Nov
09
2020
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Cellwize raises $32M to help carriers and their partners adopt and run 5G services

As 5G slowly moves from being a theoretical to an active part of the coverage map for the mobile industry — if not for consumers themselves — companies that are helping carriers make the migration less painful and less costly are seeing a boost of attention.

In the latest development, Cellwize, a startup that’s built a platform to automate and optimize data for carriers to run 5G networks within multi-vendor environments, has raised $32 million — funding that it will use to continue expanding its business into more geographies and investing in R&D to bring more capabilities to its flagship CHIME platform.

The funding is notable because of the list of strategic companies doing the investing, as well as because of the amount of traction that Cellwize has had to date.

The Series B round is being co-led Intel Capital and Qualcomm Ventures LLC, and Verizon Ventures (which is part of Verizon, which also owns TechCrunch by way of Verizon Media) and Samsung Next, with existing shareholders also participating. That list includes Deutsche Telekom and Sonae, a Portuguese conglomerate that owns multiple brands in retail, financial services, telecoms and more.

That backing underscores Cellwize’s growth. The company — which is based in Israel with operations also in Dallas and Singapore — says it currently provides services to some 40 carriers (including Verizon, Telefonica and more), covering 16 countries, 3 million cell sites, and 800 million subscribers.

Cellwize is not disclosing its valuation but it has raised $56.5 million from investors to date.

5G holds a lot of promise for carriers, their vendors, handset makers and others in the mobile ecosystem: the belief is that faster and more efficient speeds for wireless data will unlock a new wave of services and usage and revenues from services for consumers and business, covering not just people but IoT networks, too.

Notwithstanding the concerns some have had with health risks, despite much of that theory being debunked over the years, one of the technical issues with 5G has been implementing it.

Migrating can be costly and laborious, not least because carriers need to deploy more equipment at closer distances, and because they will likely be running hybrid systems in the Radio Access Network (RAN, which controls how devices interface with carriers’ networks); and they will be managing legacy networks (eg, 2G, 3G, 4G, LTE) alongside 5G, and working with multiple vendors within 5G itself.

Cellwize positions its CHIME platform — which works as an all-in-one tool that leverages AI and other tech in the cloud, and covers configuring new 5G networks, optimizing and monitoring data on them, and also providing APIs for third-party developers to integrate with it — as the bridge to letting carriers operate in the more open-shop approach that marks the move to 5G.

“While large companies have traditionally been more dominant in the RAN market, 5G is changing the landscape for how the entire mobile industry operates,” said Ofir Zemer, Cellwize’s CEO. “These traditional vendors usually offer solutions which plug into their own equipment, while not allowing third parties to connect, and this creates a closed and limited ecosystem. [But] the large operators also are not interested in being tied to one vendor: not technology-wise and not on the business side – as they identify this as an inhibitor to their own innovation.”

Cellwize provides an open platform that allows a carrier to plan, deploy and manage the RAN in that kind of multi-vendor ecosystem. “We have seen an extremely high demand for our solution and as 5G rollouts continue to increase globally, we expect the demand for our product will only continue to grow,” he added.

Previously, Zemer said that carriers would build their own products internally to manage data in the RAN, but these “struggle to support 5G.”

The competition element is not just lip service: the fact that both Intel and Qualcomm — competitors in key respects — are investing in this round underscores how Cellwize sees itself as a kind of Switzerland in mobile architecture. It also underscores that both view easy and deep integrations with its tech as something worth backing, given the priorities of each of their carrier customers.

“Over the last decade, Intel technologies have been instrumental in enabling the communications industry to transform networks with an agile and scalable infrastructure,” said David Flanagan, VP and senior MD at Intel Capital, in a statement. “With the challenges in managing the high complexity of radio access networks, we are encouraged by the opportunity in front of Cellwize to explore ways to utilize their AI-based automation capabilities as Intel brings the benefits of cloud architectures to service provider and private networks.”

“Qualcomm is at the forefront of 5G expansion, creating a robust ecosystem of technologies that will usher in the new era of connectivity,” added Merav Weinryb, Senior Director of Qualcomm Israel Ltd. and MD of Qualcomm Ventures Israel and Europe. “As a leader in RAN automation and orchestration, Cellwize plays an important role in 5G deployment. We are excited to support Cellwize through the Qualcomm Ventures’ 5G global ecosystem fund as they scale and expedite 5G adoption worldwide.”

And that is the key point. Right now there are precious few 5G deployments, and sometimes, when you read some the less shiny reports of 5G rollouts, you might be forgiven for feeling like it’s more marketing than reality at this point. But Zemer — who is not a co-founder (both of them have left the company) but has been with it since 2013, almost from the start — is sitting in on the meetings with carriers, and he believes that it won’t be long before all that tips.

“Within the next five years, approximately 75% of mobile connections will be powered by 5G, and 2.6 billion 5G mobile subscriptions will be serving 65% of the world’s population,” he said. “While 5G technology holds a tremendous amount of promise, the reality is that it is also hyper-complex, comprised of multiple technologies, architectures, bands, layers, and RAN/vRAN players. We are working with network operators around the world to help them overcome the challenges of rolling out and managing these next generation networks, by automating their entire RAN processes, allowing them to successfully deliver 5G to their customers.”

Nov
01
2020
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Warren gets $1.4 million to help local cloud infrastructure providers compete against Amazon and other giants

Started as a side project by its founders, Warren is now helping regional cloud infrastructure service providers compete against Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, Google and other tech giants. Based in Tallinn, Estonia, Warren’s self-service distributed cloud platform is gaining traction in Southeast Asia, one of the world’s fastest-growing cloud service markets, and Europe. It recently closed a $1.4 million seed round led by Passion Capital, with plans to expand in South America, where it recently launched in Brazil.

Warren’s seed funding also included participation from Lemonade Stand and angel investors like former Nokia vice president Paul Melin and Marek Kiisa, co-founder of funds Superangel and NordicNinja.

