15 May

VMware acquires Bitnami to deliver packaged applications anywhere

VMware announced today that it’s acquiring Bitnami, the package application company that was a member of the Y Combinator Winter 2013 class. The companies didn’t share the purchase price.

With Bitnami, the company can now deliver more than 130 popular software packages in a variety of formats, such as Docker containers or virtual machine, an approach that should be attractive for VMware as it makes its transformation to be more of a cloud services company.

“Upon close, Bitnami will enable our customers to easily deploy application packages on any cloud — public or hybrid — and in the most optimal format — virtual machine (VM), containers and Kubernetes helm charts. Further, Bitnami will be able to augment our existing efforts to deliver a curated marketplace to VMware customers that offers a rich set of applications and development environments in addition to infrastructure software,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the deal.

Per usual, Bitnami’s founders see the exit through the prism of being able to build out the platform faster with the help of a much larger company. “Joining forces with VMware means that we will be able to both double-down on the breadth and depth of our current offering and bring Bitnami to even more clouds as well as accelerating our push into the enterprise,” the founders wrote in a blog post on the company website.

Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research says the deal fits well with VMware’s overall strategy. “Enterprises want easy, fast ways to deploy packaged applications and providers like Bitnami take the complexity out of this process. So this is a key investment for VMware that wants to position itselfy not only as the trusted vendor for virtualizaton across the hybrid cloud, but also as a trusted application delivery vendor,” he said.

The company has raised a modest $1.1 million since its founding in 2011 and says that it has been profitable since early days when it took the funding. In the blog post, the company states that nothing will change for customers from their perspective.

“In a way, nothing is changing. We will continue to develop and maintain our application catalog across all the platforms we support and even expand to additional ones. Additionally, if you are a company using Bitnami in production, a lot of new opportunities just opened up.”

Time will tell whether that is the case, but it is likely that Bitnami will be able to expand its offerings as part of a larger organization like VMware. The deal is expected to close by the end of this quarter (which is fiscal Q2 2020 for VMware).

VMware is a member of the Dell federation of products and came over as part of the massive $67 billion EMC deal in 2016. The company operates independently, is sold as a separate company on the stock market and makes its own acquisitions.


Source: TechCrunch – Funding and Exits

16 Apr

Cytora secures £25M Series B for its AI-powered commercial insurance underwriting solution

Cytora, a U.K. startup that developed an AI-powered solution for commercial insurance underwriting, has raised £25 million in a Series B round. Leading the investment is EQT Ventures, with participation from existing investors Cambridge Innovation Capital, Parkwalk and a number of unnamed angel investors.

A spin-out of the University of Cambridge, Cytora was founded in 2014 by Richard Hartley, Aeneas Wiener, Joshua Wallace and Andrzej Czapiewski — although both Wallace and Czapiewski have since departed.

Its first product launched in late 2016 to a number of large insurance customers, with the aim of applying AI to commercial insurance supported by various public and proprietary data. This includes property construction features, company financials and local weather, combined with an insurance company’s own internal risk data.

“Commercial insurance underwriting is inaccurate and inefficient,” says Cytora co-founder and CEO Richard Hartley. “It’s inaccurate because underwriting decisions are made using sparse and outdated information. It’s inefficient because the underwriting process is so manual. Unlike buying car or travel insurance, which can be purchased in minutes, buying business insurance can take up to seven days. This means operating costs for insurers are extremely high and customer experience isn’t good leading to a lack of trust.”

To illustrate how inefficient commercial insurance can be, Hartley says that for every £1 of premium that businesses pay to insurers, only 60 pence is set aside to pay total claims. The other 40 pence evaporates as the “frictional cost of delivering insurance.”

Powered by AI, Hartley claims that Cytora is able to distill the seven-day underwriting process down to 30 seconds via its API. This enables insurers to underwrite programmatically and build workflows that provide faster and more accurate decisions.

“Our APIs are powered by a risk engine which learns the subtle patterns of good and bad risks over time,” he explains. “This gives insurers a better understanding of the underlying risk of each business and helps them set a more accurate price. Both customers and insurers benefit.”

Typical Cytora customers are commercial insurers that are digitally transforming their underwriting process. Users of the software are either underwriters within insurance companies who are underwriting large commercial risks (i.e. an average insurance premium ~£500k and above) or business customers of insurance companies who are buying insurance direct online with an average premium of £1,000-£5,000.

“For the latter, our customers have built quotation workflows on top of Cytora’s APIs, enabling business owners to buy policies online in less than a minute without having to fill in a form,” says Hartley. “We require only a business name and postcode to issue a quote, which revolutionises the customer experience.”

To that end, Cytora generates revenue by charging a yearly ARR license fee, which increases based on usage and per line of business. The company says today’s Series B funding will be used to accelerate the expansion of its product suite and for scaling into new geographies.


Source: TechCrunch – Funding and Exits

20 Mar

Portworx raises $27M Series C for its cloud-native data management platform

As enterprises adopt cloud-native technologies like containers to build their applications, the next question they often have to ask themselves is how they adapt their data storage and management practices to this new reality, too. One of the companies in this business is the four-year-old Portworx, which has managed to attract customers like Lufthansa Systems, GE Digital and HPE with its cloud-native storage and data-management platform for the Kubernetes container orchestration platform.

Portworx today announced that it has raised a $27 million Series C funding round led by  Sapphire Ventures and the ventures arm of Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company. Existing investors Mayfield Fund and GE Ventures also participated, as well as new investors Cisco, HPE and NetApp, which clearly have a strategic interest in bringing Portworx’s storage offering to their own customers, too, and partnering with the company.

