Uber has surveyed some drivers on small loans, suggesting financial products are coming – gpgmail


Back in June Uber went on a hiring spree in New York, hiring at least 100 fintech-oriented tech workers to ostensibly look at creating products to increase loyalty and engagement among users and drivers, including things like banking. Cue a flurry of speculation. It now looks like Uber is taking baby-steps towards building such a raft of products out, potentially by offering loans directly to drivers, according to a report from Recode/Vox.

The story is based on the emergence of an in-app survey which was sent to some drivers talking about a “new financial product” aimed at drivers “in a time of need.” The survey then went on to question drivers’ use of financing loans of $1,000 or less in the last three years. It asked “what amount are you most likely to request?” It then gave them options top pick from “Less than $100,” “Between $100 and $250,” “Between $250 and $500” and “More than $500.”

At this time there’s no indication of timing on a small loans product offering to drivers, and Uber has not publicly commented on the emergence of the survey’s existence.

However, Uber already has form in this space. It has offered cash advance programs to drivers in California and Michigan, although the company was criticised for what some called “pay-day loans”. It’s also offered leases on new cars to drivers in the past and currently offers a co-branded credit card with Visa and an Uber Cash digital wallet for riders.

Uber would not be alone in rolling out small cash loans to its workers, given given that large companies such as Walmart and others already offer lucrative payroll advances and loans to employees.

But the fact that it now has a very large FinTech team suggests this won’t the end of us hearing about Uber’s tentative moves into this space.


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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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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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What is Andela, the Africa tech talent accelerator? – gpgmail


As someone who covers Africa’s tech scene, I’m frequently asked about Andela. That’s not surprising, given the venture gets more global press (arguably) than any startup in Africa.

I’ve found many Silicon Valley investors have heard of Andela but aren’t exactly sure what it does.

In a bite, 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.

The revenue-focused venture is often misread as a charity. In 2017, Andela CEO Jeremy Johnson described the organization as “a mission-driven for-profit company” ― a model for the concept “that you can actually build businesses that create real impact.”

I asked Johnson recently to clarify the objective behind Andela’s drive. “It’s the exact same mission as when we started, based around our founding principle… that brilliance and talent are distributed equally around the world, but opportunity is not,” he said.

“We’re about breaking down the walls that prevent brilliance and opportunity from connecting to each other.”

A major barrier for Africa’s software engineers, according to Johnson, is simply the fact that the continent has been totally off the network that companies look to for developer talent.


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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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Y Combinator graduate PredictLeads helps VCs hunt for unicorns – gpgmail


The Slovenian founders behind PredictLeads, another recent Y Combinator graduate, applied to the prestigious accelerator five times before they were admitted.

Their business, which helps venture capital firms and sales teams identify high growth companies, i.e. potential investments and potential customers, had come a long way since it was founded in 2016. And earlier this year — finally — YC gave them the green light to complete its three-month accelerator program.

“We almost ran out of money in 2017 and then I took a loan from my mother because that bank wouldn’t give me the loan at that point,” PredictLeads chief executive officer Roq Xever tells gpgmail. “But by then, the data was getting much better and we were able to make higher-value sells and that got us to profitability.”

You read that right. Unlike most of today’s tech startups, PredictLeads is profitable, though, only out of pure necessity: “We didn’t know we would ever get into YC to raise the money we needed, so we structured the company to make more money than we spent.”

Xever leads the small PredictLeads team alongside marketing chief Miha Stanovnik and chief technology officer Matic Perovsek. Xever tells gpgmail it wasn’t until they realized the opportunity to sell their product to VCs that YC became interested. Today, PredictLeads has eight venture firms as customers, the names of which they were not able to disclose.

The tool helps investors track companies they’ve considered in the past. PredictLeads notifies users if certain companies start getting traction so they can reevaluate the deal and helps investors become aware of startups they may not have otherwise heard of.

More and more venture capital firms are turning to third-party tools to help them make sense of and leverage data in the investment and company-tracking process, leading to the birth of new data-focused companies. Social Capital co-founder Chamath Palihapitiya is spinning out a company from his venture capital fund-turned-family-office, gpgmail learned earlier this year. The new entity, temporarily dubbed CaaS (short for capital-as-a-service) Technologies, will focus on providing data-driven insights to VC firms, for example.

Startups have also realized the importance of data. Narrator, another recent YC graduate, is betting big on this trend. The startup wants to become the operating system for data science by providing companies software that claims to fulfill the same service as a data team for the price of an analyst.

