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Today — January 19th 2021Your RSS feeds

K Health expands into virtual childcare and raises $132 million at a $1.5 billion valuation

By Jonathan Shieber

K Health, the virtual health care provider that uses machine learning to lower the cost of care by providing the bulk of the company’s health assessments, is launching new tools for childcare on the heels of raising cash that values the company at $1.5 billion.

The $132 million round raised in December will help the company expand and help pay for upgrades including an integration with most electronic health records — an integration that’s expected by the second quarter.

Throughout 2020 K Health has leveraged its position operating at the intersection of machine learning and consumer healthcare to raised $222 million in a single year.

This appetite from investors shows how large the opportunity is in consumer healthcare as companies look to use technology to make care more affordable.

For K Health, that means a monthly subscription to its service of $9 for unlimited access to the service and physicians on the platform, as well as a $19 per-month virtual mental health offering and a $19 fee for a one-time urgent care consultation.

To patients and investors the pitch is that the data K Health has managed to acquire through partnerships with organizations like the Israel health maintenance organization Maccabi Healthcare Services, which gave up decades of anonymized data on patients and health outcomes to train K Health’s predictive algorithm, can assess patients and aid the in diagnoses for the company’s doctors.

In theory that means the company’s service essentially acts as a virtual primary care physician, holding a wealth of patient information that, when taken together, might be able to spot underlying medical conditions faster or provide a more holistic view into patient care.

For pharmaceutical companies that could mean insights into population health that could be potentially profitable avenues for drug discovery.

In practice, patients get what they pay for.

The company’s mental health offering uses medical doctors who are not licensed psychiatrists to perform their evaluations and assessments, according to one provider on the platform, which can lead to interactions with untrained physicians that can cause more harm than good.

While company chief executive Allon Bloch is likely correct in his assessment that most services can be performed remotely (Bloch puts the figure at 90%), they should be performed remotely by professionals who have the necessary training.

There are limits to how much heavy lifting an algorithm or a generalist should do when it comes to healthcare, and it appears that K Health wants to push those limits.

“Drug referrals, acute issues, prevention issues, most of those can be done remotely,” Bloch said. “There’s an opportunity to do much better and potentially cheaper. 

K Health has already seen hundreds of thousands of patients either through its urgent care offering or its subscription service and generated tens of millions in revenue in 2020, according to Bloch. He declined to disclose how many patients used the urgent care service vs. the monthly subscription offering.

Telemedicine companies, like other companies providing services remotely, have thrived during the pandemic. Teladoc and Amwell, two of the early pioneers in virtual medicine have seen their share prices soar. Companies like Hims, that provide prescriptions for elective conditions that aren’t necessarily covered by health, special purpose acquisition companies at valuations of $1.6 billion.

Backing K Health are a group of investors led by GGV Capital and Valor Equity Partners. Kaiser Permanente’s pension fund and the investment offices of the owners of 3G Capital (the Brazilian investment firm that owns Burger King and Kraft Heinz), along with 14W, Max Ventures, Pico Partners, Marcy Venture Partners, Primary Venture Partners and BoxGroup, also participated in the round. 

Organizations working with the company include Maccabi Healthcare; the Mayo Clinic, which is investigating virtual care models with the company; and Anthem, which has white labeled the K Health service and provides it to some of the insurer’s millions of members.

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Carbyne raises $25M for a next-generation platform to improve emergency 911 responses

By Ingrid Lunden

Emergency services continue to be a major force when it comes to coping with the COVID-19 health pandemic, and today a company that is building technology to help them run better is announcing a round of funding to continue expanding its business.

Carbyne — an Israeli startup that has built a cloud-based platform aimed at emergency services to help them pinpoint more complete information about the people who are calling in, and to provide additional telemedicine services to start responding faster — has picked up $25 million.

The plan will be to take the service — which was already seeing strong growth before the pandemic — to the next level in terms of the technology it is building and the markets and organizations it is serving.

“Carbyne was not founded last year: we were already pushing cloud services and video and location to 911 for quite a while and had served 250 million people before the pandemic,” said Amir Elichai, the CEO, in an interview. “But cloud solutions for emergency services went from nice-to-have to must-have with COVID.”

The company has partnerships with public health providers as well as with groups like CentralSquare and Global Medical Response (GMR), and says that in the U.S. it is on target to cover some 90% of the market.

The Series B1 is being led by Hanaco Ventures and ELSTED Capital Partners, with former CIA Director General David Petraeus, Founders Fund, FinTLV, and other past investors also participating.

The fact that this is a B1 round points to more funding on the way for the company in coming months. In any case, the $25 million is more than the company had planned to raise.

“The plan was to raise $15 million in 2020. After Covid started I decided we didn’t want to let anyone go, but we didn’t know what the situation would be. So we cut salaries instead across the board,” said Elichai. “But then we started to double revenues starting in Q2, and then in Q3 and Q4 grew 160%. It was straightforward to raise this money.”

The funding is coming on the heels of very strong growth for the company, in particular in the last year.

Carbyne’s services now cover about 400 million people, with a new implementation launching every 10 days since March of last year.

Elichai, who co-founded the company with Alex Dizengoff (CTO) and Yony Yatsun (engineering lead), said in an interview that in the last nine months, Carbyne has provided some 155 million location points to emergency medical services teams. Newer products are also growing. The services for EMS teams to provide help remotely have racked up 1.3 million minutes of video in that time, he said.

From what we understand, the funding puts Carbyne’s valuation at “over $100 million.” Although Elichai declined to give a specific figure, for some context, the company was valued at “around” $100 million when it last raised in 2018, a $15 million round that marked the first time that Founders Fund had invested in an Israeli startup.

The growth of the last year, and the ongoing demands on the business, point to that “over” being strong. Indeed, since its last round, the world at large, and the startup itself, have undergone some significant changes.

2018 and whatever dramas we were experiencing back then now feel like a distant, almost halcyon?, past when compared to some of the crises of the moment. One in particular, the coronavirus pandemic, has a direct connection to Carbyne.

Covid-19, the illness the results from the virus, has proven to be a pernicious and dogged ailment, often hitting people with its most dire and serious symptoms — the inability to breathe and organ failure — just when they start to think that they might be recovering. (Of course, that’s not the case for everyone, thankfully, but still it happens much too often to ignore.)

That has put a huge strain on emergency response services, from those that are fielding initial callouts, through to those making first contact with patients, and those at the hospitals bringing in and caring for the most serious cases. In many cases, those working these services have been stretched to overcapacity. The situation in many cities is nothing short of dire.

Carbyne’s technology has come into its own as a way not just to help those people do their jobs better by providing them with more data, but by becoming a means to those services channelling data back to those people calling in.

In the last couple of years, the startup has undergone some significant shifts in how it delivers its services.

When I covered the startup’s last funding round in 2018, for example, it provided some services directly to EMS organizations, but mainly it needed users to install an app, or provide that technology through another app, in order to work.

Now, Elichai says that the company has integrated some location services from companies like Google to remove the need to use an app to connect users to its platform.

