This startup hopes photonics to will get us to AI systems faster

The problem with waiting for quantum computing to bring in the next wave of AI is that it’s likely to arrive a lot slower than people would like. The next best options include increasing the speed of existing computers somehow – but there’s now an important added ijmperative: power-efficient systems that mean we don’t burn up the planet while we get about conjuring the AI singularity into existence.

Meanwhile, the speed of AI computation doubles every 3 or 4 months, meaning that standard semiconductor technologies are struggling to keep up. Several companies are now working on ‘photonics processing’ which introduces light into the semiconductor realm which, for obvious ‘speed of light’ reasons, literally speeds up the whole thing markedly.

Salience Labs is an Oxford-based startup that thinks it has the answer, by combining an ultra-high-speed multi-chip processor that packages a photonics chip together with standard electronics.

It’s now raised a seed round of $11.5 million led by Cambridge Innovation Capital and Oxford Science Enterprises. Also participating were Oxford Investment Consultants, former CEO of Dialog Semiconductor Jalal Bagherli, ex-Temasek Board Member Yew Lin Goh and Arm-backed Deeptech Labs participating.
Salience is a spin-out of Oxford University and the University of Münster in 2021, after it came up with the idea of using a broad bandwidth of light to execute operations to deliver what it calls “massively parallel processing performance within a given power envelope”. The company says the technology is highly scalable and capable of stacking up to 64 vectors into a beam of light.

Vaysh Kewada, CEO and co-founder of Salience Labs told me: “This technology is going to mean we can do far more calculation for the same power requirement – which means fundamentally more efficient AI systems.” 

She thinks the world needs ever-faster chips to grow AI capability, but the semiconductor industry cannot keep pace with this demand. “We’re solving this with our proprietary ‘on-memory compute’ architecture which combines the ultra-fast speed of photonics, the flexibility of electronics and the manufacturability of CMOS. This will usher in a new era of processing, where supercompute AI becomes ubiquitous,” she said.
Ian Lane, Partner, Cambridge Innovation Capital added: “Salience Labs brings together deep domain expertise in photonics, electronics and CMOS manufacture. Their unique approach to photonics delivers an exceedingly dense computing chip without having to scale the photonics chip to large sizes.”

This is an animation of photonics going off inside the chip:

UPSIDE Foods bites into $400M round to serve cultivated meat later this year

We’ve heard a lot about foodtech companies introducing new types of food products to fill the gap in what is expected to be a global food shortage in the next 30 years.

Much of the focus over the past six years or so was on the technology to create these new foods and not so much on how companies will make enough of it. Now we are seeing companies taking on the scalability of these products. For example, this week, Planetary announced an $8 million investment toward building facilities to help companies leveraging fermentation technology create and scale their alternative proteins quicker. In addition, Perfect Day, a biotechnology company that developed an animal-free milk protein, also announced this week that it was opening a new facility in Salt Lake City in The Gateway BioHive hub. This is the company’s second location and will be a base for Perfect Day to scale its enterprise biology business. Meanwhile, Nowadays, which raised $7 million this week, is tapping into existing meat-producing channels to make more of its plant-based nuggets.

The Good Food Institute reports that $5 billion in investments were pumped into the alternative proteins space in 2021, a 60% increase from the year prior. Of that amount, cultivated meat and seafood companies secured $1.4 billion in investments in 2021.

Another company gobbling a large chunk of those meaty investment dollars for commercialization is UPSIDE Foods, which you might remember was Memphis Meats. The Berkeley-based company, making cultivated meat, poultry and seafood, took in $400 million in Series C funding, touting it as “the largest round in the industry to date.”

Temasek and the Abu Dhabi Growth Fund co-led the round and were joined by Cargill, Givaudan and Tyson Foods and individual investors, including Bill Gates, John Doerr and Kimbal and Christiana Musk. Also investing in this round are Baillie Gifford, Cercano Management, CPT Capital, Norwest Venture Partners, SALT Fund, SoftBank Vision Fund 2, SOSV’s Indie Bio and Synthesis Capital.

To date, UPSIDE has now raised a total of $608 million. That includes a round we covered back in 2020. Earlier this year, company founder and CEO Uma Valeti had discussed with me UPSIDE’s new 53,000-square-foot engineering, production and innovation center, dubbed EPIC, that opened in Emeryville, California in November.

