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Startups – Crunchbase News

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Retirable, Capitalize Raise Seed Funds To Help People Save For Retirement

Permalink - Posted on 2020-09-29 14:00

Two startups, Retirable and Capitalize, announced seed funds of $4.7 million and $2 million, respectively, on Tuesday to go after the $17 trillion retirement savings market. Each has a different approach to helping Americans manage their retirement accounts.

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Vestigo Ventures led the $4.7 million round for New York-based Retirable, with participation from Diagram Ventures, Primetime Partners and angel investors. The company, founded last October, is developing a fee-based retirement process for older Americans that centers around personalized, digital plans from Certified Financial Planners, Tyler End, co-founder and CEO of Retirable, told Crunchbase News.

“There are 50 million Americans between the ages of 50 and 60, many of whom have never seen a financial plan, and no one is focused on this area without selling a product,” he said. “Everyone deserves the ability to save for retirement, regardless of their age or net worth, and we can give it to them.”

Retirable plans to use the new funding to provide advisory services, hire more CFPs, continue product development, and invest in future partnerships. The company’s beta phase included helping 65,000 pre-retirees and creating 8,000 financial plans, End said.

Customers can set up their portfolios for free, but if they want to speak with a CFP, they pay $99 per year. If customers want further services, such as Medicare plans, the CFP will recommend trusted partners.

Abby Miller Levy, managing partner and co-founder of Primetime Partners, said in an interview that Retirable’s approach is immediately beneficial to older adults.

“There is something about being able to build skills so that it reduces financial stress, especially when you are an older adult seeing your bank account going down each month,” Levy said. “Dealing with finances is not going to be fun, but Retirable has made it more accessible, relatable and actionable.”

Meanwhile, Capitalize, also based in New York, touts that it is developing the first independent platform that enables people to locate and transfer their legacy 401(k) retirement assets. The startup, which launched in late 2019, closed on a $2 million seed round led by Bling Capital. Additional investors included Greycroft, RRE Ventures and Walkabout Ventures.

“One of the biggest problems is accounts that are tied to employers,” Gaurav Sharma, co-founder and CEO of Capitalize, told Crunchbase News. “They may offer a 401(k), but when you change jobs, you have to figure out what to do with the money, and many people tend to make bad decisions.”

Many times, people do one of two things: They leave their 401(k)s with former employers, often forgetting about them, or they cash them out and take the penalty prematurely. Of the 15 million people changing jobs per year, just 5 million roll over their 401(k)s into an individual retirement account, Sharma said.

Instead, when Capitalize customers change jobs, they tell the platform where they work now, link it within their profile, and the startup will advise on the best course of action and transfer.

Capitalize will use the new funding for product development to add new features, grow its team within product engineering and support, and acquire new customers. Sharma intends to add four employees by the end of the year to make a workforce of 10.

“The 401(k) is a bit of a burden for the employer, and this is where we want to go in the long term,” Sharma said. “One of the reasons the launch is timely is that we managed to help people who were laid off during the pandemic to make the most of their savings.”

Illustration: Dom Guzman


Colorado’s Burgeoning Startup Scene is Flying High

Permalink - Posted on 2020-09-29 12:30

When Flatfile CEO David Boskovic was looking to get the company off the ground, he didn’t look any further than Colorado, where he was based. Flatfile, which enables bulk data transfers between businesses, is a remote-first company, but about 40 percent of its workforce is based in the state, Boskovic said.

“Hiring, finding great talent in Colorado, and being able to pay competitively for that talent is a lot more accessible than building a company in San Francisco,” Boskovic said. “I’ve always favored remote companies. This wasn’t a COVID decision.”

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With COVID-19 and remote work causing many people to reconsider where they live, cities like Austin, Denver and Salt Lake City have increasingly come into the spotlight as emerging startup hubs.

