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Topics from 1 to 10 | in all: 191

Volocopter extends Series C funding to $94M with backing from logistics giant DB Schenker and others

16:32 | 21 February

Autonomous air mobility company Volocopter has added to the Series C funding round it announced in September 2019. The German electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft maker announced €50 million ($54 million at today’s exchange rate) in funding at the time, and the C round has now grown to €87 million ($94 million) thanks to new lead investor DB Schenker, a German logistics company with operations all over the world.

This round also includes participation by Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Group, as well as the venture arm of its parent MS&AD, along with TransLink Capital . Existing investors including Lukasz Gadowski and btov also participated in this round extension.

With this new funding, Volocopter brings its total around $132 million, and it says it will use the newly acquired capital to help certify its VoloCity aircraft, its air taxi eVTOL designed to transport people, which is on track to become the company’s first ever vehicle licensed for commercial operation. Meanwhile, Volocopte will also use the new funds to help continue development of a next-generation iteration of its VoloDrone, which is the cargo-carrying version of its aircraft. It aims to use VoloDrone to expand its market to include logistics, as well as construction, city infrastructure and agriculture.

Already, Volocopter has formed partnerships with companies including John Deere for pilots of its VoloDrone, but it says that a second-generation version of the vehicle will help it commercialize the drone. On the VoloCity side, the company recently flew a demonstration flight in Singapore, and then announced that they’d be working with Grab on a feasibility study about air taxi services for potential deployment across Southeast Asia in key cities.

Alongside this round extension, Volocopter adds two advisory board members – Yifan Li from Geely Holding Group, which led the first tranche of this round closed in September, and DB Schenker CEO Jochen Thewes. Both of these are key strategic partners from investors who stand to benefit the company a lot not only in terms of funding, but also in terms of supply-side and commercialization.

 


0

Online learning marketplace Udemy raises $50M at a $2B valuation from Japanese publisher Benesse

15:00 | 19 February

The internet has, for better or worse, become the default platform for people seeking information, and today one of the companies leveraging that to deliver educational content has raised some funding to fuel its next stage of growth. Udemy, which provides a marketplace offering some 150,000 different online learning courses from business analytics through to ukulele lessons, has picked up $50 million from a single investor, Benesse Holdings, the Japan-based educational publisher that has been Udemy’s partner in the country. The investment values Udemy at $2 billion post-money, it said.

This is a big jump since the startup last raised money, a $60 million round in 2016 that valued it at around $710 million (according to PitchBook data). With this round, Udemay has raised around $130 million in funding.

The plan will be to use the funding to expand all of Udemy’s business, which includes a vast array of courses for consumers that can be purchased a la carte — to date used by some 50 million students; as well as enterprise services, where Udemy works with companies like Adidas, General Mills, Toyota, Wipro, Pinterest and Lyft and others — 5,000 in all — to develop and administer subscription-based professional development courses. Udemy’s president Darren Shimkus describes this as a “Netflix-style” model, where users are presented with a dashboard listing a range of courses that they can take on demand.

Udemy will also be looking at improving how courses are delivered, as well as consider new areas it might move into more deeply to fit what Shimkus described as the biggest challenge for the company, and for the global workforce overall:

“The biggest challenge is for learners is to figure out what skills are emerging, what they can do to compete best in the global market,” he said. “We’re in a world that’s changing so quickly that skills that were valued just three or four years ago are no longer relevant. People are confused and don’t know what they should be learning.” That’s a challenge that also stands for businesses, he added, which are trying to work out what he described as their “three to five year human capital roadmap.”

The investment will also include a specific boost for Udemy’s international operations, starting with Japan but extending also to other markets where Udemy has seen strong growth, such as Brazil and India.

“We’ve worked closely with Benesse for several years, and this investment is a testament to the strength of our relationship and the opportunity ahead of us,” said Gregg Coccari, CEO of Udemy, in a statement. “Udemy is on a mission to improve lives through learning, and so is Benesse. 2020 will be a milestone year where we serve millions more students and enable thousands of businesses and governments to upskill their employees. This growth wouldn’t be possible without our expert instructors who partner with us every step of the way as we build this business.”

