May
16
2019
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Unveiling its latest cohort, Alchemist announces $4 million in funding for its enterprise accelerator

The enterprise software and services-focused accelerator Alchemist has raised $4 million in fresh financing from investors BASF and the Qatar Development Bank, just in time for its latest demo day unveiling 20 new companies.

Qatar and BASF join previous investors, including the venture firms Mayfield, Khosla Ventures, Foundation Capital, DFJ and USVP, and corporate investors like Cisco, Siemens and Juniper Networks.

While the roster of successes from Alchemist’s fund isn’t as lengthy as Y Combinator, the accelerator program has launched the likes of the quantum computing upstart Rigetti, the soft-launch developer tool LaunchDarkly and drone startup Matternet .

Some (personal) highlights of the latest cohort include:

  • Bayware: Helmed by a former head of software-defined networking from Cisco, the company is pitching a tool that makes creating networks in multi-cloud environments as easy as copying and pasting.
  • MotorCortex.AI: Co-founded by a Stanford engineering professor and a Carnegie Mellon roboticist, the company is using computer vision, machine learning and robotics to create a fruit packer for packaging lines. Starting with avocados, the company is aiming to tackle the entire packaging side of pick and pack in logistics.
  • Resilio: With claims of a 96% effectiveness rate and $35,000 in annual recurring revenue with another $1 million in the pipeline, Resilio is already seeing companies embrace its mobile app that uses a phone’s camera to track stress levels and application-based prompts on how to lower it, according to Alchemist.
  • Operant Networks: It’s a long-held belief (of mine) that if computing networks are already irrevocably compromised, the best thing that companies and individuals can do is just encrypt the hell out of their data. Apparently Operant agrees with me. The company is claiming 50% time savings with this approach, and have booked $1.9 million in 2019 as proof, according to Alchemist.
  • HPC Hub: HPC Hub wants to democratize access to supercomputers by overlaying a virtualization layer and pre-installed software on underutilized super computers to give more companies and researchers easier access to machines… and they’ve booked $92,000 worth of annual recurring revenue.
  • DinoPlusAI: This chip developer is designing a low latency chip for artificial intelligence applications, reducing latency by 12 times over a competing Nvidia chip, according to the company. DinoPlusAI sees applications for its tech in things like real-time AI markets and autonomous driving. Its team is led by a designer from Cadence and Broadcom and the company already has $8 million in letters of intent signed, according to Alchemist.
  • Aero Systems West: Co-founders from the Air Force’s Research Labs and MIT are aiming to take humans out of drone operations and maintenance. The company contends that for every hour of flight time, drones require seven hours of maintenance and check ups. Aero Systems aims to reduce that by using remote analytics, self-inspection, autonomous deployment and automated maintenance to take humans out of the drone business.

Watch a live stream of Alchemist’s demo day pitches, starting at 3PM, here.

 

May
15
2019
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Solo.io wants to bring order to service meshes with centralized management hub

As containers and microservices have proliferated, a new kind of tool called the service mesh has developed to help manage and understand interactions between services. While Kubernetes has emerged as the clear container orchestration tool of choice, there is much less certainty in the service mesh market. Solo.io today announced a new open-source tool called Service Mesh Hub, designed to help companies manage multiple service meshes in a single interface.

It is early days for the service mesh concept, but there are already multiple offerings, including Istio, Linkerd (pronounced Linker-Dee) and Envoy. While the market sorts itself it out, it requires a new set of tools, a management layer, so that developers and operations can monitor and understand what’s happening inside the various service meshes they are running.

Idit Levine, founder and CEO at Solo, says she formed the company because she saw an opportunity to develop a set of tooling for a nascent market. Since founding the company in 2017, it has developed several open-source tools to fill that service mesh tool vacuum.

Levine says that she recognized that companies would be using multiple service meshes for multiple situations and that not every company would have the technical capabilities to manage this. That is where the idea for the Service Mesh Hub was born.

It’s a centralized place for companies to add the different service mesh tools they are using, understand the interactions happening within the mesh and add extensions to each one from a kind of extension app store. Solo wants to make adding these tools a simple matter of pointing and clicking. While it obviously still requires a certain level of knowledge about how these tools work, it removes some of the complexity around managing them.

Solo.io Service Mesh Hub

Solo.io Service Mesh Hub (Screenshot: Solo.io)

“The reason we created this is because we believe service mesh is something big, and we want people to use it, and we feel it’s hard to adopt right now. We believe by creating that kind of framework or platform, it will make it easier for people to actually use it,” Levine told TechCrunch.