It is designed to produce any species of meat, poultry and seafood, and will initially make more than 50,000 pounds of finished product as it scales to a future capacity of more than 400,000 pounds per year, Valeti said at the time.

That’s not all the company has been up to in the last two years: In addition to rebranding last May, the company announced that its first consumer product would be chicken, a partnership with three-Michelin-starred chef Dominique Crenn, the development of a cell feed that’s completely free of animal components and, in January, acquired cultivated seafood company Cultured Decadence.

Valeti told TechCrunch that UPSIDE was expecting to raise the Series C, especially after meeting all of those milestones. Now the company is focusing on building out the supply chain and consumer adoption.

“Cultivated meat has been around for six years, and there is enormous momentum,” he added. “Over the past five years, we have shown viability on the science and technology side, and now we want to show scalability.”

Valeti notes that a lot of work is yet to be done on improving the industrial process and the yields UPSIDE will be getting out of it, calling it “a race against time” related to the crises with the environment, using animals for food and the supply chain.

The new funding will go toward doing all of that — building a commercial-scale facility, educating consumers and building out that robust and cost-effective supply chain infrastructure around cell feed (media) and other inputs.

Again, nothing will be immediate, Valeti admits it will take 18 to 24 months to build the facility, and when it is completed, the technology coming out of EPIC will transition to the new site to scale to “tens of millions of pounds of product,” he added.

For now, small batches of products will come out of EPIC. Pending regulatory review, the company’s chicken product will be available to consumers in the U.S. later this year. With the cost of conventional meat going up, the focus is to see what people are willing to pay for and who will choose choice and value, Valeti notes.

“Our goal is to introduce consumers to cultivated meat to dispel any confusion with meat alternatives,” he added. “This is going to open up the entire cultivated meat space, and as the pioneer, we are writing the playbook and sharing it with people. In the next two decades, so many products will be brought to market, so our goal is to engage with consumers and B2B businesses. The consumer has to fall in love with this.”

China’s AR company Rokid closes $110M Series C to expand globally

Chinese startup Rokid has been through a few stages of transformation over its eight years of existence, and it’s recently raised some new funding to stay afloat. The Temasek-backed company started as a smart speaker maker when the vertical was all the rage in China in mid-2015, but it has in recent years put more focus on augmented reality.

This week, Rokid said it has landed a $110 million Series C round. Between its last financial injection of $100 million in 2018 and this recent round, we haven’t heard much from Rokid — at least from the consumer side.

While new players like Qualcomm-backed Nreal have emerged to attract early adopters with stylish, lightweight glasses, Rokid appears to have kept itself busy by exploring enterprise use cases, like enabling remote communication for field workers in the auto, oil and gas, and other traditional industries. And like many hardware startups that rushed to offer contactless solutions when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, Rokid touted smart glasses that could detect temperatures of up to 200 people within two minutes.

With a team of about 380 employees, Rokid said it will spend the new proceeds on research and development as well as global expansion, so developed markets could be expecting more of Rokid’s B2B offerings. Indeed, the firm just hired an energy industry veteran to head its sales in the APAC region.

The company declined to name the investors from this round, only saying they are “related ecosystem players,” which could very well mean clients and supply chain partners. It declined to reveal its post-money valuation.

China’s EV upstarts are building their own investment powerhouses

The investment game going after automotive startups is getting more competitive in China with not only established venture capital firms joining the fray but also industry veterans. Two mobility-focused funds that recently closed new rounds have the backing of the country’s leading electric carmaking upstarts.

Rockets Capital, a brand new venture- and growth-stage investment vehicle, announced earlier this month the close of its $200 million maiden fund, with EV maker Xpeng as the anchor investor. Other investors are big institutional names in China, including IDG Capital, Sequoia China, GGV Capital, 5Y Capital and eGarden. The fund looks for opportunities in the auto industry value chain, clean energy, and other “frontier technology” areas.

The other major close from this week is Nio Capital’s oversubscribed $400 million sophomore USD fund, the Eve ONE Fund II. Investors range from sovereign wealth funds, insurance companies, multilateral financial institutions, funds of funds, family offices, pension funds to foundations from across the world.

Nio Capital was started by William Li, founder of Xpeng’s archrival Nio — hence the name of the fund — although the investment body is not directly related to the carmaker itself. The firm manages an RMB fund along with its USD one, focusing on auto, technology, and energy sectors.

