All posts in “business incubators”

Reach Robotics closes $7.5M Series A for its augmented reality bots


After years of research and development, Reach Robotics has closed a $7.5 million Series A, co-led by Korea Investment Partners (KiP) and IGlobe, to bring its augmented reality bots to market in a big way. The Bristol-based startup is looking to expand into the U.S., and the team is exploring opportunities for growth into other European and Asian markets.

Reach Robotics’ first product, MekaMon, launched last fall. Today’s round comes after the company produced and sold an initial run of 500 of its four-legged, crab-like, bots. MekaMon fits into an emerging category of smartphone-enabled augmented reality toys like Anki.

Silas Adekunle, CEO of Reach Robotics, tells me the influx of capital will be used to make some strategic hires and increase brand recognition through marketing. This is the first time the startup has announced a funding round. Adekunle tells me his experience raising capital wasn’t easy; as they say, hardware is hard.

“It was hard to pitch in our early days because people didn’t believe,” explained Adekunle.

MekaMon sits somewhere between toy and full-fledged robot. Unlike the radio-controlled RadioShack robots of yesteryear, MekaMon costs a hefty $329. At first glance this can be hard to swallow, but Adekunle remains adamant that he is building a platform and not a line of toys — think PS4 instead of an expensive, single-use robot collecting dust on a shelf.

Outside of retail sales, another avenue for the company to make money is through partnerships within the entertainment industry. Adekunle says that Reach would never go out of its way to deliver a specific product for a client, but he always keeps an eye out for overlap where a partnership could occur with minimal operational changes.

“People are taken aback that something could be this realistic,” asserts Adekunle. “If you strip back the product and lose that, then you don’t have an innovative company.”

Because Reach is selling software-enabled hardware, it has the opportunity to collect all sorts of interesting data that it can use to fine-tune its products. The startup is able to track retention in aggregate and look at how people actually use their robots. Moreover, if MekaMon suffers leg failure, Reach can analyze indicators like temperature readings and torque.

Adekunle insists on keeping the Reach Robotics team interdisciplinary — one employee helped shape the way robots move in the Transformers movie series. This same team is focused on empowering the next group of developers who will build on the MekaMon platform and create new use cases, beyond the company’s initial vision for the product.

Datatron raises $2.7M to help companies query real-time and historical data


Fresh out of 500 startups, Datatron has raised $2.7 million in seed financing for its data-savvy assistant, Emma. But under the somewhat trite coating of an assistant, Datatron is making it easier for employees to gather insights from the complex web of historical and real-time data.

Businesses generate hordes of data on uneven timelines. Some data is updated less frequently, like the number of Uber drivers registered in a given city. Other data is updated to the minute, like the number of active Uber drivers on standby for pickup. Combine this with the myriad other types of data and business logic and you create an intricate mesh of data that’s difficult to derive conclusions from.

Founded by Harish Doddi and Jerry Xu, Datatron helps businesses apply this data to specific use cases within traditional verticals like sales, marketing and finance. From a simplified dashboard, users can query key indicators derived from predictive models held within the platform.

Datatron originated as a platform solution for enterprises — performing real-time feature extraction and data cleansing to speed up the process by which insights can be derived from data. In recent months, the company added the aforementioned means of top-level interaction to open up the power of the platform to a wider audience.

One of the system’s early optimizations is for sales — helping teams quickly evaluate leads and determine where to spend their precious time and resources. Datatron ships with key integrations for platforms like Zuora, Salesforce, Marketo and Zendesk.

The company has raised capital from Start X, Credence Partners, Authentic Ventures, Enspire Partners, Plug and Play and 500 Startups, and says it’s already working with a number of early customers.

Featured Image: John Lund/Getty Images

Columbus could be the next startup city

Ever since I wrote about the Midwest last year I’ve been keeping my eyes on Columbus. I decided to hold a small pitch-off to meet some of the startups I saw last time I had driven through. The pitch-off was a success and a company called Wyzzer took first place and the quirky Hopper Carts came in second. But what I really came away with was a new respect for Columbus as a startup hub.

You see, I grew up in Columbus and I wanted to see how much it’s changed.

And it has changed. A lot.

On the aggregate a city like Columbus is the model for the future. There is manufacturing, farming, retail, brewing, and ecommerce all in a few square miles. The people are ready to expand and learn and there are plenty of smart folks who are willing to leave high-priced real estate in New York and San Francisco to get a house with a back yard down the street from a beer garden in one of the city’s urban enclaves. I asked around and heard that things are getting even better. Here are a few points I discovered during my visit.

All eyes are on Columbus. And they can’t fail. The city just received a $277 million Smart City grant from the federal government to build out tools and techniques that will define the city of the future. So far it looks like the Mayor Andy Ginther and the city government is dragging its feet but there is hope. While other cities – most notably Pittsburgh – vied for the grant, Columbus got it on the power of private industry and public infrastructure. And now it has four years to deliver. I’ve met a few small startups who are trying to work with the Smart City task force to build out the initiative but there’s little promising thus far.

That said, it’s great Columbus got the nod. There is a lot of promise here as long as government gets into gear and starts working with local entrepreneurs and, most important, this grant can help a thousand startups blossom. It’s a win-win for the government and the city. It just can’t be squandered.

