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Daily Crunch: $360M funding round values Fractl ‘well north of $1 billion,’ says co-founder

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Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for January 5, 2021! Today we have a great mix of news for you. Mega-rounds? Heck yes. Electric trucks from U.S. companies? Yep! Android cozying up to Windows? But of course. And some great essays on lock-up periods, LP transparency and more.

But before we do that, every once in a while I’m going to highlight a TechCruncher behind the scenes who deserves some love. Today it’s Henry Pickavet, one of our editors and guiding lights, someone I have known and worked with since my early 20s. He’s perfect, apart from the sports teams he follows and the fact that he likes cricket. Follow him on Twitter here if you are so inclined! —Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Making sense of OpenSea at $13B: From rumor to report to confirmation, the OpenSea funding round worth $300 million came to its conclusion quickly. Now the NFT marketplace is worth some $13 billion. So, TechCrunch did the obvious thing and asked if that number makes any darn sense. As it turns out, yes, but how much depends on your level of crypto-bullishness,
  • Android Windows: While Apple has been busy defending its walls surrounding the garden that is iOS, Google and Microsoft have been busy paving roads between their Android and Windows operating systems. First, Microsoft announced that some Android apps would eventually run on Windows. And now, news that “Google is working with the likes of Intel, Acer and HP to [connect] your phone to your Windows PC.”
  • And here’s the *other* company now worth more than $10B: It’s Miro! Yep, the online workspace company, as we put it, is now worth some $17.5 billion after raising a $400 million round. The company claims it has 30 million users. Competitor Mural is also doing well, indicating that their market is fairly deep in the remote-work era.

Startups/VC

A few essays to start our startup download today, I think. The first comes from our own Connie Loizos diving into the “year of the disappearing lock-up.” In short, Loizos notes that the traditional forced holding period post-IPO is being dismantled in hot public offerings. Not that this is a guarantee of future results — the opposite, it seems — but it’s worth tracking the change to what was once a key IPO rule, and, frankly, mark of confidence.

Speaking of IPOs, the insurtech IPO wave of 2020 and 2021 is looking pretty darn threadbare today. TechCrunch took a look back at the struggles of names we’ve written about for ages, the Roots and Metromiles of the world, but also Oscar Health. It hasn’t done well either, it turns out.

Anna Heim wrote a fascinating piece on LP transparency. The idea that founders should care about where their investors get their money is not new. But what is fresh is the leverage that founders have over investors — the founder-investor power dynamic has flipped, leading more VCs to think that it might be time to open up their own books a little.

Now, more news!

  • Bankaya goes offline for customer acquisition: The hunt for new users is a global startup challenge, and one that leads to some interesting solutions. Mexican fintech Bankaya is taking an IRL tack to the challenge, noting that the major ad channels for its products are rife with competitors chasing the same eyeballs.
  • Tax advantaged crypto investments? Startup Alto just raised $40 million for what TechCrunch reports is a “self-directed IRA platform [that] provides a simpler, more affordable option for individuals to invest their retirement savings into alternatives,” at least in theory. I dig it.
  • Fractal goes unicorn with new $360M round: It turns out that this company is 21 years old, so it’s not a startup, per se. But it is a private company that just raised nine figures, so it hit our radar. The company’s analytics product does AI and analytics work for major companies.
  • SoftBank eyes new Indian investment: Pune-based ElasticRun is in talks to close a round worth $200 million or so from SoftBank Vision 2 and Goldman Sachs, Manish Singh reports for TechCrunch. The startup helps neighborhood stores “secure inventory from top brands and working capital,” we report.
  • Meet a very cute dishwasher named Bob: From the CES trenches, meet Bob. It’s a small dishwasher unit for apartment countertops that is efficient, and, dare we say it, adorable.
  • To close out our startup items, Xage has raised $30 million to help project critical infrastructure. Which is good, given that much of the power lines and water facilities that you depend on are fairly out of date and begging for nation-state shenanigans. (The startup’s name is pronounced zage, Ron Miller.)

4 trends that will define e-commerce in 2022

Image Credits: MirageC (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Data privacy has been top of mind for online sellers and for good reason: Regulators are taking an interest, and iOS 14.5 lets users turn off data tracking, with negative consequences for “Facebook’s ad targeting.”

Bearing those factors and others in mind, Ben Parr, president and co-founder of e-commerce marketing platform Octane.ai, shared his predictions for 2022 with TechCrunch+:

  • Personalization and zero-party data become critical.
  • E-commerce embraces web3 and NFTs, but what will that look like?
  • Live shopping goes mainstream.
  • Slow but gradual improvement to the supply chain.