Portworx’s tools make it easier for developers to migrate data, create backups and recover them after an issue. The service supports most popular databases, including Cassandra, Redis and MySQL, but also other storage services. Essentially, it creates a storage layer for database containers or other stateful containers that your apps can then access, no matter where they run or where the data resides.

“As the cloud-native stack matures, Portworx’s leadership in the data layer is really what is highlighted by our funding,” Portworx CEO and co-founder Murli Thirumale told me. “We clearly have a significant number of customers, there is a lot of customer growth, our partner network is growing. What you are seeing is that within that cloud-native ecosystem, we have the maximum number of production deployments and that momentum is something we’re continuing to fuel and fund with this round.”

As Portworx CEO and co-founder Murli Thirumale told me, the company expanded its customer base by over 100 percent last year and increased its total bookings by 376 percent year-over-year. That’s obviously the kind of growth that investors want to see. Thirumale noted, though, that the company wasn’t under any pressure to raise at this point. “We were seeing such strong growth momentum that we knew we need the money to fuel the growth.” That means expanding the company’s sales force, especially internationally, as well as its support team to help its new customers manage their data lifecycle.

In addition to today’s funding round, Portworx also today announced the latest version of its flagship Portworx Enterprise platform, which now includes new data security and disaster recovery functions. These include improved role-based access controls that go beyond what Kubernetes traditionally offers (and that integrate with existing enterprise systems). The new disaster recovery tools now allow enterprises to make incremental backups to data centers that sit in different geographical locations. Maybe more importantly, Portworx now also lets users automatically save data in two nearby data centers zones as updates happen. That’s meant o enable use cases where zero data loss would be acceptable in the case of an outage. With this, a company could automatically backup data from a database that sits in Azure Germany Central and back it up to AWS Europe Frankfurt, for example.


Source: TechCrunch – Funding and Exits

20 Feb

Image recognition startup ViSenze raises $20M Series C

ViSenze, a startup that provides visual search tools for online retailers like Rakuten and ASOS, announced today that it has raised a $20 million Series C. The round was co-led by Gobi Ventures and Sonae IM, with participation from other backers including returning investors Rakuten and WI Harper.

Founded in 2012, ViSenze has now raised a total of $34.5 million (its last round was a Series B announced in September 2016). The Singapore-based company, whose clients also include Urban Outfitters, Zalora, and Uniqlo, bills its software portfolio as a “personal shopping concierge” that allows shoppers to find or discover new products based on visual search, automatic photo tagging, and recommendations based on their browsing history. ViSenze’s verticals include fashion, jewelry, furniture, and intellectual property.

ViSenze’s latest funding will be used to develop its software through partnerships with smartphone makers including Samsung, LG, and Huawei. The company has offices in Asia, Europe, and the United States, and claims an annual revenue growth rate of more than 200 percent. Other startups in the same space include Syte.ai, Slyce, Clarifai, and Imagga.

In a statement, Rakuten Ventures partner Adit Swarup said “When we first invested in ViSenze in 2014, retailers had just started seeing the benefits of powering product recommendations with image data. Today, ViSenze not only powers recommendations for the largest brands in the world, but has helped pioneer a paradigm shift in e-commerce; helping consumers find products inside their favorite social media videos and images, as well as initiate a search directly from their camera app.”

Other participants in the round included returning investors Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) Ventures, Raffles Venture Partners, Enspire Capital, and UOB Venture Management, as well as new investors Tembusu ICT Fund, 31Ventures Global Innovation Fund, and Jonathan Coon’s Impossible Ventures.


Source: TechCrunch – Funding and Exits

23 Jan

VCs give us their predictions for startups and tech in Southeast Asia in 2019

The new year is well underway and, before January is out, we polled VCs in Southeast Asia to get their thoughts on what to expect in 2019.

The number of VCs in the region has increased massively in recent years, in no small part due to forecasts of growth in the tech space as internet access continues to shoot up among Southeast Asia’s cumulative population of more than 600 million consumers.

There are other factors, including economic growth and emerging middle classes, but with more than 3.8 million people becoming first-time internet users each month — thanks to smartphones — Southeast Asia’s ‘digital economy’ is tipped to more than triple to reach $240 billion by 2025. That leaves plenty of opportunity for tech and online businesses and, by extension, venture capitalists.

With a VC corpus that now numbers dozens of investment firms, TechCrunch asked the people who write the checks what is on the horizon for 2019.

The only rule was no more than three predictions — below, in no particular order, is what they told us.


Alberty Shyy, Burda

Funds will continue to invest aggressively in Southeast Asia in the first half of this year but capital will tighten up by Q4 as funds and companies prepare for a possible recession. I think we will see a lot of companies opportunistically go out to fundraise in Q1/Q2 to take advantage of a bull market.

We will see two to three newly-minted unicorns from the region this year, after a relative lull last year.

This will (finally) be the year that we start to see some consolidation in the e-commerce scene


Dmitry Levit, Centro

A significant portion of capital returned by upcoming U.S. IPOs to institutional investors will be directed to growth markets outside of China, with India and Southeast Asia being the likeliest beneficiaries. Alternative assets such as venture and subsets of private equity in emerging markets will enter their golden age.

