All posts in “Fundings & Exits”

Karma raises $12M to let restaurants and grocery stores offer unsold food at a discount

Karma, the Stockholm-based startup that offers a marketplace to let local restaurants and grocery offer unsold food at a discount, has raised $12 million in Series A funding.

Swedish investment firm Kinnevik led the round, with participation from U.S. venture capital firm Bessemer Venture Partners, appliance manufacturer Electrolux, and previous backer VC firm e.ventures. It brings total funding to $18 million.

Founded in late 2015 by Hjalmar Ståhlberg Nordegren, Ludvig Berling, Mattis Larsson and Elsa Bernadotte, and launched the following year, Karma is an app-based marketplace that helps restaurants and grocery stores reduce food waste by selling unsold food at a discount direct to consumers.

You simply register your location with the iOS or Android app and can browse various food merchants and the food items/dishes they have put on sale. Once you find an item to your liking, you pay through the Karma app and pick up the food before closing time. You can also follow your favourite establishments and be alerted when new food is listed each day.

“One third of of all food produced is wasted,” Karma CEO Ståhlberg Nordegren tells me. “We’re reducing food waste by enabling restaurants and grocery stores to sell their surplus food through our app… Consumers like you and me can then buy the food directly through the app and pick it up as take away at the location. We’re helping the seller reduce food waste and increase revenue, consumers get great food at a reduced price, and we help the environment redistributing food instead of wasting it”.

Since Karma’s original launch in its home country of Sweden, the startup has expanded to work with over 1,500 restaurants, grocery stores, hotels, cafes and bakeries to help reduce food waste by selling surplus food to 350,000 Karma users. It counts three of Sweden’s largest supermarkets as marketplace partners, as well as premium restaurants such as Ruta Baga and Marcus Samuelsson’s Kitchen & Table, and major brands such as Sodexo, Radisson and Scandic Hotels.

In February, the company expanded to the U.K., and is already working with over 400 restaurants in London. They include brands such as Aubaine, Polpo, Caravan, K10, Taylor St Barista’s, Ned’s Noodle Bar, and Detox Kitchen.

Ståhlberg Nordegren says Karma’s most frequent users are young professionals between the age of 25-40, who typically work in the city and pick up Karma on their way home. “Students and the elderly also love the app as it’s a great way to discover really good food for less,” he adds.

Meanwhile, will use the funding to continue to develop its product range, especially within supermarkets, and to expand to new markets, starting with Europe. The company plans to expand from 35 people based in Stockholm today to over 100 across 5 markets by the end of next year and over 150 by mid 2020.

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Alphabet invests $375 million in Oscar Health

Google parent Alphabet has invested $375 million in next-gen health insurance company, Oscar Health. Google has been a longtime supporter of the six-year-old New York company, having previously invested in Oscar through its Capital G investment wing and Verily health and life sciences research wing.

Alphabet has invested in Oscar over many years and has seen the company and its team up close. We’re thrilled to invest further to help Oscar in its next phase of growth,” an Alphabet spokesperson told TechCrunch.

That $165 million round raised back in March valued the health startup at around $3 billion. The new round maintains a similar valuation, while giving Alphabet a 10 percent share in Oscar. The deal also has longtime Google employee and former CEO Salar Kamangar joining Oscar’s board.

Oscar co-founder and CEO Mario Schlosser announced the news in an interview with Wired, telling the site, “We can hire more engineers, we can hire more data scientists, more product designers, more smart clinicians who can think about health care a different way. It’s the acceleration of that product roadmap that fascinates us the most. The second, more tangible piece, is that we’re launching new product lines.”

Part of that product expansion includes getting into Medicare Advantage in 2020, which is a deviation from the current offerings in the individual and employer insurance markets. Oscar started out by offering insurance for individuals, growing rapidly during the launch of the Affordable Care Act and then rolling into small business offerings with its product Oscar for Business. Medicare represents a new vertical for the company, adding to its existing focus on both the individual and employer insurance markets.

“Oscar will accelerate the pursuit of its mission: to make our health care system work for consumers,” Schlosser said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. “We will continue to build a member experience that lowers costs and improves care, and to bring Oscar to more people — deepening our expansion into the individual and small business markets while entering a new business segment, Medicare Advantage, in 2020.”