Benesse’s business spans instructional materials for children through to courses for adults both online and in in-person training centers — one of the better-known brands that it owns is Berlitz, which operates both virtual courses as well as a network of physical schools — and Udemy has been developing content alongside Benesse both in Japanese as well as English, Shimkus said, targeting both consumer and business markets.

“Access to the latest workplace skills is crucial for success everywhere, including Japan; and Udemy is the world’s largest marketplace enabling professional transformation. With this partnership, we envision a world where more people can continue to learn continuously throughout their lives,” said Tamotsu Adachi, Representative Director, President and CEO of Benesse Holdings Inc., in a statement. “Udemy and Benesse are incredibly synergistic businesses. This investment is the next progression in our business relationship and demonstrates our confidence in what we can accomplish together.”

Udemy’s expansion comes at a time when online education overall has generally continued to grow, although not without bumps.

Among those that compete at least in part with it, Coursera last year announced a $103 million round of funding at a $1 billion+ valuation and made its first acquisition to expand how it teaches programming and other computer science subjects. And in Asia, Byju’s in India is now valued at $8 billion after a quick succession of large growth rounds. We’ve also heard that Age of Learning, which quietly raised at a $1 billion valuation in 2016, is also gearing up for another round.

On the other hand, not all is rosy. Another big name in online learning, Udacity (not to be confused with Udemy), laid off 20% of its workforce amid a larger restructuring; and further afield, Kano — which merges online learning with DIY hardware kits — has also laid off and restructured in recent months. Meanwhile, we don’t seem to hear much these days from LinkedIn Learning, another would-be competitor that was rebranded Lynda.com after it was acquired by the social networking site (itself owned by Microsoft).

Unlike Coursera and others that aim for full degrees that are potentially aiming to disrupt higher education, Udemy focuses on short courses, either simply for the student’s own interest, or potentially for certifications from organizations that either help administer the courses or “own” the subject in question (for example, Cisco for networking certifications, or Microsoft regarding one of its software packages, or the PMI for a course related to project management).

Those courses are delivered by individuals who form the other half of Udemy’s two-sided marketplace. In the 10 years that it’s been in business, Udemy has worked with some 57,000 instructors to develop courses, and in the marketplace model, Shimkus told TechCrunch that those instructors have been netted $350 million in payments to date. (He would not disclose Udemy’s cut on those courses, nor whether the company is currently profitable.)

The company has a lot of areas that it has yet to tackle that present opportunities for how it might evolve. Working with enterprises but with a large base of consumer usage, there is, for example, a lot of scope to develop more data analytics about what is used, what is popular, and how to tailor courses in a better way to fit those models to improve outcomes and engagement. Another area potentially could see Udemy moving deeper into specific subject areas like language learning, where it offers some courses today but has a lot of scope for growing, particularly leaning on what Benesse has with Berlitz. To date, Udemy has made no acquisitions, but that is also an area that Shimkus said could be an option.

 


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Elon Musk says all advanced AI development should be regulated, including at Tesla

17:18 | 18 February

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is once again sounding a warning note regarding the development of artificial intelligence – the executive and founder tweeted on Monday evening that “all org[anizations] developing advance AI should be regulated, including Tesla.”

Musk was responding to a new MIT Technology Review profile of OpenAI, an organization founded in 2015 by Musk, along with Sam Altman, Ilya Sutskever, Greg Brockman, Wojciech Zaremba and John Schulman. At first, OpenAI was formed as a non-profit backed by $1 billion in funding from its pooled initial investors, with the aim of pursuing open research into advanced AI with a focus on ensuring it was pursued in the interest of benefiting society, rather than leaving its development in the hands of a small and narrowly-interested few – ie. for-profit technology companies.

