Wij willen met u aan tafel zitten en in een openhartig gesprek uitvinden welke uitdagingen en vragen er bij u spelen om zo, gezamelijk, tot een beste oplossing te komen. Oftewel, hoe kan de techniek u ondersteunen in plaats van dat u de techniek moet ondersteunen.

The Catalyst Fund has gained $ 15 million in new support from JP Morgan and UK Aid and will back 30 fintech startups in Africa, Asia, and Latin America over the next three years.

The Boston based accelerator provides mentorship and non-equity funding to early-stage tech ventures focused on driving financial inclusion in emerging and frontier markets.

That means connecting people who may not have access to basic financial services — like a bank account, credit or lending options — to those products.

Catalyst Fund will choose an annual cohort of 10 fintech startups in five designated countries: Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, India and Mexico. Those selected will gain grant-funds and go through a six-month accelerator program. The details of that and how to apply are found here.

“We’re offering grants of up to $ 100,000 to early-stage companies, plus venture building support…and really…putting these companies on a path to product market fit,” Catalyst Fund Director Maelis Carraro told TechCrunch.

Program participants gain exposure to the fund’s investor networks and investor advisory committee, that include Accion and 500 Startups. With the $ 15 million Catalyst Fund will also make some additions to its network of global partners that support the accelerator program. Names will be forthcoming, but Carraro, was able to disclose that India’s Yes Bank and University of Cambridge are among them.

Catalyst fund has already accelerated 25 startups through its program. Companies, such as African payments venture ChipperCash and SokoWatch — an East African B2B e-commerce startup for informal retailers — have gone on to raise seven-figure rounds and expand to new markets.

Those are kinds of business moves Catalyst Fund aims to spur with its program. The accelerator was founded in 2016, backed by JP Morgan and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Catalyst Fund is now supported and managed by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and global tech consulting firm BFA.

African fintech startups have dominated the accelerator’s startups, comprising 56% of the portfolio into 2019.

That trend continued with Catalyst Fund’s most recent cohort, where five of six fintech ventures — Pesakit, Kwara, Cowrywise, Meerkat and Spoon — are African and one, agtech credit startup Farmart, operates in India.

The draw to Africa is because the continent demonstrates some of the greatest need for Catalyst Fund’s financial inclusion mission.

By several estimates, Africa is home to the largest share of the world’s unbanked population and has a sizable number of underbanked consumers and SMEs.

Roughly 66% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s 1 billion people don’t have a bank account, according to World Bank data.

Collectively, these numbers have led to the bulk of Africa’s VC funding going to thousands of fintech startups attempting to scale finance solutions on the continent.

Digital finance in Africa has also caught the attention of notable outside names. Twitter/Square CEO Jack Dorsey recently took an interest in Africa’s cryptocurrency potential and Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs has invested in fintech related startups on the continent.

This lends to the question of JP Morgan’s interests vis-a-vis Catalyst Fund and Africa’s financial sector.

For now, JP Morgan doesn’t have plans to invest directly in Africa startups and is taking a long-view in its support of the accelerator, according to Colleen Briggs — JP Morgan’s Head of Community Innovation

“We find financial health and financial inclusion is a…cornerstone for inclusive growth…For us if you care about a stable economy, you have to start with financial inclusion,” said Briggs, who also oversees the Catalyst Fund.

This take aligns with JP Morgan’s 2019 announcement of a $ 125 million, philanthropic, five-year global commitment to improve financial health in the U.S. and globally.

More recently, JP Morgan Chase posted some of the strongest financial results on Wall Street, with Q4 profits of $ 2.9 billion. It’ll be worth following if the company shifts any of its income-generating prowess to business and venture funding activities in Catalyst Fund markets like Nigeria, India and Mexico.


TechCrunch

Obvious Ventures, the firm co-founded by Medium CEO and Twitter co-founder Ev Williams, announced today that it has closed its third fund “OV3” at $ 271,828,182, a number that the graphing calculator-owning among us may recognize as e or Euler’s number.

When asked whether the firm had to return any LP money just so it could land at its magic number, Obvious’s Gabe Kleinman threw a “no comment” my way.

The firm has a bit of a tradition in being cutesy with its fund sizes. Their first fund was $ 123,456,789 and the second fund clocked in at $ 191,919,191. The focus on the naming scheme isn’t an accident, there isn’t too much to draw attention to with this fund in terms of changes to Obvious’s investment strategies, Kleinman tells TechCrunch.

“We’re investing in companies that are reimagining trillion dollar categories,” Kleinman tells TechCrunch. “… and these play out across our three themes, which are sustainable systems, healthy living and ‘people power.’”

Obvious saw some successful exits in 2019, including the public offering of Beyond Meat.


