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Via raises $130M to expand on-demand shuttle software business

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On-demand shuttle and software company Via has raised another $130 million, capital that has pushed its valuation to about $3.3 billion as demand from cities to update its legacy transit systems rises.

The round was led by Janus Henderson with participation from funds and accounts managed by BlackRock, ION Crossover Partners, Koch Disruptive Technologies and existing investor Exor. To date, the company has raised $800 million.

Via, which today employs about 950 people, has two sides to its business. The company operates consumer-facing shuttles in Washington, D.C. and New York. Its underlying software platform, which it sells to cities, transportation authorities, school districts and universities to deploy their own shuttles, is not only the core of its business; it has become the primary driver of growth.

Co-founder and CEO Daniel Ramot previously told TechCrunch that there was was little interest from cities in the software-as-a-service platform when the company first launched in 2012. Via landed its first city partnership with Austin in late 2017, after providing the platform to the transit authority for free. It was enough to allow Via to develop case studies and convince other cities to buy into the service. In 2019, the partnerships side of the business “took off,” Ramot said in an interview last year.

Today, the software side — branded internally as TransitTech — has eclipsed its consumer-facing operations. Via said TransitTech revenue more than doubled year on year to exceed an annual run rate of $100 million. The software platform is used by more than 500 partners, including Los Angeles Metro. Jersey City and Miami in the United States as well as Arriva Bus UK, a Deutsche Bahn company that uses it for a first and last-mile service connecting commuters to a high-speed train station in Kent, U.K.

Via doesn’t provide specifics on what it plans to use the funds for. The company has made two acquisitions in the past t18 months, including Fleetonomy in 2020.

Earlier this year, Via used $100 million in cash and equity to acquire Remix, a startup that developed mapping software used by cities for transportation planning and street design. Remix became a subsidiary of Via, an arrangement that will let the startup maintain its independent brand.

The acquisition has already produced one product that combines Remix’s collaborative mapping and transit-planning tools with Via’s on-demand transit data. Earlier this month, Via launched a software tool to help cities understand and plan how on-demand rides and fixed route transit like buses, can work in tangent.

Source: Tech

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Clean energy firm Husk signs UN energy compact as it begins solar mini-grid expansion in Nigeria, rest of Africa

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Husk Power Systems, a clean energy company that has been at the forefront of fueling rural electrification since 2008, is planning to launch 500 solar mini-grids in Nigeria over the next five years.

The renewable energy firm revealed the plans today when it announced the signing of a voluntary commitment with the United Nations to grow its energy market in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The commitment is contained under the 24/7 Carbon-free Energy Compact, by leading energy buyers, suppliers, equipment manufacturers and governments. The compact represents a global effort to accelerate the uptake of carbon-free electricity as a way of averting the perilous effects of climate change.

The startup currently has operations in Nigeria, Tanzania and India (Uttar Pradesh and Bihar), where it has the ambitious goal of installing at least 5,000 mini-grids by 2030 and in the process make 1 million connections – half of which will be micro, small and medium-sized enterprises. Husk launched its first six mini-grids in Nigeria November last year, and it’s looking to have 100 mini-grids operational in the country within two years.

“Husk is committed to powering households, but our focus is first and foremost on micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), and public institutions like health clinics and schools. MSMEs are the engine of economies in Africa, and powering existing small businesses and encouraging the formation of new MSMEs helps create the type of economic growth and social benefit that carries over to households by creating more opportunity and more jobs,” the company’s CEO and co-founder Manoj Sinha, told TechCrunch.

The renewable energy firm is planning to launch 500 mini-grids in Nigeria in a period of five years, and is eyeing the rest of Africa for expansion. Image Credits: Husk Power Systems

The firm is now exploring growth opportunities in the western, southern and eastern regions of Africa, while prioritizing the countries that have a “supportive regulatory environment” like its current markets. In Nigeria, for example, mini-grid operators are “largely free of permit requirements for either standalone off-grid mini-grids or interconnected mini-grids.”

The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission Mini-Grid Regulation (2016) stipulates the transfer of assets and financial compensation for mini-grid operators in cases where the national grid finally connects the regions where private mini-grids are operational.

Husk is one of the companies participating in the Nigeria Electrification Project, which provides performance-based grants, a sort of capital subsidy, to mini-grid developers — part of the national effort to solve the country’s chronic power supply issues.

“In terms of policy frameworks and regulation, the states where Husk works in India (Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) have supportive policies. And the Nigerian mini-grid policy is actually based on those policies, with additional improvements. As a result, Nigeria is seen to have the most conducive policy in sub-Saharan Africa at the moment, which also includes their Nigeria Electrification Project (NEP), a program administered by the Rural Electrification Agency and funded by the World Bank to provide a capital subsidy to mini-grid developers and accelerate market development,” said Sinha.

The company plans to have additional technological and business model innovations, and the use of AI and IoT to remotely manage its fleet. Image Credits: Husk Power Systems

Nigeria and India are the company’s biggest markets at the moment. A supportive environment encourages investments from private players like Husk, and bridges the energy needs of households and small businesses, especially in rural areas.

Potential markets for Husk include Kenya, which at the start of this month, recognized mini-grid power systems granting them 50% tax allowance and other tax incentives enjoyed by large-scale generators.

“We welcome the Energy Compact commitments made by Husk Power and appreciate their leadership. It showcases the business opportunity presented by the global energy transition, and how private enterprises can drive accelerated action on ending energy poverty, expand renewable energy solutions for consumptive and productive load, and improve the adoption of energy efficiency solutions by end consumers,” said UN Energy programme manager, Kanika Chawla.

According to the World Bank, mini-grids have the potential to provide half a billion people with clean energy by the end of this decade (including those using overburdened grids) with the right policies in place. They also provide cleaner and cheaper alternatives of energy, which could transform the lives of millions of people living in darkness.

Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 75% of the world’s population with no access to renewable energy solutions and electricity. Countries like South Sudan, Burundi, Chad, Malawi, Burkina Faso, Madagascar, Tanzania are among some of the least electrified countries in the world, and could benefit from clean energy from solar or wind.

“For off-grid communities, where diesel generation is the default source of electricity, the savings to our customers are significant. Businesses can expect about a 30% reduction in their monthly energy costs by switching from diesel to solar mini-grid electricity,” said Sinha.

Husk has to date raised $40 million from investors, including the Shell energy company and the Dutch Development bank FMO. The startup, which also provides financing for household and commercial appliances, was recognized last year by the 2021 Renewables Global Status Report as the only mini-grid developer with over 100 community sites in operation.

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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