The leading global cloud providers are aggressively expanding their international businesses by growing their marketing teams and data centers around the world (for example, over the past few months, Microsoft has launched a new data center region in Austria, expanded in Brazil and announced it will build a new region in Taiwan as it competes against Amazon Web Services).

But demand for customized service and control over data still prompt many companies, especially smaller ones, to pick local cloud infrastructure providers instead, Warren co-founder and chief executive officer Tarmo Tael told TechCrunch.

“Local providers pay more attention to personal sales and support, in local language, to all clients in general, and more importantly, take the time to focus on SME clients to provide flexibility and address their custom needs,” he said. “Whereas global providers give a personal touch maybe only to a few big clients in the enterprise sectors.” Many local providers also offer lower prices and give a large amount of bandwidth for free, attracting SMEs.

He added that “the data sovereignty aspect that plays an important role in choosing their cloud platform for many of the clients.”

In 2015, Tael and co-founder Henry Vaaderpass began working on the project that eventually became Warren while running a development agency for e-commerce sites. From the beginning, the two wanted to develop a product of their own and tested several ideas out, but weren’t really excited by any of them, he said. At the same time, the agency’s e-commerce clients were running into challenges as their businesses grew.

Tael and Vaaderpass’s clients tended to pick local cloud infrastructure providers because of lower costs and more personalized support. But setting up new e-commerce projects with scalable infrastructure was costly because many local cloud infrastructure providers use different platforms.

“So we started looking for tools to use for managing our e-commerce projects better and more efficiently,” Tael said. “As we didn’t find what we were looking for, we saw this as an opportunity to build our own.”

After creating their first prototype, Tael and Vaaderpass realized that it could be used by other development teams, and decided to seek angel funding from investors, like Kiisa, who have experience working with cloud data centers or infrastructure providers.

Southeast Asia, one of the world’s fastest-growing cloud markets, is an important part of Warren’s business. Warren will continue to expand in Southeast Asia, while focusing on other developing regions with large domestic markets, like South America (starting with Brazil). Tael said the startup is also in discussion with potential partners in other markets, including Russia, Turkey and China.

Warren’s current clients include Estonian cloud provider Pilw.io and Indonesian cloud provider IdCloudHost. Tael said working with Warren means its customers spend less time dealing with technical issues related to infrastructure software, so their teams, including developers, can instead focus on supporting clients and managing other services they sell.

The company’s goal is to give local cloud infrastructure providers the ability to meet increasing demand, and eventually expand internationally, with tools to handle more installations and end users. These include features like automated maintenance and DevOps processes that streamline feature testing and handling different platforms.

Ultimately, Warren wants to connect providers in a network that end users can access through a single API and user interface. It also envisions the network as a community where Warren’s clients can share resources and, eventually, have a marketplace for their apps and services.

In terms of competition, Tael said local cloud infrastructure providers often turn to OpenStack, Virtuozzo, Stratoscale or Mirantis. The advantage these companies currently have over Warren is a wider network, but Warren is busy building out its own. The company will be able to connect several locations to one provider by the first quarter of 2021. After that, Tael said, it will “gradually connect providers to each other, upgrading our user management and billing services to handle all that complexity.”

Oct
28
2020
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Enso Security raises $6M for its application security posture management platform

Enso Security, a Tel Aviv-based startup that is building a new application security posture management platform, today announced that it has raised a $6 million seed funding round led by YL Ventures, with participation from Jump Capital. Angel investors in this round include HackerOne co-founder and CTO Alex Rice; Sounil Yu, the former chief security scientist at Bank of America; Omkhar Arasaratnam, the former head of Data Protection Technology at JPMorgan Chase and toDay Ventures.

The company was founded by Roy Erlich (CEO), Chen Gour Arie (CPO) and Barak Tawily (CTO). As is so often the case with Israeli security startups, the founding team includes former members of the Israeli Intelligence Corps, but also a lot of hands-on commercial experience. Erlich, for example, was previously the head of application security at Wix, while Gour Arie worked as an application security consultant for numerous companies across Europe and Tawily has a background in pentesting and led a security team at Wix, too.

Image Credits: Enso Security / Getty Images

“It’s no secret that, today, the diversity of R&D allows [companies] to rapidly introduce new applications and push changes to existing ones,” Erlich explained. “But this great complexity for application security teams results in significant AppSec management challenges. These challenges include the difficulty of tracking applications across environments, measuring risks, prioritizing tasks and enforcing uniform Application Security strategies across all applications.”

But as companies push out code faster than ever, the application security teams aren’t able to keep up — and may not even know about every application being developed internally. The team argues that application security today is often a manual effort to identify owners and measure risk, for example — and the resources for application security teams are often limited, especially when compared the size of the overall development team in most companies. Indeed, the Enso team argues that most AppSec teams today spend most of their time creating relationships with developers and performing operational and product-related tasks — and not on application security.

Image Credits: Enso Security / Getty Images

“It’s a losing fight from the application security side because you have no chance to cover everything,” Erlich noted. “Having said that, […] it’s all about managing the risk. You need to make sure that you take data-driven decisions and that you have all the data that you need in one place.”

Enso Security then wants to give these teams a platform that gives them a single pane of glass to discover applications, identify owners, detect changes and capture their security posture. From there, teams can then prioritize and track their tasks and get real-time feedback on what is happening across their tools. The company’s tools currently pull in data from a wide variety of tools, including the likes of JIRA, Jenkins, GitLab, GitHub, Splunk, ServiceNow and the Envoy edge and service proxy. But as the team argues, even getting data from just a few sources already provides benefits for Enso’s users.

Looking ahead, the team plans to continue improving its product and staff up from its small group of seven employees to about 20 in the next year.

