DREAMTECH NEWS

Slack introduces new features to ease messaging between business partners

Slack is holding its Frontiers conference this week — virtually like everyone else in 2020 — and it’s introducing some new features to make it easier to message between partners. At the same time, it’s talking about some experimental features that could appear in the platform at some point (or not).

Let’s start with some features to help communicate with partners outside of your company in a secure way. This is always a tough nut to crack whether it’s collaboration or file sharing or any of the things that trusted partners do when they are working closely together.

To help solve that, the company is creating the notion of trusted partners, and this has a few components. The first is Slack Connect DMs (direct messages), which allows users inside an organization to collaborate with anyone outside their company simply by sending an invite.

“You can now direct message anyone in the Slack ecosystem. That means that anyone that has a Slack license can connect to one another,” Ilan Frank, VP of product at Slack told TechCrunch. While the company is introducing the new capability this week, it won’t be widely available until next year as the company wants to make sure this is used for business purposes only in a secure and non-spammy way.

“We’re going to be focused on, before we make this widely available, a lot of different information privacy and security [components] to make sure that we account for things like spam and phishing attacks and all that. This should not be a LinkedIn or Facebook Messenger where anyone can connect with you. This is [going to focus on] business for business work,” Frank explained.

Slack is introducing a couple of concepts to help ensure that happens. For starters, it’s adding Verified Organizations, which works a bit like verified users on Twitter, to help ensure you are dealing with someone from an organization you trust and work with before you start exchanging information on Slack.

“So if someone connects to you through direct message or through a channel, before you even make that connection, [you can ensure] if they are [from] a verified Slack organization versus someone who has just signed up on the internet, and you have not heard them, don’t have a relationship with them and don’t know who they are,” Frank said.

The last piece is called Managed Connections, which lets Slack admins control which organizations and individuals can connect with people inside your organization on Slack in a streamlined manner, which helps ensure that the other two new features are used in a responsible way.

“Organizations have told us that they want to go even deeper into the granularity of control, and they want to have different policies by external organizations that they’re connected to,” he said. Managed Connections lets admins set policies around different types of relationships with outside organizations.

All of these new tools are being introduced this week, but will be released later this year or early next year.

Among the other things the company working on in is enabling customers to embed video or audio in a Slack channel, extending it beyond a pure text messaging tool. The company was careful to point out that these features are just experiments for now and may or may not end up in the product  in the future.


By Ron Miller

Daily Crunch: G Suite becomes Google Workspace

Google rebrands G Suite, Apple announces its next event date and John McAfee is arrested. This is your Daily Crunch for October 6, 2020.

The big story: G Suite becomes Google Workspace

To a large extent, Google Workspace is just a rebranding of G Suite, complete with a new set of (less distinctive) logos for Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Docs and Meet. But the company is also launching a number of new features.

For one thing, Google is (as previously announced) integrating Meet, Chat and Rooms across applications, with Gmail as the service where they really come together. Other features coming soon are the ability to collaborate on documents in Chats and a “smart chip” with contact details and suggested actions that appear when you @mention someone in a document.

Pricing remains largely the same, although there’s now an $18 per user per month Business Plus plan with additional security features and compliance tools.

The tech giants

Apple will announce the next iPhone on October 13 — Apple just sent out invites for its upcoming hardware event, all but confirming the arrival of the next iPhone.

Facebook’s Portal adds support for Netflix, Zoom and other features — The company will also introduce easier ways to launch Netflix and other video streaming apps via one-touch buttons on its new remote.

Instagram’s 10th birthday release introduces a Stories Map, custom icons and more — There’s even a selection of custom app icons for those who have recently been inspired to redesign their home screen.

Startups, funding and venture capital

SpaceX awarded contract to help develop US missile-tracking satellite network — The contract covers creation and delivery of “space vehicles” (actual satellites) that will form a constellation offering global coverage of advance missile warning and tracking.

Salesforce Ventures launches $100M Impact Fund to invest in cloud startups with social mission — Focus areas include education and reskilling, climate action, diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as providing tech for nonprofits and foundations.

Ÿnsect, the makers of the world’s most expensive bug farm, raises another $224 million — The team hopes to provide insect protein for things like fish food and fertilizer.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Inside Root’s IPO filing — As insurtech booms, Root looks to take advantage of a warm market and enthusiastic investors.

