VC Deals: SoftBank Invests $250M In Brazilian Renting

Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU) Ventures joined the $37M Series B for AI-powered drug delivery startup Insilico. Qiming Venture Partners led the round.

Welcome to Seeking Alpha’s Venture Capital Deals of the Week. Follow this account and turn on the e-mail alert to receive VCDeals in your inbox on Friday afternoons.

  • SoftBank (OTCPK:SFTBF,OTCPK:SFTBY) led the $250M Series D for Brazilian rental property marketplace QuintoAndar, pushing the company into unicorn territory. The startup’s marketplace lets users search, book, and advertise rental properties in the region. There’s also a credit analysis system that eliminates the need for co-signers, deposits, or rental insurance. The company projects over 2M visits scheduled in 2019 and 4,500 contracts signed per month. The funding will help expand into additional Brazilian cities, hire talent, and build out broker partners.
  • GV (GOOG,GOOGL) joined the $70M round for British cybersecurity company Snyk. Accel led and Boldstart Ventures also joined in. Snyk’s system detects security breaches and code license violations and corrects the problem. The protection is built from a data pool of vulnerabilities and covers the full cycle from code to the launched application. The company plans to use the money for hiring and marketing its products.
  • HPE (NYSE:HPE) joined the $51M Series F for Shape Security, a bot and online fraud mitigation startup that had a $1B pre-money valuation. C5 Capital led with assistance from the likes of Kleiner Perkins and Norwest Venture Partners. Shape uses AI to detect bots and quickly shuts down the attempted logins. The startup says it now protects against 2B fraudulent logins each day. The funds will fuel international expansion and product development. Shape is now gearing up to go public.
  • Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU) Ventures joined the $37M Series B for AI-powered drug delivery startup Insilico. Qiming Venture Partners led the round. Insilico recently had work published in Nature Biotechnology that showed how machine learning networks could take years off traditional timelines for drug development. The money will help commercialize the technology and build out the senior management team.
  • Autonomous ride-hail company Voyage raised $31M in a round led by Franklin Templeton, which was joined by Khosla Ventures,Chevron Technology Ventures, and Jaguar Land Rover’s VC arm. Voyage differs from competitors like Waymo and Uber (NYSE:UBER) with its focus on retirement communities and is already in operation in The Villages, the retirement city with over 115K residents. The capital will help get the self-driving tech ready for commercialization, grow its team and G2 car fleet, and introduce the G3 vehicle.
  • Airbnb (AIRB) led the $20M Series B for media and experience company Atlas Obscura. A+E Networks and New Atlantic Ventures also participated. Atlas will use the money to expand its trips and local experience offerings. As part of the investment, Airbnb will include Atlas Obscura booking through its platform.

Editor’s Note: This article discusses one or more securities that do not trade on a major U.S. exchange. Please be aware of the risks associated with these stocks.

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The future of travel: Hear from Expedia Group CEO Mark Okerstrom at the GeekWire Summit

… key moment in the company’s history, two years after he took the reins as CEO when his predecessor Dara Khosrowshahi left to become Uber CEO.
Expedia CEO Mark Okerstrom. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)

Will artificial intelligence create better travel plans than humans ever could? How will a new generation of travelers change the way we experience the world? What role will hotels and airlines play in shaping the way we book travel? And how will Expedia Group change as a company after making its long-awaited headquarters move to the Seattle waterfront?

Those are just a few of our burning questions for Expedia Group CEO Mark Okerstrom, and we’ll get to ask him about those topics and many more when he joins us at the GeekWire Summit, our signature technology conference, taking place Oct. 7-9 in downtown Seattle. Okerstrom is part of a larger lineup of tech, business and civic leaders who will be headlining the event this year.

In his role as leader of the travel giant, Okerstrom oversees brands and sites including Vrbo, Travelocity, Orbitz, HomeAway and many others, in addition to the flagship Expedia.com. Okerstrom will be joining us at a key moment in the company’s history, two years after he took the reins as CEO when his predecessor Dara Khosrowshahi left to become Uber CEO.

The GeekWire Summit takes place this year at the new Hyatt Regency in downtown Seattle. Now in its 8th year, the Summit is known for in-depth interviews and inspiring talks from leaders in tech, business, science, and other key areas of innovation and economic growth.

Other speakers include Microsoft President Brad Smith; Amazon devices and services chief David Limp; tech analyst and author Charlene Li; L.A. Clippers chairman and USAFacts founder Steve Ballmer; U.S. Rep Pramila Jayapal; and many others.

We’ll kick things off the evening of Oct. 7, followed by two days full of content, on Oct. 8 and 9. Read more and register here or below.

