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Main article: Startups

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Here are all 21 companies from Alchemist Accelerator’s latest batch

06:46 | 24 January

We’re down in Sunnyvale, CA today, where Alchemist Accelerator is hosting a demo day for its most recent batch of companies. This is the 23rd class to graduate from Alchemist, with notable alums including LaunchDarkly, MightyHive, Matternet, and Rigetti Computing. As an enterprise accelerator, Alchemist focuses on companies that make their money from other businesses, rather than consumers.

21 companies presented in all, each getting five minutes to explain their mission to a room full of investors, media, and other founders.

Here are our notes on all 21 companies, in the order in which they presented:

i-50: Uses AI to monitor human actions on production lines, using computer vision to look for errors or abnormalities along the way. Founder Albert Kao says that 68% of manufacturing issues are caused by human error. The company currently has 3 paid pilots, totalling $190k in contracts.

Perimeter: A data visualization platform for firefighters and other first responders, allowing them to more quickly input and share information (such as how a fire is spreading) with each other and the public. Projecting $1.7M in revenue within 18 months.

Einsite: Computer vision-based analytics for mining and construction. Sensors and cameras are mounted on heavy machines (like dump trucks and excavators). Footage is analyzed in the cloud, with the data ultimately presented to job site managers to help monitor progress and identify issues. Founder Anirudh Reddy says the company will have $1.2M in bookings and be up and running on 2100 machines this year.

Mall IQ: A location-based marketing/analytics SDK for retail stores and malls to tie into their apps. Co-founder Batu Sat says they’ve built an “accurate and scalable” method of determining a customer’s indoor position without GPS or additional hardware like Bluetooth beacons.

Ipsum Analytics: Machine learning system meant to predict the outcome of a company’s ongoing legal cases by analyzing the relevant historical cases of a given jurisdiction, judge, etc. First target customer is hedge funds, helping them project how legal outcomes will impact the market.

Vincere Health: Works with insurance companies to pay people to stop smoking. They’ve built an app with companion breathalyzer hardware; each time a user checks in with the breathalyzer to prove they’re smoking less, the user gets paid. They’ve raised $400k so far.

Harmonize: A chat bot system for automating HR tasks, built to work with existing platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams. An employee could, for example, message the bot to request time off — the request is automatically forwarded to their manager, presenting them with one-click approve/deny buttons which handle everything behind the scenes. The company says it currently has 400 paying customers and is seeing $500k in ARR, projecting $2M ARR in 2020.

Coreshell Technologies: Working on a coating for lithium-Ion batteries which the company says makes them 25% cheaper and 50% faster to produce. The company’s co-founder says they have 11 patents filed, with 2 paid agreements signed and 12 more in the pipeline.

in3D: An SDK for 3D body scanning via smartphone, meant to help apps do things like gather body measurements for custom clothing, allow for virtual clothing try-ons, or create accurate digital avatars for games.

Domatic: “Intelligent power” for new building construction. Pushes both data and low-voltage power over a single “Class 2” wire , making it easier/cheaper for builders to make a building “smart”. Co-founder Jim Baldwin helped build Firewire at Apple, and co-founder Gladys Wong was previously a hardware engineer at Cisco.

MeToo Kit: a kit meant to allow victims of sexual assault or rape to gather evidence through an at-home, self-administered process. Co-founder Madison Campbell says that they’ve seen 100k kits ordered by universities, corporations, non-profits, and military organizations. The company garnered significant controversy in September of 2019 after multiple states issued cease-and-desist letters, with Michigan’s Attorney General arguing that such a kit would not be admissible in court. Campbell told Buzzfeed last year that she would “never stop fighting” for the concept.

AiChemist Metal: Building a thin, lightweight battery made of copper and cellulose “nanofibers”. Co-founder Sergey Lopatin says the company’s solution is 2-3 lighter, stronger, and cheaper than alternatives, and that the company is projecting profitability in 2021. Focusing first on batteries for robotics, flexible displays, and electric vehicles.