“Roy, Chen and Barak have come up with a very elegant solution to a notoriously complex problem space,” said Ofer Schreiber, partner at YL Ventures . “Because they cut straight to visibility — the true heart of this issue — cybersecurity professionals can finally see and manage all of the applications in their environments. This will have an extraordinary impact on the rate of application rollout and enterprise productivity.”

Oct
27
2020
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SimilarWeb raises $120M for its AI-based market intelligence platform for sites and apps

Israeli startup SimilarWeb has made a name for itself with an AI-based platform that lets sites and apps track and understand traffic not just on their own sites, but those of its competitors. Now, it’s taking the next step in its growth. The startup has raised $120 million, funding it will use to continue expanding its platform both through acquisitions and investing in its own R&D, with a focus on providing more analytics services to larger enterprises alongside its current base of individuals and companies of all sizes that do business on the web.

But not, it seems, necessarily an IPO at the moment.

“We will pursue whatever we feel is necessary to grow, so that decision will come from delivering value, not chasing an IPO,” Or Offer, SimilarWeb’s founder and CEO, said in an interview.

Co-led by ION Crossover Partners and Viola Growth, the round doubles the total amount that the startup has raised to date to $240 million. Offer said that it was not disclosing its valuation this time around except to say that his company is now “playing in the big pool.” It counts more than half of the Fortune 100 as customers, with Walmart, P&G, Adidas and Google, among them.

For some context, it hit an $800 million valuation in its last equity round, in 2017.

SimilarWeb’s technology competes with other analytics and market intelligence providers ranging from the likes of Nielsen and ComScore through to the Apptopias of the world in that, at its most basic level, it provides a dashboard to users that provides insights into where people are going on desktop and mobile. Where it differs, Offer said, is in how it gets to its information, and what else it’s doing in the process.

For starters, it focuses not just how many people are visiting, but also a look into what is triggering the activity — the “why”, as it were — behind the activity. Using a host of AI tech such as machine learning algorithms and deep learning — like a lot of tech out of Israel, it’s being built by people with deep expertise in this area — Offer says that SimilarWeb is crunching data from a number of different sources to extrapolate its insights.

He declined to give much detail on those sources but told me that he cheered the arrival of privacy gates and cookie lists for helping ferret out, expose and sometimes eradicate some of the more nefarious “analytics” services out there, and said that SimilarWeb has not been affected at all by that swing to more data protection, since it’s not an analytics service, strictly speaking, and doesn’t sniff data on sights in the same way. It’s also exploring widening its data pool, he added:

“We are always thinking about what new signals we could use,” he said. “Maybe they will include CDNs. But it’s like Google with its rankings in search. It’s a never ending story to try to get the highest accuracy in the world.”

The global health pandemic has driven a huge amount of activity on the web this year, with people turning to sites and apps not just for leisure — something to do while staying indoors, to offset all the usual activities that have been cancelled — but for business, whether it be consumers using e-commerce services for shopping, or workers taking everything online and to the cloud to continue operating.

That has also seen a boost of business for all the various companies that help the wheels turn on that machine, SimilarWeb included.

“Consumer behavior is changing dramatically, and all companies need better visibility,” said Offer. “It started with toilet paper and hand sanitizer, then moved to desks and office chairs, but now it’s not just e-commerce but everything. Think about big banks, whose business was 70% offline and is now 70-80% online. Companies are building and undergoing a digital transformation.”

That in turn is driving more people to understand how well their web presence is working, he said, with the basic big question being: “What is my marketshare, and how does that compare to my competition? Everything is about digital visibility, especially in times of change.”

Like many other companies, SimilarWeb did see an initial dip in business, Offer said, and to that end the company has taken on some debt as part of Israel’s Paycheck Protection Program, to help safeguard some jobs that needed to be furloughed. But he added that most of its customers prior to the pandemic kicking off are now back, along with customers from new categories that hadn’t been active much before, like automotive portals.

That change in customer composition is also opening some doors of opportunity for the company. Offer noted that in recent months, a lot of large enterprises — which might have previously used SimilarWeb’s technology indirectly, via a consultancy, for example — have been coming to the company direct.

“We’ve started a new advisory service [where] our own expert works with a big customer that might have more deep and complex questions about the behaviour we are observing. They are questions all big businesses have right now.” The service sounds like a partly-educational effort, teaching companies that are not necessarily digital-first be more proactive, and partly consulting.

New customer segments, and new priorities in the world of business, are two of the things that drove this round, say investors.

“SimilarWeb was always an incredible tool for any digital professional,” said Gili Iohan of ION Crossover Partners, in a statement. “But over the last few months it has become apparent that traffic intelligence — the unparalleled data and digital insight that SimilarWeb offers — is an absolute essential for any company that wants to win in the digital world.”

As for acquisitions, SimilarWeb has historically made these to accelerate its technical march. For example, in 2015 it acquired Quettra to move deeper into mobile analytics and it acquired Swayy to move into content discovery insights (key for e-commerce intelligence). Offer would not go into too much detail about what it has identified as a further target but given that there are quite a lot of companies building tech in this area currently, that there might be a case for some consolidation around bigger platforms to combine some of the features and functionality. Offer said that it was looking at “companies with great data and digital intelligence, with a good product. There are a lot of opportunities right now on the table.”

The company will also be doing some hiring, with the plan to be to add 200 more people globally by January (it has around 600 employees today).

“Since we joined the company three years ago, SimilarWeb has executed a strategic transformation from a general-purpose measurement platform to vertical-based solutions, which has significantly expanded its market opportunity and generated immense customer value,” said Harel Beit-On, Founder and General Partner at Viola Growth, in a statement. “With a stellar management team of accomplished executives, we believe this round positions the company to own the digital intelligence category, and capitalize on the acceleration of the digital era.”

Oct
06
2020
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Tipalti receives $150M at a $2B+ valuation after its accounts payable platform sees a surge in use

Digital transformation has been one of the big enterprise themes of 2020: Organizations are doubling down on cloud services both to link up suddenly remote teams and centralize apps, documents and data in a more efficient way. Today, one of the startups that has filled out that story with a cloud-based suite of accounting services is announcing a major round of funding on the back of massive growth.