Taiwan startup FunNow gets $5M Series A to help locals in Asian cities find last-minute things to do

“Instant booking” apps that let tourists sign up for activities on very short notice have been in the news a lot lately, partly because of Klook’s new unicorn status, but also because of the proliferation of startups in the space, especially in Asia. With so many instant booking apps, are there any niches left to fill? FunNow thinks so. Instead of targeting tourists, FunNow serves locals who want to find new things to do in their cities. The Taipei, Taiwan-based startup announced today that it has raised a $5 million Series A led by the Alibaba Entrepreneur Fund, with participation from CDIB, a returning investor, Darwin Venture and Accuvest. The capital will be used to expand FunNow into Southeast Asian and Japanese cities.

Along with a pre-A round closed last July, its newest funding brings FunNow’s total raised since its launch in November 2015 to $6.5 million. FunNow currently claims 500,000 members and 3,000 vendors, who provide more than 20,000 activities and services daily. Co-founder and CEO T.K. Chen says the startup will focus on building its presence in Hong Kong, Okinawa, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Osaka and Tokyo.

One noteworthy fact about its Series A is the participation of Alibaba, which is beefing up its online-to-offline (or O2O, the business of enabling users to book and pay for offline services) offerings as competitor Meituan-Dianping prepares to go public in Hong Kong. A roster of Alibaba apps, including Koubei for local bookings, food delivery platform Ele.me and travel app Feizhu, compete against Meituan-Dianping, which describes itself as a “one-stop super app” because it offers all those services.

A not-for-profit initiative, the Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund supports startups that might eventually contribute to the tech giant’s ecosystem. While Alibaba’s O2O apps are focused on capturing a bigger share away from Meituan-Dianping in China, Chen says future synergies may include listing FunNow’s activities on Koubei so Chinese tourists can continue using the app when they travel. (Chen added that Alibaba wants FunNow to expand in Southeast Asia as soon as possible.)

Even with a backer like Alibaba, however, the obvious question is how does FunNow compare with other instant booking apps? The most notable ones are Klook and KKday, but other players include Headout, Voyagin, GetYourGuide, Culture Trip, Peek and even Airbnb’s new “Experiences” feature.

Chen, who notes Klook’s Series A in 2015 was also $5 million, says FunNow’s deep dive into the local market sets it apart. Its biggest categories are last-minute hotel bookings, like hot spring resorts in Taipei that offer rooms for blocks of several hours in addition to overnight stays; restaurants and bars; massages and other spa services; and events like music festivals and parties.

Chen adds that catering to locals looking for fun stuff to do in their own cities means FunNow’s user engagement is high, with 70% of each month’s gross merchandise volume from repeat customers. The rest comes from first-time users and about 60% of people make another booking within 30 days after their first purchase. FunNow expects to make revenue of $16 million in 2018, three times what it made in 2017.

Most of FunNow’s users are young, in the 25-to-35 age bracket. “We are like Uber, but for booking restaurants, massages, hotels or other kinds of activities around you. We are also targeting spontaneous consumers, because almost all of our bookings are for the next 15 minutes to hour. If you look at our data, 80% of our bookings are for the next hour,” says Chen.

The company tailors its technology platform to local users, too, and relies on a patented algorithm that makes real-time availability calculations to prevent overbookings by syncing with merchant databases. Chen says users can see all available slots based on their location and search perimeters in less than 0.1 seconds and updates in real-time, so people don’t click on something only to find it’s no longer available.

FunNow also screens vendors before adding them to the platform and will delist businesses that rate below 3.5 stars. The convenience is what draws users back to FunNow instead of, say, just reading reviews on Google or asking friends for recommendations and then messaging or calling for a reservation.

Another challenge that potentially arise in the future is if Klook, KKday or other instant booking apps for tourists decide to start serving locals as well. Chen says he believes those startups will continue focusing on the growing tourist market and demand for half-day or all-day tours.

“If they want to cut into our play, they need to first find merchants one by one and also deploy strong systems to the merchant side,” says Chen. “However, once merchants use our system, it’s unlikely for them to use two systems to control availability, because you’d need to update all of them to avoid overbooking.”

Despite its first mover advantage, FunNow is also constantly improving its tech, Chen says. “Even in a minute, a business might have sold the seat to a walk-in customer, causing a overbooking and that’s the worst thing to see.”

