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First findings with Apple’s new AirTag location devices

By Matthew Panzarino

I’ve been playing around with Apple’s new AirTag location devices for a few hours now and they seem to work pretty much as advertised. The setup flow is simple and clean, taking clear inspiration from the one Apple developed for AirPods. The precision finding feature enabled by the U1 chip works as a solid example of utility-driven augmented reality, popping up a virtual arrow and other visual identifiers on the screen to make finding a tag quicker.

The basic way that AirTags work, if you’re not familiar, is that they use Bluetooth beaconing technology to announce their presence to any nearby devices running iOS 14.5 and above. These quiet pings are encrypted and invisible (usually) to any passer by, especially if they are with their owners. This means that no one ever knows what device actually ‘located’ your AirTag, not even Apple.

With you, by the way, means in relative proximity to a device signed in to the iCloud account that the AirTags are registered to. Bluetooth range is typically in the ~40 foot range depending on local conditions and signal bounce. 

In my very limited testing so far, AirTag location range fits in with that basic Bluetooth expectation. Which means that it can be foiled by a lot of obstructions or walls or an unflattering signal bounce. It often took 30 seconds or more to get an initial location from an AirTag in another room, for instance. Once the location was received, however, the instructions to locate the device seemed to update quickly and were extremely accurate down to a few inches.

The AirTags run for a year on a standard CR2032 battery that’s user replaceable. They offer some water resistance including submersion for some time. There are a host of accessories that seem nicely designed like leather straps for bags, luggage tags and key rings.

So far so good. More testing to come. 

Some protections

As with anything to do with location, security and privacy are a top of mind situation for AirTags, and Apple has some protections in place.

You cannot share AirTags — they are meant to be owned by one person. The only special privileges offered by people in your iCloud Family Sharing Group is that they can silence the ‘unknown AirTag nearby’ alerts indefinitely. This makes AirTags useful for things like shared sets of keys or maybe even a family pet. This means that AirTags will not show up on your family Find My section like other iOS devices might. There is now a discrete section within the app just for ‘Items’ including those with Find My functionality built in. 

The other privacy features include a ‘warning’ that will trigger after some time that a tag is in your proximity and NOT in the proximity of its owner (aka, traveling with you perhaps in a bag or car). Your choices are then to make the tag play a sound to locate it — look at its information including serial number and to disable it by removing its battery. 

Any AirTag that has been away from its owner for a while — this time is variable and Apple will tweak it over time as it observes how AirTags work — will start playing a sound whenever it is moved. This will alert people to its presence. 

You can, of course, also place an AirTag into Lost Mode, offering a choice to share personal information with anyone who locates it as it plays an alert sound. Anyone with any smart device with NFC, Android included, can tap the device to see a webpage with information that you choose to share. Or just a serial number if you do not choose to do so. 

This scenario addresses what happens if you don’t have an iOS device to alert you to a foreign AirTag in your presence, as it will eventually play a sound even if it is not in lost mode and the owner has no control over that.

It’s clear that Apple has thought through many of the edge cases, but some could still crop up as it rolls out, we’ll have to see.

Apple has some distinct market advantages here:

  • Nearly a billion devices out in the world that can help to locate an AirTag.
  • A built-in U1 wideband chip that communicates with a similar U1 chip in iPhones to enable super precise (down to inches) location.
  • A bunch of privacy features that don’t appear on competing tags.

Important to note that Apple has announced the development of a specification for chipset makers that lets third-party devices with Ultra Wideband radios access the U1 chip onboard iPhones ‘later this Spring’. This should approximate the Precision Finding feature’s utility in accessories that don’t have the advantage of having a U1 built in like the AirTags do. And, of course, Apple has opened up the entire Find My mesh network to third party devices from Belkin, Chipolo and VanMoof that want to offer a similar basic finding function as offered by AirTags. Tile has announced plans to offer a UWB version of its tracker as well, even as it testified in Congress yesterday that Apple’s advantages made its entry into this market unfair. 

It will be interesting to see these play out once AirTags are out getting lost in the wild. I have had them for under 12 hours so I’ve not been able to test edge cases, general utility in public spaces or anything like that. 

The devices go on sale on April 23rd.

Colgate-Palmolive, Coca-Cola and Unilever join AB Inbev’s sustainable supply chain accelerator

By Jonathan Shieber

A clutch of the world’s largest consumer products and food companies are joining Budweiser’s parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev in backing an investment program to support early stage companies focused on making supply chains more sustainable.

The Earth Day-timed announcement comes as companies and consumers confront the failure of recycling programs to adequately address the problems associated with plastic waste — and broader issues around the contributions of consumer behavior and industrial production and distribution to the current climate emergency.

The AB InBev program, called the 100+ Accelerator, launched in 2018 with the goal to solve supply chain challenges in water stewardship, the circular economy, sustainable agriculture and climate action, the company said. These are problems that the alcohol manufacturer’s new partners — Colgate-Palmolive; Coca-Cola; and Unilever are also intimately familiar with.

Since the launch of the accelerator and investment program, AB InBev has backed 36 companies in 16 countries, according to a statement. Those startups have gone on to raise more than $200 million in follow on financing.

The accelerator program creates funding for pilot programs and offers opportunities for early stage companies to consult with executive management at the world’s top consumer brands.

Since the program’s launch, AB InBev has worked with startups to pilot returnable packaging programs; implement new cleaning technologies to reduce water and energy use in Colombian brewing operations; provide insurance to small farms in Africa and South America; collect more waste in Brazil; recycle electric vehicle batteries in China; and upcycle grains waste from the brewing process to create new, nutrient rich food sources.

As pressures from outside investors and regulators mount, companies are beginning to shift their attention to focus on ways to make their industrial processes more sustainable.

These kinds of collaborative initiatives among major corporations, which are long overdue, have the potential to make a significant contribution to reducing the environmental footprint of business, but it depends on the depth of the commitment and the speed at which these businesses are willing to deploy solutions beyond a few small pilot programs.

Applications for the latest cohort will be due by May 31, 2021.

 

Window Snyder’s new startup Thistle Technologies raises $2.5M seed to secure IoT devices

By Zack Whittaker

The Internet of Things has a security problem. The past decade has seen wave after wave of new internet-connected devices, from sensors through to webcams and smart home tech, often manufactured in bulk but with little — if any — consideration to security. Worse, many device manufacturers make no effort to fix security flaws, while others simply leave out the software update mechanisms needed to deliver patches altogether.

That sets up an entire swath of insecure and unpatchable devices to fail, and destined to be thrown out when they break down or are invariably hacked.

Security veteran Window Snyder thinks there is a better way. Her new startup, Thistle Technologies, is backed with $2.5 million in seed funding from True Ventures with the goal of helping IoT manufacturers reliably and securely deliver software updates to their devices.

Snyder founded Thistle last year, and named it after the flowering plant with sharp prickles designed to deter animals from eating them. “It’s a defense mechanism,” Snyder told TechCrunch, a name that’s fitting for a defensive technology company. The startup aims to help device manufacturers without the personnel or resources to integrate update mechanisms into their device’s software in order to receive security updates and better defend against security threats.

“We’re building the means so that they don’t have to do it themselves. They want to spend the time building customer-facing features anyway,” said Snyder. Prior to founding Thistle, Snyder worked in senior cybersecurity positions at Apple, Intel, and Microsoft, and also served as chief security officer at Mozilla, Square, and Fastly.

Thistle lands on the security scene at a time when IoT needs it most. Botnet operators are known to scan the internet for devices with weak default passwords and hijack their internet connections to pummel victims with floods of internet traffic, knocking entire websites and networks offline. In 2016, a record-breaking distributed denial-of-service attack launched by the Mirai botnet on internet infrastructure giant Dyn knocked some of the biggest websites — Shopify, SoundCloud, Spotify, Twitter — offline for hours. Mirai had ensnared thousands of IoT devices into its network at the time of the attack.

Other malicious hackers target IoT devices as a way to get a foot into a victim’s network, allowing them to launch attacks or plant malware from the inside.

Since device manufacturers have done little to solve their security problems among themselves, lawmakers are looking at legislating to curb some of the more egregious security mistakes made by default manufacturers, like using default — and often unchangeable — passwords and selling devices with no way to deliver security updates.

