Goldman backs Kobo360, Rwanda commits to EVs, Interswitch IPO update – gpgmail


Nigerian freight logistics startup Kobo360 raised a $20 million Series A round led by Goldman Sachs and $10 million in working capital financing from Nigerian commercial banks.

The company — with an Uber-like app that connects truckers and companies to delivery services — will use the funds to upgrade its platform and expand to 10 new countries beyond current operating markets of Nigeria, Togo, Ghana and Kenya.

Kobo360 looks to grow beyond its Nigeria roots to become a truly Pan-African company, co-founder Obi Ozor told gpgmail .  He co-founded the venture in 2017 with fellow Nigerian Ife Oyedele II.

Since its launch in Lagos, the startup has continued to grow its product offerings, VC backing and customer base. Kobo360 claims a fleet of more than 10,000 drivers and trucks operating on its app. Top clients include Honeywell, Olam, Unilever, Dangote and DHL.

Kobo360’s latest round is also notable for Goldman Sachs’ involvement. Goldman’s participation tracks a growing list of African venture investments made by the U.S. based finance firm.

Chinese mobile-phone and device maker Transsion will list in an IPO on Shanghai’s STAR Market, Transsion confirmed to gpgmail.

The company — which has a robust Africa sales network — could raise up to 3 billion yuan (or $426 million).

Transsion’s IPO prospectus is downloadable (in Chinese) and its STAR Market listing application available on the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s website.

STAR is the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s new Nasdaq-style board for tech stocks that also went live in July with some 25 companies going public.

Headquartered in Shenzhen — where African e-commerce unicorn Jumia also has a logistics supply-chain facility — Transsion is a top-seller of smartphones in Africa under its Tecno brand.

The company has a manufacturing facility in Ethiopia and recently expanded its presence in India.

Transsion plans to spend the bulk of its STAR Market raise (1.6 billion yuan or $227 million) on building more phone assembly hubs and around 430 million yuan ($62 million) on research and development, including a mobile phone R&D center in Shanghai, a company spokesperson said.

The government of Rwanda will soon issue national policy guidelines to eliminate gas motorcycles in its taxi sector in favor of e-motos, according to a preview of the plan by President Paul Kagame at a public-rally

The director general for the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority, Patrick Nyirishema, confirmed Kagame’s comments were ahead of a national e-mobility plan in the works for the East African nation.

“The president’s announcement is exactly the policy direction we’re in…it’s about converting to electric motos…The policy is prepared, it’s yet to be passed…and is going through the approval process,” Nyirishema told gpgmail on a call from Kigali.

Motorcycle taxis in Rwanda are a common mode of transit, with estimates of 20 to 30 thousand operating in the capital of Kigali.

Nyirishema explained that converting to e-motorcycles is part of a national strategy to move Rwanda’s entire mobility space to electric. The country will start with public transit operators, such as moto-taxis, and move to buses and automobiles.

Ampersand, a Kigali-based e-moto startup, has already begun to pilot EVs and charging systems in Rwanda and will work with the country’s government on the moto-taxi conversion.

In an ExtraCrunch feature, gpgmail delved into tech talent accelerator Andela — one of the most recognized and well funded startups operating in Africa.

In a byte, Andela is Series D stage startup ― backed by $180 million in VC ― that trains and connects African software developers to global companies for a fee.

CEO Jeremy Johnson dished on the company’s strategy toward profitability and responded to some of the criticism it receives ― namely a claim the startup is creating a second brain-drain when software developers leave Andela and Africa, to take positions with global companies.

Today Andela has offices in New York and five African countries: Nigeria, Kenya,  Rwanda, Uganda, and Egypt ― which largely align with the continent’s top tech VC markets.

Across this network the company recruits software developers, builds software engineers, and deploys teams of software engineers.

Johnson disclosed numbers on Andela’s expected new hires for the year, current developer staff, how many departures the company expects, and how many of those will likely leave their home countries―which actually amounts to a fairly small percentage.

gpgmail checked in with Nigerian fintech company Interswitch for the latest on its anticipated dual-listing London and Lagos stock exchanges.

A Bloomberg News story (based on background sourcing) revived speculation the IPO could happen this year for the company — which provides much of Nigeria’s digital banking infrastructure and has expanded its operations presence and payments products across Africa and globally.

Reports that Interswitch could be one of the earliest big tech companies out of Africa to go public trace back to 2016, when CEO and founder Mitchell Elegbe told gpgmail the company was considering a listing before the end of that year.

