Startup Monday: 10 news to follow this week in the global startup ecosystem (Issue 40–17 May 2021)


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  1. Led by ex-Amazonians, Acquco raises $160M to buy and scale e-commerce businesses

There has been a flurry of investments in startups focused on acquiring third-party sellers on Amazon and helping them build their businesses.

The latest is Acquco, which aims to stand out from the others in that it was formed by a pair of founders — Raunak Nirmal and Wiley Zhang — who actually worked at Amazon, and then built multimillion-dollar businesses on its platform.

The New York City-based startup has raised $160 million in debt and equity in a Series A round that it says will fund its “aggressive growth plans.”

2. Cryptocurrency’s Value Surges to $45 Billion One Day After Its Debut

A digital token that was launched Monday and goes by the name Internet Computer is already one of the largest cryptocurrencies in the world, with a market value of about $45 billion.

That makes it the eighth-largest digital asset among the top 10 in CoinMarketCap.com’s rankings. The token and its related digital ledger are supposed to help anyone — software developers or content creators — publish anything they want onto the internet, without having to go through digital giants such as Amazon.com Inc. or Facebook Inc., or to use servers or commercial cloud services. The idea is to avoid corporate walled gardens and to reduce costs, according to Dominic Williams, founder of the project. Users could potentially build social-media and other services that compete with internet titans.

3. Collective, a subscription-based back-office platform for the self-employed raised $20 million from Ashton Kutcher’s VC

With so much focus on the “creator economy”, and countries hit by the effects of the pandemic, the self-employed market is “booming”, for good or for ill. So it’s not too much of a surprise that Collective, a subscription-based back-office platform for the self-employed has raised a $20 million Series A funding after launching only late last year.

The round was led by General Catalyst and joined by Sound Ventures (the venture capital fund founded by Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary). Collective has now raised a total of $28.65 million. Other notable investors include: Steve Chen (founder YouTube), Hamish McKenzie (founder Substack), Aaron Levie (founder Box), Kevin Lin (founder Twitch), Sam Yam (founder Patreon), Li Jin (Atelier Ventures), Shadiah Sigala (founder HoneyBook), Adrian Aoun (founder Forward), Holly Liu (founder Kabam), Andrew Dudum (founder Hims) and Edward Hartman (founder LegalZoom).

4. Cisco  to acquire Indianapolis-based startup Socio to bring hybrid events to Webex

Cisco announced this last week that it intends to acquire Indianapolis-based startup Socio, which helps plan hybrid in-person and virtual events. The two companies did not share the purchase price.

Socio provides a missing hybrid event management component for the company to add to its Webex platform. The goal appears to be to combine this with the recent purchase of Slido and transform Webex from an application mostly for video meetings into a more comprehensive event platform.

5. Huma, which uses AI to monitor patients raised $130 million

While much of the world eagerly watches to see if the vaccination rollout helps curb and eventually stamp out Covid-19, one of the companies that has been helping to manage the spread of the virus is announcing a big round of funding on the heels for strong demand for its technology.

Huma, which combines data from biomarkers with predictive algorithms both to help monitor patients, and uses the same technology to help researchers and pharmaceutical companies run clinical trials, has closed funding of $130 million, a Series C that includes $100 million in equity, and $30 million in credit. The company can also extend this to $200 million by way of an extra $70 million in equity if it chooses.

Huma can pick up data that patients contribute via smartphones, or by way of diagnostic devices that measure glucose, blood pressure or oxygen saturation, and the plan will be to use the funding to augment that in a couple of ways: to continue investing in R&D to both expand the kinds of biomarkers that Huma can measure and to work on more research and trials; to continue expanding London-based Huma’s business particularly in newer geographies like the US, alongside a strong wave of business it’s been seeing in Europe, specifically the UK and the DACH region.

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6.Europe’s going to need a bigger unicorn stable soon.

