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Updated: 18 min 18 sec ago

Point to launch new challenger bank with rewards on debit card purchases

2020, July 2 - 1:00am

Meet Point, a new challenger bank in the U.S. that has been available as a private beta for the past year. Today, the company is announcing new fundraising — later this month, the company is launching a major new version of its service and opening its doors to everyone. There’s a waitlist for now.

Point is a consumer banking app combined with a debit card. The company wants to reproduce the experience of credit cards but with debit cards, thanks to rewards and a point-based system. There’s no credit check when you sign up.

The startup raised a $10.5 million Series A funding round led by Valar Ventures with Y Combinator, Kindred Ventures, Finventure Studio and business angels also participating. Valar Ventures has backed several high-profile fintech startups, such as N26, TransferWise and Stash.

As a user, you get many features you’d expect from a challenger bank. The debit card is tightly integrated with the app, which means that you can receive notifications every time you make a transaction and manage your card from the app. You don’t pay any foreign transaction fees for international transactions — the company uses Mastercard’s exchange rate for those transactions.

In addition to your physical Point card, you can access a virtual card from the app. Point has partnered with Radius Bank for the banking infrastructure, an FDIC-insured bank.

When it comes to points, every transaction lets you earn points. You get 2X points on groceries and dining and 5X points on subscriptions, such as Spotify and Netflix. It then works like a cash-back system; you can redeem points for dollars and they’ll appear on your checking account — each point is worth $0.01.

The company uses Plaid to link your Point account with a third-party bank account. You can then move money from your existing account to your Point account and top up your account with payment apps, such as Venmo, Cash App and PayPal.

Points’ biggest competitor is probably Chime, the challenger bank that has attracted 8 million customers. Chime doesn’t currently offer rewards. Let’s see if Point can convince customers who have yet to try out a challenger bank that Point is a better option.

Update: An earlier version of this story mistakenly said that the new version was launching today. It will be live later this month.

Image Credits: Point

Categories: Business News

Portfolio companies of startup studio eFounders have raised $148 million this year

2020, July 2 - 12:28am

European startup studio eFounders has looked back at the first half of 2020 to share some metrics about its portfolio companies. The startup studio that is focused on building software-as-a-service enterprise startups has now launched 25 companies in total. Those startups have raised $148 million in 2020 alone.

You may remember that the portfolio of eFounders reached a total valuation of $1 billion late last year. After those new funding rounds, the consolidated valuation of eFounders companies is now at $1.5 billion.

And because we’re talking about SaaS, the monthly recurring revenue has also doubled year over year compared to the first half of 2019. Overall, those companies now generate around $10 million in monthly recurring revenue.

Of course, some companies are doing better than others. In particular, Front and Aircall have raised $59 million and $65 million respectively. Back when I wrote on those stories, Front said its valuation had quadrupled compared to its previous funding round, while Aircall said it had done more than 3x on the valuation.

Slite, Bonjour, Folk, Cycle and Equify have also raised smaller funding rounds. Yousign, an e-signature startup, has also experienced an important growth bump with demand exploding.

eFounders seems particularly well positioned for the current situation. Due to lockdowns around the world, many companies have been looking at tools that help them work remotely and work more efficiently. “We build the future of work,” eFounders writes on its website.

“The changes that were naturally, but slowly, occurring in companies for a decade have accelerated in a matter of months. We've certainly gained a few years of digitalisation in the space of a quarter,” eFounders co-founder Thibaud Elziere said in a statement.

If you’re not familiar with eFounders, the company first comes up with an idea for a new company and hires a founding team. The core team works alongside the founders for a year or two to define product-market fit — eFounders keeps a stake in those startups.

After that initial launch, portfolio companies usually raise a seed round, which helps them build a solid team. eFounders can switch their focus and start working on new startups.

Categories: Business News

Minneapolis-based VC shop Bread & Butter focuses on its own backyard

2020, July 2 - 12:16am

While many investors say sheltering in place has broadened their appetite for funding companies located outside major hubs, one firm is doubling down on backing startups in America’s heartland.

Launched in 2016 by Brett Brohl, The Syndicate Fund rebranded to Bread & Butter Ventures earlier this month (a reference to one of Minnesota’s many nicknames). Along with the rebrand, longtime Google executive and Revolution partner Mary Grove joined the team as a general partner and Stephanie Rich came aboard as head of platform.

The growth of the Twin Cities’ startup ecosystem is precisely why The Syndicate Fund rebranded. The firm, which has $10 million in assets under management, will invest in three of Minneapolis’ biggest strengths: agriculture and food, health care and enterprise software.

Agtech interest spans the entire spectrum from farming to restaurants and grocery stores. The firm is also interested in the “messy middle” of supply chain and logistics around food, said Brohl and is interested in a mix of software, hardware and biosciences. Within health care, the firm evaluates solutions focused on prevention versus treatment, female health startups working on maternal health and fertility and software focused on the aging population and millennials.

It’s also looking at enterprise software that can serve large businesses and scale efficiently.

Categories: Business News

Contrary Capital wants to invest in the next big tech mafia

2020, July 2 - 12:00am

Contrary Capital, which has raised money from Tesla, Reddit, SoFi and Twitch, knows a thing or two about how to work with tech’s brightest mafias. Now it wants to invest in them, before anyone else.

The San Francisco fund and accelerator, which traditionally invests in student entrepreneurs, is betting on the idea that the best founders are early-career employees first. Today Contrary Capital is publicly launching its next big bet: Contrary Talent, a new arm within the fund that will invest and support early-career folks and students to grow their tech ambitions.

While Contrary Capital founder Eric Tarczynski said the new focus is not a pivot for the firm, he added that he wouldn’t be surprised if early-career professionals become the bulk of the portfolio in years to come.

Contrary Talent will source the top engineers, designers and managers at top tech companies and pair them with top operators in tech for mentorship and job consultancy. It’s giving startup employees access to great minds before they have a pitch deck, or even know how to make one.

Talent members will only be admitted to the group through a referral from one of Contrary Capital’s hundred-plus venture partners, or scouts. The firm’s venture partner network has operated for the past four years to help the firm find talent on college campuses, so now it will shift to also focus on early-career talent.

The goal is to have a diverse end result, so it doesn’t hurt that Contrary Capital’s venture partner network is currently 40% female and 60% non-white.

Contrary Talent is also launching a venture partner team at an undisclosed HBCU this fall to increase representation.

Along with the announcement, Contrary Capital shared it has hired Triplebyte’s former head of talent, Ellis Briery, to lead this new arm of the fund.

Once a candidate is referred, they will have to go through multiple rounds of interviews before being selected to join the Talent community. Members receive access to job opportunities, mentorship, invites to annual retreats and funding when (and if) they do decide to start a company.

The program has been in stealth for six months so far and has 150 members. Contrary Talent will admit roughly 100 new members annually, and there will be continuous light learning on job resources, 1:1 training for career paths and AMAs with top people within tech. Think of the curriculum as a steady, but small, drip of asynchronous and live learning.

Contrary founder Eric Tarczynski said there is reserved capital for Talent members, but did not disclose how much. Contrary has low tens of millions in assets under management.

“Because of the long-term nature of the program and that we want to support Talent members regardless of whether or not they’re starting companies right now, we’ll be investing in Talent member-started companies across many funds,” Tarczynski said. He estimated that about 33% of investments from the current fund will come from the Talent community.

“Candidly, we’re not expecting Facebooks to be kind of falling off of trees,” Tarczynski said.

Talent is Contrary Capital’s first move beyond investing in students since its inception in 2016.

“As time went on and we spent more time on the ground at tech campuses, we realized not only were the number of young founders going up, but so were the number of top engineers, designers and product heads who were interested in working in tech,” he said.

Categories: Business News

This public spreadsheet lists Black founders who have raised VC, and the investors backing them

2020, July 2 - 12:00am

Finding out how many Black founders have successfully raised venture capital, and which venture capital firms invested in their startups hasn’t been an easy task, historically. Venture capital data is often diceable by stage, say, or by startup type. But if you wanted to know how many Black founders a particular firm had invested into, that information has been hard to come by.