California paved the way after passing an IoT security law in 2018, with the U.K. following shortly after in 2019. The U.S. has no federal law governing basic IoT security standards.

Snyder said the push to introduce IoT cybersecurity laws could be “an easy way for folks to get into compliance” without having to hire fleets of security engineers. Having an update mechanism in place also helps to keeps the IoT devices around for longer — potentially for years longer — simply by being able to push fixes and new features.

“To build the infrastructure that’s going to allow you to continue to make those devices resilient and deliver new functionality through software, that’s an incredible opportunity for these device manufacturers. And so I’m building a security infrastructure company to support that security needs,” she said.

With the seed round in the bank, Snyder said the company is focused on hiring device and back-end engineers, product managers, and building new partnerships with device manufacturers.

Phil Black, co-founder of True Ventures — Thistle’s seed round investor — described the company as “an astute and natural next step in security technologies.” He added: “Window has so many of the qualities we look for in founders. She has deep domain expertise, is highly respected within the security community, and she’s driven by a deep passion to evolve her industry.”

Queenly raises $2.3M for its dress marketplace

By Alex Wilhelm

One of our favorite companies from the most recently Y Combinator batch has closed a seed round. This morning Quenly announced that it has closed a $2.262 million round, following its $800,000 pre-seed raise. TechCrunch covered the company in February, noting that the company was building something akin to the StockX for women’s formal wear.

Queenly runs a marketplace that allows individuals and small stores to resell dresses after they’ve been worn, allowing for more women to access the items they want to wear to a prom, quinceanera, or pageant at a lower price point. And as the service could help reduce net clothing waste, it could have a positive environmental impact as well.

The model has continued to find backers. According to co-founder Trisha Bantigue, the biggest check in Queenly’s seed round came from Dragon Capital, an investing group that she said quickly saw her startup’s potential, investing the day after they met. Notably, the seed round, which Bantigue had roughly half-filled even before its Y Combinator cohort’s launch event, did not have a lead investor. Instead, she described her most recent backers as more of a collection of investors that can bring different strategic value-adds to Queenly.

Brightlane Ventures put capital in, for example. Bantigue said that they provide candidate sourcing help. She also cited Amino Capital’s analytics knowledge, which will help her company’s technical co-founder Kathy Zhou. NextView Ventures also invested, an investor that Bantigue said had deep experience in resale marketplaces and commerce. Interlace Ventures and Shakti Capital also took part.

Queenly, long a team of two, intends to expand its staff to six full-time workers with its new funds. That means that Zhou will be supplemented by two more engineers, and Bantigue will be backed up by a head of growth, and a head of opps. Six full-time staff isn’t many, unless you’re starting from a base of two. Then it’s a trebling.

Queenly had set out to raise $1.5 million, but wound up raising $2.1 million, a number that grew to $2.262 million by the time that TechCrunch caught up with the company earlier this week.

Notably, Bantigue turned down a larger, $1.5 million check after closing around $1.1 million of the round. Why not on as much capital as possible? She said that Y Combinator and its managing director Michael Seibel had warned her startup cohort against raising too much money too early. And, she explained, her team is more focused on building long-term more “sustainable” growth than short-term “hypergrowth.” She cited startups that raised lots of capital quickly only to later burn out as a cautionary tale.

The new capital was raised using a simple agreement for future equity, or SAFE at a single cap.

Queenly’s model of allowing individuals and partner stores resale dresses provides it with two distinct supply sources. TechCrunch asked which is its key driver of growth. Per Bantigue, the partner selling model is still new, but thus far has yielded a simpler, and lower-friction supply source for her company.

TechCrunch was also curious about how the company handles quality, fraud and returns, especially in light of our recent, and illustrative dive into StockX which has a related set of hurdles to clear.

Bantigue explained that her firm has two main ways that dresses are vetted. For those priced at $300 or less, they ship directly from sellers to buyers, after submitting proof photos of the condition of the dress’s components. Those that cost more than $300 are routed through the company’s own operation, where it can provide stricter quality control.

With more capital than it has ever had, a growing team, and a large market that is largely offline today, the startup should have plenty of room to grow. Let’s see how far it can get with this new investment.

 

As ExxonMobil asks for handouts, startups get to work on carbon capture and sequestration

By Jonathan Shieber

Earlier this week, ExxonMobil, a company among the largest producers of greenhouse gas emissions and a longtime leader in the corporate fight against climate change regulations, called for a massive $100 billion project (backed in part by the government) to sequester hundreds of millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide in geologic formations off the Gulf of Mexico.

The gall of Exxon’s flag-planting request is matched only by the grit from startup companies that are already working on carbon capture and storage or carbon utilization projects and announced significant milestones along their own path to commercialization even as Exxon was asking for handouts.

These are companies like Charm Industrial, which just completed the first pilot test of its technology through a contract with Stripe. That pilot project saw the company remove 416 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent from the atmosphere. That’s a small fraction of the hundred million tons Exxon thinks could be captured in its hypothetical sequestration project located off the Gulf Coast, but the difference between Exxon’s proposal and Charm’s sequestration project is that Charm has actually managed to already sequester the carbon.

The company’s technology, verified by outside observers like Shopify, Microsoft, CarbonPlan, CarbonDirect and others, converts biomass into an oil-like substance and then injects that goop underground — permanently sequestering the carbon dioxide, the company said.

Eventually, Charm would use its bio-based oil equivalent to produce “green hydrogen” and replace pumped or fracked hydrocarbons in industries that may still require combustible fuel for their operations.

1/ Today we're announcing we've delivered @stripe's 416 ton CO₂e carbon removal purchase ahead of schedule, just 12 months after inventing our new carbon removal pathway. The carbon is now in permanent geological storage. https://t.co/ZIy2plK6n9

— Charm Industrial (@CharmIndustrial) April 20, 2021

While Charm is converting biomass into an oil-equivalent and pumping it back underground, other companies like CarbonCure, Blue Planet, Solidia, Forterra, CarbiCrete and Brimstone Energy are capturing carbon dioxide and fixing it in building materials. 

“The easy way to think about CarbonCure we have a mission to reduce 500 million tons per year by 2030. On the innovation side of things we really pioneered this area of science using CO2 in a value-added, hyper low-cost way in the value chain,” said CarbonCure founder and chief executive Rob Niven. “We look at CO2 as a value added input into making concrete production. It has to raise profits.”

Niven stresses that CarbonCure, which recently won one half of the $20 million carbon capture XPrize alongside CarbonBuilt, is not a hypothetical solution for carbon dioxide removal. The company already has 330 plants operating around the world capturing carbon dioxide emissions and sequestering them in building materials.

Applications for carbon utilization are important to reduce the emissions footprints of industry, but for nations to achieve their climate objectives, the world needs to move to dramatically reduce its reliance on emissions spewing energy sources and simultaneously permanently draw down massive amounts of greenhouse gases that are already in the atmosphere.

It’s why the ExxonMobil call for a massive project to explore the permanent sequestration of carbon dioxide isn’t wrong, necessarily, just questionable coming from the source.

The U.S. Department of Energy does think that the Gulf Coast has geological formations that can store 500 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (which the company says is more than 130 years of the country’s total industrial and power generation emissions). But in ExxonMobil’s calculation that’s a reason to continue with business-as-usual (actually with more government subsidies for its business).

Here’s how the company’s top executives explained it in the pages of The Wall Street Journal:

The Houston CCS Innovation Zone concept would require the “whole of government” approach to the climate challenge that President Biden has championed. Based on our experience with projects of this scale, we estimate the approach could generate tens of thousands of new jobs needed to make and install the equipment to capture the CO2 and transport it via a pipeline for storage. Such a project would also protect thousands of existing jobs in industries seeking to reduce emissions. In short, large-scale CCS would reduce emissions while protecting the economy.

These oil industry executives are playing into a false narrative that the switch to renewable energy and a greener economy will cost the U.S. jobs. It’s a fact that oil industry jobs will be erased, but those jobs will be replaced by other opportunities, according to research published in Scientific American.

“With the more aggressive $60 carbon tax, U.S. employment would still exceed the reference-case forecast, but the increase would be less than that of the $25 tax,” write authors Marilyn Brown and Majid Ahmadi. “The higher tax causes much larger supply-side job losses, but they are still smaller than the gains in energy-efficiency jobs motivated by higher energy prices. Overall, 35 million job years would be created between 2020 and 2050, with net job increases in almost all regions.”