TechCrunch

It’s November. We’re eleven years into a bull run. And a protracted trade war with China — not to mention the impeachment proceedings — is causing some nervousness about what next year will hold.

Little wonder that venture firms, which have been writing checks faster than ever in recent years, are also stocking up on dry powder. In the last 10 days alone, some of the many firms to announce new funds include Boldstart Ventures, Drive Capital, .406 Ventures, CAVU Venture Partners, Unusual Ventures, Northzone, Kindred Ventures, EQT Ventures, Inspired Capital and Norwest Venture Partners.

Newly in the same company is Next Coast Ventures, a firm that just closed on $ 130 million in fresh capital commitments to pursue a thematic approach and that is focused for right now on the future of work, the rise of digital natives, the death of traditional retail and the ways that ubiquitous connectivity is changing marketplaces.

It’s the second fund for the firm, which closed its debut fund with a very respectable $ 85 million, thanks in large part to the backgrounds of its two managing directors. Michael Smerklo previously bought a technology services company called ServiceSource that he ran for 12 years and eventually took public. His co-founder, Thomas Ball, previously spent more than a decade with Austin Ventures.

Interestingly, for many years, Austin Ventures was the only game in town in Austin, but that has changed meaningfully since it announced in 2015 that it wouldn’t be raising more capital. Not only has Next Coast just gathered up more capital, but so have numerous other regional firms this year. In April, for example, we reported on the newest, $ 105 million, fund raised by LiveOak Ventures. Meanwhile, Silverton Partners, one of the city’s most active investors, is zeroing in on a new $ 120 million fund just one year after closing a $ 108 million fund, and several other firms — including ATX Ventures and Quake Capital — are trying to raise sizable new funds.

As for Next Coast, some of its many current bets include Everlywell, a company that sells tens of in-home diagnostic tests and that closed on $ 50 million in funding earlier this year, and AlertMedia, a cloud-based mass notification system that aims to streamline notifications across devices and platforms and which raised $ 25 million in Series C funding back in January. (You can check out a longer list of its investments here.)

The firm has also seen five companies in its portfolio sell to acquirers (all for undisclosed terms). While one has yet to be announced, the other four are OnRamp, a cloud hosting company that sold last year to a data and IT company called LightEdge; the personal finance startup Clarity Money, which sold to Goldman Sachs last year; the wardrobe tech company Finery, which sold to Stitch Fix in September; and the smart oven maker Brava, which just yesterday disclosed that it’s being acquired by Middleby, an industrial equipment company.

We were in touch yesterday with Smerklo to learn how Next Coast’s new and bigger fund might differ from its predecessor, and the answer seems to be: not much. He said check sizes will increase, from a range of $ 3 million to $ 7 million into Series A-stage companies to more like $ 5 million to $ 10 million at the upper end.

He also suggested that Next Coast remains as committed as ever to uncovering and funding talent regionally, something that’s getting easier all the time, evidently. “Austin’s entrepreneurial and startup ecosystem is absolutely booming,” Smerklo wrote us via email. “It’s never been cheaper to start a company, and places like Austin with a high quality of life, growing available capital and a strong entrepreneurial spirit will continue to be a hotbed for founders and tech talent.”


TechCrunch

Balderton Capital, one of the so-called “big four” early-stage VC firms in London (the others being Accel, Atomico and Index), has raised a new $ 400 million fund to continue backing European tech startups at Series A.

Dealroom recently released a report that pegged Balderton as the most active Series A investor in Europe (between 2014-2018), and in many ways this new fund is a continuation, and business as usual for the firm. It is also roughly the same size as the VC’s last Series A fund, which it closed in 2017 at $ 375 million.

That’s not to be confused with Balderton’s other recently launched “secondary” fund, which is dedicated to buying equity stakes from early shareholders in European-founded “high-growth, scale-up” technology companies. The move essentially formalised the secondary share dealing that already happens — typically as part of a Series C or other later rounds — which often sees founders take some money off the table so they can improve their own financial situation and won’t be tempted to sell their company too soon, but also gives early investors a way out so they can begin the cycle all over again.

Meanwhile, Balderton says the new Series A fund is being launched against a backdrop of “unprecedented momentum” within the European tech ecosystem. The VC notes that the number of Series A rounds in Europe per year has quadrupled since 2012, with the total amount of VC funding going into European startups hitting record highs last year — from €11.5 billion in 2014 to a chunky €24.6 billion in 2018.

That, together with the sheer number of new funds that have launched over the last 12 months — and three I’m covering this week — leads me to wonder out loud if tech, and Europe in particular, has entered a bubble.

