Jun
17
2020
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Onna, the ‘knowledge integration platform’ for workplace apps, raises $27M Series B

Onna, the “knowledge integration platform” (KIP) that counts Dropbox and Slack as backers, has raised $27 million in Series B funding.

Leading the round is Atomico, with participation from Glynn Capital. Previous investors Dawn Capital, Nauta Capital and Slack Fund also followed on.

Founded in 2015, Barcelona and New York-based Onna integrates with a plethora of workplace apps, including Slack, Dropbox, G Suite, Microsoft 365 and Salesforce, to help unlock the proprietary knowledge stored in a company’s various cloud and on-premise software. Typical applications for a KIP include compliance, governance, archiving and “eDiscovery.”

From communication apps to cloud storage to HR platforms, the idea is to unify all of this data and make it searchable but in a way that is secure and protects existing permissions and privacy. In fact, another way to think of Onna is like Apple’s Spotlight functionality but for the enterprise. However, pitched as a platform not just a feature, Onna also offers an API of its own so that various use cases can be built on top of this “single source of truth.”

“Onna’s knowledge integration platform is a centralised, searchable and secure hub that connects company data wherever it resides and makes it easier and faster to make informed decisions,” Onna founder and CEO Salim Elkhou tells TechCrunch. “It is a productivity tool built for the way businesses work today… something that didn’t exist before, creating a new industry standard which benefits all companies within the ecosystem.”

Citing a report by single sign-in provider Okta, Elkhou notes that companies today use an average of 88 different apps across their workforce, a 21% increase from three years ago.

“The reason apps have become so popular is that they’re very effective for tackling specific challenges, or even a broad range of tasks. But the problem large organisations were coming up against is that their knowledge was spread across a wide range of apps that weren’t necessarily designed to work together.”

For example, a legal counsel could be looking to find contracts company-wide to assess a company’s exposure. The problem is that contracts may be saved in Salesforce, sent by email, shared over Slack or even saved on desktops. “Your company may have acquired another company, which has its own ways of saving information, so now the simple task of finding contracts can be a heavy lifting exercise, involving everyone’s time. With Onna, being the connective tissue across these applications, this search would take a split second,” claims Elkhou.

But the potential power of a KIP goes well beyond search alone. Elkhou says a more ambitious use case is unifying knowledge across apps and using Onna as infrastructure. “We believe that the next generation of workplace apps will be built on top of a knowledge integration platform like Onna,” he explains. “Due to our plug and play integrations with most enterprise apps and our open API, you can now build your own bespoke workflows on top of your company’s knowledge. More importantly, we handle all the heavy lifting on the back end when it comes to processing the right contextual information across multiple systems securely, which means you can get on with creatively building a more efficient workplace.”

“In Onna, we saw a product in a new and complementary category, providing a solution not at the data level but at the ‘knowledge level,’ ” adds Atomico’s Ben Blume, who has also joined the Onna board. “Onna’s core solution integrates with any tools in an organisation where knowledge resides, [and] ingests, indexes and classifies the knowledge inside, enabling it to power applications in many areas.”

Blume also points to the belief that some of the cloud tools vendors themselves have in Onna, with both Slack and Dropbox “investing, using and promoting” Onna’s solution. “As they look to grow their own penetration in organisations with a wider range of needs and demands, we saw partnering with Onna as a recognition of its best in class nature to their customers,” he says.

Meanwhile, I understand the new round of funding was done remotely due to lockdown, even though Atomico and Onna had already met and stayed in touch after the VC firm ended up not participating in the startup’s Series A.

Recalls Elkhou: “We had met with our investors in person over a year ago, and have had many video calls since and prior to the pandemic. However, soon after the lockdowns took effect, the need for remote collaboration tools skyrocketed which only accelerated the critical role Onna has in helping people within organisations access and share knowledge that was spread across an ever growing number of apps. If anything, it brought new urgency to the problem we were solving, because workplace serendipity no longer existed. You couldn’t answer questions over a coffee or by the water cooler, but these new remote workers still needed to access knowledge and share it securely.”

Jun
17
2020
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Contentful raises $80M Series E round for its headless CMS

Headless CMS company Contentful today announced that it has raised an $80 million Series E funding round led by Sapphire Ventures, with participation from General Catalyst, Salesforce Ventures and a number of other new and existing investors. With this, the company has now raised a total of $158.3 million and a Contentful spokesperson tells me that it is approaching a $1 billion valuation.

