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.

Beam, a Singapore-headquartered micromobility firm that offers shared e-scooters, has raised $ 26 million in a new financing round as it looks to expand its footprint in Korea, Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Taiwan.

Sequoia India and Hana Ventures led the two-and-a-half-year-old startup’s Series A financing round, while several more investors from Asia Pacific region participated, Beam said without disclosing their names. The startup has raised $ 32.4 million to date, a spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Beam, like Bounce and Yulu in India, offers electric scooters in the aforementioned five markets. Electric and gasoline scooters have become popular in several Asian nations and elsewhere as people look for alternative transportation mediums to move around faster and at less cost.

While these vehicles make inroads into various markets, it’s also not uncommon to find these scooters abandoned carelessly in the streets. Beam said unlike other startups, it incentivizes its riders through in-app offers to park the scooters at predetermined spots.

“I’m really excited about our new technology and its ability to reduce the problems associated with randomly scattered scooters around a city. This helps us to further improve our industry-leading vehicle retention rates, reduce operational costs, and most importantly, benefits communities by keeping city streets neater,” said Beam co-founder and chief executive Alan Jiang.

Beam, which did not disclose how many customers it has amassed, will use the fresh capital to grow its operational and engineering focus and grow deeper in its existing markets, it said. It will also “accelerate” the launch of its third-generation e-scooter, the Beam Saturn, which features swappable batteries, improved build, to more markets, it said.

Abheek Anand, Managing Director at Sequoia Capital India, said Beam’s collaboration with regulators, technology, and insights into the transportation landscape stand to give it an edge in the Asia Pacific region.

The startup’s fundraising comes at a time when many young firms, especially those operating in transportation category, in Asia are struggling to raise capital. Beam said it had implemented stringent cleaning and operations practices to limit the possibility of virus transmission to allay riders’ concern.


TechCrunch

In the same week that Facebook announced a redoubled effort to make a bigger mark in e-commerce, one of its long-time partners has closed a large round of funding. Ecwid, the startup that sells e-commerce tools directly and via third parties like Square and Wix, letting businesses build e-commerce experiences on their own websites and apps, as well as via Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, Google, and more, has raised $ 42 million from Morgan Stanley and PeakSpan Capital.

Notably, now San Diego-based Ecwid had only raised about $ 6.5 million since 2009, the year it was founded in Russia as a spinout of X-Cart, a previous company founded by the founder and CEO Ruslan Fazylev; and it’s already profitable. So rather than being used to operate, Fazylev said the funding enabled earlier outside investors — Russia’s Runa Capital, iTech from Latvia and the IT-park business incubator from Kazan — cash out, and gives Ecwid funds that it can use both for acquisitions and to continue expanding its platform organically.

Ecwid is in the stable of e-commerce companies that include the likes of Shopify, BigCommerce and WooCommerce, which have seized on the growth of online shopping over the last decade and helped companies that are not digital by nature — specifically small and medium brick-and-mortar businesses — become a part of that digital economy. And to underscore that low barrier to entry, its pricing starts at free to enable shopping on a website covering 10 or fewer products. (Further priced tiers include the ability to integrate with Facebook and other sites, as well as sell more items, apply more analytics and so on.)

That mandate and opportunity to provide analogue SMBs a route to the next generation of shopping has taken on a new dimension in the last few months. Authorities in many jurisdictions have closed down brick-and-mortar establishments and offices, and restricted day-to-day movement and contact between people in an attempt to slow down the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In other words, if e-commerce has been a long-term growth opportunity with upside for those that cared to invest in it, overnight it became a must-have for any small business that wanted to continue to operate through and after this health crisis.

Just as we’ve seen that trend play out for Shopify (whose share price has been on a roll), Fazylev said that Ecwid, too, has had a big boost. Ironically all that activity started after it closed the round (which was raised before COVID-19 really hit).

“The moment we signed the term sheet, things started to go really crazy,” he said. “Overnight, demand tripled because SMBs were under immense pressure to transition to online ordering. We at Ecwid are not worried about the Walmarts of the world but about the small guys and making it super easy for them. And so demand went through the roof.” Transaction volume between March and April grew by 50% and to meet demand.