Last month, an Interswitch spokesperson would neither confirm or deny a pending IPO, per a gpgmail inquiry. So, it’s still tough to say if or when the company could list. But there are still several reasons why the business (and its possible IPO) are worth keeping an eye on, which we detailed in the update story.

 

One could be an eventual increase in venture funding to African startups, that could come from Interswitch. Another could be an Interswitch IPO adding another benchmark for global investors to gauge Africa’s tech sector beyond Jumia — the e-commerce company that became the first big tech firm operating in Africa to launch on a major exchange, the NYSE in April.

More Africa-related stories @gpgmail

African tech around the ‘net

 


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Peloton’s 29 secret weapons – gpgmail


Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy startups and venture capital news. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I wrote about a new e-commerce startup, Pietra. Before that, I wrote about the flurry of IPO filings.

Remember, you can send me tips, suggestions and feedback to kate.clark@Gpgmail.com or on Twitter @KateClarkTweets. If you don’t subscribe to Startups Weekly yet, you can do that here.

What’s new?

Peloton revealed its S-1 this week, taking a big step toward an IPO expected later this year. The filing was packed with interesting tidbits, including that the company, which manufacturers internet-connected stationary bikes and sells an affiliated subscription to its growing library of on-demand fitness content, is raking in more than $900 million in annual revenue. Sure, it’s not profitable, and it’s losing an increasing amount of money to sales and marketing efforts, but for a company that many people wrote off from the very beginning, it’s an impressive feat.

Despite being a hardware, media, interactive software, product design, social connection, apparel and logistics company, according to its S-1, the future of Peloton relies on its talent. Not the employees developing the bikes and software but the 29 instructors teaching its digital fitness courses. Ally Love, Alex Toussaint and the 27 other teachers have developed cult followings, fans who will happily pay Peloton’s steep $39 per month content subscription to get their daily dose of Ben or Christine.

“To create Peloton, we needed to build what we believed to be the best indoor bike on the market, recruit the best instructors in the world, and engineer a state-of-the-art software platform to tie it all together,” founder and CEO John Foley writes in the IPO prospectus. “Against prevailing conventional wisdom, and despite countless investor conference rooms full of very smart skeptics, we were determined for Peloton to build a vertically integrated platform to deliver a seamless end-to-end experience as physically rewarding and addictive as attending a live, in-studio class.”

Peloton succeeded in poaching the best of the best. The question is, can they keep them? Will competition in the fast-growing fitness technology sector swoop in and scoop Peloton’s stars?

In other news

Last week I published a long feature on the state of seed investing in the Bay Area. The TL;DR? Mega-funds are increasingly battling seed-stage investors for access to the hottest companies. As a result, seed investors are getting a little more creative about how they source deals. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and everyone wants a stake in The Next Big Thing. Read the story here.

Rounds of the week

Time to Disrupt

Don’t miss out on our flagship Disrupt, which takes place October 2-4. It’s the quintessential tech conference for anyone focused on early-stage startups. Join more than 10,000 attendees — including over 1,200 exhibiting startups — for three jam-packed days of programming. We’re talking four different stages with interactive workshops, Q&A sessions and interviews with some of the industry’s top tech titans, founders, investors, movers and shakers. Check out our list of speakers and the Disrupt agenda. I will be there interviewing a bunch of tech leaders, including Bastian Lehmann and Charles Hudson. Buy tickets here.

Listen

This week on Equity, gpgmail’s venture capital-focused podcast, we had Floodgate’s Iris Choi on to discuss Peloton’s upcoming IPO. You can listen to it here. Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast and Spotify.

Learn

We published a number of new deep dives on Extra Crunch, our paid subscription product, this week. Here’s a quick look at the top stories:




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Update on Nigerian fintech firm Interswitch and its speculative IPO – gpgmail


Nigerian fintech firm Interswitch has been circulating in business news around a possible IPO on the London Stock Exchange.

Last month Bloomberg News ran a story—based on unnamed sources—reporting the financial services firm had hired investment banks to go public on the LSE later in 2019. The piece spurred additional aggregated press.

That Interswitch—which provides much of Nigeria’s digital banking infrastructure—could become one of Africa’s earliest tech companies to list on a global exchange isn’t exactly news.

It’s more deja vu of a story that began several years ago.

As gpgmail reported, Interswitch was poised to launch on the LSE in 2016. CEO and founder Mitchell Elegbe confirmed “a dual-listing on the London and Lagos stock exchange is an option on the table,” in a January 2016 call.