Last November, Europe’s unicorn startup count was 60 — since then it’s increased to 70. Eight European unicorns have also publicly listed, via an IPO or SPAC — including Arrival, Darktrace, Deliveroo and UiPath.

Fintechs and French startups have done particularly well this year. We’ve seen Lendable, Starling, Blockchain.com, PPRO, Bitpanda, Shift Technology, Vestiaire Collective and Alan all reach unicorn status.

We’re expecting many more to IPO this year — keep an eye on Babylon Health, Blablacar, Brew Dog, Cabify, Checkout.com, GitLab and Wise. (We’ve also covered Europe’s fintech ‘soonicorns’ here.)

7. New $60 million venture capital fund Moonfire targets Europe’s youngest startups

Although most European businesses are struggling to emerge from carnage the coronavirus pandemic has caused, the continent’s tech ecosystem has been booming as never before.

In the first quarter of 2021, more European startups became “unicorns”—achieving a $1 billion valuation or more—than in all of last year, which was already a banner 12 months for the continent’s tech scene, according to tech investment site Crunchbase. Meanwhile, European tech companies reaped about $20 billion in exits—either through a stock offerings or through being acquired—a figure higher than that of the entirety of the prior 12 months, according to PitchBook, which tracks venture capital, private equity, and M&A.

“Europe has been behind for a long time, but we’ve been growing faster than both the U.S. and China for many years now,” Mattias Ljungman, a London-based venture capitalist, tells Fortune. “I think the ecosystem is poised for fresh growth.”

8. It’s US vs. China in race to build chip technology of tomorrow

Even as the world’s leading chipmakers scramble to solve critical supply bottlenecks, a new wave of semiconductor startups has been quietly lining up massive sums of venture capital in their quest to design the next generation of chips.

Startups in China and the US have been subject to a venture capital land grab from investors who believe nascent chip designs will propel a future ruled by artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Global VC investment in semiconductor companies set a quarterly record for deal value at $2.64 billion in the first three months of 2021, with 70% of the funding going toward Chinese companies, according to PitchBook data.

American companies have also raised impressive sums. In April, SambaNova Systems became the most valuable VC-backed chipmaker in the US after raising $676 million at a $5 billion-plus valuation. And Groq landed a $300 million round co-led by Tiger Global and D1 Capital that will support the development of its streamlined AI chips.

9. Vietnamese flexible payroll app secures $3m in seed funding.

The gig economy has been growing rapidly over the past few years, riding on the back of rising internet penetration and cheaper consumer electronic devices and tools. Gig workers also get to do their jobs for daily pay and enjoy a more flexible schedule.

With gig workers representing roughly 35% of US workers in 2020 – compared to just between 14% and 20% in 2014 – the Covid-19 pandemic has no doubt pushed this growth further.

Offering employees flexible pay similar to the gig economy, while attractive in terms of worker retention, remains a challenge for companies due to technology and administrative burdens as well as cash flow issues. This is what former Uber Vietnam general manager Dzung Dang aims to solve with Nano.

Founded last year, Nano enables companies to offer flexible payments to their workers through its payroll platform VUI. The app also helps employees keep track of attendance, receive announcements from their employers, and learn the basics of personal financial management.

10. What the cyber-attack on the US oil and gas pipeline means and how to increase security

The recent cyber-attack on the US major oil and gas pipeline could become one of the most expensive attacks to an economy. It’s also the latest reminder that both the frequency and severity of catastrophic digital shocks on critical infrastructure are on the rise.

The increasing digitalization of critical infrastructure sectors such as oil and gas, and the associated industrial systems, is changing the nature of cyber risks. As digitalization drives growth and transition to net-zero emissions, the energy sector’s ecosystem has become increasingly decentralized and complex. According to the 2021 Global Risks Report, cybersecurity failures are among the top mid-term threats facing the world.

The World Economic Forum recent report found out that 80% of cyber security leaders see ransomware as a dangerous growing threat that is threatening our public safety.

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