Crunchbase News has written about Austin and Utah’s tech scenes plenty in the past, but it’s been a while since we’ve looked at the startup ecosystem in Colorado. And now, since more people are eyeing the Centennial State because their jobs are no longer tied to San Francisco or New York, we thought it was time to run the numbers on how Colorado compares as a startup hub.

In recent years, Colorado has become a hot spot for San Francisco Bay Area tech companies to open secondary offices. Tech giants like Google, Facebook and Salesforce all have offices in the state, as do private companies like Gusto and Robinhood. And notably, Palantir Technologies, the data analytics company going public this week, recently moved its headquarters from Palo Alto, California, to Denver.

But Colorado’s startup ecosystem has also been growing from within, with local companies raising billions in venture capital and seeing large exits. According to Crunchbase data, 2018 saw the most venture capital investment into Colorado-based startups in the past five years, with about $2.4 billion invested across 401 deals. Last year wasn’t far behind with $2.3 billion invested across 357 deals. It should be noted that 2018 and 2019 combined had eight “supergiant rounds,” or deals that were above $100 million.

In Denver particularly, 2019 saw the largest amount of venture capital investment into startups based in the city. About $931 million was invested in Denver-based startups across 152 deals, according to Crunchbase data. In 2020 so far, of the nearly $700 million that has been invested in Colorado-based companies, about $298 million went to Denver-based companies. This year so far has only had one funding round that was at or above $100 million (DispatchHealth‘s $135.8 million Series C).

Looking back

Colorado’s tech scene isn’t exactly new—IBM, for example, opened a research center in the state in the 1970s. But it was around 2005 or 2006 that tech really started to accelerate in the state, according to Seth Levine, a founding partner at Colorado-based investment firm Foundry Group. Denver-based accelerator program Techstars was founded in 2006 and Foundry Group, one of the most active investors in the state, was founded in 2007.

The “tipping point” for Colorado’s startup scene to explode happened somewhere around 2010, Levine said. Before then, recruiting people to work in Colorado was harder because they were often concerned about Colorado being a place where businesses could scale and concerned about the maturity and size of the tech ecosystem. As Levine put it, if the job a person moved to Colorado for didn’t work out, would there be other opportunities in the state or would they have to move back to where they came from?

But following multiple large exits for companies, and people realizing the other appeals of living in Colorado, those concerns have been alleviated. 

“I feel like we reached some sort of critical mass somewhere in the 2007 to 2010 timeframe and that stopped being a question and that’s accelerated companies moving here and companies being started here because there was this greater access to talent and greater access to capital,” Levine said.

Also of note is the phenomenon of large tech companies acquiring Colorado-based companies. Microsoft, Google and Twitter, to name a few, have all acquired Colorado-based companies, giving the tech giants a presence in the state. Several Colorado-based companies have also gone public since 2015: 

Livability

The livability of Colorado has also been a major attraction, according to JJ Ament, CEO of local economic development group Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. Downtown Denver is the city’s urban core, but it’s not far from the mountains and country, making activities like hiking and skiing very accessible. And Denver itself is relatively easy to get to—it’s only a couple hours by plane to either coast and major airlines like United, Southwest and Frontier all have hubs at Denver International Airport.

“The talent clustering around these various industries has been tech-heavy over the last 10 years for sure,” Ament said. “More and more companies are discovering they have a great place to live, they have a talented workforce, and, while we’re not cheap anymore, we’re still a relative value, pricewise, to the coasts. The combination of those things have made us really attractive for those folks, and I think COVID has really accelerated that trend.”

The helpfulness of Colorado’s startup community has also been a big plus, Bokovic of Flatfile said. That sentiment was echoed by Nicole Glaros, chief investment strategy officer at Techstars. Glaros recalled how in the past when a startup would fail, the startup community would rally around the founder, organizing a happy hour to celebrate the founder and assist him or her with a job search or next venture.

But with COVID, there will likely be more startups based in Colorado, Glaros said.

“We’re just seeing a lot of new startups come in, and a lot of early-stage VCs pop up, too,” Glaros said, adding that investors have been reconsidering where they’re based. “So as that grows, that will just feed the cycle.” 