Tipalti, which helps businesses manage suppliers, invoices, purchase orders, tax compliance, payments and billing and other accounting services from a single cloud platform, has raised $150 million at a valuation that the company says is now over $2 billion.

The plan is to use the funding to continue enhancing Tipalti’s accounts payable suite with more tools; hire across all departments; and for business development. Tipalti’s aim, according to founder and CEO Chen Amit, is to provide easy to integrate accounts payable services to a base of fast-scaling businesses, which need AP services to function well, but would never consider them core functions of their businesses in themselves.

“Accounts payable is the last area that companies in the mid market would want to invest in,” said founder and CEO Chen Amit, speaking to me from Israel, where the company was founded (it is now headquartered in San Mateo). “They will invest in literally anything else other than building software to pay or manage suppliers.”

The round, a Series E, is being led by Durable Capital Partners (the firm founded last year by Henry Ellenbogen, previously a star at T. Rowe Price), with participation also from Greenoaks Capital and existing investor 01 Advisors, the firm co-founded by Twitter alums Dick Costolo and Adam Bain.

Tipalti’s growth comes as the result of a perfect storm of sorts for the startup.

The COVID-19 health pandemic has led to a global economic crunch, and businesses are especially focused now on watching where money is coming in and where it is going.

But at the same time, even before the coronavirus pandemic, Tipalti had been seeing a lot of inbound business from organizations that were scaling fast and looking for solutions that could integrate easily into their current systems.

The backstory and necessity around accounts payable can be told in a few words: it’s a boring but necessary area, and if it goes wrong, it can potentially bring a whole company down because of the tax, fraud and auditing implications.

Tipalti describes accounts payable as “the most time-consuming function in finance”, noting that 47% of finance organizations in a recent survey said they still spend around 520 hours per year on manual accounts payable tasks, with 27% of respondents indicating that their teams dedicate up to 80 people-hours per month on AP tasks, or 1,040 hours annually.

Tipalti, which fittingly means “I’ll handle it” in Hebrew, is positioned as a helper in this context. By way of an API, it integrates with a number of other accounting and tracking platforms that its customers use, including NetSuite, Sage, QuickBooks, Affise, Cake, Everflow, HitPath, LinkTrust, Paladin, Tune (HasOffers) and Vidooly, and lets companies run and track how payments are being made relative to actives within the organization, all with relatively little input from the companies themselves, essentially giving them time and other resources to focus on other areas.

The pandemic has hit some of Tipalti’s customers hard. But overall, Chen said that it’s seen more business as a result, not just from companies suddenly growing much faster (as in the case, for example, for e-commerce businesses, or those catering to people spending much more time at home and on screens), but from businesses that simply need to pay much more attention to how money is moving around.

In 2020 so far, Tipalti has seen transaction volume on its platform balloon to $12 billion, up 80% from a year ago. It now has some 1,000 customers on its books, with a specifically strong emphasis on fast-growing tech companies. The list includes Amazon Twitch, Amplitude, Roku, Duolingo, GitLab, Medium, ClassPass, Toast, Automattic, Twitter, Business Insider, GoDaddy, Zola, Boston Globe Media, Noom, Roblox, Headspace, Fiverr, Vimeo, Stack Overflow, ZipRecruiter, AppLovin, Canva, Indeed and Foursquare.

Indeed, as we have described before, it was Tipalti’s initial work with Twitter on its own accounts payable services (central to how it can make money on its ad business) that served as its first introduction to Costolo and Bain, who went on to invest in it after they left the social network and started 01 Advisors.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to increase our investment in Tipalti during a time in which organizations have been focused on rapidly transforming and modernizing the way they operate,” said Dick Costolo, founding partner of 01 Advisors and former chief executive officer of Twitter, in a statement. “When I ran Twitter, I saw first-hand the importance and value of Tipalti in automating financial operations. Tipalti transformed our processes and opened up our expansion, growth, and scalability strategies.”

It’s worth pointing out that the rise in valuation is a huge spike for Tipalti, a sign not just of its growth but investors’ bet that there will be more of that to come.

Chen Amit, the company’s founder and CEO, said it is four times the size of its valuation in its previous round (it raised $76 million in a Series D round led by 01 Advisors a little over a year ago, which would have been at around a $500 million valuation), and a whopping 14 times what Tipalti was valued in 2017). Indeed, even with other competitors like Bill.com and Coupa also targeting the same users as Tipalti, Amit estimates that between them all, they have just 3-4% of the addressable market.

“The accounts payable automation space has an extremely large total addressable market with significant growth potential,” explained Henry Ellenbogen, founder, managing partner and chief investment officer of Durable Capital Partners LP, in a statement. “We believe that Tipalti has the potential to become a much larger company within the Midmarket space due to its differentiated holistic platform, superior global capabilities and management team. This has resulted in leading retention and customer satisfaction.”

Oct
05
2020
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As it closes in on Arm, Nvidia announces UK supercomputer dedicated to medical research

As Nvidia continues to work through its deal to acquire Arm from SoftBank for $40 billion, the computing giant is making another big move to lay out its commitment to investing in U.K. technology. Today the company announced plans to develop Cambridge-1, a new £40 million AI supercomputer that will be used for research in the health industry in the country, the first supercomputer built by Nvidia specifically for external research access, it said.

Nvidia said it is already working with GSK, AstraZeneca, London hospitals Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, King’s College London and Oxford Nanopore to use the Cambridge-1. The supercomputer is due to come online by the end of the year and will be the company’s second supercomputer in the country. The first is already in development at the company’s AI Center of Excellence in Cambridge, and the plan is to add more supercomputers over time.

