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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.

 

 

 


TechCrunch

French startup Alan announced new products, international expansion plans and a brand refresh at a press conference this morning. The company also announced plans to overhaul some of its tech stack to improve the overall user experience.

Alan is a software-as-a-service startup that offers health insurance in France. The company wants to create a well-designed insurance product with transparent pricing and policies to make healthcare more accessible. The startup has obtained an official health insurance license and raised around $ 86 million over the years.

Until today, Alan offered insurance products to companies and freelancers. The startup is greatly expanding its potential user base by addressing new markets.

“Our users are smart. We already had users for all products that we’re launching today, but they were working around the rules,” co-founder and CEO Jean-Charles Samuelian said.

First, Alan is launching specific insurance products for the hospitality industry (hotels and restaurants). Companies and employees can sign up directly from the mobile app as people working in the hospitality industry don’t sit in front of a computer all day long.

These insurance products are now compliant with legal requirements for the hospitality industry. There are two different tiers, Alan Cerises with basic coverage for €30 per month and Alan Pomme with better coverage for €55 per month. As always, companies pay at least 50 percent of health insurance, employees pay the rest.

Alan is also launching an insurance product for individuals, not just freelancers. And it opens up three new segments — individuals who don’t work for a French company or have specific needs, retired people and public servants.

Starting today, teachers, retired people looking for a digital insurance product and other individuals can sign up to Alan. Pricing depends on your age. It ranges from €46 per month if you’re 18, €62 per month if you’re 30, €83 per month if you’re 50, €133 per month if you’re 70, etc.

Alan Lockup Horizontal Green RGB Large

When it comes to branding, Alan has worked with James Vincent on a new logo, a new color palette, a new mascot design, etc. The company is also launching a TV ad.

“Our mission is to be more than a health insurance company, we want to be your health ally,” Samuelian said.

Alan also shared some details about future product updates and business updates. The company is going to expand to other countries starting next year.

After looking at other European markets, Alan is going to focus on Spain and Belgium first. The startup doesn’t need to re-apply to a local license as it can passport its insurance license all around Europe.

Alan has also been working on a big overhaul of its tech stack. The company has been working with a third-party company to handle payments and reimbursements in order to launch more quickly.

But Alan started working on its own payment system. 30 percent of the engineering team is going to work on that project from May 2019 to December 2019. And the goal is to make payments 10 times faster after the switch. Sending a dentist or optician quote to see if Alan is going to cover you is going to be much faster as well.

There are now 126 people working for Alan. 2,850 French companies use Alan to cover 37,000 people. It represents $ 31 million in annual recurring revenue (€28 million). And the company still has a ton of cash on its bank account — around $ 61 million (€55 million).

Over the next 12 months, the company wants to cover 100,000 people and have a team of 250 employees. In other words, things are looking good.


TechCrunch

Boll & Branch, which sells sustainably-sourced sheets, pillows, mattresses and towels, is announcing that it has raised $ 100 million in a strategic investment from L Catterton’s Flagship Buyout Fund.

This looks like a big change from the company’s previous approach to  funding. It was self-funded for its first two years (resulting in what CEO Scott Tannen described as “a lot of maxed out credit cards and five mortgages on my house”), and even when it started looking at venture capital, it only raised a total of $ 12 million from a single institutional backer, Silas Capital.

In fact, when Recode wrote about Boll & Branch’s Series B last year, it described the startup as one “that wants to raise as little venture capital as possible.”

Tannen said that when he founded the company with his wife Missy, they wanted to “build a sustainable business from the ground up,” and that wasn’t just about the products — they didn’t want to build a company that was “ultimately designed from day one to be sold.”

As a result, he said, Boll & Branch has been profitable for the past four years and is now bringing in “nine-figure revenue.” He compared it to other L Catterton investments like The Honest Company and Peloton, companies that “have become the winner in the startup competition” and are ready to “really become household names.”

In a statement, L Catterton’s Nik Thukral described Boll & Branch as “one of the most beloved bedding brands” and said it “capitalizes on several compelling trends including the emergence of authentic, pure, and chemical free products that can be traced back to their origin, as well as consumers’ heightened focus on healthy living.”

The company’s next steps include expanding internationally — Tannen said that while the company doesn’t currently sell outside the United States, “It’s hard to imagine a country or market in the world that doesn’t make sense for Boll & Branch.”