Similarly, the startup has taken a strong lead in how it collaborates with municipalities not just to provide services to make their operations more efficient, but to help offset them getting overwhelmed.

A project in that vein was a recent undertaking in New Orleans, which Elichai said played a part in helping the city from really buckling under and managing the Covid-19 outbreak. More on that here:

Longer term, in countries like the US and elsewhere, there is a strong argument to be made for a lot of legacy services in 911-style emergency response finally getting the updates they have needed for years.

Specifically, earlier this month, a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill approved in Congress earmarks $12 billion in funding for next-generation 911 deployments.

Carbyne believes that by 2023, it will be serving some 1.5 billion people, and it’s moves like this in the U.S. that point to why that might not be so far-fetched, Covid-19 or not.

“The ability to create transparent emergency communications between citizens, emergency call centers, first responders, and state and local government entities will prove of enormous importance as it is integrated into emergency response systems and will certainly save lives and improve outcomes,” said General Petraeus in a statement. “What Carbyne provides will dramatically enhance communications in the moments that matter most.”

Minna Technologies, a subscription management tool for banking customers, raises $18.8M

By Mike Butcher

With the proliferation of subscription services, combined with our lives becoming almost 100% digital, there’s a rising need to be able to manage these services. But most banks don’t have much of an answer. Step in Minna Technologies, which sells in its subscription management services into banking apps.

It’s now raised $18.8 million (€15.5m / £14m) in Series B fundraising from Element Ventures, MiddleGame Ventures, Nineyards Equity and Visa, to expand its open banking technology to banks globally.

Founded in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2016, Minna enables customers to manage subscription services via their existing bank’s app. Using Minna, customers can terminate subscriptions just from their banking app, automatically, cutting the data and financial ties between the merchant and customer. The platform can also notify customers when a free trial is about to end and facilitates utilities switching allowing them to find better deals. So far, Minna has partnerships with Lloyds Banking Group, Swedbank and ING.

Minna’s technology reduces the burden on a bank’s call centers, plus banks can also benefit financially from Minna’s role in facilitating utility switching, raising the prospect of banks becoming marketplaces.

The appearance of Minna suggests that the first wave of neo-banks is about to be accompanied by a second wave of overlayed services such as this. The average European is spending £301 (€333) a month on 11 subscriptions, which is predicted to increase to £459 (€508) a month on 17 subscriptions by 2025. IDC predicts that by 2050, 50% of the world’s largest enterprises will focus the majority of their businesses on digitally enhanced products, services, and experiences. Subscriptions are even coming from car makers such as Volvo.

Joakim Sjöblom, CEO and co-founder of Minna Technologies, said: “Over the past four years the subscription economy has exploded from Spotify and Netflix to even iPhones and cars. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for consumers to keep track of the payments and harder for banks to handle inquiries to shut them down. Minna’s tech improves the procedure for banks by simplifying the process, as well as providing an in-demand digital product that consumers are starting to expect from their financial institutions.”

Sjöblom told me that by largely working with incumbent banks, Minna is providing them with a way to fight back against challenger banks.

Pascal Bouvier, Managing Partner, MiddleGame Ventures said: “We strongly believe in a vision where banks develop their checking account offerings into “connected and intelligent” platforms and where retail clients are able to interact in many more ways than in the recent past.”

UK on-demand supermarket Weezy raises $20M Series A led by NYC’s Left Lane Capital

By Mike Butcher

Weezy — an on-demand supermarket that delivers groceries in fast times such as 15 minutes — has raised $20 million in a Series A funding led by New York-based venture capital fund Left Lane Capital. Also participating were UK-based fund DN Capital, earlier investors Heartcore Capital and angel investors, notably Chris Muhr, the Groupon founder.

Although the company hasn’t made mention of a later US launch, the presence of US investors would tend to suggest that. Weezy is reminiscent of Kozmo, the on-demand groceries business from the dotcom boom of the late ’90s. However, it differs from Postmates in that it doesn’t do pickups.

The cash injection will be used to expand its grocery delivery service across London and the broader UK, and open two fulfillment centers across London. Some 40 more UK sites are planned by the end of 2021 and it plans to add 50 new employees in the next 4 months.

Launched in July 2020, Weezy uses its own delivery people on pedal cycles or electric mopeds to deliver goods in less than 15 minutes on average. As well as working with wholesalers, it also sources groceries from independent bakers, butchers and markets.

It has pushed at an open door during the pandemic. In Q2 2020 half a million new shoppers joined the grocery delivery sector, which is now worth £14.3bn in the UK, according to research.

Kristof Van Beveren, Co-founder and CEO of Weezy, said in a statement: “People are no longer happy to wait around for deliveries, and there is strong demand for a more efficient service.”

Weezy’s co-founders are Kristof Van Beveren and Alec Dent. Van Beveren is formerly from the consumer goods world at Procter & Gamble and McKinsey & Company, while Dent headed up operations at UK startup Drover and business development at BlaBlaCar.

Harley Miller, managing partner, Left Lane Capital, commented: “Weezy’s founding team have the right balance of drive, experience and temperament to lead in e-commerce innovation
and convenience within the UK grocery market and beyond.”

Nenad Marovac, founder and managing partner, DN Capital, said: “Even before the pandemic, interest in online grocery shopping was on the rise. The first time I ordered from Weezy, my delivery arrived in seven minutes and I was hooked.”

LAUNCHub Ventures heading towards a $85M fund for South Eastern European startups

By Mike Butcher

LAUNCHub Ventures, an early-stage European VC which concentrates mainly on Central Eastern (CEE) and South-Eastern Europe (SEE), has completed the first closing of its new fund at €44 million ($53.5M), with an aspiration to reach a target size of €70 million. A final close is expected by Q2 2021.

Its principal backer is the European Investment Fund, corporates and a number of Bulgarian tech founders and investors.

With this new fund, LAUNCHub aims to invest in 25 startups in the next 4 years. The initial investment range will be between €500K and €2M in verticals such as B2B SaaS, Fintech, Proptech, Big Data, AI, Marketplaces, Digital Health. The fund will also actively invest in the Web 3.0 / Blockchain space, as it has done so since 2014.

LAUNCHub has also achieved a 50:50 gender split in its team, with Irina Dimitrova being promoted to operating partner while Raya Yunakova who joins as an Investor, previously working for PiLabs in London and Mirela Yordanova joins as an Associate, previously leading the startup community at Google for Startups Campus in London.

The investor is mining a rich view of highly skilled developers in the CEE countries where there are approximately 1.3 developers for every 100 people in the workforce. “Central and Eastern Europe’s rapid economic growth has caught the attention of Western investors searching for the next unicorn. The region has huge and still untapped potential with more and more local success stories, paving the way for the next generation of CEE tech founders.” said Todor Breshkov, Founding Partner at LAUNCHub Ventures .

LAUNCHub Ventures competes with other investors like Earlybird in the region, but they tend to invest at a later stage and is more typically a co-investor with LAUNCHub. Nearby Greece also features Greek funds such as Venture Friends and Marathon, but these tend to focus on their core country and diaspora entrepreneurs. Others include Speedinvest (usually focused on DACH) and Credo Ventures, more focused on the Czech Republic and CEE.

