Startup Monday: Latest tech trends & news happening in the global startup ecosystem (Issue 53)

Episode 46


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Top startups news to follow this week:

1. As per Zion Market Research study, The Global Biotechnology Reagents Market accounted for USD 77.4 Billion in 2020 and is expected to reach USD 159.2 Billion by 2028. Biotechnology reagents are being used in a wide range of areas, including basic science, biomedical research, and therapeutics. Furthermore, biotech companies’ significant R&D budgets would fuel demand for biotechnology reagents. Various sectors, such as pharmaceutical/biopharmaceutical, agri-biotech, and food and beverages, are constantly developing new products, which is expected to help the market expand. However, that biopharmaceutical product costs, as well as significant R&D spending, are expected to obstruct the growth of the biotechnology reagents industry in the coming years.

2. Singapore-based micromobility startup Beam secures $93M Series B, enters new markets, Tech Crunch

Beam, a Singaporean shared micromobility operator, announced today that it has raised $93 million in a Series B round to accelerate growth into new countries in Asia.

The fresh capital, which brings its total funding raised to $135 million, was led by Affirma Capital with participation from Sequoia Capital India, Hana Ventures, ICT Capital, EDB Investment (EDBI), AC Ventures, RTP Global and Momentum Venture Capital. The Series B brings Beam’s valuation up into the triple digits, according to Beam CEO and co-founder Alan Jiang, who declined to provide exact numbers. 

Beam, which currently operates e-scooters and e-bikes in 35 cities across Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, aims to spread into markets like Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Turkey. 

In addition, the new capital will enable Beam to spur its deployment of a new fifth-generation Beam Saturn e-scooter, which the company intends to start rolling out in the second half of this year. The next-gen scooter will come with an updated version of Beam’s safety platform, dubbed Micromobility Augmented Riding Safety (MARS), which helps protect pedestrians and enhance local governments’ control over where e-vehicles can park or ride, said Jiang. 

Existing technologies within the platform include dead reckoning and on-edge geofencing, but the fifth-generation Saturns will have a feature called Beam Pedestrian Shield, “an onboard AI camera that can instantly and accurately detect pedestrians to prevent collisions and detect footpaths to automatically reduce vehicle speed or even prevent riding completely,” according to Deb Gangopadhyay, chief technology officer of Beam.

Beam says its onboard camera with computer vision will be rolling out at scale by Q3 this year. The company initially will be piloting the onboard camera technology, which is developed in collaboration with its undisclosed R&D partner, a spokesperson at Beam told TechCrunch.

3. Hack VC raises $200M fund to back early-stage crypto startups, Tech Crunch reports

The investors behind virtual hack.summit(), the world’s largest blockchain programmer event, have launched a $200 million crypto seed fund under the Hack VC umbrella, fund partner Alex Pack told TechCrunch in an interview.

Ed Roman, formerly a solo GP, invested in early-stage tech and crypto companies for over 10 years through Hack VC before partnering with Pack, who previously co-founded global crypto fund Dragonfly Capital and led Bain Capital Ventures’ foray into digital assets. Pack and Roman have each invested in several early-stage crypto companies prior to launching this fund, including DeFi platforms Compound Finance and Terra, Pack said.

Hack VC wrapped up fundraising last fall and has been quite active since — the fund has made “at least” 15 investments worth tens of millions of dollars to date, according to Pack. Its recent investments span a variety of areas within crypto — from NFT emoji startup Yat, to DeFi lending platform Goldfinch Finance, to metaverse gaming company SynCity.

Hack’s thesis is centered around investing in what Pack describes as the “scaffolding” for a digital rights system for the whole internet, with a particular emphasis on emerging markets.

“The easiest use case of a digital-native property rights system is a digital-native store of value, like Bitcoin, but honestly, that’s not very interesting to me, like building a digital gold or whatever. I think it has its place, but to me, building this property rights system that allows anyone around the world to participate in the open financial system is really big,” Pack said.

4. The Department of Defense wants to create regional innovation hubs that it hopes will kickstart the domestic development of microelectronics.

The department’s Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, led by Heidi Shyu, issued a request for information Thursday seeking feedback from the domestic microelectronic community on building what it’s calling a Microelectronics Commons.

The U.S. has historically led the global development of microelectronics — circuits, chips and other small-scale electronic materials. The DOD’s development and adoption of advanced technologies and weapons systems is highly dependent on the continued development of such computer chips. But, in recent years, the DOD says in its solicitation, “the efficient domestic adoption of U.S. chip innovation has been threatened as emerging hardware technologies have become increasingly reliant on offshore sources for State of the Art (SOTA) manufacturing, prototyping, and investment.”