Rockets Capital makes its connection to its EV investor more public. While it operates as an independent investment firm, it will also leverage Xpeng’s “industry expertise and resources” and “incubate technological innovation.” Given the stated mission, it won’t be surprising if some of Rockets’ future portfolio companies also do business or partner with Xpeng.

Founded in 2016, Nio Capital has a head start in the investment space. Some of its more notable deals in China include two leading robotaxi companies — Bosch-backed Momenta and Toyota-backed, Temasek-backed lidar maker Innovusion — which is also one of Nio’s suppliers, BP-backed battery swapping Aulton, and auto chipmaker Black Sesame.

Over the past several years Nio Capital has built a fortress around itself with up-and-coming players in China’s auto industry. Now it’s time to see how Rockets Capital and its patron Xpeng play catch-up and what alliance it can forge to reshape the market.

MetaMask parent company ConsenSys raises Series D at $7B valuation

Crypto developer ConsenSys, which owns the popular Ethereum-based MetaMask wallet, announced a $450 million Series D round today that values the company at $7 billion, nearly double in worth since its last fundraise in November 2021.

ParaFi Capital led the raise alongside other existing investors Third Point, Marshall Wace, True Capital Management, and UTA VC, United Talent Agency’s venture fund. New investors participated as well, including Temasek, SoftBank Vision Fund 2, Microsoft, Anthos Capital, Sound Ventures, and C Ventures.

Founded in 2014, ConsenSys has been through a series of changes and reorganization initiatives throughout its history. It settled on its current structure in 2020 through a transaction that sold certain assets from ConsenSys Mesh, the company’s venture arm, to ConsenSys Software Incorporated (CSI), a newly-formed company that, post-transaction, now functions as the parent entity to some of the company’s key products, including MetaMask and developer platform Infura.

The funding round comes amid allegations by a group of ConsenSys shareholders that the company’s founder, Joseph Lubin, illegally shifted assets from ConsenSys Mesh into CSI as part of this transaction. The group, which says it represents over half of all known ConsenSys Mesh shareholders, claims Lubin transferred assets and intellectual property that were valued at $46.6 million as of June 2020 out of the entity, unfairly harming them while enriching Lubin. The group is pushing for an independent audit to be conducted in a court in Switzerland.

ConsenSys founder Joseph Lubin

ConsenSys founder Joseph Lubin Image Credits: ConsenSys

A spokesperson for ConsenSys Mesh told TechCrunch in a statement that it expects the audit, if it does take place, to confirm that the transaction occurred at fair market value.

“Though we respect the rights of all shareholders and the legal process such rights afford them, we believe this to be a straightforward case of these minority shareholders hoping to apply a retroactive valuation for what they know to be the value of ConsenSys Software Inc. today, to the value of the assets in early 2020,” the statement says.

The assets in question include MetaMask and developer platform Infura, as well as Truffle, PegaSys, Codefi, and other global subsidiaries, Blockworks reported. Many of these products are key to the Ethereum ecosystem, and their popularity reflects, in part, Lubin’s status as a co-founder of Ethereum itself.

ConsenSys booked “nine figures” in revenue in 2021, according to a representative for the company. MetaMask alone has over 30 million monthly active users (MAUs) today, up 42% from four months ago, ConsenSys’s chief strategy officer, Simon Morris, told TechCrunch in an interview. It is reportedly the most widely used Ethereum wallet by this metric.

At the time of the asset transfer, Metamask was valued at $4.4 million, though the shareholder group argues that that’s likely a very low estimate of what the subsidiary was actually worth then. Infura, ConsenSys’s Ethereum development platform, was valued at $14.5 million at the time of transfer, according to Blockworks.

ConsenSys also announced today that Infura now has 430,000 developers using the product, up from 350,000 last November, and that its API now supports over $1 trillion in annualized on-chain ETH transaction volume. 

The latest funding will support growth across the entire ConsenSys product suite — the company hopes to grow its team from 700 employees today to about 1,000 by the end of this year, both on the developer side and the user wallet side, Morris said.

Despite its deep roots in the Ethereum ecosystem, the company plans to use some of the proceeds to roll out a plug-in extensibility system that will allow its products to integrate with a wide variety of other protocols, though Morris declined to share detail on which specific chains it is evaluating.

Although Ethereum remains the most popular blockchain overall, it has faced challenges from competitors such as Solana that offer lower transaction costs and higher throughput. The company’s move to expand beyond Ethereum is “absolutely driven by market demand” and a desire to drive further innovation in web3 overall, Morris said, noting that one of Infura’s key areas of focus is multi-chain scalability.