Even before that, Ecwid was an under-the-radar success, which is why PeakSpan and Morgan Stanley came knocking.  Even if it’s not the 300% growth of the last couple of months, 2019 saw sign-ups double on the platform with a Net Promoter Score of above 60. (Fazylev said Ecwid lives and dies by its Net Promoter Score so he’s especially proud of this above-average figure.)

And in addition to its direct-to-SMB offering, it white labels through a number of popular channels like Wix, GoDaddy and Square. Together, there are some 1.5 million SMBs across 175 countries (and 54 languages) using its e-commerce rails. This might actually have been one reason why it wasn’t a part of the Facebook Shops news: it’s quietly enabling an army of competitors. But to be very clear, when I asked about the omission, Fazylev said he was stumped by it himself.

PeakSpan Capital Co-Founder and Managing Partner Phil Dur, and Pete Chung, Managing Director and Head of Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital, are both joining the board as part of this round.

“Covid-19 is reinforcing what we already knew: e-commerce is vital, and it’s available to even the smallest of merchants now with Ecwid’s free tools that even novice Internet users can adopt quickly,” said Dur, in a statement. “We have been watching Ecwid for many years.The company’s impressive capital efficiency and very strong long-term market opportunity made it an easy decision for us to partner with them during this next phase of growth.”

“Ecwid is truly helping its customers make the most of e-commerce enablement at a time when their traditional retail businesses have been disrupted so dramatically,” said Chung, in a statement. “Ruslan is an e-commerce visionary who has built a team and beloved solution that allows any mom-and-pop shop to embrace the online world,  dramatically expanding their revenue and market potential.”


TechCrunch

Apollo Agriculture believes it can attain profits by helping Kenya’s smallholder farmers maximize theirs.

That’s the mission of the Nairobi based startup that raised $ 6 million in Series A funding led by Anthemis.

Founded in 2016, Apollo Agriculture offers a mobile based product suit for farmers that includes working capital, data analysis for higher crop yields, and options to purchase key inputs and equipment.

“It’s everything a farmer needs to succeed. It’s the seeds and fertilizer they need to plant, the advice they need to manage that product over the course of the season. The insurance they need to protect themselves in case of a bad year…and then ultimately, the financing,” Apollo Agriculture CEO Eli Pollak told TechCrunch on a call.

Apollo’s addressable market includes the many smallholder farmers across Kenya’s population of 53 million. The problem it’s helping them solve is a lack of access to the tech and resources to achieve better results on their plots.

The startup has engineered its own app, platform and outreach program to connect with Kenya’s farmers. Apollo uses M-Pesa mobile money, machine learning and satellite data to guide the credit and products it offers them.

The company — which was a TechCrunch Startup Battlefield Africa 2018 finalist — has served over 40,000 farmers since inception, with 25,000 of those paying relationships coming in 2020, according to Pollak.

Apollo Agriculture Start

Apollo Agriculture co-founders Benjamin Njenga and Eli Pollack

Apollo Agriculture generates revenues on the sale of farm products and earning margins on financing. “The farm pays a fixed price for the package, which comes due at harvest…that includes everything and there’s no hidden fees,” said Pollak.

On deploying the $ 6 million in Series A financing, “It’s really about continuing to invest in growth. We feel like we’ve got a great product. We’ve got great reviews by customers and want to just keep scaling it,” he said. That means hiring, investing in Apollo’s tech, and growing the startup’s sales and marketing efforts.

“Number two is really strengthening our balance sheet to be able to continue raising the working capital that we need to lend to customers,” Pollak said.

For the moment, expansion in Africa beyond Kenya is in the cards but not in the near-term. “That’s absolutely on the roadmap,” said Pollak. “But like all businesses, everything is a bit in flux right now. So some of our plans for immediate expansion are on a temporary pause as we wait to see things shake out with with COVID.”

Apollo Agriculture’s drive to boost the output and earnings of Africa’s smallholder farmers is born out of the common interests of its co-founders.

