All posts in “Fundings & Exits”

Antescofo’s Metronaut adds an orchestra when you play music

Meet Metronaut, an app for smartphones and tablets that could change the way you play classical music. The startup behind the app, Antescofo, raised a $4.5 million funding round (€4 million) and has attracted 160,000 downloads.

Daphni and OneRagTime are leading the round, with Nobuyuki Idei, Yann LeCun, Sophie Gasperment and Thibault Viort also participating.

Metronaut lets you play a music instrument with a professional orchestra playing all the other instruments with you. It isn’t just an audio player — the app leverages your device microphone to listen to your music and adjust the tempo of the other instruments.

The startup has recorded professional musicians in a studio so that you can play the flute without hearing the flute coming out of your speakers or headphones.

And if you still need to practice, you can set your own tempo while you learn your part — nothing will be distorted. You can record your performance, annotate the score and track your progress.

The company is betting on a freemium model. You can download the app for free and play for 10 minutes per month. If you want to experience the app without any limit, you need to buy a monthly subscription for $10 per month.

While the app works with dozens of instruments, most people use it to play the piano, the violin or the flute. Singers can also use the app.

And content is key with this service. People will keep subscribing if there’s enough content for their own instruments in the catalog. So let’s see if Antescofo is going to use today’s funding round to record even more content and turn the app into an essential service for musicians.

GoCardless raises $75M Series E for its recurring payments network and heads to America

Compared to startups born into the frothy London fintech space as it exists today, 2011-founded GoCardless could well be considered a slow burner. However, in more recent years, the nearly 300 person company — headed up by co-founder and CEO Hiroki Takeuchi — has undoubtedly stepped on the gas in a bid to become the one stop shop globally for businesses that want to let customers pay via recurring bank payments.

A little over a year ago, GoCardless announced that it had raised $22.5 million in further funding, off the back of record annual growth in the U.K. and strong early traction in new markets. And today the fintech is disclosing another fresh injection of capital: $75 million in Series E funding, in part to fund new offices across EMEA, APAC and North America. In addition to its London HQ, the company already has sites in France, Australia and Germany, from which it says it processes transactions for 40,000 businesses worldwide.

Leading the round are new investors Adams Street Partners, Google Ventures and Salesforce Ventures. Previous backers Accel Partners, Balderton Capital, Notion Capital and Passion Capital have also followed on.

In a call with Takeuchi late last week, he picked up on a familiar a theme, describing the collection of recurring payments for many business as “broken”. Accessing the various bank to bank payments schemes has traditionally been difficult from a commercial, compliance and technical point of view. Instead, businesses have typically relied on payment methods, such as card payments or cheques, which aren’t up to the job of recurring payments.

That’s because these payment options are designed for one-off transactions (cards, for example, expire, breaking the payment flow). Meanwhile, there’s been a rise in subscription business models and an expanding B2B market in which contractors and partners need to make regular variable payments. According to Takeuchi, this means an international recurring payments network like the one GoCardless is building is needed more than ever.

“A global network for bank debit is an absolute necessity in allowing businesses to easily collect recurring payments anywhere, in any currency,” he says. “Thanks to the support of our investors we can now open up our global network and payments platform to more businesses across the world, delivering on our mission to take the pain out of getting paid, so that businesses can focus on what they do best”.

Takeuchi also tells me GoCardless is investing heavily in its product, with a product team of around 100 members. He declined to go into much detail with regards to GoCardless’ immediate or more long term roadmap, although currency conversion is one area the company is developing new products for. It’s not clear if that will be via an FX partner, such as London neighbour TransferWise, or a more home grown solution, although the former seems more likely. Takeuchi wouldn’t be drawn on any specifics.

Other areas of development include products to help businesses boost cash flow via “instant settlement,” and smarter payment features to increase transaction success rates. The latter could include using open banking to check if funds are available before trying to process a bank debit, or to automatically set the most appropriate payment date.

Apple acquires talking Barbie voicetech startup PullString

Apple has just bought up the talent it needs to make talking toys a part of Siri, HomePod, and its voice strategy. Apple has acquired PullString, also known as ToyTalk, according to Axios’ Dan Primack and Ina Fried. The company makes voice experience design tools, artificial intelligence to power those experiences, and toys like talking Barbie and Thomas The Tank Engine toys in partnership with Mattel. Founded in 2011 by former Pixar executives, PullString went on to raise $44 million.