Until now, that is.

Earlier this year, Yonas Beshawred, Sefanit Tades, and James Norman, in association with the Transparent Collective, compiled what was heralded as “the most comprehensive list of US-based venture-backed Black founders ever.” You can check out the data here.

It’s an extraordinary document, both for its usefulness and its brevity. This morning the list is just 283 names long, though it appears to be expanding over time.

The same group recently put together more data. Now, the public database includes details on which venture capital firms have invested in Black-founded startups. (The founder list came during Black History month, while the VC list was put together around Juneteenth; for more on how tech recently discovered Juneteenth, head here).

There are more VC firms that have invested in Black founders than there are Black founders who have raised money from VCs. This makes sense, as there is often more than one VC firm in any given round. But while the number of VCs detailed is encouraging at first glance, there’s nuance to the data.

TechCrunch spoke with Norman, the CEO of Pilot.ly, and a partner at the Transparent Collective, who told TechCrunch that he was initially “overwhelmed by the sheer number of investments made from 570 different firms,” but that “after one look, roughly 75% of the names had one black founder investment.”

Even more, Norman told TechCrunch that after reviewing the data he “realized most of the firms on this list are likely follow-ons piling into single rounds of funding.” That most VC firms on the list of groups that put capital into a single Black-founded startup “highlights the lack of capital deployed to black founded startups in general” he continued.

Still, having the founder and VC data compiled is useful on its own. In Norman’s view, the dataset will allow other orgs to ingest and parse the information, hopefully yielding useful knowledge that was previously occluded.

Tades, another contributor to the Black founder and VC lists, told TechCrunch that response to the databases has been “overwhelmingly positive, with a number of people reaching out to provide support to expand the list and provide additional data points.” She also said that user “feedback is also driving our iterations on The Black Founder List database,” so there should be more to come from the effort. That’s exciting and welcome.

Silicon Valley loves to say things like “measure what matters.” Well, here’s a list of Black founders and the VCs who have cut one, two, or more checks into their startups. It matters that both lists get longer, and we can now measure progress.

Author’s note: I tangled up some of the list’s original provenance, which has been corrected. My mistake!

Categories: Business News

Vendia raises $5.1M for its multicloud serverless platform

2020, July 2 - 12:00am

When the inventor of AWS Lambda, Tim Wagner, and the former head of blockchain at AWS, Shruthi Rao, co-found a startup, it’s probably worth paying attention. Vendia, as the new venture is called, combines the best of serverless and blockchain to help build a truly multicloud serverless platform for better data and code sharing.

Today, the Vendia team announced that it has raised a $5.1 million seed funding round, led by Neotribe’s Swaroop ‘Kittu’ Kolluri. Correlation Ventures, WestWave Capital, HWVP, Firebolt Ventures, Floodgate and Future\Perfect Ventures also participated in this oversubscribed round.

Image Credits: Vendia

Seeing Wagner at the helm of a blockchain-centric startup isn’t exactly a surprise. After building Lambda at AWS, he spent some time as VP of engineering at Coinbase, where he left about a year ago to build Vendia.

“One day, Coinbase approached me and said, ‘Hey, maybe we could do for the financial system what you’ve been doing over there for the cloud system,'” he told me. “And so I got interested in that. We had some conversations. I ended up going to Coinbase and spent a little over a year there as the VP of Engineering, helping them to set the stage for some of that platform work and tripling the size of the team.” He noted that Coinbase may be one of the few companies where distributed ledgers are actually mission-critical to their business, yet even Coinbase had a hard time scaling its Ethereum fleet, for example, and there was no cloud-based service available to help it do so.

Tim Wagner, Vendia co-founder and CEO. Image Credits: Vendia

“The thing that came to me as I was working there was why don’t we bring these two things together? Nobody’s thinking about how would you build a distributed ledger or blockchain as if it were a cloud service, with all the things that we’ve learned over the course of the last 10 years building out the public cloud and learning how to do it at scale,” he said.

Wagner then joined forces with Rao, who spent a lot of time in her role at AWS talking to blockchain customers. One thing she noticed was that while it makes a lot of sense to use blockchain to establish trust in a public setting, that’s really not an issue for enterprise.

“After the 500th customer, it started to make sense,” she said. “These customers had made quite a bit of investment in IoT and edge devices. They were gathering massive amounts of data. They also made investments on the other side, with AI and ML and analytics. And they said, ‘Well, there’s a lot of data and I want to push all of this data through these intelligent systems. I need a mechanism to get this data.'” But the majority of that data often comes from third-party services. At the same time, most blockchain proof of concepts weren’t moving into any real production usage because the process was often far too complex, especially enterprises that maybe wanted to connect their systems to those of their partners.

Shruthi Rao, Vendia co-founder and CBO. Image Credits: Vendia

“We are asking these partners to spin up Kubernetes clusters and install blockchain nodes. Why is that? That’s because for blockchain to bring trust into a system to ensure trust, you have to own your own data. And to own your own data, you need your own node. So we’re solving fundamentally the wrong problem,” she explained.

The first product Vendia is bringing to market is Vendia Share, a way for businesses to share data with partners (and across clouds) in real-time, all without giving up control over that data. As Wagner noted, businesses often want to share large data sets but they also want to ensure they can control who has access to that data. For those users, Vendia is essentially a virtual data lake with provenance tracking and tamper-proofing built in.

The company, which mostly raised this round after the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the U.S., is already working with a couple of design partners in multiple industries to test out its ideas, and plans to use the new funding to expand its engineering team to build out its tools.

“At Neotribe Ventures, we invest in breakthrough technologies that stretch the imagination and partner with companies that have category creation potential built upon a deep-tech platform,” said Neotribe founder and managing director Kolluri. “When we heard the Vendia story, it was a no-brainer for us. The size of the market for multiparty, multicloud data and code aggregation is enormous and only grows larger as companies capture every last bit of data. Vendia’s serverless-based technology offers benefits such as ease of experimentation, no operational heavy lifting and a pay-as-you-go pricing model, making it both very consumable and highly disruptive. Given both Tim and Shruthi’s backgrounds, we know we’ve found an ideal ‘Founder fit’ to solve this problem! We are very excited to be the lead investors and be a part of their journey.”

Categories: Business News

Location data startup Bluedot raises $9.1M

2020, July 1 - 11:14pm

Bluedot, a geofencing and location data startup used by companies like Dunkin’, KFC and McDonald’s, is announcing that it has raised $9.1 million in Series B funding.

The San Francisco-headquartered company claims that its technology its 20 times more accurate than competing solutions — something that CEO Emil Davityan attributed to its roots in the toll road industry, where it needed to deliver “lane-level” accuracy.

“Since then, we’ve delivered location-based solutions for retail, restaurants and other verticals,” Davityan told me via email. “The focus is on valuable, contactless experiences that prioritize the consumer’s needs.”

The company is extending its capabilities with the launch of a new product called Tempo, which is supposed to incorporate data like traffic patterns — and even the time it takes to get in and out of a car — to deliver real-time alerts when a customer is approaching.

That sounds particularly desirable in the middle of a pandemic, when businesses are increasingly interacting with customers via curbside pickup and drive-through — and presumably want to minimize contact even when the customers are inside the store. It also sounds a little creepy, but Davityan emphasized that the data is encrypted and anonymized.

Location marketing platform Uberall raises further $25M and acquires competitor Navads

“We don’t collect personal data, or track, share or sell location data,” he said. “It’s easy to make claims about being ‘privacy friendly.’ The real challenge is to live and breathe it, to make it central to your business.”

Bluedot says its footprint — as measured by unique monthly users — has increased 2,471% over the past year, and that it’s now powering more than 121 million location events each month.

The startup has now raised a total of $21.9 million. The new funding was led by Autotech Ventures, with participation from previous backer Transurban and new investors Forefront Ventures, IAG Firemark Ventures and Mighty Capital. Autotech’s Alexei Andreev is joining the Bluedot board, with Mighty Capital’s Jennifer Azapian joining as board observer.

