Carbon capture is headed for the high seas

Unless you live near a port, you probably don’t think much of the tens of thousands of container ships tearing through the seas, hauling some 1.8 billion metric tons of stuff each year. Yet these vessels run on some of the dirtiest fuel there is, spewing more greenhouse gases than airplanes do in the process. The industry is exploring alternative fuels, and electrification, to solve the problem for next-generation ships, but in the meantime a Y Combinator-backed startup is gearing up to (hopefully) help decarbonize the big boats that’re already in the water.

London-based Seabound is currently prototyping carbon capture equipment that connects to ships’ smokestacks, using a “lime-based approach” to cut carbon emissions by as much as 95%, cofounder and CEO Alisha Fredriksson said in a call with TechCrunch. The startup’s tech works by routing the exhaust into a container that’s filled with porous, calcium oxide pebbles, which in turn “bind to carbon dioxide to form calcium carbonate,”—essentially, limestone, per Fredriksson.

Though carbon capture has yet to really catch on for ships, Seabound is just one of the companies out to prove the tech can eventually scale. Others, including Japanese shipping firm K Line and Netherlands-based Value Maritime, are developing their own carbon-capture tech for ships, typically utilizing the better-established, solvent-based approach (which is increasingly used in factories). Yet this comparably tried-and-true method demands more space and energy aboard ships, because the process of isolating the CO2 happens on the vessel, according to Fredriksson.

In contrast, Seabound intends to process the CO2 on land, if at all. When the ships return from their journey, the limestone can be sold as is or separated via heat. In the latter case, the calcium oxide would be reused and the carbon sold for use or sequestration, per Fredriksson, who previously helped build maritime fuel startup Liquid Wind. Her cofounder, CTO Roujia Wen, previously worked on AI products at Amazon.

Seabound says it has signed six letters of intent with “major shipowners,” and it aims to trial the tech aboard ships beginning next year. To get there, the company has secured $4.4 million in a seed round led by Chris Sacca’s Lowercarbon Capital. Several other firms also chipped in on the deal, including Eastern Pacific Shipping, Emles Venture Partners, Hawktail, Rebel Fund and Soma Capital.

Beyond carbon capture, another Y Combinator-backed startup is setting out to decarbonize existing ships via a novel battery-swapping scheme. New Orleans-based Fleetzero aims to power electrified ships using shipping container-sized battery packs, which could be recharged through a network of charging stations at small ports.

Galley Solutions turns kitchen chaos into recipe for streamlined operations

Galley Solutions, a food data company providing food operators with technology to make more profitable decisions around their culinary operations, raised $14.2 million in Series A funding.

Ian Christopher, COO, started the company with his brother-in-law, Benji Koltai, CEO, in 2017. The food enterprise resource planning tool came out of Koltai’s previous work at Sprig, a delivery-only restaurant started by CEO Gagan Biyani and former Google executive chef Nate Keller.

Christopher explained that in the early days, there was not a system of record, so much of the work was done in a low-tech environment — spreadsheets or pen and pencil. Koltai, who has food sensitivities, kept getting mislabeled meals and having health reactions.

“He went to the culinary team and just said, like, ‘Why are we getting this wrong?’” Christopher told TechCrunch. “We have this source of truth for our recipes, so why isn’t this propagating every other corner of this operation, including the labeling and the allergen information. That was when a sous chef kindly walked him through the chaos that was their kitchen operations.”

Koltai, working with Keller, took a recipe-centric approach and coded the first version of Galley, which provides clean recipe data, predictive purchasing, smart inventory and accurate food production planning. Keller is now working with Galley as a part of its customer success program.

Galley Solutions

Galley Solutions website example. Image Credits: Galley Solutions

The company’s technology is a kitchen productivity tool that focuses on core recipe data, and the purchasing and inventory aspects stem from that. For example, the carrots for a carrot soup are mapped to real-time vendor items so the kitchen can make better purchasing decisions and more accurate recipe margins.

Galley works with companies like DoorDash, Aramark and Chowbotics. The company grew its subscription revenue by 280% from last year and saw a 146% net dollar retention in the first quarter of 2022, Christopher said.