Illustration: Dom Guzman


General Catalyst, QED Lead Collective’s $8.65M Funding For Self-employed Community

Permalink - Posted on 2020-09-29 11:15

Collective is setting out to offer self-employed people, who CEO Hooman Radfar calls “businesses-of-one,” with the first online back office platform designed to support and connect the self-employed community, which comprises nearly 30 percent of the U.S. workforce.

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“We are trying to push that concept, businesses-of-one, forward,” he told Crunchbase News. “What we have found from our members is that though some may feel like a freelancer; for others, that is their full-time business. If we could give them a term that is uplifting, we will be doing more justice by them.”

The San Francisco-based company recently raised $8.65 million in its first institutional funding round to help people pool their resources and gain support with starting their own businesses.

General Catalyst and QED Investors led the round with additional investment from Gradient Ventures and Expa, as well as a group of nine individual investors.

“Businesses-of-one have seen explosive growth, especially in recent months as the pandemic accelerates the shift toward remote work and flexible careers,” Niko Bonatsos, managing director at General Catalyst, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, that growth doesn’t mean it has gotten any easier to incorporate and operate as an individual. This is where Collective can really excel.”

Radfar estimates that the number of businesses-of-one will increase to more than 50 percent by 2027, so it is time for the company to launch its product after begging in beta last year. Collective will use the funding to bring the product to market, develop new technologies and products, and build out additional community features, he said.

Membership, which costs $199 per month, grew four times since 2019. On average, Collective members saved $16,000 last year on services such as S corp formation, third-party software and accounting, he added.

“We are working on a pilot with our current membership, which was exploding due to the pandemic, and we need to build out some features and products for our members to have a good experience,” Radfar said. “Our vision is how to make it easy for you to focus on your passion and not worry about the paperwork.”

Illustration: Dom Guzman


Snappr Captures $10M Series A To Build Out Visual Content Marketplace

Permalink - Posted on 2020-09-28 15:00

Snappr raised $10 million in Series A funding to further develop its photographer and visual content marketplace.

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Basis Set Ventures led the round, with participation from YesVC and Y Combinator. This new cash infusion gives the 4-year-old San Francisco-based company a total of $13 million in total funds raised, which included $3 million in previous seed and angel rounds, founder and CEO Matt Schiller told Crunchbase News.

For as low as $89, Snappr enables a business or consumer to, with a couple of clicks, book an on-demand photographer with two hours notice to shoot anything from a new menu to a house on the market to a birthday party.

The company works with thousands of photographers in 200 metropolitan areas. There is also an application programming interface so companies can reserve photo shoots and perform file asset management on Snappr’s platform.

“The beauty of our platform is that we provide photographers with a consistent flow of work and the kind of work they may have never done before,” Schiller said. “With some of the enterprise clients, we work across hundreds of markets at one time, so there is no way one photographer would get that kind of work alone.”

The new funding will be used in three ways: building out offerings for large businesses and enterprises; introducing new features, such as 360, virtual tours and videography; and expanding into new markets.

Despite the global pandemic, the company has seen record months this year, with September poised to be Snappr’s best month ever. Growth is expected to continue at between 15 percent and 20 percent per month. Meanwhile, the company has 60 employees and “will be hiring aggressively,” Schiller said.

Snappr is already experiencing 53.2 percent of the Fortune 500 using its product, and photographers on the platform have taken menu photos for 12 percent of U.S. restaurants, Schiller said.

“We saw a huge surge in demand, especially from business customers who are scrambling to put their best foot forward online,” he added. “We will also be investing in our team–particularly in engineering, product and design–to build out the next phase of the product.”

Feature photo: Snappr CEO, Matt Schiller (right) with Snappr photographer Paul Stonehouse at a recent San Francisco photo shoot.
Blogroll illustration: Dom Guzman


Exclusive: UPshow Closes $14M Series A To Create In-venue Entertainment For Retailers

Permalink - Posted on 2020-09-28 13:02

UPshow, which develops interactive digital signage for brick-and-mortar brands, added $4.8 million in funding led by 4490 Ventures to close out its $14 million Series A funding round.