To fill funding gaps, VCs boost efforts to find India’s standout early-stage startups — Blume Ventures’ Karthik Reddy says, “There’s an artificial skew toward unicorns.”

A quick peek into Opendoor’s financial results — Opendoor’s 2020 results are not stellar.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

John McAfee arrested after DOJ indicts crypto millionaire for tax evasion — The cybersecurity entrepreneur and crypto personality’s wild ride could be coming to an end after he was arrested in Spain and now faces extradition to the U.S.

Trump is already breaking platform rules again with false claim that COVID-19 is ‘far less lethal’ than the flu — Facebook took down Trump’s post, while Twitter hid it behind a warning.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.


By Anthony Ha

Salesforce Ventures launches $100M Impact Fund to invest in cloud startups with social mission

When Salesforce Ventures launched the first $50 million Impact Fund in 2017, it wanted to invest not only in promising cloud businesses, but startups with a socially positive mission. Today, the company launched the second Impact Fund, this time doubling its initial investment with a new $100 million fund

The latest fund is also designed to help bring more investment into areas that the company feels needs to be emphasized as a corporate citizen beyond pure business goals including education and reskilling, climate action, diversity, equity and inclusion, and providing tech for nonprofits and foundations.

Suzanne DiBianca, Chief Impact Officer and EVP of Corporate Relations at Salesforce says the money is being put to work on some of the world’s most pressing social issues. “Now more than ever, we believe business can be a powerful platform for change. We must leverage technology and invest in innovative ideas to drive the long-term health and wellness of all citizens, enable equal access to education and fuel impactful climate action,” DiBianca said in a statement.

Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials says that this investment is consistent with their commitment to social issues. “This fits right in with Salesforce’s efforts on making business a force for change. They talk it, they walk it, and they invest in it,” Leary told TechCrunch.

Claudine Emeott, Director of Impact Investing, in a Q&A on the company website, said that as with the first fund, the company is looking for cloud companies with some ties to Salesforce that address these core social components and can have a positive impact on the world. While there is a social aspect to each company, it still follows a particular investment thesis related to cloud computing. Her goal is to have a portfolio of cloud startups by next year that are addressing the set of social needs the firm has laid out.

“I hope that [by next year] we have made numerous investments in companies that are addressing today’s concurrent crises, and I hope that we can point to their measurable impact on those crises. I hope that we can point to exciting new integrations between our portfolio companies and Salesforce to tackle these challenges together,” Emeott said.

Paul Greenberg, president of the 56 Group and author of CRM at the Speed of Light, says that while he doesn’t always agree with Salesforce on every matter, he admires their social bent. “As an analyst, I might battle with them on some of their products, the things they do in the market and their messaging, but as a human being, I applaud them for their deep commitment to the common good,” he said.

Salesforce has always had a social component to its corporate goals including its 1-1-1 philanthropy model. While Salesforce isn’t always completely consistent as with its contract with ICE, it does put money and personnel toward helping in the communities where it operates, encouraging volunteerism and charitable giving from the top down and modeled across the organization.

This investment fund, while looking at the investments through a distinctly Salesforce lens, is designed to fund startups to help solve intractable social problems, while using its extensive financial resources for the betterment of the world.


By Ron Miller

Tone raises $4M to help e-commerce brands text with their customers

While many companies are using chatbots and other forms of automation to manage their communication with customers, Boston-based Tone is betting that humans will remain a key part of the equation.

“The traditional models of bots and humans is, ‘Hello, I’m a bot, now you get to battle with me finally get to a human,’” said Tone CEO Tivan Amour. “Our verison of that is, ‘I’m a human using AI to get you the answers you need more quickly.’”

Amour and his co-founder Vlad Pick previously created a bicycle startup called Fortified Bicycle, and he said they “figured out that the best way to close our customers on these $750 to $7,000 orders was to actually engage them in text message conversations.”

After all, when it comes to “high consideration” purchases like bicycles, people usually want discuss their questions and concerns with another human being. Over time, the Fortified team built what Amour said was a “semi-automated system” to help its sales team stay on top of these conversations.