Delightree: A task management system for franchises, meant to help owners create and audit to-dos across locations. Monitors online customer reviews, automatically generating potential tasks accordingly. In pilot tests with 3 brands with 16 brands on a waitlist, which the company says translates to about $400k in potential ARR.

DigiFabster: A ML-powered “smart quoting” tool for manufacturing shops doing things like CNC machining to make custom parts and components. Currently working with 125 customers, they’re seeing $500k in ARR.

NachoNacho: Helps small/medium businesses monitor and manage software subscriptions their employees sign up for. Issues virtual credit cards which small businesses use to sign up for services; you can place budgets on each card, cancel cards, and quickly determine where your money is going. Launched 9 months ago, NachoNacho says it’s currently working with over 1600 businesses.

Zapiens: a virtual assistant-style tool for sharing knowledge within a company, tied into tools like Slack/Salesforce/Microsoft 365. Answers employee questions, or uses its understanding of each employee’s expertise to find someone within the company who can answer the question.

Onebrief: A tool aiming to make military planning more efficient. Co-founder/Army officer Grant Demaree says that much of the military’s planning is buried in Word/Powerpoint documents, with inefficiencies leading to ballooning team sizes. By modernizing the planning approach with a focus on visualization, automation and data re-usability, he says planning teams could be smaller yet more agile.

Perceive: Spatial analytics for retail stores. Builds a sensor that hooks into existing in-store lighting wiring to create a 3D map of stores, analyzing customer movement/behavior (without face recognition or WiFi/beacon tracking) to identify weak spots in store layout or staffing.

Acoustic Wells: IoT devices for monitoring and controlling production from oil fields. Analyzes sound from pipes “ten thousand feet underground” to regulate how a machine is running, optimizing production while minimizing waste. Charges monthly fee per oil well. Currently has letters of intent to roll out their solution in over 1,000 wells.

SocialGlass: A marketplace for government procurement. Lets governments buy goods/services valued under $10,000 without going through a bidding process, with SocialGlass guaranteeing they’ve found the cheapest price. Currently working with 50+ suppliers offering 10,000 SKUs.

Applied Particle Technology: Continuous, realtime worker health/safety tracking for industrial environments. Working on wireless, wearable monitors that stream environmental data to identify potential exposure risks. Focusing first on mining and metals industries, later moving into construction, firefighting, and utilities environments.

 


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Layoffs reach 23andMe after hitting Mozilla and the Vision Fund portfolio

22:10 | 23 January

Layoffs in the technology and venture-backed worlds continued today, as 23andMe confirmed to CNBC that it laid off around 100 people, or about 14% of its formerly 700-person staff. The cuts would be notable by themselves, but given how many other reductions have recently been announced, they indicate that a rolling round of belt-tightening amongst well-funded private companies continues.

Mozilla, for example, cut 70 staffers earlier this year. As TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois reported earlier in January, the company’s revenue-generating products were taking longer to reach market than expected. And with less revenue coming in than expected, its human footprint had to be reduced.

23andMe and Mozilla are not alone, however. Playful Studios cut staff just this week, 2019 itself saw more than 300% more tech layoffs than in the preceding year and TechCrunch has covered a litany of layoffs at Vision Fund-backed companies over the past few months, including:

Scooter unicorns Lime and Bird have also reduced staff this year. The for-profit drive is firing on all cylinders in the wake of the failed WeWork IPO attempt. WeWork was an outlier in terms of how bad its financial results were, but the fear it introduced to the market appears pretty damn mainstream by this point. (Forsake hope, alle ye whoe require a Series H.)

The money at risk, let alone the human cost, is high. Zume has raised more than $400 million. 23andMe has raised an even sharper $786.1 million. Rappi? How about $1.4 billion. And Oyo? $3.2 billion so farEvery company that loses money eventually dies. And every company that always makes money lives forever. It seems that lots of companies want to jump over the fence, make some money and rebuild investor confidence in their shares.