PredictLeads, for its part, collects data from websites, press releases, news articles, blogs and career sites, then uses supervised machine learning to extract and structure the data. The startup tracks 20 million public and private companies.

Now that it’s a graduate of YC, the team is in the process of moving its headquarters to the U.S. Either New York or San Francisco, says Xever, who’s currently navigating the difficult visa application process.

The startup is today raising a $1.5 million seed financing at a $10 million valuation. They plan to use the capital to expand their service to cater to quant funds, build a Salesforce app to better support sales teams, and, of course, expand their small team.


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Tastemakers raises $1.4M to sell Africa experiences to the world – gpgmail


New York based startup Tastemakers has raised a $1.4 million seed-round—led Precursor Ventures—for its business that connects Africa adventures to global consumers.

Tastemakers’ platform curates, prices, and lists African travel and cultural experiences—from paragliding tours to wine-tasting to concerts.

The startup generates revenues by taking a 20% commission on each transaction. Community managers in Africa screen and select experiences that go up on the site .

Tastemakers will use the investment to grow the number of experiences offered from 200 to 10,000 and build out machine learning capabilities to better match suppliers, experiences, and clients—CEO and founder Cherae Robinson told gpgmail.

She likened the site to an Airbnb for commoditizing and connecting people to Africa travel experiences at scale.

On the startup’s addressable market, Robinson references a segment of culture curious travelers: people who are travelling to experience things such foreign art, food, music, or dance workshops.

“We looked at who’s doing these kinds of tours and and the number of people booking…and we found that globally, based on triangulating that, there are about 700 million people globally booking culture forward experiences,” said Robinson.

For different reasons—from negative stereotypes or the difficulty of identifying tourist options in Africa—most of these excursions are occurring in other parts of the world, according to Robinson.

She sees Tastemakers’ value proposition as the site that can bring a greater percentage of these culture travelers to Africa.

On revenue potential, Robinson is pretty up front on numbers and goals. “If we can capture 1% of that [700 million] market in the next five years that’s $2.2 billion generated on our platform,” she said, noting an average booking cost of $308. She believes Tastemakers could hit those figures by 2025—and by applying their 20 percent commission—reach income of $434 million.

Tastemakers Africa Ghana III

Precursor Ventures Managing Partner Charles Hudson invested in Tastemakers for its potential as an early entrant in an off the grid travel market attracting more curiosity.

“I just had a sense that Africa was having a moment, and whether its Black Panther or more startups that have a foot in Africa, that there were more people interested in going to Africa,” he told gpgmail.

“And it’s not like going to New York City…You have providers that are hard to find and hard to book..that are not super well marketed. If you can become an aggregator and curator of those, you could effectively become the largest source of lead generation,” Hudson said.

Tastemakers is looking at  ancillary partnership and revenue share opportunities. It uses Stripe and WorldRemit to process mobile payments for transactions on the site and has done promotional partnerships with Uber Africa. The startup also counts Kempinski Hotels as its biggest lodging partner.

Tastemakers also offers advisory services to sellers on the site, to better determine price-points and on marketing their travel experiences more effectively online.

CEO Cherae Robinson is clear about the company’s for-profit status, but sees upside for Africa beyond generating business from tourism. “I strategically don’t brand Tastemakers as a social impact startup…but we’re driving benefits of the sharing economy to diverse populations both in Africa and in underrepresented communities in the technology and tourism sectors,” she said.

 


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On-demand parking startup SpotHero raises $50 million – gpgmail


SpotHero, the Chicago-based company that has developed an on-demand parking app, has raised $50 million in a Series D round led by Macquarie Capital.

Union Grove Venture Partners participated in the round, along with existing investors including Insight Venture Partners, Global Founders Capital, OCA Ventures, AutoTech Ventures and others, according to the company. SpotHero has raised $118 million to date.

SpotHero said Thursday that this new capital will be used to grow into new markets and expand in its existing ones, build out its digital platform and strengthen partnerships with mobility companies.

SpotHero, which has operations in San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C. and Seattle, initially set out to develop software that connects everyday drivers to parking spots in thousands of garages across North America.

SpotHero has expanded its focus in the eight years since its founding. The company has added other services as urban density has increased and on-street parking has become more jumbled and confused thanks to an increase in traffic, ride-hailing and on-demand delivery services that take up valuable curb space. It has locked in more than 900 distribution partnerships and integrations including Google Assistant, for voice-enabled parking and Waze in-app navigation to parking. Other partners include Hertz and car2go for fleet parking, WeWork, for commuter parking and Moovit, for multi-modal parking.