The vision is that eventually companies will be able to add extensions to the store for free, or even at some point for a fee, and it is through these paid extensions that the company will be able to make money. She recognized that some companies will be creating extensions for internal use only, and in those cases, they can add them to the hub and mark them as private and only that company can see them.

For every abstraction it seems, there is a new set of problems to solve. The service mesh is a response to the problem of managing multiple services. It solves three key issues, according to Levine. It allows a company to route the microservices, have visibility into them to see logs and metrics of the mesh and to provide security to manage which services can talk to each other.

Levine’s company is a response to the issues that have developed around understanding and managing the service meshes themselves. She says she doesn’t worry about a big company coming in and undermining her mission because she says that they are too focused on their own tools to create a set of uber-management tools like these (but that doesn’t mean the company wouldn’t be an attractive acquisition target).

So far, the company has taken more than $13 million in funding, according to Crunchbase data.

May
15
2019
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In travel tech, 4 rivals merge in Europe to form Altido for property management of Airbnb-style homes

The growth of Airbnb and other big travel startups has given a fillip to the wider travel industry, and today several smaller startups in the short-term property sector are announcing that they have merged to tackle the opportunity with more scale.

The UK’s BnbBuddy and The London Residents Club, along with both Hintown from Italy and RentExperience from Portugal — all companies that help manage properties that are listed on platforms like Airbnb — have combined to form a new startup called Altido.

Going into the merger, all four were profitable, having all been boostrapped from day one. But Michael Allen, the MD of the BnbBuddy, said that now the combined entity is using its scale and raising outside funding to grow the business. Altido is looking to raise a Series A in the tens of millions of dollars. It is not disclosing its valuation currently although the fact that it already has an international presence and profitability have helped it in this area, Allen said.

The combined company will have about 1,700 properties under management in 21 European destinations, which it will be using as the anchor for an aggressive push both on existing markets as well as other parts of Europe and beyond. There is a long way to go: as a point of comparison, when Guesty — which provides services to manage rentals of private homes on Airbnb and other services — announced $35 million in funding in March, the number of properties managed on its platform had reached 100,000 across 70 countries.

Other competitors will include the platforms themselves where these properties are getting listed: as Airbnb inches to an IPO, it’s adding ever more services and features to its platform to diversify its revenue streams and also bring in more revenues per customer. (As we’ve said before, that could also make Altido and others like it acquisition targets.)

The growth of Altido’s individual businesses up to now has been on the back of the massive growth surge we’ve seen around platforms — marketplaces, to be more precise — that help people easily list and rent out travel accommodation in private homes as an alternative to hotels; and would-be visitors to find, book and pay for these in an efficient and reliable way, alongside a wider growth of self-catering accommodations that exist as alternative to traditional hotels.

The wider market for “homesharing”, as the first of these categories is sometimes called, has become massive — with Airbnb, the outsized startup leading the charge, now valued at $35 billion — and it now accounts for some 20 percent of the supply of rooms globally by Altido’s estimate.

Some property owners are happy to play host and run and manage their own listings on these platforms — which include the likes of Airbnb, Homeaway and VRBO, and many others — but a big part of the scaling of these services has come by way of third-party management companies that handle different aspects of those listings, from cleaning before and after guests and stocking kitchens and bathrooms with consumables; to managing the relationship with the visitors; to managing the listings themselves.

Altido provides an end-to-end service for those who do not want to play host, alongside a business where it also helps maintain and manage service apartments and aparthotels and guesthouses.

Today the companies that make up Altido rely on third-party platforms to disseminate all those listings, but longer-term, the plan will be to build out more services to offer listings directly as well, alongside more technology to help hosts and other management companies optimise pricing and details around the properties themselves to make them more attractive.

“We see tech as a big enabler,” Goncalo Ribeiro, the founder of RentExperience, said in an interview. He said that his company already has proprietary algorithms that it uses to help calculate property risk factors, which it already uses and will roll out across the whole of the merged company, and the different operations have already been building technology to help onboard properties more efficiently. Areas that it hopes to address include “regulation risk, potential growth rates, historic market data, marketing calculations and more. Any decision we take we want to be proven by data.”

May
14
2019
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Beyond costs, what else can we do to make housing affordable?

This week on Extra Crunch, I am exploring innovations in inclusive housing, looking at how 200+ companies are creating more access and affordability. Yesterday, I focused on startups trying to lower the costs of housing, from property acquisition to management and operations.