It’s just too bad that the rank-and-file are taking the brunt of the correction.

 


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Cortex Labs helps data scientists deploy machine learning models in the cloud

21:32 | 23 January

It’s one thing to develop a working machine learning model, it’s another to put it to work in an application. Cortex Labs is an early stage startup with some open source tooling designed to help data scientists take that last step.

The company’s founders were students at Berkeley when they observed that one of the problems around creating machine learning models was finding a way to deploy them. While there was a lot of open source tooling available, data scientists are not experts in infrastructure.

CEO Omer Spillinger says that infrastructure was something the four members of the founding team — himself, CTO David Eliahu, head of engineering Vishal Bollu and head of growth Caleb Kaiser — understood well.

What the four founders did was take a set of open source tools and combine them with AWS services to provide a way to deploy models more easily. “We take open source tools like TensorFlow, Kubernetes and Docker and we combine them with AWS services like CloudWatch, EKS (Amazon’s flavor of Kubernetes) and S3 to basically give one API for developers to deploy their models,” Spillinger explained.

He says that a data scientist starts by uploading an exported model file to S3 cloud storage. “Then we pull it, containerize it and deploy it on Kubernetes behind the scenes. We automatically scale the workload and automatically switch you to GPUs if it’s compute intensive. We stream logs and expose [the model] to the web. We help you manage security around that, stuff like that,” he said

While he acknowledges this not unlike Amazon SageMaker, the company’s long-term goal is to support all of the major cloud platforms. SageMaker of course only works on the Amazon cloud, while Cortex will eventually work on any cloud. In fact, Spillinger says that the biggest feature request they’ve gotten to this point, is to support Google Cloud. He says that and support for Microsoft Azure are on the road map.

The Cortex founders have been keeping their head above water while they wait for a commercial product with the help of an $888,888 seed round from Engineering Capital in 2018. If you’re wondering about that oddly specific number, it’s partly an inside joke — Spillinger’s birthday is August 8th — and partly a number arrived at to make the valuation work, he said.

For now, the company is offering the open source tools, and building a community of developers and data scientists. Eventually, it wants to monetize by building a cloud service for companies who don’t want to manage clusters — but that is down the road, Spillinger said.

 


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One Medical targets IPO valuation of up to $2B as we unpack its Q4 results

20:02 | 23 January

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

Today we’re digging into One Medical’s updated IPO filing released this week. The document contains directional pricing information that will help us understand where the tech-enabled medical care startup expects the market to value itself and also details its Q4 2019 Preliminary Estimated Unaudited Financial Results, which gives us a fuller picture of its financial health.

As we’ll see, One Medical’s expected valuation matches secondary-market transactions in the firm’s equity, and, at the upper-end of its proposed IPO range, represents a solid boost to its final private valuation. Afterwards, we’ll dig back through the company’s numbers, figure out its implied revenue multiple and make a bullish and bearish argument for the company’s hoped-for IPO valuation.

It’s going to be fun! (For a general dive into the company’s IPO filing, head here.)

 


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Brooke Hammerling launches The New New Thing, a strategic communications advisory

19:00 | 23 January

Brooke Hammerling, the strategic communications veteran that brought us BrewPR, announced her new project today.

Dubbed The New New Thing, Hammerling’s new communications advisory wants to help startups bring more authenticity to brand messaging and comms through high-level partnerships with CEOs, founders, and executive leadership teams.

There are a few critical pieces to The New New Thing:

First, Hammerling will not focus on the usual six-month press release strategy that drives communications at most tech startups. The New New Thing isn’t focused as much on an individual product or funding round announcement as much as the high-level strategy of storytelling across the entire brand, including the company and the founder. In fact, the only pre-launch clients Hammerling will be taking on must be female-led and mission driven.

Second, she’ll be working directly with startup leadership teams to craft those narratives paying special attention to the stories in between the stories.

And finally, The New New Thing will have a huge focus on authenticity as a driver of relationships between its clients and the media.