“Software that can enable businesses to minimize contact is vital,” Andreev said in a statement. “Moving forward, we see the market favoring contactless solutions and Bluedot is poised to meet this demand. Bluedot’s differentiated offering, focus on consumer experience and scalability are key factors for any business’s future success, especially as we all rethink mobility and brand interactions.”

Placer.ai, a location data analytics startup, raises $12 million Series A

Categories: Business News

Science Inc. is getting into the music business with incubator Heavy Sound Labs

2020, July 1 - 10:08pm

Jason Geter, who previously co-founded Grand Hustle Records, told me that he’s looking to “redefine what a record label is today” with his new startup Heavy Sound Labs.

Geter said he sees Heavy Sound — which is part of startup studio Science Inc. — as an extension of the work he’s been doing for decades: Before co-founding Grand Hustle with T.I., Geter signed on as the rapper’s manager back when T.I. was only 18. He said he also signed Travis Scott back when Scott only had 500 views on YouTube.

“For me,  I want to continue doing what I’ve always done, which is prepare [artists] to go to major labels,” Geter said.

Of course, the music business has changed dramatically since Grand Hustle was founded in 2003, a change that’s only accelerating as the coronavirus pandemic has brought in-person concerts and tours to a halt.

For one thing, Geter argued, “Traditional labels, they’re pretty much not in the development business anymore” — in other words, they’re not interested in finding young, undiscovered artists and nurturing their careers. At the same time, he suggested that musical subcultures (like the Atlanta hip-hop scene that he calls home) are no longer tied to specific cities.

“Lil Nas X stayed online,” he said. “By the time I found out about him, everyone else did too. It all happened at once.”

Fortnite hosted a psychedelic Travis Scott concert and 12.3M people watched

As a result, he suggested that finding the next up-and-coming artist no longer means focusing on a geographic scene: “I wanted to be able to put myself out there in a way that someone in Memphis, Houston, Kentucky, Seattle — they really truly are disconnected from the music industry, but they can come to Heavysound.com and it’s available for everyone [to apply] without any gatekeepers.”

Heavy Sound Labs has an open application process on its website, and it’s already signed artists including AllStarrDaGreat (ADG), 47 Gino and Ralph Weah. The goal is to help those artists build their audience and get them signed to a major label within 24 months.

Geter said he also wants the incubator to avoid what he sees as one of the main structural issues of a traditional label — namely, its exclusive focus on music. Instead, he said Heavy Sound can also help artists explore other avenues, whether that’s fashion or cannabis. The specific contracts will differ from industry to industry, but Geter said the goal is to always partner with the artist in a 50-50 split.

“The music business is traditionally very linear,” he said. “Whether you’re talking about record sales or streams, it’s always one kind of vertical. If you want to talk publishing, they’ll send you to the next floor to talk about publishing, which I’ve never understood.”

Geter added that he’s hoping to reinvent industry internships at the same time. Heavy Sound has already recruited 1,200 people to what it calls its Heavy Crew. Those Crew members gets access a special Slack channel and to industry talks, and they’re then called upon to help promote Heavy Sound artists.

As for how Heavy Sound became part of Science, Geter said he met the startup studio’s co-founder Peter Pham at South by Southwest last year, who quickly suggested that Geter meet with Science co-founder and managing partner Mike Jones.

“Heavy Sound pairs Jason’s unmatched ability to identify and grow talent at the earliest stages of development with the Heavy Crew, a powerful digital network of creatives and fans who can help the artists gain cultural traction,” Jones said in a statement. “The music incubator’s focus on empowering artists and providing a supportive community sets it apart from anything else in the industry. We’re thrilled to work closely with Jason and help Heavy Sound scale this new model in music.”

Science, the L.A.-based incubator, just closed on $75 million for its first real venture fund

Categories: Business News

Fauna raises an additional $27M to turn databases into a simple API call

2020, July 1 - 10:03pm

Databases have always been a complex part of the equation for developers requiring a delicate balance to manage inside the application, but Fauna wants to make adding a database a simple API call, and today it announced $27 million in new funding.

The round, which is technically an extension of the company’s 2017 Series A, was led by Madrona Venture Group with participation from Addition, GV, CRV, Quest Ventures and a number of individual investors. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $57 million, according to the company.

While it was at it, the company also added some executive fire power, announcing that it was bringing on former Okta chief product officer Eric Berg as CEO and former Snowflake CEO Bob Muglia as Chairman.

Companies like Stripe for payments and Twilio for communications are the poster children for the move to APIs. Instead of building sophisticated functionality from scratch, a developer can use an API call to a service, and presto, has the tooling built in without any fuss. Fauna does the same thing for databases.

“Within a few lines of code with Fauna, developers can add a full featured globally distributed database to their applications. They can simplify code, reduce costs and ship faster because they never again worry about database issues such as correctness, capacity, scalability, replication, etc,” new CEO Berg told TechCrunch.

To automate the process even further, the database is serverless, meaning that it scales up or down automatically to meet the needs of the application. Company co-founder Evan Weaver, who has moved to CTO with the hiring of Berg, says that Stripe is a good example of how this works. “You don’t think about provisioning Stripe because you don’t have to. […] You sign up for an account and beyond that you don’t have to provision or operate anything,” Weaver explained.

Like most API companies, it’s working at the developer level to build community and developer consensus around it. Today, they have 25,000 developers using the tool. While they don’t have an open source version, they try to attract developer interest with a generous free tier, after which you can pay as you go or set up a fixed monthly pricing as you scale up.

The company has always been 100% remote, so when COVID hit, it didn’t really change anything about the way the company’s 40 employees work. As the company grows Berg says it has aggressive goals around diversity and inclusion.

“Our recruiting and HR team have some pretty aggressive targets in terms of thinking about diversity in our pipelines and in our recruiting efforts, and because we’re a small team today we have the ability to impact that as we grow. If we doubled the size of the company, we could shift those percentages pretty dramatically, so it’s something that is definitely top of mind for us.”

Weaver says that fund raising began last year before COVID hit, but the term sheet wasn’t signed until April. He admits being nervous throughout the process, especially as the pandemic took hold. A company like Fauna is highly technical and takes time to grow, and he worried getting investors to understand that, even without a bleak economic picture, was challenging.

“It’s a deep tech business and it takes real capital to grow and scale. It’s a high risk, high reward bet, which is easier to fund in boom times, but broadly I think the best companies get built during recessions when there’s less competition for talent and there’s more focus on capital.”

Twilio 2010 board deck gives peek at now-public company’s early days

Categories: Business News

The Mom Project raises $25M for its job site aimed at women returning to work

2020, July 1 - 9:54pm

Women have long had the short end of the stick when it comes to employment, regularly finding themselves struggling to break through the glass ceiling for promotions and on average getting paid less than their male counterparts. That situation often gets compounded when the woman in question is a parent, balancing the needs of professional and home life and more.

But we’re seeing a gradual shift among companies to “do better” on inclusion, and that’s opening the door to new opportunities. And to underscore that, The Mom Project — a Chicago startup that focuses on connecting women, including parents, with jobs from organizations specifically open to employing people who meet that profile — is announcing a $25 million round of funding to expand its business.

The funding comes on the heels of some significant traction for The Mom Project . Since we first profiled the company in December 2018 (when it had raised a round of $8 million led by Initialized Capital) it has grown to 275,000 users (up from 75,000), and doubled the number of organizations posting jobs on the platform to 2,000, including several major tech companies other brands like Facebook, Nike, Uber, Apple, Google and Twitter. The company has also made an acquisition of a startup called Werk to add analytics tools to for its business customers.

The Series B round of funding brings the total raised by the startup to $36 million, and it is being led by 7CG — a VC that has backed the likes of Jio (the Indian juggernaut raising like crazy right now), Cheddar (the media platform acquired by Altice) and fintech Acorns — with participation also from Citi Ventures, Synchrony Financial, SVB and High Alpha, as well as previous investors Initialized Capital, Grotech Ventures, OCA, Aspect Ventures, Wintrust Financial, Irish Angels and Engage VC.