The withdrawal of Chinese strategic players held back by weakened domestic economy, prudent M&A by local strategics and ongoing caution among Japanese, Korean and global corporates, combined with ongoing valuations exuberance by late-stage investors allocating funds to Southeast Asia, will continue holding back large liquidity events. Save perhaps for a roll-up of a local champion or two into a global IPO. Fundraising will get more troublesome for some of Southeast Asia’s larger unprofitable market leaders. Lack of marquee liquidity events and curtailed access to late-stage capital for some will lead to a few visible failures (our money is on the subsidy-heavy wallets!) and a temporary burst of short-term skepticism around Southeast Asia as an investment destination towards the end of 2019.

The trend towards the emergence of value-chain specific funds and fund managers will continue, as digitalization is reaching ever further into numerous industry sectors and as Southeast Asia hosts an increasing portion of global supply chains. We foresee at least dozen new venture firms and vehicles emerging in 2019 with clear sector-led investment thesis around the place of Southeast Asian economies in the global value chains of fashion industry, agriculture and food; labour, healthcare services; manufacturing, construction tech and so on, with investment teams that have the necessary expertise to unravel this increasing complexity.


Willson Cuaca, East Ventures

Jakarta becomes Southeast Asia’s startup capital surpassing Singapore in terms of the number of deals and investment amount.

As Indonesia’s startup scene heats up, regional seed and series A funds move away from Indonesia and target Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines (in market priority order).

Southeast gets two new unicorns.


Rachel Lau, RHL Ventures

North Asian companies will provide well-needed liquidity as they withdraw capital from developed American and European markets due to the Federal Reserve’s actions. The FED raised interest rates and reduced the size of its balance sheet (by not replacing the bonds that were maturing at a rate of $50 billion a month). This has been seen in the recent fundraising exercise by Southeast Asian unicorns. Grab has recently seen an impressive list of North Asian investors such as Mirae, Toyota and Yamaha . A recent stat stated that 85 percent of the funding of Southeast Asia startups have gone to billion dollar unicorn such as Grab and Gojek, bypassing the early stage startups that are more in need for funding, this trend is expected to continue. Therefore, we will see early-stage companies and venture capitalists becoming more focused on generating cash flow from operating operations instead as fundraising activities become more difficult.

A growth in urbanization in Southeast will create new job opportunities in small/medium businesses, as evident in China. Currently, only 12 percent of Asia’s urban population live in megacities, while four percent live in towns of fewer than 300,000 inhabitants. New companies will see the blurred lines between brick and mortar businesses vs pure online businesses. In the past year or so, we have seen more and more offline businesses going online and more online businesses going offline.

Fertility rates in the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam exceed 2.1 births per woman — the level that sustains a population — but rates below 1.5 in Singapore and Thailand mean their populations will decline without immigration. As we see more startup activities coming to Southeast Asian countries, we expect to see more qualified foreign talent moving to the region vs staying in low growth American and European countries.


Kay-Mok Ku, Gobi Ventures

First Chinese “Seaward” Unicorn in Southeast Asia. In recent years, a growing number of Chinese startups are targeting overseas markets from the get go (known as Chuhai 出海 or “Seaward”). These Chinese entrepreneurs typically bring with them best practices in consumer marketing and product development honed by a hyper-competitive home market, supported by strong, dedicated technical team based out of China and increasingly capitalized by Chinese VCs which have raised billion-dollar funds.

Consolidation among ASEAN Unicorns. While ASEAN now boasts 10 unicorns, they are duplicative in the sense that more than one exists in a particular category, which is unsustainable for winner-takes-all markets. For example, in the ASEAN ride-hailing space, while one unicorn is busy with regional geographic expansion, the other simply co-exists by staying focused on scope expansion within its home market. This will never happen in a single country market like China but now that the ASEAN ride hailing unicorns are finally locking horns, the stage may be set for a Didi-Kuadi like scenario to unfold.

ASEAN jumps on Chinese 5G bandwagon. The tech world in the future will likely bifurcate into American and Chinese-led platforms. As it is, emerging markets are adopting Chinese business models based on bite-sized payment and have embraced Chinese mobile apps often bundled with cheap Chinese smartphones. Looking ahead, 5G will be a game changer as its impact goes beyond smartphones to generic IoT devices, having strategic implications for industries such as autonomous driving. As a result, the US-China Trade War will likely evolve into a Tech War and ASEAN will be forced to choose side.


Darren Tan, Golden Equator Capital

We are excited by growth in the AI and deep tech sectors. The focus has generally been on consumer-focused tech in Southeast Asia as an emerging market, but we are starting to see proprietary solutions emerge for industries such as medtech and fintech. AI also has great applicability across a wide range of consumer sectors in reducing reliance on manpower and creating cost savings.

Data analytics to uncover organizational efficiencies and customer trends will continue to be even more widely used, but there will also be greater emphasis on securing such data especially confidential information in light of multiple high-profile data breaches in 2018. Tools enabling the collection, storage, safe-keeping and analysis of data will be essential.

We are seeing the emergence of more institutional funds from North Asia. So far it has predominantly been Chinese tech giants like Tencent and Alibaba, now we are starting to see Korean and Japanese institutions placing greater emphasis on investment in the Southeast Asian region.


Vinnie Lauria, Golden Gate Ventures

Even more capital flowing from U.S. and China into Southeast Asia, with VCs from both locations soon to open offices in the region

A fresh wave of Series A investments into Vietnam.

Ten exits over $100 million.