In addition, the company also today announced that it has hired Bridget Perry as its CMO. She previously led Adobe’s marketing efforts across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Currently, 28% of the Fortune 500 use Contentful to manage their content across platforms. The company says it has a total of 2,200 paying customers right now and these include the likes of Spotify, ITV, the British Museum, Telus and Urban Outfitters.

Steve Sloan, the company’s CEO who joined the company late last year, attributes its success to the fact that virtually every business today is in the process of figuring out how to become digital and serve its customers across platforms — and that’s a process that has only been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Ten or 15 years ago, when these content platforms or content management systems were created, they were a) really built for a web-only world and b) where the website was a complement to some other business,” he said. “Today, the mobile app, the mobile web experience is the front door to every business on the planet. And that’s never been any more clear than in this recent COVID crisis, where we’ve seen many, many businesses — even those that are very traditional businesses — realize that the dominant and, in some cases, only way their customers can interact with them is through that digital experience.”

But as they are looking at their options, many decide that they don’t just want to take an off-the-shelf product, Sloan argues, because it doesn’t allow them to build a differentiated offering.

Image Credits: Contentful

Perry also noted that this is something she saw at Adobe, too, as it built its digital experience business. “Leading marketing at Adobe, we used it ourselves,” she said. “And so the challenge that we heard from customers in the market was how complex it was in some cases to implement, to organize around it, to build those experiences fast and see value and impact on the business. And part of that challenge, I think, stemmed from the kind of monolithic, all-in-one type of suite that Adobe offered. Even as a marketer at Adobe, we had challenges with that kind of time to market and agility. And so what’s really interesting to me — and one of the reasons why I joined Contentful — is that Contentful approaches this in a very different way.”

Sloan noted that putting the round together was a bit of an adventure. Contentful’s existing investors approached the company around the holidays because they wanted to make a bigger investment in the company to fuel its long-term growth. But at the time, the company wasn’t ready to raise new capital yet.

“And then in January and February, we had inbound interest from people who weren’t yet investors, who came to us and said, ‘hey, we really want to invest in this company, we’ve seen the trend and we really believe in it.’ So we went back to our insiders and said, ‘hey, we’re going to think about actually moving in our timeline for raising capital,” Sloan told me. “And then, right about that time is when COVID really broke out, particularly in Western Europe in North America.”

That didn’t faze Contentful’s investors, though.

“One of the things that really stood out about our investors — and particularly our lead investor for this round Sapphire — is that when everybody else was really, really frightened, they were really clear about the opportunity, about their belief in the team and about their understanding of the progress we had already made. And they were really unflinching in terms of their support,” Sloan said.

Unsurprisingly, the company plans to use the new funding to expand its go-to-market efforts (that’s why it hired Perry, after all), but Sloan also noted that Contentful plans to invest quite a bit into R&D, as well, as it looks to help its customers solve more adjacent problems.

Jun
08
2020
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Silverfin wants to modernize accounting software with its cloud service

Meet Silverfin, a startup focused on accounting software. This isn’t about helping small startups handle accounting tasks themselves. Silverfin wants to build the cloud service for small and big accounting firms — Salesforce, but for accounting.

The startup just raised a Series B funding round led by Hg — Index Ventures led the previous Series A round. While terms of the deal are undisclosed, a source told me the round is worth approximately $30 million.

In order to improve productivity, Silverfin tries to automate the most time-consuming aspect of accounting — data collection. The company helps you connect with your clients’ accounting software directly to import their data, such as Xero, QuickBooks, Sage and SAP.

After that, Silverfin standardizes your data set and lets you add data manually so that the platform can become the main data repository.

Once your data is in the system, you need to process it. Silverfin lets you configure automated workflows and templates so that anybody in the accounting firm can enrich data and check for compliance issues. Like Salesforce and other software-as-a-service products, multiple people can communicate on the service and look at all past edits and changes.

You can then visualize financial data, generate reports and statements. It opens up new possibilities for accounting firms. They can charge advisory services thanks to analytics tools and an alert system.