One catalyst for the new project, according to Hammerling, was the evolution of the comms landscape as a whole. Not only is the media’s bullshit detector hyper sensitive, but so is the end-reader. It’s no longer enough to send out the same robotic press release announcing funding.

“I’m bored of seeing the same picture of two male founders announcing their funding for some fintech product that’s going to change the world,” said Hammerling. “There needs to be a fostering of the relationships between CEOs and the people telling their story. Being authentic is really hard for larger organizations, or really any organization. And now, in 2020, there is no option but to be.”

Hammerling explained that getting into the weeds with founders and tackling a storytelling challenge is what she loves doing most. She admits that managing a large team and dealing with the nitty gritty of comms (writing up press releases, pitching speakers for tech conferences, etc.) aren’t her strong suits.

As you might imagine, the launch of The New New Thing means that Hammerling has officially left Brew PR, the firm she founded and sold to Freuds for $15 million.

The New New Thing is part of a newly expanded collective of service providers called Plan A, led by Co-CEOs MT Carney and Andrew Essex. Plan A combines expert service providers from the fields of communications, branding, advertising, creative, and social, among others.

Hammerling will be focusing on early- and growth-stage startups in the tech industry, with a current client list that includes Lemonade, LiveNation, Framebridge, Splice, and Eko.

One example of how The New New Thing works is made clear with Splice. The company is represented by a PR firm that manages the day-to-day news cycle and announcement schedule, while Hammerling works directly with founder and CEO Steve Martocci on the overall narrative that runs through all of that.

When asked about the greatest challenge moving forward, Hammerling’s answer offered a taste of the authenticity and relatability she’s trying to bring out of her clients.

“Can I do this? Do I have the right instincts and guidance for my clients?” said Hammerling. “I think I do and I’ve been successful at that, but how do I maintain that and communicate that to others?”

 


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Revolut partners with Flagstone to offer savings vaults in the UK

17:46 | 23 January

Fintech startup Revolut lets you earn interests on your savings thanks to a new feature called savings vaults. That feature is currently only available to users living in the U.K. and paying taxes in the U.K.

The company has partnered with Flagstone for that feature. For now, the feature is limited to Revolut customers with a Metal subscription (£12.99 per month or £116 per year). But Revolut says that it will be available to Revolut Premium and Standard customers in the near future.

Savings vaults work pretty much like normal vaults. You can create sub-accounts in the Revolut app to put some money aside. And Revolut offers you multiple ways to save. You can round up all your card transactions to the nearest pound and save spare change in a vault.

You can also set up weekly or monthly transactions from your main account to a vault. And of course, you can transfer money manually whenever you want.

Metal customers in the U.K. can now turn normal vaults into savings vaults. The only difference is that you’re going to earn interests — Revolut pays those interests daily. You can take money from your savings vault whenever you want.

Revolut promises 1.35% AER interest rate up to a certain limit. If you put a huge sum of money in your savings vault, you’ll get a lower interest rate above the limit. Your money is protected by the FSCS up to a value of £85,000 for eligible customers.

 


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Crisp, the demand forecast platform for the food industry, goes live

17:00 | 23 January

The food industry may be the biggest industry in the world, but it’s also one of the least efficient. BCG says 1.6 billions tons of food, worth $1.2 trillion, is wasted in food every year and those numbers are only expected to go up.

A number of players have stepped up to try and solve their own portion of the problem, and one such solution is Crisp. The company, which received $14 million in Series A funding last year led by FirstMark Capital, is today going live with its platform (which has been in beta).

Crisp aims to solve the global food waste problem via demand forecasts. Founder and CEO Are Traasdahl, a serial founder, believes that a lack of communication and data flow between the many players in the supply chain is a main cause for all this waste, a great deal of which happens long before the food reaches the consumer.

Right now, forecasting demand is no where close to a perfect science for many of these players. From food brands to distributors to grocery stores, the problem is usually solved by looking at a spreadsheet from last year’s sales for hours to try to determine the signals that played into this or that SKU’s sales performance.