Further, the quality of life is about to hipsterize. In comparison to cosmopolitan Chicago and small, cool towns like Raleigh, Columbus is still a mixture of malls and suburbs. That’s swiftly changing. I lived in Columbus until college and I saw the rough and ready bars of the Campus and Short North District slowly wink out one by one. Then, when I began returning in the 2000s, I saw entire swathes of urban business turn into a sterile sprawl. In short, between 1993 and 2008 or so Columbus got boring.

That’s swiftly changing. The Short North District is a booming pleasure dome dedicated to deep fried pickles and great drinks. Upstarts like Hot Chicken Takeover and carts like PutItInYourFace are replacing the T.G.I. Fridays and Applebees. Microbrews have rousted Coors and Bud. Columbus, like so many other cities, has become comfortable, artisanal, and pleasant. But, because that process is just beginning, there’s still time to get in on the ground floor. There is plenty of room to grow. While many of the rich suburbs are hopeless as magnets for art and commerce the are still places in the city that have plenty of promise. As I wrote last week the city has plenty of rotting malls it can easily turn into unique shopping and eating experiences.

One con? The Columbus ecosystem is small. Columbus has a population of 835,957 with a regular influx of students that leaves over the summer. It’s long been known as a collector of corporate offices – Chase is here as is Nationwide and the Limited. It has never been an “entrepreneurial town” per se and instead depending on the steady flow of students from the halls of OSU to the cubicles of the corporates. That’s changing.

The ecosystem, however, is as nascent as other similarly-sized cities. A few things have been tried but few of the accelerators are able to keep successful entrepreneurs rooted to the city, an important aspect of ecosystem building. I’d like to see more of that over time and I’m sure that slowly but surely we can see some folks settling down to enjoy some Jenni’s and Donato’s with the natives.

Columbus startups need seed badly. There are a few VCs in the area – Rev1, Drive, and Loud Capital are names you hear often – but like most smaller markets the drive to fund smaller startups in negligible. Loud, a startup itself, is the closest to an on-the-ground seed group while Drive is looking for comfortable later stage investments. Accelerators like Fintech71 see the value of seed in specific markets but they’re finding deal-flow difficult. Therefore both investors and startups in the city are usually stuck – a situation is extremely common in cities like Columbus.

Pluto AI raises $2.1 million to bring intelligence to water treatment


Former 500 Startups accelerator company Pluto AI is announcing $2.1 million in fundraising today from Fall Line Capital, Refactor Capital, Unshackled Ventures, Comet Labs and additional angels. Pluto is taking advantage of the sensorification of modern water treatment plants to extrapolate insights that can save operators precious time, money and water.

The Pluto analytics platform presents managers with a dashboard that quantifies the status of all assets at a given water treatment plant. These ratings, ranging from 0 to 100, take into account temperature and pressure readings in addition to other data from pumps and chlorinators to identify cause and effect relationships.

Machine learning is the backbone behind Pluto’s ability to ingest large quantities of unstructured data, but the end user isn’t forced to get into the weeds of individual models to gain a better understanding of how plant assets are working in consonance.

Utilizing historical data, Pluto can directly recommend steps to improve the functioning of plant infrastructure. This information is prescribed with assigned priority levels so that a human can step in and take the appropriate action.

The Pluto AI platform turns data into intuitive analytics.

Initially, I was curious why Pluto wouldn’t target its monitoring solution toward more valuable liquid assets like oil — yes, I know, but it’s a valid question to have. In short, the value of oil and other commodities has already created a lot of competition in the monitoring space. And Pluto ultimately would need significant retooling to carry over to the new market. Pluto can determine 50-70 percent of plant failures because it has been trained and optimized for water data.

“Water is a specialized vertical,” notes Prateek Joshi, founder of Pluto AI. “You cannot build a generic platform for water, you need to understand the problems being faced.”

The good news for Pluto is that its market isn’t limited to municipal water treatment plants. Large beverage producers, manufacturers and power companies all use copious amounts of water that need management. Joshi explains that while the cost of water is low, it’s a proxy for asset failure, which is why these businesses are willing to pony up for expensive sensors and data analytics solutions like Pluto.

Assets are complex, and many managers must monitor infrastructure across multiple plants.

IBM’s Intelligent Water platform serves a similar purpose, and has the reach to lock down large municipal deals. But Pluto is finding niche market space by targeting plants interested in low-risk pilot programs and corporations that have a vested interest in saving water. These markets are generally easier for startups to play in because they lack longer and more rigorous government sales cycles and procurement processes.

TaKaDu, an Israeli water management startup, has raised just shy of $14 million, according to PitchBook, to compete in the space alongside Pluto. It was founded in 2008 and services water providers in London, England and the Antofagasta region of Chile.

With the new capital, Pluto plans to grow its enterprise sales team to scale its new platform in the marketplace.

Let’s meet in Pittsburgh on April 11


In preparation for Disrupt New York and our upcoming TC Sessions series on Robotics Matt Burns and I will be heading to Pittsburgh to talk to some startups.

We could use some help.

We’re aiming to be in Pittsburgh on April 11 and we need a spot and potentially a beer sponsor. We prefer neutral spots but we could be convinced if you have a cool meeting space at your accelerator or office. We also need lots and lots of startups, preferably in hardware. Startups will have two minutes to pitch and two minutes of questioning from a set of amazing judges (to be named.)

If you would like to help plan please drop me a line at john@techcrunch.com. If you want to attend keep your eye on this space and we’ll post again with a time and venue.

If you’d like to pitch at our Pitch-Off please sign up here. See yinz soon!

Featured Image: Guy Kawasaki/Wikimedia Commons UNDER A CC BY-SA 4.0 LICENSE