The startup was founded in Ghent, Belgium, but it has now expanded to London, Amsterdam and Copenhagen. Silverfin has attracted 650 customers, including big accounting firms in Europe and North America.

By targeting the most demanding customers first, Silverfin doesn’t need to replace Xero or QuickBooks altogether. It can integrate with those existing software solutions first. There’s an opportunity to go downmarket later and convince smaller companies that don’t necessarily have a big accounting team.

Jun
04
2020
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Sourcing software provider Keelvar raises $18M from Elephant and Mosaic

It was perhaps not until the COVID-19 pandemic hit the planet that most of us had ever heard or uttered the phrase “supply chain.” But in a global economy that had become drunk and lazy on “just in time ordering” and similar, the threat to supply chains of things like, oh, food, from that pesky virus has become real and visceral. That’s why automation of “the supply chain” has become such a huge issue. So it’s not a huge surprise that startups aimed at tackling this are suddenly thrust into the limelight.

Step forward, Cork, Ireland-based Keelvar, strategic sourcing software company, which today announces that it has raised $18 million in Series A funding led by Elephant Ventures and Mosaic Ventures, with participation from Paua Ventures, enabling the company to further expand into enterprise markets.

The investment will support Keelvar’s expansion plans for Europe and the U.S., amid the rapidly growing need for supply chain automation solutions, which has been further accelerated by the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

Keelvar provides large enterprises with “Advanced Sourcing Optimization” software and “Intelligent Sourcing Automation” that uses AI to fully automate tactical buying processes.

It competes with Coupa and Jaggaer in terms of all three offering sophisticated e-sourcing software. Keelvar says its key competitive advantage is that it provides intelligent bots to autopilot the sourcing projects, thus making the whole process easier, faster and cheaper.

It also currently manages more than $90 billion in spend annually for enterprises in all major industries. Customers include Siemens, Coca-Cola, Novartis, BMW and Samsung.

With COVID-19 disrupting supply chains globally, Keelvar expects the demand for automation to further increase.

In a statement, Alan Holland, CEO of Keelvar, said: “The Future of Work in procurement is changing quickly, with COVID19 acting as a catalyst. We have witnessed an escalation in demand from enterprises seeking intelligent systems to automate complex processes as teams became overburdened with disrupted supply chains. Keelvar has proven that Sourcing Bots can relieve that burden enormously. Now it’s time to hit the accelerator and scale-up.”

Speaking about the investment, Peter Fallon, partner at Elephant noted: “Keelvar’s sourcing optimization and automation software delivers meaningful ROI to enterprise sourcing and procurement organizations globally. We are excited to partner with Alan Holland and the team at Keelvar as the company continues to emerge as a leader in this market.”

Private sector companies alone spend trillions annually buying from third-party suppliers. External sourcing is usually the largest expense category and on average it is 43% of total costs (Bain & Company). The global procurement software market is currently growing at a CAGR of 9.1%, and expected to reach $7.3 billion by 2022 (IDC).

Speaking about the funding, Toby Coppel, co-founder, and partner at Mosaic Ventures said: “Keelvar is a brilliant example of machine learning in action, giving superpower to procurement teams in every large enterprise. With COVID-19 pushing businesses to embrace these new technologies, we’re excited to partner with Keelvar on the next phase of growth.”

Jun
04
2020
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Nanox, maker of a low-cost scanning service to replace X-rays, expands Series B to $51M

A lot of the attention in medical technology today has been focused on tools and innovations that might help the world better fight the COVID-19 global health pandemic. Today comes news of another startup that is taking on some funding for a disruptive innovation that has the potential to make both COVID-19 as well as other kinds of clinical assessments more accessible.

Nanox, a startup out of Israel that has developed a small, low-cost scanning system and “medical screening as a service” to replace the costly and large machines and corresponding software typically used for X-rays, CAT scans, PET scans and other body imaging services, is today announcing that it has raised $20 million from a strategic investor, South Korean carrier SK Telecom.

SK Telecom in turn plans to help distribute physical scanners equipped with Nanox technology as well as resell the pay-per-scan imaging service, branded Nanox.Cloud, and corresponding 5G wireless network capacity to operate them. Nanox currently licenses its tech to big names in the imaging space, like FujiFilm, and Foxconn is also manufacturing its donut-shaped Nanox.Arc scanners.