Pollak is an American who who studied engineering at Stanford University and went to work in agronomy in the U.S. with The Climate Corporation. “That was how I got excited about Apollo. I would look at other markets and say “wow, they’re farming 20% more acres of maize, or corn across Africa but farmers are producing dramatically less than U.S. farmers,” said Pollak.

Pollak’s colleague, Benjamin Njenga, found inspiration in his experience in his upbringing. “I grew up on a farm in a Kenyan village. My mother, a smallholder farmer, used to plant with low quality seeds and no fertilizer and harvested only five bags per acre each year,” he told the audience at Startup Battlefield in Africa in Lagos in 2018.

Image Credits: Apollo Agriculture

“We knew if she’d used fertilizer and hybrid seeds her production would double, making it easier to pay my school fees.” Njenga went on to explain that she couldn’t access the credit to buy those tools, which prompted the motivation for Apollo Agriculture.

Anthemis Exponential Ventures’ Vica Manos confirmed its lead on Apollo’s latest raise. The UK based VC firm — which invests mostly in the Europe and the U.S. — has also backed South African fintech company Jumo and will continue to consider investments in African startups, Manos told TechCrunch.

Additional investors in Apollo Agriculture’s Series A round included Accion Venture Lab, Leaps by Bayer, and Flourish Ventures.

While agriculture is the leading employer in Africa, it hasn’t attracted the same attention from venture firms or founders as fintech, logistics, or e-commerce. The continent’s agtech startups lagged those sectors in investment, according to Disrupt Africa and WeeTracker’s 2019 funding reports.

Some notable agtech ventures that have gained VC include Nigeria’s Farmcrowdy, Hello Tractor — which has partnered with IBM and Twiga Foods, a Goldman backed B2B agriculture supply chain startup based in Nairobi.

On whether Apollo Agriculture sees Twiga as a competitor, CEO Eli Pollak suggested collaboration. “Twiga could be a company that in the future we could potential partner with,” he said.

“We’re partnering with farmers to produce lots of high quality crops, and they could potentially be a great partner in helping those farmers access stable prices for those…yields.”


TechCrunch

Global investment firm KKR is betting on the pizza business — it just led a $ 43 million Series C investment in Slice.

Formerly known as MyPizza, Slice has created a mobile app and website where diners can order a custom pizza delivery from their local, independent pizzeria.

And for those pizzerias, CEO Ilir Sela said Slice helps to digitize their whole business by also creating a website, improving their SEO and even allowing them to benefit from the “economies of scale” of the larger network, through bulk orders of supplies like pizza boxes.

Sela contrasted his company’s approach with other popular food delivery apps that he characterized as aggregators. For one thing, Slice “anchors” your favorite pizzerias in the app, giving them the top spots and making it easy to place your regular order with just a few taps. And it will be adding more loyalty features soon.

“Our job is to make loyal customers even more loyal,” he said.

In addition, while there’s been increased criticism of the high fees charged by services like Grubhub, Sela said Slice’s fee is capped at $ 2.25 per order, allowing pizzerias to get all the upside from large orders.

Of course, the environment for restaurants has changed dramatically in the last few months, thanks to COVID-19. But most pizzerias are already set up for takeout and delivery, and Sela said that more than 90% of the 12,000-plus pizzerias that work with Slice have stayed open.

He also pointed to the company’s Pizza vs Pandemic initiative, which raises funds for pizzerias to feed healthcare workers. The program has raised more than $ 470,000 and fed an estimated 140,000 workers.

“Local independent pizzerias have been feeding Americans across communities for decades and we are excited to put our resources behind Slice as they help to move these businesses online,” said KKR Principal Allan Jean-Baptiste in a statement. “Slice charges small business owners a fraction of the fees charged by food delivery apps and offers a suite of vertical specific solutions to solve the challenges faced by independent pizza makers.”

Slice had previously raised $ 30 million, according to Crunchbase. Sela said he’ll be using the new funding to bring on more pizzerias and continue building a “vertically integrated solution for the small businesses, in order to solve more and more of their challenges.”