The growing role of AI has underscored an interesting crossroads in medical research. On one hand, leading researchers all acknowledge the role it will be playing in their work. On the other, none of them (nor their institutions) have the resources to meet that demand on their own. That’s driving them all to get involved much more deeply with big tech companies like Google, Microsoft and, in this case, Nvidia, to carry out work.

Alongside the supercomputer news, Nvidia is making a second announcement in the area of healthcare in the U.K.: it has inked a partnership with GSK, which has established an AI hub in London, to build AI-based computational processes that will be used in drug vaccine and discovery — an especially timely piece of news, given that we are in a global health pandemic and all drug makers and researchers are on the hunt to understand more about, and build vaccines for, COVID-19.

The news is coinciding with Nvidia’s industry event, the GPU Technology Conference.

“Tackling the world’s most pressing challenges in healthcare requires massively powerful computing resources to harness the capabilities of AI,” said Jensen Huang, founder and CEO of Nvidia, in his keynote at the event. “The Cambridge-1 supercomputer will serve as a hub of innovation for the U.K., and further the groundbreaking work being done by the nation’s researchers in critical healthcare and drug discovery.”

The company plans to dedicate Cambridge-1 resources in four areas, it said: industry research, in particular joint research on projects that exceed the resources of any single institution; university granted compute time; health-focused AI startups; and education for future AI practitioners. It’s already building specific applications in areas, like the drug discovery work it’s doing with GSK, that will be run on the machine.

The Cambridge-1 will be built on Nvidia’s DGX SuperPOD system, which can process 400 petaflops of AI performance and 8 petaflops of Linpack performance. Nvidia said this will rank it as the 29th fastest supercomputer in the world.

“Number 29” doesn’t sound very groundbreaking, but there are other reasons why the announcement is significant.

For starters, it underscores how the supercomputing market — while still not a mass-market enterprise — is increasingly developing more focus around specific areas of research and industries. In this case, it underscores how health research has become more complex, and how applications of artificial intelligence have both spurred that complexity but, in the case of building stronger computing power, also provides a better route — some might say one of the only viable routes in the most complex of cases — to medical breakthroughs and discoveries.

It’s also notable that the effort is being forged in the U.K. Nvidia’s deal to buy Arm has seen some resistance in the market — with one group leading a campaign to stop the sale and take Arm independent — but this latest announcement underscores that the company is already involved pretty deeply in the U.K. market, bolstering Nvidia’s case to double down even further. (Yes, chip reference designs and building supercomputers are different enterprises, but the argument for Nvidia is one of commitment and presence.)

“AI and machine learning are like a new microscope that will help scientists to see things that they couldn’t see otherwise,” said Dr. Hal Barron, chief scientific officer and president, R&D, GSK, in a statement. “NVIDIA’s investment in computing, combined with the power of deep learning, will enable solutions to some of the life sciences industry’s greatest challenges and help us continue to deliver transformational medicines and vaccines to patients. Together with GSK’s new AI lab in London, I am delighted that these advanced technologies will now be available to help the U.K.’s outstanding scientists.”

“The use of big data, supercomputing and artificial intelligence have the potential to transform research and development; from target identification through clinical research and all the way to the launch of new medicines,” added James Weatherall, PhD, head of Data Science and AI, AstraZeneca, in his statement.

“Recent advances in AI have seen increasingly powerful models being used for complex tasks such as image recognition and natural language understanding,” said Sebastien Ourselin, head, School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences at King’s College London. “These models have achieved previously unimaginable performance by using an unprecedented scale of computational power, amassing millions of GPU hours per model. Through this partnership, for the first time, such a scale of computational power will be available to healthcare research – it will be truly transformational for patient health and treatment pathways.”

Dr. Ian Abbs, chief executive & chief medical director of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust Officer, said: “If AI is to be deployed at scale for patient care, then accuracy, robustness and safety are of paramount importance. We need to ensure AI researchers have access to the largest and most comprehensive datasets that the NHS has to offer, our clinical expertise, and the required computational infrastructure to make sense of the data. This approach is not only necessary, but also the only ethical way to deliver AI in healthcare – more advanced AI means better care for our patients.”

“Compact AI has enabled real-time sequencing in the palm of your hand, and AI supercomputers are enabling new scientific discoveries in large-scale genomic data sets,” added Gordon Sanghera, CEO, Oxford Nanopore Technologies. “These complementary innovations in data analysis support a wealth of impactful science in the U.K., and critically, support our goal of bringing genomic analysis to anyone, anywhere.”

 

Sep
24
2020
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Ripjar, founded by GCHQ alums, raises $36.8M for AI that detects financial crime

Financial crime as a wider category of cybercrime continues to be one of the most potent of online threats, covering nefarious activities as diverse as fraud, money laundering and funding terrorism. Today, one of the startups that has been building data intelligence solutions to help combat that is announcing a fundraise to continue fueling its growth.

Ripjar, a U.K. company founded by five data scientists who previously worked together in British intelligence at the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ, the U.K.’s equivalent of the NSA), has raised $36.8 million (£28 million) in a Series B, money that it plans to use to continue expanding the scope of its AI platform — which it calls Labyrinth — and scaling the business.

Labyrinth, as Ripjar describes it, works with both structured and unstructured data, using natural language processing and an API-based platform that lets organizations incorporate any data source they would like to analyse and monitor for activity. It automatically and in real time checks these against other data sources like sanctions lists, politically exposed persons (PEPs) lists and transaction alerts.

Sources close to the company say that the funding values the startup in the region of £100 million, or about $127 million. Ripjar is currently profitable, the company confirmed.

The funding is being led by Long Ridge Equity Partners, a specialist fintech investor, with previous investors Winton Capital Ltd. and Accenture plc also participating. Accenture is a strategic partner: the consultancy/systems integrator uses Ripjar’s tech to work with a number of clients in the financial services sector. Ripjar also has government clients, where its platform is used for counterterrorism work. It declined to disclose any specific names, but it does note that its extensive partner list also includes the likes of PWC, BAE Systems, Dow Jones and more.