LAUNCHub partner and cofounder Stefan Grantchev told me: “Our strategy is to be regional, not to focus specifically on Bulgaria – but to look at all the opportunities in the region of South-Eastern Europe.”

LAUNCHub Ventures has backed companies including:

  • Giraffe360 (Robotic camera for real estate listing automation, co-investment with Hoxton Ventures and HCVC)

  • Fite (Premium direct to consumer digital live streaming for sports, followed-on by Earlybird)

  • GTMHub (The world’s leading and most intuitive OKR software, followed-on by CRV)

  • FintechOS (Banking and Insurance middleware for automation and digital innovation acceleration, followed-on by Earlybird and OTB)

  • Cleanshelf (Enterprise SaaS management and optimization platform, followed-on by Dawn Capital)

  • Office RnD (Co-working and flexible office space management, followed-on by Flashpoint Ventures)

  • Ferryhopper (Ferry ticketing platform for Southern Europe, co-investment with Metavallon)

VCs discuss gaming’s biggest infrastructure investment opportunities in 2021

By Lucas Matney

We last polled our network of investors on the topic of gaming infrastructure startups back in May just as it was becoming clear what pandemic opportunities were in store for gaming startups.

Accel’s Amit Kumar told us at the time that “social and interactivity layers spanning across these games” were poised to be the big winners, highlighting his firm’s investments in startups like Discord and Mayhem. In December, Discord announced it was raising at a valuation of $7 billion and this month Pokémon Go creator Niantic announced it was buying Mayhem.

Following my story this week digging into investor sentiment around evolved opportunities in social gaming, I dug into gaming tools and rising platforms and pinged a handful of VCs to hear their thoughts on that market.

The broader market moves of the past several months have defied expectations with startups in the gaming world picking up substantial steam as well. This week, Roblox announced it had raised at a $29.5 billion valuation — up from $4 billion in February of last year. Game makers across the board, including Roblox, have been acquiring gaming infrastructure startups as of late.

I talked to investors about what they wanted to see more of in the space.

“We’d love to see more innovation around gaming infrastructure, which has the potential to democratize game development and allow clever indies to compete with Riot and Epic,” Bessemer’s Ethan Kurzweil and Sakib Dadi told TechCrunch.

They highlighted numerous areas for new opportunity including specialized engines, next-gen content creation platforms, and tools to port desktop experiences to mobile. The VCs we chatted with were also intrigued by latent opportunities presented by major platforms’ adopting of cloud gaming tech. The overall trend was one promoting accessibility, a desire to provide more casual experiences for platforms that may have typically catered to “hardcore” audiences.

It was also apparent from conversations that Roblox is significantly shaping investor attitudes toward the potential growth opportunities and pitfalls in the entire gaming industry, with VCs who didn’t get in on Roblox eager to dissect its success and bet on an adjacent player or one that could follow a similar recipe for success.

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

  • Hope Cochran, Madrona Venture Group
  • Daniel Li, Madrona Venture Group
  • Ethan Kurzweil, Bessemer Venture Partners
  • Sakib Dadi, Bessemer Venture Partners
  • Alice Lloyd George, Rogue VC
  • Gigi Levy-Weiss, NFX

Hope Cochran and Daniel Li, Madrona Venture Group

Cloud game-streaming networks are exciting but don’t seem like a sure bet quite yet, how do you feel about them?

DL: I think the real story behind cloud gaming is “play anywhere” and the cross-platform nature of it. Gaming is just different than Netflix, it’s not like you want to have an endless library of content. When I’m playing a game, I want to play Overwatch all the time and I don’t need to have access to 1,000 other games. I think the approach that the cloud companies have taken has been more around the thinking of, what do we have and what can we build for gamers with it? More so than what do gamers want and what can we give them? It’s definitely trended toward that direction with things like giving away two free games per month, but really I think the thing that will be exciting in the longer term for cloud gaming is to play your game anywhere and play with your friends anywhere.

If users embrace desktop-class cloud gaming on mobile and there’s a broader cross-platform unification, does that spell trouble for today’s mobile gaming industry?

DL: The audiences between a Candy Crush and a Warzone are probably a little different, though I like to play both. So maybe it gets into eating some people’s lunch but I don’t think it’s anything where the number one problem for a Candy Crush is people hopping over to play desktop Call of Duty.

Are there any clear infrastructure gaps where you’d like to see new startups rise up and fill the void?

DL: Honestly just tools for building games, like next-gen Roblox Studio, next-gen Unity and Unreal type stuff — I’ve seen a couple interesting companies there. I think we’ve seen a few smaller companies focused on making sure that a network is safe for children, but I feel like a lot of the infrastructure stuff is really driven by what type of new content is coming out. So as the social games became really popular, securing that and making sure that the chats were safe became really important.

HC: I would love to see something built for helping games that were created for the triple-A environment to port over better to mobile environments. Every time I work with a gaming company on that, they seem to have to rebuild the game so it’d be really interesting to see something like that really helps them adopt to the mobile form.

Jumbotail raises $14.2 million for its wholesale marketplace in India

By Manish Singh

Jumbotail, an online wholesale marketplace for grocery and food items, said on Friday it has raised an additional $14.2 million as the Bangalore-based startup chases the opportunity to digitize neighborhood stores in the world’s second-largest internet market.

The five-year-old startup said the new tranche of its Series B financing round was led by VII Ventures, with participation from Nutresa, Veronorte, Jumbofund, Klinkert Investment Trust, Peter Crosby Trust, Nexus Venture Partners, and Discovery Ventures.

The startup told TechCrunch that the new tranche concludes its Series B round, which it kickstarted in 2019 with a tranche of $12.7 million. It ended up raising about $44 million in the Series B round (including Friday’s tranche), and to date has amassed about $54 million in equity investment, the startup told the publication.

Jumbotail said it serves over 30,000 neighborhood stores (popularly known in India as kiranas) in the country. In addition to its business-to-business marketplace, the startup also provides working capital to neighborhood stores through partnerships with financial institutions.

The startup, which has built its own supply chain network to enable last-mile delivery, also supplies these stores with point-of-sale devices so that they can easily get access to a much wider selection of catalog and have the new inventory shipped to them within two days. It also integrates these stores with hyperlocal delivery startups such as Dunzo and Swiggy to help mom and pop shops further expand their customer base.

Ashish Jhina, co-founder of Jumbotail, said he believes the startup has reached an inflection point in its growth and is now ready for its next chapter, which includes hiring top talent and expanding to more regions in the country, especially in several cities in South India.

“We are seeing tremendous interest from investors across the globe who are drawn to our highly scalable and operationally profitable business model, built on the industry’s best technology and customer NPS,” said Jhina, who previously served in Indian army and then worked at e-commerce firms eBay and Flipkart.