The Mom Project is built around a two-sided platform and both of those sides will be getting a boost with this funding.

On one side, the startup works with businesses to post job listings that specifically target women and those returning to work who might need more flexible terms in their employment engagements, as well as analyse its overall HR strategies around those efforts.

On the other side, it provides a platform to women who fit that basic profile — the average age of its users is between 28 and 44, its CEO and founder Allison Robinson (pictured above with her child) said — providing them both with job listings and other support.

The plan will be to enhance both aspects of the business: more tools for enterprises to better engage The Mom Project’s community, as well as manage the recruitment and employment of people better; and more tools for Mom users, including building out an interactive community (and forums) to better “address the pain points of family and career,” Robinson said.

While there are a lot of job boards online — indeed recruitment dot-coms were some of the earliest successful business in the earliest days of the World Wide Web, meaning there are giant legacy players out there — The Mom Project is a strong example of how that model has been evolving.

Specifically, we’re seeing a flourishing of startups, and sites, focused on identifying and cultivating job opportunities for specific segments of the market, be it specific types of jobs like engineers, or a specific demographic, or both — in ways that more general job boards like those on LinkedIn or Indeed either don’t highlight as well or simply cannot address.

These are not only connecting with specific talent groups, but speaking to the needs of businesses that are trying to make more of an effort to boost their workforce diversity as part of larger inclusion policies: they are also struggling, in their case to find effective ways to target specific kinds of candidates.

As we noted when we previously profiled The Mom Project, it was started when Robinson herself struggled to return to work — her previous career had he working as an executive at Pampers — after having a child, and it’s a problem that she is not alone in having identified, and the focus on addressing that and executing well on it is one reason The Mom Project has grown.

Needless to say, recent events have had a huge impact on how all those general employment trends, and the recruitment industry, have been going. We’ve seen unprecedented job losses, hiring freezes, a push for remote working all suddenly become the norm. All of that has had a mixed impact on The Mom Project.

In some ways, it plays into what the startup has been building all along: currently some two-thirds of all jobs posted and that people are looking to do are focused on fixed-term projects, rather than permanent positions, and so as companies slow down their normal recruiting, it leaves a space for the kind of work that people who need more flexible schedules may be able to do. That’s at the same time that the companies themselves may be reducing headcount overall for all kinds of work, however.

Another big theme of the last several months has been the big shift to inclusiveness when it comes to racial diversity, and that too has direct relevance in the female workforce, Robinson noted. “Sixty percent of the job losses in the pandemic have been women, and the statistics have been even worse for women of color,” she said. “It’s like a canary in the coalmine.”

While The Mom Project doesn’t have any tools today to surface candidates that meet more diverse profiles, Robinson said that they are considering it and how to approach that in a way that works.

Meanwhile, The Mom Project is also trying to do more to speak to the other side of its marketplace and the struggles they are having. It’s launched a $500,000 fund, distributing grants specifically to small businesses that are its customers (that is, hiring via The Mom Project) the are finding it especially tough right now. (And indeed, many have pointed to the especially hard hit that SMBs are taking at the moment.)

All of this is to say that there remains a huge market opportunity here and there is an argument to be made that companies that good at identifying clever ways of targeting gaps, and executing on that well, are strong candidates for identifying and filling other gaps in the future, one reason why investors are knocking.

“There is a material disconnect between senior female talent and executive roles at major corporations, not for lack of interest, however the difficulty to institutionalize in large enterprise. The Mom Project’s platform enables corporates to source, onboard and manage variable labor at the highest skill level, a function historically which has been offline and manual for FTEs and even more so difficult for flexible employees,” said Jack Leeney, founding partner at 7GC, in an emailed interview. “In our diligence, the value add to senior HR managers of an analytic platform which enables the oversight of a variable work force was the single most important factor to integrating The Mom Project initially and at scale. There is no other growth company, digital first HR company or large scale talent agency that is addressing the female exec population with an enterprise grade digital solution.”
Categories: Business News

Andela, which builds engineering teams tapping African talent, goes fully-remote and opens to the wider continent

2020, July 1 - 8:40pm

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote working has become the name of the game for knowledge workers in the tech industry. Today, a startup that was an early mover on the opportunity of that model is announcing some news to double down on the concept.

Andela, the New York startup that helps tech companies build remote engineering teams while at the same time shrinking the digital divide by tapping talent out of hubs in Africa for those teams, is today announcing a big step up in its efforts. The company is itself going fully remote, and as part of that it’s widening the pool of people that it taps to work and train by extending its reach across the whole of the African continent, while also shutting down its existing physical campuses.

Jeremy Johnson, the co-founder and CEO, said that he believes that the move will extend the talent pool that it can tap to more than 500,000 engineers from the 250,000 that it could reach through its earlier model. To date some 100,000 engineers have applied to and used Andela’s skills training tools (it works in partnership with a number of other tech companies to provide these, including Google, Microsoft and Facebook) and it has connected some 1,000 people to job opportunities.

The news comes on the heels of the company laying off 135 employees in May, with senior employees taking 10%-30% pay-cuts ahead of what the company hinted would be a big change in its business — the news that’s getting announced today. Andela has confirmed that it is not making any more cuts to its staff with today’s news. (It has around 1,200 employees globally.)

We’re seeing a huge shift right now to remote working due to the persistent existence of COVID-19 and the need to keep more social distancing in place, and a byproduct of that has been people actively moving out of expensive tech hubs now that it’s been accepted that being in them isn’t a fundamental requirement to do work.

At the same time, a lot of companies have either slowed down or frozen hiring of full-time employees but are continuing to tap people for project-based work because their businesses are no less in need of talent to operate.

Both of those trends are an endorsement of the model that Andela helped to pioneer with its remote teams concept, and they more pointedly spell opportunity for companies like it that already have networks in place to speak to those demands.

All the same, it’s a major shift for the startup, not least because it’s closing down its physical campuses.

Founded in 2014 out of Lagos, Nigeria, and backed by investors like Generation (Al Gore’s fund), the Omidyar Network, Spark Capital and Chan Zuckerberg Education and valued at $700 million as of its most recent funding round last year, Andela has for the last six years focused on building a network based around the biggest tech hubs on the continent, building physical spaces in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda, that helped source, vet and further train talent to become part of remote company teams for some 200 customers, with a large proportion of those in the US, including Cloudflare, Wellio, ViacomCBS, and Women Who Code.

As Andela started to scale that model, starting with a pilot in Ghana in 2018 and a second in Egypt last year, it saw that the more efficient route was to forego the physical hubs completely for virtual ones.

Indeed, Jeremy Johnson, the CEO who co-founded the company with Christina Sass, said that its move was not a direct response to the pandemic per se, although global events have definitely given a fillip to the concept. 

“What we’ve done historically is go and build campus in each location and in early days that made a ton of sense because that was helpful for training and from an infrastructure standpoint it was what we needed to do,” he said in an interview.

“But as we’ve transitioned to focus more on the breadth and depth of talent and diversity across the continent, we opened satellites in Egypt and Ghana where we didn’t require a campus. It’s actually worked really well and some ways feels like it’s opening opportunities for even greater growth.”

Our own interview was via Zoom, with me in London and Johnson in New Hampshire: Andela’s New York office (where he is normally based) closed for the moment.

“Our headquarters has technically been the internet, but we’ve had a big presence in NYC,” he said referring to its US base. He added that the expansion in Africa using the satellite/remote concept is the limit to how it apply the remote concept, with the question of what will happen in the future to even its US offices still not fully answered.

“We announced a few weeks ago we are going to be a remote-first company overall going forward,” he said. “It lets you think differently about where to live and more. I don’t know what it means longer term but for now we are all living on Zoom.”

While Andela is obviously expanding its talent pool with this move, and potentially giving a huge boost to providing more job opportunities for technology talent on the continent, the interesting next step for all of us will be to see how that connects with the other side of the marketplace — that is, the big tech companies themselves and how much they need to and are willing to invest in growing their own workforces. That is not a minor issue, considering the millions that have been laid off so far in the last few months.

