Ellen DeGeneres, Portia de Rossi, Shaun White, Shawn Mendes get behind Shelf Engine

Shelf Engine’s mission to eliminate food waste in grocery retailers now has some additional celebrity backers. The company brought in a $2 million extension to its $41 million Series B announced in March.

Ellen DeGeneres, Portia de Rossi, Shaun White and Shawn Mendes are the new backers, who came in through a strategic round of funding alongside PLUS Capital to bring the Seattle-based company’s total funding to $60 million since the company’s inception in 2016. This includes a $12 million Series A from 2020.

Shelf Engine’s grocery order automation technology applies advanced statistical models and artificial intelligence to deliver accurate food order volume so that customers can reduce their food waste by as much as 32% while increasing gross margins and sales of more than 50%. The company has already helped retailers divert 1 million pounds of food waste from landfills, Stefan Kalb, co-founder and CEO of Shelf Engine, told TechCrunch.

“We’ve had phenomenal growth last year, some of it from our mid-market customers, but mostly from customers like Target and Kroger,” Kalb said. “Our other big news is that we hired a president (Kane McCord) in the past six weeks, which is cool to have the reinforcement on the leadership side.”

Over the past 12 months, the company, which works with retailers like Kroger, Whole Foods and Compass Group, saw over 540% revenue growth. At the same time, it grew its employees to 200 from 23, Kalb said. He expects to more than double Shelf Engine’s headcount over the next 12 months.

As a result, the new funding will be used to scale with current customers and accelerate further investment in R&D of its AI systems and automation capabilities.

Meanwhile, Amanda Groves, partner at PLUS Capital, said her firm works with about 65 individuals who are in film, television, sports and culture, including the four new investors in Shelf Engine.

She says many of her clients are looking to participate in business as an investor or with sweat equity. Her firm works with them to determine interests and will then source opportunities and invest alongside them.

Shelf Engine fits into one of PLUS Capital’s core investment areas of sustainability. The firm looks across different sectors like food, energy, apparel, packaging and recycling. Shelf Engine’s approach of leveraging technology to aid in sustainability efforts was attractive to all of the investors, as was their method of scaling within grocery clients without affecting consumer behavior.

“When Shelf Engine is installed in the grocery store, they can reduce spoilage by 10% right off the bat — that immediacy of the impact was what got our clients excited,” Groves added.

One of Shelf Engine’s first celebrity investors was Joe Montana, and Kalb said partnering with celebrities enables the company’s mission to eliminate food waste and address the climate crisis to be made more aware.

“B2B software is not as glamorous, but the climate has become a big issue and something many celebrities care about,” he added. “Shawn Mendes has over 60 million followers, so for him to share about this issue is extremely meaningful. Where he invests will lead to his followers knocking on the doors of stores and saying ‘this matters to me.’ That is the strategy shift from B2B to a movement for our community.”

The company is not alone in tackling food waste, which globally each year amounts to $1.3 trillion. For example, Apeel, OLIO, Imperfect Foods, Mori and Phood Solutions are all working to improve the food supply chain and have attracted venture dollars in the past year to go after that mission.

Shelf Engine is already in over 3,000 stores nationwide in the areas of grocery, food service and convenience stores, which “is a large lift from 18 months ago,” Kalb said. Next up, the company is progressing to open new categories and managing more projects. He is specifically looking at what the company can manage in the store and manage for the customer.

“We are getting to the point where we can manage more of the store in complex categories like meat, seafood and deli that are mainly custom,” he added.


By Christine Hall

Trade promotion management startup Cresicor raises $5.6M to keep tabs on customer spend

Cresicor, a consumer packaged goods trade management platform startup, raised $5.6 million in seed funding to further develop its tools for more accurate data and analytics.

The company, based remotely, focuses on small to midsize CPG companies, providing them with an automated way to manage their trade promotion, a process co-founder and CEO Alexander Whatley said is done primarily manually using spreadsheets.

Here’s what happens in a trade promotion: When a company wants to run a discount on one of their slower-selling items, the company has to spend money to do this — to have displays set up in a store or have that item on a certain shelf. If it works, more people will buy the item at the lower price point. Essentially, a trade promotion is the process of spending money to get more money in the future, Whatley told TechCrunch.

Figuring out all of the trade promotions is a complicated process, Whatley explained. Companies receive data feeds on the promotions from several different places, revenue data from retailers, accounting source data to show how many units were shipped and then maybe data directly from retailers. All of that has to be matched against the promotion.

“No API is bringing this data back to brands, so our software helps to automate and track these manual processes so companies can do analytics to see how the promotions are doing,” he added. “It also helps the finance team understand expenses, including which are valid and those that are not.”

What certain companies spend on trade promotions can represent their second-largest cost behind manufacturing, and companies often end up reinvesting between 20% and 30% of their revenue into trade promotions, Whatley said. This is a big market, representing untapped growth, especially with U.S. CPG sales topping $720 billion in 2020.

“You can see how messy the whole industry is, which is why we have a bright future and huge TAM,” he added. “With this new funding, we can target other parts of the P&L like supply chain and salaries. We also provide analytics for their strategy and where they should be spending it — which store, on which supply. By allocating resources the right way, companies typically see a 10% boost in sales as a result.”