“We started bragging about it to our friends about it, ‘You’ve gotta do this, it’s the future of mobile commerce,’” he recalled. “And they’d say, ‘Okay, that’s cool, but we don’t have any of the systems of doing that, we don’t have the salespeople.’”

Tone’s founders

So after selling Fortified Bicycle, Amour and Pick created Tone to help any e-commerce business manage similar text message conversations. Tone employs its own team of human agents to actually do the texting, assisted by software that helps them find the information they need.

It integrates with e-commerce systems like Shopify and Magento, and it’s already working with more than 1,000 brands like ThirdLove, Peak Design and Usual Wines — who are seeing as much as a 26% increase in revenue and a 15% increase in order size.

Amour also noted that specific Tone agents are assigned to specific brands, which means that customers will be talking to the same person whenever they have a question for that business. In some cases, customers have been talking to the same agent for months or years.

“Particularly in a post-COVID world, it’s pretty clear that online shopping has become the dominant form of shoping, but I think nobody has thought about how you replace that human experience that you get in traditional retail,” he said.

Tone is announcing today that it has raised $4 million in seed funding from led by Bling Capital, with participation from Day One Ventures, One Way Ventures, TIA Ventures and executives from Google, Facebook, Dropbox and Uber.

With the new funding, Amour said Tone will be able to build out the “relationship automation” aspect of the product. He also suggested that the platform could eventually expand beyond text messaging, but it sounds like that’s not a big priority.

“In theory, we’re a conversational sales platform more than we are an SMS company,” he said. “However there are a bunch of trends right now [such as the growth of mobile commerce] that make SMS be the most obvious place for this sort of innovation.”


By Anthony Ha

Scratchpad announces $3.6M seed to put work space on top of Salesforce

One thing that annoys sales people is entering data into a CRM like Salesforce because it’s time spent not selling. Part of the problem is Salesforce is a database and as such is not necessarily designed for speed. Scratchpad wants to simplify that process by creating a workspace on top of the CRM to accelerate the administrative side of the job.

Today, the company announced a $3.6 million seed round led by Accel with participation from Shrug Capital and Sound Ventures, the firm run by Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary, as well as several individual investors. The round, which closed at the end of last year, hadn’t been previously announced.

Last year, company co-founder and CEO Pouyan Salehi had just stepped down from his previous company PersistIQ, a sales enablement startup that came out of Y Combinator in 2014. He and his co-founder Cyrus Karbassiyoon began researching a new company, and the idea for Scratchpad came to them when they simply sat down and watched how salespeople were working. They noted that they were using a hodgepodge of tools like taking notes in Evernote or Google Docs, tracking their pipeline in Excel or Google Sheets and tracking tasks with paper lists or sticky notes.

They recognized that these tools were disconnected from Salesforce and required hours of manual work copying and pasting this data. That’s when they saw there was an opportunity here to build a tool to track all of this information in one place and connect it to Salesforce to automate a lot of this grunt work.

“It eventually evolved into this idea that we’re calling “The Workspace” because everyone has Salesforce, but they are working with all of these other tools that then they just have to literally spend hours — and we saw some reps block off four hour chunks on their calendar — just to copy and paste from their documents, spreadsheets or notes into Salesforce for their pipeline reviews. And that’s how the idea for Scratchpad came to be,” Salehi told TechCrunch.

Today, a salesperson can install Scratchpad as a Chrome plug-in, connect to Salesforce with their log-in credentials and create a two-way connection between the tools. Scratchpad pulls all of their pipeline data into the WorkSpace. They can cycle through the various fields to enter information quickly, enter notes and track tasks (which can be pulled from email and calendar) all in one place.

What’s more, because all of this information is linked to Salesforce, anything you enter in Scratchpad updates the corresponding fields and sections in Salesforce automatically. And any new opportunities that start in Salesforce update in Scratchpad.

The company has been operating for about a year and has 1000s of users, although many are currently using the free tier. It has 7 employees with plans to hire more over the next year. As he builds his second company, Salehi says he and his co-founder are building on a foundation of diversity and inclusion.

“By nature, we are very diverse in many different perspectives that you can look at including gender, age, location and backgrounds,” he said. He adds that building a diverse and inclusive workforce is important to the company.

“And so even in our hiring process, we incorporated certain elements just to make sure that we’re not introducing bias in any sort of way, or at least recognizing that the natural bias and thoughts we might have. We look at things like doing blind looks at resumes and it’s something that we take very, very seriously,” he said.