Andela, Johnson said, has no plans to raise more capital at the moment with money in the bank and revenues continuing to come in. Last year, it confirmed that it was on an annual revenue run rate of $50 million, but it’s not updating that figure at the moment.

Categories: Business News

Bolt launches electric bike-sharing service in Paris

2020, July 1 - 7:19pm

Like other ride-hailing companies, Bolt has been suffering from the coronavirus-related lockdown and economic downturn around the world. But the company is trying to find another revenue stream by launching electric bikes in Paris. Bolt plans to launch a similar service in other European capitals this year.

For the past couple of weeks, the only bike-sharing service that has been operating in Paris is Vélib’, the public bike-sharing service based on docked bikes and electric bikes. Many private companies have tried to compete with Vélib’ but they’ve all failed so far — Gobee.bike, Obike, Ofo, Mobike…

The most recent example is Jump, Uber’s micromobility subsidiary. Following a financial transaction with Lime, Jump has removed all its bikes from the streets of Paris, London, Rome, Brussels and more. Those electric bikes now belong to Lime, but Lime hasn’t relaunched the service yet (if it ever gets relaunched).

Lime closes acquisition of Jump assets in Europe as Jump bikes and scooters disappear

But it doesn’t mean bikes aren’t popular. The public bike-sharing service in Paris is even reaching record highs these days. Let’s see if it means that people are willing to give Bolt’s e-bikes a try.

In addition to ride-hailing and scooters, you’ll be able to access the bike-sharing service from the same Bolt app. Like other free-floating vehicles, you can unlock a bike by scanning a QR code.

When it comes to pricing, Bolt is trying to make its service as cheap as possible to attract its first users. There won’t be any unlock fee and it’ll cost €0.10 per minute. It’s still unclear how much it’s going to cost after the launch phase.

Vélib’ still feels more attractive when it comes to pricing. It costs €2 to rent an e-bike for up to 30 minutes, or €8.30 per month to rent as many e-bikes as you want in a given month. With Bolt, you pay €2 for a 20-minute ride — and that’s without any unlock fee.

Bolt has 30 million users in 35 countries. It operates a scooter service in 21 cities around Europe.

Categories: Business News

TransferWise to offer investment products but has ‘no plans’ to become a bank

2020, July 1 - 8:01am

TransferWise, the London-headquartered international money transfer service recently valued at $3.5 billion, has secured an additional license with U.K. regulators to enable it to offer investment products in the future.

This will mean that U.K. customers who have money deposited in a TransferWise multi-currency or so-called “borderless” account will be given the option to make that money work harder on their behalf. Total deposits currently sit at £2 billion, so there is quite a lot of customer cash potentially idle.

However, the company isn’t revealing much detail on its future investments product, except to say that it will initially offer “simple, affordable funds from reputable providers” so that customers can earn a return on their balances. Up to £85,000 of money held as investments within a TransferWise account per customer will be protected under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. The new offering is still in development and will launch “in the next 12 months.”

Zooming out further, TransferWise says an increasing number of its 8 million customers are using the borderless account as an international banking solution. Around one million TransferWise debit cards have been issued since 2018, and the TransferWise account now also supports direct debits, instant international payments to friends, and Apple and Google Pay. With the addition of savings and investments, TransferWise says its vision is for the borderless account to replace “expensive, old-world international banking” for expats, freelancers and travelers.

“You and I have been talking since 2011, when you first reported that TransferWise was going live, and I think you’ll appreciate that over time we’ve expanded the features that TransferWise offers our customers, for sure,” co-founder and current CEO Kristo Käärmann tells me on a call. “We launched the borderless account to let people receive money in-roads and to hold money. We added the debit cards so that they can use that money that they hold in places where they can use the card. And this is, in some ways, no different.”

Sticking to broad brush strokes rather than specific product details (despite my persistent questioning), Käärmann says that after listening to customers TransferWise wants to help them hold their balance in a smarter way.

“Clearly they’ve already figured out that TransferWise works for them,” he says. “And not merely as a medium of sending money from one country to another but also to get paid internationally, to kind of run their international part of banking, if you like. For businesses, for freelancers, for ex-pats, for people that have just moved countries. So this is another feature along the same string of things that people want us to do for them.”

That, of course, begs the question: Does TransferWise have any plans to become an actual bank, with a full banking license, further adding to its existing permissions from regulators. Käärmann gives a pretty emphatic answer.

“No, we don’t have any plans to apply for a banking license,” he says. “We haven’t applied for any banking licenses anywhere in the world… The only thing that the banking license in Europe lets banks do is lend out the deposits that customers give them, and that’s not what our customers are asking for. They’re not asking us, you know, can you please lend out our deposits?”

In fact, Käärmann confesses to not being a huge fan of the predominant current account business model, which he believes serves the interests of banks, not account-holding customers. “I do think the way current accounts work with banks is not sustainable in the long term. That the money we keep in banks is being lent out to mortgages and business loans and overdrafts and so on, yet the customers holding that money, they’re not really getting much benefit from it. So why do it?” he asks, somewhat rhetorically.

Returning to the forthcoming investment product — and after a little more prodding from me — he says to expect it to have the same transparency as the company’s core money exchange offering, with clear pricing and working as hard for customers as possible. In line with TransferWise’s existing modus operandi, I would also expect it to be financially sustainable, rather than being cross-subsidised in order to pull customers in or grab easy headlines, which is common practice amongst many investments and savings products.

Adds the TransferWise CEO: “We want to be clear what the problem is we’re solving. [It] comes back to giving people a choice of where and how they hold their balances. And that might give you a hint of the product that we’re building. I can say now that we’re not building an active trading product, that’s not the goal. Our customers aren’t asking how can they speculate on the markets. There are tools for this, and they are increasingly [getting] better for this purpose. What we’re solving with the investments product is going to be a much more passive way of choosing where your balances sit.”

Categories: Business News

Oculus co-founder and games industry vets form Mountaintop Studios

2020, July 1 - 4:18am

Oculus co-founder Nate Mitchell is heading up a new game development house called Mountaintop Studios, joined by colleagues from around the gaming industry. The company aims to leave the crunch and toxic culture pervasive in game studios behind and make one that’s “collaborative, anti-crunch, diverse and inclusive.”

The founding team includes Mitchell’s former colleague Mark Terrano, who was creative director at Oculus, Matt Hansen, former COO of Double Fine, and artist Rich Lyons, who worked at Naughty Dog and Vigil.

According to its webpage, Mountaintop will be creating “multiplayer games for players who crave a challenge,” though when I chatted with Mitchell and Hansen, they cited mostly single-player titles. The theme they came back to was growth and a journey: mystery, but also mastery.

As the company’s initial blog post puts it:

It isn’t just the thrill of victory. It’s looking back and seeing how far you’ve come. How you were forced to grow, adapt and improve. It’s the satisfaction of knowing you’re better than you were before. And sometimes, it’s sharing the joy of the climb with your friends.

While it’s too early for the team to reveal details on their first game, “We think we’re onto something,” Mitchell said. Considering the time and effort it takes to create a AAA game these days, and the fact that Mountaintop is currently only five full-timers, we can probably expect the first details no earlier than next year.

But the founders were clear that the company is also about getting away from the culture problems in game development.

“What we really want to do is have a studio that is people first,” Mitchell said. “There are so many folks across the industry who have just been burnt out by endless crunch. And the expectations around hours don’t allow for any sort of work-life balance. We want Mountaintop to be a place where people can come and still have that.”

But it isn’t just labor issues of crunch and overtime plaguing gaming. Racism and sexism that are endemic and evident in both the final products and companies themselves. And it must be said that the founders themselves follow one of the most common and unfortunate trends in the industry: All four are white men.

Mitchell and Hansen declined to make any specific commitments as far as diversity and inclusion go, despite those values being central to the new studio. They did, at least, acknowledge the difficulty and complexity of this pursuit.