It was also at the point in its growth where it was reaching profitability and was close to cash-flow positive when leadership decided to take advantage of its position to aggressively scale.

That’s where the Series A comes in. The investment was led by Astanor Ventures and includes participation from existing investor Zetta Venture Partners. This gives the company $20 million in total funding to date. Galley is the latest startup, bringing technology into the kitchen, to receive funding. Earlier this year, we also saw Meez raise $6.5 million for its recipe software.

Meanwhile, the new funding enables the company to scale and move into secondary marketplaces to connect supply and demand with a focus on automating the purchasing decision and purchasing activity.

“We were able to get to millions of dollars in revenue with two salespeople in our organization, so we have to scale our sales team,” Christopher said. The new funding will also go toward product and engineering.

Up next, the company is focusing on sustainability as part of its partnership with Astanor, including sustainability impacts and initiatives around food waste.

Belong secures $80M to take the pain out of rental property management

Historically, the relationship between landlords and tenants can be a contentious one.

At the same time, the experiences of managing a property, and renting one, are not always smooth.

Belong, a startup that aims to address both these issues while giving renters a way to save toward home ownership, has just raised $50 million in equity and secured $30 million in debt to expand its offerings and markets it serves. Fifth Wall led the equity financing with returning backers Battery Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) and GGV Capital. The round was preempted by Fifth Wall, noted Belong co-founder and president Owen Savir.

Founded in 2019 by Argentine-born Ale Resnik, Savir and Tyler Infelise, Belong is a three-sided marketplace that provides services for both homeowners that are landlords and renters.

From the homeowner perspective, Belong offers home management services that it says makes owning a rental home easier. For example, if a rental property needs a repair, the startup has an in-house maintenance team that can handle those on a landlord’s behalf. It also provides the homeowners with financial tools to manage their investment, as well as guaranteed rent on the first of each month. And it will also help an owner fix up a property and get it in rental-ready shape.

On the renters side, Belong says it has created a system that gives them a way to build home ownership themselves. For example, with each one-time rent payment, residents get around 3% of the price of rent back, which accumulates in an account with the aim of being used toward a down payment on the purchase of a home — but only if it’s used to buy a home through its platform. You see, the company serves as a real estate brokerage as well.

The mission is similar to that of Divvy’s, a proptech unicorn, but with a different model. Divvy, which raised $200 million in funding last August at a $2 billion valuation, buys homes on behalf of renters and helps them become homeowners.

For its part, Belong differs from other offerings in the space in that it addresses the property management piece, according to Resnik, a former entrepreneur-in-residence at a16z, who previously founded three other startups.

Resnik said the concept for Belong was inspired by the “pain” he and one of his co-founders had when renting homes.

“We’re painfully aware of all the pains that people go through when they need to rent a home,” he told TechCrunch, “and how difficult it is to be able to afford a home.”

As they studied the problem, they discovered a “concerning” trend that more institutional investors were increasingly owning a share of the housing stock market.

“We dug into why there were not more individual homeowners, which would be net positive for the economy,” Resnik said. “And we realized it wasn’t easy to buy a home and manage it and do it in a way that’s stress free.”

Image Credits: Belong

Put simply, Belong wants to take residents out of “second-class citizen status” and connect them with homeowners “that want to give them a great experience” while those homeowners turn over management to the startup.

While Resnik declined to reveal valuation or hard revenue figures, he did say that San Mateo, California-based Belong grew its revenue by nearly 3x in 2021. With the latest financing, it has raised a total of $95 million in equity and secured $30 million in debt to date.

The startup has a variety of revenue streams, according to Resnik. For one, homeowners pay 8% of the rent that Belong collects for the service of “managing their home end to end.” It has a built-in payments infrastructure so that renters pay through the platform so the money comes out of that automatically. Every time the startup sources a resident for a home, they get a 6% share of the rent. It also allows homeowners to finance any maintenance or repairs that need to be conducted in a home.

Today, Belong operates in the Bay Area, Southern California, Miami and Seattle with an engineering team distributed across LatAm, a source of pride for Resnik. Thousands of homeowners and nearly 7,000 renters are on its platform currently. The company is looking to expand to new markets with the new capital as well as do more hiring and focus on product development.