ExxonMobil and the other oil majors definitely have a role to play in the new energy economy that’s being built worldwide, but the leading American oil companies are not going to be able to rest on their laurels or continue operating with a business-as-usual mindset. These companies run the risk of going the way of big coal — slowly sliding into obsolescence and potentially taking thousands of jobs and local economies down with them.

To avoid that, carbon sequestration is a part of the solution, but it’s one of many arrows in the quiver that oil companies need to deploy if they’re going to continue operating and adding value to shareholders. In other words, it’s not the last 130 years of emissions that ExxonMobil should be focused on, it’s the next 130 years that aim to be increasingly zero-emission.

RapidSOS and Axon ink deal to give better real-time information to emergency responders

By Danny Crichton

Every time an emergency responder or police officer responds to a 911 dispatch, they enter an unknown terrain. What’s the incident? Who’s involved? Is anyone dangerous or holding a weapon? Is someone injured and perhaps has an underlying health condition that the responders need to know about? As prominent news stories this week and over the last few years constantly remind us, having the right context while responding can turn a potential tragedy into a much more positive story.

RapidSOS is a startup I’ve been watching for years. The company raised an $85 million Series C round this February to bring real-time location information from all sorts of devices — from Apple and Android smartphones to Sirius XM satellite radios — into the hands of 911 call centers when users make an emergency call. Accurate location can help dispatchers send responders to exactly the right place, offering faster assistance and therefore saving lives.

The company announced this morning a new partnership with Axon, the company behind Taser, the electroshock weapon designed as a non-lethal alternative to traditional firearms, and a variety of body cams and other technologies for public safety officials. In recent years, Axon has increasingly emphasized a suite of cloud offerings that can fuse data from its devices with software to creates operations systems for public safety agencies.

Through the partnership, Axon will integrate the data that its devices generate such as body cam footage and Taser discharge alerts into RapidSOS’s Jurisdiction Review, which is used by dispatchers to place a location and relevant information from a caller a visual map. For instance, a dispatcher might now know the location of police or medical responders, and be able to update a 911 caller on the estimated time of arrival or whether they need help getting access to a location.

Likewise, RapidSOS’s location, medical, and other information that it pulls in from user devices during an emergency call will be sent to Axon Respond devices. Frontline responders will therefore have direct access to a 911 caller’s location information or medical information if they have a profile setup, without having to wait for a dispatcher to route those facts to them.

Josh Pepper, VP of product management at Axon, said “What we’re always trying to do is how can we get [first responders] the right information about the incident, the right information about the people involved, the right information about the location and all of the disposition of the units involved, as fast and as accurately as we can … so that they can have situational awareness of what’s happening.” RapidSOS’s data will augment other information streams, helping first responders make those critical split-second decisions.

Michael Martin, CEO and co-foudner of RapidSOS, said “for the first time now, your smartphone, your 911 responder and the police officer in the field can all simultaneously and transparently share data with each other.”

In tech, we are used to having comprehensive information about our products through data analytics. In the emergency space — even today — first responders can lack even the most rudimentary information like location when responding to a call. RapidSOS, Axon and a slew of other companies are trying to bridge that digital divide.

A UI mockup of how Axon’s information will display within RapidSOS’s Jurisdiction View. Image Credits: RapidSOS

This is the Jurisdiction View from RapidSOS’s platform, with a few elements added to mockup how Axon’s information will be integrated into the product. The two starred badges represent the locations of responding police officers in the field, converging on the location (green pin) of a 911 caller. In the bottom-right corner, a live body cam feed from a police officer can be routed straight to a 911 dispatcher, giving them a real-time look at what is transpiring on the ground. Meanwhile in the info box to the left, we can see that a Taser weapon was fired (noted under “Device Alerts”) and the 911 dispatcher can text to the responding officer directly through the platform.

The companies said the partnership will bear fruit this year as both platforms integrate the data streams into their respective products.

Forget the piggy bank, Till Financial’s kids’ spend management app gets Gates’ backing

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Today’s children and teens want more power and control over their spending.

And while there are a number of financial services and apps out there aimed at helping this demographic save and invest money (Greenlight being among the most popular and well-known), one startup is coming at the space from another angle: helping younger people also better manage their spend.

Till Financial describes itself as a collaborative family financial tool that aims to empower kids to become smarter spenders. The New York-based company’s banking platform is designed to encourage “open and honest” discussions between parents and their kids. And it has just raised $5 million to help it advance on that goal.

A slew of investors put money in the round, including Elysian Park Ventures, Melinda Gates’ venture fund Pivotal Ventures with Magnify Ventures, Afore Capital, Luge Capital, Alpine Meridian Ventures, The Gramercy Fund, SM Ventures (the family office of the founders/CEOs of Stadium Goods) and Lightspeed Venture Partners’ Scout Fund. Also participating were angel investors such as the founders of fintech Petal, the founders of alcohol marketplace Drizly, the president of Transactis, and the president of 1800Flowers.

Part of Till’s goal is to help kids “learn by doing” and gain confidence in spending decisions. It arms them with a bank account, digital and physical debit card and goal-based savings. For example, say a teen wants to buy an iPad, they can set up an account that they can save toward that iPad and give family members (such as grandparents, for example) the opportunity to pitch in the same amount, or more. They can also set up recurring payments for things like Netflix or Spotify subscriptions so they can get a taste of what it’s like to pay regular bills.

“Parents and the current banking options miss the point when they just focus on savings. We need to first prepare kids to be Smarter Spenders, supported by savings and investing,” said Taylor Burton, who founded the company with Tom Pincince. “On Till, kids learn to spend with intention and purpose, while parents gain confidence and trust based on transparency and accountability.”

To Pincince, the market is clearly underserved.

“The legacy banks really don’t care about this young person and the early digital players are really missing the mark,” he said. 

And despite the plethora of apps targeting the demographic, Pincince believes there’s plenty of room for the right players.

“The reality is you’re talking about a swath of kids under the age of 18 and over the age of eight that is the single largest unbanked population,” he said. “We’re not fighting to be the top of your son’s wallet. We’re fighting to be the first product into that wallet.”

Indeed, it’s a big market — the average middle-class family in the U.S. spends $284,570 per child by the time they turn 18.

The platform is free to all families and, early on, attracted the attention of Peggy Mangot, operating partner/COO of PayPal Ventures. She invested personally in Till in its pre-seed rounds. Prior to PayPal, Mangot ran development of Greenhouse, Well Fargo’s fee-free mobile banking app that aimed to help younger users build responsible spending habits.

Mangot has three kids and recalls that when they were shopping online, she’d give them her credit card. Or, if they were going to the corner store or meeting with friends, she’d give them cash.

“But that way, the money is meaningless to them. They didn’t really know how to understand what things cost and there was no sense of ownership,” she said. “It was just me handing over cash or a card.”

What attracted her the most about Till, Mangot said, was the team’s approach to treat younger people “with respect and agency.”

She also believes that by helping children and teens understand important financial lessons at a younger age, the world will ultimately be full of more responsible adults.

“By putting these tools in the hands of these young people early, they’ll have years and years of experience before they’re more independent and have to manage their paycheck and bills,” Mangot told TechCrunch. “Once you have mass adoption, it’s going to create a much more financially literate, confident and in control set of young adults than we’ve ever had.”

Besides making money on interchange fees, Till aims to earn revenue by partnering with merchants to offer rewards to users. It also plans to earn referral fees by referring the teens to other financial institutions when they get older and have different needs.

“It’s not our intention to be your son or daughter’s forever bank. It’s our intention to be the first bank,” Pincince said. “So, they hit the age of maturity, we’re actually giving them a high-five off of our platform and introducing them to maybe their first college loan or their first credit card.”

With $30M extension, BigID boosts Series D to $100M at $1.25B valuation

By Ron Miller

When we last heard from BigID at the end of 2020, the company was announcing a $70 million Series D at a $1 billion valuation. Today, it announced a $30 million extension on that deal valuing the company at $1.25 billion just 4 months later.

