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Pure Watercraft ramps up its electric outboard motors with a $23M series A

2020, September 22 - 9:01pm

Electric power only started making sense for land vehicles about ten years ago, but now the technology is ready to make the jump into the water. Pure Watercraft hopes that its electric outboard motor can replace a normal gas one for most boating needs under 50 HP — and it just raised $23.4M to hit the throttle.

Pure’s outboard works much like a traditional one, but runs on a suitcase-sized battery pack and is, of course, almost silent except for the sound of the turbulence. It’s pretty much a drop-in replacement for an outboard you’d use on a 10-20 foot boat meant for fishing or puttering around the lake, though the price tag looks a little different.

Founder and CEO Andy Rebele started the company in 2011, and it turns out they had shown up a bit early to the party. “The Model S had not yet been released; the plan of making boats electric was not really fundable,” he told me.

Rebele kept the company going with his own money and a bit of low-key funding in 2016, though he admits now that it was something of a leap of faith.

“You have to bet that this small market will become a big market,” he said. “We developed our entire battery pack architecture, and it took — it’s obvious at this point — millions of dollars to get where we are. But our investors are buying into a leader in the electrification of an entirely new sector of transportation that hasn’t gotten the same attention as cars and trucks.”

Image Credits: Pure Watercraft

They haven’t been wasting time. Pure claims an energy density — how much power is packed into every kilogram — of 166 watt-hours per kilogram, meeting industry leader Tesla and beating plenty of other automotive battery makers. Users can easily add on a second pack or swap in a fresh one. The cells themselves are sourced from Panasonic, like Tesla’s and many others are, but assembling them into an efficient, robust, and in this case waterproof pack is something a company can still do better than its competition.

Having plenty of power is crucial for boats, since they use up so much of it to fight against the constant resistance of the water. The amount of power it takes to go a kilometer in a car is a fraction of what it takes to do so in a boat. Even boats designed for electric from the ground up, like those from Zin, face fundamental limits on their capabilities simply because of physics.

Zin Boats reinvents the electric speedboat in a bid to become the Tesla of the sea

Rebele is aiming for the allure of simplicity. “The most popular outboard motor in the world is 40 horsepower,” he pointed out, and a replacement for that type of motor is exactly what Pure makes. “The mistake car companies made was saying, here’s the electric car market; it’s small, we tried it,” he said. Then Tesla came along with a great car that just happened to be electric.

It’s the same with boating, he suggested — sure, there are lots of different kinds of boats, and motors, and hull materials, and so on. But if Pure offers a motor that’s just as good or better than what powers a huge number of small boats, and just happens to be electric, it starts to sell itself.

Image Credits: Pure Watercraft

“We can’t count on people picking our product to save the world,” Rebele said. “The tipping point comes when you have a critical mass of people for whom a good selfish choice is to go electric.”

The benefits, after all, are easy to enumerate: It’s silent, which is great for fishing or social boating; It fills up for a buck or two at any outlet; It’s extremely low maintenance, having vastly fewer parts than a tiny gas engine; And of course it doesn’t spew fumes and particulates into the water and air like most of the depressingly dirty motors currently in use.

The only real advantage left to gas is initial cost and range. If you’re willing to spend some money for a better product, then cost isn’t as much of an issue. And if like most boaters you’re only going to ever go a few miles per trip, the range isn’t an issue. If you’re fishing or just cruising around a lake, it’ll last you all day. The people for whom electric isn’t an option will quickly realize that, while the others will find it increasingly hard to resist the idea.

Image Credits: Pure Watercraft

There’s still a good amount of sticker shock. A good new outboard in the 20-50 HP range runs a few thousand dollars to start, and marine gas costs add up quick; the Pure motor comes in a combo deal with the charger system and one battery pack for $16,500 (additional packs cost about $8,000). They’re working with some boat manufacturers to do complete boat deals for 30 grand or less, but it’s still firmly in the high end for the “outboard on a 2-6 person boat” crowd.

The $23.4 million A round, led by L37 and a number of individuals (including some Amazon execs and , is aimed squarely at spinning up production. After implementing the changes to the “beta” product they’ve been testing with, the first thousand Pure motors will be built in Seattle, where the company is based. The company has essentially finished R&D, so there’s little question of putting off customers for a few years while the product is engineered — and Rebele said they had no intent to build another for now.

“We make this product, at this power level, and that’s all,” he said. The company’s focus makes for good engineering and, hopefully, good margins. Pure should be shipping its motors in time for the 2021 boating season.

Categories: Business News

Satellite radar startup ICEYE raises 87 million to continue to grow its operational constellation

2020, September 22 - 9:00pm

Finnish startup ICEYE, which has been building out and operating a constellation of Synthetic-Aperture Radar (SAR) small satellites, has raised an $87 million Series C round of financing. This round of funding was led by existing investor True Ventures, and includes participation by OTB Ventures, and it brings the total funding for ICEYE to $152 million since its founding in 2014.

ICEYE has already launched a total of five SAR satellites, and will be launching an addition four later this year, with a plan to add eight more throughout 2021. Its SAR satellites were the first ever small satellites with SAR imaging capabilities, and it designed and built the spacecraft in-house. SAR imaging is innovative because it uses relatively small actual physical antennas, combined with fast motion across a targeted imaging area, to create a much larger synthetic aperture than the physical aperture of the radar antenna itself – which in turn means it’s capable of producing very high-resolution, two- and three-dimensional images of areas and objects.

ICEYE has been able to rack up a number of achievements, including record-setting 0.25 meter resolution for a small SAR satellite, and record turnaround time in terms of capture data delivery, reaching only five minutes from when data begins its downlink connection to ground stations, to actually having processed images available for customers to use on their own systems.

The purpose of this funding is to continue and speed up the growth of the ICEYE satellite constellation, as well as providing round-the-clock customer service operations across the world. ICEYE also hopes to set up U.S.-based manufacturing operations for future spacecraft.