Today, I want to focus on innovations that improve housing inclusion more generally, such as efforts to pair housing with transit, small business creation, and mental rehabilitation. These include social impact-focused interventions, interventions that increase income and mobility, and ecosystem-builders in housing innovation.

Nonprofits and social enterprises lead many of these innovations. Yet because these areas are perceived to be not as lucrative, fewer technologists and other professionals have entered them. New business models and technologies have the opportunity to scale many of these alternative institutions — and create tremendous social value. Social impact is increasingly important to millennials, with brands like Patagonia having created loyal fan bases through purpose-driven leadership.

While each of these sections could be their own market map, this overall market map serves as an initial guide to each of these spaces.

Social impact innovations

These innovations address:

May
14
2019
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CEO Howard Lerman on building a public company and the future of Yext

It’s just over two years since Yext debuted on the New York Stock Exchange, and to mark the occasion, I sat down with co-founder and CEO Howard Lerman for an interview.

As Lerman noted, Yext — which allows businesses to manage their profiles and information across a wide variety of online services — actually presented onstage at the TechCrunch 50 conference back in 2009. Now, it boasts a market capitalization of nearly $2.3 billion, and it just revealed plans to take over a nine-floor building in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, turning it into Yext’s global headquarters.

My interview with Lerman actually came before the announcement, though he managed to drop in a few veiled hints about the company making a big move in real estate.

More concretely, we talked about how Lerman’s management style has evolved from scrappy startup founder to a public company CEO — he described holding five-minute meetings with every Yext employee as “one of the best management techniques” he’s ever adopted.

Lerman also argued that as online misinformation has become a big issue, Yext has only become more important: “Our founding principle is that the ultimate authority on how many calories are in a Big Mac is McDonald’s. The ultimate authority on where Burger King is open is Burger King.”

Vowing that he will remain CEO of Yext for “as long as this board will have me,” Lerman ended our conversation with a passionate defense of the idea that “a company is the ultimate vehicle in America to effect good in the world.”

You can read a transcript of our conversation below, edited and condensed for clarity.

TechCrunch: To start with a really broad question, how do you think Yext is different now than it was two years ago?

Howard Lerman: One of the things that’s defined Yext over the years is our continuous willingness to reinvent ourselves. You started covering us in 2009 [at] TechCrunch 50, we were a launch company there.

And here we are now. One of the cool things about being public is: It’s a total gamechanger. It’s a gamechanger not just for access to capital, but it’s particularly important in global markets. And I’m not talking about capital markets, I’m talking about the markets in which we sell software. We have offices now from Berlin to Shanghai.

May
14
2019
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Sisense acquires Periscope Data to build integrated data science and analytics solution

Sisense announced today that it has acquired Periscope Data to create what it is calling a complete data science and analytics platform for customers. The companies did not disclose the purchase price.

The two companies’ CEOs met about 18 months ago at a conference, and running similar kinds of companies, hit it off. They began talking and, after a time, realized it might make sense to combine the two startups because each one was attacking the data problem from a different angle.

Sisense, which has raised $174 million, tends to serve business intelligence requirements either for internal use or externally with customers. Periscope, which has raised more than $34 million, looks at the data science end of the business.

Both CEOs say they could have eventually built these capabilities into their respective platforms, but after meeting they decided to bring the two companies together instead, and they made a deal.

Harry Glasser from Periscope Data and Amir Orad of Sisense.

Harry Glaser from Periscope Data and Amir Orad of Sisense

“I realized over the last 18 months [as we spoke] that we’re actually building leadership positions into two unique areas of the market that will slowly become one as industries and technologies evolve,” Sisense CEO Amir Orad told TechCrunch.

Periscope CEO Harry Glaser says that as his company built a company around advanced analytics and predictive modeling, he saw a growing opportunity around operationalizing these insights across an organization, something he could do much more quickly in combination with Sisense.

“[We have been] pulled into this broader business intelligence conversation, and it has put us in a place where as we do this merger, we are able to instantly leapfrog the three years it would have taken us to deliver that to our customers, and deliver operationalized insights on integration day on day one,” Glaser explained.

The two executives say this is part of a larger trend about companies becoming more data-driven, a phrase that seems trite by now, but as a recent Harvard Business School study found, it’s still a big challenge for companies to achieve.

Orad says that you can debate the pace of change, but that overall, companies are going to operate better when they use data to drive decisions. “I think it’s an interesting intellectual debate, but the direction is one direction. People who deploy this technology will provide better care, better service, hire better, promote employees and grow them better, have better marketing, better sales and be more cost effective,” he said.

