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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.

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

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

By Mike Butcher

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nuvocargo raises $12M to digitize the freight logistics industry

By Aria Alamalhodaei

Despite hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of goods flowing across the U.S.-Mexican border each year, the freight industry has remained analog — each side of the border offering up its own maze of bureaucracy.

Nuvocargo, a digital logistics platform for cross-border trade, is trying to modernize the process. The company offers an all-in-one service that rolls freight forwarding, customs brokerage, cargo insurance and even trade financing into one UI-friendly software and app. Housing all of these services under one app makes it easier for companies to track their supply chain and gives customs and logistics teams access to more centralized information, according to Nuvocargo CEO Deepak Chhugani.

“And you just have one single audit trail in case something goes wrong,” Chhugani told TechCrunch, adding that the process helps reduce or eliminate the extra costs that come with a high administrative overhead. It also lets customers take a high-level look at their operations from within a single interface, he said.

Chhugani likened the experience to something like Uber Eats, which offers customers the ability to easily track food orders from restaurant to home.

“Just imagine, because you are dealing with so many different parties, you lose visibility on what’s going on. If you want a snapshot of — what did I spend end-to-end? — you actually have to go through all these email chains or faxes or texts with different providers,” Chhugani explained. “Some of them might be in another country. So [Nuvocargo] just creates more visibility throughout the process, from where the goods literally are to visibility around your finances.”

But Nuvocargo is thinking beyond the actual movement of goods. The company is also starting to offer customs brokerage, comprehensive cross-border cargo insurance and factoring, or short-term account receivable finance. The last of these solves an especially difficult pain point for trucking companies, which sometimes must wait up to net-90 days to be paid.

The approach has caught investors’ eyes: Nearly one year after announcing it had raised a $5.3 million seed round, the company has closed on a $12 million Series A funding led by QED Investors and with injections from David Velez, Michael Ronen, Raymond Tonsing, FJ Labs and Clocktower. Investors NFX and ALLVP, which participated in the previous round, also participated.

The “holy grail” of their new offerings, as Chhugani called it, is trade financing. Because Nuvocargo will already have a relationship with companies, including an understanding of credit and fraud risk, its hope is that it can offer financial products at a competitive rate.

This is what attracted QED Investors, a firm that typically focuses on financial technology rather than logistics and trucking.

“After speaking with [Deepak] and seeing the connection points and parallels between what we were looking at in e-commerce and the challenges of actually getting goods across border, the fintech spark went off in my own head,” Lauren Connolley Morton, a partner at QED, said in an interview with TechCrunch. “The opportunities for factoring, for lending, for insuring goods are all very much right up our alley.”

Although Chhugani declined to disclose Nuvocargo’s valuation after this most recent round of funding, it’s clear there is plenty of room to grow into the logistics industry’s huge and seemingly disaggregated value chain.

The return of neighborhood retail and other surprising real estate trends

By Eric Eldon

The pandemic made remote work and on-demand delivery normal far faster than anyone expected. Today, as the world beings to emerge from the pandemic, location doesn’t matter like it did a year ago.

As shocking as it sounds, we could be entering a much better era for small, local businesses.

Modern society produced superstar cities filled with skyscraper office and residential buildings. Now, the populations that once thrived in these urban centers are deciding how to repurpose them for a post-pandemic world.

I caught up with ten top investors who focus on real estate property technology to get a sense of how they’re betting on the future.

They are optimistic overall, because the typically glacial real estate industry now sees proptech as essential to its future. However, they are the most unsure about the office sector, at least as we knew the concept before the pandemic.

They expect remote work to be part of the future in a significant way and foresee ongoing high housing demand in the suburbs and smaller cities. They are especially positive about fintech and SaaS products focused on areas like single-family home sales and rentals. Many are continuing to invest in big cities, but around alternative housing (co-living, accessory dwelling units) and climate-related concepts.

Most surprisingly, some investors are actually excited about physical retail. I examined the latest evidence and found myself agreeing. As shocking as it sounds, we could be entering a much better era for small, local businesses. Details farther down.

(And before we dig in below, please note that Extra Crunch subscribers can separately read the following people responding fully in their own words, with lots of great information I wasn’t able to explore below.)

When the office is more of a luxury

The pandemic combined with existing trends has made office renters “more akin to a consumer of a luxury product,” explains Clelia Warburg Peters, a venture partner at Bain Capital Ventures and long-time proptech investor and real estate operator.

Landlords who have “largely been in a position of power since the 1950s” now have to put the customer first, she says. The “best landlords will recognize that they are going to be under pressure to shift from simply providing a physical space, to helping provide tenants with a multichannel work experience.”

This includes tangible additional services like software and hardware for managing employees as they travel between various office locations. But the market today also dictates a new attitude. “These assets will need to be provided in the context of a much more human relationship, focusing on serving the needs of tenants,” she says. “As lease terms inevitably shorten, tenants will need to be courted and supported in a much more active way than they have been in the past.”

The changes in office space may be more favorable to the supply side in suburban areas.

“Companies are going to have to offer employees space in an urban headquarters,” Zach Aarons of Metaprop tells me. But many will also want to offer ”some sort of office alternative in the suburbs so the worker can leave home sometimes but not have to take a one-hour train ride to get to the office when needed.”

“If we were still purchasing hard real estate assets like many of us on the MetaProp team used to do in previous careers,” he added, “we would be looking aggressively to purchase suburban office inventory.”

Most people thought that remote work was here for good and would impact the nature of office space in the future.

Adam Demuyakor, co-founder and managing director of Wilshire Lane Partners, is generally bullish on big cities, but he notes that startups themselves are already untethering from specific places. This is a key leading indicator, in TechCrunch’s opinion.

“Something that has been interesting to watch over the past year is how startups themselves have begun to evolve due to newfound geographic flexibility from the pandemic,” he observes. “Previously, startups (especially real-estate-related startups) felt pressure to be ‘headquartered’ near where their customers, prospective capital sources and pools of talent were located. However, we’ve seen this change over the past few months.”

In fact, a recent report by my former colleague Kim-Mai Cutler, now a partner at Initialized Capital, highlights these trends in a regular survey of its portfolio companies. When the pandemic began, the Bay Area was still the number one place that founders said they’d start a company. Today, remote-first is in first place. Meanwhile, the portfolio companies are either going toward remote-first or a hub-and-spoke model of a smaller headquarters and more far-flung offices. Those who maintain some sort of office say they will require significantly less than five days a week. Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they would also not adjust salaries based on location!

That’s a small sample but as Demuyakor says, “Startups (a) are frequently the most adept at utilizing the types of technology necessary for effective remote work and (b) simultaneously have to compete ferociously for talent. As such, I think we may be able to infer what the ‘future of work’ may look like as we observe what startups choose to do as the pandemic passes.”

Some landlords (with big loans) and large cities (with big budgets) are making a push to repopulate their offices quickly, and some large companies are loading up on office space or reaffirming their commitments to current locations.

Maybe efforts like these, plus the natural desire to network live, will bring back the industry clusters and pull everyone back to the old geographies? Maybe something close to 100% of what we saw before? What does that look like?

In such a scenario, some pandemic-era changes will persist, says Christopher Yip, a partner and managing director at RET Ventures. “A populace that has become sensitized to public health considerations may well gravitate toward solo forms of transportation (cars and bicycles) instead of mass transit, and parking-related and bike-sharing tech tools may likely thrive. From a real estate management perspective, technology that makes high-density living more comfortable and healthier will also increase, as consumers will become increasingly attracted to touchless technology and tools that facilitate self-leasing.”

Here’s the other scenario that he lays out “if a large number of jobs remain fully remote.”

“In theory, retail and office properties could structurally continue to suffer, and there has been some talk from government officials in certain regions about converting office properties into affordable housing,” he details. “If market-rate vacancies in cities remain high, there will be increasing demand for short-term rental platforms like Airbnb and Kasa, which enable landlords to gain revenue from hotel-type stays even in a market where residential demand is not strong.”

Vik Chawla, a partner at Fifth Wall, sketches out a middle-of-the-road scenario. “We believe that major cities will continue to attract knowledge workers and top talent post-pandemic,” he says, “though we expect remote work to become an increasingly critical component to the work economy, meaning that there will be increased flexibility in terms of time spent in the office versus elsewhere.”

This would still mean some sort of long-term price decline. “At a city level, this means that rents should taper relative to pre-pandemic levels due to lesser demand,” he believes. “That said, the real estate ecosystems in cities that have experienced growth throughout the pandemic will enter a period of innovation, and with it, see an increase in housing density, ADUs and modular building techniques.”

Andrew Ackerman, managing director of UrbanTech for DreamIt Ventures, also sees a gentle deflation of commercial office prices over time, followed by some complex space-management questions.

“[T]he return to work will likely result in more flexible work arrangements rather than the demise of the office which, as leases renew over the next 5-10 years, will lead to a gradual meaningful-but-not-catastrophic reduction in the demand for office space. The question is, what then happens to the excess office space?”

“Office to residential conversion is tricky,” he elaborates. “Layout is a major constraint. Many modern offices have deep, windowless interior space that is hard to repurpose. But even with narrow layouts, the structural elements are often in the wrong place. Drilling thousands of holes in structural concrete so you can move plumbing and gas to the right places is a heavy lift.”

This might just lead to new types of still-valuable uses? “One of the areas that I’m still investigating is whether co-living or microunits might be a more attractive conversion option. Turning an office break room and interior bullpens into a shared kitchen, dining area, and recreation or work flexspace may be a better way to repurpose deep interior space without a very costly retrofit. And if you don’t have to reroute too much plumbing, it may even be possible to convert (and convert back!) individual floors as market demand for office and residential space fluctuates over time.”

All respondents saw proptech being a core part of the next era of big cities (of course), however bullish or bearish they may be about the office itself.

A new equilibrium for residential

Housing availability has become even more limited in most places during the pandemic, with many more people looking to buy and fewer people wanting to sell. This is even though the previously hottest cities have seen major rental price drops.

Demuyakor of Wilshire Lane is staying focused on the housing problem, and solutions to it like co-living. “Despite the pandemic, it is still difficult for millennials and Gen Z to afford to live in the most expensive cities (New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, etc.) at current wage levels,” he says. “As such, we believe that we will continue to see demand for products and solutions that can continue to help alleviate costs and burdens of living in major cities. For example, we think that at its core, co-living is an economic decision. Solutions that continue to help people live where they want to live more easily (ADUs are another example of this) will continue to thrive.”

Casey Berman, managing director and general partner of Camber Creek, thinks that “cities will continue to attract people to live, work and play because they offer density and opportunities for experiences that people crave even more now. To the extent all of this is true, there will be renewed demand for urban spaces and properties to take advantage of that demand.”

He says that the firm has been investing in products to make dense living safer and more convenient and “we expect those solutions will become increasingly popular. Flex allows tenants to pay rent online in easier-to-manage installments and in the process makes it more likely that landlords will receive payment on time. Latch’s access control devices are in one out of 10 new multifamily buildings. A lot of people purchased a pet over the past year. PetScreening makes it easy to manage pet records and confirm when a pet is a service or support animal.”

Robin Godenrath and Julian Roeoes, partners at Picus Capital, generally share this viewpoint and describe how new living arrangements in cities could allow for more radical changes to how people live.

“Flexible living solutions will allow remote workers to spend time across different cities with a fully managed, affordable and safe rental option for short-to-long-term urban living,” he says, “while commercial conversion to residential will play a key role in driving down per square foot prices enabling long-term returning residents to afford less densified space. Although co-living densifies multifamily buildings, we believe it will remain an interesting sector as the continued shift to remote work will make living communities increasingly important considering the reduced social interaction on the job.”

But modern proptech is also making the suburbs and beyond more appealing in the long run, according to many. Great new technologies for living can exist anywhere you are.

Proptech has also helped fuel the new suburban boom. “There is an ongoing trend of reverse urban migration causing an uptick in the demand for suburban-style living,” he says. “Proptech companies have played a significant role in enabling this shift, specifically via digitizing the home buying, selling and renting transaction processes (e.g., iBuyers, alternative financing models and tech-enabled brokerages). Additionally, proptech companies have played a key role in reducing physical interactions through remote appraisals, 3D/VR viewings and digital communications thus enabling homebuyers and sellers to efficiently and safely transact throughout the pandemic.”

Ultimately, the same technologies that could make cities more affordable will also help out in the suburbs. “We strongly believe that the acceleration of the digitalization of the home transaction process coupled with the significant increase in demand for suburban-style housing and evolving buyer profiles (e.g., tech-savvy millennials) opens up a multitude of opportunities for proptech to significantly impact suburban living across construction, access and lifestyle. This includes companies focusing on built-to-rent developments, modular homebuilding, affordable housing, community building and digital amenities.

Many investors who we talked to highlighted the single-family rental market trend. Here’s Christopher Yip again from RET.

“One of the unheralded trends of the past decade has been the rise of the single-family rental (SFR) market,” he says “with a significant number of major investors moving into this asset class. The SFR space is poised to benefit from the migration from cities, and the tech that supports SFR will likely have positive ripple effects across the industry.”

“SFR portfolios are particularly challenging to operate efficiently and at scale; compared with a multifamily property, they have more distinct unit layouts and are more spread out geographically,” he explains. “Technology has the ability to streamline operations and maintenance for SFR operators, with smart home tools like SmartRent facilitating self-touring and management of these distributed portfolios. We’re bullish on this space and are keeping a close eye on proptech tools that serve this market.”

Andrew Ackerman of DreamIt agrees. “Single-family has been neglected, slowly growing more interesting both from an asset and proptech perspective for some time. For example, we invested in startups like NestEgg and Abode who service this ecosystem … prior to the pandemic. COVID has been good to these startups and brought more attention to the opportunities in single-family in general.”

Stonly Baptiste and Shaun Abrahamson, co-founders of Urban.us, already see a world of options unfolding across geographies, with choices like co-living and short-term rentals letting people find new lifestyles. “Portfolio companies like Starcity are really thriving as co-living doesn’t just solve for cost, but also for a key overlooked issue — access to community. We also see room for more nomadic lifestyles. A lot of the discussion about Miami is about people moving there, but it seems like a more interesting question for a lot of places is maybe whether or not people will spend a few months of the year there. So for remote workers this might mean places near specific activities like mountain biking, surfing, snowboarding etc. Starcity makes it easy to move between city locations and Kibbo takes this far beyond the city by building communities around van life.”