At a recent virtual conference, Jhina said that the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted New Delhi to order a nationwide lockdown and put restrictions on e-commerce firms, has illustrated just how crucial neighborhood stores are in people’s lives. And for all the ills that the virus has wrought to the world, it did help accelerate the adoption of technology among these stores.

A number of food brands whose products neighborhood stores sell today are not standardized, which poses a question about their quality. To fill this gap, Jumbotail runs its own private label portfolio and Jhina said the startup will deploy part of the fresh fund to broaden this catalog. Having private label also allows Jumbotail to ensure that its retail partners can get the supply of items throughout the year — and of course, it also helps the startup, which has been operationally profitable for nearly three quarters, improve its margin.

There are more than 30 million neighborhood stores in India that dot across the thousands of cities and towns in the country. These small businesses have been around for decades and survived — and even thrived — despite e-commerce giants pouring billions of dollars in India to change how people shop. In recent years, scores of startups — and giants — in India have begun to explore ways to work with these neighborhood stores.

One of them is India’s largest retail chain Reliance Retail, which serves more than 3.5 million customers each week through its nearly 10,000 physical stores in more than 6,500 cities and towns in the country. In late 2019, it entered the e-commerce space with JioMart through a joint venture with sister subsidiary telecom giant Jio Platforms. By mid last year, JioMart had expanded to over 200 Indian cities and towns — though currently its reach within those cities and customer service leave a lot to be desired.

Reliance Retail also maintains a partnership with Facebook for WhatsApp integration. Facebook, which invested $5.7 billion in Jio Platforms last year, has said that it will explore various ways to work with Reliance to digitize the nation’s mom and pop stores, as well as other small- and medium-sized businesses.

For JioMart, Reliance Retail is working with neighborhood shops, giving them a digital point-of-sale machine to make it easier for them to accept money electronically. It is also allowing these shops to buy their inventory from Reliance Retail, and then use their physical presence as delivery points. At present, the platform is largely focused on grocery delivery. In a recent report to clients, Goldman Sachs analysts estimated that Reliance could become the largest player in online grocery within three years.

SilviaTerra wants to bring the benefits of carbon offsets to every landowner everywhere

By Jonathan Shieber

Zack Parisa and Max Nova, the co-founders of the carbon offset company SilivaTerra, have spent the last decade working on a way to democratize access to revenue generating carbon offsets.

As forestry credits become a big, booming business on the back of multi-billion dollar commitments from some of the world’s biggest companies to decarbonize their businesses, the kinds of technologies that the two founders have dedicated ten years of their lives to building are only going to become more valuable.

That’s why their company, already a profitable business, has raised $4.4 million in outside funding led by Union Square Ventures and Version One Ventures, along with Salesforce founder and the driving force between the 1 trillion trees initiative, Marc Benioff .

“Key to addressing the climate crisis is changing the balance in the so-called carbon cycle. At present, every year we are adding roughly 5 gigatons of carbon to the atmosphere*. Since atmospheric carbon acts as a greenhouse gas this increases the energy that’s retained rather than radiated back into space which causes the earth to heat up,” writes Union Square Ventures managing partner Albert Wenger in a blog post. “There will be many ways such drawdown occurs and we will write about different approaches in the coming weeks (such as direct air capture and growing kelp in the oceans). One way that we understand well today and can act upon immediately are forests. The world’s forests today absorb a bit more than one gigatons of CO2 per year out of the atmosphere and turn it into biomass. We need to stop cutting and burning down existing forests (including preventing large scale forest fires) and we have to start planting more new trees. If we do that, the total potential for forests is around 4 to 5 gigatons per year (with some estimates as high as 9 gigatons).”

For the two founders, the new funding is the latest step in a long journey that began in the woods of Northern Alabama, where Parisa grew up.

After attending Mississippi State for forestry, Parisa went to graduate school at Yale, where he met Louisville, Kentucky native Max Nova, a computer science student who joined with Parisa to set up the company that would become SiliviaTerra.

SilviaTerra co-founders Max Nova and Zack Parisa. Image Credit: SilivaTerra

The two men developed a way to combine satellite imagery with field measurements to determine the size and species of trees in every acre of forest.

While the first step was to create a map of every forest in the U.S. the ultimate goal for both men was to find a way to put a carbon market on equal footing with the timber industry. Instead of cutting trees for cash, potentially landowners could find out how much it would be worth to maintain their forestland. As the company notes, forest management had previously been driven by the economics of timber harvesting, with over $10 billion spent in the US each year.

The founders at SilviaTerra thought that the carbon market could be equally as large, but it’s hard for moset landowners to access. Carbon offset projects can cost as much as $200,000 to put together, which is more than the value of the smaller offset projects for landowners like Parisa’s own family and the 40 acres they own in the Alabama forests.

There had to be a better way for smaller landowners to benefit from carbon markets too, Parisa and Nova thought.

To create this carbon economy, there needed to be a single source of record for every tree in the U.S. and while SiliviaTerra had the technology to make that map, they lacked the compute power, machine learning capabilities and resources to build the map.

That’s where Microsoft’s AI for Earth program came in.

Working with AI for Earth, TierraSilva created their first product, Basemap, to process terabytes ofsatellite imagery to determine the sizes and species of trees on every acre of America’s forestland. The company also worked with the US Forestry Service to access their data, which was used in creating this holistic view of the forest assets in the U.S.

With the data from Basemap in hand, the company has created what it calls the Natural Capital Exchange. This program uses SilviaTerra’s unparalleled access to information about local forests, and the knowledge of how those forests are currently used to supply projects that actually represent land that would have been forested were it not for the offset money coming in.

Currently, many forestry projects are being passed off to offset buyers as legitimate offsets on land that would never have been forested in the first place — rendering the project meaningless and useless in any real way as an offset for carbon dioxide emissions. 

“It’s a bloodbath out there,” said Nova of the scale of the problem with fraudulent offsets in the industry. “We’re not repackaging existing forest carbon projects and try to connect the demand side with projects that already exist. Use technology to unlock a new supply of forest carbon offset.”

The first Natural Capital Exchange project was actually launched and funded by Microsoft back in 2019. In it, 20 Western Pennsylvania land owners originated forest carbon credits through the program, showing that the offsets could work for landowners with 40 acres, or, as the company said, 40,000.

Landowners involved in SilivaTerra’s pilot carbon offset program paid for by Microsoft. Image Credit: SilviaTerra

“We’re just trying to get inside every landowners annual economic planning cycle,” said Nova. “There’s a whole field of timber economics… and we’re helping answer the question of given the price of timber, given the price of carbon does it make sense to reduce your planned timber harvests?”

Ultimately, the two founders believe that they’ve found a way to pay for the total land value through the creation of data around the potential carbon offset value of these forests.

It’s more than just carbon markets, as well. The tools that SilviaTerra have created can be used for wildfire mitigation as well. “We’re at the right place at the right time with the right data and the right tools,” said Nova. “It’s about connecting that data to the decision and the economics of all this.”