“There’s no silver bullet for inclusivity, a lot of it is long-term work,” Mitchell said. “Because it’s a fresh studio, a fresh culture, we can start from scratch with the right foundation. We never thought when we kicked off the studio that we’d be launching in the middle of not just a pandemic, but a global conversation about institutionalized racism, police violence and injustice. So talking about that stuff internally, where we stand as individuals and as a company, that informs how we act as a company.”

“One of the earliest conversations we had was around getting the culture right. Our founders are all aligned in this,” added Hansen.

“There’s a bunch of micro things we can do every day,” continued Mitchell. “Setting our cultural values, making sure people understand those, driving toward inclusivity and diversity training, excellent hiring practices, working with community groups and integrating and supporting them, maybe recruiting from there.”

It’s a lot of promises and few concrete commitments, a common theme in tech and gaming these days. Having one’s heart in the right place is nice, but what the industries need is action. Hopefully the promises are preludes to lasting decisions, but only time (plus real and sustained effort on Mountaintop’s part) will tell.

Categories: Business News

Dear Sophie: Is immigration happening? Who can I hire?

2020, July 1 - 4:11am
Sophie Alcorn Contributor Share on Twitter Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives. More posts by this contributor

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

“Dear Sophie” columns are accessible for Extra Crunch subscribers; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.

Dear Sophie:

What is going on with recent USCIS furloughs and Trump’s H-1B ban?

I handle recruitment for several tech companies. Is immigration happening? Who can I hire?

—Frustrated in Fremont

Dear Fremont:

Immigration is still possible and I will explain how below. The administration continues to miss the mark with immigration policy. Trump’s U.S. unemployment “solution” of cutting off the stream of global talent to the U.S. is short-sighted. The administration is shooting America in the foot by walling off the promise of post-COVID economic revitalization and job-creation for Americans through the talent of immigrant entrepreneurs, investors and talent.

USCIS just provided a 30-day furlough notice to more than 70% of its employees. Reporters have been reaching out to me every day requesting stories of affected immigrants and HR professionals; please sign up to share your immigration story with journalists.

Categories: Business News

To promote diversity, rewire your broken corporate culture

2020, July 1 - 3:54am
Travis Montaque Contributor Share on Twitter Travis Montaque is CEO of Holler and made Entrepreneur Magazine's 2018 Most Daring Entrepreneur's list for his work in branding consumer conversations. He was also named as one of Forbes’ 30 under 30 in 2016.

We have a problem. In tech, our companies are not diverse.

This is something we’ve known for a long time, but in an industry where we’ve innovated and solved some of the world’s most challenging problems, we have continued to fail here. I am one of few Black tech CEOs and I too have historically not done as much as I should have to harness the power of diversity in my business. I have been fast at work to change this, but I’ve learned that it requires rewriting the entire playbook.

To better approach the lack of diversity in tech, one-dimensional diversity agendas will not cut it. Company cultures across the board need to be rewired at their core. Change has to happen at every level, from leadership to individual employees — even how a corporation behaves as an entity.

Diversity is advantageous both for employees and the bottom line, but static, siloed diversity programs will not create systemic change. Shifting the company mindset around diversity means creating excitement around our differences, changing the idea that diversity is a zero-sum game and approaching diversity like every other challenge we face.

It can be tempting to introduce a diversity agenda and say you’ve solved the problem. A step beyond this involves diversity and inclusion initiatives that aim to get more people in the door and create support networks within the company walls. It’s not just about meeting D&I standards; the goal is to foster a sense of belonging for all employees.

Everyone should feel that their individuality, sexual orientation, gender and heritage are celebrated within the workplace, not just tolerated. Through diverse viewpoints, ideas can be challenged and made better. Without this level of acceptance and genuine excitement at every level of the organization, diversity initiatives will continue to fall flat.

When thinking about diversity, inclusion and belonging, leaders must consider ways to engage the full group instead of creating support groups for small portions of your staff. True diversity in the workplace requires a holistic approach where the entire team is participating and engaged.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that on the most basic level, people want to feel seen and appreciated. Personally, I’ve always leaned into diverse cultural experiences. I would go to my friend’s Passover even though I am not Jewish. My friends and other guests didn’t care that I didn’t know what was about to happen — they appreciated that I was there and willing to learn. I’m trying to take this same emotional interaction and apply it to Holler’s culture. We need to look for ways to acknowledge that we are here and ready to learn about experiences other than our own. And remember — we don’t have to have all the answers.

To address this, we’ve recently started to create holidays (or as we call them, Hollerdays) where we as a company will acknowledge and honor the holidays from various heritages, races and religions that our employees celebrate. This is not just a free day off. This is an opportunity for all of us to learn and celebrate cultures outside of our own.

Education is the key element in diversity-focused activities having real impact. We need to create normalcy around educational opportunities. Through education, opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate diverse life experiences begins to be baked into the company culture.

When introducing new educational opportunities, we must show that they are beneficial for everyone, not just catered to minority groups or hosted in order to meet a diversity standard. Corporate diversity can often feel like a box that can be checked by hiring more ethnically diverse candidates or implementing a program to help those individuals assimilate. What’s worse is that anything beyond these initiatives is perceived as special treatment or a chore to the full team. If an educational moment feels like a negative to employees, the outcome will be negative and mass adoption of equitable and inclusive company cultures will be slow.

To introduce new educational programs at Holler, we recently asked one of the BLM founders, Opal Tometi, to speak with our employees in a live Q&A. This was during work hours and highly encouraged, but not required. It was a communal activity where we were able to discuss different perspectives and continue thinking about how we can each do better on an individual level. We created excitement around it and reinforced that these types of discussions are a company priority.

The language we use around diversity also has a hand in creating real change. We need to focus on diversity as a way of lifting the entire ship and creating an equitable society. In tech specifically, team members who can think outside of their own lived experiences have a stronger sense of emotional intelligence. They can build algorithms or projects that address a larger collective — mitigating issues like biased machine learning solutions. They become more competitive as employees.

A community focused on diversity, inclusion, and belonging will have a competitive advantage. Frankly, it’s the morally right thing to do. Business leaders should monitor the execution of diversity and inclusion programs to ensure equity and belonging are a part of the conversation as well.

We as leaders in technology need to treat diversity and inclusion the same way we do any other tech challenge — with agility and openness to iteration. Many companies use agile methodology to yield the best results. To solve complex problems, agile practices encourage adaptability and promote continuous improvement, flexibility, collaboration and high quality. We must do the same for diversity.

With so much pressure to change and do better, it is tempting to implement new policies and say that you are automatically diversity focused. Immediately stating how your company will “fix the problem” is a band-aid approach that often misses the larger task at hand. It also does not involve enough follow through. Rewiring your company culture to be more inclusive and diverse requires continuous effort, a commitment to hearing feedback and evolving as you learn.

As a CEO, I’m trying to understand how each and every person within my company views diversity. Yes, this even includes white males. We need the perspectives of everyone in order to foster a sense of belonging and create company cultures that systematically embrace diverse backgrounds. We all need to be a part of the conversation and willing to grow.

I’m also continuing to speak and listen to other business leaders to hear how they are approaching change. Not a single one of us has the answer, but through sharing ideas and really listening to what is working (and what’s not), we can start to make sustainable change.

Think of diversity as an industry-wide open-source project. We cannot work in silos. Isolation will lead to furthering our fragmented industry and leave us without a standard for how all humans should be treated within the tech community.

Sharing ideas and progress can be intimidating, but it’s okay to fail. The agile methodology promotes the idea of failure as an outcome and empowers iteration. We need to allow companies to miss the mark sometimes, as long as they are trying and iterating. Businesses inevitably won’t get this right every time.

I’ve heard from white male executives that one of their biggest fears is rolling out well-intentioned initiatives and getting “canceled” when it doesn’t work out perfectly. If we do not allow today’s business leaders to make mistakes, we’ll suffocate progress. We need to focus on the good intent and keep moving forward.