“We are excited to partner with Long Ridge who bring expertise and resources in scaling fast-growing software companies,” said Jeremy Annis, who is both the CEO and CTO of Ripjar and co-founded the company with Tom Griffin, Leigh Jones, Robert Biggs and Jeremy Laycock. “This investment signals enormous confidence in our world-leading data intelligence technology and ability to protect companies and governments from criminal behaviour which threatens their assets and prosperity. With this funding, we will accelerate the expansion of Ripjar worldwide to provide our customers with the most advanced financial crime solutions, as well as creating new iterations of the Labyrinth platform.”

The startup says that it’s had its biggest year yet — no surprise, given the circumstances. Not only has there been huge shift to online transactions in 2020 because of the rise of the COVID-19 global health pandemic, but a tightening of the world economy has led to more financial scrambling and new nefarious activity, as well as criminal acts to profit from the instability.

That’s led to inking deals with six new enterprise customers and expanding deals with four existing major clients, and Ripjar said that it now has some 20,000 clients globally.

And if you are curious about the name, as I was, it’s if anything a meta reference to some of the kind of work that Ripjar does.

“It doesn’t mean anything,” a spokesperson said. “It was created using technology to ensure a name was selected that had never been used before.”

London, as one of the world’s financial centers, has developed a strong reputation for hatching and growing interesting fintech startups, and that has also meant the U.K. — which also has a strong talent base in artificial intelligence — has become very fertile ground for startups building services to help protect those fintechs.

Ripjar’s raise, and rise, come within months of two other companies building AI to combat fraud and financial crime also raising money and growing. In July, ComplyAdvantage, which has also been building a database and platform to help combat financial crime, announced a $50 million raise. And a week before that, another U.K. company also building AI for financial and other cybercrime detection, Quantexa, raised $64.7 million.

Ripjar counts both of these, as well as bigger targets like Palantir, among its competitors. As is most likely, the big institutions that are grappling with financial crime are most likely using several companies’ technology at the same time.

It claims to have the more sophisticated approach. “We believe that Labyrinth is the most advanced solution in the market as we’ve developed it after decades of firsthand experience of fighting crime and terrorism within the national security community,” said David Balson, director of Intelligence at Ripjar, in answer to my question about competitors. “There is no silver bullet in the fight against crime. As such, we’ve had to come up with hundreds of innovations to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the vital work that goes on in the financial sector and law enforcement. This includes our world-leading natural language processing (NLP) and identity resolution capabilities, which work over any global language and script, joining the dots automatically between structured data and unstructured text like documents, news reports, web pages and intelligence reports. It’s a vital tool to help analysts overcome the information overload that is so often associated with the sector.”

Indeed, the silver bullet reference applies to more than just Ripjar’s technology. With the issue of money laundering alone a $2 trillion problem (with only 1-2% of that ever identified and recovered), you can see why, at least for right now, banks, governments and others might be willing to put multiple resources on the problem to try to tackle it.

“Financial institutions, corporates and government agencies face ever-increasing risks associated with financial crime and cyber threats” said Kevin Bhatt, a managing partner at Long Ridge, in a statement. “We believe Ripjar is well-positioned to provide artificial intelligence solutions that will allow its clients to reduce the cost of compliance, while uncovering new threats through automation. We are incredibly excited to partner with Ripjar to support their continued growth and look forward to working closely with the Ripjar team as they expand to new geographies, customers, and verticals.”

Sep
22
2020
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EasySend raises $16M from Intel, more for its no-code approach to automating B2C interfaces

No-code and low-code software have become increasingly popular ways for companies — especially those that don’t count technology as part of their DNA — to bring in more updated IT processes without the heavy lifting needed to build and integrate services from the ground up.

As a mark of that trend, today, a company that has taken this approach to speeding up customer experience is announcing some funding. EasySend, an Israeli startup which has built a no-code platform for insurance companies and other regulated businesses to build out forms and other interfaces to take in customer information and subsequently use AI systems to process it more efficiently, is announcing that it has raised $16 million.

The funding has actually come in two tranches, a $5 million seed round from Vertex Ventures and Menora Insurance that it never disclosed, and another $11 million round that closed more recently, led by Hanaco with participation from Intel Capital. The company is already generating revenue, and did so from the start, enough that it was actually bootstrapped for the first three years of its life.

Tal Daskal, EasySend’s CEO and co-founder, said that the funding being announced today will be used to help it expand into more verticals: up to now its primary target has been insurance companies, although organically it’s picked up customers from a number of other verticals, such as telecoms carriers, banks and more.

The plan will be now to hone in on specifically marketing to and building solutions for the financial services sector, as well as hiring and expanding in Asia, Europe and the US.

Longer term, he said, that another area EasySend might like to look at more in the future is robotic process automation (RPA). RPA, and companies that deal in it like UIPath, Automation Anywhere and Blue Prism, is today focused on the back office, and EasySend’s focus on the “front office” integrates with leaders in that area. But over time, it would make sense for EasySend to cover this in a more holistic way, he added.

Menora was a strategic backer: it’s one of the largest insurance providers in Israel, Daskal said, and it used EasySend to build out better ways for consumers to submit data for claims and apply for insurance.

Intel, he said, is also strategic although how is still being worked out: what’s notable to mention here is that Intel has been building out a huge autonomous driving business in Israel, anchored by MobileEye, and not only will insurance (and overall risk management) play a big part in how that business develops, but longer term you can see how there will be a need for a lot of seamless customer interactions (and form filling) between would-be car owners, operators, and passengers in order for services to operate more efficiently.

Intel Capital chose to invest in EasySend because of its intelligent and impactful approach to accelerating digital transformation to improve customer experiences,” said Nick Washburn, senior managing director, Intel Capital, in a statement. “EasySend’s no-code platform utilizes AI to digitize thousands of forms quickly and easily, reducing development time from months to days, and transforming customer journeys that have been paper-based, inefficient and frustrating. In today’s world, this is more critical than ever before.”