This chunk of money comes from private equity firm Advent International, and brings the total raised to over $200 million across 4 rounds, according to the company. The late stage startup is attracting all of this capital by building a security and privacy platform. When I spoke to CEO Dimitri Sirota in September 2019 at the time of the $50 million Series C, he described the company’s direction this way:

“We’ve separated the product into some constituent parts. While it’s still sold as a broad-based [privacy and security] solution, it’s much more of a platform now in the sense that there’s a core set of capabilities that we heard over and over that customers want.”

Sirota says he has been putting the money to work, and as the economy improves he is seeing more traction for the product set. “Since December, we’ve added employees as we’ve seen broader economic recovery and increased demand. In tandem, we have been busy building a whole host of new products and offerings that we will announce over the coming weeks that will be transformational for BigID,” he said.

He also said that as with previous rounds, he didn’t go looking for the additional money, but decided to take advantage of the new funds at a higher valuation with a firm that he believes can add value overall. What’s more, the funds should allow the company to expand in ways it might have held off on.

“It was important to us that this wouldn’t be a distraction and that we could balance any funding without the need to over-capitalize, which is becoming a bigger issue in today’s environment. In the end, we took what we thought could bring forward some additional product modules and add a sales team focused on smaller commercial accounts,” Sirota said.

Ashwin Krishnan, a principal on Advent’s technology team in New York says that BigID was clearly aligned with two trends his firm has been following. That includes the explosion of data being collected and the increasing focus on managing and securing that data with the goal of ultimately using it to make better decisions.

“When we met with Dimitri and the BigID team, we immediately knew we had found a company with a powerful platform that solves the most challenging problem at the center of these trends and the data question,”Krishnan said.

Past investors in the company include Boldstart Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners and Tiger Global. Strategic investors include Comcast Ventures, Salesforce Ventures and SAP.io.

Will Budweiser brew eggs and will Post cereal make meat?

By Jonathan Shieber

Corporations are quickly waking up to the market potential of alternative proteins with the nation’s biggest consumer brands continuing to make investments and create partnerships with startup companies helping consumers transition to healthier and more environmentally sustainable diets.

As Earth Week draws to a close (thankfully) new partnerships announced over the past week show the potential for new technologies to transform old businesses.

Yesterday the New York-based ZX Ventures, the investment and innovation arm of AB InBev, said that it would be partnering with Clara Foods, a developer of protein production technologies including (but not limited to), brewing egg substitutes. That’s right, the makers of Budweiser are hatching a scheme to make other kinds of liquids that are less potable and more poachable.

In that case, the yolk would definitely be on you, future consumer.

“Since day one, Clara has been on a mission to accelerate the world’s transition to animal-free protein, starting with the egg. More than one trillion eggs are consumed globally every year and corporate commitments for cage-free aren’t enough,” said Arturo Elizondo, the chief executive and co-founder of Clara Foods. “We’re thrilled to be partnering with the world’s largest fermentation company to work together to enable a kinder, greener, and more delicious future. This partnership is a major step towards realizing our vision.”

Graph showing the increasing size of investments into alternative proteins in 2020. From 2019 to 2020 investments in alternative proteins soared from just over $1 billion to $3 billion led by investments in plant protein products. Image Credit: Good Food Institute

There are market-driven reasons for the partnership. Demand for high quality proteins is expected to jump up to 98% by 2050, according to research cited by the two companies.

“Meeting the increased demand for food requires breakthrough solutions built on collaboration and innovation that spans several industry domains – both old and new. The ancient and natural process of fermentation can be further harnessed to help meet future demands in our global food system,” said Patrick O’Riordan, founder & CEO at BioBrew, ZX Ventures’ new business line trying to apply large-scale fermentation and downstream processing expertise beyond beer. “We look forward to exploring the development of highly-functional, animal-free egg proteins with Clara Foods in a scalable, sustainable and economically viable manner.”

Meanwhile, there’s a meeting of the minds happening in St. Louis where cereal giant Post is investing in Hungry Planet, a startup making meat a range of meat replacements.

Formed from the same Seventh Day Adventist focus on plant-based diet and health as a core of spirituality that launched the Kellogg’s cereal empire, Post has long been a rival to the corn flake king with its grape nuts cereal and other grain-based breakfast offerings.

Now the company has led a $25 million investment in Hungry Planet, which aims to provide meat-based replacements for crab cakes, lamb burgers, chicken, pork, and beef. Additional investors included the Singapore-based environmentally sustainable holding company, Trirec.

Alternative proteins are a big business. Last year, companies developing technologies and businesses to commercialize alternative sources of protein raised over $3 billion, according to the industry tracker, the Good Food Institute.

“Over the past year, the alternative protein industry has demonstrated not only resilience but acceleration, raising significantly more investment capital in 2020 than in prior years,” said GFI director of corporate engagement Caroline Bushnell, in a statement. “These capital infusions and the funding still to come will facilitate much-needed R&D and capacity building to enable these companies to scale and reach more consumers with delicious, affordable, and accessible alternative protein products.”

It’s all part of a push to provide more plant-based alternatives to animal proteins in a bid to halt planetary deforestation and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with animal husbandry.

“Humanity needs solutions that match the scale and urgency of our problems,” said Elizondo. “

Tiger Global backs Indian crypto startup at over $500M valuation

By Manish Singh

Coinswitch Kuber, a startup that allows young users in India to invest in cryptocurrencies, said on Thursday it has raised $25 million in a new financing round as it looks to expand its reach in India, the world’s second largest internet market and also the place where the future of private cryptocurrencies remains uncertain for now.

Tiger Global financed the entire Series B funding round of Coinswitch Kuber and valued the three-year-old Indian startup at over $500 million. The announcement of Series B comes just three months after Coinswitch closed its $15 million Series A round from Ribbit Capital, Sequoia Capital India, and Kunal Shah. The Bangalore-based startup has raised $41.5 million to date.

TechCrunch reported earlier this month that the New York-headquartered technology hedge fund had led or was in advanced stages of talks to lead investments in many Indian startups including Coinswitch.

Coinswitch Kuber is one of the handful of startups operating in the cryptocurrency space today. The crypto exchange allows users to buy slivers of several popular cryptocurrencies. A user on Coinswitch, for instance, can buy small sachets of bitcoin and other currencies for as low as 100 Indian rupees ($1.3)-worth.

The startup said it has amassed over 4.5 million users, more than half of whom are aged 25 or younger. In the past 11 months, Coinswitch Kuber said it processed transactions over $5 billion.

But how the startup, which aims to add 5.5 million by the end of this year, performs in the future is not entire in its hand.

While trading of private cryptocurrency such as bitcoin is currently legal in India, New Delhi is widely expected to introduce a law that bans all private cryptocurrency.

Ashish Singhal, co-founder and chief executive of Coinswitch Kuber, said he is optimistic that India will not ban private cryptocurrencies, but said the startup closed the financing round with Tiger Global before New Delhi’s indication to formulate a law.

“This investment round brings us at par with some of the most sought after cryptocurrency companies in the world and sets us up for the long run,” said Singhal.

In recent months, some crypto startups in India have started to explore a contingency plan in the event the nation does end up banning cryptocurrency trading in the country. Many startups are today building in India, but focusing on serving customers overseas.

“As they build India’s leading cryptocurrency platform, CoinSwitch is well positioned to capture the tremendous growing interest in crypto among retail investors. We are excited to partner with CoinSwitch as they innovate in this emerging asset class,” said Scott Shleifer, Partner at Tiger Global, in a statement.

Founders Factory Africa partners with Small Foundation to invest in 18 agritech startups

By Tage Kene-Okafor

Johannesburg-based investment company Founders Factory Africa (FFA) today announced a partnership with Small Foundation that will see it select 18 agritech startups for an acceleration and incubation program.

Small Foundation is a Dublin-based philanthropic organization that focuses on the rural and agriculture sector in sub-Saharan Africa. With this partnership, Small Foundation is making an undisclosed investment in FFA to build and scale agritech startups on the continent.

“The partnership stands to make a significant impact across the continent by supporting agritech startups who can innovate and improve the delivery of a range of services to smallholder farmers and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in the agricultural sector,” an excerpt in a statement read.

According to the South African-based venture development and investment company founded by Roo Rogers and Alina Truhina, early-stage founders will need to apply to join the Founders Factory Africa Venture Scale or Venture Build portfolios. These startups will have access to funding between $100,000 to $250,000 and hands-on technical support.