At the time of its founding in 2015, Musk posited that the group essentially arrived at the idea for OpenAI as an alternative the the less effective course of simply either “sit[ting] on the sidelines” or “encourag[ing] regulatory oversight.” Musk also said in 2017 that he believed that regulation should be put in place to govern the development of AI, preceded first by the formation of some kind of oversight agency that would study and gain insight into the industry before proposing any rules.

In the intervening years, much has changed – including OpenAI. The organization officially formed a for-profit arm owned by a non-profit parent corporation in 2019, and accepted $1 billion in investment from Microsoft along with the formation a wide-ranging partnership, seemingly in contravention of its founding principles.

Musk’s comments this week in response to the MIT profile indicate that he’s quite distant from the organization he helped co-found both ideologically and in a more practical, functional sense. The SpaceX founder

that he “must agree” that concerns about OpenAI’s mission expressed last year at the time of its Microsoft announcement “are reasonable,” and
“OpenAI should be more open.” Musk also noted that he has “no control & only very limited insight into OpenAI” and that his “confidence” in Dario Amodei, OpenAI’s research director, “is not high” when it comes to ensuring safe development of AI.

While it might indeed be surprising to see Musk include Tesla in a general call for regulation of the development of advanced AI, it is in keeping with his general stance on the development of artificial intelligence. Musk has repeatedly warned of the risks associated with creating AI that is more independent and advanced, even going so far as to call it a “fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization.”

He also

that he believes advanced AI development should be regulated both by individual national governments as well as by international governing bodies, like the U.N., in response to a clarifying question from a follower. Time is clearly not doing anything to blunt Musk’s beliefs around the potential threat of AI: Perhaps this will encourage him to ramp up his efforts with Neuralink to give humans a way to even the playing field.

 


0

Tesla is going back to the markets to raise more than $2 billion through stock offering

18:25 | 13 February

Tesla said Thursday it plans to raise more than $2 billion through a common stock offering and will use the funds to strengthen its balance sheet and for general corporate purposes, despite signaling just two weeks ago that it would not seek to raise more cash.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk will purchase up to $10 million in shares in the offering, while Oracle co-founder and Tesla board member Larry Ellison will buy up to $1 million worth of Tesla shares, according to the securities filing.

The automaker has also granted underwriters a 30-day option to purchase up to $300 million of additional common stock. If underwriters exercise that option, Tesla could raise as much as $2.3 billion.

The stock offering conflicts with statements Musk and CFO Zach Kirkhorn made last month during Tesla’s fourth-quarter earnings call. An institutional investor asked that given the recent run in the share price, why not raise capital now and substantially accelerate the growth in production? At the time, Musk said the company was spending money sensibly and that there is no “artificial hold back on expenditures.”

“We’re spending money I think efficiently and we’re not artificially limiting our progress,” Musk said dueing the January 29 call. “And then despite all that we are still generating positive cash. So in light of that, it doesn’t make sense to raise money because we expect to generate cash despite this growth level.”

Kirkhorn added to Musk’s comments noting that the company had laid a good foundation and was not holding back on growth.

“We have two products, two vehicle products launching right now and that will consume much of the bandwidth of the company to stabilize those over the course of the year,” Kirkhorn said. “And then looking into next year, we have even more products launching, more factories. So we want to be smart about how we spend money and grow in a way that’s sustainable. So we don’t fall victim to the mistakes I think we made a year and a half or so ago.”

However, Tesla shares have risen more than 35% since the January 29 earnings call, perhaps proving too tempting of an opportunity to ignore.

This latest stock raise could prove critical to fund Tesla’s number of projects. A regulatory filing posted prior to the stock offering notice indicates Tesla’s capital expenditures could reach as high as $3.5 billion this year.

“Considering the expected pace of the manufacturing ramps for our products, construction and expansion of our factories, and pipeline of announced projects under development, and consistent with our current strategy of using partners to manufacture battery cells, as well as considering all other infrastructure growth, we currently expect our average annual capital expenditures in 2020 and the two succeeding fiscal years to be $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion,” Tesla said in its 10K filing, which was posted Thursday.