Two additional sources wired into Nigeria’s tech market and close to Interswitch’s investors also said the public launch would happen by the end of that year.

The IPO would have made Interswitch Africa’s first tech company to go from startup to a billion-dollar plus unicorn valuation status. Of course, it didn’t happen in 2016.

In 2017, gpgmail checked in with Interswitch on the delay and was told the company could not comment on its pending IPO.  In other public interviews, executives Mitchell Elegbe and Divisional Chief Executive Officer Akeem Lawal named Nigeria’s recession as a reason for the delay and reaffirmed a likely dual Longon-Lagos listing by the end of 2019.

After the latest round of IPO buzz, gpgmail asked Interswitch this week about the Bloomberg reporting and an imminent public stock listing. ““Interswitch does not comment on market speculation,” was the only info a public spokesperson could offer.

So, its tough to say if or when the company could list. There are still a few reasons why the company (and its possible IPO) are worth keeping an eye on.

One is Interswitch’s growing role as a nexus for payments and financial services infrastructure in Nigeria (home of Africa’s largest economy), across Africa, and between Africa and the world. Back in 2002, the company became the pioneer for creating infrastructure to digitize Nigeria’s then predominantly paper-ledger and cash-is-king based economy.

Interswitch has since moved into high-volume personal and business finance, with its Verve payment cards and Quickteller payment app. The Nigerian company (which is now well beyond startup phase) has expanded with physical presence in Uganda, Gambia, and Kenya—the latter being home-turf of M-Pesa and Safaricom, which are largely responsible for making Kenya the mobile-money capital of Africa.

Interswitch also sells its products in 23 African countries, through bank partnerships, and has presence abroad. Through its Verve Global Card product, the company’s cardholders can now make payments in the U.S., UK, and UAE. Interswitch launched a partnership this month for Verve cardholders to make payments on Discover’s global network. The first transaction for the partnership was placed in New York, with an advertisement for the Nigerian company’s payment product flashing across Times Square. Verve Times Square Interswitch  Another facet to a possible Interswitch IPO is its potential to spark more corporate venture arm and acquisition activity in African fintech, which as a sector receives the bulk of the continent’s startup capital. Interswitch launched a venture arm in 2015called its global ePayment Growth Fundthat made two investments, but then went largely quiet.

A windfall of IPO capital and increasing competition from fintech startups could spur Interswitch to fire up its venture investing activity again. Startups such as Flutterwave and TeamAPT (formed by a former Interswitch alum) have already entered some of Interswitch’s product territory. If a public listing led Interswitch to ramp up investing in (or even acquiring) startups, the net effect would be more capital and exits in Africa’s fintech sector.

And finally, if Interswitch does IPO on the London and Lagos stock exchanges, it could provide another benchmark for global investors to gauge Africa’s tech sector beyond Jumia. This spring the e-commerce company became the first big tech firm operating in Africa to launch on a major exchange, the NYSE.

So far, Jumia’s IPO has been an up and down affair. The company gained investor and analyst confidence out of the gate, but also came under a short-sell assault and share-price volatility.

Two successful global IPOs of tech companies from Africa would and could become the best-case scenario for the continent’s startup scene. But for that to be a possibility, Interswitch will have to confirm the speculation and finally list as a publicly traded fintech firm.

 


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Urbvan raises $9 million for its private shuttle service in Mexico – gpgmail


As cities in emerging markets grapple with increasingly traffic-clogged and dangerous streets, Urbvan, a startup providing private, high-end transportation shuttles in Mexico, has raised $9 million in a new round of financing.

Co-founded by Joao Matos Albino and Renato Picard, Urbvan is taking the reins from startups like the now-defunct Chariot and tailoring the business for the needs of emerging market ecosystems.

Hailing from Portugal, Albino arrived in Mexico City as a hire for the Rocket Internet startup Linio. Although Linio didn’t last, Albino stayed on in Mexico eventually landing a job working for the startup Mercadoni, which is where he met Picard.

The two men saw the initial success of Chariot as it launched from Y Combinator, but were also tracking companies like the Indian startup Shuttl.

“We wanted to make shared mobility more accessible and a little bit more efficient,” says Albino. “We studied the economics and we studied the market and we knew there was a huge urgency in the congested cities of  Latin America.”

Unlike the U.S. — and especially major cities like San Francisco and New York — where public transportation is viewed as relatively safe and efficient, the urban environment of Mexico City is seen as not safe by the white collar workers that comprise Urbvan’s principle clientele.