SAR, along with other types of Earth imaging, have actually grown in demand during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis – especially when provided by companies focused on delivering them via lower cost, small satellite operations. That’s in part due to their ability to provide services that supplement inspection and monitoring work that would’ve been done previously in person, or handled via expensive operations including aircraft observation or tasked geosynchronous satellites.

Categories: Business News

Green Monday Holdings, Asia’s answer to Beyond Meat, raises $70 million from TPG, Swire Pacific

2020, September 22 - 8:33pm

Green Monday Holdings, a manufacturer of plant-based pork substitute products and frozen meals and an operator of a chain of vegetarian-focused retail outlets and cafes, said it has raised $70 million in financing from investors, including TPG’s The Rise Fund and the massive conglomerate Swire Pacific.

It’s one of the largest investments in a plant-based meat replacement company headquartered in Asia, and comes as investments into companies developing alternatives to animal proteins continue to surge.

It’s also a huge infusion of cash for the business arm of what may be Hong Kong’s largest vegetarian advocacy group.

Born out of a social movement that started on Earth Day in Hong Kong in 2012 (and was inspired by the Meatless Monday campaign in the U.S.), the Green Monday organization advocates for consumers to dedicate at least one day a week to going meatless. 

Its founder, David Yeung, is a longtime Buddhist and (mostly) vegetarian who founded the organization with Francis Ngai, the head of Social Ventures Hong Kong, after a lunchtime conversation over how to promote sustainable living in one of the world’s most populous cities.

Other investors in the round include, CPT Capital, Jefferies Group and Sino Group’s Ng Family Trust, along with previous corporate and celebrity investors like Lee Kum Kee Health Products Happiness Capital, the singer Wang Leehom, James Cameron and environmental activist Mary McCartney.

Green Monday Holdings, part of the Green Monday Group, operates two lines of business under the OmniFoods and Green Common brands. OmniFoods makes pork alternatives and prepared frozen meals, while Green Common is a retailer and restaurant for plant-based products.

The company said it will use the money to expand into 10 new markets across Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and North America, add 20,000 new retail outlets for its products and launch new flagship stores for its Green Common retail locations in China and Singapore.

With the new financing, the company has added a key strategic partner in Swire Pacific.

“Our airline Cathay Pacific has been serving OmniPork onboard and we look forward to working together further to develop new menus to suit the taste of our passengers – many of whom have a deep interest in health, wellness and environmental sustainability,” said David Cogman, Development Director, Swire Pacific, in a statement. “We are also in discussion about working together on the retail front: we have a network of malls, hotels and food and beverage businesses in Hong Kong and on the Chinese mainland, as well as associated supply chain operations across the country. We are very excited about our partnership with David and Green Monday to develop new collaborations across our group companies, to make our shared vision a reality.”

Categories: Business News

China’s electric carmaker WM Motor pulls in $1.47 billion Series D

2020, September 22 - 1:51pm

Chinese electric vehicle startup WM Motor just pocketed an outsize investment to fuel growth in a competitive landscape increasingly coveted by foreign rival Tesla. The five-year-old company raised 10 billion yuan ($1.47 billion) in a Series D round, it announced on Tuesday, which will pay for research and development, branding, marketing and expansion of its sales channel.

WM Motor, backed by Baidu and Tencent, is one of the highest-funded EV startups in China, alongside Nio, Xpeng and Li Auto, which have gone public in New York. With its latest capital boost, WM Motor could be gearing up for an initial public offering. As Bloomberg’s sources in July said, the company was weighing a listing on China’s Nasdaq-style STAR board as soon as this year.

Days before its funding news, WM Motor unveiled its key partners and suppliers: Qualcomm Snapdragon’s cockpit chips will power the startup’s in-cabin experience; Baidu’s Apollo autonomous driving system will give WM vehicles self-parking capability; Unisplendour, rooted in China’s Tsinghua University, will take care of the hardware side of autonomous driving; and lastly, integrated circuit company Sino IC Leasing will work on “car connectivity” for WM Motor, whatever that term entails.

It’s not uncommon to see the new generation of EV makers seeking external partnerships, given their limited experience in manufacturing. WM Motor’s rival Xpeng similarly works with Blackberry, Desay EV and Nvidia to deliver its smart EVs.

WM Motor was founded by automotive veteran Freeman Shen, who previously held executive positions at Volvo, Fiat and Geely in China.

The startup recently announced an ambitious plan for the next 3-5 years to allocate 20 billion yuan ($2.95 billion) and 3,000 engineers to work on 5G-powered smart cockpits, Level-4 driving and other futuristic auto technologies. That’s a big chunk of the startup’s total raise, which is estimated to be north of $3 billion, based on Crunchbase data and its latest funding figure.

Regional governments are often seen rooting for companies partaking in China’s strategic industries, such as semiconductors and electric cars. WM Motor’s latest round, for instance, is led by a state-owned investment platform and state-owned carmaker SAIC Motor, both based in Shanghai where the startup’s headquarters resides. The city is also home to Tesla’s Gigafactory, where the American giant churns out made-in-China vehicles.

In July, the Chinese EV upstart delivered its 30,000th EX5 SUV vehicle, which comes at about $22,000 with state subsidy and features the likes of in-car video streaming and air purification. The company claimed that parents of young children account for nearly 70% of its customers.

Categories: Business News

Edtech investors are panning for gold

2020, September 22 - 4:45am

The spotlight on edtech grows brighter and harsher: On one end, remote-learning startups are attracting millions in venture capital. On the other, many educators and parents are unimpressed with the technology that enables virtual learning and gaps remain in and out of the classroom.

It’s clear that edtech’s nebulous pain points — screen time, childcare and classroom management — require innovation. But as founders flurry to a sector recently rejuvenated with capital, the influx of interest has not fostered any breakout solutions. As a result, edtech investors must hone their skills at sorting the innovators from the opportunists amid the rush.

Lucky for us, investors shared notes during TechCrunch Disrupt and offline regarding how they are separating the gold from the dust, giving us a peek into their due diligence process (and inboxes).