The launch of the SilviaTerra exchange gives large buyers a vetted source to offset carbon. In some ways its an enterprise corollary to the work being done by startups like Wren, another Union Square Ventures investment, that focuses on offsetting the carbon footprint of everyday consumers. It’s also a competitor to companies like Pachama, which are trying to provide similar forest offsets at scale, or 3Degrees Inc. or South Pole.

Under a Biden administration there’s even more of an opportunity for these offset companies, the founders said, given discussions underway to establish a Carbon Bank. Established through the existing Commodity Credit Corp. run by the Department of Agriculture, the Carbon Bank would pay farmers and landowners across the U.S. for forestry and agricultural carbon offset projects.

“Everybody knows that there’s more value in these systems than just the product that we harvest off of it,” said Parisa. “Until we put those benefits in the same footing as the things we cut off and send to market…. As the value of these things goes up… absolutely it is going to influence these decisions and it is a cash crop… It’s a money pump from coastal America into middle America to create these things that they need.” 

Text marketing startup Voxie raises $6.7M

By Anthony Ha

Like many startups, Atlanta-based Voxie was created to solve a problem that founder and CEO Bogdan Constantin faced himself.

In Constantin’s case, this was at his previous tuxedo rental startup Menguin (ultimately acquired by Generation Tux), where he said he had to market a product with a six-to-nine month sales cycle, as customers were usually weighing different options for their weddings.

Email marketing, Constantin said, would result “worse and worse” open rates over time. So one day, he decided to just try texting everyone who signed up, introducing himself as “your personal stylist here at Menguin.” Not surprisingly, he got a lot more responses.

The challenge, of course, is having those kinds of text conversations across a large customer base. And that’s why Voxie — which is announcing that it has raised $6.7 million in Series A funding — offers tools to help businesses automate and manage that process.

Constantin claimed that compared to other text marketing tools, messages sent via Voxie feel like a real, personalized conversation — even though 80% to 90% are actually automated, with the rest of the messages written by people. Plus, Voxie will allow businesses to send their messages from a normal 10-digit phone number (rather than the more common five-digit numbers used for marketing).

Voxie

Image Credits: Voxie

Voxie was initially built for large enterprise customers, but Constantin said that during the pandemic, the company built a lower-cost version that is now being used by “a lot of retail, restaurant franchise brands, main street brands that are struggling right now.”

He added, “We’re working with brands that have hundreds of locations all over the country that needed a better way to engage their customers — to ask their names, ask how many kids they have and store that information at the individual profile level.”

Current Voxie customers include LG, Danone, Massage Heights and Buff City Soap.

The funding, meanwhile, was led by Noro-Moseley Partners, with participation from Circadian Ventures and Engage Ventures, as well as Atlanta entrepreneurs Wain Kellum, Andy Powell, David Cummings and Fred Castellucci.

“Voxie leads the market as the only platform that allows brands to have personalized conversations with customers at scale, which we believe will be key for its target customers to succeed in a post-COVID world,” said Noro-Moseley’s John Ale in a statement. “Businesses love Voxie as they see meaningful revenue uplift quickly and the personalization of the content means customers find the messages useful and highly relevant to their needs.”

Next, Constantin said the company will launch “reply to buy” functionality, allowing customers to place orders directly from their text conversations. And while Voxie is currently focused on SMS messaging, he claimed its vision is broader: “We want to deliver the right message at the right time via the right medium.”

MadeiraMadeira, Brazil’s answer to Wayfair and Ikea, is now worth over $1 billion

By Jonathan Shieber

MadeiraMadeira, the Brazilian answer to Wayfair or Ikea, is now worth $1 billion after raising $190 million in late stage financing from investors led by SoftBank’s Latin American investment fund and the Brazilian public and private investment firm, Dynamo.

An online marketplace specializing in home products, MadeiraMadeira offers roughly 300,000 products so customers can build furnish, renovate and decorate their homes.

Founded in 2009 by Daniel Scandian, Marcelo Scandian and Robson Privado, the company has seen huge tailwinds come from the shift to online shopping in Brazil as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

With stores closed, online shopping in Brazil surged. As Daniel Scandian noted, before the pandemic ecommerce penetration in Brazil was at roughly 7%, that number ballooned to 17% at the height of the pandemic in Brazil and has now stabilized at around 10%.

Combining third party sales with private labeled goods and its own shipping and logistics facilities has meant that MadeiraMadeira can take the best practices from several online retailers and home furnishing stores, Scandian said.

There are more than 10,000 sellers on the MadeiraMadeira platform and roughly 2.5 million stock keeping units. In recent years the company has added showrooms to its mix of retail facilities, where customers can check out merchandise, but complete their orders online.

“That’s the way we can tackle the offline market with a digital mindset,” Scandian said. 

Money from the most recent financing will be used to invest in expanding its logistics capabilities with the addition of new warehouse facilities to expand on its existing ten locations. The company also intends to add same day delivery and the expansion of its private label services.

The new capital, likely the last round before a potential public offering, included previous investors like Flybridge and Monashees along with public-focused investment firms Velt, Brasil Capital and Lakewood.

Early investors like Monashees, Kaszek, Fundo Avila, Endeavour Catalyst and angel backers like Niraj Shah, the founder of Wayfair, and Build.com founder Christian Friedland were instrumental to MadeiraMadeira’s early success, Scandian said.

Based in Curitiba, MadeiraMadeira has over 1300 employees, with the majority of them focused on technology, logistics and product development.

“With this new investment, we are raising our commitment to MadeiraMadeira’s long-term value creation vision as the company consolidates its position as the leader in Latin America’s home goods market. Since our initial investment, MadeiraMadeira’s management team has delivered everything they’ve promised, and our faith in them continues to grow,” said Paulo Passoni, Managing Investment Partner to SoftBank Latin America fund.

Local news app News Break raises $115M

By Anthony Ha

The popular news app News Break is announcing that it has raised $115 million in new funding.

The press release claims this round makes News Break “one of the first new unicorns of 2021,” but the startup declined to disclose its actual valuation.

Founder and CEO Jeff Zheng said that when he started the company in 2015, the goal was to differentiate itself from other news aggregation apps by focusing on local news, and to “help or empower these local content creators.”

To be clear, you can find similar stories in News Break that you’d see in other news apps (there’s a whole section for coronavirus news, for example, and this morning you’ll see plenty of headlines about yesterday’s violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol), but you’ll also see plenty stories that are highlighted specifically based on your location.

“Technology is interweaving with every aspect of the company — in how we empower local publishers and local journalists to generate content more effectively and to reach an online audience more effectively,” Zheng said. “We have AI tools to help provide all these relevant articles … We have location profiles and what you’re most interested in, which we basically match against the content.”

News Break founder and CEO Jeff Zheng

Image Credits: News Break

The local focus may be increasingly valuable given the broader economic challenges facing the local news business — as Zheng put it, there’s “strong user demand” for local news but “weak supply.” And the strategy seems to have paid off for News Break so far, with the app reaching the top spot in the News category of the Apple’s U.S. App Store multiple times (it’s currently ranked number four), and in Google Play as well. The startup says it’s currently reaching 12 million daily active users.