Whatley started the company in 2017 with his brother, Daniel, Stuart Kennedy and Nikki McNeil while a Harvard undergrad. Since raising the funding back in February, the company has grown 2.5x in revenue, while employee headcount grew 4x over the past 12 months to 20.

Costanoa Ventures led the investment and was joined by Torch Capital and a group of angel investors including Fivestars CTO Matt Doka and Hu’s Kitchen CEO Mark Ramadan.

John Cowgill, partner at Costanoa, said though Cresicor raised a seed round, the company was already acquiring brands and capital before releasing a product and grew to almost a Series A company without any outside capital, saying it “blew me away.”

Cresicor is the “perfect example” of a company that Costanoa would get excited about — a vertical software company using data or machine learning to augment a pain point, Cowgill added.

“The CPG industry is in the middle of a rapid change where we see all of these emerging, digital native and mission-driven brands rapidly eating share from incumbents,” he added. “For the next generation of brands to compete, they have to win in trade promotion management. Cresicor’s opportunity to go beyond trade is significant. It is just a starting point to build a company that is the core enabler of great brands.”

The new funding will be used mainly to hire more talent in the areas of engineering and customer success so the company can hit its next benchmarks, Alexander Whatley said. He also intends to use the funding to acquire new brands and on software development. Cresicor boasts a list of customers including Perfect Snacks, Oatly and Hint Water.

The retail industry is valued at $5.5 trillion, and one-fifth of it is CPG, Whatley said. As a result, he has his eye on going after other verticals within CPG, like electronics and pet food, and then expanding into other areas.

“We are also going to work with enterprise companies — we see an opportunity to work with companies like P&G and General Mills, and we also want to build an ecosystem around trade promotion and launch into other profit and loss areas,” Whatley said.


By Christine Hall

Forward Kitchens cooks up $2.5M to transform existing kitchens into digital storefronts

Forward Kitchens was working quietly on its digital storefront for restaurants and is now announcing a $2.5 million seed round.

Raghav Poddar started the company two years ago and was part of the Y Combinator Summer 2019 cohort. Poddar told TechCrunch he has been a foodie his entire life. Lately, he was relying on food delivery and pickup services, and while visiting with some of the restaurant owners, he realized a few things: first, not many had a good online presence, and second, these restaurants had the ability to cook cuisine representative of their communities.

That led to the idea of Forward Kitchens, which provides a turnkey tool for restaurants to set up an online presence, including food delivery, where they can create multiple digital storefronts easily and without having to contact each delivery platform. The company ran pilot programs in a handful of restaurants, and this is the first year coming out of stealth.

“It’s an expansion of what they have on the menu, but is not immediately available in the neighborhood,” Poddar added. “Kitchens can keep the costs and headcount the same, but be able to service the demand and get more orders because it is fulfilling a need for the neighborhood, which is why we can grow so fast.”

Here’s how it works: Forward Kitchens goes into a restaurant and takes into account its capacity for additional cooking and the demographic area, as well as what food is available near it, and helps the restaurant create the storefront.

Each restaurant is able to build multiple storefronts, for example, an Italian restaurant setting up a storefront just to sell its popular mac n’ cheese or other small plates on demand. A couple hundred digital storefronts were already created, Poddar said.

A group of investors, including Y Combinator, Floodgate, Slow Ventures and SV Angel and angel investors Michael Seibel of YC, Ram Shriram and Thumbtack’s Jonathan Swanson, were involved in the round.

The new funding will be used to expand the company’s footprint and reach, and to hire a team in operations, sales and engineering to help support the product.

“Forward Kitchens is empowering independent kitchens to create digital storefronts and receive more online sales,” Seibel said via email. “With Forward Kitchens, a kitchen can create world-class digital storefronts at the click of a button.”


By Christine Hall

Apeel bites into another $250M funding round, at a $2B valuation, to accelerate fresh food supply chains

Apeel Sciences, a food system innovation company, is out to prevent food produced globally from ending up in the landfill, especially as pressures from the global pandemic affect the food supply chain.

The company just added $250 million in Series E funding, giving it a valuation of $2 billion, to speed up the availability of its longer-lasting produce in the U.S. (where approximately 40% of food is wasted), the U.K. and Europe.

Existing investor Temasek led the round and was joined by a group of new and existing investors, including Mirae Asset Global Investments, GIC, Viking Global Investors, Disruptive, Andreessen Horowitz, Tenere Capital, Sweetwater Private Equity, Tao Capital Partners, K3 Ventures, David Barber of Almanac Insights, Michael Ovitz of Creative Artists Agency, Anne Wojcicki of 23andMe, Susan Wojcicki of YouTube and Katy Perry.

With the new funding, Apeel has now raised over $635 million since the company was founded in 2012. Prior to this round, the company brought in $250 million in Series D funding in May 2020.

Santa Barbara-based Apeel developed a plant-based layer for the surface of fruits and vegetables that is tasteless and odorless and that keeps moisture in while letting oxygen out. It is those two factors in particular that lead to grocery produce lasting twice as long, James Rogers, CEO of Apeel, told TechCrunch.