Putting profitability over growth

The pandemic has broadly forced founders to get more conservative and prioritize profitability over the usual “growth at all costs” startup mentality. Growth still matters, but within edtech, the boom comes with a big focus on profitability, efficacy, outcomes and societal impact.

“The goal of all of education is personalized learning, when every student receives exactly the instruction in the way that they need it at the time that they need it. And that’s really, really difficult to do if you’re trying to have one person teach 180 students,” said Mercedes Bent of Lightspeed Venture Partners. “And so I’ve been excited to see more solutions that are focused on creating smaller class sizes that are also focused on allowing students to connect with people outside of their homes as well.”

During Disrupt, Reach Capital’s Jennifer Carolan brought up a recent Netflix documentary, “The Social Dilemma,” which illustrates the impact screen time can have on society. When vetting companies, Carolan said she wanted to see founders who have considered how their products may impact young users.

Categories: Business News

Group discounts let you bring the team to TC Sessions: Mobility 2020

2020, September 22 - 1:00am

There’s a lot of virtual ground for one person to cover — and real opportunities to uncover — during the two days of TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 (October 6-7). Take advantage of our group discounts, bring the whole team and multiply your results and your ROI.

Buy four or more passes, and you’ll trim $25 off the price of each pass — but only if you buy them before the deadline: October 5 at 11:59 p.m. (PDT).

With all hands on deck, you can attend interviews, breakout sessions and panel discussions — and interact with top industry leaders — to get a handle on emerging trends. Here’s just one prime example and be sure to check out the Mobility 2020 agenda for the full scoop.

Building an AV Startup: Ike co-founder and chief engineer Nancy Sun will share her experiences in the world of automation and robotics, a ride that has taken her from Apple to Otto and Uber before she set off to start a self-driving truck company. Sun will discuss what the future holds for trucking and the challenges and the secrets behind building a successful mobility startup.

“Attending TC Sessions: Mobility helps us keep an eye on what’s coming around the corner. It uncovers crucial trends so we can identify what we should be thinking about before anyone else.” — Jeff Johnson, vice president of enterprise sales and solutions at FlashParking.

Other team members can explore and connect with more than 40 early-stage mobility startups exhibiting in the expo — who knows what opportunities they’ll find? With thousands of attendees from around the world, the networking potential will be off the hook. Good news: We don’t have an app for that — we have a full-blown AI-powered platform: CrunchMatch.

It’s the perfect tool for networking at a virtual conference. When you register, simply answer a few quick questions, and CrunchMatch gets to work connecting you with the people who can help grow your business. The rest is up to you — schedule 1:1 video calls and begin building the relationships that can change the course of your business.

“TC Sessions: Mobility isn’t just an educational opportunity, it’s a real networking opportunity. Everyone was passionate and open to creating pilot programs or other partnerships. That was the most exciting part. And now — thanks to a conference connection — we’re talking with Goodyear’s Innovation Lab.” — Karin Maake, senior director of communications at FlashParking.

So much vital information and incredible opportunity awaits at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020. Don’t go it alone. Grab a group discount, take your whole team and do whatever it takes to drive your business forward.

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

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Categories: Business News

Miami-based Marco Financial is launching a revenue-based lending service for Latin American SMEs

2020, September 22 - 1:00am

Marco Financial, a new Miami-based startup, is looking to take a piece of the roughly $350 billion trade finance market for Latin American exporters with its novel factoring services business. 

Small and medium-sized businesses in Latin America can have trouble getting the financing they need to launch export operations to the U.S. and Marco said it aims to bridge that gap with new risk modeling and management tools that can make better decisions on who should receive loans.

“For smaller businesses in Latin America, accessing trade finance to export their goods is a major concern and a top reason why many don’t succeed,” said Javier Urrutia, director of Foreign Investments at PROCOLOMBIA, an organization that promotes foreign investment and non-traditional exports in Colombia, in a statement from the company. “In Colombia alone, a 1% increase in exporter productivity in our textile industry would result in 500,000 new jobs for the country.”

The company is backed by a small seed round from Struck Capital and Antler and over $20 million in a credit facility underwritten by Arcadia Funds.  

“As a former owner of a small business in Latin America, I saw firsthand how difficult it is for SMEs in this region to access trade financing that will let them export their goods while retaining enough capital to keep their business running,” said Peter D. Spradling, COO and co-founder of Marco, in a statement. “Access to trade finance is one of the greatest hurdles in business operations and the traditional system dominated by banks is simply not working anymore, disproportionately hurting SMEs and further restricting economic mobility and job creation in emerging markets. Equity funding and a material credit facility let us serve this underserved market in Latin America and help build a healthier, more equitable trade ecosystem reflective of an increasingly borderless global economy.”

Spradling met his co-founder Jacob Shoihet through the Antler accelerator, a Singapore and New York-based early-stage investment and advisory services program that connects entrepreneurs and tech operators to launch new businesses. 

Shoihet, a classically trained musician who fell in with the startup scene in New York through work at Yelp, was eager to launch his own company and connected with Spradling over shared interests in intermittent fasting and sports.

Small and medium businesses have a hard time receiving loans from traditional lenders thanks to tighter regulations and capital controls dating back to the 2008 financial crisis, according to Marco’s founders. And the long periods that companies have to wait between when goods are shipped and orders are payed can put undue pressure on business operations. Factoring solves the gap by lending to merchants based on their receivables.

Marco said that it can reduce the length of the loan origination process from over two months to one week and provide funding to approved exporters within 24 hours.

The company is initially focused on Mexico, Uruguay, Chile, Colombia and Peru, and chose those markets because of Spradling’s previous experience as an importer and exporter across the region.

“We look for companies that not only target massive, sleepy industries but also for ones that are led by management teams with fresh perspectives and asymmetric information that position them to upend incumbents,” said Yida Gao, partner at Struck Capital, in a statement. “In short order, Marco has assembled a world-class team to tackle the multi trillion-dollar trade finance market in a post-Covid time when SMEs around the world need, more than ever, reliable capital to fund operations and growth. We are excited to be part of Marco’s journey to support the suppliers that are the backbone of global trade.”