 


0

Reset Button is approaching student debt from a new angle

18:05 | 12 February

Student loan debt in the U.S. totals $1.5 trillion, and more than 44 million Americans have outstanding student loan debt.

According to research by Jason Iuliano, Villanova law professor, a million student loan debtors have filed for bankruptcy in the past five years. However, 99.9 percent of them did not include their student loan debt in their bankruptcy filing.

This research was the seed of what would become Reset Button, a new startup founded by Iuliano and Rob Hunter looking to help student loan debtors who have gone through bankruptcy find a new way to include those debts in their filing.

The only way you can include student loan debt in a bankruptcy filing is through litigation. Those cases have been historically less likely to settle out of court than other types of civil cases.

This means that the cost of including student loan debt in bankruptcy filings is, at the very least, around $10K. Now, if there was some guarantee that you could trade hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loan debt for $10K-$15K, you’d obviously do it. But most folks who are already in the process of filing for bankruptcy don’t have a spare $10K minimum to spend on a litigator. And even if they did, there is no guarantee they’d win in court, resulting in even more debt and no relief.

This is what Reset Button is trying to change.

To be clear, Reset Button is targeted directly at folks who have already filed for bankruptcy but were told they couldn’t include their student loan debt in those filings, and so they didn’t.

Here’s how it works:

Reset Button has built a network of litigation lawyers who have experience in seeking student loan discharges. When a new user fires up Reset Button, the startup sends them through an evaluation process that collects financial information, etc. to assess whether or not one of those lawyers could litigate the discharge of that user’s student loan debt. That evaluation factors in a number of signals, including past legal cases that are comparable to the user’s situation.

That process also does a lot of the heavy lifting that makes hiring a litigator so expensive. These lawyers often have to do tons of research, tracking down statements and bills and other paperwork, before they can truly get started with the litigation.

Reset Button, as the connective tissue between debtor and lawyer, is able to automate a lot of that process for the lawyers, delivering a package of information on the case and connecting the user with the right lawyer for them.

Reset is also looking to bring the cost down for debtors. The company charges either 12 percent of the total debt discharged, or $10,000 (whichever is lowest). Reset also allows users to pay that sum over time, in $300 monthly installments. This is in stark contrast to people who hire their own lawyer, who would be responsible for the costs up front.

Reset Button is able to do this through a payment process called factoring. In short, Reset buys the receivables from the attorney’s fees, and charges the debtor with their own payment plan. Reset makes money from lawyers who pay for the lead generation, the technology services, and the marketing apparatus.

Factoring has come under fire from some who say that service providers sometimes raise prices to account for their fee, but Reset Button cofounders Rob Hunter and Iuliano say that their lawyers are actually charging less because of the workflow optimization provided by Reset Button.

The company also provides a Knowledge Base for debtors seeking financial guidance and resources, but the only revenue stream comes from the actual litigation of student loan debt in bankruptcy filings. Other services like refinancing, debt consolidation, or income-based payments are not provided by Reset Button, and the company has no official partnerships with those types of service providers.

However, Hunter said that it may be an avenue the company explores as it grows.

Perhaps most importantly, Reset Button offers a Fresh Start guarantee. In short, if the lawyer doesn’t manage to get your debt wiped, Reset will pay your legal bills.

There has been movement in the landscape of student loan discharges with bankruptcy.

Essentially, debtors must prove in court that they pass the test of “undue hardship,” which is a notably vague framework. Though there is a bit of variability among the various court circuits, the general idea is that a debtor must prove that they can’t currently pay back the loan, that there will not be a change down the line that will allow them to pay the loan in the future, and that they have made every effort to pay the loans in the past.

Historically, that’s been a difficult threshold to cross for the fraction of people who take steps to litigate their student loan debt. However, in small ways, courts seem to be opening up the interpretation of undue hardship.