Apeel installs its application at the supplier facilities where the produce is packed into boxes. In addition to that technology, the company acquired ImpactVision earlier this year to add another layer of quality by integrating imaging systems on individual pieces as they move through the supply chain to optimize routing so more produce that is grown is eaten.

“One in nine people are going hungry, and if three in nine pieces of produce are being thrown away, we can be better stewards of the food we are throwing away,” Rogers said. “This is a solvable problem, we just have to get the pieces to the right place at the right time.”

The company is not alone in tackling food waste. For example, Shelf Engine, Imperfect Foods, Mori and Phood Solutions are all working to improve the food supply chain and have attracted venture dollars to go after that mission.

Prior to the pandemic, the amount of food people were eating was growing each year, but that trend is reversed, Rogers explained. Consumers are more aware of the food they eat, they are shopping less frequently, buying more per visit and more online. At the same time, grocery stores are trying to sort through all of that.

“We can’t create these supply networks alone, we do it in concert with supply and retail partners,” he said. “Grocery stores are looking at the way shoppers want to buy things, while we look at how to partner to empower the supply chain. What started with longer-lasting fruits and vegetables, is becoming how we provide information to empower them to do it without adding to food waste.”

Since 2019, Apeel has prevented 42 million pieces of fruit from going to waste at retail locations; that includes up to 50% reduction in avocado food waste with corresponding sales growth. Those 42 million pieces of saved fruit also helped conserve nearly 4.7 billion liters of water, Rogers said.

Meanwhile, over the past year, Apeel has amassed a presence in eight countries, operating 30 supply networks and  distributing produce to 40 retail partners, which then goes out to tens of thousands of stores around the world.

The new funding will accelerate the rollout of those systems, as well as co-create another 10 supply networks with retail and supply partnerships by the end of the year. Rogers also expects to use the funding to advance Apeel’s data and insights offerings and future acquisitions.

Thomas Park, president and head of alternative investments at Mirae Asset Global Investments, said his firm has been investing in environmental, social and governance-related companies for awhile, targeting companies that “make a huge impact globally and in a way that is easy for us to understand.”

The firm, which is part of Mirae Asset Financial Group, often partners with other investors on venture rounds, and in Apeel’s case with Temasek. It also invested with Temasek in Impossible Foods, leading its Series F round last year.

“When we saw them double-down on their investment, it gave us confidence to invest in Apeel and an opportunity to do so,” Park said. “Food waste is a global problem, and after listening to James, we definitely feel like Apeel is the next wave of how to attack these huge problems in an impactful way.”

 


By Christine Hall

ConverseNow is targeting restaurant drive-thrus with new $15M round

One year after voice-based AI technology company ConverseNow raised a $3.3 million seed round, the company is back with a cash infusion of $15 million in Series A funding in a round led by Craft Ventures.

The Austin-based company’s AI voice ordering assistants George and Becky work inside quick-serve restaurants to take orders via phone, chat, drive-thru and self-service kiosks, freeing up staff to concentrate on food preparation and customer service.

Joining Craft in the Series A round were LiveOak Venture Partners, Tensility Venture Partners, Knoll Ventures, Bala Investments, 2048 Ventures, Bridge Investments, Moneta Ventures and angel investors Federico Castellucci and Ashish Gupta. This new investment brings ConverseNow’s total funding to $18.3 million, Vinay Shukla, co-founder and CEO of ConverseNow, told TechCrunch.

As part of the investment, Bryan Rosenblatt, partner at Craft Ventures, is joining the company’s board of directors, and said in a written statement that “post-pandemic, quick-service restaurants are primed for digital transformation, and we see a unique opportunity for ConverseNow to become a driving force in the space.”

At the time when ConverseNow raised its seed funding in 2020, it was piloting its technology in just a handful of stores. Today, it is live in over 750 stores and grew seven times in revenue and five times in headcount.

Restaurants were some of the hardest-hit industries during the pandemic, and as they reopen, Shukla said their two main problems will be labor and supply chain, and “that is where our technology intersects.”

The AI assistants are able to step in during peak times when workers are busy to help take orders so that customers are not waiting to place their orders, or calls get dropped or abandoned, something Shukla said happens often.

It can also drive more business. ConverseNow said it is shown to increase average orders by 23% and revenue by 20%, while adding up to 12 hours of extra deployable labor time per store per week.

Company co-founder Rahul Aggarwal said more people prefer to order remotely, which has led to an increase in volume. However, the more workers have to multitask, the less focus they have on any one job.

“If you step into restaurants with ConverseNow, you see them reimagined,” Aggarwal said. “You find workers focusing on the job they like to do, which is preparing food. It is also driving better work balance, while on the customer side, you don’t have to wait in the queue. Operators have more time to churn orders, and service time comes down.”

ConverseNow is one of the startups within the global restaurant management software market that is forecasted to reach $6.94 billion by 2025, according to Grand View Research. Over the past year, startups in the space attracted both investors and acquirers. For example, point-of-sale software company Lightspeed acquired Upserve in December for $430 million. Earlier this year, Sunday raised $24 million for its checkout technology.

The new funding will enable ConverseNow to continue developing its line-busting technology and invest in marketing, sales and product innovation. It will also be working on building a database from every conversation and onboarding new customers quicker, which involves inputting the initial menu.