““There are several significant hurdles that hardware startups face, including limited or expensive access to necessary facilities and design infrastructure, high costs of design intellectual property, limited expertise with hardware engineering, and high costs of prototyping,” the RFI says. “As a result, the number of U.S. hardware startups has dropped significantly and foreign investment in U.S.-based technology startups has enabled offshore fabrication and maturation of emerging technologies.”

The initiative is a component of DOD’s requirement under the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act to establish a National Network for Microelectronics Research and Development to “enable the laboratory-to-fabrication transition of microelectronics innovations in the United States and to expand the global leadership in microelectronics of the United States.”

5. E-commerce startup Fabric, led by Amazon vets, raises $140M at $1.5B valuation to pursue ‘absurd’ market opportunity. GeekWire reports that Fabric, a Seattle-based e-commerce technology startup whose leadership team includes several former Amazon executives, announced a $140 million Series C funding round, led by SoftBank, at a valuation of about $1.5 billion.

The deal makes Fabric the Seattle area’s newest “unicorn,” a privately held startup valued at more than a billion dollars. It’s the 18th company in the region to achieve that designation. Fabric has raised a total of $293.5 million to date.

Fabric CEO Faisal Masud said in an interview that he believes the 300-person company is just starting to tap its potential market opportunity as trillions of dollars in commerce moves online.

There’s this absurd amount of growth that is just waiting to be taken,” said Masud, a veteran of Amazon, Alphabet, Groupon, Staples and eBay. “Frankly, we think we’re very small, and we’re going to keep thinking that for a very long time.”

The 300-person company offers software, APIs, and other behind-the-scenes technology used by retailers and business-to-business brands for many aspects of online commerce, including pricing/promotion, inventory management, digital storefronts, and payments/checkout.

6. Peruvian startup Leasy secures $17M in debt, equity to provide auto loans to LatAm ride-hailing drivers

Leasy, a startup that offers automobile financing to ride-hailing drivers in Latin America via a subscription model, has secured $2 million in equity and $15 million in debt, reports TechCrunch

Italian-born Gregorio Gilardini and Alejandro Garay, who hails from Spain, met in Peru several years ago and discovered they both had an interest in using technology to make a social impact and help people escape “the poverty trap.”

They founded Leasy in 2018 with the mission to help people who would like to earn incomes as ride-hailing drivers be able to afford cars, thus earning a steady income. Traditional financial institutions charge outrageous interest rates and require hefty down payments, making it nearly impossible for members of a lower-income population to afford to purchase their own car.

Lima-based Leasy is different, said Gilardini, in that its interest rates are far lower and terms much more flexible. It claims that it offers loans that are “built around the needs” of a ride-hailing driver at competitive prices that match rental market prices. It also requires a down payment of 5%, compared to the 20% to 30% required by most banks.

“That’s an amount of cash that most people don’t have,” Garay said. “A lot live day to day and drivers are like ghosts in the system.”

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7. Odys Aviation, formerly Craft Aerospace, raises $12M for its unique VTOL passenger aircraft.

A startup hoping to reinvent regional air travel with an unusual vertical-takeoff aircraft has rebranded and raised a $12.4 million funding round. Craft Aerospace will henceforth be known as Odys Aviation, and the money will go toward, among other things, a planned demonstration flight this year with a one-passenger prototype.

The interesting “blown wing” approach to VTOL craft is characterized in detail in this post, but in brief it bends the wing in such a way that the thrust from the rotors can be directed downward as well as rearward in a minutely adjustable fashion. It’s been tried before, but not on this scale — but Odys thinks the combination of box wing and high flap makes it not just possible but uniquely suited to short-hop air travel.

The aircraft will theoretically carry nine passengers and two pilots, fly at 30,000 feet and about 345 mph, and have a range of up to 1,000 miles. That makes it potentially a good option for such frequent commutes as LA-SF, Tokyo-Osaka and NY-DC. Of course, first it’ll need a place to land and take off — currently the company is working with Mojave Air and Space Port, but there are other arrangements in the offing.

“Integration at smaller airports is already very practical,” said co-founder and CEO James Dorris. “We have collaborated with two vertiport developers to ensure our aircraft can practically land at their facilities, and we’re also in discussion with one of the U.S.’s largest airports to assess airspace integration issues.”