 


Amit Anand, Jungle Ventures

The emergence of a financial services super app, think the Meituan or WeChat but only for financial services: The Southeast Asian millennial is one of the most underserved customer from a financial services perspective whether it is payments, consumer goods loans, personal loans, personal finance management, investments or other financial services. We will see the emergence of digital platforms that will aggregate all these related services and provide a one stop financial services shop for this digitally native consumer.

Digitisation of SMEs will be new fintech: Southeast Asia is home to over 100 million SMEs that are at the cusp of digital transformation. Generational change in ownership, local governments push for digitization and increased globalization have created a perfect storm for these SMEs to adopt cloud and other digital technologies at neck-breaking pace. Startups focussing on this segment will get mainstream attention from the venture community over the next few years as they look for new industries that are getting enabled or disrupted by technology.


Kuo-Yi Lim and Peng Ong, Monk’s Hill Ventures

Lyft and Uber go public and show the path to profitability for other rideshare businesses. This has positive effect for the regional rideshare players but also puts pressure on them to demonstrate the same economics in ridesharing. Regional rideshare players double down on super-app positioning instead, to demonstrate value in other ways as rideshare business alone may not reach profitability — ever.

The trade war between China and the US reaches a truce, but a general sense of uncertainty lingers. This is now the new norm — things are less certain and companies have to plan for more adverse scenarios. In the short term, Southeast Asia benefits. Companies — Chinese, American etc — see Southeast Asia as the neutral ground. Investment pours in, creating jobs across industries. Acquisition of local champions intensifies as foreign players jostle for the lead positions.

“Solve the problem” – tech companies will become more prominent… tech companies that are real-estate brokers, recruiters, healthcare providers, food suppliers, logistics… why: many industries are very inefficient.


Hian Goh, Openspace Ventures

Fight to quality will happen. Fundraising across all stages from seed to Series C and beyond will be challenging if you don’t have the metrics. Investors will want to see a path to profitability, or an ability to turn profitable if the environment becomes worse. This will mean Saas companies with stable cash flows, vertical e-commerce with strong metrics will be attractive investment opportunities.

Investor selection will become critical, as investors take a wait and see approach. Existing or new investors into companies will be judged upon their dry powder in their funds and their ability to fund further rounds

The regulatory risk for fintech lenders will be higher this year, rising compliance cost and uncertainty on licensing, which would lead to consolidation in the market.


Heang Chhor, Qualgro

Southeast Asia: an intensifying battlefield for tech investments

There has never been so much VC money in Southeast Asia chasing interesting startups, at all life cycle stages. The 10 most active local and regional VCs have raised their second or third funds recently, amassing at least two times more money than a few years ago, probably reaching a total amount close to $1 billion. In addition, international VCs have also doubled down on their allocation into the region, while top Chinese VCs have visibly stated their intent not to miss the dynamic momentum. Several growth funds have recently built a local presence in order to target Southeast Asia tech companies at Series C and beyond. Not counting the amount going to the unicorns, there might be now more than $3-4 billion available for seed to growth stages, which may be 3-4 times the amount of three years ago. There are, of course, many more good startups coming up to invest into. But the most promising startups will be in a very favorable position to negotiate higher valuation and better terms. However, they should not forget that, eventually, what creates value is how they make a difference with their tech capabilities or their business model, how they acquire and retain the best talent, with the funds raised, not only how much money they will be able to raise. Most local and regional corporate VCs are likely to lose in this more intense investment game.

Significant VC money investing into so-called ‘AI-based startups’, but are there really much (deep) Artificial Intelligence capabilities around?

A good portion of the SEA startups claim they have ‘something-AI’. Investors are overwhelmed, if not confused, by the ‘AI claim’ that they find in most startup pitches. While there is no doubt that Southeast Asia will grow its own strong AI-competence pool in the future, unfortunately today most ‘AI-based’ business models from the region would still be just ‘good algorithms or machine learning’ that can process some amount of data to come up with good-enough outcomes, that do not always generate substantial business value to users/customers. The significant budget that some of the very-well-funded Southeast Asia unicorns are putting into their ‘AI-based apps’ or ‘AI platform’ is unlikely to make a real difference for the consumers, for lack of deep AI competences in the region. 2019 may be another year of AI-promise, not realized. Hopefully, public and private research labs, universities and startups will continue to be (much more) strongly supported (especially by governments) to significantly build bigger AI talent pool, which means growing and attracting AI talent into the region.

Bigger Series A and Series B rounds to fuel more convincing growth trajectory, towards growth-stage fundraising.

Although situations vary a lot: typical Series A in Southeast Asia used to be around $5 million, and Series B around $10-15 million. Investors tended to accept that normally companies would raise money after 18 months or so, between A and B, and between B and C. There has been an increasing number of larger raises at A and B recently, and very likely this trend will accelerate. The fact that VCs now have much more money to deploy into each investment will contribute to this trend. However, the required milestones for raising Series C have become much more around: minimum scale and very solid growth (and profit) drivers. Therefore, entrepreneurs will have to look for getting as much funding reserve as possible, irrespective of time between raises, to build growth engines that take their companies past the milestones of the next Series, be it B or C. In the future, we will see more Series A of $10 million and more Series B of well-above $20 million. Compelling businesses will not have too much difficulties for doing so, but most Southeast Asia entrepreneurs would be wise to learn to more effectively master fundraising skills for capturing much bigger amounts than in the past. Of course, this assumes that their businesses are compelling enough in the eyes of investors.