By leveraging artificial intelligence, the company will be able to course-correct any inconsistencies, like background noise on a call, and better predict what a customer might be saying. It will also correct missing words and translate the order better. In the future, Shukla and Aggarwal also want the platform to be able to tell what is going on around the restaurant — what traffic is like, the weather and any menu promotions to drive upsell.

 


By Christine Hall

Zenput raises $27M Series C to keep multiunit operations flowing no matter the location

Ensuring food safety compliance can be challenging at one restaurant, let alone across thousands of restaurants. Zenput has developed technology aimed at making sure operating procedures are quickly adapted so that businesses maintain quality.

The San Francisco-based operations execution company raised $27 million in Series C financing, led by Golub Capital, to continue developing its application to automate operation procedures like tracking food safety, public health protocols and changing market conditions.

Restaurants, convenience stores and grocery chain customers can use Zenput to update all of their locations — at the same time — with new processes, promotional campaigns and key initiatives while also gathering data and insights from those locations to find opportunities for improvement.

Joining Golub in the round were existing investors, including Jackson Square Ventures, MHS Capital and Goldcrest Capital. This brings the company’s total funding to more than $47 million, co-founder and CEO Vladik Rikhter told TechCrunch.

Greg Gretsch, founding partner and managing director at Jackson Square Ventures, led Zenput’s Series A round in 2016 and had met Rikhter a year prior. At the time, Rikhter was in the early stages of developing what Gretsch called an organization task manager. While he didn’t invest then, he kept in touch with Rikhter and saw “how much of a grinder he was” in expanding the platform.

“When he sees a problem, he works and works to solve it,” Gretsch said. “Whenever you have a multilocation business, you have a remote management problem. You’re trying to manage everything so your weakest link can perform as best as the best link, but you need a platform to manage that so that you can hold stores accountable to improve the end product.”

Front-line workers use Zenput’s mobile app for onboarding at the beginning of the day and to track safety compliance and fresh food checks, something Rikhter said was historically challenging once a business had thousands of locations. The app can also alert when food has been left out too long to assist in lowering food waste rates.

Since its founding in 2012, Zenput is currently used by customers like Chipotle, Domino’s, P.F. Chang’s, Five Guys, Smart & Final and 7-Eleven in over 60,000 locations across more than 100 countries.

The Series C round comes as the company saw 100% revenue growth over the past year. At the same time, product usage more than doubled at stores, and to date, 1.5 billion questions were answered through Zenput, a figure Rikhter expects to double over the next 12 months as locations aim to find ways to do more things remotely.

“The pandemic inadvertently helped us,” he added. “Initially, it was rough, but then a lot of the brands we dealt with needed to expedite technology and saw an opportunity to invest in our technology. We have more products coming because there is more that can be done to make sure every meal is a safe meal.”

Much of the new funding will go toward building those new products and capabilities and into marketing to expand the customer base. The company recently launched an expansion of its Zenput for Franchisors tool and updates to its food prep labeling and temperature monitoring functions.

Rikhter also plans to double Zenput’s employees over the 16 to 18 months, especially in the product engineering and marketing areas.

All of that is to be ready for customer demand as restaurants, convenience stores and grocery chains do more to change up the way they do business in the future.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to show up at a restaurant and see changes made daily on protocols, which will drive a lot more of the journey than before,” Rikhter said. “We see more operators flexing muscles they didn’t know they had, as it relates to promotions and products, so they can grow faster and run totally different operational features and offer more options for customers.”

 


By Christine Hall

Choco bites into $100M Series B, at a $600M valuation, to build a more transparent, sustainable food supply chain

The United States estimates of the food produced here approximately 40% is wasted. Globally, $2.6 trillion annually is lost.

Berlin-based Choco, which has built ordering software for restaurants and their suppliers, is working to digitize the food supply chain and announced $100 million in Series B funding, led by Left Lane Capital, to give it a $600 million post-market valuation. Joining in is new investor Insight Partners and existing investors Coatue Management and Bessemer Venture Partners.

The new round comes just over a year after Choco’s $63.7 million Series A, raised at two different periods, a $33.5 million round in 2019 and a $30.2 million round in 2020 — at a $230 million valuation — to bring total funding to $171.5 million since the company was founded in 2018.

The company’s core food procurement technology digitizes ordering workflow and communications for restaurants and suppliers. During the global pandemic, Khachab said Choco became the go-to tool for operators to be more efficient around procurement processes and reducing expenses as they adapted to the changing market conditions.

With the food industry a $6 trillion market, Choco CEO Daniel Khachab told TechCrunch he aims to make the food supply chain more transparent and sustainable in order to help increase margins in the food service sector and combat climate change.

The company did 14 months of food waste research and found that it was central to a lot of other global problems: Food waste is the third-largest driver of climate change and is causing deforestation — as evident by news from the Amazon last year  — and the extinction of animals.

“It makes sense to try and solve it,” he added. “The food system is highly fragile, and what was shown in the first and second waves of the pandemic is how fragile and inflexible it was. It made the industry realize that it has to step up and that it can’t continue to work on pen and paper.”

Between the farmer and the end point, there are some nine parties involved, Khachab said. None are connected to another, which often means nine data silos and data not collected along the chain. It is important to connect them on one single platform so decision-making can be data-driven, he added.