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Joining 4490 Ventures in the Series A was Jump Capital, TDF Ventures and the Signature Venture Banking Group. This gives the Chicago-based company a total of $17 million raised since its inception in 2015, which includes $3 million in previous angel investments, UPshow CEO Adam Hirsen told Crunchbase News.

The company offers hospitality, health venues and retailers, such as Crunch Fitness and Buffalo Wild Wings, a library of media and entertainment options to broadcast inside their locations, as well as customer marketing to help drive brand messaging and sales for customers who are physically at those locations.

What you need to know

The new funding will be used for product development and hiring so the company can continue to onboard large-scale customers with tens of thousands of locations, Hirsen said.

“We’ve seen intense growth over the past few years, and through partnerships with enterprise brands, we feel we are creating a good value proposition to help them digitize their offline environment,” he added.

On the hiring front, UPshow will continue to add to its sales and marketing team after already doubling the marketing team. It will also bring on enterprise sales representatives. The company has 43 employees right now and expects to be at approximately 70 by the end of 2021.

Meanwhile, the company has doubled its revenue every year in the last five years, and this year looks to grow by 95 percent compared with 2019, Hirsen said. Today, UPshow works with 10,000 locations and is approaching 25,000 screens where its content is displayed.

Next, UPshow will continue to go after large enterprise partnerships and help customers increase their app use and loyalty programs to drive repeat visitation.

“In hospitality, our customers are realizing that in-venue is the last frontier of business to digitize,” Hirsen said. “There is a huge opportunity to help brands take control of their in-venue environment, and we are ready to grow that and be the predominant company to help our customer accomplish its goals.”

What investors have to say

Dan Malven, managing director of 4490 Ventures, said in a statement that typically, in-venue digital experiences are controlled by companies, such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and Twitter that “constantly steal attention via mobile devices.” Instead, he said, UPshow gives back that control.

“UPshow solves a problem that has been causing CEO/CXO anxiety at the largest brick-and-mortar brands in the world for over a decade,” he added. “It is an enormous unmet need.”

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias


How Startups Are Helping Restaurants Get Back To Business

Permalink - Posted on 2020-09-28 12:00

The global pandemic has been hard on restaurants. What has made the transition easier for restaurants to reopen is the startup community’s response to their challenges.

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Crunchbase News talked to a dozen people in the restaurant app scene, including startup founders and venture capitalists, to see how they are helping restaurants add technology, in some cases for the first time, to their menu of options to get back to business.

In January, restaurant foot traffic was up nearly 2 percent compared to 2019, but by March had declined 60 percent, according to John Kelly, CEO at Zenreach, a company that connects online marketing to the traffic merchants experience in their stores.

“The low point came in the middle of April —when all of the states were in some kind of lockdown—with traffic down 75 percent,” he said in an interview. “Those are dramatic numbers, and the country has never seen anything like that.”

Since then, traffic has come back up to 50 percent — still low, but a positive sign.

Although states are allowing restaurants to reopen—at reduced capacity—for dine-in customers, the experts we spoke with all said if restaurants don’t adopt some type of technology, such as online ordering and delivery, or get creative with new revenue streams, they may not survive.

Because certain menu items aren’t designed to sit in take-out containers for any length of time, less than 10 percent of traditional dine-in restaurants had significant take-out or delivery business pre-COVID. So when COVID hit, dining went down to zero initially, leaving restaurants to pivot to an existing take out business, said Tim McLaughlin, CEO at mobile payments startup GoTab.

As restaurant app startups are helping the community, investors are seeing the potential for the future of these offerings. We looked at venture-backed startups within the space and found that $800 million was invested in 49 deals in 2020, as of Sept. 22.* While the list of investments is not exhaustive, you can see that compared to the $1.6 billion invested in 2019, it seems the funding amounts are on par in 2020.