Lead investor Fifth Wall has made investments in companies that help streamline the home buying and selling process for consumers. But Partner Dan Wenhold believes that Belong fills “an important gap in the market through its technology offering that serves consumers after they become homeowners or renters.”

“We believe Belong’s people-first model raises the bar for the future state of home rentals and ownership,” he said, noting that Belong’s focus on the retail segment of single family residential owners and renters is “a key differentiator.”

“These groups have been traditionally underserved by offline property managers who do not use technology or a tech-first approach to solving problems,” Wenhold told TechCrunch. “With in-house operations and service professionals in each market in which they operate, Belong brings a full-stack approach to property management.”

Generally, we’re seeing an increased number of companies focused on renters. Earlier this week, TechCrunch reported on Arrived’s $25 million Series A. That startup raised capital from Forerunner Ventures and Bezos Expeditions (Jeff Bezos’ private investment fund) to give people the ability to buy shares in single-family rentals with “as little as $100.”

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FloorFound grabs more capital to grow its oversized recommerce business

While we had the chance to be at home more over the past few years, you may have spruced up a home office or replaced a couch. However, once the new item was in your home, you may have had some buyer’s remorse or the item didn’t live up to its website photo.

In any case, that oversized item needs a new home, and FloorFound is working with brands and retailers to give that couch to someone who will love it, while avoiding the landfill.

We first caught up with the Austin-based company and its founder and CEO Chris Richter in 2020 when FloorFound was getting started. The company went on to raise $4 million in seed funding in 2021 and is now back with a $10.5 million Series A financing round.

The round was co-led by Next Coast Ventures and LiveOak Venture Partners with participation from existing investors Flybridge Capital Partners and Schematic Ventures and new investor Data Point Capital.

Richter told TechCrunch that the funding comes as more people are interested in purchasing resale. The company-sponsored survey done in 2021 found that over 90 percent of U.S. consumers reported buying resale items, while research from First Insight and the Wharton School suggests 83% of consumers who have purchased secondhand products plan to do so again, which is up from 17% in 2019.

“The tailwinds that were supportive of our business in 2020 and 2021 have only gotten better, as has consumer sentiment around sustainability, so we have grown accordingly,” he added.

Reverse logistics don’t work without a plan on how to handle the return and resale of those larger items, however, and FloorFound is making this process simpler through its end-to-end technology platform that streamlines both the recovery and resale of returned, lightly used and open-box items.

In February 2021, the company launched its solution and since then has more than doubled its recommerce sales each quarter on average. It also grew its client base five times, which includes furniture brands like Inside Weather, Floyd and Burrow. And, Richter noted, FloorFound worked with its clients to keep nearly 450,000 pounds of furniture in circulation and out of landfills so far.

FloorFound is the latest to raise funding within a U.S. resale industry poised to grow over 150% in the next decade and be valued at $330 billion, according to research from Mercari and GlobalData. It joins Loveseat, also based in Austin, which raised $7 million in Series A funding in March for its returned home goods marketplace. On the fashion front, companies like Recurate announced $17.5 million Series A funding this week.

Meanwhile, FloorFound intends to use the new funding to expand its market presence in the U.S. and move into additional retail verticals like appliances, mattresses and exercise equipment. The company currently has four major third-party logistics partnerships and over 40 warehouse hubs, a number Richter plans to triple this year.

What makes FloorFound stand out from its competitors is its approach to putting retailers, which often struggle with how to effectively do returns, at the center of recommerce, according to Richter.

“Retailers are going to miss out on a revenue opportunity if they don’t participate in recommerce, but trade-in and buy-back is a leap for many of them,” he added. “By focusing on the problem of oversized returns, we can help them use that inventory to launch new sales channels.”

Kenya-based aquaculture tech Victory Farms nets $5M funding to expand into new markets

Victory Farms, an aquaculture startup and farm for tilapia fish comprising hatcheries, nursery ponds and deep-water cages, has raised $5 million in new funding.