As uncertainty swept across the food industry at the beginning of the pandemic, Khachab said Choco could either lay low and wait or invest in the company. He chose the latter, pumping up the team, regions and technology. As a result, Choco’s technology is stronger than it was 15 months ago and proved to be flexible amid the inflexible environment.

Choco saw orders quadruple on the platform in the past year, and gross merchandise value grew to $900 million annualized, up from $230 million, Khachab said.

As the company continues to learn how it can provide value to the food supply chain, half of the Series B funding will go into technology development. It will also go toward doubling its headcount, especially on the engineering side. Choco recently brought on ex-Uber and Facebook executive Vikas Gupta as chief technology officer, and Khachab said Gupta’s expertise will enable the company “to build the best technology team in Europe” and scale faster.

Choco is already operating in six markets, including the United States, Germany, France, Spain, Austria and Belgium. Khachab expects to expand in those markets and gain a footprint in new markets like Latin America, the Middle East and Asia.

 


By Christine Hall

South African startup Aerobotics raises $17M to scale its AI-for-agriculture platform

As the global agricultural industry stretches to meet expected population growth and food demand, and food security becomes more of a pressing issue with global warming, a startup out of South Africa is using artificial intelligence to help farmers manage their farms, trees, and fruits.

Aerobotics is a South African startup that provides intelligent tools to the world’s agriculture industry. It raised $17 million in an oversubscribed Series B round.

South African consumer internet giant Naspers led the round through its investment arm, Naspers Foundry, investing $5.6 million, according to Aerobotics. Cathay AfricInvest Innovation, FMO: Entrepreneurial Development Bank, and Platform Investment Partners, also participated.

Founded in 2014 by James Paterson and Benji Meltzer, Aerobotics is currently focused on building tools for fruit and tree farmers. Using artificial intelligence, drones and other robotics, its technology helps track and assess the health of these crops, including identifying when trees are sick, tracking pests and diseases, and analytics for better yield management. 

The company has progressed its technology and provides independent and reliable yield estimations and harvest schedules to farmers by collecting and processing both tree and fruit imagery from citrus growers early in the season. In turn, farmers can prepare their stock, predict demand, and ensure their customers have the best quality of produce.

Aerobotics has experienced record growth in the last few years. For one, it claims to have the largest proprietary data set of trees and citrus fruit in the world having processed 81 million trees and more than a million citrus fruit.

The seven-year-old startup is based in Cape Town, South Africa. At a time when many of the startups out of the African continent have focused their attention primarily on identifying and fixing challenges at home, Aerobotics has found a lot of traction for its services abroad, too. It has offices in the U.S., Australia, and Portugal — like Africa, home to other major, global agricultural economies — and operates in 18 countries across Africa, the Americas, Europe, and Australia. 

Image Credits: Aerobotics

Within that, the U.S. is the company’s primary market, and Aerobotics says it has two provisional patents pending in the country, one for systems and methods for estimating tree age and another for systems and methods for predicting yield.  

The company said it plans to use this Series B investment to continue developing more technology and product delivery, both for the U.S. and other markets. 

“We’re committed to providing intelligent tools to optimize automation, minimize inputs and maximize production. We look forward to further co-developing our products with the agricultural industry leaders,” said Paterson, the CEO in a statement.

Once heralded as a frontier for technology centuries ago, the agriculture industry has stalled in that aspect for a long while. However, agritech companies like Aerobotics that support climate-smart agriculture and help farmers have sprung forth trying to take the industry back to its past glory. Investors have taken notice and over the past five years, investments have flowed with breathtaking pace. 

For Aerobotics, it raised $600,000 from 4Di Capital and Savannah Fund as part of its seed round in September 2017. The company then raised a further $4 million in Series A funding in February 2019, led by Nedbank Capital and Paper Plane Ventures.

Naspers Foundry, the lead investor in this Series B round, was launched by Naspers in 2019 as a 1.4 billion rand (~$100 million) fund for tech startups in South Africa. 

Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa, CEO of Naspers South Africa said of the investment, “Food security is of paramount importance in South Africa and the Aerobotics platform provides a positive contribution towards helping to sustain it. This type of tech innovation addresses societal challenges and is exactly the type of early-stage company that Naspers Foundry looks to back.”

Asides Aerobotics, Naspers Foundry has invested in online cleaning service, SweepSouth, and food service platform, Food Supply Network.


By Tage Kene-Okafor

DoorDash introduces a new corporate product, DoorDash for Work

Delivery service DoorDash is giving employers a way to feed their remote employees through a new suite of products called DoorDash for Work.

There are four main products, starting with DashPass for Work, where employers can fund employee memberships to DashPass, a program that eliminates delivery fees on orders from thousands of restaurants. In fact, DoorDash says it already worked with Mt. Sinai to offer free DashPass subscriptions to 42,000 healthcare employees, and that other DashPass for Work customers include Charles Schwab, Hulu and Stanford Research Park.

DoorDash for Work also includes the ability for employers to provide credits for meal orders — there are options for day and time restrictions, so employers can be sure they’re paying for food while someone is working. For teams that are working in-person, there’s the ability to combine individual meal orders into a larger group orders. And the service also includes employee gift cards (Zoom, for example, is providing these on employee birthdays).