Here’s how all these changes are adding up for the suburban market, as mapped out by Clelia Warburg Peters of BCV.

“The residential transaction disruption is now settling in three core categories: iBuyers (who buy homes directly from sellers and ultimately hope to own the sell-side marketplace), neobrokers (who generally employ their agents and use secondary services such as title mortgage and insurance to increase their revenue) and elite agent tools (platforms or tools focused on the top agents).”

This combination of innovations are changing residential real estate as we know it. “[C]onsumers are increasingly open to alternative financing tools, including home-equity-based financing models (where you sell a stake in your home, or you buy into full ownership in a home over time). The growth and proliferation of these new models are consolidating the whole residential market so that brokerage sales commissions and commission from the sale of mortgage, title and home insurance are now functionally one large and intertwined disruptable market.”

The surprising revival of neighborhood retail

Humans seem to love the concept of a traditional Main Street full of bustling, walkable local businesses. But the hits have kept coming to the people trying to successfully operate independent retail storefronts.

E-commerce began cutting into traditionally thin margins with the rise of Amazon and the 90s wave of “e-tailers.” More recently, art galleries, high-end restaurants and boutiques became a harbinger of gentrification in many cities. Many commercial retail landlords in these locations aggressively priced rents as more residents moved in who could afford higher prices, ultimately contributing to gluts of empty storefronts in prime locations.

The pandemic seemed to be the final blow, with even the most loyal shoppers turning to order online while local businesses stayed closed.

And yet, a range of investors are strangely optimistic. Even though the pandemic upended social and economic activity for more than a year, most agreed that IRL retail experiences are an essential aspect of modern life.

“Humans are fundamentally social animals and I think we will all be hungry for in-person experiences once it is safe to return to them. Additionally, I think the shift away from working five days a week in the office is going to create a greater desire for ‘third spaces’ — not home, not a formal office environment,” said Peters.

“I do think we will continue to see more ‘Apple store’-type retail experiences, where the focus is less on selling inventory and more on creating an environment for customers to physically interact with goods and experience the brand ethos beyond a website. Because I anticipate that retail rents are going to be meaningfully lower at the end of the pandemic, I actually think we will see even more experimentation than we did pre-COVID. It will be a very interesting period for retail.”

Many others held views in this direction, whether they are investing specifically in retail-related tech or more generally in third-space ideas.

“It’s true that retail has been in flux for more than a decade; the list of common e-commerce purchases has expanded from books and clothing to prepared meals and groceries. It’s also true that the pandemic has accelerated e-commerce’s growth, to the detriment of brick-and-mortar retail,” says RET’s Yip. “But people are still human and crave in-person experiences. Even if cities never bounce back fully, major metropolises will still have enough foot traffic to support a fair amount of retail, and innovative models like pop-up shops can be brought in to help address vacancies. It should also be noted that the public markets still have some confidence in the retail space. While the major REITs struggled in early to mid-2020, many have recovered substantially, and several have actually surpassed their pre-pandemic figures. It has been a bad decade for retail — and a very bad year — but it is just too soon to close the book on the sector.”

Godenrath and Roeoes of Picus say movie theaters are just one example of a retail sector poised for success when public life resumes at scale post-pandemic.

“Cinemas, many of which are key shopping center anchor tenants, were already reinventing the traditional theater experience by offering a more holistic experiential solution (e.g., reserved seating, 4DX visuals, in-theater restaurants, cafes and bars) and the pandemic has led to an expansion of these offerings (i.e., private theater rentals and events). We have the opinion that this trend will continue to expand across the entire retail real estate industry from restaurants (immersive culinary experiences) to traditional retail (integrated online and offline shopping experiences) and believe that proptech will play a defining role in helping retail real estate owners identify potential tenants and market properties as well as in helping retailers drive in-store customer engagement and gain key insights into the customer journey.”

The internet is also a friend these days, surprisingly! “We also see a lot of potential for hybrid models combining online and offline experiences without friction,” they say. “Taking the fitness sectors as an example we can imagine a new normal where in-studio courses are broadcasted to allow a broader participant group and apps tracking fitness and health progress throughout in-studio visits and at-home workouts.”

I have a few additional reasons to believe in the future of retail that I didn’t hear from any of the investors I interviewed.

You can also see how retail intersects with many other solutions investors are betting on, particularly to improve the appeal of cities and solve for macro problems like climate change.

“Cities have some massively underutilized assets, perhaps the biggest being public spaces that are allocated to cars,” Baptiste and Abrahamson say. “So one change we think will become permanent is reallocating parking spaces away from private vehicles to micromobility (bike/scooter/board lanes, parking, etc.). We’re seeing a lot of demand for portfolio companies like Coord (manages curb space starting with commercial vehicles and smart zones), Qucit (manages bike and scooter share operations in many large cities) and Oonee (secure bike/scooter/board parking).”

That’s just the start of the virtuous cycle they foresee.

“As [car removal] happens, the use cases like logistics can shift to electric micro-EVs. Similarly, parklets or seating areas increase social spaces. The EU is setting the pace for banning cars, but overall reduced access to streets for cars is going to be a big change. And likely will make cities attractive — yes, you give up private living space, but you’re going to get a lot more common/social space. This is also likely to drive more co-living so you can decrease the cost basis for being in a city, but get a lot more from shared spaces, which have no real comparison in lower density communities.”

Demuyakor of Wilshire Lane is betting in the same direction.

“One of the key tenets of our overall strategy has always been a focus on space utilization and identifying the best ways technology can monetize underutilized spaces. This can be seen clearly with many of our newest investments: Stuf and Neighbor (monetization of basements, parking garages and other vacant spaces), MealCo (monetization of vacant kitchens), WorkChew (monetization of restaurant seating areas, hotel lobbies and conference rooms), and Saltbox (monetization of empty warehouses). We believe that landlords can certainly use these types of strategies to help mitigate increased levels of vacancies that we’re seeing across the real estate industry today in the medium term.”

If this thesis pans out, retail may become more about shared spaces. “With WorkChew in particular, which just announced funding this week, we’re seeing a ton of demand for their product both on the demand side and the supply side. Hotels and restaurants are excited to partner with them to monetize their less-utilized spaces and infrastructure,” said Demuyakor. “And of course, employers and companies love [it] as an easy amenity that can be offered to their hybrid workforces that increasingly want to spend more time out of the HQ office.”

I have a few additional reasons to believe in the future of retail that I didn’t hear explicitly from the investors I interviewed.

  • First, millions of new businesses have been created during the pandemic, to the surprise of even economists and policymakers. A large portion appear to have a very local angle, whether food delivery (cupcakes) or services (on-site haircuts) or internet-first products with strong local followings (much of Etsy). These entrepreneurs went internet-first and now, as commercial rents plummet, they have sufficient revenue to support a physical presence.
  • Second, most local business that have sustained themselves during the COVID-19 era figured out how to succeed on the internet. To see which ones in your vicinity are weathering the storm, just open one of your preferred on-demand delivery and services apps and place an order.
  • Third, as noted by respondents and available data, landlords are already starting to drop prices, creating a renter’s market for the first time in decades.
  • Fourth, there are whole new types of financing opening up to more traditional businesses that could enable any company with a successful online side hustle, hobby (or perhaps larger project) to get funding for expansion. (This reason is perhaps the most speculative, but we are trying to figure out the future here at TechCrunch.) For example, Shopify has just invested in Pipe.com, a new “platform for trading recurring revenue.” Although the companies are not saying much now about the relationship, it’s possible to imagine a bunch of successful small(ish) businesses on Shopify suddenly getting a new kind of capital infusion right as the math is suddenly much better for a storefront location.

If you roll all of this up with other broader shifts in how we think about cities, like making them more climate-friendly through allowing density and bike lanes, you can start to see a world emerging that sounds a lot more like the fantasies of a New Urbanist than the world before the pandemic.

At the same time, these concepts are being deployed across smaller cities, suburbs and towns: All will compete to offer the highest quality of living — unless the old network effects of industry clusters return miraculously.

And let’s say the industry clusters don’t cluster like they used to. It’s possible that many landlords, lenders and city budgets will have to retrench soon, creating a drag on the economies of otherwise-attractive cities.

Even in this case, you can imagine a rebirth for places like New York and San Francisco focused around housing, retail and amenities. Maybe one day, we’ll look back at recent decades as the bad old days before we collectively bottomed out during the pandemic and had to decide on the right answers for the long-term.

And with that, I invite readers to go check out the full sets of responses from the investors I interviewed. Each person offered a lot more than I was able to fit into this already-too-long article and is worth reading in detail. Extra Crunch subscription required, so you can support our ongoing coverage of these changes.

I’ll be covering the future of proptech and cities more soon. Have other thoughts about all of this? Email me at eldon@techcrunch.com.

10 proptech investors see better era for residential and retail after pandemic

By Eric Eldon

The pandemic made the internet a lifeline for shopping, earning a living and maintaining personal relationships. Now, as lockdowns start to lift, the real estate industry has to figure out what that means.

Seeking answers, I surveyed the people who are betting on the biggest and most surprising changes in the sector — proptech investors. While landlords and their lenders may hope for a return to the past, proptech investors are focused on where the notion of place is going in the future. I have an in-depth writeup with many excerpts and my thoughts over on TechCrunch, including a look at the revival of neighborhood retail, the rebirth of cities and much more.

I couldn’t get into all of the great topics, though, including the rapid recent evolution of the residential sales and rental market, construction tech, related climate-tech topics and other issues.

So here are the thousands of words of answers in full, below. Extra Crunch subscription required. If you’re a startup founder, employee, investor, etc., you may also enjoy the previous editions of this survey, from the fall of 2020, spring of 2020 and fall of 2019.

The investors we talked to:


Clelia Warburg Peters, venture partner, Bain Capital Ventures

As the pandemic hopefully enters its final stages, how are the changes from this period affecting your real estate and proptech investment strategy? Are big trends of the present, like high nationwide housing demand and mass commercial vacancies, refocusing your investing strategy?

Above all, I think COVID will prove to be an accelerant to existing trends in both the residential and commercial space. I like to think of it as a decade of innovation acceleration in 24 months.

The pandemic has certainly refocused attention on life at home, and that combined with low interest rates has undeniably made this an incredible period for companies that touch the housing market. Given that I got into proptech through work at a family residential brokerage, this market has always been a big area of interest for me, and I would observe that we were in the midst of some major shifts in this market pre-COVID. The residential transaction disruption is now settling in three core categories: iBuyers (who buy homes directly from sellers and ultimately hope to own the sell-side marketplace), neobrokers (who generally employ their agents and use secondary services such as title mortgage and insurance to increase their revenue) and elite agent tools (platforms or tools focused on the top agents). Additionally, consumers are increasingly open to alternative financing tools, including home-equity-based financing models (where you sell a stake in your home, or you buy into full ownership in a home over time. The growth and proliferation of these new models are consolidating the whole residential market so that brokerage sales commissions and commission from the sale of mortgage, title and home insurance are now functionally one large and intertwined disruptable market. In this context, while some of the valuations we are seeing may be a little euphoric, I think there is no doubt that we are in a period of massive and sustainable innovation in how we buy and hold our homes and I think these trends are going to be enduring.

In the commercial arena, we were also in the midst of a meaningful shift in how companies were conceiving of office space, in many ways thanks to the innovations that WeWork brought to the market. But the pandemic has pushed this much further, fundamentally shifting the relationship between the landlord/manager (who has largely been in a position of power since the 1950s) and the tenant (who is now in a position of much greater power, more akin to a consumer of a luxury product). As a result of this, I think the best landlords will recognize that they are going to be under pressure to shift from simply providing a physical space, to helping provide tenants with a multichannel work experience. This might mean a physical/digital hybrid of systems that include access control, physical space management (both in the hub location and potentially in spoke locations), and a digital space for meetings and collaboration. These assets will need to be provided in the context of a much more human relationship, focusing on serving the needs of tenants. As lease terms inevitably shorten, tenants will need to be courted and supported in a much more active way than they have been in the past.

How do you see the big cities adapting to life after the pandemic — or will they? What solutions are you focusing on in particular for the future of urban living (co-living, ADUs, commercial conversion to residential, etc.)?

I think the experience of cities after the pandemic is going to be highly variable — for instance, the trajectories for Austin and New York will likely look radically different. I am personally uncertain about how co-living, or even commercial to residential conversion will be at play, but I do believe that there will be a few consistent areas of interest.

First, smaller-scale urban life will continue to be a significant trend. I think we will continue to see a proliferation of bike lanes, a focus on living in walkable neighborhoods, and a reliance on tools (such as the app Nextdoor) that reinforce our feeling of connection to our neighbors.

Second, I think we will continue to see a reliance on certain types of outsourced services — ghost kitchens for takeout or rapid provision of groceries and other essentials — and technologies and spaces that facilitate these will be a growth area.

Finally, I do believe that in some more sprawling urban environments ADUs will be an area of growth, particularly with seniors who are looking for an additional income stream so they can age at home. One caveat is that I think this will be something of a winner-takes-all space with a limited number of geographically dominant winners.

The demand for suburban-style living is back — for now. What are you focusing on across this category for the next year or two (new residential services and amenities, build-to-rent housing developments, etc.)?

The current transition out of urban environments and into suburban environments is playing out alongside some broader changes in the way the American public seems to be approaching homeownership. Over the past decade, there has been a net decline in homeownership and a net growth in renting. Some of this is by necessity, and some is by choice. I think one component of the tech-related opportunity in the migrations we see now will be around rental platforms and multifamily amenitization. There is still no data aggregator like the MLS on the rental side, and a number of portals (including Zillow Rentals, Apartment List, Zumper, RentalBeast and others) are competing to provide listing information to consumers. On the multifamily side, many multifamily operators are understanding that the integration of work/life/play is creating a new need for amenitization and greater services in their offerings. I think we will continue to see more and more emphasis on hospitality-style brand creation in the multifamily space, and much of this will be facilitated by different kinds of tech-facilitated amenities.

It’s also important to note the flood of both institutional and private investor money that is coming into the single-family rental space. (It may be that in the future a certain percent of the population is renting their primary home, but exposed to the property market through ownership of these kinds of real estate assets.) This growth is being facilitated by property management services like Mynd, marketplaces like Roofstock, and innovative products like Zibo or Knox Financial.