The investment was led by Ed Brakeman, a senior managing director at Bain Capital and Hans den Bieman, founder and ex-CEO of Mowi, one of the largest salmon businesses globally.

It is the startup’s first institutional investment following seven internal angel rounds from the same set of equity–and debt investors (it raised $40 million in debt last year). This funding will allow the Kenyan-based company to expand its business into Rwanda, DRC and Tanzania.

Joseph Rehmann founded Victory Farms in 2015. On a call with TechCrunch, Rehmann narrated his journey to starting the company. After completing his MBA program, he got to work on a three-month aquacultural project in Ghana, which ultimately led to a three-year role where he became CFO of an Accra-based farm.

“I learnt a lot about aquaculture scaling and all that. I believed the platform I was running could be a lot bigger and scale a lot faster if we could connect more dots — and basically creating an end to end protein plant,” said Rehmann, who has worked for an investment bank and Microsoft.

In 2015, Rehmann teamed up with his longtime business partner Steve Moran to explore Lake Victoria and perform some feasibility studies on how they could use technology to disrupt the country’s cold chain markets.

They concluded that a unique opportunity to rebuild the fish value chain from scratch existed. They raised an angel round to start Victory Farms before launching in mid-2016 to serve a market with about a $1.5 billion fish deficit.

The average Kenyan only consumes about 10-20% of animal protein intake, most of which is red meat. With a large fish deficit and retail prices reaching $5 per kilo, Victory Farm says it uses technology to produce more fish and drive down costs simultaneously for the thousands of market women who buy fish in small batches to cook and sell in local food markets.

“We run a tech-enabled platform and have scaled 2x faster than any other African fish company. And using data, we have built the most efficient operation globally at half the capex of current global leader,” Rehmann told TechCrunch via email. “We sell to mass market Africans via a high innovative RTM cold chain which uses predictive data to push fish to thousands of market ladies every day all across Kenya with less than 1% spoilage.”

The company has more than 54 retail locations where over 15,000 market women go to buy fish, and according to Rehmann, they use no electricity nor ice.

“We use vertical integration to drive a more robust data set from end to end,” he said. “This allows us to innovate and create more cost-effective solutions through our systems and the power of data to deliver a better, fresher product to more consumers.”

Victory Farms claims to have one of the highest margin structures in the fishing industry globally due to its technology. The company recorded a 130% CAGR between 2017 to 2021. Maintaining this growth rate can exude utmost confidence. In Victory Farms’ case, Rehmann believes there are no significant competitors to the company — which also has a processing plant and distribution network — in Kenya and the larger East African region.

“We’re growing so much faster than them (the competition) that we don’t see this as a competitive playing field. The real competitor for us is hunger and consumers not being able to have an affordable protein option,” he said.

But from a global perspective, Rehmaan touts Zurich-based Regal Springs as a bigger player. However, Victory Farms could surpass Regal Springs in the next five years to become “the largest end-to-end tilapia platform” globally if its expansion into new geographies takes off as planned, the CEO argued.

As much as Victory Farms is profit and growth-oriented, Rehmann said it is worth highlighting that the company is working toward becoming the world’s most sustainable tilapia platform. “We’ve got several initiatives underway and planned to build the world’s first carbon negative fish platform. And I think it’s very exciting because we’ve got a lot of tangible and measurable dimensions built into the business to achieve that.”

ChargeLab’s software layer to power ABB’s EV chargers in North America

ChargeLab, a Toronto-based startup that builds software to operate and optimize electric vehicle charging equipment for fleets and commercial customers, has raised a $15 million Series A round. The round was led by King River Capital and notably includes participation from strategic investor ABB E-Mobility, a spinoff of technology company ABB that focuses on electric mobility and building charging stations.

As part of ChargeLab’s commercial agreement with ABB, the two companies will launch a bundled hardware and software solution for fleets, multifamily buildings and other commercial EV charging use cases, according to Zak Lefevre, founder and CEO of ChargeLab. While the partnership with ABB will certainly give ChargeLab the resources it needs to build out and scale its enterprise software, Lefevre noted that ABB’s interest in ChargeLab stems from the company’s need for a better out-of-the-box software in North America.