In a blog post, Broderick McClinton, the head of DoorDash for Work, noted that COVID-19 has had “a profound impact on our daily routines, including the way we eat.”

“Instead of meeting our favorite barista on the way into the office or socializing with our colleagues in the lunch room, we’re spending a lot more time in the kitchen and eating solo at home, missing out on those moments to engage with peers and support our favorite restaurants,” McClinton wrote. “In this new normal, companies are adapting and looking for ways to support their employees’ wellbeing and productivity through new work-from-home corporate wellness benefits, including food perks.

While free food might seem relatively low on the list of priorities during the pandemic (at least for those of us who have been fortunate enough to keep our jobs), DoorDash says it conducted a survey of 1,000 working Americans last month and found that 90% of them said they miss at least one food-related benefit from the office.

So DoorDash for Work is designed to help employers continue offering benefits in this area, and also it opens up a new source of revenue for DoorDash.

 


By Anthony Ha

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

12 Paris-based VCs look at the state of their city

Four years after the Great Recession, France’s newly elected socialist president François Hollande raised taxes and increased regulations on founder-led startups. The subsequent flight of entrepreneurs to places like London and Silicon Valley portrayed France as a tough place to launch a company. By 2016, France’s national statistics bureau estimated that about three million native-born citizens had moved abroad.

Those who remained fought back: The Family was an early accelerator that encouraged French entrepreneurs to adopt Silicon Valley’s startup methodology, and the 2012 creation of Bpifrance, a public investment bank, put money into the startup ecosystem system via investors. Organizers founded La French Tech to beat the drum about native startups.

When President Emmanuel Macron took office in May 2017, he scrapped the wealth tax on everything except property assets and introduced a flat 30% tax rate on capital gains. Station F, a giant startup campus funded by billionaire entrepreneur Xavier Niel on the site of a former railway station, began attracting international talent. Tony Fadell, one of the fathers of the iPod and founder of Nest Labs, moved to Paris to set up investment firm Future Shape; VivaTech was created with government backing to become one of Europe’s largest startup conference and expos.

Now, in the COVID-19 era, the government has made €4 billion available to entrepreneurs to keep the lights on. According to a recent report from VC firm Atomico, there are 11 unicorns in France, including BlaBlaCar, OVHcloud, Deezer and Veepee. More appear to be coming; last year Macron said he wanted to see “25 French unicorns by 2025.”

According to Station F, by the end of August, there had been 24 funding rounds led by international VCs and a few big transactions. Enterprise artificial intelligence and machine-learning platform Dataiku raised a $100 million Series D round, and Paris-based gaming startup Voodoo raised an undisclosed amount from Tencent Holdings.

We asked 12 Paris -based investors to comment on the state of play in their city:

Alison Imbert, Partech

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?

All the fintechs addressing SMBs to help them to focus more on their core business (including banks disintermediation by fintech, new infrastructures tech that are lowering the barrier to entry to nonfintech companies).

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?

77foods (plant-based bacon) — love that alternative proteins trend as well. Obviously, we need to transform our diet toward more sustainable food. It’s the next challenge for humanity.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Impact investment: Logistic companies tackling the life cycle of products to reduce their carbon footprint and green fintech that reinvent our spending and investment strategy around more sustainable products.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
D2C products.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
100% investing in France as I’m managing Paris Saclay Seed Fund, a €53 million fund, investing in pre-seed and seed startups launched by graduates and researchers from the best engineering and business schools from this ecosystem.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Deep tech, biotech and medical devices. Paris, and France in general, has thousands of outstanding engineers that graduate each year. Researchers are more and more willing to found companies to have a true impact on our society. I do believe that the ecosystem is more and more structured to help them to build such companies.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Paris is booming for sure. It’s still behind London and Berlin probably. But we are seeing more and more European VC offices opening in the city to get direct access to our ecosystem. Even in seed rounds, we start to have European VCs competing against us. It’s good — that means that our startups are moving to the next level.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
For sure startups will more and more push for remote organizations. It’s an amazing way to combine quality of life for employees and attracting talent. Yet I don’t think it will be the majority. Not all founders are willing/able to build a fully remote company. It’s an important cultural choice and it’s adapted to a certain type of business. I believe in more flexible organization (e.g., tech team working remotely or 1-2 days a week for any employee).

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Travel and hospitality sectors are of course hugely impacted. Yet there are opportunities for helping those incumbents to face current challenges (e.g., better customer care and services, stronger flexibility, cost reduction and process automation).

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Cash is king more than ever before. My only piece of advice will be to keep a good level of cash as we have a limited view on events coming ahead. It’s easy to say but much more difficult to put in practice (e.g., to what extend should I reduce my cash burn? Should I keep on investing in the product? What is the impact on the sales team?). Startups should focus only on what is mission-critical for their clients. Yet it doesn’t impact our seed investments as we invest pre-revenue and often pre-product.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
There is no reason to be hopeless. Crises have happened in the past. Humanity has faced other pandemics. Humans are resilient and resourceful enough to adapt to a new environment and new constraints.