“I don’t think we are,” Balderton Partner Suranga Chandratillake tells me during a call, before acknowledging that it is often hard to know if you are in a bubble if you are actually in one. “If you look at the public markets, the valuations around tech companies, while they are high, I would argue that in many cases they are justifiable when you look at the profitability and the growth rate of those businesses, especially things like enterprise software. But I think it’s harder when you get into businesses where they are more one-off… [where] we don’t necessarily know exactly how to value those long term.”

On Europe specifically, Chandratillake points out that some European tech hubs are more heated than others and that sentiment can vary considerably per geography. “As you get to more and more the local level, of course, you can experience what feel like sort of comparative bubbles. So, you know, maybe London was expensive two years ago, and France is expensive right now at Series A or whatever, but I don’t think those things really matter in the long run, because ultimately they iron out as long as the employee valuations are sensible. And as an investor, you’re paying attention to that stuff when you’re going to make an investment.”

One rumour within London VC is there are firms that have felt pressured to do follow-on investments in portfolio companies they otherwise might not have during cooler times, for fear of signalling to the market not just that a company isn’t doing well but that the VC firm itself isn’t as founder-friendly as competing VCs. How does Balderton think about signaling?

“Signaling is a massive deal [in venture capital],” says Chandratillake. “And actually, this is an area where, you know, we think we have a fairly strong position, because for over 10 years now we have focused almost entirely on Series A… and we are very open about that.”

He says that unlike other Series A VCs that invest at Series B or Series C, too, and also quite often dabble in seed, companies backed by Balderton shouldn’t expect the firm to “lead or be a major part of your Series B.”

“Of course, we’ll help, we’re going to do some of our pro-rata or maybe all of our pro-rata to try and protect some of our ownership, all those sorts of rational things we do. But we’re not raising a fund which allows us to be a big investor in your Series B and your C and your D and so on. I think as long as you’re really open with entrepreneurs about that early, they totally get that and they understand why it works economically for us and why it’s a good thing.

“Then if you do that for a long enough period of time, as we have, and stick to that — so you don’t do weird things like, you know, say that, but then on the other hand with the most interesting company, you try to bully your way into more of a Series B or whatever, then the ecosystem overall starts to realise… then the signal problem goes away.”

With regards to future investments, Chandratillake says Balderton will continue to invest all over Europe across any sector where “information technology” is being leveraged and creating value.

In the fund prior to last, for example, fintech was a major focus, backing companies like Revolut and Nutmeg, but more recently the VC has been investing more in health tech, where computer science is helping life science solve problems faster or cheaper.

“I think that there will be more of that,” says Chandratillake. “There’s a lot more to be done in this health tech space, both at the patient level, but also actually a lot of really interesting things behind the scenes that will help health systems operate more efficiently and use technology in interesting ways. It’s a really interesting area for Europe, because we have, you know, within the continent, a plethora of different health systems — from almost fully private systems through to obviously entirely state single payer systems like the NHS. It’s a great place to experiment with different models. It’s also of course, as a continent, home to some of the most important pharmaceutical companies [in the world].”


TechCrunch

Bloomberg Beta, a San Francisco-based outfit that uses Bloomberg LP’s money to make bets on startups, has closed its third fund with $ 75 million, according to Roy Bahat, who’d previously run the online media company IGN and who operates the fund as an equal partnership with Karin Klein and James Chan. (Klein formerly ran Bloomberg’s new initiatives; Chan was formerly a principal with Trinity Ventures.)

We talked with Bahat briefly last night about the new vehicle to ask how its capital will be deployed. Bahat stressed that the idea is to continue on the firm’s current path, which is to write checks of between $ 500,000 to $ 1 million initially; to loosely target ownership of around 10 percent in the startups it backs; and to fund companies that are focused on the future of work, which has long been an area of interest for Bahat and his colleagues.

That can mean an instant messaging platform like Slack, in which Bloomberg Beta had and continues to have a small stake, following its direct offering. It can also mean backing a company like Flexport, a San Francisco-based freight forwarding and customs brokerage company that appears to be among Bloomberg Beta’s biggest bets. (According to Crunchbase, the outfit has backed Flexport —  valued most recently at $ 3.2 billion — at its seed, Series A, and Series B rounds.)

Others of Bloomberg Beta’s portfolio companies include the augmented writing platform Textio; the insurance broker Newfront Insurance; the continuous delivery platform LaunchDarkly, and Netlify, a cloud computing company that sells hosting and serverless backend services for static websites.

What it won’t back: financial tech startups. Given where its money comes from, it’s “too close to home,” says Bahat.

In late August, California Governor announced that Bahat would be part of his Future of Work Commission, which will be “tasked with making recommendations to help California leaders think through how to create inclusive, long-term economic growth and ensure workers and their families share in that success.”