While the company is built on top of Salesforce today, he says it could expand to include other databases or sources of information where the product could also work. For now though, he sees an opportunity to build another company in the sales arena to help reduce the amount of work associated with updating the CRM database.


By Ron Miller

Tipalti receives $150M at a $2B+ valuation after its accounts payable platform sees a surge in use

Digital transformation has been one of the big enterprise themes of 2020: organizations are doubling down on cloud services both to link up suddenly remote teams and centralize apps, documents and data in a more efficient way. Today, one of the startups that has filled out that story with a cloud-based suite of accounting services is announcing a major round of funding on the back of massive growth.

Tipalti, an Israeli company that helps businesses manage suppliers, invoices, purchase orders, tax compliance, payments and billing and other accounting services from a single cloud platform, has raised $150 million at a valuation that the company says is now over $2 billion.

The plan is to use the funding to continue enhancing Tipalti’s accounts payable suite with more tools; hire across all departments; and for business development. Tipalti’s aim, according to founder and CEO Chen Amit, is to provide easy to integrate accounts payable services to a base of fast-scaling businesses, which need AP services to function well, but would never consider them core functions of their businesses in themselves.

“Accounts payable is the last area that companies in the mid market would want to invest in,” said founder and CEO Chen Amit. “They will invest in literally anything else other than building software to pay or manage suppliers.”

The round, a Series E, is being led by Durable Capital Partners (the firm founded last year by Henry Ellenbogen, previously a star at T. Rowe Price), with participation also from Greenoaks Capital and existing investor 01 Advisors, the firm co-founded by Twitter alums Dick Costolo and Adam Bain.

Tipalti’s growth comes as the result of a perfect storm of sorts for the startup.

The Covid-19 health pandemic has led to a global economic crunch, and businesses are especially focused now on watching where money is coming in and where it is going.

But at the same time, even before the coronavirus pandemic, Tipalti had been seeing a lot of inbound business from organizations that were scaling fast and looking for solutions that could integrate easily into their current systems.

The backstory and necessity around accounts payable can be told in a few words: it’s a boring but necessary area, and if it goes wrong, it can potentially bring a whole company down because of the tax, fraud and auditing implications.

Tipalti describes accounts payable as “the most time-consuming function in finance”, noting that 47% of finance organizations in a recent survey said they still spend around 520 hours per year on manual accounts payable tasks, with 27% of respondents indicating that their teams dedicate up to 80 people-hours per month on AP tasks, or 1,040 hours annually.

Tipalti, which fittingly means “I’ll handle it” in Hebrew, is positioned as a helper in this context. By way of an API, it integrates with a number of other accounting and tracking platforms that its customers use including NetSuite, Sage, QuickBooks, Affise, Cake, Everflow, HitPath, LinkTrust, Paladin, Tune (HasOffers) and Vidooly and lets companies run and track how payments are being made relative to actives within the organization, all with relatively little input from the companies themselves, essentially giving them time and other resources to focus on other areas.

The pandemic has hit some of Tipalti’s customers hard. But overall, Chen said that it’s seen more business as a result, not just from companies suddenly growing much faster (as in the case, for example, for e-commerce businesses, or those catering to people spending much more time at home and on screens), but from businesses that simply need to pay much more attention to how money is moving around.

In 2020 so far, Tipalti has seen transaction volume on its platform balloon to $12 billion, up 80% on a year ago. It now has some 1,000 customers on its books, with a specifically strong emphasis on fast-growing tech companies. The list includes Amazon Twitch, Amplitude, Roku, Duolingo, Gitlab, Medium, ClassPass, Toast, Automattic, Twitter, Business Insider, GoDaddy, Zola, Boston Globe Media, Noom, Roblox, Headspace, Fiverr, Vimeo, Stack Overflow, ZipRecruiter, AppLovin, Canva, Indeed, and Foursquare.