Since its last fundraise, the company’s strategy has not changed, Morris said.

“It’s a Metamask and Infura-centric company. They’ve developed a platform. There’s millions of users and these things feed each other,” Morris said.

The Series C round was substantially oversubscribed, according to Morris. ConsenSys did not “want to take more money at that valuation,” instead opting to raise the Series D later to aim for a higher figure, he added.

Autobrains nabs $19M, bringing its Series C to $120M, to take on Mobileye in autonomous driving tech

AI has been the backbone of many a technological breakthrough over the years, but one challenge it has yet to solve is that of self-driving: try as they may, engineers have yet to build a platform that can manage all the practicalities and unexpected eventualities of conducting a vehicle as well as or better than a human can do, and which has also convinced regulators and the general population of its reliability. We’re still seeing a lot of development, however, and today, Autobrains, one of the hopefuls in this space that believes it has figured out how to fix the 1% margin of error typical in self-driving with a “self-learning” approach that is hardware-agnostic (more on that below) is announcing yet more funding to continue developing its platform.

The Israeli startup has raised $19 million, rounding out its Series C at $120 million. The first tranche of this investment was made public in November 2021, and altogether the investor list includes Temasek, previous strategic backers Continental and BMW i Ventures, and new backers Knorr-Bremse AG and VinFast. As before, the company is not disclosing its valuation, but for some context, it’s a crowded space that provides some comparable numbers.

Israel’s Mobileye, which Autobrains’ CEO and founder Igal Rachelgauz describes as his company’s biggest competitor, earlier this month filed confidentially for an IPO (owner Intel would retain a stake in the spun out company should this go ahead). It’s been reported that Mobileye could be valued at around $50 billion if it lists. Wayve, another Israeli self-driving startup, raised $200 million in January, valued in the region of $1 billion.

Autobrains has to date raised just under $140 million, and it’s taking an approach that it believes will give it more traction in the market because of its flexibility.

A lot of self-driving technology (Mobileye’s being one example) is based around LIDAR sensors, with a few companies (like Wayve) building systems on lower cost bases using radar, smartphones, and AI to stitch the experience together. Autobrains takes a different approach that might be described as hardware-agnostic, using radar, and also LIDAR but only if the OEM has built it in.

The company’s approach comes from more than a decade of R&D. Originally, the startup descends from a company called Cortica AI (which Rachelgauz had founded), which has spent years building AI-based imaging technology applied across a wide variety of use cases (our first coverage of it, in fact, was about developing image recognition for advertising): Autobrains was spun out initially branded as “Cartica AI” to realize more of the value of the IP as it pertained to the very specific use case of driving. The company says it has more than 250 patents filed on its technology already.

One of the main barriers to self-driving AI has been the inability for machine learning systems to account for edge cases — with decision making based essentially on labelled data sets that have been fed into the algorithms. “It’s a very expensive process involving thousands of people, but still faces the challenge of accuracy because you can’t cover all the edge cases,” Rachelgauz said. So in one tragic example, while the operator in the Uber self-driving car pilot accident in Arizona was charged over the crash, the reason the car didn’t stop on its own was that it didn’t recognize the jay-walker.

As Rachelgauz describes it, Autobrains does not depend on labelled data, and has been built to “works closer to human way” of learning, by keeping the data randomized, letting the platform find the commonalities, and then going over the learnings to keep what is relevant to continue learning from (eg clothes that are the same color as the background) but disregard details that are not (eg, the shapes of clouds). What is kept then starts to form clusters of understanding that teach the self-driving platform to react more accurately to related scenarios. Pedestrians, for example, might have up to 100 different classes of behavior that are being developed on the Autobrains system.

Currently the platform is set up for two levels of self-driving. The first is to feed assisted systems aimed at improving human driver safety, which is scheduled to be rolled out commercially in 2023 adding on average $100 to the price of a car. The second is aimed at self driving at levels 4 and 5 and is “being worked on now” and will use whatever hardware has been built into vehicles to work. It’s projected to cost in the “few thousands of dollars” at the moment, and production should start on it in 2024, but with caveats that this could move depending on the market, its customers’ appetites to invest in this, the progress of technology, and of course what consumers realistically will want and use. (The two-level approach. focusing initially on scenarios involving AI-based driver assistance rather than autonomy, is one that other startups in the space are also taking: for example another self-learning startup called Annotell, which also recently raised funding.)

