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.

Imagine a moving tower made of huge cement bricks weighing 35 metric tons. The movement of these massive blocks is powered by wind or solar power plants and is a way to store the energy those plants generate. Software controls the movement of the blocks automatically, responding to changes in power availability across an electric grid to charge and discharge the power that’s being generated.

The development of this technology is the culmination of years of work at Idealab, the Pasadena, Calif.-based startup incubator, and Energy Vault, the company it spun out to commercialize the technology, has just raised $ 110 million from SoftBank Vision Fund to take its next steps in the world.

Energy storage remains one of the largest obstacles to the large-scale rollout of renewable energy technologies on utility grids, but utilities, development agencies and private companies are investing billions to bring new energy storage capabilities to market as the technology to store energy improves.

The investment in Energy Vault is just one indicator of the massive market that investors see coming as power companies spend billions on renewables and storage. As The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend, ScottishPower, the U.K.-based utility, is committing to spending $ 7.2 billion on renewable energy, grid upgrades and storage technologies between 2018 and 2022.

Meanwhile, out in the wilds of Utah, the American subsidiary of Japan’s Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems is working on a joint venture that would create the world’s largest clean energy storage facility. That 1 gigawatt storage would go a long way toward providing renewable power to the Western U.S. power grid and is going to be based on compressed air energy storage, large flow batteries, solid oxide fuel cells and renewable hydrogen storage.

“For 20 years, we’ve been reducing carbon emissions of the U.S. power grid using natural gas in combination with renewable power to replace retiring coal-fired power generation. In California and other states in the western United States, which will soon have retired all of their coal-fired power generation, we need the next step in decarbonization. Mixing natural gas and storage, and eventually using 100% renewable storage, is that next step,” said Paul Browning, president and CEO of MHPS Americas.

Energy Vault’s technology could also be used in these kinds of remote locations, according to chief executive Robert Piconi.

Energy Vault’s storage technology certainly isn’t going to be ubiquitous in highly populated areas, but the company’s towers of blocks can work well in remote locations and have a lower cost than chemical storage options, Piconi said.

“What you’re seeing there on some of the battery side is the need in the market for a mobile solution that isn’t tied to topography,” Piconi said. “We obviously aren’t putting these systems in urban areas or the middle of cities.”

For areas that need larger-scale storage that’s a bit more flexible there are storage solutions like Tesla’s new Megapack.

The Megapack comes fully assembled — including battery modules, bi-directional inverters, a thermal management system, an AC breaker and controls — and can store up to 3 megawatt-hours of energy with a 1.5 megawatt inverter capacity.

The Energy Vault storage system is made for much, much larger storage capacity. Each tower can store between 20 and 80 megawatt hours at a cost of 6 cents per kilowatt hour (on a levelized cost basis), according to Piconi.

The first facility that Energy Vault is developing is a 35 megawatt-hour system in Northern Italy, and there are other undisclosed contracts with an undisclosed number of customers on four continents, according to the company.

One place where Piconi sees particular applicability for Energy Vault’s technology is around desalination plants in places like sub-Saharan Africa or desert areas.

Backing Energy Vault’s new storage technology are a clutch of investors, including Neotribe Ventures, Cemex Ventures, Idealab and SoftBank.


TechCrunch

Zhihu, the largest question and answer platform in China, has raised a $ 434 million Series F. This is not only the company’s biggest round since it launched in 2011, but also one of the largest secured over the past two years by a Chinese Internet culture and entertainment company, said China Renaissance, which served as the funding’s financial advisor.

The Series F was led by Beijing Kuaishou, the video and live-streaming app, with participation from Baidu . Existing investors Tencent and CapitalToday also returned for the round, which Zhihu will use for technology and product development. Baidu told Bloomberg that it will add 100 million Zhihu posts to its main app.

While Zhihu has downplayed reports that it is planning an IPO, it embarked on plans to hire a CFO and restructure last year.

Zhihu users tend to be educated with relatively high incomes and the platform has developed a reputation for hosting experts and organizations that are knowledgeable in tech, marketing and professional services like education. Like Quora and other Q&A platforms, Zhihu lets users post and answer text-based questions. But it also has other features, including discussion forums, a publishing platform and live videos for brands and companies to answer questions in real-time. Instead of making its streaming video feature, called Zhihu Live, open to all users, it is available to only to experts and organizations, differentiating it from other streaming apps like Douyin, the domestic version of TikTok (ByteDance is an investor in Zhihu but did not participate in this round).

In a post about the round on his Zhihu page, founder and CEO Victor Zhou wrote the company plans to keep up with rapid changes in China’s media and Internet landscape. “Over the past 8 years, users have gone from expecting simple entertainment to using the Internet to deal with real-life and work problems. The focus of competition has also shifted from traffic to traffic + quality.”

 


TechCrunch

UrbanClap, a marketplace for freelance labor in India and the UAE, has raised $ 75 million in a new financing round to expand its business.