The company started operating back in 2016. At the time it had five vans that it leased and retrofitted to include amenities like wi-fi and plenty of space for a limited number of passengers. Since those early days the company has expanded significantly. It now claims over 15,000 monthly users and a fleet of 180 vans.

Urbvan optimized for safety as well as comfort, according to Albino. The company has deals with WeWork, Walmart and other retailers in Mexico City so that all . of the stops on t he route are protected and safe. The company also vets its drivers and provides them with additional training because of the expanded capacity of the vans.

Each van is also equipped with a panic button and cameras inside and outside of the van for additional monitoring.

Customers either pay $3 per ticket or sign up for a monthly pass that ranges from $100 to $130.

Financing for the company came from Kaszek Ventures and Angel Ventures with previous investor Mountain Nazca also participating.

For Albino, who went to India to observe Shuttl’s operations, the global market for these kinds of services is so large that there will be many winners in each geography.

“Each city is different and you need to adapt. The technology needs to be adaptable to the city’s concerns . and where it can . add more value,” says Albino. “The Indian market is super different from Latin America.. It’s a huge market with a lot of congestion… But the value proposition is a bit more basic [for Shuttl].”

Urbvan is currently operating in Mexico City and Monterrey, but has plans to expand into Guadalajara later this year.


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Kaszek Ventures raises $600 million in two funds as Latin America’s startup market booms – gpgmail


Kaszek Ventures, the investment firm that has been one of the primary architects of the recent boom in startup financing and growth in Latin America, has just raised $600 million across two new funds.

The new commitments (raised in roughly two months) put Kaszek’s total capital under management at roughly $1 billion, making the firm the first local early stage investor to hit that milestone.

In the eight years since Hernan Kazah and Nicolas Szekasy launched Kaszek Ventures in 2011 the startup ecosystem in Latin America has experienced a renaissance, with investments in the region surging to nearly $2 billion in 2018.

Much of that growth has come on the back of Kaszek portfolio companies like Gympass, the provider of corporate-sponsored gym memberships and perks; Konfio, the Mexican small business lending platform; Nubank, the Brazilian consumer credit company now worth roughly $10 billion; and Loggi, the Latin American logistics company with the billion-dollar valuation.

For Kazah and Szekasy, the growth of their nearly eponymous venture fund marks a successful reinvention of two of the most prominent executives of Latin America’s most highly valued tech startup, MercadoLibre.

The former chief operating officer and chief financial officer of the region’s leading e-commerce marketplace, initially launched their firm to see if they could replicate their success as entrepreneurs from the other side of the table and bring the expertise and wisdom they’d amassed from their time running what is now a $29.2 billion dollar company (by market capitalization).

“We thought we could identify many more MercadoLibres and identify teams that were outstanding and would have a very ambitious vision in a very large market,” says Szekasy. “I thought I could have more impact if I moved and started working on the investing side.”

The first fund was a relatively modest $95 million investment vehicle, but one of its first investments would go on to show the potential for outsized returns that existed in the Latin American market. That company would be Nubank, and Kaszek was among the first money into the company (alongside Sequoia Capital) when it was little more than a pitch deck and an entrepreneur — David Velez.

“They had very relevant experience in scaling a tech company to multiple countries in the region,” says Velez of the decision to take cash from Kaszek. In the early days, the firms partners were involved in all stages of the company’s growth, helping recruit talent like country managers in different regions, to localizing the pitch for different countries. “They were very active also and continue to be very active around marketing and product. They helped us develop our first website and craft our pitch to consumers and eventually develop a lot of the digital marketing muscle,” Velez says. 

The local knowledge that Kaszek provided was a great compliment to the global perspective that Sequoia brought to the table, says Velez.

For Matias Muchnick, a co-founder and chief executive of NotCo, the experience of Kaszek’s founders and the breadth of their network provided incalculable help as the company expanded beyond Chile to Latin America more broadly — and as it was fundraising.

From a Kaszek-sponsored retreat at Stanford University, Muchnick was introduced to a professor who became an advisor to the company. The professor then put Muchnick in touch with Bezos Expeditions through a connection and the firm wound up investing.

Nubank may have been the firm’s first success story to come from its portfolio, but Kaszek would notch multiple other wins from its later funds.

Standouts from the firm’s $200 million third investment vehicle include the The Not Co, a new food company working on a range of products from vegetarian ice cream and mayonnaise to replacement meat patties. That company managed to attract the attention of Jeff Bezos and his Bezos Expeditions investment fund. Two other standouts in Mexico are Kavak, a car marketplace and Credijusto, an online lending company which raised $42 million from Goldman Sachs and other investors earlier today. 