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Telling The Stories Of Emerging Tech With Design Thinking

Every day we see the bounds of technology pushed farther with breakthroughs in research and applications of artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality …

The Bulleit GroupThe Bulleit Group

The Bulleit Group03 Sep 2019 // 2:25PM GMT

Telling The Stories Of Emerging Tech With Design Thinking Telling The Stories Of Emerging Tech With Design Thinking

Every day we see the bounds of technology pushed farther with breakthroughs in research and applications of artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and robotics across industries. Because these technologies have such potential to affect our day-to-day lives, it’s important they’re designed correctly to solve the right problems and integrate into our lives as seamlessly as possible. This is “design thinking,” defined by IDEO CEO Tim Brown as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

Design thinking has brought us some of today’s most admired and coveted products—ever heard of the iPhone? How about a Tesla? It’s no coincidence then that some of the leading examples of boundary-stretching technologies happen to be also known for their novel and intuitive designs. In challenging the status quo, Apple and Tesla both created new, improved experiences that appealed to users’ emotions and unmet needs. Their legacies as innovators are intertwined with the clean, easy-to-use designs of their products.

At the core of design thinking is an empathy for the user that drives the creation of an experience that is exciting, useful, and accessible. This is true for both hardware and software products: Creating a physical product for the smart home, for example, may entail designing an object that improves some aspect of home life while fitting seamlessly into the backdrop of an average home. For a workplace software tool, it may mean tailoring the product to existing workflows and creating a low barrier to entry. In both cases, it’s about understanding, creating, and delivering a cohesive and intuitive experience.

Since the early 2000s, companies have adopted design thinking as a competitive advantage; being user-centric not only satisfies customers, but also keeps a company innovative, agile, and responsive to market demand. This is why PR professionals must consider everything we do through the lens of design: Once we understand how design factors into user experience and brand image, we are better equipped to tell stories that explain why certain products, technologies, and companies matter, and how they make our lives better, despite their unfamiliarity.

New technologies, no matter how alien, must have some element of approachability, otherwise they cannot succeed as sellable products. Many companies in the robotics industry have struggled greatly with this— fears of robots displacing human jobs and AI supercharging surveillance fill today’s headlines. But the reality is that there is no impending robopocalypse; applications of robotics across our homes, workplaces, and public spaces are keeping us safe, helping us complete our jobs more quickly and efficiently, and saving us the trouble of many menial tasks.

One robotics company that has managed to assuage our fears of robots has done so by applying design thinking: Cobalt Robotics, the maker of indoor workplace security robots, collaborated with design entrepreneur Yves Behar’s studio fuseproject to design a product that is accessible, unthreatening, and unobtrusive. With an exterior made of aluminium and fabric, Cobalt resembles a slender speaker more than a rigid cyborg. Every element of its appearance and functionality has been considered through the lens of easing people into the idea of robots in the workplace.

In terms of futuristic devices, a neural interface — controlling technology with one’s mind — is about as sci-fi as you can get. It’s something many people find off-putting, if not downright scary. To counter these fears and highlight the utility of their electromyography-based human-computer interface, startup CTRL-labs has focused on the device’s simple and attractive form-factor. Rather than a bulky cap full of wires and pointed electrodes, CTRL-labs has built a sleek wristband that non-invasively detects electrical activity from the surface of the skin. Designed specifically around human anatomy, it’s a reliable means of controlling virtual environments.

Just as it’s difficult to trust new products and technologies, humans innately associate strangers with danger. Yet the sharing economy phenomena has transformed our society into one in which everyone is constantly sharing, lending, and borrowing goods and services from strangers over the internet. Just a decade ago, the concept of staying at a stranger’s house instead of a hotel or opening up your home to a traveling stranger was unheard of; today it’s all the rage. Sharing economy platforms like Uber, Taskrabbit, and Turo have been able to enter the mainstream because they are designed to create community, which in turn inspires trust.

Today, over 2 million people stay at an Airbnb each night. Over the past decade, Airbnb has been at the forefront of a social shift, normalizing the idea of opening up your home to strangers. They’ve done so, according to Airbnb co-founder and Chief Product Officer Joe Gebbia, by implementing design thinking. The founders’ initial idea of a platform that offered short-term living quarters didn’t take off, so they put themselves into the shoes of real people, and learned that trust needed to be built first through meaningful interactions and effort.

To encourage meaningful interactions among hosts and guests, Airbnb nudges them to customize their profiles, send pre-booking messages, and leave each other reviews. The Airbnb brand is presented as a mediator between the two, encouraging friendliness, respect, and responsibility.

If applying design thinking is able to help us overcome our innate biases against robots, neural interfaces, and strangers, there’s no telling what else we can eventually become comfortable with. No matter how innovative or boundary-pushing a technology may be, it can succeed if it’s designed around and has empathy for the human user. As we talk about the ways in which tech is getting faster, better, and smarter, we can use design thinking to consider the best ways to tell the stories of how these technologies were developed and will affect us for years to come.

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OYO acquires Danish data science firm Danamica for $10 million

OYO is backed by investors such as Airbnb, DiDi, Sequoia Capital India, Grab and Softbank among others and its current valuation is $10 billion.

OYO, on Monday, announced the acquisition of Danamica, a Danish data science company. The company wants to provide the best prices to customers and real estate owners by implementing Danamica’s machine learning-enabled pricing and revenue management across all of its services. Though the company didn’t disclose the acquisition amount, sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch that the OYO spent $10 million for the acquisition.