Wonderschool raises $20M to help people start in-home preschools

Educators already don’t get paid enough, and those that work in preschools or daycares often make 48% less. Meanwhile, parents struggle to find great early education programs where kids receive enough attention and there’s space, but they don’t need special connections or to pass grueling admissions interviews to get in.

Any time there’s a lousy experience people have an emotional connection to and spend a lot of money on, there’s an opportunity for a startup. Enter ‘Wonderschool‘, a company that lets licensed educators and caretakers launch in-home preschools or daycares. Wonderschool helps candidates get licensed, set up their programs, launch their websites, boost enrollment, and take payments in exchange for a 10 percent cut of tuition. The startup is now helping run 140 schools in the SF Bay, LA, and NYC where parents are happy to pay to give their kids an edge in life.

That opportunity to fill a lucrative gap in the education market has attracted a new $20 million Series A for Wonderschool led by Andreessen Horowitz . The round brings the startup to $24.1 million in total funding just two years after launch. With the cash and Andreessen partner Jeff Jordan joining its board, Wonderschool is looking to build powerful lead generation and management software to turn teachers into savvy entrepreneurs.

Finding good childcare has become one of the most difficult experiences for families. I’ve seen parents who are making a livable wage in urban cities like San Francisco and New York still struggle to find and afford quality childcare” says co-founder and CEO Chris Bennett. “We wanted to deliver a solution for parents that also had the potential to create jobs and empower the caregiver — that’s Wonderschool.”

By spawning and uniting programs across the country, Wonderschool could scale as the way software eats preschool. But without vigorous oversight of each educator, Wonderschool is also at risk of a safety mishap at one of its franchises ruining the brand for them all.

Airbnb For Schooling

Wonderschool started when co-founder Arrel Gray was having trouble finding childcare for his daughter close to home. “My little sister went to an in-home preschool, so I suggested he check them out” says Bennett. “But he wasn’t very satisfied with the options – the majority were full and some didn’t meet the expectations for his family. We also found that they didn’t use the internet much so they were hard to find and contact.”

The two were looking to pivot their social commerce startup Soldsie after Facebook algorithm changes had curtailed its growth. Their research led to the discovery of just how much lower preschool and daycare workers’ wages were. “When we had the idea we thought, ‘what the best way to test this?’ Why don’t we start a preschool ourselves’” says Bennett. “So we rented a home in the Berkeley Hills, hired an amazing educator, set up a school and started one. The school ended up being a huge success. Five-star reviews on Yelp. A high NPS. Parents loved the place.” It also scored the teacher a 3X higher salary than before.

With that proof, Wonderschool went on to raise $4.1 million from Josh Kopelman at First Round Capital, Omidyar Network, Cross Culture Ventures, Uncork Capital, Lerer Ventures, FundersClub, and Edelweiss. That let them flesh out the business. Wonderschool would recruit existing teachers and caregivers or guide people to get licensed so they could become “directors” of in-home schools. Wonderschool acts almost like Airbnb by turning them into small businesses earning money from home.

Teachers can pick whatever schedule, curriculum, or format they want, like Montesori or nature-focused learning. Wonderschool now has over 500 directors working with its software, with some making as much as $150,000 or $200,000. In exchange for its 10 percent cut of tuition, Wonderschool provides directors with a “bootcamp” to prep them for the job. It pairs them with a mentor, then helps them build their website and figure out their pricing options. Coaching guides train the directors to scout for new leads, offer appealing tours, and track their fledgling business.

The $20 million from Andreessen, OmidyarGary Community Investments and First Round will go to expanding the Wonderschool software. Each student slot it can help director fill, the more it earns. The startup will also have to compete with  companies like Wildflower Schools, which Bennett admits has a similar business model but he says “We are focused on in home and they also focus on Montessori while we are curriculum agnostic.” There’s also Cottage Class which powers homeschooling for students up to age 18, Tinkergarten that concentrates on short-term outdoor education, and VIPKid connects kids in China with U.S. teachers over video chat.

They, like Wonderschool, are trying to scale up to meet the massive existing demand. “The challenge is that there aren’t enough programs for the number of children needing public or private schooling – 1st grade or earlier – and our goal is to provide enough supply for every child” Bennett explains.