Indeed, as we have described before, it was Tipalti’s initial work with Twitter on its own accounts payable services (central to how it can make money on its ad business) that served as its first introduction to Costolo and Bain, who went on to invest in it after they left the social network and started 01 Advisors.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to increase our investment in Tipalti during a time in which organizations have been focused on rapidly transforming and modernizing the way they operate,” said Dick Costolo, Founding Partner of 01 Advisors and former Chief Executive Officer of Twitter, in a statement. “When I ran Twitter, I saw first-hand the importance and value of Tipalti in automating financial operations. Tipalti transformed our processes and opened up our expansion, growth, and scalability strategies.”

It’s worth pointing out that the rise in valuation is a huge spike for Tipalti, a sign not just of its growth but investors’ bet that there will be more of that to come.

Chen Amit, the company’s founder and CEO, said it is four times the size of its valuation in its previous round (it raised $76 million in a Series D round led by 01 Advisors a little over a year ago, which would have been at around a $500 million valuation), and a whopping 14 times what Tipalti was valued in 2017). Indeed, even with other competitors like Bill.com and Coupa also targeting the same users as Tipalti, Amit estimates that between them all, they have just 3-4% of the addressable market.

“The accounts payable automation space has an extremely large total addressable market with significant growth potential,” explained Henry Ellenbogen, Founder, Managing Partner and Chief Investment Officer of Durable Capital Partners LP, in a statement. “We believe that Tipalti has the potential to become a much larger company within the Midmarket space due to its differentiated holistic platform, superior global capabilities and management team. This has resulted in leading retention and customer satisfaction.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Strike Graph raises $3.9M to help automate security audits

Compliance automation isn’t exactly the most exciting topic, but security audits are big business and companies that aim to get a SOC 2, ISO 207001 or FedRamp certification can often spend six figures to get through the process with the help of an auditing service. Seattle-based Strike Graph, which is launching today and announcing a $3.9 million seed funding round, wants to automate as much of this process as possible.

The company’s funding round was led by Madrona Venture Group, with participation from Amplify.LA, Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund and Green D Ventures.

Strike Graph co-founder and CEO Justin Beals tells me that the idea for the company came to him during his time as CTO at machine learning startup Koru (which had a bit of an odd exit last year). To get enterprise adoption for that service, the company had to get a SOC 2 security certification. “It was a real challenge, especially for a small company. In talking to my colleagues, I just recognized how much of a challenge it was across the board. And so when it was time for the next startup, I was just really curious,” he told me.

Image Credits: Strike Graph

Together with his co-founder Brian Bero, he incubated the idea at Madrona Venture Labs, where he spent some time as Entrepreneur in Residence after  Koru.

Beals argues that today’s process tends to be slow, inefficient and expensive. The idea behind Strike Graph, unsurprisingly, is to remove as many of these inefficiencies as is currently possible. The company itself, it is worth noting, doesn’t provide the actual audit service. Businesses will still need to hire an auditing service for that. But Beals also argues that the bulk of what companies are paying for today is pre-audit preparation.

“We do all that preparation work and preparing you and then, after your first audit, you have to go and renew every year. So there’s an important maintenance of that information.”

Image Credits: Strike Graph

When customers come to Strike Graph, they fill out a risk assessment. The company takes that and can then provide them with controls for how to improve their security posture — both to pass the audit and to secure their data. Beals also noted that soon, Strike Graph will be able to help businesses automate the collection of evidence for the audit (say your encryption settings) and can pull that in regularly. Certifications like SOC 2, after all, require companies to have ongoing security practices in place and get re-audited every 12 months. Automated evidence collection will launch in early 2021, once the team has built out the first set of its integrations to collect that data.

That’s also where the company, which mostly targets mid-size businesses, plans to spend a lot of its new funding. In addition, the company plans to focus on its marketing efforts, mostly around content marketing and educating its potential customers.

“Every company, big or small, that sells a software solution must address a broad set of compliance requirements in regards to security and privacy.  Obtaining the certifications can be a burdensome, opaque and expensive process.  Strike Graph is applying intelligent technology to this problem – they help the company identify the appropriate risks, enable the audit to run smoothly, and then automate the compliance and testing going forward,” said Hope Cochran, Managing Director at Madrona Venture Group. “These audits were a necessary pain when I was a CFO, and Strike Graph’s elegant solution brings together teams across the company to move the business forward faster.”


By Frederic Lardinois

Printing giant Vistaprint acquires 99designs

Vistaprint announced today that its parent company Cimpress has acquired freelance design marketplace 99designs.