Categories: Business News

The Peloton effect

2020, September 22 - 12:51am

During the most recent quarter, only a few earnings reports stood out from the rest. Zoom’s set of results were one of them, with the video-communications company showing enormous acceleration as the world replaced in-person contact with remote chat.

Another was Peloton’s earnings from the fourth quarter of its fiscal 2020, which it reported September 10th. The company’s revenue and profitability spiked as folks stuck at home turned to the connected fitness company’s wares.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.

Shares of Peloton have rallied around 4x since March, roughly the start of when the COVID-19 pandemic began to impact life in the United States, driving demand for the company’s at-home workout equipment. In late June, the leisure company Lululemon bought Mirror, another connected fitness company aimed at the home market for around $500 million.

With Peloton’s 2019 IPO and its growth along with Mirror’s exit in 2020, connected fitness is demonstrably hot, and private-market investors are taking notice. A recent Tweet from fitness tech watcher Joe Vennare detailing a host of recent funding rounds raised by “digital fitness” companies made the point last week, piquing our curiosity at the same time.

Is there really some sort of Peloton effect driving private investment into lots of connected fitness startups? How hot is the more nascent side of connected fitness?

This morning let’s take a look through some recent funding rounds in the space to get a feel for what’s going on. (If you’re a VC who cares about the sector, feel free to email in your own notes, subject line “connected fitness” please.) We’ll then execute the same search for Q3 2019 and see how the data compares.

Hot Wheels

To start with the current market I pulled a Crunchbase query for all Q3 funding rounds for companies tagged as “fitness” and then filtered out the cruft to get a look at the most pertinent funding events.

Here’s what I came up for for Q3 2020, to date:

Categories: Business News

A meeting room of one’s own: Three VCs discuss breaking out of big firms to start their own gigs

2020, September 22 - 12:05am

One of the more salient trends in the tech world — arguably the engine that propels it — has been the recurring theme of people who hone talents at bigger companies and then strike out on their own to found their own startups.

(Some, like Max Levchin, even hire entrepreneurial types intentionally to help perpetuate this cycle and get more proactive teams in place.)

It turns out that trend doesn’t just apply to companies, but also to the investors who back them. At Disrupt we talked with three venture capitalists who have followed that path: Making their names and cutting their teeth at major firms, and now building their own “startup” funds on their own steam.

On the macro level, the whole world has been living through a challenging time this year. But as we’ve seen time and again the wheels have continued to turn in the tech world.

IPOs are returning, products are being rolled out, people are buying a lot online and using the internet to stay connected, there has been a lot of M&A and promising startups are getting funded.

Indeed, if entrepreneurs and their innovations are the engine of the tech world, money is the fuel, and that is the opportunity that Dayna Grayson (formerly of NEA, now founder at Construct Capital), Renata Quintini (formerly at Lux Capital, now founder at Renegade Partners) and Lo Toney (formerly GV, now founder at Plexo Capital) have zeroed in to address.

Grayson said that part of the reason for striking out to start Construct Capital with co-founder Rachel Holt was what they saw as an opportunity to create a firm that specifically funded startups tackling the industrial sector:

“Half the U.S. economy’s GDP, half the GDP of this country, hasn’t really been digitized,” she said. “[Firms] haven’t been tech enabled. They’ve been way under invested … The time is now to build with early stage entrepreneurs.”

While Construct is focusing on a sector, Renegade was founded to focus on something else: The stage of development for a startup, and specific the Series B, which the firm refers to as “supercritical,” essential in terms of getting team and strategy right after a startup is no longer just starting out, but before and leading to scaled growth.

“We saw through our boards over and over again companies that figured out how to scale their organizations, put in the processes,” said Quintini, who co-founded Renegade with Roseanne Wincek. “On the people side, they actually went further and captured a lot more market cap and market share faster. Once we saw this opportunity, we could not let it go.”

She compares the current imperative to really focus on how to build and scale companies at the “supercritical” stage to the focus on early stage funding that typified an earlier period in the development of the startup ecosystem 15 years ago. “You could get a million dollars and be in business, a lot more people could, and you had less time to figure out what really resonated with customers,” she said. “That really gave rise to today.”

Toney has taken yet another approach, focusing not on sector, nor stage, but using capital to help germinate a whole new demographic of founders, the premise being that funding a more diverse and inclusive mix of founders is not just good for creating a more level playing field, but also for the good of more well-rounded products that speak to a wider population of users.

“I was having a great time at GV, but I just saw this opportunity as being one that was too hard to resist,” said Toney of founding Plexo, which invests not just in startups but in funds that are following a similar investment principle to his. Investing in both funds and founders is something GV did as well, but the added ability to turn that into investing with a social imperative was important. “To have this byproduct of increasing diversity and inclusion in the ecosystem [is something] I’m super passionate about,” he said. 

We are living through a time when the tech world seems to be awash in capital. One of the byproducts of having so many successful tech companies has been limited partners rushing in to back more VCs in hopes of also getting some of the spoils: Many firms are closing funds in record times, oversubscribed and that’s having a knock-on effect not just in terms of startups getting funded, but VCs themselves also multiplying with increasing frequency. All three said that the fact that they all identify as more than just “another new VC”, with specific purposes, also makes it easier for them to get themselves noticed to get involved in good deals.

Grayson said that the challenge of starting a firm in the midst of a global pandemic turned out to be a piece of good fortune in disguise in an industry that thrives on the concept of “disruption” (as we at TechCrunch know all too well … ).

“We were really lucky that we started investing in a COVID world,” she said. “So many things have been up ended. And I think, you know, software adoption and technology adoption have been moved up 10-20 years in industry. [And] the way that we work together really has changed.” She also said that they’ve found themselves almost looking for companies “created in a COVID environment,” which indeed would qualify as a battle-tested business model.

In terms of raising funds themselves, Toney also recalled the period when we saw a real surge of VCs emerging to fund companies at the seed stage and the growth of “solo capitalists” around that.