Zheng said that while News Break already shares ad revenue with publishers, he’s hopeful that the value it provides those publishers will only grow over time: “We want to give as much money back to the creators as possible.”

When I suggested that publishers and journalists may be leery about relying too much on a third-party platform to reach their audience, Zheng argued that News Break’s incentives are very different from the big internet and social media platforms.

“We are local-centric,” he said.”If local publishers are struggling, if the newspapers are diminishing every year, then sooner or later we are out of business.”

And while we’ve noted in the past that News Break has Chinese roots — Zheng previously led Yahoo Labs in Beijing and was also founding CEO at Chinese news startup Yidian Zixun, plus the startup has team members in Beijing and Shanghai — Zheng emphasized that that this is a “U.S. high tech company incorporated in Delaware, headquartered in Mountain View,” with the majority of its workforce in the United State and a focus on the U.S. market. The distinction could become important if News Break continues to grow, given the U.S. government’s current attempts to ban Chinese companies.

News Break previously raised $36 million in funding. The new round was led by Francisco Partners, which is taking a seat on the News Break board. IDG Capital also participated.

In a statement, Francisco Partners Principal Alan Ni said:

News Break’s breakout multi-year successes in the local news space is what first brought them to our attention. We are inspired by their mission and extremely impressed by the work they have done to bring local-news distribution into the 21st Century through cutting-edge machine learning and media savvy. We are thrilled to be partnering with News Break’s talented leadership team as they continue to drive local news innovations while also rapidly expanding their business into adjacent local verticals beyond news.

Plant-centered prepared food delivery startup Thistle raises $10.3 million

By Jonathan Shieber

Eating less meat is the easiest way for anyone to lower their carbon footprint and the prepared food delivery startup, Thistle, has just raised $10.3 million to make that choice even easier for consumers. 

The company delivers plant-based full menus (with meat options available for customers that want them) for its customers along with a range of juices and sides.

That pitch of making tweaks to customer behavior for more conscious consumerism and healthy eating was enough to attract Series B funding from PowerPlant Ventures, with participation from Siddhi Capital, Alumni Ventures Group, and the venture arm of Rich Products Corp.

The company said it would use the financing to expand geographically — setting up a production facility on the East Coast to bring its healthy prepared meals to potential customers along the Eastern seaboard.

“With this funding, we’ll be able to support even more people through scientific, evidence-based principles of nutrition that lead to optimal wellness, enjoyable eating, and a healthier planet,” said Ashwin Cheryian, Co-Founder and CEO of Thistle in a statement. 

Since its launch seven years ago, Thistle has served over 5 million meals and is intent to not just launch in new geographies, but provide more robust services for its customers. Those services will include virtual consultations with an in-house registered Thistle dietitian who can give customers guidance on the best diet for their needs, the company said.   

The new offering was born from customer feedback, according to chief operating officer and Thistle co-founder Shiri Avnery.

“We tested the program last fall, and the responses were overwhelmingly positive. We’re excited to be able to officially roll out the program to our customers this month, with the primary goal to further support our customers along each stage of their wellness journey,” Avnery said. 

The husband and wife duo offer menu plans starting at $42 a week or $11.50 per meal, according to the company’s website and all meals are gluten and dairy free (with vegan options available).

The financing for Thistle comes during a plant-based food boom that’s been sweeping the nation — and the nation’s investors.

“Eating a plant-forward diet is the single most impactful way to reduce your overall environmental footprint, reducing climate change, pollution, resource consumption, and species extinction,” said Dan Gluck, Managing Partner of PowerPlant Ventures, in a statement. “Consumer demand for plant-based foods is outperforming total food growth today, and this trend is expected to increase over the next decade as more people realize that eating more plants is a critical component to the long-term health of both the planet and our population.”

Sources: Hinge Health has raised $310M Series D at a $3B valuation

By Steve O'Hear

Hinge Health, the San Francisco-based company that offers a digital solution to treat chronic musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions — such as back and joint pain — has closed a $310 million in Series D funding, according to sources.

The round is led by Coatue and Tiger Global, and values 2015-founded Hinge at $3 billion post-money, people familiar with the investment tell me. It comes off the back of a 300% increase in revenue in 2020, with investors told to expect revenue to nearly triple again in 2021 based on the company’s booked pipeline.

I also understand that Hinge’s founders — Daniel Perez and Gabriel Mecklenburg — retain voting control of the board. I’ve reached out to CEO Perez for comment and will update this post should I hear back.

Hinge’s existing investors include Bessemer Venture Partners, which backed the company’s $90 million Series C round in February, along with Lead Edge Capital, Insight Partners (which led the Series B), Atomico (which led the Series A), 11.2 Capital, Quadrille Capital and Heuristic Capital.

Originally based in London, Hinge Health primarily sells into U.S. employers and health plans, billing itself as a digital healthcare solution for chronic MSK conditions. The platform combines wearable sensors, an app and health coaching to remotely deliver physical therapy and behavioral health.

The basic premise is that there is plenty of existing research to show how best to treat chronic MSK disorders, but existing healthcare systems aren’t up to the task due to funding pressures and for other systematic reasons. The result is an over tendency to use opioid-based painkillers or surgery, with poor results and often at even greater cost. Hinge wants to reverse this through the use of technology and better data, with a focus on improving treatment adherence.

Meanwhile, Hinge’s jump in valuation is significant. According to sources, the company’s February round produced a valuation of around $420 million, so the new valuation is more than a 6x increase.

Niantic buys competitive gaming platform Mayhem

By Lucas Matney

Pokémon GO creator Niantic has acquired a small SF gaming startup building a league and tournament organization platform to help gamers create their own communities around popular titles.

Mayhem was in Y Combinator’s winter 2018 batch and went onto raise $5.7 million in funding according to Crunchbase. Other backers include Accel, which led the startup’s Series A in 2018, Afore Capital and NextGen Venture Partners.

The startup’s focus has shifted quite a bit since its initial YC debut, when it announced a service called Visor that would analyze video of esports gameplay and coach users on how they could improve their performance. The company has seemed to shift its focus wholly to community tools to help gamers find matches and organize tournaments for games like Overwatch on its platform.

Terms of the acquisition weren’t disclosed by Niantic .

The “majority” of Mayhem’s team will be joining Niantic with the startup’s CEO Ivan Zhou landing in the company’s Social Platform Product team while the rest of the team joins Platform Engineering.

In a statement, Niantic asserts that the acquisition “reinforces our commitment to real-world social as the centerpiece of our mission.”

Read a deep dive of Niantic on Extra Crunch

Most of Niantic’s acquisitions of late have focused on augmented reality backend technologies so it’s interesting to see them buying tech that focuses on community organization.

Pokémon GO continues to be Niantic’s cash cow though the company hasn’t seen the same levels of viral success with subsequent releases where organic growth hasn’t been quite as easy to come by. Buying a startup building community tools suggests the company is ready to bring in some outside tech to push their own efforts forward as they strive to create a broader platform for their AR ambitions and more standalone hits of their own.