The funding is technically an extension of Nanox’s previous round, which was announced earlier this year at $26 million with backing from Foxconn, FujiFilm and more. Nanox says that the full round is now closed off at $51 million, with the company having raised $80 million since launching almost a decade ago, in 2011.

Nanox’s valuation is not being publicly disclosed, but a news report in the Israeli press from December said that one option the startup was considering was an IPO at a $500 million valuation. We understand from sources that the valuation is about $100 million higher now.

The Nanox system is based around proprietary technology related to digital X-rays. Digital radiography is a relatively new area in the world of imaging that relies on digital scans rather than X-ray plates to capture and process images.

Nanox says the ARC comes in at 70 kg versus 2,000 kg for the average CT scanner, and production costs are around $10,000 compared to $1-3 million for the CT scanner.

But in addition to being smaller (and thus cheaper) machines with much of the processing of images done in the cloud, the Nanox system, according to CEO and founder Ran Poliakine, can make its images in a tiny fraction of a second, making them significantly safer in terms of radiation exposure compared to existing methods.

Imaging has been in the news a lot of late because it has so far been one of the most accurate methods for detecting the progress of COVID-19 in patients or would-be patients in terms of how it is affecting patients’ lungs and other organs. While the dissemination of equipment like Nanox’s definitely could play a role in handling those cases better, the ultimate goal of the startup is much wider than that.

Ultimately, the company hopes to make its devices and cloud-based scanning service ubiquitous enough that it would be possible to run early detection, preventative scans for a much wider proportion of the population.

“What is the best way to fight cancer today? Early detection. But with two-thirds of the world without access to imaging, you may need to wait weeks and months for those scans today,” said Poliakine.

The startup’s mission is to distribute some 15,000 of its machines over the next several years to bridge that gap, and it’s getting there through partnerships. In addition to the SK Telecom deal it’s announcing today, last March, Nanox inked a $174 million deal to distribute 1,000 machines across Australia, New Zealand and Norway in partnership with a company called the Gateway Group.

The SK Telecom investment is an interesting development that underscores how carriers see 5G as an opportunity to revisit what kinds of services they resell and offer to businesses and individuals, and SK Telecom specifically has singled out healthcare as one obvious and big opportunity.

“Telecoms carriers are looking for opportunities around how to sell 5G,” said Ilung Kim, SK Telecom’s president, in an interview. “Now you can imagine a scanner of this size being used in an ambulance, using 5G data. It’s a game changer for the industry.”

Looking ahead, Nanox will continue to ink partnerships for distributing its hardware and reselling its cloud-based services for processing the scans, but Poliakine said it does not plan to develop its own technology beyond that to gain insights from the raw data. For that, it’s working with third parties — currently three AI companies — that plug into its APIs, and it plans to add more to the ecosystem over time.

Jun
04
2020
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Bryter raises $16M for a no-code platform for non-technical people to build enterprise automation apps

Automation is the name of the game in enterprise IT at the moment: We now have a plethora of solutions on the market to speed up your workflow, simplify a process and perform more repetitive tasks without humans getting involved. Now, a startup that is helping non-technical people get more directly involved in how to make automation work better for their tasks is announcing some funding to seize the opportunity.

Bryter — a no-code platform based in Berlin that lets workers in departments like accounting, legal, compliance and marketing who do not have any special technical or developer skills build tools like chatbots, trigger automated database and document actions and risk assessors — is today announcing that it has raised $16 million. This is a Series A round being co-led by Accel and Dawn Capital, with Notion Capital and Chalfen Ventures also participating.

The funding comes less than a year after Bryter raised a seed round — $6 million in November 2019 — and it was oversubscribed, with term sheets coming in from many of the bigger VCs in Europe and the U.S. With this funding, the company has now raised around $25 million, and while the valuation is considerably up on the last round, Bryter is not disclosing what it is.

Michael Grupp, the CEO who co-founded the company with Micha-Manuel Bues and Michael Hübl (pictured below), said that the whole Series A process took no more than a month to initiate and close, an impressive turnaround considering the chilling effect that the COVID-19 health pandemic has had on dealmaking.