Now the firm has added to its firepower with the close of a $375 million main fund and its first “Opportunity Fund” a $225 million investment vehicle that will enable the company to maintain its stakes in later stage companies as they raise increasingly large rounds.

Kazah expects that the firm will invest a bit larger amounts in roughly the same number of companies, with the fund making between 25 and 30 new investments, he said.

And increasingly large rounds are becoming the norm in Latin America just as they’ve done in other rapidly maturing technology ecosystems.

Screen Shot 2019 08 29 at 7.02.31 AM

Chart courtesy of Crunchbase News

That rapid growth has been parlayed into returns that represent an 8x multiple on invested capital for the first Kaszek Ventures fund, a 5x multiple on the second fund, and a 2x return for the firm’s third fund — already, according to a person familiar with the firm. 

“We have been investors in Kaszek Ventures since 2011 and are thrilled to continue this partnership” said Du Chai, Managing Director at Horsley Bridge Partners, in a statement. “Kaszek has been a top performer while building a great platform with talented individuals.”

In part, Kaszek’s success is an extension of broader macroeconomic trends that were bound to transform the region, according to Szekasy.

“We were looking at Silicon Valley and looking at what was happening in China and saw that Latin America was a very large region with a large population and GDP and the right demographics and a fast pace of adoption of new technologies,” says Szekasy.

One of those new technologies that helped speed up the adoption of new technology services across Latin America was the rollout of 4G, says Kazah.

Screen Shot 2019 08 29 at 7.40.18 AM

The mobile internet was always going to be the way that Latin Americans went online, thanks to the penetration of mobile phones across the continent. But high speed internet transformed the types of companies and services that could be on offer, Kazah says.

“In 2011 we had 10% 4G penetration… now more than 90% of the cell phones purchased have been cellphones with 4G access,” according to Kazah. “That really changed the entire ecosystem… companies can aspire to have more sophisticated products… in the last couple of years they started to accelerate their growth.. We finally got to a point where there’s critical mass.”

Not only has the technology improved, but increasing political stability and the rise of a middle class market in countries like Colombia and Mexico mean that there’s more opportunities for new businesses in countries across the continent.

Brazil has always been an economic powerhouse, but now Mexico, Colombia and even countries like Argentina and Chile are showing signs of increasingly vibrant startup ecosystems.

Attention from international investors is also helping to drive the region to new heights. Earlier this year Softbank announced that it would create a new Latin America fund with $5 billion to invest in startup companies. DST and Tiger Global are also active investors in the region.

“One of the reasons Latin America was lagging was that the region was not at a critical mass inflection point technologically, but it was also the lack of capital,” says Kazah. “Softbank on the one hand provides capital but  on the other hand it has opened the eyes of others as well.”

 


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Peloton files publicly for IPO – gpgmail


Peloton, the well-funded maker of high-tech bikes and treadmills, has revealed documents for its upcoming initial public offering. The business previously submitted a confidential draft submission of its S-1 statement to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in June.

The company will trade on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol PTON.

Peloton, founded in 2012, raised $550 million in venture capital funding last year at a valuation of $4 billion. The startup, which initially struggled greatly to convince venture capitalists of its vision, has since inspired a new wave of fitness tech companies to launch, including a smart mirror company appropriately named “Mirror.”

This story is developing.


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Biotech researchers venture into the wild to start their own business – gpgmail


Much of Silicon Valley mythology is centered on the founder-as-hero narrative. But historically, scientific founders leading the charge for bio companies have been far less common.

Developing new drugs is slow, risky and expensive. Big clinical failures are all too common. As such, bio requires incredibly specialized knowledge and experience. But at the same time, the potential for value creation is enormous today more than ever with breakthrough new medicines like engineered cell, gene and digital therapies.

What these breakthroughs are bringing along with them are entirely new models — of founders, of company creation, of the businesses themselves — that will require scientists, entrepreneurs and investors to reimagine and reinvent how they create bio companies.

In the past, biotech VC firms handled this combination of specialized knowledge + binary risk + outsized opportunity with a unique “company creation” model. In this model, there are scientific founders, yes; but the VC firm essentially founded and built the company itself — all the way from matching a scientific advance with an unmet medical need, to licensing IP, to having partners take on key roles such as CEO in the early stages, to then recruiting a seasoned management team to execute on the vision.

