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Main article: East Ventures

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Middle East healthcare platform Vezeeta raises $40M Series D led by Gulf Capital

12:31 | 11 February

Vezeeta, a healthcare platform operating in the Middle East and Africa, has raised a $40 Million Series D funding round led by UAE-based Gulf Capital, alongside further investment from existing Riyadh-based investor Saudi Technology Ventures (STV), which previously led Vezeeta’s Series C round in September 2018. Vezeeta’s other investors include BECO Capital, Silicon Badia, Vostok New Ventures, Crescent Enterprises’ CE-Ventures and Endeavour Catalyst. Prior to this fund-raise, the company had raised $23M, so this latest news takes its total to $63M. Alvaro Abella, a director at Gulf Capital, joins the board.

It now plans to roll out new products, such as an online pharmacy, as well as ‘tele-health’ services across its existing footprint and new markets.

This is one of the largest funding rounds of any tech startup in the Middle East and Africa to date. The startup has become something of a MENA success story by allowing patients to effectively see Uber -style ratings for healthcare providers, thus encouraging the providers to improve their services. It puts the power in the hands of patients (vs providers) by giving them the ability to search, book, rate, and review healthcare providers.

US-based ZocDoc, which has raised $223M, has done something similar, moving away from a B2B towards a B2C transactional-based model. Other competitors globally include Practo, Doctolib (which raised $266.7M) and Docplanner.

Launched initially in Cairo in 2012 as a sort of “Uber for Ambulances”, Vezeeta has gradually reversed into Middle Eastern healthcare systems to provide a free of charge medical search platform for end-users by integrating information about medical practices and doctors’ individual schedules. Currently operating in 50 cities across Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Lebanon, the platform generates 4 Million annual appointments, and claims to have tripled in size year over year.

In a statement, Amir Barsoum, founder and CEO of Vezeeta said: “Gulf Capital provides us the perfect synergy for our future plans to diversify and expand our product portfolio on a global scale… Leveraging our technology, we have helped patients tap into the power of choice, and the power of information, to access the kind of healthcare that our users deserve.” He said the company plans to use the cash to expand its product portfolio to several regional markets.
 
Dr Karim El Solh, Chief Executive Officer of Gulf Capital said: “Empowering patients and their families through technology to give them better access to healthcare services and more meaningful and manageable relationships with their healthcare providers has never been more important. We were impressed with the work that Amir and his team were doing and are excited to be working with Vezeeta on its next phase of growth.”

Ahmad AlNaimi, senior principal at STV said: “The progress the company has achieved since our investment, especially in Saudi, is incredible. We are thrilled to double down on our position and to welcome Gulf Capital to the table.”

Vezeeta reaches around 4 million patients across 4 countries, enabling them to search, book and review doctors and medical services. It also provides a SaaS solution to more than 30,000 healthcare providers.

 


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Company-builder Antler passes $75M raised after investment from Schroders and Ferd

03:05 | 6 February

Antler is a ‘company builder’ which emerged a couple of years ago, running startup generator programs and investing from an early-stage, bringing together a heady mix of technologists, product builders, and operators together with its own technology stack.

Now, plenty of ‘company builders’ have come and gone. It’s a bit like Apocalypse Now: everyone goes in thinking they will come up with the major formula to spit out startups at a prodigious rate and they come out screaming “The Horror! The Horror!”

But Antler appears to have been on an interesting run. It’s so far made more than 120 investments across a wide range of companies, with several going on to raise later-stage funding from the likes of Sequoia, Golden Gate Ventures, East Ventures, Venturra Capital and the Hustle Fund.

Since its launch in Singapore two years ago, Antler now has a presence across New York, London, Singapore, Sydney, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Nairobi and Oslo.

Today, it’s announcing that it’s attracted investment from German investment management company Schroders, investment house FinTech Collective and Ferd, the vehicle used by Johan H. Andresen, the Norwegian industrialist and investor.

This latest investment takes the capital raised by Antler over the past six months to more than $75 million.

These investors join an existing group that includes Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, Canica International and Credit Saison, the third-largest credit card issuer in Japan. The idea here is that these investors get exposure to early-stage companies as they are built.