National Grid sees machine learning as the brains behind the utility business of the future

By Jonathan Shieber

If the portfolio of a corporate venture capital firm can be taken as a signal for the strategic priorities of their parent companies, then National Grid has high hopes for automation as the future of the utility industry.

The heavy emphasis on automation and machine learning from one of the nation’s largest privately held utilities with a customer base numbering around 20 million people is significant. And a sign of where the industry could be going.

Since its launch, National Grid’s venture firm, National Grid Partners, has invested in 16 startups that featured machine learning at the core of their pitch. Most recently, the company backed AI Dash, which uses machine learning algorithms to analyze satellite images and infer the encroachment of vegetation on National Grid power lines to avoid outages.

Another recent investment, Aperio, uses data from sensors monitoring critical infrastructure to predict loss of data quality from degradation or cyberattacks.

Indeed, of the $175 million in investments the firm has made, roughly $135 million has been committed to companies leveraging machine learning for their services.

“AI will be critical for the energy industry to achieve aggressive decarbonization and decentralization goals,” said Lisa Lambert, the chief technology and innovation officer at National Grid and the founder and president of National Grid Partners.

National Grid started the year off slowly because of the COVID-19 epidemic, but the pace of its investments picked up and the company is on track to hit its investment targets for the year, Lambert said.

Modernization is critical for an industry that still mostly runs on spreadsheets and collective knowledge that has locked in an aging employee base, with no contingency plans in the event of retirement, Lambert said. It’s that situation that’s compelling National Grid and other utilities to automate more of their business.

“Most companies in the utility sector are trying to automate now for efficiency reasons and cost reasons. Today, most companies have everything written down in manuals; as an industry, we basically still run our networks off spreadsheets, and the skills and experience of the people who run the networks. So we’ve got serious issues if those people retire. Automating [and] digitizing is top of mind for all the utilities we’ve talked to in the Next Grid Alliance.

To date, a lot of the automation work that’s been done has been around basic automation of business processes. But there are new capabilities on the horizon that will push the automation of different activities up the value chain, Lambert said.

“ ML is the next level — predictive maintenance of your assets, delivering for the customer. Uniphore, for example: you’re learning from every interaction you have with your customer, incorporating that into the algorithm, and the next time you meet a customer, you’re going to do better. So that’s the next generation,” Lambert said. “Once everything is digital, you’re learning from those engagements — whether engaging an asset or a human being.”

Lambert sees another source of demand for new machine learning tech in the need for utilities to rapidly decarbonize. The move away from fossil fuels will necessitate entirely new ways of operating and managing a power grid. One where humans are less likely to be in the loop.

“In the next five years, utilities have to get automation and analytics right if they’re going to have any chance at a net-zero world — you’re going to need to run those assets differently,” said Lambert. “Windmills and solar panels are not [part of] traditional distribution networks. A lot of traditional engineers probably don’t think about the need to innovate, because they’re building out the engineering technology that was relevant when assets were built decades ago — whereas all these renewable assets have been built in the era of OT/IT.”

 

The built environment will be one of tech’s next big platforms

By Jonathan Shieber

From the beginning, the plan for Sidewalk Labs (a subsidiary of Alphabet and — by extension — a relative of Google) to develop a $1.3 billion tech-enabled real estate project on the Toronto waterfront was controversial.

Privacy advocates had justified concerns about the Google-adjacent company’s ability to capture a near-total amount of data from the residents of the development or any city-dweller that wandered into its high-tech panopticon.

But Alphabet, Sidewalk Labs’ leadership and even Canada’s popular prime minister, Justin Trudeau, had high hopes for the project.

Startups working in real estate technology managed to nab a record $3.7 billion from investors in the first quarter of the year.

“Successful cities around the world are wrestling with the same challenges of growth, from rising costs of living that price out the middle class, to congestion and ever-longer commutes, to the challenges of climate change. Sidewalk Labs scoured the globe for the perfect place to create a district focused on solutions to these pressing challenges, and we found it on Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront — along with the perfect public-sector partner, Waterfront Toronto,” said Sidewalk Labs chief executive Dan Doctoroff, the former deputy mayor of New York, in a statement announcing the launch in 2017. “This will not be a place where we deploy technology for its own sake, but rather one where we use emerging digital tools and the latest in urban design to solve big urban challenges in ways that we hope will inspire cities around the world.”

From Sidewalk Labs’ perspective, the Toronto project would be an ideal laboratory that the company and the city of Toronto could use to explore the utility and efficacy of the latest and greatest new technologies meant to enhance city living and make it more environmentally sustainable.

The company’s stated goal, back in 2017 was “to create a place that encourages innovation around energy, waste and other environmental challenges to protect the planet; a place that provides a range of transportation options that are more affordable, safe and convenient than the private car; a place that embraces adaptable buildings and new construction methods to reduce the cost of housing and retail space; a place where public spaces welcome families to enjoy the outdoors day and night, and in all seasons; a place that is enhanced by digital technology and data without giving up the privacy and security that everyone deserves.”

From a purely engineering perspective, integrating these new technologies into a single site to be a test case made some sense. From a community development perspective, it was a nightmare. Toronto residents began to see the development as little more than a showroom for a slew of privacy-invading innovations that Sidewalk could then spin up into companies — or a space where startup companies could test their tech on a potentially unwitting population.

So when the economic implications of the global COVID-19 pandemic started to become clear back in March of this year, it seemed as good a time as any for Sidewalk Labs to shutter the project.

“[As] unprecedented economic uncertainty has set in around the world and in the Toronto real estate market, it has become too difficult to make the 12-acre project financially viable without sacrificing core parts of the plan we had developed together with Waterfront Toronto to build a truly inclusive, sustainable community,” Doctoroff said in a statement. “And so, after a great deal of deliberation, we concluded that it no longer made sense to proceed with the Quayside project.”

Boardable’s board management software for nonprofits raises $8 million

By Jonathan Shieber

Indianapolis-based Boardable, a provider of board management software tools for nonprofits, has raised $8 million in a new round of financing, the company said.

The investment came from Base10 Partners with participation from the company’s seed stage backer, the Indianapolis-based enterprise investment firm High Alpha.

Boardable provides organizational tools to help nonprofits better manage their board meetings and offers management solutions for nonprofit operations.

Software and services developers catering to the non-profit sector are seeing more interest from investors as they look for new verticals that have been underserved by technology companies in the past. Earlier this year, Reslia, a New Orleans-based startup, raised $8 million for its own spin on services for nonprofits and charity organizations.

In a statement, Boardable said that it would use the financing to grow its team and develop new tools to become more of a one-stop-shop for nonprofit operations.

“Most nonprofits manage their board members with ‘digital duct tape’—endless email threads and file sharing services. It’s a terrible experience that drains the board members and staff. Boardable is purpose-built by nonprofit founders to solve this problem, increasing efficiency and engagement,” said Jeb Banner, Boardable’s chief executive, in a statement.

Organizations including the YMCA, The Salvation Army, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, the Girl Scouts of Indiana and more have turned to the company to use its paperless approach for board management.