This is a change from when the company launched in 2018. FFA is an extension of the Founders Factory organisation that has invested in more than 130 companies globally. In 2018, FFA launched its first vertical in fintech when it partnered with the continent’s largest bank, Standard Bank, to invest in fintech startups. Some of the startups include Bwala, LipaLater, MVXchange and OkHi.

The following year, it took on a second investor in South African healthcare company Netcare Group and, via the partnership, invested in health-tech startups like RxAll, Redbird and Wellahealth.

Last year when we reported this partnership, startups in FFA’s Venture Scale accelerator program received a £30,000 cash investment and £220,000 in support services. Those in the Venture Build program received £60,000 cash and £100,000 toward support.   

For this third partnership, Truhina says FFA will be investing a total of $300,000 in cash and hands-on support for companies in its Venture Scale program. However, startups in Venture Build will be receiving up to $250,000 in funding.

The Venture Scale program involves providing support for existing startups operating in seed to pre-Series A stages. On the other hand, the Venture Build program is for founders wanting to launch a startup in Africa, who may or may not have a concept or an idea

Currently, there are 23 companies across FFA’s Scale and Build portfolios. These startups, mainly from Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, have collectively raised more than $7 million during and after the program. Truhina says FFA plans to increase this number to nearly 90 startups in total by 2024.

“We will build, scale and invest in 88 startups with current FFA investors (Standard Bank, Netcare and Small Foundation) until 2024. We plan to continue to take on new investors and continue to work on the continent indefinitely,” she said.

Founders Factory Africa

While FFA is dedicating a fund for agritech startups, it has invested in other startups with agritech solutions for instance Nigeria’s Foodlocker. The company forecasts foodstuff demand through machine learning and helps buyers procure goods from smallholder farmers. But despite this proposition, FFA classifies the startup as a fintech investment.

“Foodlocker was a company we selected and invested in under our Fintech portfolio, as the startup has a financial component. With Small Foundation, we are setting up a new dedicated agritech sector,” said Truhina. Small Foundation joins Standard Bank and Netcare in the peculiarity of assistance offered to FFA portfolio startups. From sector expertise and footprint across the continent to access to clients, POCs and pilots, these investors are trying to fill in the gap in sectors ripe for exponential growth.

But though fintech has caught on well with both local and international investors, the same cannot be said for health tech and agritech. According to Briter Bridges, fintech accounted for 31% of the total $1.3 billion raised by African startups. Health-tech startups accounted for 9%, while agritech startups represented just 7%.

Small Foundation wants to improve this number in its own little way, and concurrently has a plan to “end extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030.” Conor Brosnan, the CEO and chair of the foundation, holds that tackling the sector’s biggest issues with the FFA will bring the company toward achieving this objective.

“This is a pivotal time to invest in the growing area of agritech in Africa, which has transformative potential for local livelihoods. We are excited to see FFA’s highly skilled teamwork with immensely talented African entrepreneurs to deliver scaled solutions to some of the biggest challenges faced by the sector,” he said.

In three years, Founders Factory Africa has managed to enlist the services and finances of three influential partners. Yet, it has 55 more startups to invest in before 2024, so we should expect an increased investment activity and more partnerships to fund startups in other sectors.

The firm also has fresh capital in the works for its portfolio companies as it advances, though. It’s in the process of raising a $35 million “Africa Seed Fund” which will exist alongside FFA and execute follow-on capital in some portfolio companies.

9 investors, execs and founders discuss Zagreb’s startup potential

By Mike Butcher

Startups may not spring to mind when speaking about the beautiful country of Croatia. Indeed, the country is most popular as a tourist destination, and given that tourism accounted for about 20% of its GDP in 2018, to an extent, its pre-pandemic focus was mostly on growing its share of the international tourism market.

But Croatia’s entrepreneurs haven’t been quiet: Startups like Infobip and Rimac are significant local hero businesses now, and the region can boast of high-quality talent in the tech, automotive, manufacturing, and agtech spaces. With only two venture capital firms operating in the capital of Zagreb, the startup scene is still young, but the country’s relatively recent EU membership has given it access to a growing set of direct investment instruments.

The current tax framework on capital gains tax (zero if you hold the shares for more than two years) and a new ‘digital nomad’ visa are helping to attract investors and talent to the city, which is also close to some of the best beaches in the world.

Access to fresh, outside capital is always a catalyst for growth, so to get an inside look at Zagreb’s fast-growing startup ecosystem, we spoke with nine local founders, investors and C-level executives.

According to the respondents, Zagreb’s strongest tech areas include HR solutions, automotive, fintech, mobile gaming, IoT, insurtech, and AI. The city’s angel investor scene isn’t very strong yet, but that could be attributed to the ecosystem’s youth.


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The city has an excellent work-life balance, and most of the talent wants to stay there. “Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easier to land remote jobs and stay in Zagreb, which will positively impact our ecosystem,” one of the investors said.

However, with competition heating up, startups looking for larger, serious investment will probably have to look beyond the country’s borders while trying to retain their engineering talent. Luckily, an increasing number of international investors are looking at Zagreb for their deal flow pipeline.

Some top Croatian startups include: Agrivi, Amodo, Ascalia, Bellabeat, Cognism, Degordian, Dok-Ing, Infobip, Mindsmiths, OptimoRoute, Oradian, Photomath, Repsly, ReversingLabs, ScoreAlarm, Sportening and AdScanner.

We surveyed:


Lucija Ilicic, CEO, PlatePay

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Photomath, Sportening, and Mindsmiths.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?
Mostly revenue-oriented.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out, or will others move in?
People would choose to live and move here during the pandemic. Some of them did, especially having in mind that Croatia now has the digital nomad visa.

Who are the key startup people in your city? (e.g. Investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc)
Investors: Fil Rouge Capital, Feelsgood, Zicer, Bird Incubator; Founders: Ivan Klarić, Damir Sabol, Mislav Malenica, Mate Riimac

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years?
The Croatian startup ecosystem really grew during last year and has huge potential. I see it as a perfect place for digital nomads, home of a few new unicorns and a European center for AI solutions development.

Can you recommend any companies that should appear in our global Startup Battlefield competition?
Sportening, Mindsmiths, and of course, PlatePay.

 

Julien Coustaury, partner, Fil Rouge Capital

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?
Strong in fintech, automotive, insurtech, and AI. We are excited that the whole ecosystem is growing strong with flagships such as Rimac, Optimoroute, Oradian, Infobeep, Agrivi, Tvbeat, Orqa, and Bellabeat, and our relevant funding partners with us and a new PE fund that have just been creating. There is money, talent and we have unicorns in Croatia. Very few weaknesses in Croatia at the moment, especially with the current tax framework on capital gains (zero if you hold the shares for more than two years) and the digital nomad visa. A giant leap for the region!

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Oradian, Lebesgue, Optimoroute, Gideon Brothers, Worcon, TVbeat, Orqa, Ascalia, Epoets Society, Hoss, Jade, Miret, My Valet, Sendbee, She’s Well, Spotsie, Taia, TDA, and Twire.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?
The ecosystem still a bit small to talk about the vertical focus. [We have] two active funds: SC ventures and Fil Rouge Capital. FRC runs an accelerator program along the YC model. The angel scene is a bit disappointing at the moment with not a lot of investments. Funderbeam [is] pretty active here. The quality and quantity is amazing at the moment in Croatia, probably a factor of the ecosystem being rather young.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out, or will others move in?
The current fiscal climate makes it very attractive for people to relocate/stay in Zagreb, no doubt. One million people here; proximity to one of the best seas in the world — all the ingredients are here to make it the beacon of the up and coming startup world!

Who are the key startup people in your city? (e.g. Investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc)
FRC is definitely the main player in Zagreb; SC ventures, Funderbeam, Novak Law for lawyers, Algebra University, ZICER, Hub 385, Step RI.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years?
No doubt a key hub in Europe on par with Vienna.

Can you recommend any companies that should appear in our global Startup Battlefield competition?
Oradian, Lebesgue, Optimoroute, Gideon Brothers, Worcon, TVbeat, Orqa, Ascalia, Epoets Society, Hoss, Jade, Miret, My Balet, Sendbee, She’s well, Spotsie, Taia, TDA, and Twire.