TechCrunch

The current state of our COVID-19 world has underscored more than ever before the need for reliable delivery and e-commerce services: consumers sheltering in place are shopping more than ever online and getting items brought directly to their homes; and retailers urgently need platforms that can help them manage, sell and bring their goods to those people via the web — for many now the only way they can do business. And businesses that are helping make those transactions work are doubling down.

DispatchTrack, which provides a platform for last-mile deliveries, specifically to help companies mimic Amazon-like experiences for themselves by planning and tracking deliveries more easily, has closed a $ 144 million investment, its first-ever funding after scaling up as a bootstrapped startup to support more than 60 million deliveries per year.

The funding is coming from a single, high-profile investor, Spectrum Equity. It is being termed by the company as an investment rather than an acquisition, although I’ll note here that PitchBook has also described it alternately as a leveraged buyout in its database.

DispatchTrack was founded in 2010 in San Jose by a husband and wife team — Satish Natarajan (now CEO) and Shailu Satish (now COO) — who also happened to work in tech, after the pair grew frustrated with how badly home delivery services worked for themselves.

DispatchTrack today works with retail and wholesale companies across a number of verticals including furniture and appliance businesses, food distributors, healthcare companies, consumer retailers, and building suppliers, as well as field service businesses and third-party logistics (3PL) providers that use DispatchTrack to power their services. The company equips its customers – including retailers, wholesalers, grocers, restaurants, food and beverage distributors, field service businesses, third-party logistics (3PL) companies and others

The platform itself is a kind of all-in-one logistics and delivery toolkit designed for ecosystems that include  physical storefronts, warehouses, drivers and end customers, which have a common thread running through them: the businesses are not fundamentally tech companies, yet may have staff who handle logistics; and they need technology to do their jobs — but don’t necessarily want to bring in more costly system integrators to develop or operate those systems on their behalf.

It includes features for managing routing and planning (including telematics and compliance), customer communication (including reservation systems for delivery slots), driver communication (via a mobile app), billing, social reviews, and omnichannel order tracking.

These services may not be the first that you think of when you consider products that you might buy to get delivered — you as a consumer are considering the product and its price and how fast you can get it, most likely — but they collectively constitute a huge part of the cost of providing the product, and typically are not done very well. (DispatchTrack cites CapGemini Research Institute that estimates that together they account for 41% of all supply chain costs.) It’s not the only company providing tools to fill these needs. Oracle, Salesforce, SAP, Amazon and many others also provide software to retailers, but DispatchTrack would argue that its solution is the more comprehensive and focused solely on delivery and logistics.

“We are thrilled to partner with Spectrum Equity in this new stage of our growth,” said Natarajan in a statement. “We built DispatchTrack to help businesses large and small provide superior delivery experiences, streamline operations and maintain coordination and transparency across all constituents in the last mile. With Spectrum’s support, we will continue our rapid pace of innovation and be able to bring best-in-class solutions to more businesses, industries and geographies.”

Choosing to pick up investment happened ahead of COVID-19 — it seems the first tranche of the funding was secured back in December 2019 — but it comes at a timely moment, when companies like Instacart are seeing all-time peaks of usage from customers who are no longer doing grocery shopping in physical stores because of the coronavirus outbreak. While DispatchTrack’s own trajectory was in place before now, this gives it an even stronger mandate to invest in growth.

“We look forward to supporting DispatchTrack’s commitment to solving complex problems by building elegant, powerful products that are easy to adopt, configure and scale,” said Vic Parker, MD at Spectrum Equity, in a statement. “The DispatchTrack platform is an exceptionally valuable solution for businesses that recognize the strategic imperative to optimize the delivery experience. We look forward to helping DispatchTrack transform the last mile for more businesses across categories and around the world.” Parker and Spectrum VP Adam Gassin are joining DispatchTrack’s board of directors with this investment.


TechCrunch

French startup Alan has raised a $ 54.4 million (€50 million) Series C funding round. Temasek is leading the round with existing investors (such as Index Ventures) also participating. Overall, Alan has raised $ 136 million (€125 million) over the past four years.