Part of the reason for the enthusiasm is because of the traction that Bryter has had since launching in 2018. Its 50 enterprise customers include the likes of McDonald’s, Telefónica, banks, healthcare and industrial companies, and professional services firms PwC, KPMG and Deloitte (who in turn use it for themselves as well as for clients). (Note: Because of its target users being large enterprises, the company doesn’t publish per-person pricing on its site as such.)

Bryter’s been seeing a lot of attention from customers and investors because its platform speaks to a big opportunity within the wider world of software today.

Enterprise IT has long been thought of as the less-fun end of technology: It’s all about getting work done, and a lot of the software used in a business environment is complex and often requires technical knowledge to implement, use, fix and adapt in any way.

This may still the case for a lot of it, especially for the most sophisticated tools, but at the same time we have seen a lot of “consumerization” come into IT, where user-friendly hardware and software built for consumers — specifically non-technical consumers — either inspires new enterprise services, or are simply directly imported into the workplace environment.

No-code software — like automation, another big trend in enterprise IT right now — plays a big role in how enterprise tools are becoming more user-friendly. One of the biggest roadblocks in a lot of office environments is that when workers identify things that don’t work, or could work much better than they do, they need to file tickets and get IT teams — also often overworked — to do the fixing for them. No-code platforms can help circumvent some of that work — so long as the roadblock of IT approves the use, that is.

Bryter’s conception and existence comes out of the no-code trend. It plays on the same ideas as IFTTT or Zapier but is very firmly aimed at users who might use pieces of enterprise software as part of their jobs, but have never had to delve into figuring out how they actually work.

There are already a lot of “low-code” (minimal coding) and other no-code platforms on the market today for business (not consumer) use cases. They include Blender.io, Zapier, Tray.io (a London-founded startup that itself raised a big round last autumn), n8n (also German, backed by Sequoia), and also biggies like MuleSoft (acquired by Salesforce in 2018 at a $6.5 billion valuation).

Bryter’s contention is that many of these actually need more technical know-how than they initially claim. Grupp pointed out that the earliest automation tools for enterprise have been around for decades at this point, but even most of the very modern descendants of those “will require some coding.” Bryter’s toolbox essentially lets users create dialogues with users — which they can program based on the expertise that they will have in their particular fields — which then sources data they can then plug into other software via the Bryter platform in order to “perform” different tasks more quickly.

Grupp’s contention is that while these kinds of tools have long been used, they will be in even more demand going forward.

“After COVID-19, workers will be even more distributed,” he said. “Teams and individuals will need to access information in a faster way, and the only way for big organizations to distribute that knowledge is through more digital tools.” The idea is that Bryter can essentially help bridge those gaps in a more efficient way.

Bryter’s target user and its approach underscores why investors like Accel see accessible, no-code solutions as a big opportunity.

“No-code software is really reducing the barriers of adoption,” Luca Bocchio, a partner at Accel, said in an interview. “If people like you and I can use the software, then that means demand can multiply by big numbers.” That’s in contrast to a lot of enterprise software today, which is very limited in how it can grow, he added. “Plus, enterprises these days want to see more future visibility in terms of the products they adopt. They want to make sure something will stick around, and so they tend not to want to work with super young startups. But it’s happening for Bryter, and the is a testament to Bryter and to the market potential.”

May
26
2020
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Scandit raises $80M as COVID-19 drives demand for contactless deliveries

Enterprise barcode scanner company Scandit has closed an $80 million Series C round, led by Silicon Valley VC firm G2VP. Atomico, GV, Kreos, NGP Capital, Salesforce Ventures and Swisscom Ventures also participated in the round — which brings its total raised to date to $123M.

The Zurich-based firm offers a platform that combines computer vision and machine learning tech with barcode scanning, text recognition (OCR), object recognition and augmented reality which is designed for any camera-equipped smart device — from smartphones to drones, wearables (e.g. AR glasses for warehouse workers) and even robots.

Use-cases include mobile apps or websites for mobile shopping; self checkout; inventory management; proof of delivery; asset tracking and maintenance — including in healthcare where its tech can be used to power the scanning of patient IDs, samples, medication and supplies.

It bills its software as “unmatched” in terms of speed and accuracy, as well as the ability to scan in bad light; at any angle; and with damaged labels. Target industries include retail, healthcare, industrial/manufacturing, travel, transport & logistics and more.

