growth fundamentals.
Put all the pieces together, suggests Lustig, and the opportunity becomes clear. “One of the most exciting parts about investing in Latin America is that if you can actually solve some of these problems, yes you can generate a big return. [Y]ou might also help tens to hundreds of millions of people solve basic problems that people in the U.S. take for granted. So I think the advice for founders is to go out and try to solve the problems that they’re seeing in their day to day,” he says.
Latin American startups should borrow success from the pioneering agency models invented by Andreessen Horowitz and Y Combinator on their home ground, while pattern matching the tech solutions that worked for startups in geographically analogous Southeast Asia and China. Magma hopes its strategy will prepare Latin American startups for the incoming mega-rounds from Asia that will enable the best companies to enter hypergrowth mode.
Meanwhile, in a note to American investors, Lustig says that the U.S. really needs to up its game in Latin America if it wants to continue to have influence.
London-based insurtech AI startup Tractable, which is applying artificial intelligence to speed up accident and disaster recovery by using computer vision to perform visual damage appraisal instead of getting humans to do the job, has closed a $25 million Series C, led by Canadian investment fund Georgian Partners.
Existing investors also participated, including Insight Partners and Ignition Partners. The round nearly doubles the 2014-founded startup’s total funding, taking it to $55M raised to date.
When TechCrunch spoke to Tractable’s co-founder and CEO Alexandre Dalyac, back in 2018, he said the company’s aim is to speed up insurance-related response times around events like car accidents and natural disasters by as much as 10x.
Two years on the startup isn’t breaking out any hard metrics — but says its product is used by a number of multinational insurance firms, including Ageas in the UK, France’s Covéa, Japan’s Tokio Marine and Polish insurer Talanx-Warta — to analyse vehicle damage “effectively and efficiently”.
It also says the technology has been involved in accelerating insurance-related assessments for “hundreds of thousands of people worldwide”.
Tractable’s pitch is that AI appraisals of damage to vehicles/property can take place via its platform “in minutes”, thereby allowing for repairs to begin sooner and people’s livelihoods to be restored more quickly.
Though of course if the AI algorithm denies a person’s claim the opposite would happen.
The startup said its new funding will go on expanding its market footprint. It has customers across nine markets, globally, at this point. And in addition to its first offices in the UK and US recently opened a permanent office in Japan — with the stated aim of serving new clients in the Asia region.
It also said the Series C will be used for continued product development by further enhancing its AI.
Its current product line up includes AI for assessing damage to vehicles and another focused on the appraisal of damage caused by natural disasters, such as to buildings by hurricanes.
“Our AI solutions capture and process photos and damage and predict repair costs — at scale,” Tractable claims on its website, noting its proprietary algorithms can be fed by “satellite, drone or smartphone imagery”.
Commenting on the funding in a statement Lonne Jaffe, MD at Insight Partners and also Tractable board director, said: “Tractable has achieved tremendous scale in the past year with a customer base across nine countries, a differentiated data asset, and the expansion of their team to over 100 employees across London, New York, and now Tokyo. We are excited to continue to invest in Tractable as the team brings its powerful AI technology to many more countries.”
Emily Walsh, principal at Georgian Partners, added that the startup’s “sophisticated approach to computer vision applied to accident recovery is resonating with the largest players globally, who are using the platform to make real-time, data-driven decisions while dramatically improving the customer experience”.
“We’re incredibly excited to partner with the Tractable team to help them move even faster on bringing the next wave of technological innovation to accident and disaster recovery across the world,” she added.
It’s worth noting that in the EU citizens have a right, under data protection law, to (human) review of algorithmic decisions if they a legal or similarly significant impact — and insurance would likely fall into that category.
EU policymakers also recently laid out a proposal to regulate certain “high risk” AI systems and said they intend to expand the bloc’s consumer protection rules by bringing in a testing and certification program for the data-sets that feed algorithms powering AI-driven services to support product safety.
Made Renovation, a new, San Francisco-based company, thinks it has found a profitable way to help homeowners get done something that busy general contractors in the Bay Area won’t otherwise make time for, which is bathroom remodels.