(TechCrunch+ is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

We have a number of automotive-themed news items below, but let’s start on your phone with Instagram. The social subsidiary of the larger Meta empire is bringing back its chronological feed. Praise be. Forcing users to endure algorithmic timelines is lame, in my view, and something that moves power away from users toward the adtech gods that run social platforms. I might even re-sign up for Instagram now that this is fixed.

  • Mortgage data analytics company settles with FTC over data breach: Back in 2019, TechCrunch reported that “OpticsML, a New York-based vendor working for Ascension, left a database of highly sensitive financial data exposed to the internet without a password.” Now two years after that reporting, results!
  • GM promises a plethora of electric vehicles: If you want an electric Equinox or Blazer, GM is going to hook you up in 2023. It claims. And the company is building an electric Silverado pickup, coming a bit late to the table given how many announcements Ford has already made. But the die really is cast here regarding the future of rolling vehicles, no matter who is currently leading. They are going electric. And fast.
  • And GM wants to get self-driving cars on the road: By the middle of the decade, the company said. I am a wee bit skeptical of any provided timeline for autonomous vehicles, but at some point they will work — right? — and that day will be good. Let’s hope these latest projections bear out in time.

TechCrunch Experts

Image Credits: SEAN GLADWELL / Getty Images

TechCrunch wants you to recommend growth marketers who have expertise in SEO, social, content writing and more! If you’re a growth marketer, pass this survey along to your clients; we’d like to hear about why they loved working with you.

If you’re curious about how these surveys are shaping our coverage, check out this article on TechCrunch+ from Ben Parr: “4 trends that will define e-commerce in 2022.”

Source: Tech

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Baidu’s electric car brand Jidu closes $400M Series A round

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Once an industry with long development cycles, the automotive space is being upended by China’s tech giants. One can hardly keep up with all the new electric vehicle brands that come out of the country nowadays. Jidu, an electric carmaking company founded by Baidu and its Chinese auto partner Geely only a year ago, said Wednesday it has banked nearly $400 million in a Series A funding round.

The new injection, bankrolled by Baidu and Geely, which owns Volvo, is a boost to the $300 million initiation capital that Jidu closed last March. The proceeds will speed up Jidu’s R&D and mass production process and allow it to showcase its first concept “robocar” — which it classifies as an automotive robot rather than a car — at the Beijing auto show in April. The mass-produced version of the robocar will launch in 2023.

Jidu’s chief executive Xia Yiping previously headed the connected car unit of Fiat Chrysler in the APAC region and co-founded Mobike, the Chinese bike-sharing pioneer acquired by Meituan in 2018.

The rate at which Jidu has moved forward is remarkable but could easily attract skeptics who question its tech’s viability. The speedy cycle, the carmaker explained, is thanks to its strategy of using a simulated prototype car to develop its smart cockpit and autonomous driving systems, rather than testing individual hardware parts in a mass-produced vehicle.

The carmaker said in as short as nine months, it has “tested and proven” the safety and reliability of its Level 4 (autonomous driving without human interaction in most circumstances) capabilities for urban and highway roads.

The EV startup is also putting a big emphasis on branding and fan community, something its competitor Nio is known for. In December, it started recruiting car lovers to join its “Jidu Union” to geek out about cars at online and offline events.

Moving forward, Jidu will be hiring and training talent specializing in autonomous driving, smart cockpits, smart manufacturing and other related technologies.

Source: Tech

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Resilience raises $45 million for its cancer care startup

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French startup Resilience announced yesterday that it has raised a $45 million (€40 million) Series A round led by Cathay Innovation. The startup wants to improve the treatment journey when you’re diagnosed with cancer so that you live a healthier and longer life.

In addition to Cathay Innovation, existing investor Singular is also participating. Other funds are joining the round, such as Exor Seeds, Picus Capital and Seaya Ventures. Finally some healthcare investors are rounding up the round — Fondation Santé Service, MACSF, Ramsay Santé and Vivalto Ventures.

I already profiled Resilience in March 2021 so I encourage you to read my previous article to learn more about the company. Co-founded by two serial entrepreneurs, Céline Lazorthes and Jonathan Benhamou, the company wants to help both patients and caregivers when it comes to cancer care.

On the patient side, Resilience helps you measure, understand and deal with the effects and side effects of cancer and cancer treatments. Users can track various data points in the app and find content and information about their illness.

But Resilience isn’t just an app that you use at home. It is also a software-as-a-service solution for hospitals so that they can better personalize their treatments. Resilience has been founded in partnership with Gustave Roussy, one of the leading cancer research institutes in the world.

Practitioners will be able to take advantage of all the data that patients have gathered from the app. This way, cancer treatment facilities understand the patient better and can adapt their care more quickly. Resilience has acquired Betterise to gain a head start when it comes to data-driven cancer care.

The long-term vision is even more ambitious than that. If you talk with a caregiver working for a cancer treatment facility, they’ll tell you they never have enough time.