As with most company builders and accelerators, Antler only takes 1-1.5% of the applicants

Its portfolio includes Sampingan, an on-demand workforce in Indonesia; Xailient, a computer vision technology; Airalo, a global e-sims marketplace and Fusedbone, which enables medical centers to produce bespoke, non-metal implants on-site.

Magnus Grimeland, Antler co-founder and CEO said: “With our support, our founders start refining their ideas and building new and innovative businesses. What is equally important is the deep relationship our founders build with their peers, our advisors and backers. Having accomplished investors like Schroders, Ferd and FinTech Collective on board means we can provide a more valuable network for our startups as they grow their businesses.”

Peter Harrison, Group CEO of Schroders, who will also be joining Antler’s advisory board, said: “We are in a period of unprecedented change. The visibility on venture capital activity and innovation that Antler provides is therefore leading-edge.”

Antler says more than 40% of its portfolio companies have a female co-founder and 78% of these have a female CEO.

 


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Africa Roundup: Trump’s Nigeria ban, Paga’s acquisition and raises — Fluterwave $35m, Sendy $20M

08:34 | 4 February

The first month of the new-year saw Africa enter the fray of U.S. politics. The Trump administration announced last week it would halt immigration from Nigeria — Africa’s most populous nation with the continent’s largest economy and leading tech sector.

The presidential proclamation stops short of a full travel ban on the country of 200 million, but suspends immigrant visas for Nigerians seeking citizenship and permanent resident status in U.S.

The latest regulations are said not to apply to non-immigrant, temporary visas for tourist, business, and medical visits.

The new policy follows the Trump’s 2017 travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries. The primary reason for the latest restrictions, according to the Department of Homeland Security, was that the countries did not “meet the Department’s stronger security standards.”

Nigeria’s population is roughly 45% Muslim and the country has faced problems with terrorism, largely related to Boko Haram in its northeastern territory.

Restricting immigration to the U.S. from Nigeria, in particular, could impact commercial tech relations between the two countries.

Nigeria is the U.S.’s second largest African trading partner and the U.S. is the largest foreign investor in Nigeria.

Increasingly, the nature of the business relationship between the two countries is shifting to tech. Nigeria is steadily becoming Africa’s capital for VC, startups, rising founders and the entry of Silicon Valley companies.

Recent reporting by VC firm Partech shows Nigeria has become the number one country in Africa for venture investment.

Much of that funding is coming from American sources. The U.S. is arguably Nigeria’s strongest partner on tech and Nigeria, Silicon Valley’s chosen gateway for entering Africa.

Examples include Visa’s 2019 investment in Nigerian fintech companies Flutterwave and Interswitch and Facebook and Google’s expansion in Nigeria.

On the ban’s impact, “U.S. companies will suffer and Nigerian companies will suffer,” Bosun Tijani, CEO of Lagos based incubator CcHub, told TechCrunch .

Nigerian entrepreneur Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, who co-founded two tech companies with operations in the U.S. and Lagos — Flutterwave and Andela — posted his thoughts on the latest restrictions

“Just had an interesting dinner convo about this visa ban with Nigerian tech professionals in the U.S. Sad …but silver lining is all the amazing and experienced Nigerian talent in US tech companies who will now head on home,”

.

Notable market moves in African tech last month included an acquisition, global expansion and a couple big raises.

Nigerian digital payments startup Paga acquired Apposit, a software development company based in Ethiopia, for an undisclosed amount.

The Lagos based venture also announced it would launch its payment products in Mexico this year and in Ethiopia imminently, CEO Tayo Oviosu told TechCrunch

The moves come a little over a year after Paga raised a $10 million Series B round and Oviosu announced the company’s intent to expand globally, while speaking at Disrupt San Francisco.

Paga will leverage Apposit — which is U.S. incorporated but operates in Addis Ababa — to support that expansion into East Africa and Latin America.

Paga has created a multi-channel network to transfer money, pay-bills, and buy things digitally. The company has 14 million customers in Nigeria who can transfer funds from one of Paga’s 24,411 agents or through the startup’s mobile apps.

With the acquisition, Paga absorbs Apposit’s tech capabilities and team of 63 engineers.  The company will direct its boosted capabilities and total workforce of 530 to support its expansion.