Robinhood files confidentially to go public

By Alex Wilhelm

Today Bloomberg reported, and Axios confirmed that Robinhood has filed privately to go public. The well-financed Robinhood is an American fintech company that provides zero-cost trading services to consumers.

Private IPO filings have become common in recent quarters, making Robinhood’s decision to file behind closed doors before showing its numbers to the public unsurprising. That it has filed privately, however, implies that the company is closer to a public debut than we might have anticipated.

Robinhood has long been expected to have a 2021 IPO in its plans. The company has not yet responded to an inquiry from TechCrunch regarding the news of its private IPO filing.

There are several reasons why Robinhood may be interested in a near-term public debut, despite running into controversies in recent quarters. No amount of time in front of Congress, bad PR from a user’s suicide, or settlements with the SEC can change the fact that today’s stock market favors growth, something that the company has in spades. Or that recent IPOs have been rapturously received by public investors as a cohort; it’s a warm time to pursue public-market liquidity.

The company’s revenue expanded greatly in 2020, something that TechCrunch has covered through the lens of Robinhood’s payment for order flow, or PFOF income. The company told Congress that the particular revenue source was the majority of its top line, meaning that PFOF growth is a reasonable comp for the company’s aggregate growth. And as TechCrunch has reported, those numbers rose sharply in 2020, from around ~$91 million in Q1 2020, to ~$178 million in Q2 2020, and ~$183 million and ~$221 million in the third and fourth quarter of last year.

Robinhood also makes money from consumer subscriptions, and other sources.

The fact that Robinhood has filed privately implies that it will go public sometimes soon, though perhaps not quickly enough to get around providing Q1 2021 numbers. More when we get our hands on the filing.

8 Czech VCs on green shoots, pandemic impacts and 2021 opportunities

By Mike Butcher

While London, Paris, Berlin and Stockholm feature regularly in tech coverage, the rest of Europe has been busy.

The Czech Republic may be better known for beer, hockey and the sights of Prague, but its entrepreneurial community is as ambitious as any. Pipedrive is an EU-based CRM company with offices in eight countries, but it has a Czech co-founder in VP of Product Martin Henk, one of several founders to emerge from the ecosystem.

Then there was Integromat, which did not raise any external capital but sold for around 2.5 billion crowns ($114 million), making its seven Czech founders into multimillionaires. Prague’s Memsource is valued at approximately 1.3 billion crowns or $59 million. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

To unpack this rare gem of Europe’s startup scene, we spoke to eight area investors.

Among the trends they identified are startups in B2B, business automation processes, e-commerce, AI, SaaS and COVID-19-related solutions, as well as “smart” everything: factories, cities, offices, etc. Other themes included cybersecurity, AR/VR, remote work, and cybersecurity.

Saturated areas included cryptocurrency, blockchain, fintech and martech. The people we spoke to said they see travel, dating apps and other businesses traditionally based on physical interaction as weaker segments. Still, new opportunities are popping up in remote work, psychedelics and wellness.


Use discount code CZECHIA to save 25% off a 1-year Extra Crunch membership.
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Respondents said they invest around 50% inside Czechia and 50% across Central and Eastern Europe, while some are more focused across CEE generally, with some percentage of the fund supporting startups that have scaled to the U.S.

Most said their investments hadn’t been significantly impacted by COVID-19, but future uncertainly is a concern. The advice is to “be frugal to accommodate to the new situation and roll on.”

As far as green shoots, COVID-19 has “played a role of an accelerator for innovation in many business areas and even e-government and other rigid/conservative industries,” said one. D2C startups have benefitted and “Zoom selling” now seems “totally plausible.”

We surveyed:


Petra Končelíková, partner, Nation1.vc

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Innovative.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Snuggs.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
I miss a more innovative approach.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Steady rapid growth, innovative mind.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Social media, logistics, travel.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
We are solely focusing on the European market, with an impact on the Czech Republic.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Healthcare, industry 4.0.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Huge potential.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Remote work is not an issue, but the pandemic has of course huge impact on startups. They are forced to pivot and accommodate to this new world.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Travel and gastro.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Accommodate to the new situation and roll on.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
Vaccination.

Who are key startup people you see creating success locally, whether investors, founders or even other types of startup ecosystems roles like lawyers, designers, growth experts, etc. We’re trying to highlight the movers and shakers who outsiders might not know.
Financial experts — financial planning, CFOs to hire as an service from agencies.

Oleksander Bondarev, associate, Credo Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Developer tools, communication apps, applied AI.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Around.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Cloud CI/CD.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Great team.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Martech.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Only in founders from: Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Romania or Hungary.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Productboard, UiPath, Pricefx, Supernova, Spaceflow.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Maturing.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Yes.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Enabling communication, transparency within the remote workforce.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Be frugal.

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
We are trying to be the most founder-friendly fund in the region. As an ex-founder (Olek) I love speaking with and advising all startups that come my way :)

Ondrej Bartos, founding partner, Credo Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Automation, AI, enabling remote, authentication.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
TypingDNA.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Outstanding founders tackling big opportunity.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
VR/AR has been an area with lots of investment, therefore very competitive. AI is overhyped but most AI are actually not that intelligent.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Less. We focus on Central Europe as a region (if that would count as local, then more than 50%).

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Central Europe is well positioned in automation, security, developer tools and analytics. I’m most excited about UiPath, Productboard, Pricefx, TypingDNA, Spaceflow, Around (in our portfolio). Best CE founders are in my view Daniel Dines, Hubert Palan, Marcin Cichon plus Oliver Dlouhý (Kiwi.com).

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
There are a lot of great developers in Prague, good energy and enough success stories and role models to follow. There is a lot of investment capital there (just as everywhere else I guess), not too much smart money yet, so definitely opportunity for good VCs to take a look (and they are looking).

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
I have no doubts that the pandemic has been accelerating remote work, which ultimately should lead to more remote-first startups which might benefit new geos.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Travel and hospitality seem most fragile and unpredictable due to COVID-19. Remote and enabling remote seem like the biggest opportunity; automation and enabling digital transformation are attractive as well.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Our investment strategy is unchanged; actually we’ll double down on it. There is a lot of opportunity for good tech startups, technology is what’s helping people and countries to get out of crises faster with less damage. Our advice to startups is still the same: Focus on your cause and try to solve problems in your space better than anybody else.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
We definitely see green shoots in some of the enterprise software companies. “Zoom selling” now seems totally plausible, sales cycles shortened in some verticals as companies need to digitize and enable remote work.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
I’ve always had hope. Yes, there have been low moments especially when quarantined, but overall I haven’t lost hope for people to cope with this unprecedented situation, and for technology to play a significant role in the recovery. I still have this hope :)

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
I feel like I had been traveling too much, two- or three-day transatlantic trips make little sense and I think I won’t go back there. Also, I don’t think I’ll go back to 5+ days in the office every week, home office works fine with me and it will stay with me and the company in some capacity. That being said, it is what I feel now. I may be wrong and things may go back to “old normal” — which I would consider a big mistake and lost opportunity.

Osman Salih, associate, Bolt Start Up Development a.s.

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
We are looking for synergies with our parent company O2 Czech republic and other companies under the PPF Group.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
IP Fabric.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
We would like to see more insurtech startups in Europe.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
We are looking for synergies with our partner companies rather looking into a specific branch.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Fintech is oversaturated with very low margins.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
We mostly invest locally, but our most successful investment was in Taxify (now Bolt).

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Definitely security domain is best positioned. We are excited about IP Fabric (founder is ex-Cisco CEO Pavel Bykov), Whalebone (R. Malovič), Wultra (P. Dvořák).

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
The interest is bigger, a lot of successful startups raise demand for opportunities.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
We don’t think so, local network is important. Remote work is not for everyone.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
There will be shifts in retail. This is an opportunity for startups like Pygmalios, which provide analytics for retail.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Luckily the impact is not big. Biggest worries are about difficulties with travel abroad for business meetings. Our advice is hold the runway longer :-)

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes, demand for call center tools like omnichannel solution mluvii.com, which works at the home office move up significantly.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
At spring our country was “best in COVID” and now it is “worst in COVID.” Last spring thousands of people from the startup community helped and came up with brilliant ideas, apps and solutions but at the end most outcomes (like eRouška and https://koronavirus.mzcr.cz/en/) were screwed by slow or faulty decisions of government. Instead of hope I’m disappointed, but I believe that vaccination will help us to get life back on the track.

Who are key startup people you see creating success locally, whether investors, founders or even other types of startup ecosystems roles like lawyers, designers, growth experts, etc. We’re trying to highlight the movers and shakers who outsiders might not know.
Patrik Juránek from Startup Disrupt community.

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
Prague is great and safe city for living — when you setup a branch in Prague you can attract people from all of the CEE region to move in.

Lukáš Konečný, principal, Y Soft Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Anything that helps businesses run smarter is something we would like to take a look at. More specifically we are interested in areas such as Internet of Things, smart factories, smart cities, smart office, cybersecurity, big data and AR/VR. And especially when there is some kind of hardware involved — that something we really love.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
VRgineers.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
It would be great to see more startups focusing on hardware. Admittedly, creating hardware and scaling-up a hardware-focused business is always a bigger challenge, but the opportunities are so vast and many are yet untapped.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Apart from the “obvious” aspects such as innovativeness, global potential, scalability, strong team and fit with our investment thesis, we look for founders who show great strategic thinking and execution skills, who really understand the market and their customers’ needs and listen to feedback.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Considering our focus on B2B, we have better overview of this part of the economy. Lately, we have seen a huge number of startups using AI/ML for computer vision or natural language processing use cases creating very similar products, meaning it will be rather difficult for them to differentiate and outperform the rest of the competition. But that does not mean that a new revolutionary idea cannot appear.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Our focus is on the Central European region — so far we have invested in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, but we are open to founders from other neighboring countries as well. The majority of our portfolio is located in the Brno/South Moravia region, where Y Soft is based. It is not an outcome of an intentional strategy, but just the reality of which startups interested us the most.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Generally, the Czech startup ecosystem is getting more mature, especially thanks to serial entrepreneurs as well as more experienced first-time founders, and the developing business angel/VC ecosystem. It is hard to pick just one industry, as the spectrum of companies is very vast.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
From the investors’ point of view, the Czech startup ecosystem can provide a lot of interesting opportunities, and especially for foreign investors the investments can be a “good value for money,” even though the VC ecosystem has become more competitive in the last years due to influx of new money. The seed and partly Series A segment can be seen as rather saturated, but there is a significant potential in the larger Series A or later-stage investments.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
The main Czech hubs, Prague and Brno, are probably not going to see their status weakened, as they are not only business centers, but also have the main universities where the talented people are and are hearts of the cultural life that is attractive to many. But we will see a shift toward remote woking, allowing founders to tap a wider talent pool.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
We believe that after the shock caused by COVID-19 fades away, there will be more opportunities for the companies in segments we invest in, as the induced trends are only forcing businesses to run smarter. The trends most relevant to us will be those associated with accelerated digital transformation, changes in supply chains and evolution of workspaces.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
COVID-19 has not impacted our strategy. The only changes were on the tactical level, as for a certain period of time we shifted more capacities to portfolio support. Most of our founders had to deal with a negative impact on their sales funnel, as some customers postponed or cancelled the planned deals. Some of the founders had to deal with disruptions in the distribution channels, as some of their partners’ businesses were hit rather hard, and a small number of companies had to resolve issues with their supply chain. These challenges are still, to an extent, worries to our portfolio companies, as the economic development is still uncertain. To deal with the situation, cash flow became the main focus, together with more active communication with key business partners throughout the value chains.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
We have seen a lot of positive signals in retention and some green shoots regarding revenue, but the situation is still too fragile.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
It is hard to find glimmers of hope lately, as the situation in the Czech Republic is really not developing well. However, I was recently able to participate in several online events that young entrepreneurs, in some cases even high school or university students, attended to present their projects or to improve their business skills. And it was great to see people who are still deeply interested in — and invested in — the entrepreneurial path, regardless of the current situation.

Vaclav Pavlecka, managing partner, Air Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
We are sector agnostic, so it’s not so much about “trends,” rather than other aspects of startups in our pipeline.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Cross Network Intelligence.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Many sectors are “to-be-disrupted yet” but for example I believe that the predictive medicine (that helps you avoid the problem instead the one that is helping to solve the problem that is already there) will be one of the major trends for the near future.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Distinctive unique selling proposition, market-oriented and sales-hungry team, disruptive potential, upmarket potential.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Social networks in general are the type of services I am concerned about due to a long-term impact on one’s mental health and due to social confirmation bias and decreasing ability for a healthy unheated critical discussion in society. As for oversaturation, it is hard to generalize, since every industry still has its niches. But a top of my mind idea for an oversaturated market is the marketing technologies sector (as well as many other software products). Solutions are easily replicable (think chatbots) and successful only at the limited market.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
We tend to focus on companies with the local strings (with exceptions made — e.g., Californian clothing startup Nahmias).

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
We see a huge potential of local talents in cybersecurity, industry automation (due to the fact that Czechia has one of the densest “per capita” car production in the world), gaming industry (including esports), crypto and health. As for companies I think Apiary, Beat Games, Warhorse gaming studio, Mews.com, Kiwi.com, Snuggs, Prusa Research, Productboard, Rossum, Integromat and Alheon.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
“Local” VCs and investors are definitely willing to make meaningful connections and co-invest. The ecosystem is more mature every year and grows stronger. Prague and the surrounding region also has its charm that attracts many talents as the city has an ideal balance between the life quality and costs in comparison to other metropolitan areas.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
I believe that we will see a big “return to the good part of the old system” in the end of this year/early 2022, so I won’t expect the big shift in the sense of geographic “founder density” outside of the major cities. If, however, the COVID-19 restrictions should last more years, then many social changes can be sparked, including geographic mobility and flexibility.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
No surprise there — the whole travel industry, gastronomical industry and culture tech are in the deepest crisis in decades. Many other industries are under big pressure to increase the speed of change, e.g., the education industry, the entertainment industry. Also in general small to medium businesses are having tough times locally, since the government restrictions are not being implemented efficiently and their communication isn’t built around a sound strategy.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Our investment strategy is built around long-lasting principles and therefore we didn’t have to change it completely. Of course the investment appetite in sectors hit by crisis decreased significantly but other opportunities emerged. As for portfolio impact, proptech vertical was hit heavily and some of our companies had to reiterate their product offering. Our general advice to any startup in our portfolio is to boost the dialogue with their customers, learn how their needs are shifting (if so) and try to steer the wheel in the right time. If needed, we are ready to support our founders financially and also teamwise, since we are hands-on investors.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
D2C startups with a sound unit economy and their own strong distribution channels are thriving (not only locally). This includes our portfolio.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
Not losing hope really. I think people were in much deeper crises and that we refer to the current situation as we do only due to lack of historical comparability. We are still living in times of prosperity and the pandemic will eventually go away thanks to the scientific progress people have achieved. So I think the beacon of positive change are all the RNA vaccines out there. I am thrilled by the restless work of scientists involved in their development and I believe they should receive much greater social credit than they do nowadays.