The largest deal among the 49 this year belonged to restaurant management startup Toast, which announced $400 million in new funding in February, boosting its valuation to $4.9 billion.

Below are highlights from the conversations we had with founders and VCs about how certain technology is assisting restaurants in this current environment. Within those conversations emerged three or four categories of apps or platforms where we saw activity, depending on who you ask: online ordering, operations, delivery and data.

Online ordering

Numa, a text answering service and virtual receptionist platform, saw more restaurants turn to its phone-to-text offering when it became too costly to pay the fees associated with third-party delivery services. Many of those services take up to 30 percent of an order’s profit, CEO Tasso Roumeliotis told Crunchbase News.

Restaurants were using Numa to process text food orders, take credit card information, and message the customer when the order was ready. Within the platform of small businesses, the company saw a 500 percent increase in the volume of orders and texting during the pandemic.

“About two-thirds of calls are missed by small businesses because they are busy,” he said. “We are able to rescue about half of the inbound calls. Instead of missing the call, they are turning them into customers.”

SpotOn President RJ Horsley said that in mid-March, his payments company also started making its online ordering solution accessible to any business. In addition, because dine-in capacity was an issue, it was about filling each table with the right customers.

“You can’t just rely on walk-ins to fill the tables each night. You have to enable ordering through the phone and provide a contactless experience if they do come in,” he said. “That is what the consumer is demanding, and the experience now has to expand beyond the four walls of the restaurant.”

Chirag Chotalia, partner at VC firm Threshold, is one of the investors in mobile operations platform BentoBox. He said restaurants are establishing online presences and websites and order-ahead functionality are even more important now, as is generating revenue in new ways.

He sees fine-dining restaurants, which had very little take-out and delivery, offering meal kits so people could make their favorite three-course meals at home until they could go back to dining in. He also sees them getting into merchandise, such as selling bottles of iconic hot sauce and T-shirts.

To help restaurateurs tap into that creativity, BentoBox created a thought leadership space for best practices.

Operations

Chang Xu, partner at Basis Set Ventures, was one of the investors in Workstream’s seed round in 2018. Workstream provides hiring and onboarding software to restaurants, especially quick-service restaurants, that were resuming operations and looking for contactless tools.

“It is clear that restaurants are reaching for technology because they need to coordinate their workforces so they don’t have employees overlapping, but also to have scheduling software and employee engagement tools,” she said. “I see a lot of interesting things coming out of this.”

Meanwhile, as people were staying home, they got out of the habit of eating out, Bo Peabody, co-founder of restaurant discovery app Seated, said. His app helps incentivize dining in, and he said he is seeing an interest from restaurants trying to figure out how to get people back inside to eat.

Peabody knows firsthand what that is like. He and his family recently returned to New York after six months away, and they too, needed to make the mental leap to going back out again, he said. He sees one of those solutions being outdoor dining, perhaps “an extraordinary legacy” of the pandemic.

“Many restaurants have already built custom tables, awnings and a stage for bands, and that has already been approved by the government for next year,” Peabody said. “All of these outdoor setups came as a necessity, but will now be a renaissance of alfresco dining.”

Delivery

When people weren’t able to get out, many relied on food delivery. Virtual Kitchen, which builds delivery-optimized kitchens, and curbFlow, a platform that partners with on-demand delivery companies such as DoorDash, helped restaurants quickly get up-and-running with delivery.

“This was the future we had talked about already, but consumer preference for on-demand and food delivery is shaping everything these days, as they like the convenience of shopping online and having it fulfilled with delivery,” said Ken Chong, co-founder and CEO at Virtual Kitchen.

And curbFlow found a “sweet spot” in providing drivers with an easy way to identify curb space in front of merchants’ locations so drivers could pick up the food deliveries, said founder Ali Vahabzadeh. The company provides a computer vision device that merchants host on their front window to communicate inventory of available curb space.