 

Josip Orsolic, CEO, Lilcodelab

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?
IT, automotive, manufacturing, farming (different SaaS and IoT solutions).

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Rimac Automobili, Microblink, Five, Nanobit, Agrivi.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?
It’s a small circle of people and not a lot of diversity, although it is getting better. Many new young successful investors emerged in the last few years.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out, or will others move in?
They will stay, maybe go to the suburbs, but just looking at the rental prices for flats/apartments I don’t see any shift in people moving outside of the city.

Who are the key startup people in your city? (e.g. Investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc)
Mate Rimac, Damir Sabol, Alan Sumina, Tomislav Car, Luka Abrus.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years?
I believe the tech scene is going to grow more and more. Many companies from other countries are opening up engineering hubs in Zagreb. There is a lot of talent, people are drawn to tech jobs; it is heavily covered by the media. Each success is celebrated and covered by the media, so there is a feeling that tech companies are being pushed, even though there are other successful companies from other industries.

Can you recommend any companies that should appear in our global Startup Battlefield competition?
Agrivi, Parklio, Seek and Hit, Electrocoin, TestDome, Include.

Vedran Tolic, founder & CBO, Q agency

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?
Strongest: Online betting, HR solutions, fintech, mobile gaming, IoT.
Weakest: Gaming for serious platforms; AI solutions are still in their infancy.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
PhotoMath, Agrivi, SofaScore, TalentLyft, Jenz, and Bellabeat.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?
The scene is getting stronger, but for any serious investment, startups have to look beyond our borders.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out, or will others move in?
Zagreb has an excellent work-life balance, and most of the talent want to stay here. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easier to land remote jobs and stay in Zagreb, which will positively impact our ecosystem.

Who are the key startup people in your city? (e.g. Investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc)
Founders: We have many charismatic founders who are raising awareness around startups and entrepreneurship in general. They are reaching large audiences and getting attention from government, the education system and the public.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years?
Shifting from mostly agency work for foreign companies to a more product-oriented scene — especially in AI and ML. Products will revolve around customer and employee engagement, automation and prediction of processes which are today done by a large workforce.

Can you recommend any companies that should appear in our global Startup Battlefield competition?
Photomath, Agrivi, Bellabeat, Jenz

 

Bozidar Pavlovic, managing director, airt

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?
AI, SaaS, electric cars manufacturing, and software development in general.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Rimac Automobili, Nanobit, Infinum, Five, Agrivi, Aircash, Identyum, Airt, Mindsmiths, Electrocoin, Agency 04, Oradian, Microblink, Photomath, Agency Q, Revuto, Optimoroute, Amodo, Lemax, Ampnet, RobotiqAI, and Velebit AI.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?
The scene is growing recently — Zagreb is capital of Croatia, thus attracting capital and people. A recent near-unicorn (Rimac, with heavy investment from Hyundai and Porsche) helped raise visibility for this vibrant ecosystem.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out, or will others move in?
Even before the pandemic, Zagreb was very attractive for tech experts worldwide due to its appealing price of accommodation, security, comfort of living and relatively high salaries. I am expecting to see the masses return after vaccination.

Who are the key startup people in your city? (e.g. Investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc)
Davor Runje, Nikola Pavesic, Drazen Orescanin, Frane Sesnic, Tin Tezak, Ante Magzan, and Luka Sucic.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years?
I see it blooming, mostly due to upcoming adoption of EUR as a local currency.

Can you recommend any companies that should appear in our global Startup Battlefield competition?
Amodo, Agrivi, Photomath, Identyum.

 

Matej Zelic, COO, Spotsie

What industry sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?
Oil and energy, Industry 4.0. Most excited to be a part of digital transformation in the old-fashioned industries.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Rimac, Agrivi, Oradian, Miret, SofaScore.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?
The startup ecosystem in Croatia is still in early stages of development. The investment scene (except a few business angels) started a  few years ago backed by EU with just two VCs (FRC and SVC) without a strategic plan and focus.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out, or will others move in?
People will stay here.

Who are the key startup people in your city? (e.g. Investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc)
Fil Rouge Capital, South Central Ventures. Mate Rimac, Damir Sabol, Frane Sesnic

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years?
Because of micro-location, the digital nomad program, and IT talent pool, Zagreb is on the way to becoming the No. 1 tech location in CEE and Europe.

Can you recommend any companies that should appear in our global Startup Battlefield competition?
Gideon Brothers, Spotsie.

 

Miroslav Kovac, CEO, Coffee Cloud

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?
IoT, software analytics, big data, coffee industry.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Agrivi, Repsly.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?
Very poor startup ecosystem.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out, or will others move in?
Most of the last year was in partial lockdown.

Who are the key startup people in your city? (e.g. Investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc.)
Sasa Cvetojecic, Hrvoje Prpic, Fil Rouge Capital, Bird Incubator.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years?
At the same place.

 

Vedran Blagus, investment manager, South Central Ventures

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?
Industry is very agnostic. Most of them work in B2B or the enterprise space. They lack B2C knowledge, growth/expansion plan and investor relations.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
AdScanner, Agrivi, ReversingLabs, TalentLyft, Sportening, Codemap, Gideon Brothers.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?
Two VCs operating – Fil Rouge Capital (Pre-Seed, Seed, Series A – industry agnostic; B2C and B2B) and South Central Ventures (Seed, Series A, B2B). In the past six to twelve months, C-level executives from corporates started investing in startups in early stages (up to EUR 200k), but keep their investments below the radar.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out, or will others move in?
I believe that it will stay the same as it is. Development/operations in Zagreb, expansion to other European cities by opening offices there.

Who are the key startup people in your city? (e.g. investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc)
Founders – Matija Zulj, Marin Curkovic, Mate Rimac, Marin Saric, Alan Sumina, Matija Kopic.
Investors – Luka Sucic, Stevica Kuharski, Vedran Blagus.
Lawyers – Marijana Sarolic Robic.
Media – Ivan Brezak Brkan, Bernard Ivezic.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years?
Founders who exited companies they’ve been building for the past 10 years will found new companies and/or invest in early stage startups. More international investors looking at Zagreb for pipeline/investments.

 

Daniel Stefanic, investor

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?
Infobip, Rimac seem to be hottest ones in Croatia.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years?
There’s some incredibly smart people involved in STEM in Croatia – world class. They just need better pathways to commercialisation and access to capital.

Oath Care just raised $2 million to develop a social, health-focused app that groups expectant and new parents

By Connie Loizos

Being an expectant mom can be frightening, as can mothering an infant or toddler. The answers don’t come automatically, and while there’s no shortage of books and websites (and advice from grandparents) about how to parent at every stage, finding satisfying information often proves a lot harder than imagined.

There are online social groups that deliver some of the social and emotional support that new parents need, no matter where they live. There are many dozens of mom communities on Facebook, for example. However, it’s because there’s room for improvement on this theme — big groups can feel isolating, bad information abounds —that Oath Care, a young, four-person San Francisco-based startup, just raised $2 million in seed funding from XYZ Ventures, General Catalyst, and Eros Resmini, former CMO of Discord and managing partner of the Mini Fund.

What is it building? Founder Camilla Hermann describes it as a subscription-based mobile app that’s focused on improving the lives of new mothers by combining parents who have lots in common with healthcare specialists and moderators who can guide them in group chats, as well as one-on-one video calls.

More specifically, she says, for $20 per month, Oath matches pregnant and postpartum moms in circles of up to 10 based on factors like stage of pregnancy, age of child, location, and career so they can ask questions of each other, with the help of a trained moderator (who is sometimes a mother with older children).

Oath also pushes curriculum that Oath’s team is developing in-house to members based on each group’s specific needs. Not last, every group is given collective access to medical specialists who can answer general questions as part of the members’ subscription and who are also available for consultations when individualized help is needed.

Hermann says the pricing of these 15-minute-long consultations is still being developed, but that the medical experts with whom it’s already working see the app as a form of lead generation.

It’s an interesting concept, one that could be taken in a host of directions, acknowledges Hermann who says she was inspired to cofound the company based on earlier work developing a contact tracing technology created to track outbreaks like Ebola in real time.