Most recently, SpotHero launched a new service dubbed “SpotHero for Fleets” that targets shared mobility and on-demand services.

The service aims to be a one-stop shop for car-sharing and commercial fleets to handle all that goes into ensuring there is access and the right number of designated parking areas on any given day within SpotHero’s large network of 6,500 garages across 300 cities. That means everything from managing the relationships between garage owners and the fleet companies to proper signage so car-sharing customers can find the vehicles, as well as flexible plans that account for seasonal demands on businesses.

Under the new service, customers are able to source and secure parking inventory in high-traffic areas across multiple cities and pay per use across multiple parking facilities on one invoice to streamline payments. 

The company has signed on car-sharing companies and other commercial fleets, although it’s not naming them yet.


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DigitalOcean launches managed MySQL and Redis database services – gpgmail


Half a year after launching its managed PostgreSQL service, upstart hosting and cloud services platform DigitalOcean today announced the launch of its managed MySQL and Redis database offerings, too.

Like most of the company’s latest releases, this move exemplifies DigitalOcean’s ambition to move beyond its discount hosting roots and to become a more fully-fledged cloud provider. Besides the database service and its core hosting products and infrastructure, the company now offers object and block storage and a Kubernetes engine, which itself can be used to run virtually any modern piece of cloud infrastructure. It’s unlikely to catch up with the hyperclouds anytime soon, but it’s good to have a competitor in the market.

“With the additions of MySQL and Redis, DigitalOcean now supports three of the most requested database offerings, making it easier for developers to build and run applications, rather than spending time on complex management,” said Shiven Ramji, DigitalOcean’s Senior VP of Product. “The developer is not just the DNA of DigitalOcean, but the reason for much of the company’s success. We must continue to build on this success and support developers with the services they need most on their journey towards simple app development.”

Pricing for the managed database services remains the same, no matter which engine you choose.

The new database services are now available in the company’s New York, Frankfurt and San Francisco data centers. Support for other database engines is also in the works. As the company notes, it selected MySQL and Redis because of popular demand from its developer community and it will do so for other engines as well. MySQL and Redis were the only services on DigitalOcean’s roadmap for 2019, though, so I don’t expect we’ll see any additional releases before the end of the year.


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Protein replacement startups are coming for food additives as Shiru launches from Y Combinator – gpgmail


Shiru, a new company that’s launching from the latest batch of Y Combinator-backed startups, is joining the ranks of the businesses angling for a spot at the vanguard of the new food technology revolution.

The company was founded by Jasmin Hume, the former director of food chemistry at Just (the company formerly known as Hampton Creek) and takes its name from a homophone of the Chinese shi rou (which Hume has roughly translated to an examination of meat). At Just, Hume was working with a team that was fractionating plants to look at their physical properties to identify what products could be made from the various proteins and chemicals researchers found in the plants.

Shiru, by contrast, is using computational biology to find the ideal proteins for specific applications in the food industry.

The company’s looking at what proteins are best for creating certain kinds of qualities that are used in food additives, things like viscosity building, solubility, foam stability, emulsification, and biding, according to Hume.

In some ways, Hume’s approach looks similar to the early product roadmap for Geltor, a company backed by SOSV and IndieBio that was also looking to make functional proteins. The company, which has raised over $18 million to date, shifted its attention to proteins for the beauty industry and cosmetics instead of food — potentially leaving an opening for Shiru to exploit.

 Still in its early days, Shiru doesn’t have a product nailed down yet, but the company the science the company is exploring is increasingly well understood, and Hume says it’s looking at several different genetically engineered feedstocks — from yeasts to undisclosed strains of bacteria and fungi to make its proteins. 

“We use the power of molecular design and machine learning to identify protein structures that are more functional than existing alternatives,” says Hume. “The proteins that we are screening for are inspired by nature.”

Hume’s path to founding Shiru involves quite the pedigree. Before Just, she received her doctorate in materials chemistry from New York University, and she’d spent a stretch as a summer associate at the New York-based frontier technology-focused investment firm Lux Capital.

Hume expects to begin pilot production of initial proteins later this year and be producing small but repeatable quantities by the end of 2020.

The company hasn’t raised any outside capital before Y Combinator and is currently in the process of raising a round, Hume said.

 


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