“I think it’s a process, not an immediate target,” Rachelgauz said of the fully-autonomous roadmap. “But if we can commit to 2024, [we can so so understanding] it will take time to see how we can we scale it safely. The way it will happen is the differentiating factor for us.”

“Autobrains’ technology holds the promise we have all been looking for to create the paradigm shift in the industry to self-learning AI, bridging the gap to fully autonomous driving,” said Thuy Linh Pham, Deputy CEO VinFast, in a statement. “Autobrains captured our attention by applying unsupervised AI software, as opposed to traditional software that is based on manually labeled data, to make self-driving vehicles adaptive to unprecedented behaviors in real-time. We expect that Autobrains will actualize this ambitious goal into a reality in the near future.”

Temasek in talks to back India’s OneCard at $1.5 billion valuation

FPL Technologies, the Indian startup that operates OneCard, is set to double its valuation to about $1.5 billion in a new financing round, just a month after it disclosed its previous funding, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

Temasek is in advanced stages of talks to lead a new financing round of Pune-headquartered startup, the sources said, requesting anonymity as the deliberation is ongoing and private.

The size of the round is over $100 million, two sources said.

OneCard declined to comment whereas Temasek did not immediately return a request.

The new round follows a $75 million Series C funding that OneCard disclosed last month. The Series C round, led by QED, valued OneCard at about $750 million.

Founded by banking veterans, OneCard operates a mobile-first credit card. Its cards come without any joining or annual fee and give customers more control and flexibility over how and where they transact. It also offers a range of personalized rewards and loans to customers.

The startup also operates an app called OneScore, which helps users understand and find their credit score. The app is one of largest customer acquisition drivers for OneCard.

There are fewer than 30 million Indians who currently own a credit card even as nearly a billion bank accounts exist in the South Asian market.

Scores of startups including OneCard, Slice, which entered the unicorn club late last year, and Lightspeed Venture Partners and Elevation Capital-backed Uni are attempting to bring credit card features to more customers in India.

OneCard says it has amassed over 250,000 OneCard customers who are spending about $60 million with its cards each month.

Anurag Singha, the startup’s co-founder and chief executive, said last month that he estimates that about 80 million to 90 million Indians are eligible to have a credit card.

BlueVoyant nabs $250M to help enterprises nab malicious hackers and stop security breaches

Cybersecurity continues to be a pernicious and complex problem, for enterprises, and today a company that’s building a multi-faceted toolkit to help them address it better is announcing a big round of funding to continue its growth. BlueVoyant — which provides a mix of proprietary technology, third-party best-in-class tools and professional services to implement those solutions to manage both internal and external risks to an organization — has raised $250 million, funding that it will use to continue developing its technology, expanding its team, and breaking into new markets beyond the 50 where it is active today.

BlueVoyant is currently adding two countries each quarter, CEO and co-founder Jim Rosenthal said in an interview, and it has around 500 customers globally across some 16 different industries, a mix of large enterprises (with “tens of thousands of employees”) that use BlueVoyant to augment their own internal security teams, and smaller organizations that rely more completely on BlueVoyant to manage their wider cyberdefense strategy.

This is a Series D round, and it’s coming in at a “unicorn” valuation — although the company is not specifying an exact number beyond being over $1 billion. The last time we covered BlueVoyant, when it raised an $82.5 million in 2019, it was valued at $430 million.

BlueVoyant caught my attention previously in part because of its pedigree: the co-founders are Rosenthal and Tom Glocer, who respectively were previously the COO of Morgan Stanley and the CEO of Thomson Reuters (and later a director at the financial services giant). And that background,some of that has when Rosenthal was COO of Morgan Stanley and Glocer was a director at the financial services giant latest round is bringing in some high-profile names that speak to some of the company’s pedigree: it was led by Liberty Strategic Capital, the PE firm founded and run by Steven T. Mnuchin, the former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, with Temasek-founded ISTARI and Eden Global Partners among the other investors in this round. (Mnuchin is joining BlueVoyant’s board with the round.)

Traction has undoubtedly also played a role here. Rosenthal notes that in this most recent period of Covid-fuelled digital transformation and heightened focus on cybersecurity has seen the startup grow annual recurring revenues over 100% annually — specifically 117% — on average in each of the last four years. Customers, meanwhile have grown by 80%.