“I think what’s really interesting about solo capitalists is [how] they take their understanding of operations, and a deep network of other technologists, both from big companies as well as entrepreneurs, and … leverage access to all that deal flow by going out and actually raising capital from other sources, whether that be high net worth individuals or family offices or even institutions,” he said.

Categories: Business News

Equity Monday: The TikTok mess, and a grip of neat European VC activity

2020, September 21 - 10:34pm

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest big news, chats about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here — and don’t forget to check out last Friday’s episode.

What a busy morning. We had to cover TikTok . We had to talk VC rounds. So, this is what we got up to:

  • U.S. tech stocks are poised to sell off further this morning.
  • The Oracle-TikTok-Walmart-ByteDance deal is either coming into focus, or a period of even less clarity. It’s hard to tell.
  • Nikola founder Trevor Milton is leaving the board of his own company in the wake of fraud allegations. Shares of the company are sharply lower in pre-market trading.
  • Turning to TikTok, this primer represents the best over-the-weekend roundup that we could find. But, of course, things are still breaking as we come to print.
  • Since recording, Oracle has said that “upon creation of TikTok Global, Oracle/Walmart will make their investment and the TikTok Global shares will be distributed to their owners, Americans will be the majority and ByteDance will have no ownership in TikTok Global.” And, President Trump said this morning that China has to give up control of TikTok or the deal is off. ByteDance has said that it will retain control. You figure that out.
  • But there was some good stuff to chat about. Including the super-neat Mobile Premier League round worth $90 million, growth news from EU-based Babbel, a new London-based seed fund that got raised and a Swedish health tech Series B.
  • As you guessed from today’s title, it was fun to see such a concentration of EU VC activity.
  • Finally, will the Nikola mess discourage more SPACs from taking companies public? If the rest of the stock market wasn’t selling off, we would have said “no.” But today? Is the answer “maybe”?

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Categories: Business News

Osso VR raises $14 million to bring virtual reality to surgical and medical device training

2020, September 21 - 9:40pm

It seems that distance learning is even coming for the healthcare industry.

As remote work becomes the order of the day in the COVID-19 era, any tool that can bring training and education services to folks across industries is gaining a huge amount of investor interest — and that includes healthcare.

Virtual reality tools like those on offer from Osso VR have been raising investor dollars at a rapid clip, and now the Palo Alto, California-based virtual reality distribution platform joins their ranks with a $14 million round of financing.

The money came from a clutch of investors led by the investment arm of Kaiser Permanente, a healthcare giant whose network of managed care facilities and services spans the country. Previous backers and new investors like SignalFire, GSR, Scrum Ventures, Leslie Ventures and OCA Ventures also participated in the funding. 

Osso has seen its adoption skyrocket during the pandemic as medical device manufacturers and healthcare networks turn to training tools that don’t require a technician to be physically present.

According to company founder Dr. Justin Barad, the market for medical device education services alone is currently around $3 billion to $5 billion and growing rapidly.

Staffed by a team that comes from Industrial Light and Magic, Electronic Arts, Microsoft and Apple, Osso VR makes generic educational content for training purposes and then produces company specific virtual reality educational videos for companies like Johnson & Johnson. Those productions can run the gamut from instructional videos on vascular surgery to robotic surgery training tips and tricks.

While Kaiser Permanente Ventures’ Amy Belt Raimundo said that the strategic investors’ decisions to commit capital aren’t based on what Kaiser Permanente uses, necessarily, the organization does take its cues from what employees want.

“We don’t tie our investment to a deployment or customer contract, but we look for the same signals within Kaiser Permanente,” said Belt Raimundo. But the organization did have employees interested in using the Osso technology. “We made the announcement that we are looking at [Osso VR] technology for use. And that’s where the investment and commercial decision was signaling off of each other, because the response showed that there was an unmet need there,” she said.

Osso VR currently has around 30 customers, 12 of which are in the medical device space. The company uses Oculus Quest headsets and is deployed in 20 teaching hospitals across 20 different countries. In a recent validation study, surgeons training with Osso VR showed a 230% improvement in overall surgical performance, the company said in a statement.

The goal, according to Barad, a lifelong coder with a game development credit from Activision/Blizzard, is to democratize healthcare. “This is about improving patient outcomes, democratizing access and improving education,” said Barad. “Now that the technology is growing and maturing and VR is growing as a platform, we can attack the broader problems in healthcare,” he said.

 

Categories: Business News

With $100M in funding, Playco is already a mobile gaming unicorn

2020, September 21 - 9:00pm

Playco is a new mobile gaming startup created by Game Closure co-founder Michael Carter and Zynga co-founder Justin Waldron, as well as game producers Takeshi Otsuka and Teddy Cross.

Although the Tokyo-headquartered company is only announcing its existence today, it’s already a unicorn — it says it’s raised $100 million in Series A funding, at a valuation “just north of $1 billion.”

The round was led by Josh Buckley and Sequoia Capital, with participation from Sozo Ventures, Raymond Tonsing’s Caffeinated Capital, Keisuke Honda’s KSK Angel Fund, Taizo Son’s Mistletoe Singapore, Digital Garage, Will Smith’s Dreamers, Makers Fund and others.

Carter (Playco’s CEO) said the startup will be revealing its first games later this year. For now, he wants to talk about Playco’s vision: It’s trying to address the fact that “it’s very difficult to get two people into a single game in the App Store.” After all, downloading an app is a pretty big hurdle, especially compared to the early days of web and social gaming, when all you needed was a link.

“We’re going to bring that back,” Carter said — with Playco’s titles, sharing and playing a mobile game with your friend should be as simple as texting or calling them. “All it really takes is a hyperlink.”

He pointed to a number of technologies that can enable this “instant play” experience on mobile, including cloud gaming, HTML5 and platform-specific tools like Apple’s new App Clips. He claimed the team is “very good at this cutting edge technology” — and the company has created its own game engine — but he said technology is not the sole focus: “That’s just table stakes.”

Waldron (Playco’s president) argued that this represents the next big platform shift in gaming, and it will require “reinventing a lot of the most popular genres today” while also creating entirely new genres, in the same way that social gaming enabled new types of games.