Vicknesh Pillay, TNB Aura

Out-sized valuations will be less commonplace in 2019 as Southeast Asian investors learn from experience and become more sophisticated. Therefore, we do see opportunities at Series A/B for undervalued deals due to lack of early-stage funding while we expect to continue to see the trend of the majority of venture capital investments going into later stage companies (Series C and beyond) due to lower risk appetite and ‘herd’ mentality.

2018 has also seen the rapid emergence of many corporate venture capital funds and innovation programs. But, 2019 will see large corporations cutting back on their allocation towards startup investing which would be the easiest option for them in case of adverse news to the jittery public markets in 2019.

With the growth of AI, the need for API connections and increased thought leadership to embrace tech, Southeast Asia is going to see an upsurge in SaaS startups and existing startups moving to a Saas business model. Hence, we expect increased investments into Saas companies focused on IoT and cybersecurity as hardware data and software are moved onto the cloud.


Chua Kee Lock, Vertex Ventures

Southeast Asia VC investment pace has grown steadily and significantly since 2010 where it started from less than $100 million in VC investment in the region. For the first eight months of 2018, the region’s VC investment was over $5.4 billion. For the whole of 2018, it will likely end around $8 billion. For 2019, we expect the VC investment pace to surpass 2018 level and record between $9-10 billion. Southeast Asia will continue to attract more VC investments because:

(1) Governments in Southeast Asia, especially ASEAN, continue their support policy to encourage startups.

(2) young demographics and the fast technology adoption in Southeast Asia give rise to more innovative and disruptive ideas.

(3) global investors looking for a better return and will naturally focus on growing emerging market like Southeast Asia.

The trend towards gig economy will begin to have an impact in the region. In developed economies like the U.S, gig economy is expected to reach over 40 percent by 2020. The young population will look for more freelance opportunities as a way to increase income levels while still maintaining flexibility. This will include white-collar work like computer programming, accounting, customer service, etc. and also blue-collar work like delivery services, ride-sharing, home services, etc. We believe that the gig economy will grow to over 15 percent in Southeast Asia by 2019.

AI-heavy or -driven startups will begin to make inroads into Southeast Asia.


Victor Chua, Vynn Capital

The BIG convergence — there will more integration between industries and sectors. Traveloka went into car rental, Blibli went into travel business and these are only some examples. There is a lot of synergistic value between travel startups and food startups or between property startups and automotive startups. Imagine a future where you travel to a city where you stay in an apartment you rented through a marketplace (like Travelio, my portfolio company), and when you need to book a restaurant you can make the reservation through a platform that is integrated with the property manager, and when you need to move around you go down to the car park to drive a car you rent from an automotive marketplace. There is clear synergy between selective industries and this leads to an overall convergence between companies, between industries.

More channels to raise Series B/C, early-stage companies find fundraising more challenging — We have seen a number of VC funds raising or already raised growth funds, this means that there are now more channels for Series A or B companies to raise growth rounds. As the market matures, there will be more competition for investments amongst growth funds as there is considerably more growth in the number of growth funds than companies that are raising at growth-stage. On the flip side, the feel is that there is a consistent growth in the number of early-stage companies, yet the amount of capital in early-stage funds is not growing as much as more VCs prefer bigger and later stages, due to the maturity of their existing portfolio companies.

Newcomers gaining weight — there will be at least 10 companies that will hit a valuation of at least $100 million. These valuations will not be based on a single market exposure. Companies that raise larger rounds will need to show that they are regional.


Thanks to all the VCs who took part, I certainly felt like the class teacher collecting assignments.


Source: TechCrunch – Funding and Exits

04 Jan

Sophia Genetics bags $77M Series E, with 850+ hospitals signed up to its ‘data-driven medicine’

Another sizeable cash injection for big data biotech: Sophia Genetics has announced a $77 million Series E funding round, bringing its total raised to $140 million since the business was founded back in 2011.

The company, which applies AI to DNA sequencing to enable what it dubs “data-driven medicine,” last closed a $30 million Series D in fall 2017.

The Series E was led by Generation Investment Management . Also investing: European private equity firm, Idinvest Partners. Existing investors, including Balderton Capital and Alychlo, also participated in the round.

When we last spoke to Sophia Genetics it had around 350 hospitals linked via its SaaS platform, and was then adding around 10 new hospitals per month.

Now it says its Sophia AI platform is being used by more than 850 hospitals across 77 countries, and it claims to have supported the diagnosis of more than 300,000 patients.

The basic idea is to improve diagnoses by enabling closer collaboration and knowledge sharing between hospitals via the Sophia AI platform, with an initial focus on oncology, hereditary cancer, metabolic disorders, pediatrics and cardiology. 

Expert (human) insights across the network of hospital users are used to collectively enhance genomic diagnostics and push toward predictive analysis by feeding and training AI algorithms intended to enhance the reading and analysis of DNA sequencing data.

Sophia Genetics describes its approach as the “democratization” of DNA sequencing expertise.

Commenting on the Series E in a statement, Lilly Wollman, co-head of Generation’s growth equity team said: “We believe that leveraging genetic sequencing and advanced digital analysis will enable a more sustainable healthcare system. Sophia Genetics is a leader in the preventive and personalized medicine revolution, enabling the development of targeted therapeutics, thereby vastly improving health outcomes. We admire Sophia Genetics not just for its differentiated analytics capability across genomic and radiomic data, but also for its exceptional team and culture.”

The new funding will be put toward further expanding the number of hospitals using Sophia Genetics’ technology, and also on growing its headcount with a plan to ramp up hiring in the U.S. especially.