Orad and Glaser recognize that many acquisitions don’t succeed, but they believe they are bringing together two like-minded companies that will have a combined ARR of $100 million and 700 employees.

“That’s the icing on the cake, knowing that the cultures are so compatible, knowing that they work so well together, but it starts from a conviction that this advanced analytics can be operationalized throughout enterprises and [with] their customers. This is going to drive transformation inside our customers that’s really great for them and turns them into data-driven companies,” Glaser said.

May
14
2019
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Algorithmia raises $25M Series B for its AI automation platform

Algorithmia, a Seattle-based startup that offers a cloud-agnostic AI automation platform for enterprises, today announced a $25 million Series B funding round led by Norwest Partners. Madrona, Gradient Ventures, Work-Bench, Osage University Partners and Rakuten Ventures also participated in this round.

While the company started out five years ago as a marketplace for algorithms, it now mostly focuses on machine learning and helping enterprises take their models into production.

“It’s actually really hard to productionize machine learning models,” Algorithmia CEO Diego Oppenheimer told me. “It’s hard to help data scientists to not deal with data infrastructure but really being able to build out their machine learning and AI muscle.”

To help them, Algorithmia essentially built out a machine learning DevOps platform that allows data scientists to train their models on the platform and with the framework of their choice, bring it to Algorithmia — a platform that has already been blessed by their IT departments — and take it into production.

“Every Fortune 500 CIO has an AI initiative but they are bogged down by the difficulty of managing and deploying ML models,” said Rama Sekhar, a partner at Norwest Venture Partners, who has now joined the company’s board. “Algorithmia is the clear leader in building the tools to manage the complete machine learning life cycle and helping customers unlock value from their R&D investments.”

With the new funding, the company will double down on this focus by investing in product development to solve these issues, but also by building out its team, with a plan to double its headcount over the next year. A year from now, Oppenheimer told me, he hopes that Algorithmia will be a household name for data scientists and, maybe more importantly, their platform of choice for putting their models into production.

“How does Algorithmia succeed? Algorithmia succeeds when our customers are able to deploy AI and ML applications,” Oppenheimer said. “And although there is a ton of excitement around doing this, the fact is that it’s really difficult for companies to do so.”

The company previously raised a $10.5 million Series A round led by Google’s AI fund. It’s customers now include the United Nations, a number of U.S. intelligence agencies and Fortune 500 companies. In total, more than 90,000 engineers and data scientists are now on the platform.

May
14
2019
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LinkedIn integrates and updates jobs and hiring platforms, hits 20M job postings

LinkedIn, the social networking platform for the working world that’s now owned by Microsoft, has leveraged its role as a repository for people’s work profiles into making itself a job hunting and recruitment powerhouse.

The company today has amassed more than 20 million job listings — up from a mere 300,000  five years ago — and sees its 600 million users collectively apply to jobs 25 million times per week. That activity also translates to big business: paid subscriptions specifically aimed at recruiters, paid tiers for average users who want to have more access to contacting people for jobs, job ads and more all contribute to LinkedIn’s bottom line, a business that is projected to hit $6.4 billion in revenues for 2019, growing 27 percent in the last quarter.

Now, LinkedIn is stepping up a gear in the operation. After a two-year effort, LinkedIn is today announcing that it has finally integrated its jobs and hiring efforts and announcing a raft of new features for both.

On the jobs front, they include instant job alerts, a redesign of the Jobs home page, and more salary insights available to all users (including free users), with skills assessments coming soon.

On the recruitment front, LinkedIn Jobs, Recruiter, and Pipeline Builder are all coming together to create a more seamless way to manage how you post ads, source candidates and other leads and ultimately  interact with them in the process of hiring them.

“This will mean higher quality candiates, better jobs and a better fit,” VP of product John Jersin said in an interview. When asked why it took so long to integrate these tools — and why the process didn’t happen five years ago, for example, he answered that it was more of a consequence of how expectations have evolved as tech has evolved to question some of the silos that are incumbent to how we do business.

“We designed these systems in a way that worked well, but no one foresaw what we needed,” he said. “Advancements in AI have driven the strategy, and integrating all this means we can all learn better from each other.”

The new features that LinkedIn is bringing to jobseekers are responses to how our communications have evolved with the rise of the smartphone. It notes that jobseekers who respond to ads faster are more likely  to get the job, so now when a job gets posted that meet your search criteria, you can get a ping within minutes of the posting. Meanwhile, the redesign of the Jobs homepage is more mobile friendly, with added search features that take into account how you navigate on handheld devices.