Image: PASIEKA/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images

You could call this the startup equivalent of being born and bred in captivity — where great care and feeding early in life helps ensure that the company is able to thrive. Here the scientific founders tend to play more of an advisory role (usually keeping day jobs in academia to create new knowledge and frontiers), while experienced “drug hunters” operate the machinery of bringing new discoveries to the patient’s bedside. This model’s core purpose is to bring the right expertise to the table to de-risk these incredibly challenging enterprises — nobody is born knowing how to make a medicine.

But the ecosystem this model evolved from is evolving itself. Emerging fields like computational biology and biological engineering have created a new breed of founder, native to biology, engineering and computer science, that are already, by definition, the leading experts in their fledgling fields. Their advances are helping change the industry, shifting drug discovery away from a highly bespoke process — where little knowledge carries over from the success or failure of one drug to the next — to a more iterative, building-block approach like engineering.

Take gene therapy: once we learn how to deliver a gene to a specific cell in a given disease, it is significantly more likely we will be able to deliver a different gene to a different cell for another disease. Which means there’s an opportunity not only for novel therapies but also the potential for new business models. Imagine a company that provides gene delivery capability to an entire industry — GaaS: gene-delivery as a service!

Once a founder has an idea, the costs of testing it out have changed too. The days of having to set up an entire lab before you could run your first experiments are gone. In the same way that AWS made starting a tech company vastly faster and easier, innovations like shared lab spaces and wetlab accelerators have dramatically reduced the cost and speed required to get a bio startup off the ground. Today it costs thousands, not millions, for a “killer experiment” that will give a founding team (and investors) early conviction.

What all this amounts to is scientific founders now have the option of launching bio companies without relying on VCs to create them on their behalf. And many are. The new generation of bio companies being launched by these founders are more akin to being born in the wild. It isn’t easy; in fact, it’s a jungle out there, so you need to make mistakes, learn quickly, hone your instincts, and be well-equipped for survival. On the other hand, given the transformative potential of engineering-based bio platforms, the cubs that do survive can grow into lions.

Image via Getty Images / KTSDESIGN/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

So, which is better for a bio startup today: to be born in the wild — with all the risk and reward that entails — or to be raised in captivity

The “bred in captivity” model promises sureness, safety, security. A VC-created bio company has cache and credibility right off the bat. Launch capital is essentially guaranteed. It attracts all-star scientists, executives and advisors — drawn by the balance of an innovative, agile environment and a well-funded, well-connected support network. I was fortunate enough to be an early executive in one of these companies, giving me the opportunity to work alongside industry luminaries and benefit from their well-versed knowledge of how to build a world-class bio company with all its complex component parts: basic, translational, clinical research, from scratch. But this all comes at a price.

Because it’s a heavy lift for the VCs, scientific founders are usually left with a relatively small slug of equity — even founding CEOs can end up with ~5% ownership. While these companies often launch with headline-grabbing funding rounds of $50m or above, the capital is tranched — meaning money is doled out as planned milestones are achieved. But the problem is, things rarely go according to plan. Tranched capital can be a safety net, but you can get tangled in that net if you miss a milestone.

Being born in the wild, on the other hand, trades safety for freedom. No one is building the company on your behalf; you’re in charge, and you bear the risk. As a recent graduate, I co-founded a company with Harvard geneticist George Church. The company was bootstrapped — a funding strategy that was more famine than feast — but we were at liberty to try new things and run (un)controlled experiments like sequencing heavy metal wildman Ozzy Osbourne.

It was the early, Wild West days of the genomics revolution and many of the earliest biotech companies mirrored that experience — they weren’t incepted by VCs; they were created by scrappy entrepreneurs and scientists-turned-CEO. Take Joshua Boger, organic chemist and founder of Vertex Pharmaceuticals: starting in 1989 his efforts to will into existence a new way to develop drugs, thrillingly captured in Barry Werth’s The Billion-Dollar Molecule and its sequel The Antidote in all its warts and nail-biting glory, ultimately transformed how we treat HIV, hepatitis C and cystic fibrosis.

Today we’re in a back-to-the-future moment and the industry is being increasingly pushed forward by this new breed of scientist-entrepreneur. Students-turned-founder like Diego Rey of in vitro diagnostics company GeneWEAVE and Ramji Srinivasan of clinical laboratory Counsyl helped transform how we diagnose disease and each led their companies to successful acquisitions by larger rivals.