Why they typically pass on these: they have too many entire homes, or, at least, entire floors, to build for affluent regional homeowners who’ve kept the construction industry buzzing for years.
It’s a problem that founders Roger Dickey, who previously co-founded Gigster, and Sagar Shah, who previously founded Quad, think they can solve through technology, naturally. Their big idea: create bathroom templates that customers can customize but whose scope and costs are generally understood, line up these customers, then hire general contractors who are willing to focus only on these bathrooms.
It’s an idea that’s picking up traction with these GCs, says Dickey, who explains it this way: “General contractors generally see net margin of 3%” no matter the size of the job, owing to unforeseen hurdles, like pipes that suddenly need to be rebuilt, drains that need to be dug and materials that don’t ship on schedule.
In addition to timing issues, GCs are also often dealing with frustrated building owners who might underestimate a project’s costs, particularly in California, where construction bills often cause sticker shock.
Made Renovation sees an opportunity to make both the lives of GCs and homeowners easier. Through pre-negotiated pricing, volume and materials handling (it right now rents part of a warehouse where it receives goods), it’s promising GCs a “reasonable margin” so they can not only pay their crews but live a higher quality of life themselves.
Meanwhile, per the plan, customers need only choose from the company’s “modern” collection, its more traditional “heritage”design or its “artisan” collection — all of which can be customized — then sit back while their long-neglected bathrooms are remade.
Whether Made Renovation can pull off its grand vision is a giant question mark. The construction industry is nothing if not messy, and in addition to convincing GCs of its merits, Made Renovation — like any marketplace company — has to strike the right balance between customer demand and supply as it gets off the ground.
In the meantime, investors clearly think it has promise. Led by Base10 Partners and with participation from Felicis Ventures, Founders Fund and some individual investors, the company has already raised $9 million in seed funding across two tranches.
Part of that capital is on display right now in San Francisco, where Made Renovation today opened its doors to customers who want to check out its design ideas and, if all goes as planned, will begin lining up their own home improvement projects. Customers simply pick a collection, Made Renovation then puts together a “mood board” of materials from that collection, sends out a 3D rendering of what to expect, then goes into build mode with its GC partners.
As for what happens when that build goes awry, Dickey says Made Renovation has it covered. Most notably, while it guarantees the work to its own customers, the GCs with whom it works guarantee their work to Made Renovation.
Dickey also notes that while the startup “may lose money on some projects,” he stresses there are caveats that customers agree to at the outset. Among these, he says, “We can’t X-ray their walls and see if they don’t have wiring up to code. We don’t cover dry rot in walls.” Technology, suggests Dickey, can only do so much.
If you’re in the Bay Area and want to check out its new storefront, it’s on Chestnut Street in SF, in the city’s Marina district. The company hopes to perfect its model in the Bay Area, says Dickey, then expand into other regions. As for why Made Renovation decided to tackle one of the most challenging U.S. markets first, he suggests it’s the best way to test its mettle. “I like the idea of starting a company here, because if we can make it work here, I think we can succeed anywhere.”
It’s T-minus one week to the big day, March 3, when more than 1,000 startuppers will convene in San Jose, Calif. for TC Sessions: Robotics + AI 2020. We’re talking a hefty cross-section representing big companies and exciting new startups. We’re talking some of the most innovative thinkers, makers, researchers, investors and influencers — all focused on creating the future of these two world-changing technologies.
Don’t miss out on this one-day conference of interviews, panel discussions, Q&As, workshops and demos dedicated to every aspect of robotics and A.I. General admission tickets cost $345. Snag your ticket now and save, because prices go up at the door. Want to save even more? Save 15 percent when you buy four or more tickets. Are you a student? Grab a ticket for just $50.
What do we have planned for this TC Session? Here’s a small sample of the fab programming that awaits you, and be sure to check out the full TC Session agenda here.
And — new this year — don’t miss watching the finalists from our Pitch Night competition. Founders of these early-stage companies, hand-picked by TechCrunch editors, will take the stage and have just five minutes to present their wares.