“The reality is that ABB has a device with the capability to connect to the internet, but they haven’t built those back-end services for connecting it, managing it, doing billing and payments, scheduling and power management and all those things,” Lefevre told TechCrunch. “So we are very much in that transition phase where everybody’s making their devices ready to connect to the cloud, but these big hardware companies haven’t necessarily thought through what all the second order consequences are and all the other systems that chargers are going to need to plug out to, whether it’s a parking management system or demand response system to the grid.”

ChargeLab’s core product is its cloud-based charging station management system, which provides apps for EV drivers, dashboards for fleet managers and open APIs for third-party system integration. The hardware-agnostic software, which runs on the edge and in the cloud, also includes capabilities like automated monitoring of chargers, management of pricing and access rules, payment processing and electrical load balancing, according to the company.

The startup’s latest funding round, which also included existing investors like Construct Capital, Root Ventures, Highline Beta, Third Sphere and Maple VC, will help the company go from its seed stage-level solution of connecting chargers and controlling them in the cloud to more advanced milestones. 

“Is that going to be SOC 2 compliant? Is it going to be scalable across hundreds of thousands of devices?” Lefevre said.  “ABB is selling to the biggest fleets and the biggest enterprises in the world. Are we going to be able to bundle with ABB and meet those needs?”

(SOC 2 is a voluntary compliance standard developed by the American Institute of CPAs which specifies how organizations should manage customer data.)

ChargeLab’s software is embedded onto chargers, which helps ensure those chargers are not only secure but also efficient and working flawlessly on the back end, co-founder and chief technology officer Ehsan Mokhtari told TechCrunch.

“And that ties into the security side of things. EV chargers will be a target of cybersecurity attacks as they are connected, so we are very active and in front of it,” said Mokhtari. “We already formed the InfoSec team within the ChargeLab company, as well as advanced techniques to handle offline behavior and self healing for these chargers. So that is really top of mind for us to build products and take them to market with our partners.”

Aside from ABB, ChargeLab works with EV charger manufacturers like Phihong, United Chargers, Siemens and Tritium. The startup’s tech is also white-labeled by charging networks like Girardin Energy, TurnOnGreen and EVStart. Lefevre says ChargeLab’s software is currently inside thousands of devices in North America, but has yet to surpass the 10,000 charger mark. That said, Lefevre says the EV charging industry is growing exponentially, which means the market opportunity is massive.

Voicy wants to pwn gamers with audio memes

If meme stocks can be a thing, what’s to stop audio meme sharing from going viral!? Hoping to storm the ear-bending arena of social audio and win friends amid the gamer/creator crowd is Voicy — a Netherlands-based startup that’s building a platform for user-generated audio snippets (typically a few seconds long), offering tools to create emotive samples for reaction sharing to spice up your messaging/streams.

It’s not hard to predict where this idea goes: Straight to gross out fart sfx and pwning troll clips — which are indeed plentiful on this fledgling platform for user-generated (or, well, sampled) audio. Dank audio memes anyone?

Other viral noises are available. Borat clips, for example, or Squid Game sounds. Plus a cacophony of over-enthusiastic Internet memes in audio form. John Oliver screaming “GOOGLE IT!” repeatedly, or Epic Sax Guy’s epic saxing, and so on.

The typical Voicy user is, unsurprisingly, young and trigger happy, per the startup — which envisages gamer voice chat as a key target for a pipelines of social integrations it hopes to build out. So far it has one integration inked with messaging app, Viber — but it’s offering a “simple universal API” to encourage other platforms to sign up.

Zooming out, Voicy’s stated mission is to do for sound clips what Giphy has done for GIFs.

“We want to create a new way for people to express themselves creatively in how they communicate. In areas such as gaming, where communicating with images or text doesn’t work as well — there’s a huge gap for audio to really enhance the experience,” suggest co-founders Xander Kanon, Joey de Kruis and Milan Kokir via email.