8. Cryptocurrency mining in Kazakhstan: Protections for Foreign Investors

In recent weeks, Kazakhstan has tightened its regulatory regime for cryptocurrency miners operating within its borders in an about-turn from previous incentives aimed at encouraging investment.

In January 2022:

• the state-run power operator KEGOC stopped providing power to registered cryptocurrency miners, in response to the electricity shortage in the country. 1 This policy is estimated to have cost miners up to US$ 1 million daily2 and it is unclear whether KEGOC has resumed providing power; and

• an amendment to the tax code implementing a tax on cryptocurrency mining – 1 tenge ($0,0023) per kilowatt-hour of electrical energy consumed – reportedly came into force. 3

On 31 January 2022, the head of the digital assets department of the State Revenue Committee of the Ministry of Finance announced that the hourly rate could increase a further five or tenfold.4 As recently as 8 February 2022, the president of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, instructed the government to increase the current tax as soon as possible.5 

The high electricity consumption of mining farms appears to have been a driving force behind this tax. Kazakhstan’s infrastructure is struggling to keep up with the rapidly rising demand for electricity, which the authorities have blamed on mining data centres.

• Kazakhstan also reportedly plans to impose a levy on mining equipment. Mining firms will be required to report the number and type of their coin mining devices and pay the new fees on a quarterly basis.6

• The deputy finance minister has announced that VAT may also be charged on imports of mining hardware, which are currently exempt from this tax. 7

Industry groups have predicted that the high levels of taxation “will kill off the crypto-mining sector in Kazakhstan.”8 Many miners have already left the country in anticipation of these measures.

LEGAL PROTECTIONS FOR FOREIGN INVESTORS

Foreign investors could benefit from seeking protection for their investments in Kazakhstan under international treaties. Kazakhstan is a signatory to several investment treaties, including bilateral investment treaties (BIT) with China, 13 the United States, 14 and Switzerland.15 

Under these BITs investors may seek to resolve disputes through international arbitration under the auspices of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) – of which Kazakhstan is a Member State – or other arbitral institutions.

The BITs to which Kazakhstan is a party generally provide substantive protections to qualifying foreign investors, having made investments within the territory of Kazakhstan. These protections usually include the State’s compliance with the “fair and equitable treatment” (FET) standard towards foreign investors.

9. Warsaw startup picks up €7.5 million to build fulfillment network in Europe.

Polish full-service logistics and fulfillment operation startup Omnipack has raised €7.5 million funding. The final venture debt round of €2 million was led by Flashpoint. The seed investment saw the participation of early-stage VC fund SMOK Ventures, which has jointly invested in nearly 200 startups, including unicorns such as Uber, Unity, Zappos, Niantic, and Stripe and angel investors.

The fresh capital will enable it to scale quickly enough to meet the needs of an ever-expanding e-commerce market.

The funding will also be utlilised to enable e-commerce businesses to focus on their core competencies instead of logistics and overcome the physical limits of their business growth. Founded in 2017 by Tomek Kasperski, Rafał Szcześniewski and Karol Milewski in Warsaw, the startup is on a mission to deliver logistics solutions to match the expectations of modern e-commerce.

10. Aussie e-bike startup vrooms into Europe for expansion with $20 million.

The rapid delivery market (<30 mins) continues to grow at an exponential rate globally, with consumer expectations for delivery shortening by the minute.

Cashing in on the trend, Aussie electric last-mile delivery vehicle company Zoomo, which operates in Australia, the U.S., the U.K. and Europe, has raised $20 million. The round was led by New York based VC fund Collaborative Fund, which has made investments in household names such as Lyft, Whoop and Beyond Meat. It also saw the participation of strategic investors, including the VC arm of Mitsubishi UFJ; SG Fleet, Australia’s leading provider of integrated mobility solutions; WIND Ventures, the VC arm for COPEC, one of Latin America’s most forward-leaning energy and mobility companies; and Akuna Capital, a leading trading firm with an active venture arm offering patient capital to tech and tech-enabled companies.

The additional funds bring the total funding raised to date to over $100 million, a combination of both equity and debt.

The platform will use the new funding to deepen investment in core technologies, including new vehicle products and next-generation software. Furthermore, it will help accelerate the platform’s expansion into new cities and countries and enable exciting opportunities for recruitment across the business globally.

The full-service utility micro-mobility platform founded by Mina Nada and Michael Johnson in 2017 is on a mission to turn the world’s delivery fleets electric using e-bikes.

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