With just one more week until TC Sessions: Robotics + AI 2020 kicks off, you don’t have much time left to save on tickets. Why pay more at the door? Buy your ticket now and join the best and brightest for a full day dedicated to all things robotics.
Excitement for The Europas Awards for European Tech Startups is heating up. Here is the first wave of speakers and judges — with more coming!
The Awards — which have been running for over 10 years — will be held on 25 June 2020 in London, U.K. on the front lawn of the Geffrye Museum in Hoxton, London — creating a fantastic and fun garden-party atmosphere in the heart of London’s tech startup scene.
The application form to enter is here.
We’re scouting for the top late-stage seed and Series A startups in 22 categories.
You can nominate a startup, accelerator or venture investor that you think deserves to be recognized for their achievements in the last 12 months.
CLOSING DATE FOR APPLICATIONS: 25 March 2020
For the 2020 awards, we’ve overhauled the categories to a set that we believe better reflects the range of innovation, diversity and ambition we see in the European startups being built and launched today. This year we are particularly looking at startups that are able to address the SDGs/Globals Boals.
The Europas Awards
The Europas Awards results are based on voting by experts, experienced founders, hand-picked investors and the industry itself.
But the key to it is that there are no “off-limits areas” at The Europas, so attendees can mingle easily with VIPs.
Timeline of The Europas Awards deadlines:
Submissions now open!
25 March 2020 – Submissions close
14 April – Public voting begins
25 April – Public voting ends
8 June – Shortlist Announced
25 June – Awards evening, winners announced
We’re also shaking up the awards dinner itself. There are more opportunities to network. Our awards ceremony this year will be in the setting of a garden/lawn party, where you’ll be able to meet and mingle more easily, with free-flowing drinks and a wide selection of street food (including vegetarian/vegan). The ceremony itself will last less than 45 minutes, with the rest of the time dedicated to networking. If you’d like to talk about sponsoring or exhibiting, please contact Claire Dobson on firstname.lastname@example.org
Instead of thousands and thousands of people, think of a great summer event with the most interesting and useful people in the industry, including key investors and leading entrepreneurs.
The Europas Awards have been going for the last 10 years, and we’re the only independent and editorially driven event to recognise the European tech startup scene. The winners have been featured in Reuters, Bloomberg, VentureBeat, Forbes, Tech.eu, The Memo, Smart Company, CNET, many others — and of course, TechCrunch.
• No secret VIP rooms, which means you get to interact with the speakers
• Key founders and investors attending
• Journalists from major tech titles, newspapers and business broadcasters
The Pathfounder Afternoon Workshops
In the afternoon prior to the awards we will be holding a special, premium content event, The Pathfounder, designed be a “fast download” into the London tech scene for European founders looking to raise money or re-locate to London. Sessions include “How to Craft Your Story”; “Term Sheets”; “Building a Shareholding Structure”; Investor Panel; Meet the Press; and a session from former Europas winners. Followed by the awards and after-party!
The Europas “Diversity Pass”
We’d like to encourage more diversity in tech! That’s why we’ve set aside a block of free tickets to ensure that pre-seed female and BAME founders are represented at The Europas. This limited tranche of free tickets ensures that we include more women and people of colour who are specifically “pre-seed” or “seed-stage” tech startup founders. If you are a women/BAME founder, apply here for a chance to be considered for one of the limited free diversity passes to the event.
Anne Boden is founder and CEO of Starling Bank, a fast-growing U.K. digital bank targeting millions of users who live their lives on their phones. After a distinguished career in senior leadership at some of the world’s best-known financial heavyweights, she set out to build her own mobile bank from scratch in 2014. Today, Starling has opened more than one million current accounts for individuals and small businesses and raised hundreds of millions of pounds in backing. Anne was awarded an MBE for services to financial technology in 2018.