Who are key startup people you see creating success locally, whether investors, founders or even other types of startup ecosystems roles like lawyers, designers, growth experts, etc. We’re trying to highlight the movers and shakers who outsiders might not know.
Cedric Maloux, Lubo Smid, Dita Formánková, Tomas Cironis, Ondrej Bartos.

Roman Horacek , partner, Reflex Capital

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
B2B, business automation processes, e-commerce, AI, SaaS, COVID-19-related solutions — across verticals (remote work, conferencing, etc.).

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Webnode, SignageOS and some others that unfortunately cannot be disclosed yet :)

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
I would like to see more AI startups (actually using AI).

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Rockstar founders, existing and real market need, scalable solution with solid IP.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Cryptocurrencies, blockchain, talent marketplaces.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
As of now our portfolio is approximately 75%/25% (75% CEE and 25% USA/other).

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Our companies — APIFY, Productboard, Smartlook, Alice Technologies, SingageOS. Other companies — DoDo, Around, UiPath, Pex,

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Great technical talent with superb ideas falling behind with go-to-market and sales skills.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
I don’t think so, I believe the talent will still be attracted by existing major hubs. Smaller the team, more interaction is needed. Despite all the innovations in remote work one-to-one interactions and social time cannot be fully replaced (yet).

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Exposed — travel, dating apps … all businesses traditionally based on physical interaction. Not a surprise I guess :) Opportunities — remote work applications, psychedelic applications, well-being startups, life science solutions, logistics and related industries, e-commerce for SMEs.

Has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Not really. Our No. 1 investment criteria is strong founders. Most of them were able to adjust their business models to the new market conditions. Spring 2020 advice was cash is king, stay frugal and adjust your business to the new market conditions ASAP or others will.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes. I believe COVID-19 played a role of an accelerator for innovations in many business areas and even e-government and other rigid/conservative industries.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
Given all the events of 2020 we had a solid year as a fund. What was inspiring — seeing founders coming across whatever obstacles thrown under their legs … overcoming them with new ideas/inventions and unbreakable entrepreneurial spirit.

Who are key startup people you see creating success locally, whether investors, founders or even other types of startup ecosystems roles like lawyers, designers, growth experts, etc. We’re trying to highlight the movers and shakers who outsiders might not know.
Hard to name one or a few … every single player plays a different role and one individual is unimportant without others. Same as in nature, even the strongest/biggest predators cannot thrive without a thriving ecosystem as a whole.

Eying sustainability gains for its supply chain, BMW backs Boston Metal’s CO2-free iron production tech

By Jonathan Shieber

BMW has joined the cohort of investors that are backing Boston Metal’s carbon dioxide-free production technology for steel.

The Boston-based startup had targeted a $50 million raise earlier in the year, as TechCrunch reported, and BMW’s addition closes out that round, according to a person familiar with the company.

Through a commitment from BMW iVentures, the automaker’s investment arm, Boston Metal will have an in to a company with massive demands for more sustainably manufactured metal. For instance, BMW Group press plants in Europe process more than half a million tonnes of steel per year, the company said.

“We systematically identify the raw materials and components in our supplier network with the highest CO2 emissions from production,” said Dr Andreas Wendt, member of the Board of Management of BMW AG responsible for Purchasing and Supplier Network, in a statement. “Steel is one of them, but it is vital to car production. For this reason, we have set ourselves the goal of continuously reducing CO2 emissions in the steel supply chain. By 2030, CO2 emissions should be about two million tonnes lower than today’s figure.”

Conventional steel production requires blast furnaces that generate carbon dioxide emissions, but using Boston Metal’s process, an electrolysis cell produces the pig iron that gets processed into steel, the company said.

The addition of BMW to its investor group, which already includes Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures and other strategic and financial investors, caps the fundraising process with another corporate partner wielding incredible industry influence.

“Our investors span across the steel value chain, from the upstream mining and iron ore companies to the downstream end customer, and validate Boston Metal’s innovative process to produce high-quality steel, cost-competitively, and at scale,” said chief executive officer and founder, Tadeu Carneiro.

Indy-based High Alpha Capital launches new $110M fund

By Ron Miller

We know that a lot of elements go into the formation of a startup ecosystem. When your city is outside of the major coastal tech centers, it takes a deliberate effort to get such a system off the ground. For Indianapolis, Indiana, it started with the creation of ExactTarget in 2000. When that company was sold to Salesforce for $2.5 billion in 2013, it helped bring a bushel of cash into the startup system.

Today, the venture capital firm that connects back to that ExactTarget acquisition, High Alpha Capital, announced a new $110 million fund. The company concentrates on B2B SaaS startups. Kristian Andersen, partner and co-founder at High Alpha sees the fund in the context of the pandemic and the changes it has brought to how businesses are run.

“We are living in a [time] of almost unrivaled disruption, which has created a host of challenges for individuals, businesses, and society as a whole. In spite (or possibly because) of those challenges, we’re more confident and motivated than ever to help support the next generation of founders as they seek to transform the world through the marriage of entrepreneurship and technology,” Andersen said.

Of course, cash is a key ingredient in any startup system recipe. ExactTarget’s founders were flush with it after the acquisition and Scott Dorsey, one of the firm’s founders says they wanted to build a system from the ground up that included education, a system to encourage entrepreneurship, math skills, a pool of engineering talent and of course, a venture capital firm to drive investment.

“I think of the recipe as talent, capital, support and mentorship. So talent has to be a sharp focus, which is certainly is for us at High Alpha and across the Indianapolis market. The second piece is capital, and markets like Indy often don’t have access to capital and that’s been important that we’re raising our own funds,” he said.

He added, “Thirdly, I think it’s just support and mentorship and that’s really what High Alpha is built to do. We have 40 of us on the team with SaaS experts across design, marketing, product engineering, finance and HR —  all Centers of Excellence you need to start and scale a SaaS company,” he said.

The firm is divided into two parts. The first is High Alpha Studio, which is a kind of incubator for really early stage founders and the second is High Alpha Capital, which is the focus of today’s announcement.

This is third fund for the company. The first was High Alpha One worth $21 million. The second one, High Alpha Two was worth $85 million. Combined with today’s announcement, the total raised across the three funds is $216 million. While the first two funds’ investments were mostly in the Indy area, the plan with the newest one is to expand beyond the region with at least some of the investments.

The firm concentrates on enterprise B2B SaaS companies from pre-seed through Series A investments, so concentrating on early stage companies that it can help nurture and learn from their experiences building ExactTarget into a successful company.

Among the companies they invested in include Attentive, SalesLoft, Zylo, Terminus, The Mom Project, Lessonly, LogicGate, MetaCX and Socio.

As expected, stock trading service Public raises $220M at unicorn valuation

By Alex Wilhelm

The day before Robinhood goes under the the Congressional hammer, domestic rival Public.com announced this morning that it has closed a $220 million funding round at a $1.2 billion valuation. News of the round was first broken by TechCrunch. Further reporting colored in the lines concerning the investment’s size and valuation range.

Confirming the funding news today, Public added a fresh metric to the mix, namely that it has reached one million members – over the course of just 18 months post-launch, the company was quick to point out.

That means that Public’s backers – its latest round was put together by prior investors, including Greycroft, Accel, Tiger Global, Inspired Capital and others – values the company at around $1,200 per current “member.” Whether or not that feels rich, we leave to you to decide.

But with rising interest in the savings and investing space – some data here — and Robinhood’s revenues growing to a run rate of more than $800 million in Q4 2020 and looking even better at the start of 2021, it’s not hard to see why investors are backing Public. It’s even easier if you believe that Robinhood’s brand has undergone material harm from its woes during the GameStop saga.

The pair, along with a host of other fintech services that offer savings and investing products, have been buoyed by a secular shift in banking away from the physical world (in-person shopping, bank branches, plastic cards) to the digital (neo-banks, ecommerce, virtual cards). Robinhood shook up the trading world with zero-cost investing, fitting neatly into the mobile and virtual banking future that is being built. And Public has taken that model a step further by dropping payment for order flow (PFOF), a method revenue generation in which companies like Robinhood get a small fee for sending their users’ trades to one particular market maker or another.

TechCrunch recently joked that it seems like “there is infinite money for stock-trading startups,” in light of the anticipated Public round, which has now has arrived. Let’s see who is next to take home a big check.

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

By Mike Butcher

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

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

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

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

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

You can fill out the survey here.

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

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

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

For example, here is the recent survey of London.

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

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

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

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

9 investors discuss hurdles, opportunities and the impact of cloud vendors in enterprise data lakes

By Ron Miller

About a decade ago, I remember having a conversation with a friend about big data. At the time, we both agreed that it was the purview of large companies like Facebook, Yahoo and Google, and not something most companies would have to worry about.

As it turned out, we were both wrong. Within a short time, everyone would be dealing with big data. In fact, it turns out that huge amounts of data are the fuel of machine learning applications, something my friend and I didn’t foresee.

Frameworks were already emerging like Hadoop and Spark and concepts like the data warehouses were evolving. This was fine when it involved structured data like credit card info, but data warehouses weren’t designed for unstructured data you needed to build machine learning algorithms, and the concept of the data lake developed as a way to take unprocessed data and store until needed. It wasn’t sitting neatly in shelves in warehouses all labeled and organized, it was more amorphous and raw.

Over time, this idea caught the attention of the cloud vendors like Amazon, Microsoft and Google. What’s more, it caught the attention of investors as companies like Snowflake and Databricks built substantial companies on the data lake concept.

Even as that was happening startup founders began to identify other adjacent problems to attack like moving data into the data lake, cleaning it, processing it and funneling to applications and algorithms that could actually make use of that data. As this was happening, data science advanced outside of academia and became more mainstream inside businesses.

At that point there was a whole new modern ecosystem and when something like that happens, ideas develop, companies are built and investors come. We spoke to nine investors about the data lake idea and why they are so intrigued by it, the role of the cloud companies in this space, how an investor finds new companies in a maturing market and where the opportunities and challenges are in this lucrative area.

To learn about all of this, we queried the following investors:


Where are the opportunities for startups in the data lakes space with players like Snowflake and the cloud infrastructure vendors so firmly established?

Caryn Marooney: The data market is very large, driven by the opportunity to unlock value through digital transformation. Both the data lake and data warehouse architectures will be important over the long term because they solve different needs.

For established companies (think big banks, large brands) with significant existing data infrastructure, moving all their data to a data warehouse can be expensive and time consuming. For these companies, the data lake can be a good solution because it enables optionality and federated queries across data sources.

Dharmesh Thakker: Databricks (which Battery has invested in) and Snowflake have certainly become household names in the data lake and warehouse markets, respectively. But technical requirements and business needs are constantly shifting in these markets — and it’s important for both companies to continue to invest aggressively to maintain a competitive edge. They will have to keep innovating to continue to succeed.

Regardless of how this plays out, we feel excited about the ecosystem that’s emerging around these players (and others) given the massive data sprawl that’s occurring across cloud and on-premise workloads, and around a variety of data-storage vendors. We think there is a significant opportunity for vendors to continue to emerge as “unification layers” between data sources and different types of end users (including data scientists, data engineers, business analysts and others) in the form of integration middleware (cloud ELT vendors); real-time streaming and analytics; data governance and management; data security; and data monitoring. These markets shouldn’t be underestimated.

Casey Aylward: There are a handful of big opportunities in the data lake space even with many established cloud infrastructure players in the space:

  • Business intelligence/analytics/SQL may end up converging with machine learning/code like Scala or Python in certain products, but these domains have different end users and communities, programming language preferences and technical skills. Generally, architectural lock-ins are a big point of fear within core infrastructure. This is true for end users with their cloud providers, storage solutions, compute engines, etc. Solutions will be heterogeneous because of that and technology that enables this flexibility will be important.
  • As data moves around today, it is being reprocessed in each platform, which at scale is inefficient and expensive. There is an opportunity to build technology that allows users to move data around without rewriting transformations, data pipelines and stored procedures.
  • Finally, we’re seeing more traction around general data processing frameworks that are not MapReduce under the hood, especially in the Python data science ecosystem. This is a transition from Hadoop or even Spark, since they aren’t always best suited for unstructured, more modern algorithms.

Investors say Belgium’s startups are poised for international expansion

By Mike Butcher

We surveyed five investors from the Brussels, Belgium ecosystem, and overall the mood was upbeat.

Investors are backing companies in smart living, life sciences (“a really promising sector for Belgium”), B2B, “industry 4.0,” fintech, mobility, health and music tech. Food tech appears “an overcrowded space.” Another says: “COVID confirmed our strategy to invest in local companies and with a sector focus on smart living life science and tech.”

Belgium has a “dynamic ecosystem of health actors, from biotech firms, universities and startups and scaleups. We follow the #BeHealth initiative, which unites the various parts of the Belgian health sector.”

Belgium is “not a market for B2C startups” as it has a “small but complex market with different regions/cultures/languages.” They are focusing on Belgium and neighboring countries for investing.

However, finding funding for startups is still a “difficult task today” said one, as it suffers from a lack of “scale capital” for later rounds.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in the city? “As a well-educated environment, multicultural, multilingual,” says one. “The ecosystem is very dynamic, with great opportunities. While valuations are usually lower compared to other hubs in Europe, there is quite some money available on the market,” says another.

Brussels’ geography makes it “very well-connected to Europe and international by nature.” It is multicultural and multilingual, so as a result startups position themselves for international expansion, “whether first to France or the Netherlands or beyond. For investors that are scoping opportunities in Belgium, they should recognize that Belgian startups are well-suited for international growth.”

As a small and very dense country, Belgium “already has a distributed founder geography.”

Investors have also been advising companies “to make sure that they have enough cash to last until the end of next 2021 at least.”

We spoke to the following:


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Pauline Brunel, partner, BlackFin

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Fintech, insurtech

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Outstanding team, big opportunity.