We each have to take on the responsibility to make change happen — at a corporate and an individual level. Once we learn to celebrate everyone at our companies for who they truly are, shift the rhetoric away from who wins and who loses in the fight for equity, and evolve our approach to problem solving, we can begin to make systemic changes to our company cultures. The process is only beginning and it is going to take all of us doing our part to fundamentally alter how we approach corporate diversity conversations.

We must take our next steps together.

Categories: Business News

Health class is outdated, so Lessonbee wants to fix it

2020, July 1 - 3:27am

Sex education in the United States is complicated.

One example: For decades, the United States invested billions into abstinence-only programs. Eventually, schools rejected government funding for these programs and pushed a more comprehensive and medically accurate agenda. Even with progress, schools across the country continue to reckon with a legacy of inaccuracy. And the government is still funding abstinence-only programs.

It’s bad news for students, and for founder of Lessonbee Reva McPollom, a change is long overdue. She can personally vouch for how non-comprehensive education in health classes can isolate students.

As a child, McPollom said she was called a tomboy and felt confused because she identified as a female. There was no lesson teaching the danger of gender stereotypes and norms.

“I felt wrong for liking sports, for wanting to play drums, I felt wrong for everything that I loved or liked or attached myself too as part of my identity,” she said.

The silent suffering, she says, continued through high school: “If you look at my senior yearbook, like I’m not even in it, I just totally erased myself by that point.”

Reva McPollom, the founder of Lessonbee (Image Source: Lessonbee)

After working as a journalist, digital marketer and a software engineer, McPollom returned to her past with a new idea. She founded Lessonbee, a more comprehensive health education curriculum provider to express diverse scenarios in schools. The company’s goal is to help students avoid what she had to go through: missing out on the joy of education and feeling worthy enough to learn.

The company sells a curriculum that covers a range of topics, from sex education to race to mental health, that integrates into existing K-12 school districts as a separate standalone course. The topics themselves then break down into smaller focus areas. For example, with the race unit launching soon Lessonbee will tackle the effects of race and ethnicity on quality of care, maternal health and food insecurity.

Lessonbee has hundreds of educational videos and interactive lessons created by teachers and the company, updated regularly. Each lesson also comes with a downloadable guide that describes content, objectives and recommendations for homework and quizzes. Lessonbee gives a guide for how to create culturally inclusive education, in line with standards put out by National Health Education and National Sexuality Education.

Image Source: Lessonbee

“It needs to meet all types of kids, regardless of where they’re at,” McPollom said.

One example scenario in the curriculum includes a student who starts having sex and then misses her period. Learners are then responsible for choosing what to do next, who to talk to and what they should do next time. It’s a “choose your adventure”-style learning experience.

Students can log onto the platform and take self-paced classes on different health units, ranging from sex education to mental health and racism. The lessons are taught through text-message scenarios or gamified situations to make sure students are actively engaging with the content, McPollom tells TechCrunch.

Image Source: Lessonbee

State policy regarding education is often a nightmare of intricacies and politics. This is part of the reason so few startups try to solve it. If Lessonbee were to pull off its goal, it would initiate bigger conversations around racism and health into a kid’s day-to-day.

McPollom is currently pitching the service to school districts, which have tight budgets, and venture capitalists, who say they are open for business. So far, the company has 600 registered schools on its platform.

“It’s a non-core academic subject so it’s the last priority, and there’s just inequity all over the place,” she said. “There’s a mismatch of privacy policies across the United States handled differently and it kind of dictates the quality of health education that you’re going to receive.”

Lessonbee subscription is priced low to be more accessible, starting at $16 per learner annually. Individual courses start at $8 per learner annually.

Today, McPollom announced that she has raised $920,000 in financing.

As for the future, McPollom views her go-to market health class strategy as Lessonbee’s “Trojan horse.” She wants to integrate the culturally diverse curriculum into social studies or science classes, and cover how interconnected the subjects are and their ties to inequity and health.

McPollam says the team is developing an anti-racism course to introduce for the fall in the wake of the recent protests against police brutality. Topics in the anti-racism course include the effect of race and ethnicity on quality of care, ways racism impacts maternal health and structural racism and food insecurity.

“We’re hoping to evolve to this idea of health across the curriculum,” she said. “For health to be effective, for you to actually move the needle, health needs to be holistic.”

Categories: Business News

Tune-up your pitch tomorrow at Pitchers & Pitches

2020, July 1 - 1:32am

Ready to breathe some life into your 60-second pitch? Turn your internet dial to our next Pitchers & Pitches webinar tomorrow, July 1 at 4 p.m. EDT/1 p.m. PDT. It’s free for everyone, and all you need to do is register right here.

Tune in as five early-stage startup founders (all of whom you’ll find exhibiting in Digital Startup Alley during Disrupt 2020) step to the mound to bring the heat. Translation: They’ll deliver their best 60-second elevator pitch to a panel of judges — and benefit from real-time critique, feedback and advice from industry experts who know how to craft a winning pitch.

Judging this session we have pitch-savvy TechCrunch editors, Jordan Crook and Kirsten Korosec, plus two VCs — Matthew Hartman of Betaworks Ventures and Dayna Grayson of Construct Capital. Yes, essential feedback from startup investors — the very people founders need to impress most.

Not only will the five pitching founders come away with a stronger presentation, one of them will walk away with a pretty cool prize. The viewing audience (that would be you) decides who wins a consulting session with cela, a company that connects early-stage startups to accelerators and incubators that can help scale their businesses.

Note: Only companies that purchase a Disrupt Digital Startup Alley Package are eligible to pitch. You’ll still learn valuable tips and strategies — even if you’re not facing the judges. Watch, listen and apply the expert tips and strategies to power up your pitch — your handshake to the startup world. This is your chance to make it firm and impressive.

Here are the startups we randomly selected to compete tomorrow:

Cognidna — provides DNA insights on cognitive traits, helping parents make more informed educational decisions for their children.

Munch — a digital platform for restaurants designed to create better customer experiences.

Flexlane — an online wholesale marketplace that transforms the way local retailers in Asia buy for their stores.

Bitsensing — aims to design future safety in the era of autonomous vehicles.

Evertracker — a neutral platform that provides end-to-end visibility and predictability along global supply chains on an item level.

Don’t miss this masterclass. Register for Pitches & Pitchers and tune in tomorrow, July 1 at 4 p.m. EDT/1 p.m. PDT. If you want a shot at pitching during the Pitchers & Pitches session scheduled on July 22, be sure to buy your Disrupt Digital Startup Alley Package first to be eligible.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2020? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Categories: Business News

E-scooter firms get the green light to start trials of up to one year on UK streets

2020, July 1 - 1:21am

In light of COVID-19 and social distancing regulations, the U.K. has been working on making it easier for people to get from point A to B in cities without resorting to buses and trains or bringing more cars to congested roads, and today that strategy took an interesting leap forward.

The country’s Department for Transport today announced that it would start allowing e-scooters, by way of e-scooter rental companies, to legally operate across the country initially in a trial phase starting no later than August. Councils and other authorities, including across London and other major cities, are working on putting together trials that could run for as long as 12 months under guidelines provided by the government.

The regulations come into force on July 4, the DfT said, with the first trials expected to begin a week later.

“As we emerge from lockdown, we have a unique opportunity in transport to build back in a greener, more sustainable way that could lead to cleaner air and healthier communities across Great Britain,” said Transport Minister Rachel Maclean in a statement. “E-scooters may offer the potential for convenient, clean and cost-effective travel that may also help ease the burden on the transport network, provide another green alternative to get around and allow for social distancing. The trials will allow us to test whether they do these things.”

There are some restrictions in place: E-scooters will not be able to go faster than 15.5 miles per hour, and they will only be able to use roads and cycle lanes, not sidewalks or other areas reserved for pedestrians. Users will need a drivers license (full or provisional). The scooters themselves will not need to be registered as vehicles but will need insurance. As with bicycles, users will be recommended — but not required — to wear helmets.

It seems that privately owned e-scooters will not be included in the rule relaxation, but it’s not clear what steps regulators will take — if any — to avoid the cluttering that we have seen in some cities overrun with too many dockless scooters crowding sidewalks.