The companies say that 99designs will become part of Vistaprint while also operating as a separate brand, with 99designs CEO Patrick Llewelyn continuing lead his team and reporting to Cimpress/Vistaprint CEO Robert Keane.

The acquisition announcement emphasizes the opportunity of connecting 99designs’ freelance designers with the 20 million small businesses who use Vistaprint to print signs, banners, business cards and other marketing materials — so they can their design and printing needs handled in one place.

Apparently Vistaprint has already been expanding into design services, with offerings that include a design service that businesses have used for to create custom face masks during the pandemic.

“The driving force behind Vistaprint’s future with 99designs is our passion to help small businesses,” Keane said in a statement. “We know how critical great design is for entrepreneurs on their journey. 99designs and Vistaprint have shared values and vision to be a trusted partner to business owners and creators, which lay the foundation for something bigger and more valuable than either of our teams could create alone.”

The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. Cimpress is publicly-traded, while 99designs has remained private, despite Llewellyn’s plans to go public a couple of years ago. The design company was founded in 2008n and raised a total of $45 million from Accel and Recruit Strategic Partners.

 


By Anthony Ha

As it closes in on ARM, Nvidia announces UK supercomputer dedicated to medical research

As Nvidia continues to work through its deal to acquire ARM for $40 billion from SoftBank, the computing giant is making another big move to lay out its commitment to investing in UK technology. Today the company announced plans to develop Cambridge-1, a new AI supercomputer that will be used for research in the health industry in the country, the first supercomputer built by Nvidia specifically for external research access, it said.

Nvidia said it is already working with GSK, AstraZeneca, London hospitals Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, King’s College London and Oxford Nanopore to use the Cambridge-1. The supercomputer is due to come online by the end of the year and will be the company’s second supercomputer in the country. The first is already in development at the company’s AI Center of Excellence in Cambridge, and the plan is to add more supercomputers over time.

The growing role of AI has underscored an interesting crossroads in medical research. One one hand, leading researchers all acknowledge the role it will be playing in their work. On the other, none of them and their institutions have the resources to meet that demand on their own. That’s driving them all to get involved much more deeply with big tech companies like Google, Microsoft and in this case Nvidia, to carry out work.

Alongside the supercomputer news, Nvidia is making a second announcement in the area of healthcare in the UK: it has inked a partnership with GSK, which has established an AI hub in London, to build AI-based computational processes that will be using in drug vaccine and discovery — an especially timely piece of news, given that we are in a global health pandemic and all drug makers and researchers are on the hunt to understand more about, and build vaccines for, Covid-19.

The news is coinciding with Nvidia’s industry event, the GPU Technology Conference.

“Tackling the world’s most pressing challenges in healthcare requires massively powerful computing resources to harness the capabilities of AI,” said Jensen Huang, founder and CEO of NVIDIA, will say in his keynote at the event. “The Cambridge-1 supercomputer will serve as a hub of innovation for the U.K., and further the groundbreaking work being done by the nation’s researchers in critical healthcare and drug discovery.”

The company plans to dedicate Cambridge-1 resources in four areas, it said: industry research, in particular joint research on projects that exceed the resources of any single institution; university-granted compute time; health-focused AI startups; and education for future AI practitioners. It’s already building specific applications in areas, like the drug discovery work it’s doing with GSK, that will be run on the machine.

The Cambridge-1 will be built on Nvidia’s DGX SuperPOD system, which can process 400 petaflops of AI performance and 8 petaflops of Linpack performance. Nvidia said this will rank it as the 29th fastest supercomputer in the world.

“Number 29” doesn’t sound very groundbreaking, but there are other reasons why the announcement is significant.

For starters, it underscores how the supercomputing market — while still not a mass-market enterprise — is increasingly developing more focus around specific areas of research and industries. In this case, it underscores how health research has become more complex, and how applications of artificial intelligence have both spurred that complexity but, in the case of building stronger computing power, also provides a better route — some might say one of the only viable routes in the most complex of cases — to medical breakthroughs and discoveries.

It’s also notable that the effort is being forged in the UK. Nvidia’s deal to buy ARM has seen some resistance in the market — with one group leading a campaign to stop the sale and take ARM independent — but this latest announcement underscores that the company is already involved pretty deeply in the UK market, bolstering Nvidia’s case to double down even further. (Yes, chip reference designs and building supercomputers are different enterprises, but the argument for Nvidia is one of commitment and presence.)