As part of his role on that commission, and as an investor in some companies that cater to independent contractors, we asked Bahat what he makes of AB5, the new California law for contract workers that aims to address inequality in the workplace but has been met with resistance from numerous industries and players. Uber, Lyft and DoorDash are even preparing to file a ballot initiative to exempt themselves from the law.

Bahat suggested he’s not sure what to think quite yet, either. “How workers get classified is one of live issues” that the commission will be studying, he said.

“We haven’t figured out how to make it all work; this story is still unfolding.”


TechCrunch

Toggle, a Brooklyn-based robotics startup, announced today that it scored $ 3 million in seed funding. The early-stage round was led by Point72 Ventures’ AI Group, with participation from Mark Cuban and VC Twenty Seven Ventures. The series follows a 2018 pre-seed round of $ 570,000 from its Urban-X accelerator, Urban Us, Accelerate NY / Empire State Development and Perl Street Capital.

The 15-person startup creates robotics that fabricate and assemble rebar. It’s designed to work in tandem with existing robotics and steel fabrication technologies, while speeding up the process up to 15 times, by the company’s count.

Toggle has already begun a soft launch “for a wide range of projects in New York City and the surrounding area,” according to the company. It expects to ramp up toward commercial production over the course of the next year and a half. CEO Daniel Blank tells TechCrunch that the seed round will be used toward R&D and growing the Toggle team.

“This funding will be used to further develop our technology — both the hardware and software — around assembly and fabrication automation, as well as grow the engineering team that supports this development,” Blank tells TechCrunch. “The funding also provides us with a strong foundation for our manufacturing operation which is already supplying services and materials to customers in New York City and the surrounding region.”


TechCrunch

Accion Venture Lab—the seed-stage investment arm of non-profit Accion—has raised $ 23 million for a new inclusive fintech startup fund.

The Accion Venture Lab Limited Partnership, as its called, will make seed-stage investments in inclusive fintech startups, defined as ventures that “that leverage technology to increase the reach, quality, and affordability of financial services for the under-served at scale,” per a company release.

The new fund was raised with capital contributions from a number of participants, including the Ford Foundation, Visa Inc. and Proparco—the development finance institution of the French government.

The additional $ 23 million brings Accion Venture Lab‘s total capital under management to $ 42 million.

The new LP fund will consider startups from any geography, as along as they meet specific criteria. Overall, Accion Venture Lab doesn’t have regional investment quotas, but does look to allocate roughly 25 to 30 percent of its funds to Africa, Accion Venture Lab Managing Director Tahira Dosani told TechCrunch on a call.

“We want to continue to focus on Latin-America, on Sub-Saharan Africa, on Southeast Asia as well as in the U.S. It really is about…where we see the need and the opportunity across the markets that we’re in,” she said.

In line with Accion’s mandate to boost financial inclusion globally, Accion Venture Lab already has a portfolio of 36 fintech startup investments across 5 continents—including 9 in the U.S., 8 in Latin America, and 8 in India.

“Our goal is to really be the that first institutional investor in the companies we invest in. That’s were we see the biggest capital gap. And it’s where we build capability and expertise,” Dosani said. In 2018, Accion Venture Lab successfully exited Indian fintech company Aye Finance, following exits in 2017 and 2016.

Tahira Dosani Accion Venture Lab I

This year Accion Venture Lab supported a $ 6.5 million Series A investment in Lulalend, a South African startup that uses internal credit metrics to provide short-term loans to SMEs that are often unable to obtain working capital.

Accion’s new LP fund will follow past practice and make investments typically in the $ 500,000 range. It will start sourcing startups immediately through its investment leads around the world and already made its first seed financing to U.S. venture Joust—a fintech platform for gig economy workers.

Accion Venture Lab’s LP fund is the first time the organization has pooled third-party investment capital, according to a spokesperson.

On the appeal for those contributing, Dosani named Accion’s geographic reach and experience. “We think that’s our strength, because we’re able to invest in similar business models across different markets. And we’re able to bring that knowledge from one market to another,” she said.

The Ford Foundation contributed $ 2 million, according to an email from Christine Looney, Deputy Director, Mission Investments. Visa didn’t disclose its capital contribution, but told TechCrunch it will play a role in governance through its participation in a Limited Partners Advisory Committee for the new fund.

As a point of observation, Accion Venture Lab stands out as a fund for giving an equal pitch footing to fintech ventures across frontier, emerging, and developed markets from Lagos to London.

Accion’s new LP fund—along with the organization’s commitment to make nearly a third of its investments in Africa—means more capital to digital finance startups on the continent. By a number of estimates, Africa’s 1.2 billion people still represent the largest share of the world’s unbanked and underbanked population.

 

 

 


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