“There’s a phrase that gets used in these cases that I think perpetuates this myth, and that is to call it a ‘certainty of hopelessness’,” said John Rao, attorney with the National Consumer Law Center. “And it’s almost like, as long as you’re still alive and breathing, something could improve for you. That’s just an impossible burden. It’s basically saying you could win the lottery or something. That’s just not the standard I think Congress had in mind.”

In 2015, in a case between Robert E. Murphy and the DOE/ECMC, Rao wrote to the courts arguing that they should reassess the test for undue hardship.

Rather than adopt one existing test over another, we urge this Court to provide a formulation of the undue hardship standard in simple terms, that restricts consideration of extraneous and inappropriate factors not consistent with the statutory language. A finding about whether a debtor’s hardship is likely to persist should be based on hard facts, not conjecture and unsubstantiated optimism.

More recently, a judge in the Southern District of New York ruled in favor of a debtor, wiping more than $200,000 in Kevin Rosenberg’s student debt. Of course, the lenders will be appealing the case.

However, Judge Morris, who presided over the case, wrote in her decision that “most people (bankruptcy professionals as well as lay individuals) believe it impossible to discharge student loans,” and that her “Court will not participate in perpetuating these myths.”

Reset Button has raised money from investors Craft Ventures, Slow Ventures, and Jeff Morris Jr. of Lambda School, among others. The company declined to share its total amount of investment.

“Society has been led to believe something for decades that is not true, which is probably the biggest initial challenge,” said founder and CEO Rob Hunter. “One of the unfortunate things is the reason that many consumers believe incorrect information is because a lawyer told them that. So, that is a bit of an uphill battle to swim against.”

 


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Orbital debris startup Astroscale chosen by JAXA for its first space junk removal mission

17:42 | 12 February

Japanese orbital debris removal technology startup Astroscale is going to be working with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on the agency’s first mission to remove some of the junk that currently exists on orbit. They’ve been selected by the age y to participate in its Commercial Removal of Debris Demonstration project (CRD2) which includes two separate mission phases that together will aim to accomplish the removal of a large body currently on orbit, the spent upper stage of a Japanese rocket.

Astroscale, which was founded in 2013, is focused entirely on cleaning up orbital space, which it sees as a necessary step for long-term sustainable activity on orbit. Space debris has become a hot-button topic in the space industry, with current projections anticipating massive increases in the number of active satellites orbiting the planet, thanks to the uptick in satellite constellation projects in the works from commercial operators including SpaceX, Amazon and OneWeb.

The JAXA mission aims to complete its first phase by the end of 2022, and Astroscale will support that phase by building, launching and operating a satellite that will observe and acquire data on the rocket upper stage that the second phase will seek to de-orbit. The goal is to find out more about its movement and the surrounding debris environment in order to set up a safe and successful removal.

“The data obtained in Phase I of CRD2 is expected to reinforce the dangers of existing debris and the necessity to remove them,” said Astroscale founder and CEO Nobu Okada in a press release. “Debris removal is still a new market and our mission has always been to establish routine debris removal services in space in order to secure orbital sustainability for the benefit of future generations. The international community is growing more aware of the risks of space debris and we are committed more than ever to turning this potential market into a reality.”

Astroscale is also already involved in other orbital debris removal projects, and plans to launch a demonstration mission of its ‘End-of-Life Services’ offering sometime in the second half of this year. This mission will be a world-first demo of commercial orbital debris removal is all goes to plan, a key step in proving that its technology can meet the needs of this growing opportunity.

Earlier this year, a near-miss of two defunct orbital spacecraft made headlines, and observers noted that had a collision occurred, it would’ve resulted in a new debris cloud with “at least hundreds” of new pieces of trackable debris. Astroscale and others like it could, combined with other initiatives like more granular tracking and information sharing among satellite operators, provide a much more sustainable in-space operating environment for the range of commercial activities either planned or in progress for orbital space.

 


0

After VCs spend millions Nigeria restricts ride-hail motorbike taxis

08:39 | 12 February

Nigeria’s commercial hub of Lagos has shaken up its transportation order.

At the center are the West African country’s motorcycle taxis — referred to locally as okadas — which face newly enforced regulatory restrictions on their movement.