“AI and machine learning are like a new microscope that will help scientists to see things that they couldn’t see otherwise,” said Dr. Hal Barron, Chief Scientific Officer and President, R&D, GSK, in a statement. “NVIDIA’s investment in computing, combined with the power of deep learning, will enable solutions to some of the life sciences industry’s greatest challenges and help us continue to deliver transformational medicines and vaccines to patients. Together with GSK’s new AI lab in London, I am delighted that these advanced technologies will now be available to help the U.K.’s outstanding scientists.”

“The use of big data, supercomputing and artificial intelligence have the potential to transform research and development; from target identification through clinical research and all the way to the launch of new medicines,” added James Weatherall, PhD, Head of Data Science and AI, Astrazeneca, in his statement.

“Recent advances in AI have seen increasingly powerful models being used for complex tasks such as image recognition and natural language understanding,” said Sebastien Ourselin, Head, School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences at King’s College London. “These models have achieved previously unimaginable performance by using an unprecedented scale of computational power, amassing millions of GPU hours per model. Through this partnership, for the first time, such a scale of computational power will be available to healthcare research – it will be truly transformational for patient health and treatment pathways.”

Dr. Ian Abbs, Chief Executive & Chief Medical Director of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust Officer, said: “If AI is to be deployed at scale for patient care, then accuracy, robustness and safety are of paramount importance. We need to ensure AI researchers have access to the largest and most comprehensive datasets that the NHS has to offer, our clinical expertise, and the required computational infrastructure to make sense of the data. This approach is not only necessary, but also the only ethical way to deliver AI in healthcare – more advanced AI means better care for our patients.”

“Compact AI has enabled real-time sequencing in the palm of your hand, and AI supercomputers are enabling new scientific discoveries in large-scale genomic datasets,” added Gordon Sanghera, CEO, Oxford Nanopore Technologies. “These complementary innovations in data analysis support a wealth of impactful science in the UK, and critically, support our goal of bringing genomic analysis to anyone, anywhere.”

 


By Ingrid Lunden

GrubMarket raises $60M at a $500M+ valuation as food delivery stays center stage

Companies that have leveraged technology to make the procurement and delivery of food more accessible to more people have been seeing a big surge of business this year, as millions of consumers are encouraged (or outright mandated, due to Covid-19) to socially distance or want to avoid the crowds of physical shopping and eating excursions.

Today, one of the companies that is supplying produce and other items both to consumers and other services that are in turn selling food and groceries to them, is announcing a new round of funding as it gears up to take its next step, an IPO.

GrubMarket, which provides a B2C platform for consumers to order produce and other food and home items for delivery, and a B2B service where it supplies grocery stores, meal-kit companies and other food tech startups with products that they resell, is today announcing that it has raised $60 million in a Series D round of funding.

Sources close to the company confirmed to TechCrunch that GrubMarket — which is profitable, and originally hadn’t planned to raise more than $20 million — is now valued at around $500 million.

The funding is coming from funds and accounts managed by BlackRock, Reimagined Ventures, Trinity Capital Investment, Celtic House Venture Partners, Marubeni Ventures, Sixty Degree Capital, Mojo Partners alongside with previous investors GGV Capital, WI Harper Group, Digital Garage, CentreGold Capital , Scrum Ventures, and other unnamed participants. Past investors also included Y Combinator, where GrubMarket was part of the Winter 2015 cohort), and for some more context, GrubMarket last raised money in April 2019, $28 million at a $255 million valuation.

Mike Xu, the founder and CEO, said that the plan remains for the company to go public (he’s talked about it before) but given that it’s not having trouble raising from private markets and is currently growing at 100% over last year, and the IPO market is less certain at the moment, he declined to put an exact timeline on when this might actually happen, although he was clear that this is where his focus is in the near future.

“The only success criteria of my startup career is whether GrubMarket can eventually make $100 billion of annual sales,” he said to me over both email and in a phone conversation. “To achieve this goal, I am willing to stay heads-down and hardworking every day until it is done, and it does not matter whether it will take me 15 years or 50 years.”