And then there was Crisp.

Integrated with almost any ERP software a company might have, Crisp ingests historical data from these food brands and combines that data with signals around other demand drivers, such as seasonality, holidays, price sensitivity and other pricing information, marketing campaigns, competitive landscape, weather that might affect the sale or shipment of certain produce or other ingredients.

Using these data points, and historical sales data, Crisp believes it can give a much more accurate picture of demand over the next day, week, month or year.

But Crisp isn’t just for food brands, such as Nounós Creamery, a Crisp customer that says its reduced scrapped inventory by 80 percent since switching to the platform. Crisp serves almost every player in the food supply chain, from retailers to distributors to brands to brokers.

And the more customers it gets, the better it is at predicting demand on a very specific level. For instance, the demand forecasting Crisp offers for a particular grocery store, based on external data, will obviously get much better once that grocery store is a customer on the platform.

Traasdahl was initially concerned that his customers would be reluctant to hand over this type of sensitive sales data, and also that players within the industry might be anxious to hand over such data to a platform that’s aggregating everyone’s data, including their competitors. Turns out, the food industry has more of a “better together” mentality.

“Other industries are not as dependent on each other,” said Traasdahl. “If I am a creamery and need to buy blueberries for my yogurt, I may have five different vendors for those blueberries. And if they don’t get delivered on the right day, Costco will yell at me for being late with the yogurt. Everyone in the supply chain is somewhat dependent on each other.”

For that reason, it’s been easier to attract clients to the platform than expected. The prospect of a collaborative demand forecast platform, that’s pulling signals from across the entire industry, is going to be more accurate than siloed demand forecasts produced by a single vendor or brand.

During the beta program, which launched in October, Crisp brought on more than 30 companies to the platform, including Gilbert’s Craft Sausages, SunFed Perfect Produce, Nounós Creamery, Hofseth, REMA and Superior Farms.

 


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Proxyclick raises $15M Series B for its visitor management platform

08:00 | 23 January

If you’ve ever entered a company’s office as a visitor or contractor, you probably know the routine: check in with a receptionist, figure out who invited you, print out a badge and get on your merry way. Brussels, Belgium- and New York-based Proxyclick aims to streamline this process, while also helping businesses keep their people and assets secure. As the company announced today, it has raised a $15 million Series B round led by Five Elms Capital, together with previous investor Join Capital.

In total, Proxyclick says it’s systems have now been used to register over 30 million visitors in 7,000 locations around the world. In the UK alone, over 1,000 locations use the company’s tools. Current customers include L’Oreal, Vodafone, Revolut, PepsiCo and Airbnb, as well as a number of other Fortune 500 firms.

Gregory Blondeau, founder and CEO of Proxyclick, stresses that the company believes that paper logbooks, which are still in use in many companies, are simply not an acceptable solution anymore, not in the least because that record is often permanent and visible to other visitors.

Proxyclick’s founding team.

“We all agree it is not acceptable to have those paper logbooks at the entrance where everyone can see previous visitors,” he said. “It is also not normal for companies to store visitors’ digital data indefinitely. We already propose automatic data deletion in order to respect visitor privacy. In a few weeks, we’ll enable companies to delete sensitive data such as visitor photos sooner than other data. Security should not be an excuse to exploit or hold visitor data longer than required.”

What also makes Proxyclick stand out from similar solutions is that it integrates with a lot of existing systems for access control (including C-Cure and Lenel systems). With that, users can ensure that a visitor only has access to specific parts of a building, too.

In addition, though, it also supports existing meeting rooms, calendaring and parking systems and integrates with Wi-Fi credentialing tools so your visitors don’t have to keep asking for the password to get online.

Like similar systems, Proxyclick provides businesses with a tablet-based sign-in service that also allows them to get consent and NDA signatures right during the sign-in process. If necessary, the system can also compare the photos it takes to print out badges with those on a government-issued ID to ensure your visitors are who they say they are.