The rise and persistence of Covid-19 globally has had a big, multi-faceted impact how we all do business, and two of those ways have fed directly into the growth of EasySend.

First, the move to remote working has given organizations a giant fillip to work on digital transformation, refreshing and replacing legacy systems with processes that work faster and rely on newer technologies.

Second, consumers have really reassessed their use of insurance services, specifically health and home policies, respectively to make sure they are better equipped in the event of a Covid-19-precipitated scare, and to make sure that they are adequately covered for how they now use their homes all hours of the day.

EasySend’s platform for building and running interfaces for customer experience fall directly into the kinds of apps and services that are being identified and updated, precisely at a time when its initial target customers, insurers, are seeing a surge in business. It’s that “perfect storm” of circumstances that the startup wouldn’t have wished on the world, but which has definitely helped it along.

While there are a lot of companies on the market today that help organizations automate and run their customer interaction processes, the Daskal said that EasySend’s focus on using AI to process information is what makes the startup more unique, as it can be used not just to run things, but to help improve how things work.

It’s not just about taking in character recognition and organizing data, it’s “understanding the business logic,” he said. “We have a lot of data and we can understand [for example] where customers left the process [when filling out forms]. We can give insights into how to increase the conversion rates.”

It’s that balance of providing tools to do business better today, as well as to focus on how to build more business for tomorrow, that has caught the eye of investors.

“Hanaco is firmly invested in building a digital future. By bridging the gap between manual processes and digitization, EasySend is making this not only possible, but also easy, affordable, and practical,” said Hanaco founding partner Alon Lifshitz, in a statement.

Sep
16
2020
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User-generated e-learning site Kahoot acquires Actimo for up to $33M to double down on corporate sector

Norwegian company Kahoot originally made its name with a platform that lets educators and students create and share game-based online learning lessons, in the process building up a huge public catalogue of gamified lessons created by its community. Today the startup — now valued at more than $2 billion — is announcing an acquisition to give a boost to another segment of its business: corporate customers.

Kahoot has acquired Danish startup Actimo, which provides a platform for businesses to train and engage with employees. Kahoot said that the purchase is being made with a combination of cash and shares, and works out to a total enterprise value of between $26 million and $33 million for the smaller company, with the sale expected to be completed in October 2020.

It may sound like a modest sum in a tech market where companies are currently and regularly seeing paper valuations in the hundreds of millions at Series A stage, but it also presents a different kind of trajectory both for founders and their investors.

This is actually a strong exit for Actimo, which had raised less than $500,000, according to data from PitchBook. And it puts Actimo under the wing of a company that has been scaling globally fast, finding — like others in the areas of online education and remote working — that the current state of social distancing due to COVID-19 is resulting in a boost to its business.

To give you an idea of the scale and growth of Kahoot, the company says that currently it has over 1 billion “participating players,” on top of some 4.4 billion users in aggregate since first launching the platform in 2013. In the last 12 months, some 200 million games have been played on its platform. In June, when Kahoot announced that it had raised $28 million in funding, it told us that 100 million games had been played.

In light of its growth and the future opportunity — even putting aside the progression of the coronavirus, it looks like remote work and remote learning will at least become a lot more common as a longer-term option — the company has also seen a rise in its valuation. With some of its shares traded on the Merkur Market in Norway, the company currently has a market cap of 18.716 billion Norwegian Krone, which at today’s rates is about $2.08 billion. That figure was $1.4 billion in June.

Kahoot’s targeting of the corporate sector is not new. The company has been building a business in this space for years. It says that in the last 12 months, it logged 2 million sessions across 20 million participating “players” of its corporate training “games,” with some 97% of the Fortune 500 among those users. Customers include the likes of Facebook (for sales training), Oyo (hospitality training and onboarding) and Qualys (for taking polls during a conference), among others.

Critically, while a lot of Kahoot’s audience is in education, it’s corporate that most of the revenues come in —  one reason why it’s keen to grow that segment with more services and users.

The aim with Actimo, Kahoot says, is to build out a product set aimed at helping organisations with company culture — which, with many organisations now going on eight months and counting of entire teams working regularly outside of their physical offices, has grown as a priority.

Keeping a team feeling like a team, and an individual feeling more than a transactional regard for an employer, is not a simple thing in the best of times. Now, as we continue to work physically away from each other, it will take even more tools and efforts to get the balance right.

In that context, Actimo’s solution is just one aspect, but potentially an interesting one: it has built a platform where employees can track the training that they have done or need to do, engage with other co-workers, and provide feedback, and employers can use it to generally track and encourage how employees are engaging across the company and its various efforts. It counts some 200 enterprises, including Circle K, Hi3G and Compass Group, among its customers, and has current ARR of $5 million.

For comparison, Kahoot, in its Q2 financials published in August, reported ARR of $25 million, with invoiced revenue for the quarter at $9.6 million, growing some 317% on the same quarter a year before. The company has also raised some $110 million in private funding from the likes of Microsoft and Disney.

As Kahoot looks to find more than just a transient place in a company’s IT and software fabric — transience of attention always being a risk with anything gaming-based — it makes a lot of sense to pick up Actimo and work on ways of coupling the platform with its other corporate work. You can also imagine a time when it might create a similar kind of dashboard for the educational sector.

“We are excited to welcome the Actimo team to be part of the fast-growing Kahoot! family,” said Kahoot CEO, Eilert Hanoa, in a statement. “This acquisition will further extend Kahoot!’s corporate learning offerings, by providing solutions tailored for the frontline segment, as well as to solidify company culture and engagement among remote and distributed teams in companies of all types and sizes. This continues our expressed ambition to also grow through M&A by adding strategic capabilities that we can leverage across our global platform.”