On the raise side, San Francisco and Lagos-based fintech startup Flutterwave (previously mentioned) raised a $35 million Series B round and announced a partnership with Worldpay FIS for payments in Africa.

FIS also joined the round, led by US VC firms Greycroft and eVentures, with participation of Visa and African fund CRE Venture Capital .

The company will use the funding to expand capabilities to provide more solutions around the broader needs of its clients. Uber, Booking.com and Jumia are among the big names that use Flutterwave to process payments.

Last month, Africa’s logistics startup space gained another multi-million-dollar round with global backing.

Kenyan company Sendy — with an on-demand platform that connects clients to drivers and vehicles for goods delivery — raised a $20 million Series B led by Atlantica Ventures.

Toyota Tsusho Corporation, a trade and investment arm of Japanese automotive company Toyota, also joined the round.

Sendy’s raise came within six months of Nigerian trucking logistics startup Kobo360’s $20 million Series A backed by Goldman Sachs. In November, East African on-demand delivery venture Lori Systems hauled in $30 million supported by Chinese investors.

The company plans to use its raise for new developer hires, to improve the tech of its platform, and toward expansion in West Africa in 2020.

Sendy’s $20 million round also includes an R&D arrangement with Toyota Tsusho Corporation, to optimize trucks for the West African market, Sendy CEO Mesh Alloys told TechCrunch.

More Africa-related stories @TechCrunch

African tech around the ‘net

 


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What we know (and don’t) about Goldman Sachs’ Africa VC investing

22:30 | 16 January

Goldman Sachs is investing in African tech companies. The venerable American investment bank and financial services firm has backed startups from Kenya to Nigeria and taken a significant stake in e-commerce venture Jumia, which listed on the NYSE in 2019.

Though Goldman declined to comment on its Africa VC activities for this article, the company has spoken to TechCrunch in the past about specific investments.

Goldman Sachs is one of the most enviable investment banking shops on Wall Street, generating $36 billion in net revenues in 2019, or roughly $1 million per employee. It’s the firm that always seems to come out on top, making money during the financial crisis while its competitors were hemorrhaging. For generations, MBAs from the world’s top business schools have clamored to work there, helping make it a professional incubator of sorts that has spun off alums into leadership positions in politics, VC and industry.

All that cache is why Goldman’s name popping up related to African tech got people’s attention, including mine, several years ago.

 


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FintechOS raises $14M help banks launch products as fast as FinTech Startups

11:05 | 10 December

Over the last few years, we’ve seen the rise of FinTech startups like N26 and Monzo to challenge the incumbents with new products like challenger banks. But what if the big banks wanted to compete in that game themselves? This is the aim of FintechOS a Romanian startup that actually aims to help incumbents compete in this brave new, competitive, world.

FintechOS allows banks and insurance companies to act and react faster than the new upstarts on the scene with plug and play products. 

It’s announcing today that it has secured $14 million (£10.7 million) in a Series A investment led by the Digital East Fund of Earlybird Venture Capital and OTB Ventures, with participation from existing investors Gapminder Ventures and Launchub.

The additional capital will be used to continue the growth and expansion across Europe, and to expand into South East Asia and the US.

FintechOS’s technology platform lets traditional banks and insurance companies adapt to rapidly changing customer expectations, and match the speed and flexibility of Fintech startups with personalized products and services, in weeks rather than months or years.

The banks and insurance companies can then launch multi-cloud SaaS deployments, transitioning to the cloud and on-premises deployments, working alongside the existing technology infrastructure. It now has existing partnerships with Microsoft, EY, Deloitte, Publicis Sapient and CapGemini allow deployment in multiple markets.

Started in 2017 by serial entrepreneurs Teodor Blidarus and Sergiu Negut, the company now has customers in more than 20 countries across three continents.

Teo Blidarus, CEO and Co-Founder of FintechOS, commented: “Our disruptive approach is customer, not technology-driven. We created FintechOS to transform the financial industry, empowering banks and insurance companies to act and react faster than fintech startups,
to create a smarter, slicker customer experience.”

Dan Lupu, Partner at Earlybird, said: “FintechOS is a pioneer in a booming market, with a vision to transform the way financial institutions react to market and regulatory changes. We are proud to become part of a journey that will shape the future of financial services.”