The skill assessments, meanwhile, seems to me to be a direct response to the many new innovations we’ve seen among e-learning and recruitment startups, where companies like Coursera and Triplebyte are offering more tools to people to figure out where the best fit might be for their skills in the working world. LinkedIn notes that these can both be used by individuals to verify their skills — tackling a perennial problem with people putting empty claims on their resumes — and also recruiters to source people for jobs.

Important steps for the company, but there remain a lot of opportunities for smaller and newer upstarts to take bites out of LinkedIn’s business in areas where it is still being slow to develop.

For example, we’ve seen the emergence of interesting, more targeted recruitment startups that focus on, say, recruiting with racial diversity in mind (as in the case of Handshake) or focusing on, say, women returning to work after having children (as in the case of the Mom Project). While LinkedIn has made some baby steps (no pun intended) in this area, there is still a ways to go, opening the door to others to come in.

“This is a challenging and multifaceted problem,” admitted Jersin, “but LinkedIn is committed to trying to solve it.” He said the company has quietly started to work on ways of picking up more information that “could be more useful” in addressing questions like these. “One thing that is important is a sense of trust,” he noted as one of the challenges that needs to be tackled online. “I think we are very lucky to be one of the few companies out there that can say that we would use this information responsibly, in the interests of jobseeker.”

May
13
2019
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Announcing TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise this September in San Francisco

Of the many categories in the tech world, none is more ferociously competitive than enterprise. For decades, SAP, Oracle, Adobe, Microsoft, IBM and Salesforce, to name a few of the giants, have battled to deliver the tools businesses want to become more productive and competitive. That market is closing in on $500 billion in sales per year, which explains why hundreds of new enterprise startups launch every year and dozens are acquired by the big incumbents trying to maintain their edge.

Last year alone, the top 10 enterprise acquisitions were worth $87 billion and included IBM’s acquiring Red Hat for $34 billion, SAP paying $8 billion for Qualtrics, Microsoft landing GitHub for $7.5 billion, Salesforce acquiring MuleSoft for $6.5 billion and Adobe grabbing Marketo for $4.75 billion. No startup category has made more VCs and founders wildly wealthy, and none has seen more mighty companies rise faster or fall harder. That technology and business thrill ride makes enterprise a category TechCrunch has long wanted to tackle head on.

TC Sessions: Enterprise (September 5 at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center) will take on the big challenges and promise facing enterprise companies today. TechCrunch’s editors, notably Frederic Lardinois, Ron Miller and Connie Loizos, will bring to the stage founders and leaders from established and emerging companies to address rising questions like the promised revolution from machine learning and AI, intelligent marketing automation and the inevitability of the cloud, as well as the outer reaches of technology, like quantum and blockchain.

We’ll enlist proven enterprise-focused VCs to reveal where they are directing their early, middle and late-stage investments. And we’ll ask the most proven serial entrepreneurs to tell us what it really took to build that company, and which company they would like to create next. All throughout the show, TechCrunch’s editors will zero in on emerging enterprise technologies to sort the hype from the reality. Whether you are a founder, an investor, enterprise-minded engineer or a corporate CTO / CIO, TC Sessions: Enterprise will provide a valuable day of new insights and great networking.

Tickets are now available for purchase on our website at the early-bird rate of $395. Want to bring a group of people from your company? Get an automatic 15% savings when you purchase four or more tickets at once. Are you an early-stage startup? We have a limited number of Startup Demo Packages available for $2,000, which includes four tickets to attend the event. Students are invited to apply for a reduced-price student ticket at just $245. Additionally, for each ticket purchased for TC Sessions: Enterprise, you will also be registered for a complimentary Expo Only pass to TechCrunch Disrupt SF on October 2-4.

Interested in sponsoring TC Sessions: Enterprise? Fill out this form and a member of our sales team will contact you.

May
13
2019
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Market map: the 200+ innovative startups transforming affordable housing

In this section of my exploration into innovation in inclusive housing, I am digging into the 200+ companies impacting the key phases of developing and managing housing.

Innovations have reduced costs in the most expensive phases of the housing development and management process. I explore innovations in each of these phases, including construction, land, regulatory, financing, and operational costs.

Reducing Construction Costs

This is one of the top three challenges developers face, exacerbated by rising building material costs and labor shortages.

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