Newly funded OfficeTogether looks to help employees return to work safely

By Connie Loizos

Amy Yin doesn’t foresee startups resuming a five-day-a-week in-office work schedule, even after COVID-19 has been battled back.

It’s probably a safe bet. Many companies have learned this year that employees can be just as productive, working from home. More, employees — much as they might miss their own desks — no longer want to sit in a traditional office all the time. According a survey of 2,300 tech employees conducted this past summer, just 7% of respondents said they wanted to head into work every day.

Yin experienced the shift to remote work firsthand as a senior engineer at Coinbase, the cryptocurrency exchange, which was early to send its employees home as the pandemic took hold in the U.S. Working from home for the first time in her career — she’d previously been a software engineer with the recruitment platform Hired and, before that, a growth engineer at Facebook — she found herself working on her own schedule entirely and loving the flexibility.

By August, she says, she decided she could help Coinbase — and the growing number of other companies to adopt a remote-first organizational strategy — by starting up OfficeTogether, her now five-month-old, San Francisco-based, software-as-a-service company.

Its proposition is simple. With software that integrates with Slack, Google Calendar, and Okta (and soon to be Workday), OfficeTogether helps employees plan time in the office, see their teammates’ schedules, and also to take an automated health and symptom questionnaire that ensures that no one has a fever or has traveled in last 14 days.

The idea is largely to prevent employees from showing up to an office that is already at capacity, or stumbling into a sales team meeting when what’s really needed is quiet.

The company already has paid annual contracts in the U.S., Europe and Canada, says Yin, who wasn’t comfortable discussing pricing in a call earlier today but who says that OfficeTogether isn’t competing on price with other competitors, like the workplace management software companies SpaceIQ and OfficeSpace.

Instead, she says, while rivals are more focused on work space utilization and using occupancy data to forecast capacity limits, OfficeTogether is focused around employees and, as a result, not wedded to a particular space so much as on ensuring that teams can come together when they want, whether that’s helping them organize a week at a co-working space or several days at a hotel.

“At some point,” she notes, “some companies might decide it’s cheaper to rent out hotel rooms than rent office space, which is expensive to manage.” She predicts that “flexible spaces for people to meet will be a big part of every company’s strategy. If you’re only meeting once a month for a week,” you can make do with less, she suggests.

Investors certainly seem to agree. A growing number of startups has been receiving funding that turn all kinds of locations into work spaces. Among them is Codi, a San Francisco-based startup that connects people with daytime workspaces in private homes and just today announced $7 million in funding.

In the meantime, OfficeTogether — which is run by Yin, a designer in San Francisco, and a handful of engineers in Romania — has just raised its own first institutional round: $2.2 million in seed funding. Defy led the round, joined by Neo, MGV and January Ventures, along with numerous angel investors who’ve met Yin through Coinbase; through her alma mater, Harvard; or through other connections.

Among those angels is former Sequoia partner Amy Sun, who is right now launching her own startup in Austin, Texas. Says Yin of Sun and some of the other individuals who’ve written her a check: “A lot of my friends are starting companies and it’s really fun to have people who are launching things” involved with one’s own startup. “We’re all invest in each other.”

As for where that new capital will be spent, Yin says it will go almost entirely to adding to the number of engineers on staff. As for possible marketing spend to spread the word about OfficeTogether, Yin says that her focus instead is on “enterprise B2B sales — running a sales process and ensuring the right people hear about it.”

Does she have a salesperson yet, we wonder? She laughs. For now, she says, “You’re talking to her.”

Calm raises $75M more at $2B valuation

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Calm, a well-known meditation app, has raised new capital at a valuation of $2 billion. The round was anticipated after the company was reported to be hunting for up to $150 million at a valuation of $2.2 billion; perhaps Calm will follow in the steps of Robinhood and add a second tranche to the round in time.

Prior investor Lightspeed Venture Partners led the investment, which also saw participation from Insight, TPG and Salesforce CEO and new Slack owner Marc Benioff, among others.

That Calm was able to secure more capital is not surprising. The company has a history of quick revenue growth, and is reportedly profitable, to boot. And the investment comes after mental health-focused startups as a category have performed well from a venture capital perspective.

The coronavirus pandemic has likely also played into Calm’s attractiveness as an investment. Since the beginning, researchers have warned about the psychological toll that a pandemic could have on humanity. A recent Pew Research study suggested that people who have lost their jobs during the pandemic might be feeling higher levels of distress during this time. Rival service Headspace offered an annual subscription to its platform for free for those that are unemployed.

Calm responded to the toll of coronavirus by launching a page of free resources, and focusing on a partnership with nonprofit health system Kaiser Permanente. Kaiser was the first health system to make Calm app’s Premium subscription free for its members.

The startups sells a consumer service for around $70 per year, or $15 per month. And the startup has built out a corporate arm, “Calm for Business,” that likely brings revenue stability that augments its consumer efforts.

As part of a release concerning today’s news, Calm detailed a number of nearly useful growth metrics. The service has over 100 million downloads, up from 40 million downloads in February 2019. It also grew up from 1 million paying users to 4 million paying users in the same time period (we asked if that data was inclusive of any Calm for Business customers, a question Calm did not answer).

Other TechCrunch queries regarding the company’s economics, revenue growth and performance compared to its pre-COVID plan also went unanswered.

Calm and rival service Headspace have now raised a combined $434 million according to Crunchbase data, underscoring how attractive their models have proved to venture capitalists. According to a Bloomberg interview, Calm is considering acquiring smaller companies in the wake of its new capital event.

Regardless, Calm now has a refreshed war chest heading into 2021 and a plan to go hunting. That should generate a headline or two.

Chicago’s ShoppingGives gets served a seed round from Serena Williams’ VC firm, Serena Ventures

By Jonathan Shieber

ShoppingGives, a Chicago-based startup pitching retailers a service that can integrate non-profit donations into their sales and shopping platforms, has raised an undisclosed amount from Serena Williams’ venture capital firm, Serena Ventures, the company said. 

ShoppingGives allows retailers to offer a donation on behalf of a shopper to any of over 1.5 million nonprofits that are on its list — all without leaving the retailer’s website.

The company said that retailers can use the donation data to create a more authentic and personalized engagement with customers based on the causes they support.

“ShoppingGives aligned with my values of investing in businesses and entrepreneurs who are making a difference. By creating opportunities to grow social impact with a seamless approach for retailers and brands, ShoppingGives is charting the course for all businesses to stand forth as agents of change in our society,”said Williams in a statement. 

The company’s technology helps retailers manage and report donations and is already recommended by Shopify as one of a collection of apps for merchants setting up their online stores. Its service integrates with ecommerce content management systems and is already a partner for the PayPal giving fund.

ShoppingGives has already donated to over 6,000 non-profit organizations selected by customers, according to the company. Brands like Kenneth Cole, Natori, White + Warren, Margaux, Solstice Sunglasses, Tomboyx, Fresh Clean Tees, Blind Barber, Huron, and Neighborhood Goods use the service already. 

Image Credit: ShoppingGives

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