“We have been floored by the response from merchants wanting to use our free device so drivers can better coordinate,” Vahabzadeh said. “Now, cars aren’t double-parked and someone isn’t waiting around producing emissions while they look for parking.”

Data

On the data side, Galley Solutions helps restaurants, caterers and other types of food businesses collect and understand the food data behind their operations.

In that respect, the company is seeing a higher level of concern for understanding efficiencies, said founder Ian Christopher. Restaurants often run off of spreadsheets, so Galley helps leverage data to build workflows for culinary teams, such as inventory management and procurement.

“Understanding food costs prior to COVID-19 was a nicety, not a necessity,” he said. “We think most restaurants don’t understand menu engineering, food costs and profit margin, and don’t have data accessible to make thoughtful and profitable decisions.”

ZenReach also uses data to help drive in-store visitors. Its software is a layer on top of a restaurant’s guest Wi-Fi, so when someone comes in the phone pings the Wi-Fi and provides traffic numbers, Kelly said.

When the customer uses an email address to sign into the Wi-Fi, the company then pairs that with public data to provide demographic data the merchant can use for advertising and targeted messages.

“Restaurants willing to adopt proper messaging, along with safety precautions and delivery, have fared much better than those who have not,” Kelly said.

Where do we go from here?

Meanwhile, Alan Hayman, president of Hayman Consulting Group, said restaurants that have been tuned in to delivery or takeout all along have the best opportunity to come out of this, but there is still time to be so, as long as the restaurant has a menu that can survive that take-out container.

“Those that have a menu that can travel, but have not done delivery, need to change quickly if they haven’t already,” he said. “Everyone is going to have to change, regardless, because consumer habits are going to change. Delivery and takeout operating modes will be important for the next year.”

Even with all of these capabilities, Brad Svrluga, co-founder and general partner at Primary Venture Partners, is waiting to see something new and unique help restaurants get back to business.

“There hasn’t been an answer to New York opening at 25 percent capacity and helping a restaurant with that,” he said. “You can do a much bigger order-ahead business, and that helps fill the hole but it is not creative. It is going to take a while to get back to normal, especially for a restaurant in a business-dominated neighborhood. They have to find ways to be more efficient or they won’t stay afloat.”

*Chart methodology: Startups included in the dataset were categorized as “Restaurant” or “Food Delivery,” as well as all companies with “Payments” or “Apps” that listed “Restaurant” in their descriptions.

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias


Report: Palantir Eyes $22B Valuation In Public Market Debut

Permalink - Posted on 2020-09-25 15:41

Data and analytics software company Palantir is expected to fetch a market valuation of around $22 billion after it completes a public market debut planned for next week, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday, citing sources familiar with the matter.

The company has opted for a direct listing in lieu of a traditional IPO. Its bankers have reportedly told investors to expect shares to price for around $10 apiece. At that price point, Palantir would be valued above its recent valuations in private markets.

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That’s notable, per The Wall Street Journal, because of Palantir’s unusual and aggressive governance structure:

“The strong demand for the money-losing company’s stock is all the more remarkable given that its founders have put in place one of the most aggressive governance structures ever seen. The shares of Palantir’s three co-founders—billionaire investor Peter Thiel, Chief Executive Alex Karp and President Stephen Cohen—are structured so they could become more potent as the men sell down their stakes, according to securities filings. Through a unique feature of the voting structure, Mr. Cohen, for example, could still effectively control the company by owning just 0.5% of the shares.”

Founded in Palo Alto, California in 2003, the company recently moved its headquarters to Denver. It is one of the most heavily funded private, venture-backed companies, having raised at least $2.6 billion in known investment, per Crunchbase data.

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias


Startups to Watch: Kognos, Ecomedes

Permalink - Posted on 2020-09-25 12:00

Crunchbase News typically covers larger funding rounds, however we think these startups are worth highlighting for their interesting approaches despite their smaller raises.