Alan has built a health insurance product for the French market. The company first started with a well-designed insurance product and wants to tackle all things related to your personal health in the future.

The startup isn’t partnering with an existing insurance company. It has obtained an official health insurance license. Compared to legacy products, Alan wants to be as transparent as possible with clear pricing and policies.

Alan has a huge market opportunity in France as every employee is covered by both the national health care system and private insurance companies.

In addition to its health insurance product, the company has been working on multiple products to help you stay on top of your health. For instance, Alan has partnered with Livi so that can easily schedule telemedicine appointments.

Alan has launched a directory of doctors around you. With Alan Map, you can easily find a health practitioner without any surprise — the company tries to predict how much you’re going to pay so that you can check if you’re 100% covered.

You can also use Alan to keep track of your past appointments, get the phone number of a doctor you’ve already interacted with and more.

Just like fintech companies are building apps that act as financial hubs, Alan wants to become a health hub. Whenever you have a question, you need a piece of information or you want to get reimbursed on your health appointments, Alan wants to become the entry point for those use cases.

More recently, Alan has worked on some content about the coronavirus outbreak and COVID-19 symptoms. You can create an account and talk to a doctor through Livi for free. You can also get two months free on a Headspace subscription in case you’re looking for a meditation app.

With today’s funding round, Alan plans to expand to other countries. It has already opened offices in Spain and Belgium and the company wants to be available all around Europe within five years.

Alan currently covers 76,000 people. It represents $ 63 million (€58 million) in revenue. At the end of 2018, Alan’s insurance covered 27,000 people. As you can see, the company is growing nicely.


TechCrunch

India’s push to digital payments in the last three years has seen tens of millions of people get comfortable with exchanging money online for the first time. But most businesses in the country are still offline and relying on traditional ways to engage with their customers. A Bangalore-based startup that is attempting to bring a similar digitization to them just got a nod from high profile investors.

Setu, a two-year-old startup, said on Wednesday that it has raised $ 15 million in its Series A financing round from Falcon Edge and Lightspeed Venture Partners U.S. Existing investors Lightspeed India Partners and Bharat Inclusion Seed Fund also participated in the round.

Setu is an API infrastructure provider that allows financial institutions such as banks to connect with companies and small businesses that want to provide financial services to their customers.

The idea is to connect small businesses such as a local cable TV operator or a neighborhood store that is already engaging with thousands of people to serve their customers better by offering formal financial services such as credit. Local kirana stores already have a great understanding of their customers and offer them informal credit. Could they work with financial institutions to formalize their services?

Setu, which means bridge in Sanskrit, today estimates that over a billion people in India need access to formal sachet-ized financial products and services. “Poor product design, high distribution costs, and legacy technology have been barriers to make this happen,” said Nikhil Kumar, co-founder of the startup.

Kumar previously worked as a fellow at iSPIRT Foundation that built an ecosystem for UPI, an infrastructure developed by a coalition of banks and backed by the Indian government that has amassed over 100 million users and clocks over a billion transactions a month. Setu’s other co-founder, Sahil Kini, worked at Aspada Investments.

The startup today offers open APIs across four categories — bills, savings, credit, and payments. Any developer can access its sandbox to build an application and go through a rigorous developer certification program to go live, the startup said. This makes it easy for any company to acquire plug-and-play financial services and become a fintech player.

“We are big believers in Setu’s vision to build infrastructure that enables the large-scale distribution of, and access to, financial products. Sahil, Nikhil, and the Setu team have an exciting roadmap for the future of financial services in India and we’re proud to support their journey,” said Bejul Somaia, Managing Partner at Lightspeed India, in a statement.

Setu recently launched Collect, an API bundle designed for developers to build their own custom collections product. For instance, lending collection companies are using Setu to build an omni-channel collections stack for banks and NBFCs. “This API platform is built on top of public infrastructure such as UPI and BBPS by partnering with some of India’s leading banks — Kotak, ICICI, & Axis Bank,” said Kumar.

The startup is now working on building blocks for digital financial services across FASTag, savings, credit, and data, he said.

More to follow…


TechCrunch

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