The list of e-scooter hopefuls is long. From the word go, those that are looking to operate in the U.K. include Bird, Bolt (the ridesharing startup out of Estonia), Tier, Neuron Mobility, Lime, Voi and Zipp Mobility.

We’re contacting the DfT with our questions and will update this post as we learn more.

Electric scooters will now join the ranks of other shared transportation options that include bikes and e-bikes, as a complement to mass transit and of course walking or using your own nonautomotive wheels as an alternative to using cars. E-scooters have been seen both as an alternative for short distances (between 1 and 5 miles) but also as a last-mile solution in combination with other transport modes aimed at longer distances, like buses and trains.

The news today lifts restrictions that had previously been in place that classified e-scooters as motor vehicles and therefore required the e-scooters to be licensed and taxed, and for operators to have licenses to use them.

Those rules also meant that the e-scooters were illegal to use on sidewalks, with the only exception to all that being legal usage across select (and very limited) campuses on private land.

The moves come on the heels of a consultation in March to pilot e-scooter use in three regions of the U.K., along with a number of other initiatives including e-cargo carriers and using drones to transport medical supplies — the aim being to explore in quick order a number of new technologies to expand transportation options available to consumers, as well as essential businesses and the people who work in them.

The bigger trend has seen other cities also looking to relax rules to improve transportation options to people who wish to socially distance but still need to get around urban areas in ways that are quicker than walking. New York City is also expected to unveil its own roadmap for e-scooter pilots in the near future.

The news made official today had been something of a badly kept secret, specifically among transportation startups whose businesses have been in a holding pattern waiting for the regulator to ease up on restrictions that had been in place.

Just about all of those startups have been sending out alerts to journalists for over a week now with comments on the government’s widely expected announcements.

“We welcome the DfT’s announcement and are excited to be one step closer to the starting of e-scooter trials,” said Zachary Wang, CEO of Neuron Mobility, in a statement. “We are already in discussions with quite a few councils, as no two towns or cities are the same we look forward to partnering with them to safely introduce e-scooters in a way that best suits their individual needs. COVID-19 has led to a fundamental rethink of the way we travel and e-scooters have the potential to radically improve how we get around our towns and cities. We are delighted that people in the U.K. will soon be able to benefit from shared e-scooters. They will allow people to continue social distancing while also providing a more efficient travel option than gas-guzzling alternatives.”

Some have been waiting for a chance to operate for some time.

“We welcome today’s announcement from the government as it looks to get cities moving again safely and in an environmentally friendly way,” said Roger Hassan, COO of TIER Mobility, in a statement. “We already have more than 1,000 of our industry leading scooters in our U.K. warehouse, ready to be deployed and we will be shipping more over very soon. Everyone at TIER is looking forward to working with the government and with local authorities to make e-scooters in the U.K. a huge success story.”

While there had been restrictions in place before now, I should point out that they were often badly enforced: In London there have always been some private e-scooter owners zooming around alongside bikes and cars on the roads, and I’ve even stopped at red lights on my bike, with an e-scooter on one side of me and a police officer on the other, and not a word gets exchanged, just a simple shrug of “What can you do?” So decriminalising, as it has done in other industries, will hopefully mean better oversight, alongside better choice for users.

Categories: Business News

R&D tax credits are due July 15. Neo.tax wants to help startups apply and raised $3M to do it

2020, July 1 - 1:00am

All founders love “free” money, but with the pandemic going on, the necessity of free money has taken on a whole new meaning this year. First, there was the scramble to secure PPP loans a few weeks back for U.S.-based startups, and then the second wave of PPP loans when Congress offered a second tranche of funding. Two weeks ago, I covered a company called MainStreet, which is helping startups apply for local economic development credits that cities offer to businesses relocating to their regions.

Free money for startups? It’s possible with MainStreet’s platform for economic development incentives

In the same vein, neo.tax wants to help startups secure R&D research credits from the federal government — which tend to be fairly easy to acquire for most software-based startups given the current IRS rules for what qualifies as “research.”

The free money is good, but what sets this startup apart is its ambitious vision to bring machine learning to company accounting — making it easier to track expenses and ultimately save on costs.

It’s a vision that has attracted top seed investors to the startup. Neo.tax announced today that it raised $3 million in seed funding from Andy McLoughlin at Uncork Capital and Mike Maples at Floodgate, with Michael Ma at Liquid 2 Ventures and Deena Shakir at Lux Capital participating. The round closed last week.

Neo.tax was founded by Firas Abuzaid, who spent the past few years focused on a Ph.D in computer science from Stanford, where he conducted research in machine learning. He’s joined by Ahmad Ibrahim, who most recently was at Intuit launching small business accounting products; and Stephen Yarbrough, who was head of tax at Kruze Consulting, a popular consultancy for startups on accounting and financial issues. Leonardo De La Rocha, who was creative director of Facebook Ads for nearly five years and currently works at Intuit, is an official advisor to the company.

Neo.tax’s co-founders Stephen Yarbrough, Firas Abuzaid and Ahmad Ibrahim. Image Credits: Neo.tax

Or in short, a perfect quad of folks to tackle small business accounting issues.

Neo.tax wants to automate everything about accounting, and that requires careful application of ML techniques to an absolutely byzantine problem. Abuzaid explained that AI is in some ways a perfect fit for these challenges. “There’s a very clearly defined data model, there’s a large set of constraints that are also clearly defined. There’s an obvious objective function, and there’s a finite search space,” he said. “But if you wanted to develop a machine-learning-based solution to automate this, you have to make sure you collect the right data, and you have to make sure that you can handle all of the numerous edge cases that are going to pop up in the 80,000 page U.S. tax code.“

That’s where neo.tax’s approach comes in. The software product is designed to ingest data about accounting, payroll and other financial functions within an organization and starts to categorize and pattern match transactions in a bid to take out much of the drudgery of modern-day accounting.

One insight is that rather than creating a single model for all small businesses, neo.tax tries to match similar businesses with each other, specializing its AI system to the particular client using it. “For example, let’s train a model that can target early-stage startups and then another model that can target Shopify businesses, another one that can target restaurants using Clover, or pizzerias or nail salons, or ice cream parlors,” Abuzaid said. “The idea here is that you can specialize to a particular domain and train a cascade of models that handle these different, individual subdomains that makes it a much more scalable solution.”

While neo.tax has a big vision long term to make accounting effortless, it wanted to find a beachhead that would allow it to work with small businesses and start to solve their problems for them. The team eventually settled on the R&D tax credit.

“That data from the R&D credit basically gives us the beginnings of the training data for building tax automation,” Ibrahim explained. “Automating tax vertical-by-vertical basically allows us to be this data layer for small businesses, and you can build lots of really great products and services on top of that data layer.“

So it’s a big long-term vision, with a focused upfront product to get there that launched about two months ago.

For startups that make less than $5 million in revenue (i.e., all early-stage startups), the R&D tax credit offers up to a quarter million dollars per year in refunds from the government for startups who either apply by July 15 (the new tax date this year due to the novel coronavirus) or who apply for an extension.

Neo.tax will take a 5% cut of the tax value generated from its product, which it will only take when the refund is actually received from the government. In this way, the team believes that it is better incentive-aligned with founders and business owners than traditional accounting firms, which charge professional services fees up front and often take a higher percentage of the rebate.

Ibrahim said that the company made about $100,000 in revenue in its first month after launch.

The startup is entering what has become a quickly crowded field led by the likes of Pilot, which has raised tens of millions of dollars from prominent investors to use a human and AI hybrid approach to bookkeeping. Pilot was last valued at $355 million when it announced its round in April 2019, although it has almost certainly raised more funding in the interim.

Index Ventures, Stripe back bookkeeping service Pilot with $40M

Ultimately, neo.tax is betting that a deeper technical infrastructure and a hyperfocus on artificial intelligence will allow it to catch up and compete with both Pilot and incumbent accounting firms, given the speed and ease of accounting and tax preparation when everything is automated.

Categories: Business News

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