The Series E round for the four-and-a-half-year old India-based startup was led Tiger Global. Existing investors Steadview Capital, which led the startup’s Series D in December last year, and Vy Capital also participated in the current round. The startup, which has raised about $ 185 million to date, said some early investors sold portions of their stake as part of the new round.

Through its platform, UrbanClap matches service people such as cleaners, repair staff and beauticians with customers across 10 cities in India and Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The startup supports 20,000 “micro-franchisees” (service professionals) with around 450,000 transactions taking place each month, cofounder and CEO Abhiraj Bhal told TechCrunch.

Bhal said that UrbanClap helps offline service workers, who have traditionally relied on getting work through middleman such as some store or word of mouth networks, to find more work. And they earn more, too. UrbanClap offers a more direct model, with workers keeping 80% of the cost of their jobs. That, Bhal said, means workers can earn multiples more and manage their own working hours.

“The UrbanClap model really allows them to become service entrepreneurs. Their earnings will shoot up two or three-fold, and it isn’t uncommon to see it rise as much as 8X — it’s a life-changing experience,” he said. Average value of a service is between $ 17 to $ 22, according to the company.

In recent years, UrbanClap has also started to offer training, credit, and basic banking services to better support the service workers on its platform. On its website, UrbanClap claims to offer 73 services — including kitchen cleaning, hairdressing, and yoga training. It says it has served 3 million customers.

Bhal said that around 20-25% of applicants are accepted into the platform, that’s a decision based on in-person meetings, background and criminal checks, as well as a “skills” test. Workers are encouraged to work exclusively — though it isn’t a requirement — and they wear UrbanClap outfits and represent the brand with customers.


TechCrunch

Another day, another mega round for a fintech startup. And this one is mega mega.

Brazil-based Nubank, which offers a suite of banking and financial services for Brazilian consumers, announced today that it has raised a $ 400 million Series F round of venture capital led by Woody Marshall of TCV, the growth-stage fund best known for its investment in Netflix but which also made fintech a priority, with over $ 1.5 billion in investments in the space. According to Nubank, the company has now raised $ 820 million across seven venture rounds.

Katie Roof of the Wall Street Journal reported this morning that the company secured a valuation above $ 10 billion, potentially making it one of a short list of startup decacorns. That’s up from a $ 4 billion valuation we wrote about back in October 2018.

Part of the reason for that big ticket round is the company’s growth. Nubank said in a statement that it has now reached 12 million customers for its various products, making it the sixth-largest financial institution by customer count within its home market. Brazil has a population of roughly 210 million people — indicating that there is still a lot of potential local growth even before the company began to consider international expansion options. It announced a few weeks ago that it will start to expand its offerings to Mexico and Argentina.

Over the past year, the company has expanded its product offerings to include personal loans and cash withdrawal options as part of its digital savings accounts.

As I wrote earlier this week, part of the reason for these mega rounds in fintech is that the cost of acquiring a financial customer is critical to the success of these startups. Once a startup has a customer for one financial product — say, a savings account — it can then upsell customers to other products at a very low marketing cost. That appears to be the strategy at Nubank as well with its quickly expanding suite of products.

As my colleague Jon Shieber discussed last month, critical connections between Stanford, Silicon Valley and Latin America have forged a surge of investment from venture capitalists into the region as the continent experiences the same digital transformation seen in many other places throughout the world. As just one example from health care, Dr Consulta has raised more than nine figures to address the serious health care needs of Brazilian consumers. SoftBank’s Vision Fund, which was rumored to be investing in Nubank earlier this year, has vowed to put $ 5 billion to work in the region. That fund recently invested $ 231 million in fintech startup Creditas.

In an email from TCV, Woody Marshall said that, “Leveraging unique technology, David Vélez and his team are continuously pushing the boundaries of delivering best in class financial services, grounded in a culture of tech and innovation. Nubank has all the core tenets of what TCV looks for in preeminent franchise investments.”

NuBank was founded in 2013 by co-founders Adam Edward Wible, Cristina Junqueira, and David Velez. In addition to TCV, existing backers Tencent, DST Global, Sequoia Capital, Dragoneer, Ribbit Capital, and Thrive Capital also participated in the round.


TechCrunch

Thumbtack just closed a new funding round of $ 150 million. Sequoia is leading the round, and the company is now valued at $ 1.7 billion. TechCrunch’s Kate Clark previously reported that the startup was raising again, but that it was a tough process.

In a candid blog post, co-founder and CEO Marco Zappacosta admits that the company faced multiple challenges. Thumbtack started as a simple marketplace for local professionals.

Clients could post a message saying that they were looking for carpenters, wedding planners or house cleaning services. Professionals then scrolled through listings and sent quotes. Customers eventually picked a professional.

While it was a huge hit, it didn’t scale well and created a ton of issues. “We took a business that was growing more than 80% year over year and we pressed pause,” Zappacosta wrote.

The startup rewrote the back end, created a new front end, pivoted to a new business model and essentially created a new product.