Still, safety remains a top concern. Bennett notes that “Wonderschool has a support team that helps school Directors prepare their homes for operation. With regard to safety, each state’s licensing office covers this in their approval process for being granted a license to operate.” But could a problem at one school shake the businesses of all the rest of its franchises? “We have a system of checks in balances in place that we feel confident would allow us to anticipate any potential issues, including regular, weekly check-ins with Directors and a feedback loop with parents. We also email parents on a regular cadence to get feedback from parents and we step in and work with the Director if we find that there are issues” Bennett insists.

If Wonderschool can keep its brand clean through thorough oversight, it could both create better paying jobs in a field rife with undercompensated heroes, and open early schooling to a wider range of students. Bennett’s parents moved to the U.S. from Honduras, pouring their efforts into supporting his and his sister’s education. Now he’s building the next generation of teachers the tools to give more kids a head start in life.

SenSat, a UK startup that uses visual and spatial data to ‘simulate reality’, picks up $4.5M seed

SenSat, a U.K. startup aiming to use visual and spatial data to “simulate reality” and help computers better understand the physical world, has raised $4.5 million in seed funding — cash it will use to further develop the technology, and invest in its San Francisco office. The round was backed by Force Over Mass, Round Hill Venture Partners, and Zag (the venture arm of global creative agency BBH).

Launched in 2017 by founders James Dean (CEO) and Harry Atkinson (Head of Product), SenSat turns complex visual and spatial data into what is described as “real-time simulated reality” designed to enable computers to solve real world problems.

The idea is to let companies operating in physical domains — starting with the infrastructure construction industry — use AI to help make better informed decisions based on multiple variables, which are large in number and complexity.

But to do this, first the real world needs to be simulated and those simulations injected with data that computers can understand and interact with. And that starts with using new technology to photograph the real world at a level of detail that goes beyond satellite imagery.

“My background is in satellite remote sensing, the science of understanding an object without coming into contact with it,” SenSat CEO Dean tells me. “This actually gave me the initial idea, ‘if everything we do from satellites can be done 200 miles closer using autonomous drones, then the resolution of the corresponding information must be commercially valuable’”.

Dean says the tech that SenSat has since developed is making it possible for computers to understand the real world through the lens of highly detailed simulated realities in order to “learn how things work and to change the way we make decisions”. The company does this by creating digital replicas of real world locations, then infusing real-time spatial data-sets with a high degree of statistical accuracy from both open and proprietary data sources.

“The resulting simulations are realistic and fully digital, allowing large-scale machine learning and data analysis at an unprecedented scale,” he says.

But why has SenSat chosen to initially target infrastructure construction? “On a technical level it allows us to build simulated realities for medium to small physical areas which we have known variables for,” explains Dean. “This means we can check and quantify our results against the real world, helping us build a foundation that can scale in size and complexity… Construction, whilst remaining a fundamental pillar of world economies, is the second least innovative sector on the planet (beaten only by hunting and fishing). As a sector it has seen a zero percent productivity increase since 1970, meaning there are lots of low hanging fruit opportunities for automation”.

In addition, the time and cost for the design phases of large civil infrastructure construction projects can be up to 40 percent of the entire asset value. Because SenSat digitally re-creates the world and teaches its AI to understand it, the startup can automate many manual design tasks.

For example, Dean says that when building a new railway, it might be stipulated that the track can only have a 5 degree gradient, gantries must be placed every 100 metres and tracks must be laid 1.4 metres apart. Traditionally this would take engineers months to painstakingly measure over large distances, hypothesise and test, but SenSat’s AI can run thousands of options, following the exact same design rules, in a matter of minutes. The startup can then produce a fully validated best option design, often representing millions of dollars in savings.

Meanwhile, beyond infrastructure construction, the startup has a number of research streams looking at how else its technology could evolve and be applied. One area being explored is how autonomous vehicles might use the platform to run millions of hours of driverless simulation.

“Our simulated reality replicates exactly what is happening in the real world, and as such it becomes a sensible place to trial developing technologies within ‘real world’ environments, helping the reinforcement learning feedback loop by providing access to real world scenarios,” adds Dean.

“Based on the world’s highest resolution digital representations, including furniture such as street lamps, lane markings and signage, we can simulate millions of hours of driving in real world conditions to train autonomous agents and prove safety use cases. This will be an important step in convincing regulators to transition to free flow AVs on our streets, especially as the technology begins to reach level 4 autonomy and the integration problem becomes the halting factor”.