The last couple of years in particular — fuelled in part by the rise of cloud computing and the new set of digital opportunities that presents (both to organizations and malicious hackers) — has seen the emergence of a huge profusion of cybersecurity startups and approaches. In that mix, what is somewhat unique about BlueVoyant is the approach it takes to knit much of that together.

“Covid or not our mission has been pretty constant,” Rosenthal said. “We provide great defenses for companies who need experts form outside, both to secure them and their supply chains. From the time I’ve founded, I’ve known first-hand that most enterprises don’t have the budget or talent to defend themselves effectively, some do but most don’t. And even with the best defenses, an attacker will resort to the supply chain to evade those. That is the classic operational pattern.”

The company’s core premise is to present a platform that addresses the security issue for organizations as a challenge of two parts, internal and external cyberdefense.

Internal covers managed detection and response for threats that have made it past an organization’s existing security walls and covers internal infrastructure, with specific MDR toolsets created by BlueVoyant and using third-party technology to cover Microsoft apps, Splunk and more generally endpoints across the network.

Externally, Rosenthal says that the company has built a system that develops an overview of a company’s wider supply chain — that is, any other company that works or integrates with an organization’s business in some way, which can add up to thousands of other organizations. Here, it has built real-time monitoring solutions that assess when and if those organization’s domains are seeing malicious activity — as Rosenthal describes it, all that BlueVoyant needs is a company’s name and domain, and its tech can do the rest — and when it does, it takes action to alert the organization and shut down or fix the issue so that those connections to BlueVoyant’s customer are not in turn exploited maliciously. The company’s professional services services team works across both of the product sets, to complement a lot of processes that are automated.

“BlueVoyant provides external cyberdefense — prevention not just observation and risk scoring,” Rosenthal said of the team and the tech that it uses.

Taken together, the company’s approach becomes a one-stop solution for companies whose core expertise might not be security, even if their businesses critically rely on getting it right. This plays into a bigger theme in enterprise these days, where organizations have made a shift to simplify their own operations with fewer partners, not just to make integration less painful but for reasons of cost. Creating a solution that is part utility and part technological innovation is what appealed to investors here.

“As cyber threats increase, BlueVoyant has positioned itself as a differentiated leader in managed detection and response, third-party cyber risk management, digital risk protection, and cybersecurity professional services,” said Secretary Mnuchin in a statement. “We’re thrilled to partner with BlueVoyant and its top-tier management team as they continue to drive growth in this critical and rapidly expanding market.”

Global Processing Services adds $100M to its coffers to grow its embedded finance and API payments platform

Embedded finance continues to be the engine driving the growth of fintech, with one group of companies building core banking, payments and other financial technology, and a much bigger group tapping that technology through APIs to build customer-facing businesses. Today, one of the bigger players on the core technology side — Global Processing Services — is announcing $100 million in funding, a sign not just of how popular embedded finance remains as a business, but also GPS’s traction in the space.

Singapore investor Temasek and US firm MissionOG are the two sole investors in this tranche of funding, which is coming in the form of an extension of a $300 million investment that GPS announced back in October 2021, closing out the full round at $400 million. Advent International and Viking Global Investors co-led that previous round, which gave them a controlling stake in GPS. As with the earlier part of the round, GPS — which is based on the Isle of Man, in England — is not disclosing its valuation today.

The funding will be used to continue growing GPS’s business — which includes a range of fintech services such as payments, direct debits, and standing orders; virtual cards; mobile wallets; fraud prevention; expense management; cryptocurrency management; BNPL and more (these are sold under the GPS Apex brand).

Specifically, the company wants to expand further in Europe and Asia Pacific, as well as in more emerging markets across the Middle East and Africa; and it wants to bring on new products. (Notably, there are no loan products in the mix right now, so that could be one area it explores; insurance could be another, and so could solutions tailored for specific verticals.)

The reason for the investment and investor attention is that GPS, and the space it’s active in, have both seen a big surge of activity. One one hand, neobanking services among consumers and businesses have been rising in popularity (and credibility); on the other, we’ve seen an ever-expanding range of non-fintech businesses (such as telcos and retailers) that are tapping the concept of embedded finance to add new features and revenue streams into their own platforms.

More generally, consumers and businesses made a big shift to carrying out all of their financial activities online as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold of the world, and even as/if that abates, it looks like they will not completely go back to their analogue ways. That has had a knock-on effect on venture funding for the whole fintech industry. It was just yesterday that another big player in fintech, the payments startup Checkout, raised a whopping $1 billion at a $40 billion valuation.