It will also continue expanding the product lineup. Tannen hinted at “really interesting product introductions” coming in the next few months. They might not be the most obvious additions to the lineup, but he said these decisions come from asking, “What does the home goods brand of the future look like?”

He added, “That’s what we’re trying to be, versus trying to look in the shopping mall and just creating a new version of something [that already exists].”


TechCrunch

3D printing has become commonplace in the hardware industry, but because few materials can be used for it easily, the process rarely results in final products. A Swiss startup called Spectroplast hopes to change that with a technique for printing using silicone, opening up all kinds of applications in medicine, robotics and beyond.

Silicone is not very bioreactive, and of course can be made into just about any shape while retaining strength and flexibility. But the process for doing so is generally injection molding, great for mass-producing lots of identical items but not so great when you need a custom job.

And it’s custom jobs that ETH Zurich’s Manuel Schaffner and Petar Stefanov have in mind. Hearts, for instance, are largely similar but the details differ, and if you were going to get a valve replaced, you’d probably prefer yours made to order rather than straight off the shelf.

“Replacement valves currently used are circular, but do not exactly match the shape of the aorta, which is different for each patient,” said Schaffner in a university news release. Not only that, but they may be a mixture of materials, some of which the body may reject.

But with a precise MRI the researchers can create a digital model of the heart under consideration and, using their proprietary 3D printing technique, produce a valve that’s exactly tailored to it — all in a couple of hours.

ethz siliconeprinting 1

A 3D-printed silicone heart valve from Spectroplast.

Although they have created these valves and done some initial testing, it’ll be years before anyone gets one installed — this is the kind of medical technique that takes a decade to test. So in the meantime they are working on “life-improving” rather than life-saving applications.

One such case is adjacent to perhaps the most well-known surgical application of silicone: breast augmentation. In Spectroplast’s case, however, they’d be working with women who have undergone mastectomies and would like to have a breast prosthesis that matches the other perfectly.

Another possibility would be anything that needs to fit perfectly to a person’s biology, like a custom hearing aid, the end of a prosthetic leg or some other form of reconstructive surgery. And of course, robots and industry could use one-off silicone parts as well.

ethz siliconeprinting 2

There’s plenty of room to grow, it seems, and although Spectroplast is just starting out, it already has some 200 customers. The main limitation is the speed at which the products can be printed, a process that has to be overseen by the founders, who work in shifts.

Until very recently Schaffner and Stefanov were working on this under a grant from the ETH Pioneer Fellowship and a Swiss national innovation grant. But in deciding to depart from the ETH umbrella they attracted a 1.5 million Swiss franc (about the same as dollars just now) seed round from AM Ventures Holding in Germany. The founders plan to use the money to hire new staff to crew the printers.

Right now Spectroplast is doing all the printing itself, but in the next couple of years it may sell the printers or modifications necessary to adapt existing setups.

You can read the team’s paper showing their process for creating artificial heart valves here.


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

African fintech has taken center stage for the Catalyst Fund, a JP Morgan Chase and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-backed accelerator that provides mentorship and non-equity funding to emerging markets startups.

The organization announced its 2019 startup cohort and three out of the four finance ventures — Chipper Cash, Salutat and Turaco — have an Africa focus (Brazil-based venture Diin, was the fourth).

Catalyst Fund, which is managed by global tech consulting firm BFA,  also released its latest evaluation report, which showed 60% of the organization’s portfolio startups are located in Africa.

The new additions to the fund’s program will gain $ 50,000 to $ 60,000 in non-equity venture building support (as Catalyst Fund dubs it) and six months of technical assistance. The funds and support are aimed at moving the ventures to the next phase of catalyzing business models, generating revenue and connecting to global VCs.

“We really tailor the kind of help we give to companies so they can reach market fit and proof points that investors want to see to enable the next phase of growth,” BFA Deputy Director Maelis Carraro told TechCrunch.

Catalyst Fund’s 2019 startup cohort also gained exposure to the fund’s Circle of Investors — a network of impact and commercial backers who can make decisions on investing in and accelerating particular companies.

Next Big Thing and Deciens Capital recently joined the group of 40 investors that includes Techstars and the Mastercard Foundation.

The tenor for support for Catalyst Fund’s newest cohort of startups lasts through 2019. The ventures will also attend the big SOCAP 2019 tech conference in San Francisco, where Catalyst organizes workshops and meetings with its Circle of Investors.