The future (and past) of mobile gaming

“If you think about FarmVille, there were no farm games being advertised being in local console games store,” Waldron said. “They don’t market well; if you put up a poster for a farm game, no one wants to play.” But if your friends invite you by sending you some digital crops, then you absolutely want to play.

Carter added that enabling instant play also means that the games themselves have to be fairly straightforward, at least at first glance.

“Ultimately, as we build up the portfolio, we think about what makes the game accessible to anyone on the planet, any ethnicity, any language,” he said. “And the answer is: It has to be broadly appealing. That doesn’t mean we can’t build into it relatively interesting and deep features, but the initial impression has to be the right sort of experience that people can easily relate to.”

Carter also acknowledged that it’s unusual for a startup to raise so much money in its Series A (“It’s not your typical company, and it’s not your typical Series A”), but he said that being more ambitious with fundraising allowed Playco to quickly grow the team to 75 people.

“Bringing talented people together is the most important thing, and [thanks to the funding,] we haven’t had to make any really hard decisions,” he said.

As for how its games will make money, Waldron suggested that Playco will borrow from (but also potentially evolve) many of the existing business models in gaming.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “There’s going to be amazing things we can learn from my last company — we ended up inventing a lot of the ways these games are monetizing today … But these new technologies available today create new opportunities. The world has changed a lot since then, and I don’t think everything has caught up.”

Mobile gaming is a $68.5 billion global business, and investors are buying in

Categories: Business News

Indian mobile gaming platform Mobile Premier League raises $90 million

2020, September 21 - 1:25pm

Mobile Premier League (MPL) has raised $90 million in a new financing round as the two-year-old Bangalore-based esports and mobile gaming platform demonstrates fast-growth and looks to expand outside of India.

SIG, early-stage tech investor RTP Global and MDI Ventures led MPL’s $90 million Series C financing round, with participation from existing investors Sequoia India, Go-Ventures and Base Partners. Times Internet is also an early investor in MPL. The new investment brings MPL’s to-date raise to $130.5 million. It was valued between $375 million to $400 million pre-money, according to a person familiar with the matter.

MPL operates a pure-play gaming platform that hosts a range of tournaments. The app, which has amassed more than 60 million users, also serves as a publishing platform for other gaming firms. MPL, which does not develop games of its own, hosts about 70 games across multiple sports on the app today.

It's a heist! And it has gone rogue! Can you beat the others to win the game? Rogue Heist, India's very own multi-player shooter game, coming soon on MPL! Here's a sneak peek ;) pic.twitter.com/PkVAjN2b4O

— Mobile Premier League (@PlayMPL) April 20, 2020

The Bangalore-based startup also offers fantasy sports, a segment that has taken off in many parts of India in recent years.

Because fantasy sports is only one part of the business, the coronavirus outbreak that has shut most real-world matches has not impeded the startup’s growth in recent months. The startup claimed it has grown four times since March this year, and more than 2 billion cash transactions have been recorded on the app to date.

“We’re competing with battle-hardened, decade old companies with much, much deeper pockets but it’s incredible what the young team has achieved over the past couple of years. When we were on the Play Store, a couple of years back, MPL was the fastest app to reach a 1M DAU ever in India!” tweeted Abhishek Madhavan, SVP of Marketing at MPL. “We signed Virat Kohli (pictured above), when we were a 3-month old company! When we got out of the Play Store, we were told growth will be very very hard to come by, every single marketing metric would fall.”

Sai Srinivas, co-founder and chief executive of Mobile Premier League, told TechCrunch in an interview that the new financing round validates that esports is here to stay and it is beginning to see its e-commerce moment.

“I believe that esports will be inducted by the Olympics way before than cricket does. And the market cap of esports will most probably will exceed those of all physical sports combined in the next 10 years,” he said.

“Even in an environment as challenging as the current one, we are impressed with the success and accessibility of the platform concept – giving users a unique variety of experiences and social interaction. MPL’s track record speaks for itself, so we’re excited to support the team as they grow and expand,” said Galina Chifina, managing partner at RTP Global, in a statement.

But since an aspect of MPL is about fantasy sports, its app is not available on the Google Play Store. Google Play Store prohibits online casinos, and other kinds of betting, a guideline Google reiterated last week as it pulled Indian financial services platform Paytm from the app store for eight hours. Srinivas declined to comment on Google and Paytm’s episode.

The startup plans to expand outside of India in the following months, said Srinivas. He did not name the new markets, but suggested that India’s neighboring countries as well as Japan and South Korea will likely be part of it.

The startup also plans to expand its gaming catalog and offer more marketing support to third-party developers, who currently either sell licenses to MPL or work through a revenue-sharing agreement with the Indian startup.

Categories: Business News

Was Snowflake’s IPO mispriced or just misunderstood?

2020, September 20 - 5:00am

Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s broadly based on the daily column that appears on Extra Crunch, but free, and made for your weekend reading. 

Ready? Let’s talk money, startups and spicy IPO rumors.

Was Snowflake’s IPO mispriced or just misunderstood?

With an ocean of neat stuff to get through below, we’ll be quick today on our thought bubble focused on Snowflake’s IPO. Up front it was a huge success as a fundraising event for the data-focused unicorn.

At issue is the mismatch between the company’s final IPO price of $120 and where it opened, which was around $245 per share. The usual forces were out on Twitter arguing that billions were left on the table, with commentary on the question of a mispriced IPO even reaching our friends at CNBC.

A good question given the controversy is how the company itself felt about its IPO price given that it was the party that, theoretically, left a few billion on some metaphorical table. As it turns out, the CEO does not give a shit.

Alex Konrad at Forbes — a good chap, follow him on Twitter here — caught up with Snowflake CEO Frank Slootman about the matter. He called the “chatter” that his company left money on the table “nonsense,” adding that he could have priced higher but that he “wanted to bring along the group of investors that [Snowflake] wanted, and [he] didn’t want to push them past the point where they really started to squeal.”