The Swiss-founded firm is now co-based in Lausanne and Boston, Mass.

In another recent development, the company added radiomics capabilities to its platform last year, allowing for what it describes as “a prediction of the evolution of a tumour,” which it suggests can help inform a physician’s choice of treatment for the patient.


Source: TechCrunch – Funding and Exits

27 Nov

Meet ‘Bitski’, the single sign-on wallet crypto desperately needs

The mainstream will never adopt blockchain-powered decentralized apps (dApps) if it’s a struggle to log in. They’re either forced to manage complex security keys themselves, or rely on a clunky wallet-equipped browser like MetaMask. What users need is for signing in to blockchain apps to be as easy as Login with Facebook. So that’s what Bitski built. The startup emerges from stealth today with an exclusive on TechCrunch about the release of the developer beta of its single sign-on cryptocurrency wallet platform.

Ten projects, including 7 game developers, are lined up to pay a fee to integrate Bitski’s SDK. Then, whenever they need a user’s identity or to transact a payment, their app pops open a Bitski authorization screen, where users can grant permissions to access their ID, send money or receive items. Users sign up just once with Bitski, and then there’s no more punching in long private keys or other friction. Using blockchain apps becomes simple enough for novices. Given the recent price plunge, the mainstream has been spooked about speculating on cryptocurrencies. But Bitski could unlock the utility of dApps that blockchain developers have been promising but haven’t delivered.

“One of the great challenges for protocol teams and product companies in crypto today is the poor UX in dApps, specifically onboarding, transactions, and sign-in/password recovery,” says co-founder and CEO Donnie Dinch. “We interviewed a ton of dApp developers. The minute they used a wallet, there was a huge drop-off of folks. Bitski’s vision is to solve user onboarding and wallet usability for developers, so that they can in-turn focus on creating unique and useful dapps.”

https://www.youtube.com/embed/y7iWEmNnqsU?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent

The scrappy Bitski team raised $1.5 million in pre-seed capital from Steve Jang’s Kindred Ventures, Signia, Founders Fund, Village Global and Social Capital. They were betting on Dinch, a designer-as-CEO who’d built concert discovery app WillCall that he sold to Ticketfly, which was eventually bought by Pandora. After 18 months of rebranding Ticketfly and overhauling its consumer experience, Dinch left and eventually recruited engineer Julian Tescher to come with him to found Bitski.

Bitski co-founder and CEO Donnie Dinch

After Riff failed to hit scale, the team hung up its social ambitions in late 2017 and “started kicking around ideas for dApps. We mocked up a Venmo one, a remittance app…but found the hurdle to get someone to use one of these products is enormous,” Dinch recalls. “Onboarding was a dealbreaker for anyone building dApps. Even if we made the best crypto Venmo, to get normal people on it would be extremely difficult. It’s already hard enough to get people to install apps from the App Store.” They came up with Bitski to let any developer ski jump over that hurdle.

Looking across the crypto industry, the companies like Coinbase and Binance with their own hosted wallets that permitted smooth UX were the ones winning. Bitski would bring that same experience to any app. “Our hosted wallet SDK lets developers drop the Bitski wallet into their apps and onboard users with standards web 2.0 users have grown to know and love,” Dinch explains.

Imagine an iOS game wants to reward users with a digital sword or token. Users would have to set up a whole new wallet, struggle with their credentials or use another clumsy solution. They’d have to own Ethereum already to pay the Ethereum “gas” price to power the transaction, and the developer would have to manually approve sending the gift. With Bitski, users can approve receiving tokens from a developer from then on, and developers can pay the gas on users’ behalf while triggering transactions programmatically.

Magik is an AR content platform that’s one of Bitski’s first developers. Magik’s founders tell me, “We’re building towards reaching millions of mainstream consumers, and Bitski is the only wallet solution that understands what we need to reach users at that scale. They provide a dead-simple, secure and familiar interface that addresses every pain point along the user-onboarding journey.”

Bitski will offer a free tier, priced tiers based on transaction volume or a monthly fee and an enterprise version. In the future, the company is considering doubling-down on premium developer services to help them build more on top of the blockchain. “We will never, ever monetize user data. We’ve never had any intent at looking at it,” Dinch vows. The startup hopes developers will seize on the network effects of a cross-app wallet, as once someone sets up Bitski to use one product, all future sign-ins just require a few clicks.

In August, Coinbase acquired a startup called Distributed Systems that was building a similar crypto identity platform called the Clear Protocol. A “login with Coinbase” feature could be popular if launched, but the company’s focus is to spread a ton of blockchain projects. “If [login with Coinbase] launched tomorrow, they wouldn’t be able to support games or anything with a unique token. We’re a lockbox, they’re a bank,” Dinch claims.

The spectre of single sign-on’s biggest player, Facebook, looms, as well. In May it announced the formation of a blockchain team we suspect might be working on a crypto login platform or other ways to make the decentralized world more accessible for mom and pop. Dinch suspects that fears about how Facebook uses data would dissuade developers and users from adopting such a product. Still, Bitski’s haste in getting its developer platform into beta just a year after forming shows it’s eager to beat them to market.

Building a centralized wallet in a decentralized ecosystem comes with its own security risks. But Dinch assures me Bitski is using all its own hardware with air-gapped computers that have been stripped of their Wi-Fi cards, and it’s taking other secret precautions to prevent anyone from snatching its wallets. He believes cross-app wallets will also deliver a future where users actually own their virtual goods instead of just relying on the good will of developers not to pull them away or shut them down.” The idea of we’ve never been able to provably own unique digital assets is crazy to me,” Dinch notes. “Whether it’s a skin in Fortnite or a movie on iTunes that you purchase, you don’t have liquidity to resell those things. We think we’ll look back in 5 to 10 years and think it’s nuts that no one owned their digital items.”