“As we’ve seen with memes and GIFs, people love to create their own very creative content. Audio has the capacity to have the same, if not bigger impact on modern communications. We’ve seen from instant chat, to emoticons to GIFs that people all over the world want to experiment with and simply have fun with how they communicate — it’s one of the things we all have in common. In addition to this, the competition among apps and platforms is immense and all of them are working hard to make their offering more sticky, fun and engaging. This is where Voicy comes into play.”

“From the ground up, we have developed our platform to give users the express ability to create,” they add. “Our technology directly serves that purpose through an open-source approach to content, with safeguards layered in to moderate. With integrations, our approach has been to connect our platform with other platforms and give users wider accessibility to sharing content. With the addition of public API, further integrations and a strong foundation within the platform, we believe our impact can be exponential.”

The platform fully launched in October 2020, per the founders, and they’ve grown usage to 1.1 million monthly active users at this stage (although that’s including usage via Viber, not just ears they’re pulling into their own platform).

Other usage metrics they share include that users have created some 145,000 sound clips so far, with an average of 10k more being added per month. They also say a Voicy user plays, on average, 20 sound clips and shares one per visit.

While, following their recent partnership with Viber, users there have sent over 20 million audio messages — which have been played 100M times in just three months.

The startup is planning to build out a pipeline of third party integrations to drive for further growth, with the help of a €1.2 million pre-seed raise being announced today — eyeing potential love-ins across social messaging, streaming and gaming platforms. Or basically anywhere where noisy memes might find an appreciative audience.

“There are a lot of potential integrations within social messaging, for example WhatsApp, FB Messenger; social video — Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube; gaming — Roblox, Ubisoft, Xbox, Discord; and streaming — Twitch, Streamlabs and Corsair,” they suggest, reeling off the tier one consumer platform list.

Voicy’s pre-seed raise is led by Oliver Samwer’s Global Founders Capital, with a number of tech senior execs also participating from companies including Twitch, Spotify, Deezer, Snapchat, Booking, Uber, Reddit, Acast and Tesla.

Commenting in a statement, Global Founders Capital’s Soheil Mirpour said: “Voicy is a very exciting new startup. In short order, their strong team has grown a huge community of very active users who are creating hundreds of pieces of new audio content every day. There’s a massive amount of potential for short audio in social communication. A Discord user spends on average 285 minutes a day in a Discord voice chat, people share 7 billion voice messages per day on WhatsApp alone and billions of people use short audio in their TikTok or Instagram videos. Voicy brings a new concept to the table, which is ready to disrupt an enormous market — we knew we had to invest.”

But why do web users need audio memes when there are already, er, audio GIFs? Isn’t this a rather niche proposition — given existing overlap, plus the general (broad) competition from other reaction ‘shareables’ consumers can easily use to express themselves, from ye olde emoji, to customizable stickers to viral GIFs?

Soundless reaction formats (like GIFs) are also essentially an advantage to the sizeable ‘never turn up the volume’ mobile crew — whose silence-loving (voice-message hating) existence explains why even short video clips which are made to be shared on social typically come with captions to provide an baked in alternative to engaging any ear. (And, well, an audio meme with the sound off is just some sad-looking pixels, right? … Quite possibly, though, this is an older vs younger Internet user generation thang 😬)

Surprising no one, Voicy users so far are Gen Z or Gen Alpha, with a strong following amid the TikTok/Roblox generation, per the founders. (“Our users use us for gaming, creation, and messaging. Across our user base, most users are located in the USA (60%). The majority of users are aged below 35 years old (75%+),” they also confirm.)

“The advantage of a sound clip over a GIF/sound GIF is the wider applicability of it,” argue Voicy’s founders. “Practically, you can use a sound clip in your stream, during gaming, or to edit your video or your TikTok video/Youtube Short as well as use it in messaging. You simply cannot do this with an audio GIF due to user experience and practical constraints.”

“Audio memes are funny, iconic and unique shareable audio bites that can be used in any form of online communication to express thoughts or feelings in a specific context,” add the trio — who are self professed avid gamers themselves.

What about risks around copyright? How are they managing that issue? Voicy is not licensing any audio content currently but the founders suggest they may do in future. For now they’re relying on fair use to recirculate samples (plus their platform supports a DCMA reporting and takedowns procedure). They say they’re also using a third party service to stop protected samples from being piped onto any third party platforms they integrate with.