Apple’s Siri is seen as lagging far behind Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, not only in voice recognition and utility, but also in terms of developer ecosystem. Google and Amazon has built platforms to distribute Skills from tons of voice app makers, including storytelling, quizzes, and other games for kids. If Apple wants to take a real shot at becoming the center of your connected living room with Siri and HomePod, it will need to play nice with the children who spend their time there. Buying PullString could jumpstart Apple’s in-house catalog of speech-activated toys for kids as well as beef up its tools for voice developers.

PullString did catch some flack for being a “child surveillance device” back in 2015, but countered by detailing the security built intoHello Barbie product and saying it’d never been hacked to steal childrens’ voice recordings or other sensitive info. Privacy norms have changed since with so many people readily buying always-listening Echos and Google Homes.

We’ve reached out to Apple and PullString for more details about whether PullString and ToyTalk’s products will remain available. .

The startup raised its cash from investors including Khosla Ventures, CRV, Greylock, First Round, and True Ventures, with a Series D in 2016 as its last raise that PitchBook says valued the startup at $160 million. While the voicetech space has since exploded, it can still be difficult for voice experience developers to earn money without accompanying physical products, and many enterprises still aren’t sure what to build with tools like those offered by PullString. That might have led the startup to see a brighter future with Apple, strengthening one of the most ubiquitous though also most detested voice assistants.

ChargedUp picks up £1.2M seed to grow its mobile charging network across UK

ChargedUp, a U.K. startup that offers a mobile charging network that takes inspiration from bike-sharing, has closed £1.2 million in seed investment. Leading the round is Sir John Hegarty’s fund The Garage, and the ex-Innocent Smoothie founders fund JamJar. The funding will be used to grow the offering across the U.K. and for international expansion.

Founded by Hugo Tilmouth, Charlie Baron, Hakeem Buge and Forrest Skerman Stevenson, ChargedUp has set out to solve the dead mobile phone battery problem with a charging network. However, rather than offer fixed charging points, the team has developed a solution that lets you rent a mobile charging pack from one destination and return it at different location if needed. That way, mobile phone use remains mobile.

“It’s annoying and inconvenient to be out and about with a dying phone battery,” says CEO Hugo Tilmouth. We’ve all been there and I was inspired to do something about it through my own experiences. I was at a cricket match at London’s Lord’s Cricket Ground and waiting for a call for a last round interview with a large tech firm, and was running very low on charge! I ended up having to leave the cricket ground, buy a power bank and then rode a Boris Bike home and the light bulb went off in my head! Why not combine the flexibility of the sharing economy with the need of a ‘ChargedUp’ phone!”.

The solution was to create multiple distribution points across a city, located in the venues where people spend most of their time. This includes cafes, bars and restaurants. “Our solution uses an app to enables users to find the nearest stations, unlock a sharable power bank, and then return it to any station in the network and only pay for the time they use. Our goal is to be never five minutes from a charge,” adds Tilmouth

In the next six months, ChargedUp says it will expand its network of over 250 vending stations in London’s bars, cafes and restaurants across to other large metropolitan areas in the U.K. Last month, the young startup partnered with Marks and Spencer to trial the platform in its central London stores. If the trial is successful, ChargedUp says it could lead to providing its phone charging solution to all M&S customers by the end of 2019.

“Since launch we have delivered over 1 million minutes of charge across the network, and our customers love the service,” says Tilmouth. “Like the sharing scooter and bike companies, we operate a time based model. We simply charge our users a simple price of 50p per 30 mins to charge their phones. We also make revenue from the advertising space both on our batteries and within our app”.

With regards to competition, Tilmouth says ChargedUp’s most direct competitor is the charging lockers found in some public spaces, such as ChargeBox. “We do not see this as a viable alternative to ChargedUp as users are forced to lock their phones away preventing them from using them while it charges. They are also prone to theft and damage. We are also differentiated by our use of green energy offsetting throughout the network,” he says.

Meanwhile, in a statement investor Sir John Hegarty talks up the revenue opportunities beyond rentals, which includes advertising, rewards and loyalty. “At its simplest, ChargedUp addresses a massive need in the market, mobile devices running out of power. But more than that, ChargedUp provides advertisers with a powerful medium that connects directly with their audience at point of purchase,” he says.

Prior to today’s seed round, ChargedUp received investment from Telefonica via the Wayra accelerator and Brent Hoberman’s Founders Factory.

Biotech AI startup Sight Diagnostics gets $27.8M to speed up blood tests

Sight Diagnostics, an Israeli medical devices startup that’s using AI technology to speed up blood testing, has closed a  $27.8 million Series C funding round.

The company has built a desktop machine, called OLO, that analyzes cartridges manually loaded with drops of the patient’s blood — performing blood counts in situ.

The new funding is led by VC firm Longliv Ventures, also based in Israel, and a member of the multinational conglomerate CK Hutchison Group.