So Slootman found a new, higher price at which to value his company during its debut. He got the investors he wanted. He got Berkshire and Salesforce in on the deal. And the company roared out of the gate. What an awful, terrible, no-good, mess of an IPO.

Adding to the mix, I was chatting with a few SaaS VCs earlier this week, and they largely didn’t buy into the money-left-on-the-table argument, as presuming that a whole block of shares could be sold at the opening trade price is silly. Are IPOs perfect? Hell no. Are bankers out for their own good? Yes. But that doesn’t mean that Snowflake screwed up.

Market Notes

No time to waste at all, let’s get into it:

  • Lots of IPOs this week, and everyone did well. Snowflake was explosive while JFrog was merely amazing. Sumo Logic and Unity had more modest debuts, but good results all the same. Notes from JFrog and Sumo execs in a moment.
  • Disrupt was a big damn deal this week, with tech’s famous and its up and coming leaders showing up to chatter with TechCrunch about what’s going on today, and what’s going on tomorrow. You can catch up on the sessions here, which I recommend. But I wanted to take a moment and thank the TechCrunch sales, partnership, and events teams. They killed it and get 0.1% of the love that they deserve. Thank you.
  • Why is Snowflake special? This tweet by GGV’s Jeff Richards has the story in one chart.
  • What are the hottest categories for SaaS startups in 2020? We got you.
  • There’s a new VC metric in town for startups to follow. Folks will recall the infamous T2D3 model, where startups should triple twice, and then double three times. That five-year plan got most companies to $100M in ARR. Now Shasta Ventures’ Issac Roth has a new model for contention, what he’s calling “C170R,” and according to a piece from his firm, he reckons it could be the “new post-COVID SaaS standard.” (We spoke with Roth about API-focused startups the other day.)
  • So what is it? Per his own notes: “If a startup entering COVID season with $2-20M in revenue is on track for 170% of their 2019 revenue AND is aligned with the new normal of remote, they will be able to raise new capital on good terms and are set up for future venture success.” He goes to note that there’s less of a need to double or treble this year.
  • Our thought bubble: If this catches on, a lot more SaaS startups would prove eligible for new rounds than we’d thought. And as Shasta is all-in on SaaS, perhaps this metric is a welcome mat of sorts. I wonder what portion of VCs agree with Shasta’s new model?
  • And, closing, our dive into no-code and low-code startups continues.
Various and Sundry

Again, there’s so much to get to that there is no space to waste words. Onward:

  • Chime raised an ocean of capital, which is notable for a few reasons. First, a new $14.5B valuation, which is up a zillion percent from their early 2019 round, and up around 3x from its late 2019 round. And it claims real EBITDA profitability. And with the company claiming it will be IPO ready in 12 months I am hype about the company. Because not every company that manages a big fintech valuation is in great shape.
  • I got on the phone with the CEO and CFO of JFrog after their IPO this week to chat about the offering. The pair looked at every IPO that happened during COVID, they said, to try to get their company to a “fair price,” adding that from here out the market will decide what’s the right number. The CEO Shlomi Ben Haim also made a fun allusion to a tweet comparing JFrog’s opening valuation to the price that Microsoft paid for GitHub. I think that this is the tweet.
  • JFrog’s pricing came on the back of it making money, i.e. real GAAP net income in its most recent quarter. According to JFrog’s CFO Jacob Shulman “investors were impressed with the numbers,” and were also impressed by its “efficient market model” that allowed it find “viral adoption inside the enterprise.”
  • That last phrase sounds to us like efficient sales and marketing spend.
  • Moving to Sumo Logic, which also went out this week (S-1 notes here). I caught up with the company’s CTO Christian Beedgen.
  • Beedgen, I just want to say, is a delight to chat with. But more on topic, the company’s IPO went well and I wanted to dig into more of the nitty-gritty of the market that Sumo is seeing. After Beedgen walked me through how he views his company’s TAM ($50 billion) and market dynamics (not winner-takes-all), I asked about sales friction amongst enterprise customers that Slack had mentioned in its most recent earnings report. Beedgen said:
  • “I don’t see that as a systemic problem personally. […] I think people in economies are very flexible, and you know the new normal is what it is now. And you know these other guys on the other side [of the phone], these businesses they also need to continue to run their stuff and so they’re gonna continue to figure out how we can help. And they will find us, we will find them. I really don’t see that as a systemic problem.”
  • So, good news for enterprise startups everywhere!
  • Wix launched a non-VC fund that looks a bit like a VC fund. Called Wix Capital, the group will “invest in technology innovators that are focused on the future of the web and that look to accelerate how businesses operate in today’s evolving digital landscape,” per the company.
  • Wix is a big public shop these days, with elements of low and no-code to its core. (The Exchange talked to the company not too long ago.)
  • And, finally my friends, I call this the Peloton Effect, and am going to write about it if I can find the time.

I am chatting with a Unity exec this evening, but too late to make it into this newsletter. Perhaps next week. Hugs until then, and stay safe.

Alex

Categories: Business News

From Unity to Disrupt, tech has an especially optimistic week

2020, September 20 - 3:00am

Editor’s note: Get this free weekly recap of TechCrunch news that any startup can use by email every Saturday morning (7 a.m. PT). Subscribe here.

While TechCrunch was busy producing our first-ever online Disrupt this week, the IPO market got even more exciting than expected — so here’s a quick look. Snowflake, Jfrog, Sumo Logic and Unity each raised price ranges days before IPO, to meet what had seemed like growing enthusiasm from public markets. Yet each still opened higher than its offering price, with cloud data-warehousing company Snowflake’s value doubling to make it the largest software IPO in history and Unity up 30%.

Despite the pandemic and various major turmoils around the world, the promise of these companies is helping to maintain optimism from retail investors to people thinking about founding a company.

