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Kimberly Bryant’s suspension surfaces ongoing tensions at Black Girls Code

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Kimberly Bryant’s suspension surfaces ongoing tensions at Black Girls Code

On the morning of December 21st, Kimberly Bryant, CEO and co-founder of nonprofit organization Black Girls Code, learned that she could no longer access her work e-mail. The board of directors at the nonprofit organization, which she founded a decade ago, sent a note to her personal email notifying her that she had been “suspended indefinitely.”

“Press release: So it’s 3 days before Christmas and you wake up to discover the organization YOU created and built from the ground up has been taken away by a rogue board with no notification,” Bryant said in a tweet. Two days later, Bryant responded to her temporary removal in a formal statement to TechCrunch.

“First and foremost, I know that I have not personally done anything unethical, immoral, or illegal as the Founder and CEO of Black Girls Code,” read the statement. “As a founder who has built something from her own blood, sweat, and tears from the ground up, this fight for me is about justice and giving rights to founders, especially women in leadership. We must be treated fairly and just.” Bryant’s statement continued: “None of the so-called allegations have been substantiated, no investigation has even started, and this entire process has been dishonest and unlawful.”

In a later statement to TechCrunch, the Black Girls Code board of directors said that they formed a special committee to review and evaluate complaints made by current and former employees about Bryant’s conduct. The board formed a special committee to review the complaints, and placed Bryant on paid administrative leave last week “to ensure a full and fair review process.”

In her statement, Bryant identified interim board chair Heather Hiles, founder of edtech company Pathbrite, as the person who ultimately decided to suspend her “without fair investigation or substantiated allegations.” When asked for more specifics by TechCrunch, Hiles responded in a text message that “the board has a fiduciary responsibility to protect the organization and the well-being of its staff. I can confirm that the recent activities are a result of following through in that responsibility.”

Through a spokesperson, the board declined to comment on if there is an impending investigation, the process of Bryant’s suspension and if the founder was given any notice before being put on leave. The board also declined to comment on the timeline for the ongoing review.

The founder claims there has been no active investigation, even after she approved a payment in October 2021 requested by an ad hoc committee of the board of directors to hire an attorney to conduct one. The board said in a statement it has formed a special committee “to review and evaluate the complaints and determine what, if any, action should be taken with respect to these concerns.” The committee is fully made up of BCG board members.

Bryant founded Black Girls Code in February 2011 to close the opportunity gap in tech for Black women and girls. Since then, the nonprofit has established 15 chapter cities in the U.S. and abroad, hosting technology workshops, hackathons and other enrichment opportunities for over 30,000 Black girls, it says.

Senior sources currently employed at the company say that Sofia Mohammed, Black Girl Code’s vice president of programming, is serving as interim CEO. TechCrunch reached out to Mohammed, who has not yet responded to a request for comment.

‘A mix of emotions’

Five former employees of Black Girls Code spoke to TechCrunch anonymously out of fear of retaliation about the state of affairs at BGC. They confirmed the board’s decision to look into the company culture after a summer of rapid turnover, with many individuals citing Bryant as a key reason for parting ways.

Bryant attributed the turnover to distributed work. “Now, like many orgs navigating the pandemic, we had a lot of turnover in the last year mostly from folks we hired while virtual in 2020. We were not spared the ‘great resignation’,” she said in a text message in response to allegations.

Two former employees, both who spent months at the organization in leadership capacities, say employee churn was largely attributed to Bryant’s leadership style, which they describe was “rooted in fear.” When Bryant was there, they say she would publicly berate managers within meetings, repeatedly calling folks incompetent and urging a manager to “go back to school” when they were unable to deliver on a certain task.

Bryant denied that she said this, pointing to her choice to hire consultants to build a compensation policy to weigh employees’ years of experience over number of degrees. “As a techie in an industry where not everyone needs a degree, it’s not something I place a high value on.”

One employee said that a recurring phrase Bryant used was, “you’re not living up to my expectations of what you should be,” even though, the employee notes, she declined to give them independent access to widely used productivity tools. No new employees were given access to Salesforce, which they said prevented them from accessing key information about the community they were tasked with serving, including names, ages and history in the program. One employee detailed the lack of onboarding process, as well as Bryant’s absence in the daily operations in pursuit of media appearances.

“People stayed because they figured out the workarounds,” said one of the former employees. “Someone said that it was to your benefit to stay off her radar, and if you could figure out how to execute your work even without access to specific systems, you’d be fine.” Bryant said that BGC just completed a five-year strategy plan with the Bridgespan Group “that addresses operational concerns,” which would include strategies around what databases employees have access to. The founder denies having any control over who can access what.

A recently resigned employee conveyed a mix of emotions.