Sight Diagnostics said it was after strategic investment for the Series C — specifically investors that could contribute to its technological and commercial expansion. And on that front CK Hutchison Group’s portfolio includes more than 14,500 health and beauty stores across Europe and Asia, providing a clear go-to-market route for the company’s OLO blood testing device.

Other strategic investors in the round include Jack Nicklaus II, a healthcare philanthropist and board member of the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation; Steven Esrick, a healthcare impact investor; and a “major medical equipment manufacturer” — which they’re not naming.

Sight Diagnostics also notes that it’s seeking additional strategic partners who can help it get its device to “major markets throughout the world”.

Commenting in a statement, Yossi Pollak, co-founder and CEO, said: “We sought out groups and individuals who genuinely believe in our mission to improve health for everyone with next-generation diagnostics, and most importantly, who can add significant value beyond financial support. We are already seeing positive traction across Europe and seeking additional strategic partners who can help us deploy OLO to major markets throughout the world.”

The company says it expects that customers across “multiple countries in Europe” will have deployed OLO in actual use this year.

Existing investors OurCrowd, Go Capital, and New Alliance Capital also participated in the Series C. The medtech startup, which was founded back in 2011, has raised more than $50M to date, only disclosing its Series A and B raises last year.

The new funding will be used to further efforts to sell what it bills as its “lab-grade” point-of-care blood diagnostics system, OLO, around the world. Although its initial go-to-market push has focused on Europe — where it has obtained CE Mark registration for OLO (necessary for commercial sale within certain European countries) following a 287-person clinical trial, and went on to launch the device last summer. It’s since signed a distribution agreement for OLO in Italy.

“We have pursued several pilots with potential customers in Europe, specifically in the UK and Italy,” co-founder Danny Levner tells TechCrunch. “In Europe, it is typical for market adoption to begin with pilot studies: Small clinical evaluations that each major customers run at their own facilities, under real-world conditions. This allows users to experience the specific benefits of the technology in their own context. In typical progress, pilot studies are then followed by modest initial orders, and then by broad deployment.”

The funding will also support ongoing regulatory efforts in the U.S., where it’s been conducting a series of trials as part of FDA testing in the hopes of gaining regulatory clearance for OLO. Levner tells us it has now submitted data to the regulator and is waiting for it to be reviewed.

“In December 2018, we completed US clinical trials at three US clinical sites and we are submitting them later this month to the FDA. We are seeking 510(k) FDA clearance for use in US CLIA compliant laboratories, to be followed by a CLIA waiver application that will allow for use at any doctor’s office. We are very pleased with the results of our US trial and we hope to obtain the FDA’s 510(k) clearance within a year’s time,” he says.

“With the current funding, we’re focusing on commercialization in the European market, starting in the UK, Italy and the Nordics,” he adds. “In the US, we’re working to identify new opportunities in oncology and pediatrics.”

Funds will also go on R&D to expand the menu of diagnostic tests the company is able to offer via OLO.

The startup previously told us it envisages developing the device into a platform capable of running a portfolio of blood tests, saying each additional test would be added individually and only after “independent clinical validation”.

The initial test OLO offers is a complete blood count (CBC), with Sight Diagnostics applying machine learning and computer vision technology to digitize and analyze a high resolution photograph of a finger prick’s worth of the patient’s blood on device.

The idea is to offer an alternative to having venous blood drawn and sent away to a lab for analysis — with an OLO-based CBC billed as taking “minutes” to perform, with the startup also claiming it’s simple enough for non-professional to carry out, whereas it says a lab-based blood count can take several days to process and return a result.

On the R&D front, Levner says it sees “enormous potential” for OLO to be used to diagnose blood diseases such as leukemia and sickle cell anemia.

“Also, given the small amount of blood required and the minimally-invasive nature of the test when using finger-prick blood samples, there is an opportunity to use OLO in neonatal screening,” he says. “Accordingly, one of the most important immediate next steps is to tailor the test procedures and algorithms for neonate screening.”

Levner also told us that some of its pilot studies have looked at evaluating “improvements in operator and patient satisfaction”. “Clearly standing out in these studies is the preference for finger-prick-based testing, which OLO provides,” he claims. 

One key point to note: Sight Diagnostics has still yet to publish peer reviewed results of its clinical trials for OLO. Last July it told us it has a publication pending in a peer-reviewed journal.

“With regards to the peer-reviewed publication, we’ve decided to combine the results from the Israel clinical trials with those that we just completed in the US for a more robust publication,” the company says now. “We expect to focus on that publication after we receive FDA approval in the US.”