 


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Samasource raises $14.8M for global AI data biz driven from Africa

16:27 | 20 November

AI training data provider Samasource has raised a $14.8 million Series A funding round led by Ridge Ventures.

The San Francisco headquartered company delivers Fortune 100 companies with the inputs they need for machine learning development in fields including autonomous transportation, e-commerce and robotics.

And it does so with a global work-force of data-specialists, a large number of whom are located in East Africa.

In addition to San Francisco, New York and the Hague, Samasource has offices and teams in Kenya and Uganda. The company has a global staff of 2900 and is the largest AI and data annotation employer in East Africa, according to CEO and founder Leila Janah.

As part of its Series A, Samasource opened an AI Development Center in Montreal, Canada and expanded its digital delivery center in Kampala, Uganda to serve its corporate client-base.

“Typically we’re working with very large companies for whom AI is a key part of their business strategy. So therefore they have to be really careful about…bias in the algorithms or bad data,” Janah explained on a call with TechCrunch.

Samasource works through a discovery phase with customers, to determine the problems their trying to solve, their sources of input data, and customizes an approach to providing what they need.

“In some cases we might refine elements of our software…then we go into deployment and…annotation work,” said Janah, referring to the company’s SamaHub training data platform.

Samasource clients include Google, Continental Tires, Walmart, and Ford. The company generates revenue primarily through its machine learning data annotation and validation services.

Samasource was originally founded by Janah as a non-profit in 2008. “I saw huge opportunity for tapping into the incredible depth of…talent in East Africa in the tech world,” she said of the firm’s origins.

She converted Samasource to for-profit status in 2019, making the previous non-profit organization a shareholder.

“As a CEO I need to make it clear to investors that this is an investible entity,” Jana said of the reason for Samasource becoming a private company.

Ridge Ventures Principal Ben Metcalfe confirmed the fund’s lead on Samasource’s $14.8 million Series A round and that he will take a board seat with the company. Other investors included, Social Impact Ventures, Bestseller Foundation, and Bluecrest Limited Capital.

Samasource’s founder believes that providing for-profit AI training data to global companies can be done while improving lives in East Africa.

“I strongly believe you can combine the highest quality of service with the core mission of altruism,” she said.

“A big part of our values is offering living wages and creating dignified technology work for people. We hire people from low-income backgrounds and offer them training in AI and machine learning. And our teams achieve above the industry standard.”

It’s not unusual for Samasource to hear comparisons to Andela, the well-funded tech talent accelerator that trains and connects African developers to global companies.

“We are very different in that our whole model is about delivering high-quality training data. I would call Samasource an AI company and Andela a software training company,” she said.

Janah does see some parallels, however, in both companies’ recognizing and building tech-talent in Africa, along with a number of blue-chip entrants.

“I think it’s telling that Facebook, IBM and Google have all opened tech hubs in Africa, some of them AI or machine-learning focused,” she said.

Some Samasource professionals are also taking their skills on to other endeavors in Africa’s innovation ecosystem.

“A lot of our alums go on to do entrepreneurial things [and] start businesses and I think you’re going to see a lot more of that as we grown,” said Janah.

For now she will be the one hiring and training new tech workers in East Africa.

As part of its Series A, Samasource increased employees in Kampala to 90 people and plans to grow that by 150 percent in 2020, its CEO said.

 


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Relocating Indonesian capital will impact nation’s startup ecosystem

02:13 | 9 November

Hugh Harsono Contributor
Hugh Harsono is a former financial analyst currently serving as a U.S. Army officer.

Recently reelected, Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced a desire to move the nation’s capital from Jakarta to the East Kalimantan region, citing environmental concerns, the most exigent of these being the fact that Jakarta is literally sinking due to the uncontrolled extraction of groundwater. Widodo said he wished to separate Indonesia’s government from its business and economic hub in Jakarta.

However, what would a move from Jakarta do to Indonesia’s burgeoning startup economy?