By Mike Butcher

As the pandemic creates supply chain chaos, Craft raises $10M to apply some intelligence

During the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chains have suddenly become hot. Who knew that would ever happen? The race to secure PPE, ventilators and minor things like food was and still is an enormous issue. But perhaps, predictably, the world of “supply chain software” could use some updating. Most of the platforms are deployed “empty” and require the client to populate them with their own data, or “bring their own data.” The UIs can be outdated and still have to be juggled with manual and offline workflows. So startups working in this space are now attracting some timely attention.

Thus, Craft, the enterprise intelligence company, today announces it has closed a $10 million Series A financing round to build what it characterizes as a “supply chain intelligence platform.” With the new funding, Craft will expand its offices in San Francisco, London and Minsk, and grow remote teams across engineering, sales, marketing and operations in North America and Europe.

It competes with some large incumbents, such as Dun & Bradstreet, Bureau van Dijk and Thomson Reuters . These are traditional data providers focused primarily on providing financial data about public companies, rather than real-time data from data sources such as operating metrics, human capital and risk metrics.

The idea is to allow companies to monitor and optimize their supply chain and enterprise systems. The financing was led by High Alpha Capital, alongside Greycroft. Craft also has some high-flying angel investors, including Sam Palmisano, chairman of the Center for Global Enterprise and former CEO and chairman of IBM; Jim Moffatt, former CEO of Deloitte Consulting; Frederic Kerrest, executive vice chairman, COO and co-founder of Okta; and Uncork Capital, which previously led Craft’s seed financing. High Alpha partner Kristian Andersen is joining Craft’s board of directors.

The problem Craft is attacking is a lack of visibility into complex global supply chains. For obvious reasons, COVID-19 disrupted global supply chains, which tended to reveal a lot of risks, structural weaknesses across industries and a lack of intelligence about how it’s all holding together. Craft’s solution is a proprietary data platform, API and portal that integrates into existing enterprise workflows.

While many business intelligence products require clients to bring their own data, Craft’s data platform comes pre-deployed with data from thousands of financial and alternative sources, such as 300+ data points that are refreshed using both Machine Learning and human validation. Its open-to-the-web company profiles appear in 50 million search results, for instance.

Ilya Levtov, co-founder and CEO of Craft, said in a statement: “Today, we are focused on providing powerful tracking and visibility to enterprise supply chains, while our ultimate vision is to build the intelligence layer of the enterprise technology stack.”

Kristian Andersen, partner with High Alpha commented: “We have a deep conviction that supply chain management remains an underinvested and under-innovated category in enterprise software.”

In the first half of 2020, Craft claims its revenues have grown nearly threefold, with Fortune 100 companies, government and military agencies, and SMEs among its clients.


By Mike Butcher

Crisp, the platform for demand forecasting the food supply chain, gets $12 million in funding

Crisp, a demand forecasting platform for the food industry, has today announced the close of a $12 million Series A funding round led by FirstMark Capital, with participation from Spring Capital and Swell Capital.

Crisp launched out of beta in January of this year with a product that aimed to give food suppliers and distributors a clearer picture of customer demand at retailers. Before Crisp, these organizations usually had several data scientists compiling data from various sources into an unintelligible spreadsheet, making it difficult to see general demand outlooks, and nearly impossible to spot anomalies.

Not only does this lead to losses in revenue, but it also contributes to a terrible amount of food waste.

Crisp looks to solve this by giving these suppliers and distributors a visualization of their data instantly and in real time. The company has built integrations with a large number of ERP software, ingesting historical data from food brands and combining them with a wide range of other signals around demand drivers, such as seasonality, holidays, price sensitivity, past marketing campaigns, changes in the competitive landscape, and weather that might affect the sale or shipment of ingredients or the product itself.

The end goal is to consolidate data across the industry, from brands to distributors to grocery stores, so that each individual link in the food chain can do a better job of matching their supply with their demand on an individual basis.

Since launching out of beta, Crisp has expanded beyond food brands and suppliers into retail and distributor space. The company has also expanded beyond product and dairy into verticals like beverages, bakery, CPG, flowers, meat and poultry. The startup says its seen an 80 percent increase in the number of customers using the platform since January.

Obviously, the coronavirus pandemic brings its own unique challenges and opportunities to Crisp’s business. On the one hand, grocery store shopping is booming and the supply chain behind it is certainly in need of better data science and demand forecasting as user behavior shifts rapidly. On the other hand, user behavior is shifting rapidly.

With state by state, and sometimes county by county lockdowns and shifts in the restrictions imposed on small businesses, Crisp has had to manually track what’s going on around the country in order to provide clear insights to its customers.

“This period we’re in has increased that willingness to share data and increased collaboration between everybody in the supply chain,” said founder and CEO Are Traasdahl. “We’ve seen a big shift there. Earlier, everyone assumed that everyone else was able to deliver, but now this ability to have a full, top-down visibility across a whole depth of companies, not just the companies next to you in your trading relationships, but being able to unify data and have more insights from multiple steps away from yourself, and get that data in real time been accelerated.”

Crisp currently has 33 employees (with plans to hire on the back of the funding), which is 33 percent women and 15 percent people of color. Half of Crisp’s management team are women.