And it’s even more difficult to keep track of new treatments that are becoming more and more specialized. Resilience doesn’t want to replace doctors. But it wants to help them overcome blindspots.

The result should be better care for patients, as well as more support through the Resilience app. Cancer care is a long and painful process, so anything that can improve this process is a good thing.

Source: Tech

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PQShield raises $20M for its quantum-ready, future-proof cryptographic security solutions

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Quantum computing promises to unlock a new wave of processing power for the most complex calculations, but that could prove to be just as harmful as it is helpful: security specialists warn that malicious hackers will be able to use quantum machines to break through today’s standards in cryptography and encryption. Today, a startup called PQShield that is working on “future-proof” cryptographic products — software and hardware solutions that not only keep data secure today, but also secure in anticipation of a computationally more sophisticated tomorrow — is announcing some funding as it finds some significant traction for its approach.

The startup, spun out of the research labs at Oxford, has raised $20 million, a Series A that it will be using to continue its research and, in conjunction with partners and customers, product development. The startup is already staffed with an impressive number of PhDs and other researchers across the UK (its base remains in Oxford), the U.S., France and the Netherlands, but it will also be using the funds to recruit more talent to the team.

Addition, the investment firm founded by Lee Fixel, is leading this round with Oxford Science Enterprises (formerly known as OSI) and Crane also participating. The latter two are previous backers from PQShield’s $7 million seed round in 2020.

If machine learning is shaping up to be one of the more popular (and perhaps most obvious) applications for quantum computing, security is perhaps that theme’s most ominous leitmotif.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology in the U.S. identified the risks of using quantum computing for malicious security intent some eight years ago and has been receiving research submissions globally in search of coming up with some standards to counteract that threat. (PQShield is one of the contributors.) Based on signals from other government bodies like the Department of Homeland Security — coupled with a memo from the White House just earlier this month mandating that the government’s intelligence and defense services make the switch to “quantum-resistant” algorithms in 180 days — it looks like the standards process will be completed this year, getting the wheels in motion for companies that are building solutions to address all this.

“One memo can change everything,” PQShield’s CEO and founder Ali El Kaafarani said in an interview.

PQShield (the PQ stands for “post-quantum”) has been working with governments, OEMs and others that are part of the customer base for this technology — adopting it to secure their systems, or building components that will be going into products that will secure their data, or in some cases, both. Its customers includes both private and public organizations impacted by the threat. Bosch is one OEM name that it has disclosed, and El Kaafarani said more will be revealed when PQShield announces its first commercially available solutions. (Other sectors it’s working with include automotive OEM, industrial IoT, and technology consulting, it says.)

PQShield’s solutions, meanwhile, are currently coming in three formats. There is a system on a chip that is designed to sit on hardware like smartcards or processors. It also is making software by way of a cryptographic SDK that can be integrated into mobile and server apps and technologies used to process data or run security operations. And thirdly, in a new addition since it raised its seed round, it’s making a toolkit aimed at communications companies designed specifically to secure messaging services. This latter is perhaps the one that might most immediately touch the consumer market, which has been fertile ground for malicious hackers, and has increasingly become a focus for regulators and ordinary people concerned about how and where their data gets used.

All of these, El Kaafarani said, are designed to work together, or separately as needed by a would-be customer, with the key being that what it is building now can be used today, as well as in a quantum computing future.

The idea of a “quantum threat” might sound remote to most people, considering that we’re still some years away from quantum computing becoming a commercial, scalable industry, but the reality is that malicious hackers have been collecting data that will help them “solve” current cryptographic keys using those machines for years at this point. Some of this data has been publicly shown off, and much has not. All of this has been leading, El Kaafarani noted, to an “inflection point where people are now ready to think about the next phase of public key infrastructure,” which he summed up in layman’s terms as the difference between “math that is still easy to solve, and math that will still be very difficult to solve, even on a quantum computer,” due to particular combinations of math problems and aspects of complexity theory.

Quantum computing, even at its still largely nascent stage, has been fueling a lot of startup and big-tech activity. Atom Computing (which designs quantum computing systems) and Terra Quantum (building quantum-computing-as-a-service, given the likely high cost of these machines) each raised $60 million earlier this month. Intel, IBM and Amazon are among those that have making significant investments in quantum servers and processors for years now. There are others also working specifically on quantum security.

In that context, PQShield groundbreaking role in helping develop standards, and its existing network of customers and partners, spells a clear opportunity and promise for investors:

“Thanks to an industry-leading team, decades of combined experience and a best-in-class product offering, PQShield has quickly emerged as a front runner and true authority in post-quantum cryptography for hardware and software, a field with enormous market potential,” said Fixel in a statement. “PQShield is already helping to define the future of information security, and we are excited to support their ongoing growth.”

Source: Tech

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