While it’s early for such a consumer-focused product to be focused on monetization, the team says they’re building Voicy as a marketplace — and ultimately intend to focus on the needs of the creator community.

“We believe that our long term opportunity lies at enabling creators to monetise their content,” they tell TechCrunch. “With the creator’s economy continuing to grow at a rapid speed, we provide them a platform to create, clipify, distribute, earn, and build a community around their sonic identity. With a large integration network and a platform as an end-destination for consuming and engaging with sounds and sound-creators, Voicy can monetise its library and integrations. Voicy can provide a ton of value both for the supply side and the demand side.”

“More specifically, our business model will be focused around the sub-licensing of clips, and by providing additional premium features for creators to do what they do best: creating content. Content will have the possibility to be sub-licensed to integration partners, fans, other creators, and premium consumers,” they add.

Block rival SpotOn lands $300M at $3.6B valuation after doubling ARR last year

Payments and software startup SpotOn has closed on $300 million in a Series F financing that values the company at $3.6 billion.

Dragoneer Investment Group led the latest round, which included participation from existing backers Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), DST Global, Franklin Templeton and Mubadala Investment Company, as well as new investor, G Squared. 

The investment marks SpotOn’s third raise in the past year alone and Dragoneer’s sixth time investing in the company over a three-year period. It is, however, the first time the firm has led a round. It comes on the heels of a year in which the company says it saw 100% year-over-year ARR (annual recurring revenue) growth.

Last September, SpotOn announced it had closed on a $300 million Series E round at a $3.15 billion valuation. That funding event came just three and a half months after the startup raised $125 million at a $1.875 billion valuation (a A16z led both of those rounds).

Since its 2017 inception, SpotOn has been focused on providing software and payments technology to SMBs with an emphasis on restaurants and retail businesses. Last year, it acquired Appetize in an effort to extend its reach to the enterprise space. 

Today, SpotOn — which operates a SaaS business model — says it serves businesses “of all types and sizes,” from local family restaurants to Major League Baseball stadiums. But it is primarily focused on businesses in the retail, food and hospitality sectors. 

In the eight months since its last raise, SpotOn has bought another company, released a new product and hired new execs. Late last year, it acquired Dolce, a labor management startup which streamlines payroll, scheduling, tip-pooling and compliance, in an effort to strengthen its flagship restaurant product.

The company also launched SpotOn Retail, which it describes as “an omnichannel retail platform that allows independent retailers to compete with big-box stores and e-commerce giants by selling in store, online or on the go through one seamless, intuitive dashboard.”

It also has made a number of executive hires, including naming Lisa Banks as its chief financial officer. While SpotOn did not comment on any potential plans to go public, the hiring of a CFO typically indicates that the public markets are in a company’s sights.

“Mom-and-pop restaurants and retail businesses are facing rapidly changing consumer expectations within today’s tech-driven landscape. SpotOn has made it their mission to provide customized solutions to drive the growth and adaptation needed as businesses of all sizes evolve and grow,” said Marc Stad, founder and managing partner at Dragoneer, in a statement. 

In the broader fintech landscape, SpotOn is taking on payments giant Block (formerly Square) head on. Block, which acquired BNPL player Afterpay in a surprising $29 billion deal, today has a market cap of $48.5 billion. It is also challenging decacorn Toast on the restaurant side.

Interestingly, perhaps as evidence of the global private market correction, SpotOn’s valuation increase was less dramatic than it has been in the past 18 months. So while it was not a flat round, it was about $500 million higher, or a 14.3% increase, compared to its last raise. For context, SpotOn’s Series E raise at a $3.15 billion valuation was about 5x of its $625 million valuation at the time of its Series C round.

Isabl’s rapid whole-genome analysis opens the playbook for cancer treatment

Every cancer is unique because every person is unique, and one of the most important weapons in any cancer battle is information. Isabl offers that in abundance through rapid sequencing of cancer cells’ entire genomes, potentially showing which therapies will and won’t be effective within days. The company has received a breakthrough designation from the FDA and raised $3 million to bring its approach to market.