While the crypto prices might be cratering and dApps like Cryptokitties have cooled off, Dinch is convinced the blockchain startups won’t fade away. “There is a thriving developer ecosystem hellbent on bringing the decentralized web to reality; regardless of token price. It’s a safe assumption that prices will dip a bit more, but will eventually rise whenever we see real use cases for a lot of these tokens. Most will die. The ones that succeed will be outcome-oriented, building useful products that people want.” Bitski’s a big step in that direction.


Source: TechCrunch – Funding and Exits

31 Oct

Monzo, the U.K. challenger bank, raises £85M Series E at a £1B pre-money valuation

Monzo, the U.K. challenger bank that now boasts more than a million customers, has raised £85 million in Series E funding. The round is led by U.S. venture capital firm General Catalyst, and Accel. Existing backers Passion Capital, Goodwater, Thrive Capital, Orange Digital Ventures, and Stripe also participated.

The latest funding was at a pre-money valuation of £1 billion (~$1.27b), meaning that Monzo is now a bonafide member of the U.K. fintech unicorn club, joining recent entrant Revolut.

Meanwhile, the bank upstart is also planning to launch a large crowdfunding round later this year. Like a lot of other fintechs — and before it was fashionable — Monzo has historically opened up its fundraising to its passionate community and other armchair investors.

In a brief call earlier today with Monzo co-founder and CEO Tom Blomfield, he told me the new funding will be primarily used for increasing headcount to further develop the Monzo product line and to cover other operational costs now that the challenger bank has reached “contribution margin positive”.

In other words, on average each customer is generating more revenue than the cost of servicing their current account, which is undoubtedly evidence of how much progress Monzo has made over the last year. This includes bringing down costs, such as weaning customers off costly debit card “top ups” and imposing a cap on fee-free foreign ATM withdrawals — as well as starting to generate meaningful revenue.

On where that revenue is now coming from, Blomfield cited lending in the form of Monzo’s overdraft product, interest it earns on deposits (currently Monzo doesn’t share that interest with customers, even if it is very small in percentage terms), and interchange fees (the money Monzo makes any time you spend on your Monzo debit card).

Another revenue stream is the nascent Monzo marketplace, which he says will be the next focus going forward now that the Monzo current account, with the omission of savings accounts and cash deposits, is basically “done“.

That’s noteworthy given that Monzo embraced developers extremely early on in its existence, holding four very popular hackathons and conducting a few early partnership pilots, but has since mostly stalled on the roll out of marketplace banking and other partnership integrations, sometimes to the frustration of the wider U.K. fintech ecosystem and developers. The exception being the recent integration with TransferWise for sending money abroad.

Blomfield doesn’t dispute this framing but says it wasn’t that Monzo changed course on offering an open API or working on deeper integrations that will put partner products inside of the Monzo banking app, but that gaining a banking license and building out all of the features of the current account had to be the short-term priority. Now that heavy lifting is complete and armed with new operational capital, it is marketplace game on.

To that end, the Monzo CEO says headcount over the next year could double again, from around 450 now to 900. And in terms of customer growth, extrapolating stats from a recent Nationwide annual report (PDF link), the challenger bank says it now accounts for 15 percent of all new bank accounts opened each month in the U.K. It also says it has 800,000 monthly active users.

Account switching — that is customers ditching their existing bank — still makes up the bulk of customer acquisition, even if Monzo recently began targeting 16-18 year olds who would be opening their first ever bank account. Another key metric: the number of customers who deposit their salary each month with Monzo is now at around 26 percent, although I’m told that this isn’t as important for Monzo as it might be for traditional banks and isn’t the main correlation with engagement or those accessing a Monzo overdraft.

Asked what Monzo’s biggest challenge will be over the next year, its CEO doesn’t mince his words: “Increasing revenue,” he says. This means ensuring that its lending models are correct (ie avoiding too many defaults as it scales) and steadfastly growing the marketplace and third-party product partnerships that will bring in additional revenue.

I was also intrigued to see a U.S. venture capital firm once again back the U.K. challenger bank — many of its existing backers have a U.S. bent and Blomfield has made no secret of his ambitions to expand across the pond at some stage. In an email exchange a few hours before publication, General Catalyst’s Adam Valkin (who was previously at Accel in London where he invested in GoCardless, which Blomfield also co-founded), gave me the following statement:

We’re investing in Tom and his team because they are delivering a high-quality banking experience for consumers at scale that is sorely missing from the market. Today’s incumbent UK banks represent billions of market cap but suffer from low NPS scores, reflecting their inability to meet their customers’ needs. Monzo, in contrast, explicitly builds product and banking features in a community-driven approach based on customers’ feedback and requests. This has driven very high organic growth, strong retention and engagement, and unprecedented customer love for and trust in Monzo. Beyond this, Tom and the Monzo team have improved upon the traditional business model of banking, removing the traditional offline retail-based banking model in favor of a highly scalable and lower cost mobile-only experience. All of this creates the potential for Monzo to become a leading U.K. bank, launch a successful financial marketplace, and eventually expand internationally.