Xavier de Villepin, partner, TheClubDeal

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Smart living, life sciences and tech.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Univercells — Series C.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
More startups needed in the smart living sector. In general, companies with international ambitions maintaining local sticky jobs.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Daring entrepreneurs within growing markets.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
We are wary of blockchain and crypto currencies.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
More than 50%.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Life sciences, including biotech, is a really promising sector for Belgium. On the contrary, Belgium is not a market for B2C startups (small but complex market with different regions/cultures/languages).

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
They feel Brussels is one of the main tech hubs in Belgium. Though the private equity and risk-on mentality is still not here. Finding funding for startups is still a difficult task today.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
I don’t think it will have a substantial impact, as many startups were already favoring remote work and flexible working hours.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19?
Definitely travel and hospitality (part of smart living). It suffered a lot. But it’s a good time to invest. It’s an opportunity for startups to rethink their model and challenge the way they were seeing things before.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
COVID-19 confirmed our strategy was right … to focus on local competitiveness in the backbones of our economy: smart living, life sciences and tech. But within each sector, each company may be impacted differently. So a case-by-case analysis and in-depth due diligence is a necessity more than ever. Our advice to startups is to consider this environment will stay for another year and to plan the cash flows very carefully.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
The last lockdown giving much more freedom to companies to continue to operate and witness that many of them adapted their way of working to stay operational.

Frederic Convent, partner, TheClubDeal

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Smart living, life sciences, tech.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Univercells Series C.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
More companies active in smart living, life sciences and tech.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Blockchain and crypto.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
50%.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Fintech is doing well in Brussels. We like an Antwerp mortgage B2B fintech: Oper.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
As a well-educated multicultural, multilingual environment.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Most startups are already used to working remotely so the impact for the hubs is less, as they and their clients proved able to work elsewhere.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19?
Travel and hospitality will suffer a lot in this COVID crisis. Life sciences are well-positioned to address the crisis.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
COVID confirmed our strategy to invest in local companies and with a sector focus on smart living, life sciences and tech.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
In medtech, essential medical intervention some green shoots benefit from the crisis.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
The last lockdown pushed companies to adapt their business model and to focus on the new situation.

Alexandre Dutoit, partner, ScaleFund

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
We aim at bridging the equity gap between seed rounds and Series A.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Kaspard, a silver economy company having developed a fall-detection technology.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
We like B2B. Industry 4.0 type of deals lack a bit in our opinion.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Above all, we need a great team. Then we want to see some commercial traction, being POCs, first contracts.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Food tech appears to us as an overcrowded space. A lot of B2C entrepreneurs are doing “more of the same.”

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
We focus on Belgium and neighboring countries.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Biotech is definitely a hit in Belgium. Fintech and music tech are also growing.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
The ecosystem is very dynamic, with great opportunities. While valuations are usually lower compared to other hubs in Europe, there is quite some money available on the market.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
I don’t see that coming, especially as entrepreneurs like to network, share experiences and be in an emulative environment.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?

Very few, as great teams are able to adapt. We have in our portfolio a company closely tied to events that has been able to rethink its business model and is now even more profitable compared to before the crises. Besides, companies that foster remote work or can install service at a distance will be short-term winners.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
COVID has not impacted our strategy. Entrepreneurs are afraid of the uncertainty and lack of perspective. We encourage them to prepare themselves for the next opened window and to work on tech and processes, while reassuring them on the financing side.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Utopix, a startup linked to the event industry, has been able to rethink its business model as their sales were falling down. They have down their best month ever since then.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
I have seen hope after the summer period when companies were angry to do business again. Unfortunately, that hasn’t lasted very long. We try to remain positive and focus on important things.

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
Brussels is a growing scene for startups, very well-connected to Europe and international by nature.

Olivier de Duve, partner, Inventures Investment Partners

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
At Inventures, we invest in a range of startups that have strong financial returns and a measurable social and environmental impact. Looking to 2021, we’re most excited about the mobility sector, HR tech, the blue economy (investing in technologies around water and ocean health) and the circular economy. These sectors started to grow rapidly in Europe, and we’re excited to source some great deals in the coming year.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
We just led a round in MySkillCamp, a Belgian HR tech company that equips SMEs and corporates with an adaptable platform for employee learning. MySkillCamp has been stunning us with their rapid growth, even during the pandemic, and it’s a testament to the fact that companies need solutions for upskilling and reskilling their workforce.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
I’ll flip this question to be investor-centric. We’d really like to see more impact venture capital firms that are active in the Series B and beyond stage in Europe. For now, the largest impact VCs are concentrated in the US — having that source of capital here in Brussels or in neighboring ecosystems will help earlier-stage European VCs continue to scale and support their portfolio companies in later rounds. Having that access to capital is key for making a sustainable ecosystem.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Our investment thesis is to find startups that are financially strong and tackle one of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Broadly that has meant companies in health, mobility, renewable energy, climate and more. As we’re rounding out our second fund, our next investment has to hit our sweet spot of clear commercial traction, a stellar team and solid plans for scaling internationally.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Several markets are oversaturated like shared light vehicle scooters or telemedicine solutions. D2C medical devices is also a tough market to break into. Given the pandemic situation, startups active in the recreational sector like tourism and sport are struggling more than ever. All products or services that are not digital are less resilient and will need to shift as soon as possible.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
About half of our startups are coming from Belgium. We’ve historically invested in the U.K., France, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, however we’re open to investing across the EU.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Two sectors that come to mind are mobility and health. Belgium is a hyperconnected country, and mobility startups that address user needs for a more sustainable and efficient transportation will do well here. As for health, Belgium has a dynamic ecosystem of health actors, from biotech firms, universities, and startups and scaleups. We follow the #BeHealth initiative, which unites the various parts of the Belgian health sector. One company that we wanted to highlight is Citizen Lab — they are a digital democracy platform that helps local governments organize voting, participatory budgeting and more. They’re setting the conversation around civic tech and we’re so excited to see what the founders Wietse Van Ransbeeck and Aline Muylaert have in store for 2021.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Belgium is a multicultural, multilingual country — so startups that are grown here naturally are positioning themselves for international expansion, whether first to France or the Netherlands or beyond. For investors that are scoping opportunities in Belgium, they should recognize that Belgian startups are well-suited for international growth and a role that they could play as investors is helping to introduce Belgian startups to other markets.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
As a small and very dense country, Belgium already has a distributed founder geography. In Brussels we have Co.Station, which is home to dozens of startups. However, we also see strong growth in innovation coming from Leuven, Ghent, Antwerp, Liege — and these cities are maximum two hours away by train. Our latest investment, MySkillCamp, for example, is based in Tournai, with an office in Brussels.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
We found out in our portfolio that companies are quite resilient to the crisis because they are addressing societal issues like health, climate and energy. SaaS companies or other digital services are also less exposed, which points out that digitalization is key to survive. Companies that are highly dependent on large governmental contracts could be more exposed to shifts in spending patterns due to COVID.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
COVID-19 has not impacted our investment strategy so much as our post-investment strategy. Since the pandemic started, we’ve been “all hands on deck” with helping our portfolio companies weather the storm — from organizing new fundraising to scoping out new markets and helping on strategic growth projects. We’ve been advising our companies to make sure that they have enough cash to last until the end of next 2021 at least. What we’re seeing is that contracts are taking longer to be signed, especially for our companies looking to partner with governments that are more cash strapped and limited because of the pandemic.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Definitely! On the ecosystem level, we’ve seen a lot of fundraising activity in the last six months, particularly in the health and biotech sector — one example of that is Belgium-based Univercells. For our portfolio, we’ve seen that tools that serve governments and the transition to a more digital economy has created enormous opportunities for our B2B and B2G companies to thrive during this time.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
A few moments have given us hope during 2020. Seeing the racial reckoning in the U.S. spark conversations in Europe about justice and D&I has given me a lot of hope around the role of the venture capital and startup sector in creating a more equal society. Initiatives like Diversity VC are helping us to do that. Also, the sheer number of startups with climate benefits, from cultured meat to sustainable packaging and more, has showcased the financial viability and the demand for expanding the world’s options for sustainability — another large societal challenge.

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
Belgium is home to a vibrant, active and fast-growing startup scene!

8 VCs agree: Behavioral support and remote visits make digital health a strong bet for 2021

By Sarah Buhr

In TechCrunch investor surveys of years past, we’ve seen a big focus on fixing what’s broken or bringing the infrastructure into the modern era. But the world has dramatically changed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More of us saw our doctor on video than ever before in 2020 — reaching a 300-fold increase in telehealth visits. It was the year healthcare finally moved fully into the digital space with data management solutions as well. And, though those digital visits have fallen slightly from the beginning of the pandemic, it doesn’t look like people want to go back to the way things were in the foreseeable future.

Now we’re onto the next phase where more people will be getting vaccinated, more of us will likely start to return to the office towards the end of the year, and there’s now a slew of new tech solutions to the issues 2020 presented. If you are investment-minded, as so many of our TechCrunch readers are, you will likely see a lot of potential in this space in 2021.

So we asked some of our favorite health tech VCs from The TechCrunch List where we are headed in the next year, what they’re most excited about and where they might be investing their dollars next. We asked each of them the same six questions, and each provided similar thoughts, but different approaches. Their responses have been edited for space and clarity:


Bryan Roberts and Bob Kocker, partners, Venrock

Do you see more consumer demand for digital services? How does this trend affect what you are looking to invest in for 2021?
The pandemic certainly intensified pressure on the legacy, fee-for-service, activity-based healthcare system since volumes dried up for several months. People were scared to go to the doctor and doctors who are only paid when they see patients saw their revenue evaporate overnight. Telemedicine offered some revenue salvation fee-for-service healthcare but it was impossible to do as many tests and procedures so they have by and large, since summer 2020, reverted back to in-person as much as possible for increased revenue capture.

On the other hand, value-based providers were, in the short term, more insulated as they are paid based on typical levels of utilization. Not surprisingly, COVID-19 has motivated more providers to embrace value-based care because it offers much more stable cash flows and does not depend on the tyranny of cramming more patients into the daily schedule.

With value-based care, the incentives are strongly aligned for more, and continued, tech-enabled virtual care since it is more profitable for those clinicians when they detect diseases earlier and take action to avoid hospitalizations. The beauty of virtual and tech-enabled care is that it can be delivered more frequently and group visits can be facilitated easily, with multiple specialists or people supporting a patient, to improve coordination and speed of action. Also, much more data can be brought to bear to make these interactions higher quality. Imagine how much better blood pressure is controlled when a doctor has not just the in-office reading but also all of the daily readings, or diabetic control when it is informed by all the data from a patient’s continuous glucose monitor, or post-surgical care when a surgeon can review daily pictures of the surgical site.

The enormity of the opportunity to make healthcare more productive and recession-proof growth from our aging population will attract more entrepreneurs and more capital to healthcare IT.

Digital health funding broke records in 2020, with investors pouring in over $10 billion in the first three quarters and a jump in deals overall, compared to the previous year. Do you see that trend continuing as we move back to offices and out of this pandemic or do you think this was a blip due to special circumstances?

We think growth in healthcare IT has been and will continue to be, driven by (1) better businesses and business models via aligned economic incentives and information and (2) some big wins in the space via Teladoc-Livongo merger and JD Health IPO — so both sides of the supply (great businesses) — demand (investor interest) equation. For payers, many healthcare providers and patients, it is in their interest to adopt more cost-effective approaches for care delivery and to access new data to derive insights and remove arbitrages. These prerequisites are strongly aligned in favor of more healthcare IT company formation, rapid growth and successful exits.

While people may spend more time receiving in-person HC in the future than today, we think the rapid adoption of virtual care in 2020 coupled with ever-stronger incentives for the healthcare system to emulate consumer technology usability and the never-ending imperative of improving affordability, will continue to drive demand for startups. We also think that downward cost pressures will drive demand for technology to replace fax-machine-era, labor-first administrative processes too.

What do you think are the biggest trends to look out for in the digital healthcare industry this next year, given we are likely toward the end of the year to see more workers return to the office and everyone resuming activities as they did before this pandemic hit?

We think that telehealth will become the “Intel Inside” for many of the full stack healthcare IT businesses — Medicare Advantage payers, navigation companies, virtual pharmacies, virtual primary care practices — and that patients will continue to embrace telehealth. As a result, payers will increasingly redesign how insurance benefits work to encourage every patient to start with a telehealth visit every time. In many cases, telehealth will be able to fully resolve the problem and if not, guide the patient, along with the relevant data, to the best next step in care. This will improve responsiveness and reduce costs. We do think that brick-and-mortar players will lag behind since they continue to have strong incentives for in-person care and procedures to cover their large fixed costs.

COVID-19 has also made inescapable the inadequacy of behavioral healthcare in America. We have observed this firsthand through our investment in Lyra Health, which experienced dramatic growth in 2020. We think greater access to behavioral health, better coordination of behavioral health and primary care, better use of medications and tech-enabled care for more complex behavioral health conditions are all large opportunities.

We also foresee virtual care growing in more specialty care areas as patients demand more convenient ways to access specialist expertise and value-based primary care doctors desire more rapid and cost-effective ways to co-manage patients.

How will the Biden administration possibly affect your funding strategy in the digital health field now that there’s a change of the guard?

Economic incentives to lower healthcare cost growth and the desire to use information and data to find arbitrages and insights are as aligned as ever. Remember, the law driving the adoption of new payment models is MACRA, which passed the Senate in a bipartisan 92-8 vote in 2015. This implies an uninterrupted effort to drive the adoption of value-based care in Medicare, Medicare Advantage and Medicaid. A Biden administration will also continue efforts to create more interoperable data systems and support telehealth adoption.

A Biden administration also reduces uncertainty around the permanence of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). They instead will focus their efforts on expanding coverage through enhanced subsidies to buy insurance, more marketing of ACA plans, greater support for e-broker enrollment and strong incentives for states to expand Medicaid. And we do not think Medicare for All will be seriously considered by a ~50/50 Senate, although it will likely be spoken about periodically and loudly by the far left.

What’s the biggest category in your mind for digital health this next year? Why is that?