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Kognos

I don’t think there is anyone out there who has not experienced some type of cybercrime related to finances or had some kind of phishing email sent to their account. Probably the same could be said for companies. What would you think if I told you that you could see a cyberattack in real time?

That’s what Kognos is working on. This week, the company came out of stealth mode with $1.8 million in seed funding and touting the “cybersecurity industry’s first autonomous XDR investigator platform” that gives security teams the ability to see an attacker executing a campaign in real-time.

Kognos’ platform showing an attack timeline.

The round was led by Lucas Venture Group, Cyber Mentor Fund and angel investors. The funding was used to build out the product and launch it.

The 3-year-old Santa Clara, California-based startup was founded by CEO Rakesh Nair and uses artificial intelligence to ask thousands of forensic questions per second, mining these relationships to autonomously track malicious users or external actors throughout the network, and present the findings as visual stories, empowering security analysts to respond in real time and significantly reduce dwell time.

“We are now at a place where we felt the product is ready to go,” Nair told Crunchbase News. “In six to 12 months, we will go raise a Series A because we have enough runway.”

Ecomedes

Meanwhile, Ecomedes is working to outfit buildings with cost-effective and sustainable materials. It is going after the global green building materials market that is expected to grow by $187 billion over the next seven years, Environment + Energy Leader reported in June.

This week, the San Francisco-based startup announced a $1.5 million seed round of financing led by new investor Saint-Gobain NOVA and existing investor PivotNorth.

Ecomedes product database.

Kathleen Egan, co-founder and CEO of Ecomedes, said in an interview that the commercial building market itself is poised to be a $1 trillion market. In addition, it is an industry that has a lot of standards, but not a lot of digitalization. There are also added pressures to those construction standards to take into account the current environment of fires, flooding, social distancing and net-zero air quality, she added.

Ecomedes has 750,000 products in its database that are aggregated across building certifications that enable construction teams to see what products are available, customize them and get a price point. The new funding will be used to build out those collaboration and optimization tools.

“This is an area where technology can do a lot,” she said. “We have early adopters, but the whole market has needs and, if we do it right, we will bring sustainability with us.

“Most leading enterprises are making commitments to sustainability in the form of net-zero carbon, fewer toxins, or even certifications like LEED,” Egan added. “Commitments are a great first step, but many of these organizations don’t have a path to operationalize these targets.”

Illustration: Dom Guzman


Andreessen-backed Silo Grabs $9M Series A To Streamline Food Supply Chain

Permalink - Posted on 2020-09-24 12:15

The average American throws away 400 pounds of food per year, which translates to $218 billion in lost food, the National Resources Defense Council reported in June. Silo is out to change that.

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The San Francisco-based startup recently raised a $9 million Series A round to further develop its cloud-based platform for streamlining supply chains in the perishable food system. Its tools provide machine-learning technology that automates operations and manages relationships up and down the supply chain in real time.

Andreessen Horowitz led this round, with participation from Silo’s existing investors Initialized Capital and Haystack Venture. Since forming in 2018, the company has now raised a total of $12 million in funding, Ashton Braun, co-founder and CEO of Silo, told Crunchbase News. It raised about $3 million in seed funding last year in a round that included backing from some angel investors, according to Crunchbase data.

Growth

With the new funding, Braun expects to do a few things this year: Extend Silo’s reach beyond wholesale produce toward meat, dairy and pantry items; open new offices in New York and Los Angeles; and hire more engineers to support the development of new financial services and logistical tools.

“We’ve gotten a lot of product market fit in Northern California, so we are now continuing to drive growth and automation in other regions,” he said. “We are working on some different things, such as financial services and automating freight, which will give us three pillars—food, freight and finances—to tie together to grow and expand the company.”

In the meantime, Silo is working to meet the recent demand. In 2020, the company experienced 1,300 percent growth, according to Braun. He expects to keep this pace next year, especially as demand has risen overseas as well.