The last ten years have brought numerous medical advances due to the commoditization of genomic processes from sequencing to analysis, and cancer treatment is no exception. In fact, because cancer is (though it is a simplification) genetic mutation that has gotten out of hand, understanding those genes is an especially promising line of research.

Panel tests look within the DNA of cancerous cells for mutations in a selection of several hundred genes known to affect prognosis and clinical strategy. For instance, a cancer may have certain mutations that render it susceptible to radiation treatment but resistant to chemo, or vice versa — it’s incredibly helpful to know which.

Isabl co-founder and CEO Elli Papaemmanuil explains that however helpful panel tests are, they’re only the beginning.

“These tests have been designed very carefully to look for the most common mutations, and they have revolutionized cancer diagnosis for patients with common cancers,” she said. “But patients with rare cancers — and what we define as a rare cancer is still a third of patients — don’t benefit from them.”

Even many with common cancers may find that their condition does not involve mutations of these most predictive genes. The relevant genes are somewhere among the other two billion base pairs — current tests only look at about 1 percent of the genome.

While the technology exists to look at that other 99 percent, it has historically been expensive and slow compared with panels, and analysis of the resulting large body of data was likewise difficult and time-consuming. But Isabl’s tests show that it’s definitely worthwhile.

Diagram showing information (groups, individuals, cells) going into an analysis.

Image Credits: Isabl

“It turns out that whole-genome sequencing can detect many more clinically relevant findings — results we can act on today. And what we’ve done is develop a platform that lets us summarize it in a way that doctors can read and use, in a day,” Papaemmanuil said. They call it a “clinically actionable whole genome and transcriptome test,” or cWGTS.

The company was formed out of research Papaemmanuil did at Memorial Sloan Kettering, a cancer care and science nexus in New York. “You could see all these successes from panel testing, then all these patients who weren’t benefiting. But in my lab we had the tech and the know-how,” she recalled. They collected and combined three different datasets: the germline (i.e. patient’s) genomes; the tumor’s genome, and also its transcriptome, essentially what the body produces from transcribing the DNA.

“This gives a really full picture of the profile of the tumor,” she said. “Rather than having a classifier or a model that annotates the mutations [i.e. an automated panel test], we have analytics that integrate those three layers to interpret the role of the mutation and its relevance to each tumor type.”

Though it does own the whole process from sampling to report, Isabl’s key advance is data-based and therefore “there is no technical obstacle to making this solution available today. And we’ve demonstrated we can do it at scale,” Papaemmanuil said. But in the medical world, just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s permitted. The FDA has granted the technology with “breakthrough” status, which is a fast track — but even the fast track is slow in the federal government.

While full clinical approval is probably 3-5 years away, that’s much faster than the 5-10 years estimated by the industry for this type of application. But research, both for validation and other purposes, is ongoing, having just published the main paper proving out the process today in Nature Communications. (Though this study focuses on pediatric and young adults cancers, the technique is not limited to those demographics.)

“The seed round is very much to let us do the roadmap — it’s a good starting point for getting the necessary evidence and approvals,” Papaemmanuil said. “We’re already partnering with cancer centers to do studies, and most importantly, to hear from oncologists on what they need and how they’d like the data.”

From left, Isabl co-founders Andrew Kung, Elli Papaemmanuil, and Juan Santiago Medina.

The $3 million round was led by Two Sigma Ventures, with participation from Y Combinator, Box 1, and other firms. Papaemmanuil’s co-founders are CTO Juan Santiago Medina and Andrew Kung.

She also made it clear that Isabl’s research would be conducted openly — “We have a very strong scientific scientific foundation and will be active in publishing the work. The data needs to be both published and made accessible in a form that will enable further research,” she said. The self-reinforcing play of producing and identifying predictive data could prove an incredibly valuable resource across many disciplines.

Isabl is an example of the power of a more or less pure data play in an industry more frequently associated with advances in the lab — though of course it took a lot of lab work to produce in the first place. But when automation of key processes, in this case DNA transcription, enables a huge uptick in data capture, there’s always value to be found in it. In this case that value could save many lives.