The latest funding injection follows a $30M Series B round back in 2018. Since then Scandit says it’s tripled recurring revenues, more than doubling the number of blue-chip enterprise customers, and doubling the size of its global team.

Global customers for its tech include the likes of 7-Eleven, Alaska Airlines, Carrefour, DPD, FedEx, Instacart, Johns Hopkins Hospital, La Poste, Levi Strauss & Co, Mount Sinai Hospital and Toyota — with the company touting “tens of billions of scans” per year on 100+ million active devices at this stage of its business.

It says the new funding will go on further pressing on the gas to grow in new markets, including APAC and Latin America, as well as building out its footprint and ops in North America and Europe. Also on the slate: Funding more R&D to devise new ways for enterprises to transform their core business processes using computer vision and AR.

The need for social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic has also accelerated demand for mobile computer vision on personal smart devices, according to Scandit, which says customers are looking for ways to enable more contactless interactions.

Another demand spike it’s seeing is coming from the pandemic-related boom in ‘Click & Collect’ retail and “millions” of extra home deliveries — something its tech is well positioned to cater to because its scanning apps support BYOD (bring your own device), rather than requiring proprietary hardware.

“COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on the need for rapid digital transformation in these uncertain times, and the need to blend the physical and digital plays a crucial role,” said CEO Samuel Mueller in a statement. “Our new funding makes it possible for us to help even more enterprises to quickly adapt to the new demand for ‘contactless business’, and be better positioned to succeed, whatever the new normal is.”

Also commenting on the funding in a supporting statement, Ben Kortlang, general partner at G2VP, added: “Scandit’s platform puts an enterprise-grade scanning solution in the pocket of every employee and customer without requiring legacy hardware. This bridge between the physical and digital worlds will be increasingly critical as the world accelerates its shift to online purchasing and delivery, distributed supply chains and cashierless retail.”

May
19
2020
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Algolia gets a new CEO as founder steps down

Search-as-a-service startup Algolia is announcing some changes at the helm of the startup. Co-founder and CEO Nicolas Dessaigne is transitioning to a non-operational role at the company. He’ll still be a board member, but Bernadette Nixon is joining the company to take on the CEO position.

Algolia is building a search engine API. The company doesn’t want to build the next Google. Instead, it wants to power the search box on your website or app with instant letter-by-letter search results.

The company is managing the search feature on Slack, Stripe, Under Armour, Twitch and 9,000 other companies. At its current run rate, Algolia processes 1.2 trillion searches a year. The company says it touches 1 in 6 web users each day.

“The story started right after the Series C,” Dessaigne told me. Algolia raised a $110 million Series C round at the end of 2019. “I was super excited but what was most exciting for me was the potential of the company.”

“Someone with more go-to-market experience would probably be a better person at achieving that potential,” he continued.

I asked more directly whether the decision to replace him as CEO came from the board of the company or not. “It really started on my side. The board was supportive of the decision but it didn’t come from them,” he said.

Nixon was previously the CEO of Alfresco, the company that developed an open source enterprise content-management startup that was acquired by private equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners in 2018. In the past, she held various positions as chief revenue officer, executive vice president of sales and senior vice president of corporate sales in different software companies.

As you can see, Nixon has a ton of experience when it comes to sales and operations in general. Her experience will be valuable when it comes to scaling the startup.

“I’m excited to be now part of the Algolia team and to be leading the company as of today,” Nixon told me. Accel, the VC firm that led the Series C round in Algolia, was also an investor in Alfresco.

The transition is going to take a couple of months and Dessaigne will stick around until July. He says that he doesn’t have any concrete plan about what he’s going to do next.

Over the past year, Algolia has been ramping up executive hires. Jean-Louis Baffier joined as chief revenue officer, Ashley Stirrup joined as chief marketing officer, Kristie Rodenbush joined as chief people officer and Iain Hassall joined as chief financial officer. In other words, Algolia is growing up and preparing for the next phase. Now let’s see if it leads to an IPO or an acquisition by a bigger player.

May
19
2020
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Arculus raises €16M to upgrade assembly lines with its ‘modular production platform’

Arculus, the Ingolstadt, Germany-based startup that has developed a “modular production platform” to bring assembly lines into the 21st century, has raised €16 million in Series A investment.