That’s creating speedbumps for Nigeria’s two-wheel ride-hail startups, operating in Africa’s most populous nation with the continent’s largest economy.

Ventures Max .ng, ORide, and Gokada have received millions from American, Japanese, and Chinese investors to shift the continent’s motorcycle-taxi markets to on-demand mobility.

The three startups have been in a race for capital and market share — with the streets of Lagos serving as a competition course for developing platforms that can scale in Africa.

Gokada raised $5.3 million in May. Max.ng raised a $7 million Series A round in June 2019, with Yamaha on board, to pilot renewable energy powered e-motos in Africa.

Motorcycle-taxi business ORide rattled competitors in Nigeria in 2019 when its Chinese owned parent — Opera — rallied $170 million in VC for Opera’s digital service verticals in Nigeria, including ORide.

Fueled by fresh capital, the bright colored helmets of these ride-hail startups buzzing through Lagos traffic have become a backdrop in the city of 21 million.

That flow of motorcycle taxis (and traffic at large) slowed on February 1, when the municipality that governs Lagos — Lagos State — began enforcement of its 2018 Transit Sector Reform Law.

Source: Google Maps

The legislation is actually meant to improve multiple facets of transportation in Lagos, which is notorious for gridlock, but may have done the inverse — particularly around okadas.

TechCrunch reached out to Lagos State Government for clarification on the Transit Sector Reform Law, but hasn’t heard back.

The Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, invoked safety and security concerns as a reason for the okada restrictions at an event to launch more water-boat taxis in Lagos on February 5.

In a statement via email, ORide’s Senior Director of Operations, Olalere Ridwan, said the rules entail “a ban on commercial motorcycles…in the city’s core commercial and residential areas, including Victoria Island and Lagos Island.”

ORide posted a map of the restrictions

with an explanation the company was complying with the rules and would cease operations in the designated areas. Reps from Max.ng and Gokada also confirmed they had followed suit.

Per local news, and Nigerian

, the motorcycle taxi limitations have thrown off some inherent order in Lagos’s disorderly transit grid — overloading other mobility modes(such as mini-buses) and forcing more people to pound pavement and red-dirt to get to work.

For the country’s ride-hail startups, the regulatory constraints are weighing on operations and revenues, according to Max.ng CTO Guy-Bertrand Njoya.

“Are we highly concerned? Yes, we are,” he told TechCrunch on a call from Lagos.

“We haven’t shut down operations, but because the drivers can’t operate in the main commercial areas, their income generation ability is significantly reduced…and our business depends on the success of our drivers,” said Bertrand.

Gokada CEO Fahim Saleh confirmed the company is still operating passenger services, but may transition its business away from ride-hailing, depending on the outcome of the regulatory process.

“If the transport option is no longer available to our drivers, we’ll go full on to logistics,” he said, noting shifting to more goods delivery has always been a part of Gokada’s long-term strategy.

Saleh recognized the concerns Lagos State regulators have for motorbike-taxi safety. “To the government’s credit, the informal sector is pretty risky with their habits and there’s no oversight,” he said.

But Gokada’s CEO underscored ride-hail startups — with mandatory driver training, new motorcycles, helmet requirements and an ability to track data — are making motorcycle passenger taxis safer in Nigeria.

“The government has good intentions, but they need the private sector to really bring in innovative ideas and technology to this market,” Saleh said.

The sudden regulatory enforcement and downturn in business has forced some unity among the Nigeria’s ride-hail competitors. Max .NG, ORide, and Gokada have formed an industry association to engage Lagos State on motorcycle-taxi regulations.

“We are hopeful that government remains supportive of companies like ours in a manner that addresses their key policy focus, while supporting entrepreneurs,” said Max.ng CFO Guy-Bertrand Njoya.

The situation between the Lagos State Government and motorcycle-taxis could have ramifications for Nigeria’s tech sector beyond Lagos’s ride-hail sector and transit grid.