Shifting administrative governmental hubs

According to Widodo, studies have determined that the best site for the proposed new capital is between North Penajam Paser and Kutai Kertanegara, both located in East Kalimantan. The basis of this selection is due to studies highlighting the region’s relative protection from natural disasters, especially when compared to other regions. This would definitely be a benefit for the governmental heart of Indonesia, ensuring continuous administrative functions in a disaster-prone region. Other governments have separated administrative centers from their economic hubs with varying degrees of success, with some examples being Brazil’s creation of Brasília, as well as Korea’s projected move from Seoul to Sejong.

What is most interesting to note from prior examples is that these newer branched-out cities are non-surprisingly, heavily government-centric. In Brasília, roles tied to the government make up nearly 40% of all jobs, while in Sejong, a lack of facilities like public transit and commercial mall space cause many to commute into Sejong for government work, instead of permanently settling in the area. Given the semi-undeveloped nature of East Kalimantan, these anecdotes are quite troubling if the government is actually moving to North Penajam Paser or Kutai Kertanegara.

These facts raise the question of economic impacts of such governmental moves. In fact, one may even opine that while these moves do allow for governmental growth, ultimately, they may hurt the country economically due to a divestment between both government and economic hubs. In this specific instance, it is most important to analyze the impact of such a move on Indonesia’s startup economy, as the nation is one the world’s leaders in startup growth.

Indonesia’s startup economy

Indonesia has emerged as a startup hub within Southeast Asia in recent years, with its population of over 260 million marking it as the world’s fourth-most populous country. Additionally, Indonesia’s mobile-first population has enabled the full embrace of the internet era, with 95% of all internet users in Indonesia connected to the web via a mobile device.

Similarly, startup growth has boomed in the island archipelago, with several Indonesian-based unicorns disrupting local, regional, and global economies. Softbank-backed ecommerce giant Tokopedia is currently in talks for a pre-IPO funding round, while emerging super-app Gojek controls significant portions of the ride-sharing industry in Asia, simultaneously expanding into separate industries to include digital payments, food delivery, and even video-streaming. Additionally, online travel portal Traveloka (in which Expedia has a minority stake) has recently entered the financial services space, furthering its impact within Asia. These specific examples of high-growth startups demonstrate a population hungry for innovation, further driving the developing startup economy.

 


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Impossible Foods will debut in SoCal grocery stores on Friday as first step in phased national rollout

16:15 | 19 September

Congratulations Southern California Gelsons store shoppers, you’re getting Impossible Foods on your grocery shelves.

The meatless ground meat substitute will be appearing in stores across the Southern California as the first step in a phased nationwide rollout on Friday.

With the step into groceries, Impossible Foods moves into direct competition with its bigger, publicly traded rival Beyond Meat, which is already selling its patties and sausages in major stores nationwide.

Impossible Foods, which has had some supply chain hiccups as it began to increase its production in the wake of large deals with fast food chains, will be taking a phased approach to its national expansion. Expect it to begin appearing on store shelves in other parts of the country throughout the end of the year. Its next stop is going to be another store chain on the East Coast later this month, the company said.

To celebrate the debut, Impossible Foods has tapped Chrissy Teigen’s grandmother for a VIP event on Thursday night and will be handing out samples at a Los Angeles-area Gelsons on Friday.

“Our first step into retail is a watershed moment in Impossible Foods’ history,” said Impossible Foods’ Senior Vice President Nick Halla, who oversees the company’s retail expansion. “We’re thrilled and humbled that our launch partners for this limited release are homegrown, beloved grocery stores with cult followings in their regions.”

Gelsons and Los Angeles are something of a natural first stop for the company, given LA’s place in the nation’s food, environmental, and entertainment cultures.

Indeed, celebrities are some of the backers of Impossible Foods. In the company’s last, $300 million round, Jay-Z, Katy Perry, Serena Williams, Jaden Smith, Trevor Noah and Zedd all invested.

The Impossible Burger is made to have as much iron and protein as a traditional burger and contains 14 grams of total fat, 8 grams of saturated fat and comes in at 240 calories per 4-ounce servicing. It’s not better for a person than eating a traditional burger patty, but it is better for the environment. (The company says that a conventional 4-ounce patty has 80 milligrams of cholesterol, 23 grams of total fat, 9 grams of saturated fat and 290 calories.)