As she said yesterday during a Zoom call with TechCrunch and her cofounder, Michelle Stephens, a pediatric clinician and research scientist: “We’ve fundamentally misunderstand something really important about health in the West; we think that [changes] happen to one person at a time or one part of the body at a time, but it always happens in interconnected systems both inside and outside the body, which fundamentally means that it is always happening in community.”

For her part, Stephens — who was introduced to Hermann at a dinner years ago — says her motivation in cofounding Oath was born out of research into childhood stress, and that by “better equipping parents to be those positive consistent caregivers in their child’s life,” Oath aims to help enable stronger, more intimate child-parent bonds.

It might sound grand for a mobile app, but it also sounds like a smart starting point. Though the idea is to match mothers in similar situations at the outset to help bolster theirs and their children’s health, it’s easy to imagine the platform evolving in a way that brings together parents in numerous groups based on interests, from preschool applications to autism to same-sex parenting. It’s easy to see the platform helping to sell products that parents need. It’s easy to imagine the company amassing a lot of valuable information.

Indeed, says Hermann, the longer-term vision for Oath is to create rich datasets that it hopes can be used to improve health outcomes, including by identifying health issues earlier. Relatedly, it also hopes to build relationships with health systems and payers in order to increase access to its products.

For now, Oath is mostly just trying to keep up with demand. Hermann says the “small and scrappy” company found its first 50 users through Facebook ads, and that this base quickly tripled organically before Oath was forced to create a growing waitlist for what has been a closed beta until now. (Oath is “anticipating a full launch in late summer,” says Stephens.)

That’s not to say the company isn’t thinking at all about next steps.

While right now it is “laser focused on building out the most exceptional experience for this specific cohort of users in this specific period of time of their lives,” says Hermann, once it builds out many more communities of small trusted groups with “high engagement and high trust,” there is “a lot you can layer on top of that. It’s virtually limitless.”

As UiPath closes above its final private valuation, CFO Ashim Gupta discusses his company’s path to market

By Alex Wilhelm

After an upward revision, UiPath priced its IPO last night at $56 per share, a few dollars above its raised target range. The above-range price meant that the unicorn put more capital into its books through its public offering.

For a company in a market as competitive as robotic process automation (RPA), the funds are welcome. In fact, RPA has been top of mind for startups and established companies alike over the last year or so. In that time frame, enterprise stalwarts like SAP, Microsoft, IBM and ServiceNow have been buying smaller RPA startups and building their own, all in an effort to muscle into an increasingly lucrative market.

In June 2019, Gartner reported that RPA was the fastest-growing area in enterprise software, and while the growth has slowed down since, the sector is still attracting attention. UIPath, which Gartner found was the market leader, has been riding that wave, and today’s capital influx should help the company maintain its market position.

It’s worth noting that when the company had its last private funding round in February, it brought home $750 million at an impressive valuation of $35 billion. But as TechCrunch noted over the course of its pivot to the public markets, that round valued the company above its final IPO price. As a result, this week’s $56-per-share public offer wound up being something of a modest down-round IPO to UiPath’s final private valuation.

Then, a broader set of public traders got hold of its stock and bid its shares higher. The former unicorn’s shares closed their first day’s trading at precisely $69, above the per-share price at which the company closed its final private round.

So despite a somewhat circuitous route, UiPath closed its first day as a public company worth more than it was in its Series F round — when it sold 12,043,202 shares sold at $62.27576 apiece, per SEC filings. More simply, UiPath closed today worth more per-share than it was in February.

How you might value the company, whether you prefer a simple or fully-diluted share count, is somewhat immaterial at this juncture. UiPath had a good day.

While it’s hard to know what the company might do with the proceeds, chances are it will continue to try to expand its platform beyond pure RPA, which could become market-limited over time as companies look at other, more modern approaches to automation. By adding additional automation capabilities — organically or via acquisitions — the company can begin covering broader parts of its market.

TechCrunch spoke with UiPath CFO Ashim Gupta today, curious about the company’s choice of a traditional IPO, its general avoidance of adjusted metrics in its SEC filings, and the IPO market’s current temperature. The final question was on our minds, as some companies have pulled their public listings in the wake of a market described as “challenging”.

Why did UiPath not direct list after its huge February raise?

Daily Crunch: Google Meet will get a new look and new features

By Anthony Ha

Google announces upgrades to Google Meet, Amazon is bringing its palm scanner to Whole Foods and Microsoft looks at the effect of video calls on our brains. This is your Daily Crunch for April 21, 2021.

The big story: Google Meet will get a new look and new features

Google Meet is getting a number of updates, including a new user interface that should make the controls more visible (rather than hiding them in menus), the ability to pin multiple video feeds, autozoom (which will automatically place you in the center of the frame) and background replacement, starting with just a few scenes.

It sounds like these changes aren’t happening all at once, but will roll out gradually over the next few months. Google said the goal is to make online meetings “more immersive, inclusive and productive.”

The tech giants

Foxconn’s Wisconsin factory plans scaled back dramatically — The Taiwanese manufacturing giant is scaling back its investment from $10 billion to $672 million.

Amazon is bringing its Amazon One palm scanner to select Whole Foods as a payment option — That means Whole Foods customers could choose to scan their palm over the reader to pay for their purchases.

Instagram launches tools to filter out abusive DMs based on keywords and emojis — It will also allow users to proactively block people, even if they try to make contact from a new account.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Remote hiring startup Deel raises $156M at a $1.25B valuation after 20x growth in 2020 — Deel aims to allow businesses “to hire anyone, anywhere, in a compliant manner.”

Discount grocery startup Misfits Market raises $200M — This round moves the startup known for selling “ugly” fruits and vegetables into unicorn territory.

AppOmni raises $40M for tools to secure enterprise SaaS apps — The startup has built a platform to help monitor SaaS apps and their activity, provide guidance to warn or block when things might go wrong and fix problems when they do occur.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Four ways martech will shift in 2021 — First and foremost, differentiation is going to be imperative.

Micromobility’s next big business is software, not vehicles — The days of the shared, dockless micromobility model are numbered, at least according to Puneeth Meruva of Trucks Venture Capital.

Dear Sophie: How can I get my startup off the ground and visit the US? — The latest edition of Dear Sophie, the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

This is your brain on Zoom — Microsoft has done a little brain science and found out that yeah, constant video calls do increase your stress and brain noise.

New privacy bill would end law enforcement practice of buying data from brokers — A new bill known as the Fourth Amendment is Not for Sale Act would seal up a loophole that intelligence and law enforcement agencies use to obtain troves of sensitive and identifying information.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Apple and Google pressed in antitrust hearing on whether app stores share data with product development teams

By Sarah Perez

In today’s antitrust hearing in the U.S. Senate, Apple and Google representatives were questioned on whether they have a “strict firewall” or other internal policies in place that prevent them from leveraging the data from third-party businesses operating on their app stores to inform the development of their own competitive products. Apple, in particular, was called out for the practice of copying other apps by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who said the practice had become so common that it earned a nickname with Apple’s developer community: “sherlocking.”

Sherlock, which has its own Wikipedia entry under software, comes from Apple’s search tool in the early 2000s called Sherlock. A third-party developer, Karelia Software, created an alternative tool called Watson. Following the success of Karelia’s product, Apple added Watson’s same functionality into its own search tool, and Watson was effectively put out of business. The nickname “Sherlock” later became shorthand for any time Apple copies an idea from a third-party developer that threatens to or even destroys their business.

Over the years, developers claimed Apple has “sherlocked” a number of apps, including Konfabulator (desktop widgets), iPodderX (podcast manager), Sandvox (app for building websites) and Growl (a notification system for Mac OS X) and, in more recent years, F.lux (blue light reduction tool for screens) Duet and Luna (apps that makes iPad a secondary display), as well as various screen-time-management tools. Now Tile claims Apple has also unfairly entered its market with AirTag.

During his questioning, Blumenthal asked Apple and Google’s representatives at the hearing — Kyle Andeer, Apple’s chief compliance officer and Wilson White, Google’s senior director of Public Policy & Government Relations, respectively — if they employed any sort of “firewall” in between their app stores and their business strategy.

Andeer somewhat dodged the question, saying, “Senator, if I understand the question correctly, we have separate teams that manage the App Store and that are engaged in product development strategy here at Apple.”