I don’t doubt that he means it. I’ll note that we had this call in the middle of the night his time in California, even after I asked multiple times if there wasn’t a more reasonable hour in the daytime for him to talk. (He insisted that he got his best work done at 4.30am, a result of how a lot of the grocery business works.) Xu on the one hand is very gentle with a calm demeanor, but don’t let his quiet manner fool you. He also is focused and relentless in his work ethic.

When people talk today about buying food, alongside traditional grocery stores and other physical food markets, they increasingly talk about grocery delivery companies, restaurant delivery platforms, meal kit services and more that make or provide food to people by way of apps. GrubMarket has built itself as a profitable but quiet giant that underpins the fuel that helps companies in all of these categories by becoming one of the critical companies building bridges between food producers and those that interact with customers.

Its opportunity comes in the form of disruption and a gap in the market. Food production is not unlike shipping and other older, non-tech industries, with a lot of transactions couched in legacy processes: GrubMarket has built software that connects up the different segments of the food supply chain in a faster and more efficient way, and then provides the logistics to help it run.

To be sure, it’s an area that would have evolved regardless of the world health situation, but the rise and growth of the coronavirus has definitely “helped” GrubMarket not just by creating more demand for delivered food, but by providing a way for those in the food supply chain to interact with less contact and more tech-fueled efficiency.

Sales of WholesaleWare, as the platform is called, Xu said, have seen more than 800% growth over the last year, now managing “several hundreds of millions of dollars of food wholesale activities” annually.

Underpinning its tech is the sheer size of the operation: economies of scale in action. The company is active in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, Texas, Michigan, Boston and New York (and many places in between) and says that it currently operates some 21 warehouses nationwide. Xu describes GrubMarket as a “major food provider” in the Bay Area and the rest of California, with (as one example) more than 5 million pounds of frozen meat in its east San Francisco Bay warehouse.

Its customers include more than 500 grocery stores, 8,000 restaurants, and 2,000 corporate offices, with familiar names like Whole Foods, Kroger, Albertson, Safeway, Sprouts Farmers Market, Raley’s Market, 99 Ranch Market, Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Fresh Direct, Imperfect Foods, Misfit Market, Sun Basket and GoodEggs, all on the list, with GrubMarket supplying them items that they resell directly, or use in creating their own products (like meal kits).

While much of GrubHub’s growth has been — like a lot of its produce — organic, its profitability has helped it also grow inorganically. It has made some 15 acquisitions in the last two years, including Boston Organics and EJ Food Distributor this year.

It’s not to say that GrubMarket has not had growing pains. The company, Xu said, was like many others in the food delivery business “overwhelmed” at the start of the pandemic in March and April of this year. “We had to limit our daily delivery volume in some regions, and put new customers on waiting lists.” Even so, the B2C business grew between 300% and 500% depending on the market. Xu said things calmed down by May and even as some B2B customers never came back after cities were locked down, as a category B2B has largely recovered, he said.

Interestingly, the startup itself has taken a very proactive approach in order to limit its own workers’ and customers’ exposure to Covid-19, doing as much testing as it could — tests have been, as we all know, in very short supply — as well as a lot of social distancing and cleaning operations.

“There have been no mandates about masks, but we supplied them extensively,” he said.

So far it seems to have worked. Xu said the company has only found “a couple of employees” that were positive this year. In one case in April, a case was found not through a test (which it didn’t have, this happened in Michigan) but through a routine check and finding an employee showing symptoms, and its response was swift: the facilities were locked down for two weeks and sanitized, despite this happening in one of the busiest months in the history of the company (and the food supply sector overall).

That’s notable leadership at a time when it feels like a lot of leaders have failed us, which only helps to bolster the company’s strong growth.

“Having a proven track record of sustained hypergrowth and net income profitability, GrubMarket stands out as an extraordinarily rare Silicon Valley startup in the food technology and ecommerce segment,” said Jay Chen, managing partner of Celtic House Venture Partner. “Scaling over 15x in 4 years, GrubMarket’s creativity and capital efficiency is unmatched by anyone else in this space. Mike’s team has done an incredible job growing the company thoughtfully and sustainably. We are proud to be a partner in the company’s rapid nationwide expansion and excited by the strong momentum of WholesaleWare, their SaaS suite, which is the best we have seen in space.”


By Ingrid Lunden