Here’s a quick look at our coverage of the main companies in the IPO process this week, in chronological order:

Snowflake and JFrog raise IPO ranges as tech markets stay hot (EC)

As it heads for IPO, Palantir hires a chief accountant and gets approval from NYSE to trade

What’s ahead in IPO land for JFrog, Snowflake, Sumo Logic and Unity (EC)

JFrog and Snowflake’s aggressive IPO pricing point to strong demand for cloud shares (EC)

Unity raises IPO price range after JFrog, Snowflake target steep debut valuations

Go public now while software valuations make no sense, Part II

In its 4th revision to the SEC, Palantir tries to explain what the hell is going on

It’s game on as Unity begins trading

Unity Software has strong opening, gaining 31% after pricing above its raised range

And don’t miss Alex Wilhelm’s additional notes coming later today over on The Exchange weekend newsletter.

Image Credits: Canix

Disrupt 2020

Our tenth annual startup conference was remote-first this year, but it managed to capture the same sort of vibe in my humble opinion.

First, a cannabis SaaS company took home the grand prize at the Startup Battlefield competition… we are truly living in the cloud these days. Here’s more, from Matt Burns:

Growing cannabis on an industrial scale involves managing margins while continually adhering to compliance laws. For many growers, large and small, this consists of constant data entry from seed to sale. Canix’s solution employs a robust enterprise resource planning platform with a steep tilt toward reducing the time it takes to input data. This platform integrates nicely with common bookkeeping software and Metrc, an industry-wide regulatory platform, through the use of RFID scanners and Bluetooth-enabled scales. Canix launched in June 2019, and in a little over a year (and during a pandemic), acquired over 300 customers spanning more than 1,000 growing facilities and tracking the movement of 2.5 million plants.

Next, here’s an especially pithy take on the future of startups, from senior Benchmark partner Peter Fenton.

I think this opportunity to build the tools for a world that’s ‘post place’ has just opened up and is as exciting as anything I’ve seen in my venture career. You walk around right now and you see these ghosts towns, with gyms, classes you might take [and so forth] and now maybe you go online and do Peloton, or that class you maybe do online. So I think a whole field of opportunities will move into this post-place delivery mechanism that are really exciting. [It] could be 10 to 20 years of innovation that just got pulled forward into today.

The truth is that I have not had time to watch all of the talks — I was busy with the Extra Crunch stage and other stuff, and that’s not even counting other programming we had going on. So check out the quick selection of picks below. To catch up more, you can browse the full agenda and watch the videos here.

We’ll also be offering coverage of the EC stage plus analysis from our conversations in the coming weeks, for subscribers (which includes anyone who bought a ticket and redeemed it for an annual subscription).

Quantum startup CEO suggests we are only five years away from a quantum desktop computer

Daphne Koller: ‘Digital biology is an incredible place to be right now’

Dropbox CEO Drew Houston says the pandemic forced the company to reevaluate what work means

Airtable’s Howie Liu has no interest in exiting, even as the company’s valuation soars

Indian decacorn Byju’s CEO talks about future acquisitions, coronavirus and international expansion

Fabletics’ Adam Goldenberg and Kevin Hart on what’s next for the activewear empire

Southeast Asia’s East Ventures on female VCs, foreign investment, consolidation

Ride-hailing was hit hard by COVID-19 — Grab’s Russell Cohen on how the company adapted

(Photo Illustration by Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Tik Tok and geopolitics

Over in the real world, Tik Tok is still on track for a full shut-down despite the frantic dealmaking efforts by innumerable parties. At one point this week, it looked like Oracle and various business interests had a plan to keep Tik Tok alive as an independent company that would IPO (with some sort of national security oversight), and maybe that will still come about? I doubt Trump and his advisers will go along with that plan, given the national security problem of leaving algorithms controlled from China, and the long-term trade problem of US consumer tech being banned there too.

Meanwhile, the Bytedance-owned company also just announced 100 million users in Europe. Apparently it was a press push to counter the bad news, but as Ingrid Lunden notes, it’s hard to know what this user base means without the US. To which I’d add, European regulators are already busy going after foreign tech companies. I can’t imagine that they’ll leave an app this popular alone.

It’s another reminder that the next era will not offer startups the same possibilities for global success.

How to hire your first engineer (if you’re a nontechnical founder)

Lucas Matney talked with technical leaders and startup founders to figure out a key problem that many readers of this newsletter have had before (including me). How to get someone who can make your company a tech company? Here’s the intro, with the full thing on Extra Crunch:

Their advice spanned how to handle technical interviews, sourcing technical talent, how to decide whether your first engineering hire should become CTO  — and how to best kick the can down the road if you’re not ready to start worrying about bringing on an engineer quite yet. Everyone I spoke to was quick to caution that their tips weren’t one-size-fits-all and that overcoming limited knowledge often comes down to tapping the right people to help you out and lend a greater understanding of your options.

I’ve broken down these tips into a digestible guide that’s focused on four areas:

  • Sourcing technical candidates.
  • How to conduct interviews.
  • Making an offer.
  • Taking a nontraditional route.
Across the week

TechCrunch

Calling VCs in Zurich & Geneva: Be featured in The Great TechCrunch Survey of European VC

Opendoor to go public by way of Chamath Palihapitiya SPAC

Black Tech Pipeline proves the ‘pipeline problem’ isn’t real

Gaming companies are reportedly the next targets in the US government’s potentially broader Tencent purge

Equity Monday: The TikTok mess, two funding rounds and Nvidia will buy ARM

Extra Crunch

3 VCs discuss the state of SaaS investing in 2020

The stages of traditional fundraising

Making sense of 3 edtech extension rounds

Facebook investor Jim Breyer picks Austin as Breyer Capital’s second home

Are high churn rates depressing earnings for app developers?

#EquityPod: Schools are closing their doors, but Opendoor isn’t

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week Natasha MascarenhasDanny Crichton and myself hosted a live taping at Disrupt for a digital reception. It was good fun, though of course we’re looking forward to bringing the live show back to the conference next year, vaccine allowing.

Thankfully we had Chris Gates behind the scenes tweaking the dials, Alexandra Ames fitting us into the program and some folks to watch live.

What did we talk about? All of this (and some very, very bad jokes):

And then we tried to play a game that may or may not make it into the final cut. Either way, it was great to have Equity back at Disrupt. More to come. Hugs from us!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Categories: Business News

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