Popular accelerators like Y Combinator and IndieBio are filled with bio companies driven by this founder phenotype. Ginkgo Bioworks, the first bio company in Y Combinator and today a unicorn, was founded by Jason Kelly and three of his MIT biological engineering classmates, along with former MIT professor and synthetic biology legend Tom Knight. The company is not only innovating new ways to program biology in order to disrupt a broad range of industries, but it’s also pioneering an innovative conglomerate business model it has dubbed the “Berkshire for biotech.”

Like the Ginkgo founders, Alec Nielsen and Raja Srinivas launched their startup Asimov, an ambitious effort to program cells using genetic circuits, shortly after receiving their PhDs in biological engineering from MIT. And, like Boger, renowned machine learning Stanford professor Daphne Koller is working to once again transform drug discovery as the founder and CEO of Instiro.

Just like making a medicine, no one is born knowing how to build a company. But in this new world, these technical founders with deep domain expertise may even be more capable of traversing the idea maze than seasoned operators. Engineering-based platforms have the potential to create entirely new applications with unprecedented productivity, creating opportunities for new breakthroughs, novel business models, and new ways to build bio companies. The well-worn playbooks may be out of date.

Founders that choose to create their own companies still need investors to scrub in and contribute to the arduous labor of company-building — but via support, guidance, and with access to networks instead. And like this new generation of founders, bio investors today need to rethink (and re-value) the promise of the new, and still appreciate the hard-earned wisdom of the old. In other words, bio investors also need to be multidisciplinary. And they need to be comfortable with a different kind of risk: backing an unproven founder in a new, emerging space. As a founder, if you’re willing to take your chances in the wild, you should have an investor that understands you, believes in you, can support you and, importantly, is willing to dream big with you.


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Startups seek sperm… And venture capital backing – gpgmail


Hello and welcome back to Equity, gpgmail’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week we were helmed by Kate Clark and Alex Wilhelm, but those of you who love the show having guests on don’t despair. As we explain at the top, there’s a lot of folks coming on the show soon, many of whom you know by name.

But that’s to come, and we had a lot to chat through this week. Including, right from the jump, the latest gyrations in the stock market. Earlier this week tech stocks, and especially cloud and SaaS stocks, took a nosedive. Sentiment swung around later in the week when markets caught their breath and Lyft’s earnings went well. But the movement in highly-valued SaaS companies caught our eye. Perhaps if the market finally does correct, we’ll see growth stakes take the worst of it.

But it wasn’t all bad news on the show, a new app that raised $5 million caught Kate’s attention. It’s called Squad and it’s now backed by First Round Capital, the seed fund behind the likes of Uber . You can read Kate’s interview with the founder, Esther Crawford, here.

Next, we turned to two startups that are focused on male reproductive health. While we’ve covered startups focused on fertility before on the show, this is the first time we’ve delved into male-focused services that are designed to help men take part in conception. The news here is Dadi has raised another $5 million in venture capital funding. Legacy, the other male fertility company we discussed, is taking part in Y Combinator’s summer batch right now.

On the IPO-ish beat, we talked about Postmates which has a new stadium partnership, and, more importantly, permission to use cute robots to deliver things in San Francisco. After hearing about how small, rolling robots will handle last-mile deliveries for years, we’re excited for them to actually make it to market. In our view, technology of this sort won’t eliminate the need for human workers at on-demand shops, though they may replace some routine runs. Bring on the burrito robots.

We closed on Airbnb’s purchase of Urbandoor, yet another acquisition from the popular home-sharing company that will eventually go public. It has to, right? Perhaps Urbandoor will help unlock new revenues in the corporate travel space before we see an S-1. After all, Airbnb wants to debut with plenty of growth under its belt to help it meet valuation expectations. Adding revenue to its core business could be a good way to ensure that there’s new top-line to report.

More to come, including something special next week!

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.




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MaC Ventures, the brainchild of Adrian Fenty and Marlon Nichols, is quietly making its first investments – gpgmail


MaC Ventures, the new Los Angeles-based investment firm formed from the merger of Cross Culture Ventures and M Ventures, has quietly started deploying capital from its fund.

One of the firm’s first disclosed investments is Edge Delta, which announced a $3 million seed round earlier this week.

The Seattle-based company, which has a tool to predict and identify faulty code and potential security issues in software designed for mobile environments, reflects the new continuing focus on companies that reflect the changing cultural environments throughout the commercial, cultural and technological worlds.