Nate Lanxon (Speaker)
Editor and Tech Correspondent
Nate is an editor and tech correspondent for Bloomberg, based in London. For over a decade, he has particularly focused on the consumer technology sector, and the trends shaping the global industry. Previous to this, he was senior editor at Bloomberg Media and was head of digital editorial for Bloomberg.com in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Nate has held numerous roles across the most respected titles in tech, including stints as editor of WIRED.co.uk, editor-in-chief of Ars Technica UK and senior editor at CBS-owned CNET. Nate launched his professional career as a journalist by founding a small tech and gaming website called Tech’s Message, which is now the name of his weekly technology podcast hosted at natelanxon.com.
CEO and founder
/> Tania is an internationally recognized women’s health expert and has held leadership positions for various global NGOs and the United Nations. Passionate about challenging taboo women’s issues, Tania founded Elvie in 2013, partnering with Alexander Asseily to create a global hub of connected health and lifestyle products for women.
CEO and co-founder
Thread makes it easy for guys to dress well. They combine expert stylists with powerful AI to recommend the perfect clothes for each person. Thread is used by more than 1 million men in the U.K., and has raised $35 million from top investors, including Balderton Capital, the founders of DeepMind and the billionaire former owner of Warner Music. Prior to Thread, Kieran founded one of the first video sharing websites at age 15 and sold it for $1.25 million at age 19. He was then CEO and co-founder of Playfire, the largest social network for gamers, which he grew to 1.5 million customers before being acquired in 2012. He’s a member of the Forbes, Drapers and Financial Times 30 Under 30 lists.
Chief Commercial Officer
Clare is the chief commercial officer of what3words; prior to this, her background was in the development and growth of social enterprises and in impact investment. Clare was featured in the 2019 Forbes 30 under 30 list for technology and is involved with London companies tackling social/environmental challenges. Clare also volunteers with the Streetlink project, doing health outreach work with vulnerable women in South London.
Luca Bocchio joined Accel in 2018 and focuses on consumer internet, fintech and software businesses. Luca led Accel’s investment in Luko, Bryter and Brumbrum. Luca also helped lead Accel’s investment and ongoing work in Sennder. Prior to Accel, Luca was with H14, where he invested in global early and growth-stage opportunities, such as Deliveroo, GetYourGuide, Flixbus, SumUp and SecretEscapes. Luca previously advised technology, industrial and consumer companies on strategy with Bain & Co. in Europe and Asia. Luca is from Italy and graduated from LIUC University.
CEO and c-founder
/> Bernhard co-founded busuu in 2008 following an MBA project and has since led the company to become the world’s largest community for language learning, with more than 90 million users across the globe. Before starting busuu, Bernhard worked as a consultant at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants. He graduated summa cum laude in International Business from the Vienna University of Economics and Business and holds an MBA with honours from IE Business School. Bernhard is an active mentor and business angel in the startup community and an advisor to the Austrian Government on education affairs. Bernhard recently received the EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2018 UK Awards in the Disruptor category.
CEO and founder
Chris is the founder and CEO of Lyst, the world’s biggest fashion search platform used by 104 million shoppers each year. Including over 6 million products from brands including Burberry, Fendi, Gucci, Prada and Saint Laurent, Lyst offers shoppers convenience and unparalleled choice in one place. Launched in London in 2010, Lyst’s investors include LVMH, 14W, Balderton and Accel Partners. Prior to founding Lyst, Chris was an investor at Benchmark Capital and Balderton Capital in London, focusing on the early-stage consumer internet space. He holds an MA in physics and philosophy from Cambridge University.
CEO and co-founder
/> Husayn Kassai is the Onfido CEO and co-founder. Onfido helps businesses digitally onboard users by verifying any government ID and comparing it with the person’s facial biometrics. Founded in 2012, Onfido has grown to a team of 300 across SF, NYC and London; received over $100 million in funding from Salesforce, Microsoft and others; and works with over 1,500 fintech, banking and marketplace clients globally. Husayn is a WEF Tech Pioneer; a Forbes Contributor; and Forbes’ “30 Under 30”. He has a BA in economics and management from Keble College, Oxford.