“Technology-enabled, virtual-everything” as the initial journey in healthcare, until you need to visit a facility because in-person is necessary. In 2020, we witnessed about a decade of user adoption compressed into six months as COVID-19 made it scary, or even impossible, to access in-person healthcare. Nearly every clinician in America, and at about half of the population, conducted a virtual healthcare visit in 2020. What happened? Patients liked it. Clinicians found virtual visits useful. And going forward we think that most care will incorporate aspects of virtual care, asynchronous communication and in-person encounters only when a procedure is needed. As importantly, payers found these approaches to be more cost-effective since care was delivered more rapidly and with only the most necessary diagnostics tests ordered.

Finally, are there any rising startups in your portfolio we should keep our eyes on at TechCrunch? 

We have two portfolio companies that may be very compelling candidates:  Suki and NewCo Health.

Suki has created a virtual medical assistant that acts as a voice user interface for electronic health records, enabling a doctor to write their clinical notes, enter orders, view information and exchange data with other providers dramatically and more efficiently. They have launched primary care and specialist doctors across dozens of health systems in 2020.

NewCo Health is a startup trying to democratize access to world-class cancer outcomes. Starting initially in Asia, they are tech-enabling the diagnosis, treatment planning and care management processes for cancer patients, connecting expert clinicians to every cancer case.

6 investors on 2021’s mobile gaming trends and opportunities

By Lucas Matney

Many VCs historically avoided placing bets on hit-driven mobile gaming content in favor of clearer platform opportunities, but as more success stories pop up, the economics overturned conventional wisdom with new business models. As more accessible infrastructure allowed young studios to become more ambitious, venture money began pouring into the gaming ecosystem.

After tackling topics including how investors are looking at opportunities in social gaming, infrastructure bets and the moonshots of AR/VR, I asked a group of VCs about their approach to mobile content investing and whether new platforms were changing perspectives about opportunities in mobile-first and desktop-first experiences.

While desktop gaming has evolved dramatically in the past few years as new business models and platforms take hold, to some degree, mobile has been hampered. Investors I chatted with openly worried that some of mobile’s opportunities were being hamstrung by Apple’s App Store.

“We are definitely fearful of Apple’s ability to completely disrupt/affect the growth of a game,” Bessemer’s Ethan Kurzweil and Sakib Dadi told TechCrunch. “We do not foresee that changing any time in the near future despite the outcry from companies such as Epic and others.”

All the while, another central focus seems to be the ever-evolving push toward cross-platform gaming, which is getting further bolstered by new technologies. One area of interest for investors: migrating the ambition of desktop titles to mobile and finding ways to build cross-platform experiences that feel fulfilling on devices that are so differently abled performance-wise.

Madrona’s Hope Cochran, who previously served as CFO of Candy Crush maker King, said mobile still has plenty of untapped opportunities. “When you have a AAA game, bringing it to mobile is challenging and yet it opens up an entire universe of scale.”

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. We spoke with:

Hope Cochran and Daniel Li, Madrona Venture Group

Does it ever get any easier to bet on a gaming content play? What do you look for?

Hope Cochran: I feel like there are a couple different sectors in gaming. There’s the actual studios that are developing games and they have several approaches. Are they developing a brand new game, are they reimagining a game from 25 years ago and reskinning it, which is a big trend right now, or are they taking IP that is really trendy right now and trying to create a game around it? There are different ways to predict which ones of those might make it, but then there’s also the infrastructure behind gaming and then there’s also identifying trends and which games or studios are embracing those. Those are some of the ways I try to parse it out and figure out which ones I think are going to rise to the top of the list.

Daniel Li: There’s this single-player narrative versus multiplayer metaverse and I think people are more comfortable on the metaverse stuff because if you’re building a social network and seeing good early traction, those things don’t typically just disappear. Then if you are betting more on individual studios producing games, I think the other thing is we’re seeing more and more VCs pop up that are just totally games-focused or devoting a portion of the portfolio to games. And for them it’s okay to have a hits-driven portfolio.

There seems to be more innovation happening on PC/console in terms of business models and distribution, do you think mobile feels less experimental these days? Why or why not?

Hope Cochran: Mobile is still trying to push the technology forward, the important element of being cross-platform is difficult. When you have a AAA game, bringing it to mobile is challenging and yet it opens up an entire universe of scale. The metrics are also very different for mobile though.

Daniel Li: It seems like the big monetization innovation that has happened over the last couple of years has been the “battle pass” type of subscription where you can unlock more content by playing. Obviously that’s gone over to mobile, but it doesn’t feel like mobile has had some sort of new monetization unlock. The other thing that’s happened on desktop is the success of the “pay $10 or $20 or $20 for this indie game” type of thing, and it feels like that’s not going to happen on mobile because of the price points that people are used to paying.

Alice Lloyd George, Rogue VC

After a record year for Israeli startups, 16 investors tell us what’s next

By Mike Butcher

Israel’s startup ecosystem raised record amounts of funding and produced 19 IPOs in 2020, despite the pandemic. Now tech companies across industries are poised for an even better year, according to more than a dozen investors we talked to in the country.

Mainstay sectors like cybersecurity continue to matter, they said, but are maturing (more about that here). Some people are more excited by emerging areas like artificial intelligence, which has been a focus of the country’s military for years, and like cybersecurity is now producing many fresh teams of founders. Other investors felt that a broader range of industries, like fintech and biotech, would eventually produce the biggest companies in the country.

Overall, local investors cited the country’s focus on global markets from day one, general support from the Israeli government and deep relationships with Silicon Valley and other global tech centers as additional factors that are powering it forward today.

Here are the investors in their own words, for any TechCrunch reader who is interested in hiring, investing or founding a company in the country. Oh, and one more thing. We just launched Extra Crunch in Israel. Subscribe to access all of our investor surveys, company profiles and other inside tech coverage for startups everywhere. Save 25% off a one- or two-year Extra Crunch membership by entering this discount code: THANKYOUISRAEL

The investors:


Boaz Dinte, Qumra Capital

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
At Qumra, we get excited about companies that disrupt traditional industries while doing good and improving quality of life. Our portfolio includes some great examples such as Fiverr that has disrupted the labor market by unlocking the global talent pool, or Talkspace, which is providing access to therapy to all.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Our latest investment is At-bay, the insurance company for the digital age. At-bay offers an end-to-end solution with comprehensive risk assessment, a tailored cyber insurance policy, and active, risk-management service.

Traditional insurers don’t have the know-how to properly and continually assess risk and approach digital risk the same way they approach physical products, through a statistical model that tries to predict the future based on past events. This a great example of company that is disrupting a traditional market.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
As a growth fund, we are sector agnostic and diversify our investments across multiple industries. Would be happy to add proptech and agritech startups to our portfolio.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
We stay clear of nonregulated industries and do not invest in cryptocurrency-related companies, gambling, etc.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
We are focused on Israeli and Israeli-related companies. As growth companies they may have moved to NY or CA with their headquarters and maintained their R&D in Israel.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
A great amount of talent is cultivated in the military, which has spawned innovative cyber, AI and machine-learning companies. Also, significant experience and know-how have been accumulated here in big data analytics. SaaS models and cloud technologies have eliminated some of the barriers for Israeli companies and enable companies to quickly set up and set up a proof of concept.

A few highlights in our portfolio include AppsFlyer, JoyTunes, Riskified, Talkspace and Guardicore.

Data-driven AppsFlyer, spearheaded by Oren Kaniel, is an exciting mobile-attribution company that is rapidly growing ($200 million+ ARR in 2020) yet maintains a unique DNA. JoyTunes, led by Yuval Kaminka has developed a music-learning platform that has skyrocketed in 2020. The platform has been widely adopted doing so much good for so many people in a short amount of time. Guardicore is disrupting the traditional firewall market by providing fine-grained segmentation for greater attack resistance. Led by CEO Pavel Gurevich the company is seeing excellent traction. Riskified makes e-ommerce easier and safer and enables a thriving e-commerce environment. Founder duo Eido Gal and Assaf Feldman are a powerhouse of vision and execution capabilities. Talkspace has not only created the leading online therapy business, but is actually improving the quality of life of hundreds of thousands of Americans, which are gaining access to therapy for the first time. Founding husband and wife Oren and Roni Frank are the ultimate power couple — creating an incredible business while creating some real impact.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Tech investors must make sure that Israel is part of their portfolio. Same as VC funds are deeply acquainted with Silicon Valley, tech investors cannot ignore this hub of innovation that has produced global market leading companies and serial entrepreneurs

What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Products and services that require anything requiring on-site visits and integration as well as a long sales cycle involving face-to-face meetings and customer education are negatively impacted during this time. The upside is that companies that will develop a remote and simplified approach can reap gains from this time. Such an example is Augury from our portfolio that has developed an end-to-end solution to provide manufacturers with early, actionable and comprehensive insights into machine health and performance. This has proved to be of crucial value in the supply chain during the pandemic.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy?
Earlier in the month we have closed our third fund, Qumra III, at $260 million. This was done in a short time in a period when traveling and face-to-face meetings were impossible. Commitments to this fund, which is larger than its predecessor, included increased investments form existing LPs as well as new LPs from new geographies. This is a vote of confidence in the Israeli growth market in general and in Qumra in particular and has been a great achievement and source of hope going forward.

Rafi Carmeli, Viola Growth

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Platforms that are transforming how people and businesses operate, go about their business or leverage their core assets, using superior products, data and AI.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Zoomin Software.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Transformation of the CFO and treasury suite of tools.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
A+ team, superior product demonstrated with business/market traction and a sizable market opportunity.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?

Any area that needs to compete both with incumbents and also a set of already successful “new age” companies that made the first step of meaningful disruption.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
More than 50%.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?

Plenty of interesting opportunities but like many places, competitive around the best of the best.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Definitely see changes in evolution of young startups given the behavioral changes caused by COVID.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Any area that is exposed to mass physical engagement (pockets in travel, food, sports, etc.) are at risk. Remote engagement and productivity have potential to disrupt more industries, such as corporate events/virtual events.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Founders are generally resilient and based on their view on the company’s position post-COVID (winner/at risk) and the capital resources available, should decide on appropriate level of caution/aggressiveness.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes in many areas. In general software has proven to be a winner and specifically SaaS as a business model has proven its resilience.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
The speed and decisiveness at which humanity acted to adjust to the effects and aftermath of the pandemic, and importantly to proactively get us all out of the health and economic crisis as quickly as possible (e.g., the speed of creating vaccines).

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
If something won’t matter in five years, don’t waste more than five minutes worrying about it now — easier said than done!

Yonatan Mandelbaum, TLV Partners

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Fintech (specifically embedded finance or financial SaaS), synthetic bio. This is in addition to traditional focus areas that we remain bullish on — cloud infrastructure, ML infra and cyber.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Unit.co, meshpayments.com.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
There simply isn’t enough innovation in fintech from the Israeli ecosystem. Our locale has managed to produce three of the most prolific insurtech companies (Next, Lemonade and Hippo), has a strong history of successful fintech companies (Payoneer, Forter, Riskified) and even has a few very promising earlier-stage ventures (Unit, Melio). That said, only about 10% of our overall deal flow are fintech companies. Areas such as vertical banking, embedded finance, compliance as a service and consumer finance consistently get overlooked by young Israeli founders.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
The cliche VC answer: strong team, big market. This remains constant during all times.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
(1) Cybersecurity — with one caveat. Israel will always be at the forefront of cyber innovation, and thus there will always be an opportunity for fledgling cyber companies in Israel. That said, it is 100% oversaturated, and there are too many examples of strong technical founders creating “yet another” SaaS security startup. (2) Remote work collaboration — clearly an issue that needs solving, but we have unsurprisingly seen an absurd amount of companies in the space. They are largely reactionary companies, and the companies that will prove to be the winners in this market have already been in the market for quite some time (Zoom, Alack, Miro, etc.).

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
More than 50%.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Fintech and bio are very well-positioned to thrive in Israel. In 10 years I wouldn’t be surprised if Israel is more well-known for those two sectors than it is for its cyber companies. Some companies to keep an eye on: Next Insurance, Unit, Mesh Payments, Aidoc, Deepcure, Immunai.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
I’m not saying anything new, but Israel is known as the startup nation for a reason. There is an incredible, thriving entrepreneurship culture that breeds fascinating companies weekly. Interestingly, valuation trends seem to trail the U.S. by about 12-18 months. So for later-stage VCs around the globe, Israel can represent an interesting opportunity to do deals of the same quality that they are doing in their locale, but for a more reasonable price.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Not particularly. Israel a small country, and even if there may be a residential exodus from Tel Aviv, there won’t be a commercial one.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Travel and proptech are more exposed due to COVID-19.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
COVID hasn’t impacted our investment strategy much. We have remained steady in our search for interesting early-stage software opportunities and our commitment to invest substantial amounts even at the seed round. The biggest worries of the portfolio founders surround slower enterprise sales cycles due to WFH and smaller budgets from potential customers. Our early advice to founders was to ensure runway for 18 months in order to weather the storm. Recently however, after witnessing the incredibly founder-friendly fundraising landscape, our advice has been to put the pedal to the metal, reach certain benchmarks and raise capital.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
No, there still hasn’t been enough time. That said, I will say that the initial enthusiasm of WFH has faded. The vast majority of our companies are clamoring to be back in the office.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
My grandparents both recently passed away from COVID-19. Despite the tragic loss that it was for my family, there was one moment that truly gave me hope. I had the opportunity to visit my grandmother in the COVID ward at a local hospital before she passed (in full protective gear of course). Before entering the ward, while the nurses were going over the protocols with me and four other individuals who were there to visit their sick family members, I was surprised to realize that the five of us in the room were an eclectic bunch. Jewish, Muslim, religious and not, young and old. In that moment, we all gave each other strength, wished each other well and it gave me hope that we can truly become a unified country in the near future. The next exponential growth that occurs in the Israeli ecosystem will be when there is an influx of minorities (Arabs, ultra-Orthodox) into the workforce.

Natalie Refuah, Viola Growth

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
DevOps, martech, digital health.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
RapidAPI.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Exciting team, hypergrowth, disruptiveness.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Cyber, automotive.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Close to 100%.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
DevOps, cyber, enterprise software.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Very positively.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
There will be changes, that’s for sure.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19?

E-commerce tech-related companies will thrive.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
We lowered our check size per company. My advice — if you are “with COVID trend” push hard, if you are “against COVID trend” — preserve cash.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
More time with my kids, but in general I miss hugging people when i meet them, and I prefer meeting people face to face.

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
Let the vaccine go!