And if anyone knows anything about downtime and application failures, it would be the two co-founders who have held positions at Microsoft, Twitter and Sumo Logic. That’s the background Ozan Unlu, a Microsoft and Sumo Logic alum, and Fatih Yildiz, who spent years at Twitter and Microsoft, will leverage as they pitch their services. 

“We have reached the inflection point for centralized security analytics, SIEM products like Splunk are struggling to scale and a lack of mature SaaS offerings mean that if customers want to keep up with growth in their environments, innovation is required,” said Will Peteroy, founder and chief executive of ICEBRG (acquired in 2018) and chief technology officer for Security at Gigamon, in a statement.

That innovation is something that M Ventures and Cross Culture have tried to identify according to previous statements from both founders. And the merger between both firms was likely about growth and scale. Both firms have co-invested on a number of deals and both share the same emphasis on cultural shifts that create new opportunities.

Shared portfolio companies between the two firms include Blavity, BlocPower and Mayvenn, and each reflect a different aspect of the firms’ commitment to the transformations impacting culture and community in the twenty-first century.

BlocPower is focused on urban resiliency and health in the face of new challenges to the power grid; Blavity has become the online community for black creativity and news; and Mayvenn is leveraging the economics of community to create new entrepreneurs and enable new businesses.

For Adrian Fenty and Marlon Nichols — the two managing general partners of the new fund — and general partners Charles King and Michael Palank and partner Alyson DeNardo, MaC Ventures is a logical next step in their progression in the venture business.

Fenty, the former mayor of Washington, DC and an early special advisor to Andreessen Horowitz seven years ago, has long been interested in the intersection of technology and governance and said that politics was a great introduction to the venture world in an interview with gpgmail when he joined Andreessen:

“As a mayor you have a lot of districts you work with, and every day is different,” Fenty said, noting that the same could be said for VCs who work with different startups. However, the pace will likely be a bit quicker in this space than it is in the political realm. “I believe that change should happen fast and in big ways, and that’s the tech industry,” he said. “Some of these entrepreneurs and CEOs, their energy and ability to come up with new ideas is infectious.”

As for Nichols, the introduction to venture capital came through work at Intel Capital before striking out with Troy Carter, a limited partner in the MaC Ventures fund, to form Cross Culture.

As the new firm finds its legs, it’s likely that some of the guiding principles that Nichols expressed when talking about Cross Culture will carry over to the new vehicle.

“This is the time to be here,” Nichols said in an interview earlier this year. “If you are going to invest in the companies of tomorrow you have to go where the world is moving to — and that’s black and brown, honestly.”


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Early-bird pricing ends next week for TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019 – gpgmail


Here are five words you’ll never hear spring from the mouth of an early-stage startupper. “I don’t mind paying more.” We feel you, and that’s why we’re letting you know that the price of admission to TC Sessions Enterprise 2019, which takes place on September 5, goes up next week.

Our $249 early-bird ticket price remains in play until 11:59 p.m. (PT) on August 9. Buy your ticket now and save $100.

Now that you’ve scored the best possible price, get ready to experience a full day focused on what’s around the corner for enterprise — the biggest and richest startup category in Silicon Valley. More than 1,000 attendees, including many of the industry’s top founders, CEOs, investors and technologists, will join gpgmail’s editors onstage for interviews covering all the big enterprise topics — AI, the cloud, Kubernetes, data and security, marketing automation and event quantum computing, to name a few.

This conference features more than 20 sessions on the main stage, plus separate Q&As with the speakers and breakout sessions. Check out the agenda here.

Just to peek at one session, gpgmail’s Connie Loizos will interview three top VCs — Jason Green (Emergence Capital), Maha Ibrahim (Canaan Partners) and Rebecca Lynn (Canvas Ventures) — in a session entitled Investing with an Eye to the Future. In an ever-changing technological landscape, it’s not easy for VCs to know what’s coming next and how to place their bets. Yet, it’s the job of investors to peer around the corner and find the next big thing, whether that’s in AI, serverless, blockchain, edge computing or other emerging technologies. Our panel will look at the challenges of enterprise investing, what they look for in enterprise startups and how they decide where to put their money.

Want to boost your ROI? Take advantage of our group discount — save 20% when you buy four or more tickets at once. And remember, for every ticket you buy to TC Sessions: Enterprise, we’ll register you for a free Expo Only pass to gpgmail Disrupt SF on October 2-4.

TC Sessions: Enterprise takes place September 5, but your chance to save $100 ends next week. No one enjoys paying more, so buy an early-bird ticket today, cross it off your to-do list and enjoy your savings.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.


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