Founded in 2011 by chief executive officer and former Stanford biochemistry professor Pat Brown, Impossible Foods has raised nearly $700 million from investors including Bill Gates, Khosla Ventures, the slew of celebrities, the Singaporean government’s investment fund, and Hong Kong billionaire Li Kashing (along with his venture capital fund).

The company has set itself the goal of eliminating the need for animals in the food chain by 2035.

Already selling in White Castle, Burger King and Qdoba and is, according to a GrubHub survey, the  most popular . late-night delivery item in the U.S.

 


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Indonesia’s Julo raises $10M to expand its P2P lending platform

17:35 | 18 September

Julo, a peer-to-peer lending platform in Indonesia, said on Wednesday it has extended its $5 million Series A raise to $15 million as it looks to scale its business in the key Southeast Asian market.

The $10 million Series A2 round for the Jakarta-headquartered startup was led by Quona Capital, with Skystar, East Ventures, Provident, Gobi Partners, and Convergence participating in it. The two-year-old startup, which has raised about $16 million to date, is now closing the round, Adrianus Hitijahubessy, co-founder and CEO of Julo, told TechCrunch in an interview.

Through its eponymous Android app, Julo provides loans of about $300 to users at aggressively competitive rate of 3-5% per month — one of its key differentiating factors. Julo has managed to keep its interest rate low because its credit scoring system is more efficient than those of its rivals, claimed Hitijahubessy, who has amassed more than a decade of experience in credit scoring system using alternative data from his previous stints.

“There are lots of players in this market. Not just Indonesia, but globally. But it comes down to who actually knows what they are doing. The bar is becoming higher and it is increasingly becoming difficult for digital lending companies to just launch an app and charge high interest rate,” he said.

Julo works with banks and individuals to finance loans to customers. It says it has disbursed about $50 million to date.

Hitijahubessy said Julo will use the fresh capital to expand the team and enhance its credit score system. The startup intends to focus on growing its business in Indonesia itself.

In a statement, Ganesh Rengaswamy, co-founder and partner of Quona Capital, said, “a significant majority of JULO’s loans are used for productive purposes that can enhance the economic well-being of families and small businesses — driving financial inclusion in Indonesia, which is a cornerstone of Quona’s focus.”

Digital lending is becoming an increasingly crowded space in South Asian markets. In India, for instance, a growing number of digital mobile wallets including Paytm and MobiKwik have recently started to offer credits to customers.

 


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Launching from beta, ProGuides is making money ensuring that gamers never play alone

17:21 | 29 August

When ProGuides pulled the covers off of its service earlier this year, the young Los Angeles-based startup intended to give gamers a way to train with professional and semi-pro esports players from around the world.

But as users signed on to the service, it became clear that they weren’t looking for training necessarily… Instead what players wanted was a ringer.

“After we launched the beta, we found some interesting user behavior,” says Sam Wang. “We found that gamers who were experienced already and wanted experienced players who are better than [the matches] the game can provide… At the end of the day you do get to play with someone pretty awesome and is something that i think  can make games better.

That’s right, ProGuides is pitching a marketplace for experienced gamers so that its customers aren’t randomly matched with some noob if they can’t game with their usual partners.

“Our tagline is ‘Play with pros’ now,” says Wang. “We already have over 5,000 sessions that were played in the last two months.”

The professional gamers who list their services on the site charge an average of $10 per session and ProGuides takes about a 25% cut. The company lowers its rates for popular gamers or gamers who are willing to spend more time on the platform either selling their services or actually coaching esports players.

Wang says that that pros on the platform are making anywhere from $750 to $2500 per month and that there are currently 250 coaches on the platform.

A typical session on ProGuides lasts around 45 minutes and players are available for Fortnite, League of Legends.  Super Smash Brothers, CS:GO and Hearthstone

ProGuides raised $1.9 million in pre-seed funding last June. The company is backed by Amplify, an LA-based early stage investor and company accelerator, Quest Venture Partners, Greycroft Tracker fund and the GFR Fund.

The LA-based company also has some venture-backed competition on the East Coast. Gamer Sensei, which has raised roughly $6 million (according to CrunchBase) has a similar proposition. It’s backed by Accomplice and Advancit Capital.

Screen Shot 2019 08 29 at 9.17.36 AM

 


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