Blumenthal then clarified what he meant by “firewall.” He explained that it doesn’t mean whether or not there are separate teams in place, but whether there’s an internal prohibition on sharing data between the App Store and the people who run Apple’s other businesses.

Andeer then answered, “Senator, we have controls in place.”

He went on to note that over the past 12 years, Apple has only introduced “a handful of applications and services,” and in every instance, there are “dozens of alternatives” on the App Store. And, sometimes, the alternatives are more popular than Apple’s own product, he noted.

“We don’t copy. We don’t kill. What we do is offer up a new choice and a new innovation,” Andeer stated.

His argument may hold true when there are strong rivalries, like Spotify versus Apple Music, or Netflix versus Apple TV+, or Kindle versus Apple Books. But it’s harder to stretch it to areas where Apple makes smaller enhancements — like when Apple introduced Sidecar, a feature that allowed users to make their iPad a secondary display. Sidecar ended the need for a third-party app, after apps like Duet and Luna first proved the market.

Another example was when Apple built screen-time controls into its iOS software, but didn’t provide the makers of third-party screen-time apps with an API so consumers could use their preferred apps to configure Apple’s Screen Time settings via the third-party’s specialized interface or take advantage of other unique features.

Blumenthal said he interpreted Andeer’s response as to whether Apple has a “data firewall” as a “no.”

Posed the same question, Google’s representative, White, said his understanding was that Google had “data access controls in place that govern how data from our third-party services are used.”

Blumenthal pressed him to clarify if this was a “firewall,” meaning, he clarified again, “do you have a prohibition against access?”

“We have a prohibition against using our third-party services to compete directly with our first-party services,” White said, adding that Google has “internal policies that govern that.”

The senator said he would follow up on this matter with written questions, as his time expired.

New privacy bill would end law enforcement practice of buying data from brokers

By Taylor Hatmaker

A new bill known as the Fourth Amendment is Not for Sale Act would seal up a loophole that intelligence and law enforcement agencies use to obtain troves of sensitive and identifying information to which they wouldn’t otherwise have legal access.

The new legislation, proposed by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rand Paul (R-KY), would require government agencies to obtain a court order to access data from brokers. Court orders are already required when the government seeks analogous data from mobile providers and tech platforms.

“There’s no reason information scavenged by data brokers should be treated differently than the same data held by your phone company or email provider,” Wyden said. Wyden describes the loophole as a way that police and other agencies buy data to “end-run the Fourth Amendment.”

Paul criticized the government for using the current data broker loophole to circumvent Americans’ constitutional rights. “The Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure ensures that the liberty of every American cannot be violated on the whims, or financial transactions, of every government officer,” Paul said.

Critically, the bill would also ban law enforcement agencies from buying data on Americans when it was obtained through hacking, violations of terms of service or “from a user’s account or device.”

That bit highlights the questionable practices of Clearview AI, a deeply controversial tech company that sells access to a facial recognition search engine. Clearview’s platform collects pictures of faces scraped from across the web, including social media sites, and sells access to that data to police departments around the country and federal agencies like ICE.

In scraping their sites for data to sell, Clearview has run afoul of just about every major social media platform’s terms of service. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google have all denounced Clearview for using data culled from their services and some have even sent cease-and-desists ordering the data broker to stop.

The bill would also expand privacy laws to apply to infrastructure companies that own cell towers and data cables, seal up workarounds that allow intelligence agencies to obtain metadata from Americans’ international communications without review by a FISA court and ensure that agencies seek probable cause orders to obtain location and web browsing data.

The bill, embedded below, isn’t just some nascent proposal. It’s already attracted bipartisan support from a number of key co-sponsors, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side and Republicans Mike Lee and Steve Daines. A House version of the legislation was also introduced Wednesday.

 

Palestinian Hackers Tricked Victims to Install iOS Spyware

By Lily Hay Newman
The groups used social engineering techniques on Facebook to direct targets to a wide range of malware, including custom tools.

The ANYmal inspection robot gives Spot some four-legged competition

By Brian Heater

We’ve covered Swiss robotics company ANYbotics with some regularity over the years. The company has offered its own take on the quadrupedal robotics space that has, naturally, drawn comparisons to Boston Dynamics’ Spot. Of course, as we noted earlier, the company’s take on the category has been in development for several years, so there may be a case of convergent evolution here.

Today the company announced that it’s ready to take ANYmal to the next level. ANYbotics is positioning its robot as a “end-to-end robotic inspection solution.” Specifically, the robot is designed to inspect places like energy and industrial plants, patrolling areas where it’s not ideal to have a human on-site, 24/7 — if at all.

Image Credits: ANYbotics

Mounted atop the robot is a customizable payload, featuring a number of different sensors for inspection, including visual, acoustic and thermal readings. The on-board camera features remote pan and tilt options for a better picture of an area.

The ANYmal is capable of walking up stairs and squeezing into areas that might otherwise be inaccessible for more traditional wheeled robotics. It can perform inspections autonomously and return to its charging dock when the battery is low.

The robot is currently in pilot deployment and the company has opened it up to preorders. It expects to start delivering units to customers in the second half of the year. The company is also offering a kind of on-boarding to get clients up to speed.

“Acting as a single point-of-contact, ANYbotics’ experts closely work with the customer in evaluating the tasks to be automated and prepare the organization for the deployment of autonomous mobile inspection robots,” it writes in a release. “The team checks the feasibility and impact in simulations, on-site demonstrations, and long-term pilot deployments. Once the implementation roadmap is established, the team trains the customer in commissioning and supports in scaling the system throughout their facilities.”

 

Micromobility’s next big business is software, not vehicles

By Rebecca Bellan

The days of the shared, dockless micromobility model are numbered. That’s essentially the conclusion reached by Puneeth Meruva, an associate at Trucks Venture Capital who recently authored a detailed research brief on micromobility. Meruva is of the opinion that the standard for permit-capped, dockless scooter-sharing is not sustainable — the overhead is too costly, the returns too low — and that the industry could splinter.

Most companies playing to win have begun to vertically integrate their tech stacks by developing or acquiring new technology.

“Because shared services have started a cultural transition, people are more open to buying their own e-bike or e-scooter,” Meruva told TechCrunch. “Fundamentally because of how much city regulation is involved in each of these trips, it could reasonably become a transportation utility that is very useful for the end consumer, but it just hasn’t proven itself to be a profitable line of business.”

As dockless e-scooters, e-bikes and e-mopeds expand their footprint while consolidating under a few umbrella corporations, companies might develop or acquire the technology to streamline and reduce operational costs enough to achieve unit economics. One overlooked but massive factor in the micromobility space is the software that powers the vehicles — who owns it, if it’s made in-house and how well it integrates with the rest of the tech stack.

It’s the software that can determine if a company breaks out of the rideshare model into the sales or subscription model, or becomes subsidized by or absorbed into public transit, Meruva predicts.

Vehicle operating systems haven’t been top of mind for most companies in the short history of micromobility. The initial goal was making sure the hardware didn’t break down or burst into flames. When e-scooters came on the scene, they caused a ruckus. Riders without helmets zipped through city streets and many vehicles ended up in ditches or blocking sidewalk accessibility.

City officials were angry, to say the least, and branded dockless modes of transport a public nuisance. However, micromobility companies had to answer to their overeager investors — the ones who missed out on the Uber and Lyft craze and threw millions at electric mobility, hoping for swift returns. What was a Bird or a Lime to do? The only thing to do: Get back on that electric two-wheeler and start schmoozing cities.

How the fight for cities indirectly improved vehicle software

Shared, dockless operators are currently in a war of attrition, fighting to get the last remaining city permits. But as the industry seeks a business to government (B2G) model that morphs into what companies think cities want, some are inadvertently producing vehicles that will evolve beyond functional toys and into more viable transportation alternatives.

The second wave of micromobility was marked by newer companies like Superpedestrian and Voi Technology. They learned from past industry mistakes and developed business strategies that include building onboard operating systems in-house. The goal? More control over rider behavior and better compliance with city regulations.

Most companies playing to win have begun to vertically integrate their tech stacks by developing or acquiring new technology. Lime, Bird, Superpedestrian, Spin and Voi all design their own vehicles and write their own fleet management software or other operational tools. Lime writes its own firmware, which sits directly on top of the vehicle hardware primitives and helps control things like motor controllers, batteries and connected lights and locks.

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