Leading the round is European venture firm Atomico, with participation from Visionaries Club and previous investor La Famiglia. Arculus says it will use the injection of capital to “strengthen product development, broaden customer base and prepare for a global rollout”.

As part of the investment, Atomico partner Siraj Khaliq is joining the Arculus board. (Khaliq seems to be on a bit of a run at the moment after quietly leading the firm’s investment in quantum computing company PsiQuantum last month.)

Founded in 2016, Arculus already works with some of the leading manufacturing companies across a range of industries. They include Siemens in robotics, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, Viessmann in logistics, and Audi in automotive.

Its self-described mission is to transform the “one-dimensional” assembly line of the 20th century into a more flexible modular production process that is capable of manufacturing today’s most complex products in a much more efficient way.

Instead of a single line with a conveyor belt, a factory powered by Arculus’ hardware and software is made up of modules in which individual tasks are performed and the company’s robots — dubbed “arculees” — move objects between these modules automatically based on which stations are free at that moment. Underlying this system is the assembly priority chart, a tree of interdependencies that connects all the processes needed to complete individual products.

That’s in contrast to more traditional linear manufacturing, which, claims Arculus, hasn’t been able to keep up as demand for customisation increases and “innovation cycles speed up”.

Explains Fabian Rusitschka, co-founder and CEO of Arculus: “Manufacturers can hardly predict what their customers will demand in the future, but they need to invest in production systems designed for specific outputs that will last for years. With Modular Production we can now ensure optimal productivity for our customers, whatever the volume or mix. This technological shift in manufacturing, from linear to bespoke, has been long overdue but for manufacturers looking ahead at the coming decades of shifting consumer buying behaviours it is mission critical to survival”.

To that end, Arculus is making some bold claims, namely that the company’s technology increases worker productivity by 30% and reduces space consumption by 20%. It also reckons it can save its customers up to €155 million per plant every year “at full implementation”.

Siraj Khaliq, Partner at Atomico, says the manufacturing sector “is huge and the inefficiencies are well known”.

“We estimate that the auto industry alone could save nearly $100bn, were all manufacturers to adopt Arculus’s modular production technology,” he tells TechCrunch. “And beyond auto, their technology applies to any linear/assembly line manufacturing process – in time perhaps a tenfold greater market still. We’ve already seen the Covid-19 crisis hugely boost interest in the wave of startups democratizing automation, as companies try to build resilience into their supply chains. If you’re an exec thinking through this kind of thing right now, the way we see it, using Arculus’s technology is just common sense”.

Asked why it is only now that assembly lines can be reinvented, the Atomico VC says a number of building blocks weren’t in place until now. They include cheap, versatile sensors, reliable connectivity, “sufficiently powerful compute resources”, machine vision, and “learning-driven” control systems.

“And even if the tech could have been deployed, the motivation doesn’t come until you buckle under the pressure of increasing product customisation,” he says. “High-speed linear production lines are pretty efficient if you’re only producing one thing, ideally in one colour. But as this has become less and less the case, the industry reacted by incrementally improving, such as adding sub-assemblies that feed into the main line. You can only go so far with that… to be really efficient you’ve got to start fresh and be modular from the ground up. That’s hard”.

Meanwhile, Arculus also counts a number of German entrepreneurs as previous backers. They include Hakan Koc (founder of Auto 1), Johannes Reck (founder of GetYourGuide), Valentin Stalf (founder of N26), as well as the founders of Flixbus.

May
18
2020
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GO1, an enterprise learning platform, picks up $40M from Microsoft, Salesforce and more

With a large proportion of knowledge workers doing now doing their jobs from home, the need for tools to help them feel connected to their profession can be as important as tools to, more practically, keep them connected. Today, a company that helps do precisely that is announcing a growth round of funding after seeing engagement on its platform triple in the last month.

GO1.com, an online learning platform focused specifically on professional training courses (both those to enhance a worker’s skills as well as those needed for company compliance training), is today announcing that it has raised $40 million in funding, a Series C that it plans to use to continue expanding its business. The startup was founded in Brisbane, Australia and now has operations also based out of San Francisco — it was part of a Y Combinator cohort back in 2015 — and more specifically, it wants to continue growth in North America, and to continue expanding its partner network.