Daniel Cohen, Viola Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Games, vertical AI and AI agencies, digital health.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Hyperguest, creating direct connectivity between hotels and OTAs. It’s the perfect next-gen travel infrastructure for the world post-pandemic.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
The biggest trend in the post-COVID world will be the new work environment. We would love to see more startups that will create corporate solutions that are focused on the future of work. That can be at the workplace or at the home.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Unique, innovative go-to-market. Leveraging technology to reach consumers in a more innovative way. It’s basically innovation in growth hacking, not only in great products.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Cybersecurity — the market is real and important, but there are too many startups with small niche solutions.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
More than 50%.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
The most exciting trends locally are everything AI with focus on B2B apps. Same goes with digital health and consumer-focused health applications.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Israel is the #1 region globally in unicorn production, probably the hottest startup region right now.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
No.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?

The biggest change has been on company culture, which is hard to maintain in a distributed work-from-home environment. Companies need to be innovative and creative in maintaining/building culture, which was so much easier pre-COVID.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic? What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.

The announcements around the vaccines make it clear that the end of the pandemic is near. I think 2021 will be amazing.

Ben Wiener, Jumpspeed Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Jumpspeed invests exclusively in pre-seed and seed-stage startups from the Jerusalem startup ecosystem.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
MDGo.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Not really, we are sector agnostic/bottom-up rather than thesis driven.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
10x better, paradigm-shift solution to a large, near-term, acute business problem, produced and led by a complementary founding team (hacker+hustler+designer).

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Cybersecurity, crypto, telehealth.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
EXCLUSIVELY, see above.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Jerusalem is well-positioned in certain clusters such as computer vision, general enterprise SaaS, AI/ML and healthtech.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Our city’s startup ecosystem is underexploited and generates a few fantastic under-the-radar opportunities per year.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Yes.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Little direct impact on strategy because by definition I am investing in things that will go to market and ripen over years.

Founders’ biggest worries are employee well-being, after that access to overseas customers and markets.

Advice to founders: Stay calm and healthy, play the long game, take care of yourself, your family and your employees, don’t panic or cut staff reactively.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes but not that I can attribute directly to the pandemic.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
No specific moment, just the general resilience and ability to adapt to the radically changing new realities that our portfolio founders have exhibited.

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
“Entrepreneurship in advanced technology, is not merely a matter of decision-making; it is a matter of imposing cognitive order on situations that are repeatedly ill-defined.” — W. Brian Arthur, “The Nature of Technology”

No situation has been this ill-defined in the past century. Keep calm and carry on :-)

Inbal Perlman, TAU Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
At TAU, we are interested in a variety of sectors and evaluate each potential investment independently. In regards to trends, we look at trends with a grain of salt understanding that trends might come and go. When we see a particular trend, we try to understand if there is a need behind the trend and see beyond the initial hype. We want to assure that a startup is meeting a real need in the market. We are particularly interested in technologies that do not require too much time and capital to get to market.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
We invested in a company called Xtend, which is creating human-machine telepresence allowing us to “step into” a machine, anywhere in the world, breaking the limits of physical reality. In particular, it develops solutions that allow people to interact with drones and other unmanned machine technologies. The company’s technology enables humans to extend themselves into the action by allowing them to virtually sit inside the drone for various tactical missions. What is exciting about Xtend is how the technology can be implemented in a variety of ways from defense and homeland security to reimagining entertainment, gaming and cinematography.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
We like to see startups that are disrupting traditional industries by solving basic challenges and needs with innovative means. There are some industries that haven’t changed in many years. And if you create a technology that can be simply integrated into existing markets, it has the potential to gain significant traction and drastically change an industry. So we would love to see more startups going “back to the basics” asking questions about commonly felt pain points and innovating to solve those pains.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
We want to get the feeling from the entrepreneur that they are professional, ready for the entrepreneurial journey, have the right mindset and skill set and will conquer the world. We understand that with early-stage startups, the product or service will likely change and therefore pay significant attention to the entrepreneurs themselves as an early indicator of future success.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Technology trends that often come and go can create an oversaturated market for startups. For example, previously there was hype around drones. Now, only the strongest companies in the drone industry have stuck around. Today, there are many startups responding to needs exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic such as remote learning and remote work. It is important to filter out whether these are solutions that will be around for a while and survive a post-COVID world or are temporary.

We are more cautious about particular industries. In edtech, those who have successfully done exits, have done so at low amounts ($200 million-$300 million). For us, we are seeking larger exits. Blockchain is a difficult sector because it lacks a clear regulatory environment, subsequently raising many questions. Similarly, the cannabis industry also does not have a fixed regulatory environment across countries. Any small regulation change can highly impact the company. These are the sectors and areas that we are more cautious around.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
We invest in startups that are exclusively Israeli startups but are targeted for a global market. At TAU Ventures, we have 1,000 sq. meter coworking office space where majority of our portfolio companies and accelerator program companies sit on a daily basis. On a daily basis we are engaging with our startups through kitchen chats and hallway encounters. Through our coworking space, we are directly investing in our local ecosystem both supporting entrepreneurs and identifying rising entrepreneurs.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
In Israel, many Israeli entrepreneurs bring a high level of technical capabilities that they learn in the army such as in cyber and AI. After acquiring this knowledge and ability, they are well-prepared and able to transfer it to the commercial area. This is why we see many successful startups coming out of Israel particularly in these fields.
For example, founders of our portfolio company, SWIMM all come from leading elite tech training units in the army (Aram, Talpiot) and before founding SWIMM, established ITC (Israel Tech Challenge, a nonprofit high-tech academy that offers in-demand tech training programs in English in Tel Aviv, inspired by the IDF’s 8200 unit).
Furthermore, Tel Aviv University (TAU), our affiliated university, is a leading research institute and academic leader in AI, engineering and other sciences and is producing entrepreneurs with high levels of knowledge. 50% of entrepreneurs in Israel have studied at TAU. And TAU ranked eighth worldwide as a top university producing VC-backed entrepreneurs, and the first outside of the US. So we are very excited by the added advantage we have in being affiliated closely with the university and the talent which it is producing.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
The significant advantage of Israel is its small size. Because there is little to no local market, startups automatically think globally in their marketing and growth strategies. To best understand Israel and Israelis, it’s important to understand the influence of the military and the reality of thriving in a complex political environment in the Middle East. Military service is compulsory for all Israelis at the age of 18. The army plays an important role in the socialization, education, skills development, social network and fabric of Israeli society. Many personal and professional networks are the result of army service. As Israelis, we live in an environment where we need to constantly be innovative and one step ahead to survive. This innovative mindset has been instilled in our state of mind and cultural DNA.
We are proud that In Israel we have academics at the highest level in the world across a variety of fields. Multinationals from all over the world have local R&D centers or innovation hubs in Israel to source from the local talent pool. This presence of multinationals creates mutual exposure for both startups and corporates alike.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
At TAU Ventures, the majority of our portfolio and accelerator companies sit next to us at our 1,000 sq. meter coworking space. At our offices, we love seeing our founders and their employees on a regular basis. This is how we have successfully created a strong familial culture at our VC. Throughout COVID, companies have continued to come in person to the office. This has reinforced to us that there is no exchange for face-to-face engagement. As early-stage investors, we understand that at this stage it is all about the people. At the end of the day, people want to be around people and you can not replace the experience of sharing a cup of coffee and shaking someone’s hand.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19?
COVID affected companies in different ways. For some, it boosted business and for others it led them to shift their strategy and approach. Our companies who had clients in the travel industry or airports were obviously affected. In this situation, the company looked at their technology and reconsidered where and how their technology could be relevant to other consumers and industries. This particular company saw an opportunity to shift to logistics and supply chain clients. COVID is presenting opportunities for companies to reevaluate their target market and discover new applications of their technology for different purposes.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
As a result of COVID, we have come to understand that things simply are taking more time, such as processes of raising funds or achieving the next milestone. We are patient and empathetic to the experiences of our startups.

The startups’ most significant worry is that they will not succeed to raise enough funds before reaching their next milestone. And more so, if they are unable to prove their achievement milestones in time, then they might be forced to close business. As a result, our startups are raising more funds during this time to assure a longer runway. Our startups are also keenly aware of how periods of crisis might call on them to pivot and adapt to the current circumstances. Startups are making decisions around adjusting budgets, determining whether customers are still relevant, anticipating whether the circumstances are temporary or will renormalize and ultimately whether there is a completely new path to pivot to.
In light of the circumstances, we are advising our portfolio startups to raise more funds in next rounds to have runway for at least 1.5 years and not to be afraid of making drastic changes (i.e., pivots, changing budget, raising more funds).

As a fund, we are assuring our entrepreneurs that if they choose to change paths, it is okay. Working from a coworking space alongside many of our founders enables us to stay updated on the startups, foster a strong internal ecosystem and network, and provide ongoing psychological safety for our entrepreneurs, which is ever so needed during these unprecedented times for startups.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Two of our portfolio companies have experienced impressive growth and are thriving in 2020.
1. Gaviti is a SaaS company that specializes in receivable collections acceleration. Its system maps out the collection process to spot inefficiencies and optimize clients’ procedures. Specifically during COVID, many companies had increased economic pain points related to generating cash flow on a timely, efficient basis. Gaviti’s solution helps companies manage their collection payments. As a result of of the economic crisis this year, Gaviti saw fast growth in clients and have thrived during 2020.
2. Medorion understands that health companies and hospitals want us to get regular health checkouts. Using AI and behavioral science, Medorion is driving people to take action for their own health by increasing engagement and communication between insurance companies and patients. During COVID, they are combating the coronavirus pandemic by applying their technology to create highly personalized engagement and communication plans targeted at those individuals who are at highest risk of COVID-19.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
In recent months, it is inspiring to see our entrepreneurs continue fighting despite the uncertain economic and global circumstances. Many of our companies are continuing to recruit and hire. Our founders are resilient and are finding creative means to succeed. It is also a blessing to have a large coworking space hosting the offices of 10 startups and to see employees continue to come in to the office day in and day out working with their teams.

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
TAU Ventures is a venture capital fund, affiliated with Tel Aviv University, for investing in early-stage, cutting-edge technologies based in Israel. TAU Ventures is the first and only university-affiliated VC in Israel.

The fund has a unique, triangle model creating ecosystem connections between industry, academy and entrepreneurs. We connect to available resources at Tel Aviv University, foster strong partnerships in the high-tech industry and support entrepreneurs as they work side by side in the coworking office space of the VC located on the university campus.

TAU Ventures also runs incubation programs in a variety of tech fields and offers a vibrant hub for entrepreneurs with concrete opportunities for design partnerships with international leading companies: AlphaC program (in partnership with NEC, Checkpoint, Innogy, Team8 and Cybereason) and The Xcelerator (an acceleration program with the Israeli Security Agency).
In 2018, IVC awarded TAU Ventures an award for one of the most active VCs in Israel. And in 2019, Geektime ranked TAU Ventures among the top five best VCs in Israel.

David (Dede) Goldschmidt, Samsung Catalyst Fund

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Digital transformation and AI.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Solarisbank (Germany).

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
AI-acceleration technologies seems to be overcrowded.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Less than 50%.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
AI, cyber security. Excited about our portfolio company Innoviz (LiDAR). Excited about Avigdor Willenz, serial entrepreneur, including our portfolio company Habana Labs that was acquired for $2 billion.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Highly dynamic and competitive, very global approach of entrepreneurs, risk takers, “can-do” approach.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
I don’t expect that to happen because a strong ecosystem of entrepreneurs, investors and service providers would be needed, and it takes years for that to grow.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19?
Industries serving brick-and-mortars are likely to get weakened by accelerated transition to online.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Our advice has been to be careful with cash. There is a disconnect between the strong momentum in the tech financing vis-a-vis overall economic crisis (unemployment, governments deficits, etc.). We have yet to see the full impact of COVID-19 on tech startups and better be prepared for that.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes, for pure digital plays.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
Frankly, I remain concerned because of the disconnect alluded to above. Vaccine momentum brings some hope, but too early to tell.

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
I am very concerned from potential crunch in early stage. While overall financing numbers are growing almost across all geographies, investments are heavily weighted toward later stage and unicorns, and much fewer new companies are being formed. This will have dramatic impact on the tech ecosystem a few years out, if it does not change in 2021.

Dror Nahumi, Norwest Venture Partners

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
We are a large fund that invests in early-to-late-stage companies across a wide range of sectors with a focus on consumer, enterprise and healthcare. My focus is primarily in Israeli companies and I’m seeing many exciting startups in security, SaaS, enterprise and cloud infrastructure, robotics and semiconductors.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
We are naturally excited about all our latest investments. I recently invested in three seed-stage companies that are in stealth mode: an open-source cloud infrastructure company, a people analytics (HR) SaaS company and a next-generation business-intelligence platform.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
I believe there is a massive opportunity for startups to develop new solutions to fuel the digitization of next-generation enterprises. We’re seeing innovation and activity in this sector, but there’s so much more to be done, especially in light of challenges and vulnerabilities that COVID-19 has exposed. The hottest areas will be in human resources, production, security, infrastructure, sales and remote work.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
We look for a great team, strong intellectual property and compelling execution. The new product idea can be a replacement (i.e., replace existing products that are aging, low performance) or a new category. Gong.io is a great example of a new category we invested in early on. We created the new “revenue intelligence” category that offers businesses automated, unfiltered and real-time insights on customer interactions and deals. This helps businesses understand what’s actually being said to transform the way they go to market.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Security is currently oversaturated. There are too many companies doing similar things, which can make it difficult for newcomers to break through. Additionally, most emerging security startups are all claiming to use machine learning and AI to combat the next level of breaches. These are important areas to focus on, but it’s getting harder for these companies to differentiate themselves. That aside, we have made several great investments in security over the years and will continue to invest in great teams.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Our team in Israel is 100% focused on our local market.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Numerous industries in the Israeli market are poised to thrive and are doing so currently. Examples include startups in the security, SaaS, enterprise and the cloud infrastructure space, and even consumer services. We are especially excited to continue to witness the growth and success of Gong, VAST Data, WekaIO, Cynet, Wiliot, ActiveFence, Ermetic and SundaySky while building new companies who are still in the stealth stage.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
At Norwest and especially among our Israel portfolio companies, we’ve been able to let our companies mature. We’ve given them the time and support they need to reach maturity. This is a very different approach than what we are seeing in other environments.