By Jordan Crook

Minneapolis-based VC shop Bread & Butter focuses on its own backyard

While many investors say sheltering in place has broadened their appetite for funding companies located outside major hubs, one firm is doubling down on backing startups in America’s heartland.

Launched in 2016 by Brett Bohl, The Syndicate Fund rebranded to Bread & Butter Ventures earlier this month (a reference to one of Minnesota’s many nicknames). Along with the rebrand, longtime Google executive and Revolution partner Mary Grove joined the team as a general partner and Stephanie Rich came aboard as head of platform.

The growth of the Twin Cities’ startup ecosystem is precisely why The Syndicate Fund rebranded. The firm, which has $10 million in assets under management, will invest in three of Minneapolis’ biggest strengths: agriculture and food, health care and enterprise software.

Agtech interest spans the entire spectrum from farming to restaurants and grocery stores. The firm is also interested in the “messy middle” of supply chain and logistics around food, said Bohl and is interested in a mix of software, hardware and biosciences. Within health care, the firm evaluates solutions focused on prevention versus treatment, female health startups working on maternal health and fertility and software focused on the aging population and millennials.

It’s also looking at enterprise software that can serve large businesses and scale efficiently.


By Natasha Mascarenhas

In the wake of COVID-19, UK puts up £20M in grants to develop resilient tech for critical industries

Most of the world — despite the canaries in the coal mine — was unprepared to cope with the coronavirus outbreak that’s now besieging us. Now, work is starting to get underway both to help manage what is going on now and better prepare us in the future. In the latest development, the UK government today announced that it will issue £20 million ($24.5 million) in grants of up to £50,000 each to startups and other businesses that are developing tools to improve resilience for critical industries — in other words, those that need to keep moving when something cataclysmic like a pandemic hits.

You can start your application here. Unlike a lot of other government efforts, this one is aimed at a quick start: you need to be ready to kick of your project using the grant no later than June 2020, but earlier is okay, too.

Awarded through Innovate UK, which part of UK Research and Innovation (itself a division of the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), the grants will be available to businesses of any size as long as they are UK-registered, and aim to cover a wide swathe of industries that form the core fabric of how society and the economy can continue to operate.

“The Covid-19 situation is not just a health emergency, but also one that effects the economy and society. With that in mind, Innovate UK has launched this rapid response competition today seeking smart ideas from innovators,” said Dr Ian Campbell Executive Chair, Innovate UK, in a statement. “These could be proposals to help the distribution of goods, educate children remotely, keep families digitally connected and even new ideas to stream music and entertainment. The UK needs a great national effort and Innovate UK is helping by unleashing the power of innovation for people and businesses in need.”

These include not just what are typically considered “critical” industries like healthcare and food production and distribution, but also those that are less tangible but equally important in keeping society running smoothly, like entertainment and wellbeing services:

  • community support services
  • couriers and delivery (rural and/or city based)
  • education and culture
  • entertainment (live entertainment, music, etc.)
  • financial services
  • food manufacture and processing
  • healthcare
  • hospitality
  • personal protection equipment
  • remote working
  • retail
  • social care
  • sport and recreation
  • transport
  • wellbeing

The idea is to introduce new technologies and processes that will support existing businesses and organizations, not use the funding to build new startups from scratch. Those getting the funding could already be businesses in these categories, or building tools to help companies that fall under these themes.

The grants were announced at a time where we are seeing a huge surge of companies step up to the challenge of helping communities and countries cope with COVID-19. That’s included not only those that already made medical supplies increase production, but a number of other businesses step in and try to help where they can, or recalibrate what they normally do to make their factories or other assets more useful. (For example, in the UK, Rolls Royce, Airbus and the Formula 1 team are all working on ventilators and other hospital equipment, a model of industry retooling that has been seen in many other countries, too.)

That trend is what helped to inspire this newest wave of non-equity grants.

“The response of researchers and businesses to the coronavirus outbreak have been remarkable,” said Science Minister Amanda Solloway in a statement. “This new investment will support the development of technologies that can help industries, communities and individuals adapt to new ways of working when situations like this, and other incidents, arise.”

The remit here is intentionally open-ended but will likely be shaped by some of the shortcomings and cracks that have been appearing in recent weeks while systems get severely stress-tested.

So, unsurprisingly, the sample innovations that UK Innovate cites appear to directly relate to that. They include things like technology to help respond to spikes in online consumer demand — every grocery service in the online and physical world has been overwhelmed by customer traffic, leading to sites crashing, people leaving stores disappointed at what they cannot find, and general panic. Or services for families to connect with and remotely monitor vulnerable relatives: while Zoom and the rest have seen huge surges in traffic, there are still too many people on the other side of the digital divide who cannot access or use these. And better education tools: again, there are thousands of edtech companies in the world, but in the UK at least, I wouldn’t say that the educational authorities had done even a small degree of disaster planning, leaving individual schools to scramble and figure out ways to keep teaching remotely that works for everyone (again not always easy with digital divides, safeguarding and other issues).

None of this can cure coronavirus or stop another pandemic from happening — there are plenty of others that are working very squarely on that now, too — but these are equally critical to get right to make sure that a health disaster doesn’t extend into a more permanent economic or societal one.

More information and applications are here.


By Ingrid Lunden