The company has 19 employees, up from seven four months ago. Braun wants to get the company’s workforce to 35 employees by the end of the year and is hiring in engineering and product.

What investors are saying

The food supply chain has attracted innovation to protect against waste in the past few years. Silo joins other startups we’ve reported on, including Mori, which raised $12 million in July to advance its food coating technology. In May, we reported on Apeel Sciences securing a $250 million round of funding to develop its coating product, as well as Imperfect Foods, which said it raised $72 million in Series C funding.

As part of the investment, Anish Acharya, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz who focuses on financial services, joins Silo’s board.

In a blog post, Acharya wrote that there is “a renewed focus on having a resilient food supply chain in a post-COVID era,” and that “food distributors are at the heart of this supply chain … as fresh food begins losing value the moment it enters the supply chain.”

“That’s why we were so excited when we met Ashton Braun and Antonio Bustamante … their product has exceptionally strong market fit because it solves so many of the operational problems that distributors have,” he added. “We believe that financial services will be a key enabler of this ecosystem, where factoring and faster payments, coupled with laws like PACA, can solve many of the cashflow challenges that growers and distributors face.”

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias


New $9.3M Series A Helps Blueboard Give Employers Reason To Reward Employees

Permalink - Posted on 2020-09-24 12:00

As more employees work remotely, their bosses are finding it difficult to recognize and reward them now that large-group get-togethers and lunches are still widely prohibited.

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Enter Blueboard, a San Francisco-based rewards and recognition platform that is providing curated experiences that employers can bestow on their employees and top performers. Those perks can include things like skydiving, virtual cooking classes, and family days at the zoo, with Blueboard’s concierge service handling all of the logistics.

The company closed on a $9.3 million Series A round led by Origin Ventures, with participation from Greycroft, Bullpen Capital, Plug and Play, Gaingels and Martin Babinec. The new funding gives Blueboard a total of $15.8 million in venture-based funding since being founded in 2014. This includes a $4.5 million seed round in 2019, according to Crunchbase data.

“Employee engagement and HR practices are critical drivers for company growth, particularly in the distributed world we live in today,” said Mark Terbeek, partner at Greycroft, in a written statement. “We’re excited for Blueboard to lead this fast-growing market with a unique approach to employee recognition and company culture.”

In the Crunchbase database we found 70 companies focused on employee engagement that raised approximately $1.3 billion in funding in the last five years. However, you have to take into account that Zenefits raised $583 million of that total, according to the database.

Taylor Smith and Kevin Yip developed the idea for Blueboard after both experienced recognition programs at previous jobs that were unremarkable, impersonal and didn’t incentivize.

“The recognition was well-intentioned, but it didn’t feel that way when I felt burnt out,” Smith, co-founder and CEO, told Crunchbase News. “No manager has time to do something thoughtful for each employee, so there is still a gap of what is expected.”

The status quo was a gift card or cash bonus, which is not appropriate anymore for the modern organization, Yip said. Instead, employees are looking for incentives that enable them to get back quality time–with their families, with interests and hobbies, as well as an activity they didn’t have to do right away.

Smith and Yip plan on using the new funding to expand into new markets, add more local businesses to the mix, and support enterprise clients. They will also invest in the core technology with an aim at doubling Blueboard’s engineering team over the next six months, Smith said.

The company continues to grow. It’s employee base is approximately 90 people, up from fewer than 30 employees two years ago, Yip said in an interview. During that time, Blueboard also rounded out its leadership team.

On the customer side, the company ended last year with $13 million in sales, up from just over $4 million in 2017, he said.

“We’ve seen accelerated growth, and what has been interesting is that when we started in 2014, the employee experience didn’t really exist,” Yip said. “Now, more managers are asking how their teams are feeling, how to get them motivated and create an environment where they understand their employees’ needs.”

Next up, the company plans to expand its reach to sales leaders in addition to its human resource clients, and is developing new incentives, such as a “President’s Club” in which employees can build their own bucket list trip.

Illustration: iStock