The affair could serve as a test for startups in the country on engaging government effectively toward their interests. It could also demonstrate the ability (or inability) of regulators in Nigeria to support fledgling digital markets.

It’s worth noting that Lagos State is Nigeria’s largest commercial region, responsible for roughly a third of the country’s GDP. A greater share of Nigeria’s economy is being driven by tech-related industries — with much of the country’s startup activity occurring in Lagos — and Nigeria becoming Africa’s unofficial tech capital.

Even with the recent upswing in VC to Nigeria’s startups, founders still speak of the tough sell they face convincing global investors to back them.

If Lagos State — viewed as the most tech friendly region in Nigeria — squashes the country’s well-funded okada ride-hail sector, VC pitches for the country’s founders could become more difficult.

 


0

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.

 


0

Max Q: A SpaceX spin-out sounds great

19:41 | 10 February

Max Q is a new weekly newsletter all about space. Sign up here to receive it weekly on Sundays in your inbox.

Two rocket launches were set to take off Sunday, including one from Wallops Island in Virginia and another from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The first is a relatively standard (but still exciting – we are talking about rockets here, very little is ‘standard’) ISS resupply mission, and the second is a major scientific mission from NASA and the ESA called the ‘Solar Orbiter.’

Unfortunately, a technical issue meant the ISS resupply mission is rescheduled for Thursday – but the Solar Orbiter launched as planned, with as clean a delivery by the ULA Atlas V rocket that launched it as you can ask for.

Boeing Starliner encountered two potentially catastrophic issues

Starliner, the crew spacecraft developed by Boeing for NASA’s Commercial Crew program, encountered not one, but two major software flaws during its most recent demonstration mission that would’ve been very bad had they not been corrected.

The second one was only revealed in detail this week, and was discovered and patched only because the first software issue caused the ground team on the mission to go back over all the software relating to the capsule’s re-entry and check for potential errors. Otherwise, the mission team says it would not have been caught. No word yet on what this means definitively for Boeing’s crew program, but we’ll find out at the end of this month according to NASA officials.

Trump administration asks for $3B NASA budget boost

NASA could get significantly more funding than it did in 2020 for its fiscal 2021 operating year, with the bulk of a proposed $3 billion increase earmarked for development of human landers to be used in the Artemis program. Trump will still have to make that official during his budget presentation on February 10 (that’s today), but it looks like a strong endorsement of the agency’s plans by the current administration.

NASA seeks industry input on rovers

NASA may be looking to lock its Lander plans this coming year, but it’s also asking industry to provide concepts and input on lunar rovers, including robotic designs and ideas for human-carrying Moon buggies. This will likely lead to some kind of formal RFP for commercial rover partners down the road.

OneWeb launches 34 more satellites for its constellation

Meanwhile, Starlink competitor OneWeb launched its second batch of satellites, a group of 34 spacecraft. The company says this is just the beginning of its plans that include launching a group of at least 30 satellites per month until its constellation reaches its goal of 650, though it did also note that its going to pause the campaign in April to incorporate a satellite redesign.

SpaceX launches online rocket rideshare booking tool

SpaceX has launched a new online booking portal for its rideshare rocket service, which actually lets anyone with a credit card book a rocket launch starting at $1 million with a $5,000 downpayment. Don’t do this unless you actually plan to launch something and have your ducks in a row, however – unless you really want to just donate $5,000 to SpaceX .

Inside Astra’s unique new launch offering

Astra is a new launch startup that’s been developing its rocket for at least three years, but that only recently broke cover. I spoke to CEO and founder Chris Kemp about the company’s business model – and found out it’s not like anything else currently in the market, by design. ExtraCrunch subscription required.

Register for TC Sessions: Space 2020

Our very own dedicated space event is coming up on June 25 in Los Angeles, and you can get your tickets now. It’s sure to be a packed day of quality programming from the companies mentioned above and more, so go ahead and sign up while Early Bird pricing applies.

Plus, if you have a space startup of your own, you can apply now to participate in our pre-event pitch-off, happening June 24.

 


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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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