Source: TechCrunch – Funding and Exits

03 Oct

Philippines SME lending startup First Circle raises $26M ahead of regional expansion

This year has been a breakout one for micro-financing startups in Southeast Asia, which are becoming among the most funded within the region’s fintech space. Next in line to raise capital is First Circle, an SME-lending service that’s based in the Philippines which has pulled in $26 million as it begins to consider regional expansion options.

The new financing is led by Venturra Capital with participation from Insignia Ventures Partners, Hong Kong’s Silverhorn Investment Advisors, and Tryb Group. First Circle has previously raised $2.5 million, including a $1.3 million seed round 18 months ago.

The company was founded by Irish duo CEO Patrick Lynch, formerly of CompareAsia Group and CTO Tony Ennis, previously with WebSummit, and the goal is to help small businesses scale by offering them short-term loans. The Philippines is an impact market since SMEs account for 99.6 percent of the country’s business, 65 percent of its workforce and a staggering 35 percent of national GDP. Yet, there’s no formal credit scoring system and existing loan coverage is patchy at best.

Most of First Circle’s loans are often transaction or working capital, such as financing to take on a new deal for a client with a guaranteed financial return that requires a fairly brutal wait of 90-120 days, Lynch told TechCrunch in an interview.

“A lack of access to capital is a problem that faces tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of businesses in the Philippines,” he explained. “Emerging markets are not capital developed, and our business model is quite different from the p2p lender model in that we do share risk with the investors.”

First Circle sources capital from third parties, including asset managers and family offices, who take half of the loan book. Unlike the P2P model, which is going through a spectacular crash in China, First Circle is invested in all deals and as such it does thorough due diligence before committing. However, after processing over $100 million in deals to “thousands” of businesses, Lynch said that the company has built up data on a number of suppliers and business partners to the point that a “significant” chunk of applications can be processed without human involvement.

For example, if a loan application is seeking financing in order to do a dealing with Multinational X, First Circle can move quickly if it has dealt with the application before or it has issued loans to other partners who have done business with Multinational X.

“Over time, as we acquire more customers, the degrees of separation are collapsing over time,” Lynch said.

First Circle’s executive team including co-founders Tony Ennis (third from left) and Patrick Lynch (middle)

The fact that there is little data available via a credit bureau makes things challenging. The need to built a solution from the ground up necessitates great time, cost and other resources but it can have major benefits, as First Circle is beginning to enjoy.

“Many new providers of financial services are rating customer for the first time. In 80 percent of the time in our case, it’s the first time our customer will have had a formal relationship” with a financial organization, Lynch explained. “That provides an opportunity, if done correctly, to provide a strong relationship and be a part of their future success for a long time.”

Indeed, the First Circle CEO said that, to date, customers will typically take a loan of around $10,000, but the average will balance is $30,000 — meaning that there are three loans active. That reflects the transactional nature of the loans the startup is issuing, but of course more business means more data, stronger relationships and a higher chance of word-of-mouth recommendations.

First Circle is staying focused on the Philippines for now, but Lynch revealed that there are plans to expand to other parts of Southeast Asia, the region of nearly 650 million consumers. This round may help the company “put a foot in a second market,” Lynch said, but it is likely to go out and raise more money to push its regional expansion plan next year.


Source: TechCrunch – Funding and Exits

07 Aug

Shell Ventures backs UK car repair marketplace WhoCanFixMyCar

WhoCanFixMyCar, the U.K. online car repair marketplace, has secured £4 million in new funding. Backing the startup is Shell Ventures — the corporate venture arm of Shell — in addition to chairman Sir Trevor Chinn (who previously chaired the boards ofAA, Kwik Fit and RAC), Active Partners, and Venrex Investment Management.

Launched in 2011 by former investment bankers Al Preston and Ian Griffiths, WhoCanFixMyCar.com claims to be the biggest online marketplace in the U.K. for matching car owners with repair garages. Specifically, the company, which has offices in Newcastle upon Tyne, London and Kiev, operates a local garage and mechanic online comparison service, allowing drivers to post jobs and receive quotes from local garages and mechanics.

The platform currently has 11,500 garages registered to the site, and says it has processed 1 million repair requests from U.K. drivers and receives circa 60,000 new job requests from drivers every month.

This, I’m told, has seen single site garages obtaining around 600 new customers per year on average through WhoCanFixMyCar, with top regional garage groups securing 3,000-4,000 bookings per year.

Furthermore, Shell’s investment via Shell Ventures follows the development of the Shell Helix Service Specialist Network, a recently launched scheme which allows independent workshops on the WhoCanFixMyCar.com site to be officially associated with Shell. In other words, strike this up as potentially quite a strategic investment for Shell.

Armed with a cash injection, Al Preston, co-founder of WhoCanFixMyCar.com, says that the plan it to keep scaling the startup’s activities and consolidate its position in the UK.” We are also focusing on new products and solutions that will further benefit our garage network and provide car owners with a better, richer experience when it comes to car maintenance and repairs,” he says.

On the surface, ClickMechanic can be considered a similar-sized competitor, although it operates a different model, more akin to ‘Uber for car mechanics,’ by offering instant quotes and then putting the job out to a curated network of garages and mechanics who can choose to accept or reject. In contrast, WhoCanFixMyCar is a two sided marketplace in the truest sense, letting you request quotes and compare reviews, with much more emphasis on lead generation from the garage’s point of view.

Article updated to clarify how WhoCanFixMyCar and ClickMechanic operated very different models, despite being competitors on the consumer-facing side.


Source: TechCrunch – Funding and Exits