Maninder Gulati, Global head, OYO Vacation and Urban Homes, and chief strategy officer, OYO Hotels & Homes, said in a statement, “We are delighted to announce our acquisition of Danamica, a Europe based, machine learning and business intelligence company specialized in dynamic pricing, that will help us be more accurate with pricing, leading to higher efficiencies and yield for our real estate owners and value for money for our millions of global guests, both everyday travellers and city dwellers, that choose an OYO Vacation Homes as their abode.”

Danamica is a Copenhagen-based firm founded by Mads Westberg and Rune Larsen which specializes in dynamic pricing through its machine learning technologies. This means that Danamica’s technologies provide optimal pricing for hotel rooms or similar rental services based upon changes in supply and demand.

Gulati said that data sciences across pricing, AI, and imaging sciences which is a huge missing piece in the way traditional vacation rentals industry is run. “With the implementation of machine learning-enabled pricing and revenue management, customers will be able to book a vacation home at the best price,” he added.

OYO which started as Oravel Stays has expanded into a hospitality firm which operates in 500 cities in 80 countries including India, China, Malaysia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, United States, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Japan

The company recently extended in the US after it bought the real estate company Highgate for $135 million along with the American Hooters Casino Hotel. In August, it acquired Amsterdam-based vacation rental business @Leisure Group for $415 million which it rebranded to OYO Vacation Homes. OYO is backed by investors such as Airbnb, DiDi, Sequoia Capital India, Grab and Softbank among others and its current valuation is $10 billion.

“Like OYO, we recognize the untapped potential in the vacation rental industry that can be fulfilled with a data-driven approach,” said Mads Westberg and Rune Larsen, Founders, Danamica. “We have found the right home for us in OYO and are excited about the prospect of using our expertise in pricing and machine learning to further help OYO’s continued growth and success.”

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Fresh out of Y Combinator, Tandem lands millions from Andreessen Horowitz

Tandem, one of the most sought after companies to graduate from Y Combinator’s summer batch, will emerge from the accelerator program with a …

Tandem, one of the most sought-after companies to graduate from Y Combinator’s summer batch, will emerge from the accelerator program with a supersized seed round and an uncharacteristically high valuation.

The months-old business, which is developing communication software for remote teams after pivoting from crypto, is raising a $7.5 million seed financing at a valuation north of $30 million, sources tell TechCrunch. Airbnb investor Andreessen Horowitz is leading the round.

Tandem and a16z declined to comment for this story. The round has yet to close, which means the deal size is subject to change. Y Combinator startups raise capital using SAFE agreements, or simple agreements for future equity, which allow investors to buy shares in a future priced round at a previously agreed-upon valuation.

We’re told several top venture capital firms were vying for a stake in Tandem. One firm even gifted the founders a tandem bike, sources tell TechCrunch, resorting to amusing measures to sway the Tandem team. But it was a16z — which has an established interest in the growing future of work sector, evidenced by its recent investment in the popular email app Superhuman — that ultimately won the coveted lead investor spot.

Tandem provides a virtual office for remote teams, complete with video-chatting and messaging capabilities, as well as integrations with top enterprise tools, including Notion, GitHub and Trello. The service launched one month ago and has signed contracts with Airbnb, Dropbox and others. The company claims to be growing 50% week-over-week.

“Every company is a remote company,” Tandem chief executive officer Rajiv Ayyangar said during his pitch to investors on day two of Y Combinator Demo Days this week. “You have salespeople in the field, [companies with] multiple offices, people working from home. Tandem isn’t just building the future of remote work, it’s building the future of work.”

Ayyangar was previously a data scientist at Yahoo before joining Yakit, a startup seeking to simplify e-commerce delivery, as the director of product. Co-founders Bernat Fortet Unanue and Tim Su are also Yahoo alums.

We’re told Tandem’s fundraise was nearly complete before it pitched to investors Tuesday afternoon. Startups that participate in YC are often flooded with offers from VCs throughout the three-month program. Firms are hungry for the batch’s Airbnb, Dropbox or Stripe — graduates of the program — and will pay premiums on startup equity for their chance to invest in a future “unicorn.”

As a result, the median seed deal for U.S. startups in 2018 was roughly $2 million — a record high — with typical pre-money valuations hovering north of $10 million. Tandem’s seed financing represents both a trend of swelling seed deals and valuations, as well as a tendency for VCs to dole out more cash to fresh-from-YC companies amid heightened competition amongst their peers.

The previous YC batch, which wrapped up in March, included ZeroDown, Overview.AI and Catch, a trio of companies that pocketed venture capital ahead of demo day. ZeroDown, a financing solution for real estate purchases in the Bay Area, raised upwards of $10 million at a $75 million valuation before demo day, sources told TechCrunch at the time (months after demo day, ZeroDown announced a whopping $30 million financing). ZeroDown was an outlier, of course, as the company’s founders had previously co-founded the billion-dollar HR software company Zenefits.

As for the summer batch, we’re told Actiondesk, Taskade and Tandem are amongst the startups to garner the most hype from investors. Some even forwent the demo day pitch altogether. BraveCare, which is creating urgent care clinics intended just for kids, raised $4.1 million ahead of demo day, we’re told. The company opted not to pitch to additional investors this week.

You can read about all the companies that pitched during demo day one here and demo day two here.

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