GPS itself focuses mainly on those working more directly in fintech, with its its customers including Revolut, Starling, Curve, Zilch, and Paidy. Its said its services are being used today in 48 countries and that last year it processed more than 1.3 billion transactions, with 190 million cards now issued to date.

“GPS is an innovative technology company, and we believe their unique position at the heart of the global payments ecosystem ideally positions them to power the next generation of financial services,” said Gene Lockhart, the general partner at MissionOG, in a statement. “With the deep network and experience MissionOG brings to the table, we look forward to being a trusted and valued partner of Joanne and the entire team.” Notably, Lockhart is taking on a role as chair at GPS with this investment.

“The upsizing of this latest round of investment is an important step forward for the company and a strong endorsement of our strategy,” added Joanne Dewar, GPS’s CEO. “We are a company that has grown rapidly in recent years, driven by our commitment to innovation and the delivery of a single scalable technology platform. The expertise that our new partners bring to GPS will be invaluable as we enter our next phase of geographic expansion and technology innovation.”

Is cell-cultured meat ready for prime time?

Meat has been part of the human diet since before we found fire, but it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the production of meat at scale is more of a detriment to the environment and the world than a benefit.

Across cultures and geographies, animals have been such a vital part of the food chain that it’s hard to imagine a world where animals are not put to the knife to produce protein.

There’s no stopping innovation, however, and alternative sources of protein are increasingly becoming a choice people would rather make.

Cell-cultured meat is one such source. Also known as cultivated or lab-grown meat, this process uses cells from animals to make meat without slaughter. While the nascent sector is a hot topic for the benefits it promises, the process remains slow and costly.

Investments in this sector are heating up, though. If 2021 was anything to go by, there is an abundance of both companies and investors hungry for ways to scale and speed up the process — and do it profitably.

However, it’s not yet clear when meat grown in labs will reach the kind of scale required to see it at your local grocery store.

This is not a revolution, it is a transformation, and it is going to take time. Friederike Grosse-Holz

High steaks

Cell-cultured meat owes its growing popularity, at least in part, to some of the macro challenges the world faces with food production. Overcultivation, human-made climate change and diminishing sources of water are all contributing to a future where food insecurity will be a gigantic problem.

The outlook is bleak: The United Nations estimates food production will need to double to feed the nearly 10 billion people expected to populate the planet by 2050. As for protein, people around the world consumed about 324 million metric tons of meat in 2020, and that number is set to rise even further.

Changing how we cultivate and produce food is key to solving this problem, and we already have systems like vertical farming to address the problem of overcultivation, as well as protein sources other than meat. Currently, alternative protein makes up just about 2% of the animal protein market, but it is expected to increase more than 7x by 2025.

“We are trying to meet the Paris Agreement, but we can’t meet that without addressing the food system and the way we produce meat, eggs and dairy,” said Sharyn Murray, senior investor engagement specialist at Good Food Institute, a nonprofit advocating for reimagined meat production. “The conversion ratio for calories in versus calories out is seven to eight calories for a chicken for one calorie out, while plant-based is one calorie in and one out.”

Cultivated meat is just one of the approaches to meeting future demand for protein alongside plant-based and fermentation techniques. Murray and others I spoke to referred to the movement as “a massive transformation of the food system that will take time.” Meaning the shift will not happen overnight, Murray said.

There is also only one company with cell-cultured meat products available in the market currently: Eat Just, whose subsidiary GOOD Meat has received regulatory approval to produce and sell its cell-cultured meat in Singapore. Eat Just also recently received approval to sell chicken breasts made with cell cultures.

A nugget made from lab-grown chicken meat is seen during a media presentation in Singapore, the first country to allow the sale of meat created without slaughtering any animals, on December 22, 2020. (Photo by Nicholas YEO / AFP) (Photo by NICHOLAS YEO/AFP via Getty Images)

A nugget made from lab-grown chicken meat is seen during a December media presentation in Singapore, the first country to allow the sale of meat created without slaughtering any animals. Image Credits: Nicholas YEO / AFP / Getty Images

Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of Eat Just, said the movement is here even if people are not buying a lot of lab-grown meat yet.

“It is still small-scale, and the most important thing we are doing that other companies should do is focus on the design, engineering and full-scale installations of vessels and the supporting systems to make a lot of it.”