Today, growth comes before M&A and companies get valuations much quicker. In past years, it was hard to raise money but it’s not so difficult now. In Israel, inside sales and marketing analytics allow companies to sell more effectively now than in the last decade. This gives entrepreneurs flexibility, room to expand into other markets and the ability to hire top talent globally versus just within their own region.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Israel is so small that you are never really too far outside a major city. We expect our startup hub to stay intact even if individuals and businesses choose to move slightly outside of the main CBD.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
The travel industry has been massively impacted in every market globally since the COVID-19 outbreak. That said, that means there is a huge opportunity to fill gaps based on business and consumer needs as we approach a post-pandemic normal.

I would say that solutions with huge potential are those centered on hybrid workforces as enterprises rethink the future of work. These have the potential to significantly benefit from the pandemic in the short and long term.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
COVID-19 has not impacted our investment strategy. However, in recent conversations with our portfolio companies, it’s clear that brands can emerge stronger than ever with an adaptable strategy, adjusted expectations, strong marketing and B2C communications, and compassionate leadership.

Over the past several months, we’ve advised companies in our portfolio to focus on building their business while prioritizing the safety of their workforce, which could mean further extending work-from-home policies or making remote work a standard option in their hiring practices. Companies’ ability to innovate and adapt while building their business around the new normal will be better positioned to succeed in a post-COVID landscape.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
While it’s not one particular moment, there were many times this past year where our portfolio companies faced major challenges due to the pandemic and were still able to continue to expand their businesses. Every sales quarter that shows growth and success gives me hope.

Sharin Fisher, Fort Ross Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
I’m mostly excited about AI/ML technologies, cybersecurity companies and the global opportunity in B2B SaaS companies in general; companies that help to optimize business processes and boost efficiency (e.g., one of our portfolio companies, Kryon, is operating in the robotic process automation space, evaluating business processes, and recommending which ones to automate in order to free up underutilized human talent). We are seeing many successful Israeli SaaS companies across the board, from marketing and collaboration tools, business intelligence products, to payment systems.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
My latest investment was in a B2B SaaS company that disrupts a huge market. I’m mostly excited about the team, which contains senior executives and second-time entrepreneurs with domain expertise.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?

We are looking for companies that have a big market, a compelling story and a clear path to building a large business. When we invest, companies already have traction, a diverse customer base, established and repeatable sales process and metrics. So, when we dive deeper into the company’s metrics we would like to see they support the company’s assumptions and ability to scale up properly.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
WFH enablement tools (from security to communication tools).

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
We are a global VC with a distributed team, focused on investing in midstage companies based in the U.S. and Israel, that can become global leaders. I’m leading our investments in the Israeli companies, globally.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Israel is well-positioned to build and grow large companies that can become segment leaders. We are seeing many leading companies across multiple sectors such as mobility (Moovit, Mobileye), cybersecurity (Armis, Cybereason, SentinelOne), fintech (Lemonade, Payoneer, eToro), information technology (Jfrog, Snyk), etc.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
The Israeli ecosystem has matured significantly over the last decade, mainly due to repeat entrepreneurs who bring knowledge and relevant experience to the table. They aspire to build meaningful companies. On top of that, there’s more available late-stage capital, allowing companies to stay private longer and become mega-acquisitions/IPO.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
The COVID-19 crisis has impacted Israeli founders in terms of how and from where they work. As many Israeli startups aim to tap into the U.S. market, they usually relocate pretty early on, mainly to build relationships with potential customers. Since the pandemic has created a situation where you have to sell your product/service remotely, physical location has become less relevant. In the short term, I believe we’ll see more Israeli founders working out of Israel, especially when taking into account the advantages (e.g., lower cost of living compared to other places like NYC/San Francisco). In the long run, there’s a high probability that founders who can keep the same sales efficiency remotely will continue to work out of their home country.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
All of the segments we look at are thriving or haven’t changed significantly. I’m mostly interested in startups that are able to sell remotely and have an established inside sales team with a simple integration/deployment, because I believe they are in a better position to scale faster even in this climate.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Our investment strategy remains the same; we are still looking to back companies that can become global leaders and aspire to disrupt huge markets. In terms of the work with our portfolio companies, our founders have already made the needed adjustments and are now more focused on capital efficiency and expanding the runway.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Most of our portfolio adapted to the crisis quite fast and have enough runway to reach their next milestone. For some of our portfolio companies, especially those that support the digital transformation, the pandemic has created business opportunities and accelerated the adoption of their technology. As a result, we deployed additional capital to help them leverage this momentum.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
Although the pandemic has created uncertainty for all of us, we have still been seeing more (+14) Israeli companies reaching unicorn status/going public during the past months.

Adi Levanon Chazan, Flint Capital

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Sensi.ai.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
A bit over 50% of the portfolio are Israeli startups, the remaining 50% divide between Europe and the U.S.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Fintech has been continuing to grow and will thrive over time. I’m excited about companies like Melio, Unit, Acrocharge and Rapyd.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Very important to have local partners and try to expand the local network as much as possible, best would be to have a person on the ground dedicated to Israeli investments.

Chaim Meir Tessler, partner, OurCrowd

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Fintech, cloud services, quantum software, cyber.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Closed at time of writing this: D-ID.
Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Built from the ground up remote educational platforms.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Founders I like to work with and believe in.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Micromobility, autonomous car sensors.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
60%-70% local.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Cyber, computer vision, semiconductor, quantum computing all thrive.

The banking infrastructure companies starting to emerge look fantastic.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Great market, easy to network, mostly friendly to coinvestment.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
With the world becoming flat, innovation will definitely sprout up in new areas.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy?
COVID hasn’t strongly affected our overall strategy other than a slowdown in March/April. The biggest worry is inadequate funding/runway.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
Realizing that we landed in this pandemic on a moment in history that we had the tools needed to enable a large amount of the world’s population to continue working without having to be in a specific physical location.

Noam Kaiser, Intel Capital

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Cloud adoption through digital transformation to hybrid cloud, 5G, vertical AI-based SaaS.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Cellwize — basically opening up RAN (4G and 5G) to any API, cloud environment compatibility.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Solution allowing application to run across data sources in multiple buckets across hybrid/multicloud environments.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Deep understanding of the area and the customer needs, a complementing trend, high revenue potential within five years.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
MLOps, too many, too quickly, Storage at large.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
More.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Safebreach — Red Team automation for cybersecurity teams, Verbit — vertical AI, transcription.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
It hasn’t slowed down, plenty of opportunity, you have to move fast.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
I don’t see the pandemic having that effect. Hubs will remain as are.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19?
Anything relying on on-prem slowed down; this can be semiconductors and retail. but it’s recovering.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Not really, we invest the same amount into the same amount of companies at same stages as before.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes, deals are closing, financing is taking place as well as M&As.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
Simply lively investment atmosphere, new up rounds and several M&A processes emerging.

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
Careful optimism, raise aggressively and cash up when possible, refresh the pipeline and get to it, corporates are back into closing deals.

Tal Slobodkin, StageOne Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Cloud computing and​ software infrastructure​/cybersecurity/DevOps/connected everything/deep compute, big data and AI/next-generation storage and data center.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
R-Go Robotics are pioneering an artificial perception technology that enables mobile robots to understand complex surroundings and operate autonomously just like humans.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
More sophisticated cyber solutions, additional MLOps technologies, AI solutions.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Deep-tech technology solving complex enterprise challenges.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
We see a lot of could monitoring services/SaaS cloud startups all competing with very similar technologies.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Israel 85%; USA 15% — always looking to expand in the U.S. market as well.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
StageOne portfolio companies: Coralogix, Silverfort, Epsagon, Avanan, Neuroblade. Other companies: OwnBackup/RunAI/Verbit/Indegy — all based in Israel.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Less relevant for Israel and more for the U.S., but yes we will probably see new founders from different geographies, which is a good thing, giving new opportunities to people that before may have not considered starting a company.

What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
We do see that COVID-19 has less of an effect on the cybersecurity industry as many organizations are looking for new solutions, as the risk of cyberattacks increases due to remote working and refocusing a lot of their activity to the digital world.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Our companies continue to adapt and make the necessary changes and plans for the near future. Most of the companies have continued the work-from-home policy.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Seeing our companies continue to grow and expand both in people and product. They all adapted to the situation for both the short term and long run. They have continued to raise funds and some companies have even developed additional products to assist with COVID-19-related issues.

Ayal Itzkoviz, partner, Pitango First

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Disruption in traditional markets yearning innovation, such as retail, insurtech, logistics, etc.

B2B2B: Companies no longer wish to build things they can buy. Buying key components of the product/software enables companies to focus on the innovation side. One example is Frontegg — the company provides a set of pre-built, essential SaaS product capabilities that can easily and seamlessly integrate within any new or existing SaaS application. This enables dev teams to focus on perfecting the truly differentiating and valuable features at the heart of their SaaS offering. Another viable example is Stripe and its offering in the payments market.

Cyber: 2020 taught us many lessons, one of them is that tech is just getting more exciting as digital transformation is enhanced, and the other is that the digital revolution presents cyber challenges that didn’t exist before. This results in continued opportunities for disruption in this domain.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Frontegg — a startup that transforms the way SaaS is being built, so that developers don’t need to develop nondifferentiating code and features. Frontegg provides a state of the art SaaS-as-a-service platform, perfectly integrated within the company’s stack and allowing it to do what it’s best at: building their own product. Frontegg is the first pre-built suite of universal SaaS capabilities, enabling teams to focus on core features, shorten time-to-market and drive user adoption. Frontegg’s mission is to accelerate the delivery of enterprise-grade SaaS applications while providing the safest, most secure and optimal user experience.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
First: more open-source projects. They do exist, but usually operate under the radar and come out of stealth mode when they’re already mature and beyond the phase of seed and stage on which Pitango First is focused.

Quantum computing, in our view, has reached a point of no return. We’ll be happy to see entrepreneurs, scientists and business people in Israel jumping on the opportunity wagon already now, and build companies now, before the quantum market begins what will surely be an exponential growth.

Lastly are startups with a double bottom line, i.e., startups that while solving a pain point in the market they’re in and have a potential to become category leader, also address an impact category. Pitango is the first VC to integrate ESG practices into its mainstream activities. As part of this strategy, and as a first step, we are focusing on our vast portfolio of companies and work closely with them to embed

ESG into their core practices through a “migration” process.

Pitango aims to move the needle in the venture capital space through the “AND” philosophy: profit AND purpose, capital AND impact. Pitango is introducing a new paradigm of how venture capital does impact and integrates the “AND” philosophy by turning to a new opportunity set: the impact migrants. i.e., those startups that, although might not have been created under the SDG narrative, have the potential and a desire to embrace and track their impact. They will define their impact mission, integrate SDG targets within their business performance and track impact in alignment with financial targets, all without losing sight of their primary mission to deliver superior financial returns.

Furthermore, Pitango applies this AND philosophy beyond its existing portfolio and onto future deal flow review. We call it the “mainstreaming” of impact investing.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
The Israeli market has evolved tremendously in recent years. While the IPO market used to be out of reach for Israeli-born companies, this is no longer the case. We are looking for the visionaries, the dent blowers, the unconventional types who are eager to solve the biggest of challenges and are aiming at building an IPO-able business rather than an M&A one.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Pitango First is focused on Israeli/Israeli-related startups. From time to time we identify an investment opportunity in areas we have defined as strategic, in which the Israeli market isn’t mature enough and for which we believe we can add significant value and then invest in non-Israeli companies.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Israel is a super strong innovation hub. One of the major evolution trends of recent years is that the traditional glass ceiling that Israeli startups used to tackle has been shattered. Global players realize that now they can get the same upside like SV-based companies, in much more reasonable terms, and sometimes, less competition.
Somewhat counterintuitively, we see the investment climate in these times of COVID-19 being extremely vibrant and competitive. Strong teams are raising significant rounds at record high valuations, which add up to the current belief that COVID-19 didn’t slow, but accelerated the digital transformation.

What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
For many seed early-stage startups that have secured funding, COVID-19 didn’t set setbacks in their plans, as they are further from the market from more mature companies. However, such companies, when backed by strong investors, while they may experience decrease in their revenues, are using this period to gain strength by acquiring companies within their ecosystem and position themselves better toward the out-of-pandemic curve that will eventually be here in a few short quarters.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
The pattern of investing for the long run during the pandemic. Looking far into the horizon, as veterans of previous crises we were able to share our experience and insights and help them better deal with the crisis. Also, this question can’t be answered without mentioning the COVID-19 vaccines, which set a magnificent example to the extent humanity can benefit when tech, medical companies and governments join hands and engage in a group effort.

Ittai Harel, Pitango HealthTech

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
The consumerization of healthcare.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
HomeThrive — a tech-enabled healthcare services company tackling the aging-in-home challenge and helping families help their loved ones age happily.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
An all-star team building a category-defining or category-leading company with demonstrable clinical AND financial outcomes.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Narrow wearables that do not integrate into a clinical or life workflow.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Pitango HealthTech is focused on Israeli/Israeli-related startups. From time to time we identify an investment opportunity in areas we have defined as strategic, in which the Israeli market isn’t mature enough and for which we believe we can add significant value, and then invest in non-Israeli companies.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Israel has many thriving healthcare sectors — from RPM and computer vision in digital health to cardiovascular in med devices to drug research in biotech and pharma. We are excited about our portfolio company Variantyx (a provider of whole genome sequencing and analytics unique platform solution) and Alike (a patient-facing platform to allow individuals to access and analyze their medical data and to connect to others similar to them). We are also excited to be part of this ecosystem and to lead thought leadership in it.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
The healthcare innovation ecosystem in Israel is thriving. There are incredible entrepreneurs and opportunities with global potential and reach that global investors should be aware of.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
To some extent we are witness more disbursement in Israel, but there is nonetheless a strong draw to co-locating in hubs and we expect to see Tel-Aviv and the central area in Israel to continue dominating in terms of attractiveness to strong teams.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19?

Hospitals have seen a drastic decline in elective procedures and an overall disruption to their operations and budgets. Startups that are able to introduce new technologies to make this shift efficient and painless stand to win from the current trend.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
For the healthcare industry, COVID-19 has brought challenges — but also opportunities. We believe overall that our companies (and the industry overall) stand to gain from the shift as stakeholders are quicker to adopt changes that before took much longer. We advise our — and all — portfolio companies to prepare for the days after COVID and think through what changes in their specific segment will be long-lasting and are “here to stay.”

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
When the first individual in the U.K. — a 90-year-old woman — received the vaccine. A turning point hopefully for the entire world.

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