GO1 not disclosing its valuation but we are asking. It’s worth pointing out that not only has it seen engagement triple in the last month as companies turn to online learning to keep users connected to their professional lives even as they work among children and house pets, noisy neighbours, dirty laundry, sourdough starters, and the rest (and that’s before you count the harrowing health news we are hit with on a regular basis). But even beyond that, longer term GO1 has shown some strong signs that speak of its traction.

It counts the likes of the University of Oxford, Suzuki, Asahi and Thrifty among its 3,000+ customers, with more than 1.5 million users overall able to access over 170,000 courses and other resources provided by some 100 vetted content partners. Overall usage has grown five-fold over the last 12 months. (GO1 works both with in-house learning management systems or provides its own.)

“GO1’s growth over the last couple of months has been unprecedented and the use of online tools for training is now undergoing a structural shift,” said Andrew Barnes, CEO of GO1, in a statement. “It is gratifying to fill an important void right now as workers embrace online solutions. We are inspired about the future that we are building as we expand our platform with new mediums that reach millions of people every day with the content they need.”

The funding is coming from a very strong list of backers: it’s being co-led by Madrona Venture Group and SEEK — the online recruitment and course directory company that has backed a number of edtech startups, including FutureLearn and Coursera — with participation also from Microsoft’s venture arm M12; new backer Salesforce Ventures, the investing arm of the CRM giant; and another previous backer, Our Innovation Fund.

Microsoft is a strategic backer: GO1 integrated with Teams, so now users can access GO1 content directly via Microsoft’s enterprise-facing video and messaging platform.

“GO1 has been critical for business continuity as organizations navigate the remote realities of COVID-19,” said Nagraj Kashyap, Microsoft Corporate Vice President and Global Head of M12, in a statement. “The GO1 integration with Microsoft Teams offers a seamless learning experience at a time when 75 million people are using the application daily. We’re proud to invest in a solution helping keep employees learning and businesses growing through this time.”

Similarly, Salesforce is also coming in as a strategic, integrating this into its own online personal development products and initiatives.

“We are excited about partnering with GO1 as it looks to scale its online content hub globally. While the majority of corporate learning is done in person today, we believe the new digital imperative will see an acceleration in the shift to online learning tools. We believe GO1 fits well into the Trailhead ecosystem and our vision of creating the life-long learner journey,” said Rob Keith, Head of Australia, Salesforce Ventures, in a statement.

Working remotely has raised a whole new set of challenges for organizations, especially those whose employees typically have never before worked for days, weeks and months outside of the office.

Some of these have been challenges of a more basic IT nature: getting secure access to systems on the right kinds of machines and making sure people can communicate in the ways that they need to to get work done.

But others are more nuanced and long-term but actually just as important, such as making sure people remain in a healthy state of mind about work. Education is one way of getting them on the right track: professional development is not only useful for the person to do her or his job better, but it’s a way to motivate people, to focus their minds, and take a rest from their routines, but in a way that still remains relevant to work.

GO1 is absolutely not the only company pursuing this opportunity. Others include Udemy and Coursera, which have both come to enterprise after initially focusing more on traditional education plays. And LinkedIn Learning (which used to be known as Lynda, before LinkedIn acquired it and shifted the branding) was a trailblazer in this space.

For these, enterprise training sits in a different strategic place to GO1, which started out with compliance training and onboarding of employees before gravitating into a much wider set of topics that range from photography and design, through to Java, accounting, and even yoga and mindfulness training and everything in between.

It’s perhaps the directional approach, alongside its success, that have set GO1 apart from the competition and that has attracted the investment, which seems to have come ahead even of the current boost in usage.

“We met GO1 many months before COVID-19 was on the tip of everyone’s tongue and were impressed then with the growth of the platform and the ability of the team to expand their corporate training offering significantly in North America and Europe,” commented S. Somasegar, managing director, Madrona Venture Group, in a statement. “The global pandemic has only increased the need to both provide training and retraining – and also to do it remotely. GO1 is an important link in the chain of recovery.” As part of the funding Somasegar will join the GO1 board of directors.

Notably, GO1 is currently making all COVID-19 related learning resources available for free “to help teams continue to perform and feel supported during this time of disruption and change,” the company said.

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