“We are thrilled to join forces with Kahoot! in our mission to develop next-level solutions that connect remote employees and boost employee engagement and productivity,” said Eske Gunge, CEO at Actimo, in a statement. “Being part of Kahoot! and with our experience from working with innovative and ambitious enterprises across industries, we can together set a new standard for corporate learning and engagement.”

Sep
15
2020
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In 2020, Warsaw’s startup ecosystem is ‘a place to observe carefully’

If you listed the trends that have captured the attention of 20 Warsaw-focused investors who replied to our recent surveys, automation/AI, enterprise SaaS, cleantech, health, remote work and the sharing economy would top the list. These VCs said they are seeking opportunities in the “digital twin” space, proptech and expanded blockchain tokenization inside industries.

Investors in Central and Eastern Europe are generally looking for the same things as VCs based elsewhere: startups that have a unique value proposition, capital efficiency, motivated teams, post-revenue and a well-defined market niche.

Out of the cohort we interviewed, several told us that COVID-19 had not yet substantially transformed how they do business. As Micha? Papuga, a partner at Flashpoint VC put it, “the situation since March hasn’t changed a lot, but we went from extreme panic to extreme bullishness. Neither of these is good and I would recommend to stick to the long-term goals and not to be pressured.”

Said Pawel Lipkowski of RBL_VC, “Warsaw is at its pivotal point — think Berlin in the ‘90s. It’s a place to observe carefully.”

Here’s who we interviewed for part one:

For the conclusion, we spoke to the following investors:

Karol Szubstarski, partner, OTB Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Gradual shift of enterprises toward increased use of automation and AI, that enables dramatic improvement of efficiency, cost reduction and transfer of enterprise resources from tedious, repeatable and mundane tasks to more exciting, value added opportunities.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
One of the most exciting opportunities is ICEYE. The company is a leader and first mover in synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) technology for microsatellites. It is building and operating its own commercial constellation of SAR microsatellites capable of providing satellite imagery regardless of the cloud cover, weather conditions and time of the day and night (comparable resolution to traditional SAR satellites with 100x lower cost factor), which is disrupting the multibillion dollar satellite imagery market.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
I would love to see more startups in the digital twin space; technology that enables creation of an exact digital replica/copy of something in physical space — a product, process or even the whole ecosystem. This kind of solution enables experiments and [the implementation of] changes that otherwise could be extremely costly or risky – it can provide immense value added for customers.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
A company with unique value proposition to its customers, deep tech component that provides competitive edge over other players in the market and a founder with global vision and focus on execution of that vision.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
No market/sector is too saturated and has no room for innovation. Some markets seem to be more challenging than others due to immense competitive landscape (e.g., food delivery, language-learning apps) but still can be the subject of disruption due to a unique value proposition of a new entrant.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
OTB is focused on opportunities with links to Central Eastern European talent (with no bias toward any hub in the region), meaning companies that leverage local engineering/entrepreneurial talent in order to build world-class products to compete globally (usually HQ outside CEE).

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
CEE region is recognized for its sizable and highly skilled talent pool in the fields of engineering and software development. The region is well-positioned to build up solutions that leverage deep, unique tech regardless of vertical (especially B2B). Historically, the region was especially strong in AI/ML, voice/speech/NLP technologies, cybersecurity, data analytics, etc.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
CEE (including Poland and Warsaw) has always been recognized as an exceptionally strong region in terms of engineering/IT talent. Inherent risk aversion of entrepreneurs has driven, for a number of years, a more “copycat”/local market approach, while holding back more ambitious, deep tech opportunities. In recent years we are witnessing a paradigm shift with a new generation of entrepreneurs tackling problems with unique, deep tech solutions, putting emphasis on global expansion, neglecting shallow local markets. As such, the quality of deals has been steadily growing and currently reflects top quality on global scale, especially on tech level. CEE market demonstrates also a growing number of startups (in total), which is mostly driven by an abundance of early-stage capital and success stories in the region (e.g., DataRobot, Bolt, UiPath) that are successfully evangelizing entrepreneurship among corporates/engineers.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
I believe that local hubs will hold their dominant position in the ecosystem. The remote/digital workforce will grow in numbers but proximity to capital, human resources and markets still will remain the prevalent force in shaping local startup communities.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
OTB invests in general in companies with clearly defined technological advantage, making quantifiable and near-term difference to their customers (usually in the B2B sector), which is a value-add regardless of the market cycle. The economic downturn works generally in favor of technological solutions enabling enterprise clients to increase efficiency, cut costs, bring optimization and replace manual labour with automation — and the vast majority of OTB portfolio fits that description. As such, the majority of the OTB portfolio has not been heavily impacted by the COVID pandemic.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
The COVID pandemic has not impacted our investment strategy in any way. OTB still pursues unique tech opportunities that can provide its customers with immediate value added. This kind of approach provides a relatively high level of resilience against economic downturns (obviously, sales cycles are extending but in general sales pipeline/prospects/retention remains intact). Liquidity in portfolio is always the number one concern in uncertain, challenging times. Lean approach needs to be reintroduced, companies need to preserve cash and keep optimizing — that’s the only way to get through the crisis.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
A good example in our portfolio is Segron, a provider of an automated testing platform for applications, databases and enterprise network infrastructure. Software development, deployment and maintenance in enterprise IT ecosystem requires continuous and rigorous testing protocols and as such a lot of manual heavy lifting with highly skilled engineering talent being involved (which can be used in a more productive way elsewhere). The COVID pandemic has kept engineers home (with no ability for remote testing) while driving demand for digital services (and as such demand for a reliable IT ecosystem). The Segron automated framework enables full automation of enterprise testing leading to increased efficiency, cutting operating costs and giving enterprise customers peace of mind and a good night’s sleep regarding their IT infrastructure in the challenging economic environment.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
I remain impressed by the unshakeable determination of multiple founders and their teams to overcome all the challenges of the unfavorable economic ecosystem.

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