“We know how it is perceived to take down a Black person,” they said. “And that’s not even what we want to accomplish. We want the organization to be under leadership that could continue the growth of our work.”

Despite belief in the mission, they said they finally left the company, partially thanks to consulting their therapist. “To work for an organization that is trying to change how you are treated, valued and appreciated — and when that doesn’t happen again — it’s really a particular kind of betrayal,” they added.

In a now-deleted tweet, Bryant said that “I am driven, [have] high expectations, and [am] a bit of a perfectionist. But I have never in my life misappropriated, misused, or abused anything or anybody for the org I built out of love. So don’t ever ever believe that. It’s not true.”

Checks and balances

Despite Bryant’s denial of former employees’ allegations, currently employed sources close to the matter say that resignations, along with a slew of negative Glassdoor reviews, caused the founder to hire Edgility Consulting, an external firm, to do a salary study and address staff concerns. According to a document obtained by TechCrunch, the consultation was launched in June and completed in December. The findings were not made available.

Karla Monterroso, an executive coach, told TechCrunch in an interview that Bryant hired her in September 2021 after complaints against Bryant and the nonprofit’s culture surfaced.

While Monterroso declined to offer specifics of her conversations with Bryant, she said they met for 90 minutes every other week about culture at the company and the operational complexities ahead. Monterroso was not contacted before the leadership change. The board, which is conducting an ongoing review, has yet to confirm if it has hired an external firm, reviewed salary structures or brought in a board consultant.

“I think there are a lot of imperfect leaders trying to do their very best, and I believe that the story is about systemic complexity that is popping up for leaders of color,” Monterroso said. “And not about any one organization or individual, it’s about the poor conditions that exist for our leaders and our teams to succeed with their dignity intact.”

At the time of publication, Bryant is still employed at the nonprofit but continues to not have access to her company e-mail and internal platforms. Current employees and contractors were told that if they communicated with Bryant, they would immediately be fired, Bryant says.

“Checks and balances of power and support have been put in place at BGC, and I absolutely believe in proper board/corporate governance,” Bryant said in the written statement. There is nothing about how this matter was handled that is appropriate, and I have not been treated fairly or justly.”

Current and former Black Girls Code employees can contact Natasha Mascarenhas by e-mail at natasha.m@techcrunch.com or on Signal, a secure encrypted messaging app, at 925 609 4188.

Source: Tech

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Paack pulls in a $225M Series D led by SoftBank to scale its E-commerce delivery platform

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By now, many of us are familiar with the warehouse robots which populate those vast spaces occupied by the likes of Amazon and others. In particular, Amazon was very much a pioneer of the technology. But it’s 2021 now, and allying warehouse robots with a software logistics platform is no longer the monopoly of one company.

One late-stage startup which has been ‘making hay’ with the whole idea is Paack, an e-commerce delivery platform which a sophisticated software platform that integrates with the robotics which are essential to modern-day logistics operations.

It’s now raised €200m ($225m) in a Series D funding round led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2. The capital will be used for product development and European expansion.

New participants for this round also include Infravia Capital Partners, First Bridge Ventures, and Endeavor Catalyst. Returning investors include Unbound, Kibo Ventures, Big Sur Ventures, RPS Ventures, Fuse Partners, Rider Global, Castel Capital, and Iñaki Berenguer.

This funding round comes after the creation of a profitable position in its home market of Spain, but Paack claims it’s on track to achieve similar across its European operations, Such as in the UK, France, and Portugal.

Founded by Fernando Benito, Xavier Rosales and Suraj Shirvankar, Paack now says it’s delivering several million orders per month from 150 international clients, processing 10,000 parcels per hour, per site. Some 17 of them are amongst the largest e-commerce retailers in Spain.

The startup’s systems integrate with e-commerce sites. This means consumers are able to customize their delivery schedule at checkout, says the company.

Benito, CEO and Co-founder, said: “Demand for convenient, timely, and more sustainable methods of delivery is going to explode over the next few years and Paack is providing the solution. We use technology to provide consumers with control and choice over their deliveries, and reduce the carbon footprint of our distribution.” 

Max Ohrstrand, Investment Director at SoftBank Investment Advisers said: “As the e-commerce sector continues to flourish and same-day delivery is increasingly the norm for consumers, we believe Paack is well-positioned to become the category leader both in terms of its technology and commitment to sustainability.”

According to research from the World Economic Forum (WEF), the last-mile delivery business is expected to grow 78% by 2030, causing a rise in CO2 emissions of nearly one-third.

As a result, Paack claim it aims to deliver all parcels at carbon net-zero by measuring its environmental impact, using electric last-mile delivery vehicles. It is now seeking certification with The Carbon Trust and United Nations.