Blondeau noted that the whole industry is changing, too. “Visitor management is becoming mainstream, it is transitioning from a local, office-related subject handled by facility managers to a global, security and privacy driven priority handled by Chief Information Security Officers. Scope, decision drivers and key people involved are not the same as in the early days,” he said.

It’s no surprise then that the company plans to use the new funding to accelerate its roadmap. Specifically, it’s looking to integrate its solution with more third-party systems with a focus on physical security features and facial recognition, as well as additional new enterprise features.

 


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Here are the six startups in Betaworks’ new Audiocamp

00:28 | 23 January

Back in September, Betaworks put out a call for startups to participate in its latest “camp,” this one focused on audio.

Danika Laszuk, the head of Betaworks Camp, told me at the time that the startup studio was looking for companies that are trying to build “audio-first” experiences for smart speakers and wireless headphones, or pursuing other audio-related opportunities like synthetic audio or social audio.

Now Betaworks is unveiling the six startups that it has selected to participate in the program, covering everything from game assistants to AI music production. Each startup receives a pre-seed investment from Betaworks, and will be working out of the firm’s New York City offices for the next three months.

Here are the companies:

    • Storm is working on a live audio platform that it says will allow your friends to ask you anything.
    • Midgame is building voice-enabled gaming assistants, starting with a bot that answers questions to improve your gameplay in Stardew Valley.
    • Scout FM is developing hands-free listening experiences such as podcast radio stations and voice assistants for Amazon Alexa, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
    • Never Before Heard Sounds is an AI-powered music production company, working to create new sounds and new musical datasets.
    • SyncFloor is a marketplace of commercial music that can be used in movies, TV shows, ads, video games and elsewhere.
    • The Next Big Idea Club offers a subscription for curated nonfiction books — you can buy the books themselves, but also read, watch or listen to condensed summaries.

    https://techcrunch.com/2019/09/04/betaworks-audiocamp/

 


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Unito raises $10.5M to help workplace collaboration tools speak to each other

22:04 | 22 January

Startup productivity tools have never been better, but that’s led to employees being more passionate than ever about the tools that they want to use themselves. PMs don’t want to use Jira, engineers don’t want to mess with Trello and keeping everyone happy can mean replicating processes again and again.

Montreal-based Unito is building software that helps these platforms communicate with each other so teams can keep their favorite tools without bringing the company to a crawl. The startup has just closed a $10.5 million Series A round led by Bessemer Venture Partners with participation from existing investors Mistral Venture Partners, Real Ventures, and Tom Williams.

Unito’s tool works by collaborating among most of the major workplace productivity software suites’ APIs and automatically translating an action in one piece of software to the others. Updates, comments and due dates can then sync across each of the apps, allowing employees to only interact with the software that’s best for their job.

For Unito, the challenge is convincing startups that are paying for more subscription tools than ever that they need another tool to make sense of what they already have. Unito CEO Marc Boscher tells TechCrunch that company leaders are already having to deal with impassioned pleas for adopting or abandoning certain tools, something that his product can alleviate.

“Every company’s got a debate about which tools to use to get their work done and track their work, and it’s never the same so someone has to lose out eventually,” Boscher says. “People are becoming really passionate about their tools whether they love them or hate them.”

Venture capitalists have been increasingly pouring money into SaaS products built for specific workflows. For employees that have long had to deal with software built for someone else’s role, the proliferation of more team-specific has been welcome, but the ease of use comes with the danger that data or updates can get siloed.

Bessemer partner Jeremy Levine led this deal, saying that the firm was attracted to Unito after seeing how the product allowed teams to choose their own tools, something that was becoming more critical amid the proliferation of vertical-specific SaaS products. Levine’s other early stage bets include Shopify, Yelp and LinkedIn.

Unito’s current integrations include tools like Jira, Asana, Trello, GitHub, Basecamp, Wrike, ZenDesk, Bitbucket, GitLab and HubSpot.

 


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