Founded in 2016, the Catalyst Fund’s mandate includes supporting fintech startups that are developing solutions for low-income individuals in emerging markets. The organization has accelerated 20 ventures in Africa, Asia and Latin America that have raised $ 25.7 million in follow-on capital, according to its latest report.

With the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and JP Morgan Chase as the lead backers, Catalyst Fund partners also include Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and Accion.

JP Morgan Chase’s interest in supporting Catalyst Fund connects to a firm-wide commitment of the global bank to financial inclusion, according to JP Morgan’s Head of Community Innovation Colleen Briggs — who is also a day-to-day Catalyst Fund manager.

JP Morgan recently launched a $ 125 million, five-year commitment to improve global financial health, she explained. “For us there is a true market opportunity…we genuinely believe that financial inclusion is the foundation for the economy,” Briggs said.

“If we don’t get the social issues right it undermines the resiliency of the communities and the markets where we’re trying to operate.”

That Catalyst Fund’s cohorts have shifted toward Africa focused ventures speaks to the thesis for fintech on the continent.

By a number of estimates, Africa’s 1.2 billion people represent the largest share of the world’s unbanked and underbanked population.

An improving smartphone and mobile-connectivity profile for Africa (see GSMA) turns this scenario into an opportunity for mobile-based financial products.

Hundreds of startups are descending on Africa’s fintech space, looking to offer scalable solutions for the continent’s financial needs. By stats offered by Briter Bridges and a 2018 WeeTracker survey, fintech now receives the bulk of VC capital and deal-flow to African startups.

Ventures such as Catalyst Fund cohort member Chipper Cash — co-founded by Ugandan Ham Serunjogi and Ghanaian Maijid Moujaled — are looking to grow across Africa first before considering any global moves.

The company plans to introduce its no-fee, P2P, cross-border mobile-money payments products beyond current operations in Ghana and Kenya to Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda within the next 12 months.

Ventures looking to join companies like Chipper Cash as a Catalyst Fund-supported startup can seek a referral from Catalyst’s Circle of Investors — who make a recommendations on new candidates. Catalyst Fund aims to choose 30 startups for its cohort over the next three years, according to program director David del Ser.


TechCrunch

Would you like $ 100,000 to fatten the bottom line of your early-stage startup? Could your company benefit from global media coverage and investor attention? Do you have what it takes to compete against the very best early-stage startup founders?

Take your resounding “yes” and act quickly, because you have less than two weeks to apply to Startup Battlefield at Disrupt San Francisco 2019 on October 2-4.

Since 2007, our epic Startup Battlefield pitch competition has launched 857 companies that have raised more than $ 8 billion in funding and generated 109 exits. If you make the cut, you’ll follow in the footsteps of some pretty legendary companies, including Vurb, Dropbox, Mint, Yammer and more.

It won’t cost you a thing to apply to or participate in Startup Battlefield. And that includes free pitch coaching from Battlefield-tested TechCrunch editors. But first things first. Those editors will vet every application looking for roughly 15-30 exceptional startups. That elite Battlefield cohort receives the VIP treatment at Disrupt, including exhibit space in Startup Alley for all three days.

The free coaching will come in handy once the Big Day arrives. You’ll walk confidently onto the Disrupt Main Stage in front of an audience of thousands to deliver your six-minute pitch to a panel of judges experienced in the ways of tech and investing. Then you’ll answer whatever questions they put to you.

Survive that and you’ll move to the second, final round — the same pitch delivered to a new set of experts. All the judges will confer and then declare one champion. Those founders receive $ 100,000 in equity-free cash, the Disrupt Cup and a bright media and investor spotlight.

We also live-stream the whole shebang to the world on TechCrunch.com, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Plus, it’s available later on-demand. Yes, Startup Battlefield is intense, stressful and challenging. It’s also a lot of fun, and the benefits and the exposure — for all competitors — are well worth the effort.

Don’t miss your chance to launch your startup to the world at Disrupt SF 2019 on October 2-4. Do you have what it takes to be the champ? You have less than two weeks to find out. Apply to compete in Startup Battlefield.

While you’re at it, why not apply for our TC Top Picks program? If you make the cut, you’ll receive a free Startup Alley Exhibitor Package and plenty of media and investor exposure.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt SF 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.


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