Thumbtack now automatically generates quotes based on your needs and your location. Given that you can get quotes in a few minutes, it didn’t make sense to charge professionals every time they send a quote. Now, professionals pay Thumbtack a small fee when customers contact them after a quote.

“Now growth has reaccelerated dramatically, and we have the runway to make Thumbtack the only platform they need to find the right customers,” Zappacosta wrote.

So it sounds like Thumbtack has seen the light at the end of the tunnel. With today’s new funding round, the company can now focus on attracting service providers again. According to the Wall Street Journal, this could be the last funding round before Thumbtack files to go public.


TechCrunch

There’s a new fintech startup in the U.S. that is inching closer to the unicorn status. New York City-headquartered MoneyLion, which provides customers both financial advice and access to loans and other services, said today it has raised $ 100 million in a new round to accelerate its growth in the U.S. market.

The Series C round million for the six-year-old startup was led by Edison Partners and Greenspring Associates, MoneyLion said. MetaBank and FinTech Collective also participated in the round, while Capital One made a strategic investment.

MoneyLion also raised $ 60 million in venture capital and debt in Q2 2018, a spokesperson told TechCrunch. This was not previously disclosed. This means MoneyLion has raised over $ 200 million to date, with its current round valuing the startup at nearly $ 1 billion, a person familiar with the matter said.

MoneyLion, which describes itself as a mobile bank, operates a part lending, part savings and part wealth management app. The all-in-one platform allows users to connect all their bank accounts and credit cards and receive personalized advice on how to better spend their money and also secure loans from within the app.

The startup makes most of its money from subscription services — that cost $ 19.99 per month — it sells to consumers, Dee Choubey, founder and CEO of MoneyLion, told TechCrunch in an interview. The subscription offering bundles banking, core investment management, and access to financing.

Choubey didn’t say how many subscribers MoneyLion has, but noted that more than 5 million customers use the app. This includes free users, who are able to access some core banking features at no cost.

MoneyLion will use the new capital to refine its subscription offerings, finance model, and add new features to keep its existing users enticed to the platform, Choubey said. Last year, the app bandied out over $ 12 million in cashback rewards to its members and 70% of its users saw their credit score climb up by 30 points.

“You will see us investing heavily in broker dealer capabilities, training capabilities, and stock investing capabilities. We think of ourselves approaching financial services just like Netflix approaches content. We want to keep users hooked to the platform,” he said.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Chris Sugden, Managing Partner at Edison Partners, said MoneyLion has focused on bringing the entire bank offerings to its platform in last one year. And this “comprehensive, bundling, first class opportunities around banking and financial literacy” for customers is what attracted him to the startup, he said.

As traditional banks make slow moves to help the growing financial needs of their customers, a growing number of fintech startups have emerged over the years across the globe to fill the gap. In many parts of the world, including the U.S., “neo banks” are helping small and medium sized businesses automate their finances and access many additional features.

On some fronts, MoneyLion competes with a handful of players such as Chime, another mobile bank that raised $ 200 million earlier this year, investment service Acorn, which has more than 3.5 million users, and online money lender SoFi, which quietly raised $ 500 million two months ago.


TechCrunch

Rivigo, a tech startup in India that wants to build a more reliable and safer logistics network, has raised $ 65 million as major investors continue to place big bet on opportunities in overhauling trucking system in the country.

The Series E round, which has not closed, for the five-year-old startup was led by existing investors Warburg Pincus and SAIF Partners.  The startup, which has raised more than $ 280 million to date, said it aims to be profitable by March next year.

Rivigo operates a tech platform that tracks and manages shipments and ensures that drivers are available at all times and trucks are as fully loaded as possible. The platform also automatically rotates drivers so that they can get enough rest and see their family while the trucks keep moving. Drivers use an app to navigate maps and accept assignments.

“Relay trucking is now very well established where relay truck pilots lead better life and customers gets exceptional service. With technology and freight marketplace, we now want to bring relay to every truck in the country,” Deepak Garg, founder and CEO of Rivigo, said in a statement.

Rivigo, which competes with heavily-backed startups such as BlackBuck, owns its own fleet of trucks while also operating a freight marketplace. This separates it from competitors that serve purely as an aggregator — or Uber for trucks, if you will.

The startup, which claims to have the largest reach in India, said it would use the fresh capital to further expand its network and tech infrastructure in the country. Financially, too, Rivigo has driven past many of its competitors. In the financial year that ended in March this year, Rivigo’s revenue jumped to $ 105 million at a 77% year-over-year growth rate. Its losses also widened to $ 35 million, according to disclosures it made to the local regulator.

“From building algorithmically complex models to accurately predicting the life journey of a consignment to creating a dynamic pricing engine for the freight marketplace, the company is working on hundreds of unique problems at scale,” said Garg.

India’s logistics market, despite being valued at $ 160 billion, remains one of the most inefficient sectors that continues to drag the economy.

Last month, Rivigo launched National Freight Index that shows live tariff rates for different lanes and vehicles in the country in a bid to bring more transparency to the ecosystem.

More to follow later today…


TechCrunch

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