In an interview Benito told me: “We have a very clear short term vision which is to lead sustainable e-commerce delivers in Europe… through technology via what we think is perhaps the most advanced tech delivery platform for last-mile delivery. Our CTO was the CTO and co-founder of Google Cloud, for instance.”

“We are developing everything from warehouse automation, time windows, routing integrations etc. in order to achieve the best delivery experience.”

Paack says it is able to work with more than one robotics partner, but presently it is using robots from Chinese firm GEEK.

The company hopes it can compete with the likes of DHL, Instabox, and La Poste in Europe, which are large incumbents.

Source: Tech

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Infermedica raises $30M to expand its AI-based medical guidance platform

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Infermedica, a Poland-founded digital health company that offers AI-powered solutions for symptom analysis and patient triage, has raised $30 million in Series B funding. The round was led by One Peak and included participation from previous investors Karma Ventures, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Heal Capital and Inovo Venture Partners. The new capital means the startup has raised $45 million in total to date.

Founded in 2012, Infermedica aims to make it easier for doctors to pre-diagnose, triage and direct their patients to appropriate medical services. The company’s mission is to make primary care more accessible and affordable by introducing automation into healthcare. Infermedica has created a B2B platform for health systems, payers and providers that automates patient triage, the intake process and follow-up after a visit. Since its launch, Infermedica is being used in more than 30 countries in 19 languages and has completed more than 10 million health checks.

The company offers a preliminary diagnosis symptom checker, an AI-driven software that supports call operators making timely triage recommendations and an application programming interface that allows users to build customized diagnostic solutions from scratch. Like a plethora of competitors, such as Ada Health and Babylon, Infermedica combines the expertise of physicians with its own algorithms to offer symptom triage and patient advice.

In terms of the new funding, Infermedica CEO Piotr Orzechowski told TechCrunch in an email that the investment will be used to further develop the company’s Medical Guidance Platform and add new modules to cover the full primary care journey. Last year, Infermedica’s team grew by 80% to 180 specialists, including physicians, data scientists and engineers. Orzechowski says Infermedica has an ambitious plan to nearly double its team in the next 12 months.

Image Credits: Infermedica

“We will invest heavily into our people and our products, rolling out new modules of our platform as well as expanding our underlying AI capabilities in terms of disease coverage and accuracy,” Orzechowski said. “From the commercial perspective, our goal is to strengthen our position in the US and DACH and we will focus the majority of our sales and marketing efforts there.”

Regarding the future, Orzechowski said he’s a firm believer that there will be fully automated self-care bots in 5-10 years that will be available 24/7 to help providers find solutions to low acuity health concerns, such as a cold or UTI.

“According to WHO, by 2030 we might see a shortage of almost 10 million doctors, nurses and midwives globally,” Orzechowski said. “Having certain constraints on how fast we can train healthcare professionals, our long-term plan assumes that AI will become a core element of every modern healthcare system by navigating patients and automating mundane tasks, saving the precious time of clinical staff and supporting them with clinically accurate technology.”

Infermedica’s Series B round follows its $10 million Series A investment announced in August 2020. The round was led by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and digital health fund Heal Capital. Existing investors Karma Ventures, Inovo Venture Partners and Dreamit Ventures also participated in the round.

Source: Tech

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KKR invests $45M into GrowSari, a B2B platform for Filipino MSMEs

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A sari-sari store owner who uses GrowSari

GrowSari, the Manila-based startup that helps small shops grow and digitize, announced today that KKR will lead its Series C round with a $45 million investment. The funds will be used to enter new regions in the Philippines and expand its financial products. The Series C round is still ongoing and the startup says it is already oversubscribed, with the final composition currently being finalized. 

Before its Series C, GrowSari’s total raised was $30 million. TechCrunch last wrote about GrowSari in June 2021, when it announced its Series B. Since then, it has expanded the number of municipalities it serves from 100 to 220, and now has a customer base of 100,000 micro, small and mid-sized enterprise (MSME) store owners. 

Founded in 2016, GrowSari is a B2B platform that offers almost every kind of service that small- to medium-sized retailers, including neighborhood stores that carry daily necessities (called sari-saris), roadside and market shops and pharmacies, need.

For example, it has a wholesale marketplace with products from major fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands like Unilever, P&G and Nestle. It partners with over 200 providers, like telecoms, fintechs and subscription plans, so sari-saris can offer services like top-ups and bill payments to their customers. 

Sari-sari operators can also use GrowSari to launch e-commerce stores and access short-term working capital loans to buy inventory. The startup’s other financial products include digital wallets and cash-in services, and it is looking at adding remittance, insurance and loans in partnership with other providers. 

The new funding will be used to expand into the Visayas and Mindanao, the two other main geographical regions in the Philippines, with the goal of covering all 1.1 million “mom and pop” stores in the Philippines. 

Source: Tech

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