Startups Weekly: What countries want your startup?

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They say business needs certainty to succeed, but new tech startups are still getting funded aggressively despite the pandemic, recession, trade wars and various large disasters created by nature or humans. But before we get to the positive data, let’s spend some time reviewing the hard news — there is a lot of it to process.

TikTok is on track to get banned if it doesn’t get sold first, and leading internet company Tencent’s WeChat is on the list as well, plus Trump administration has a bigger “Clean Network” plan in the works. The TikTok headlines are the least significant part, even if they are dominating the media cycle. The video-sharing social network is just now emerging as an intriguing marketing channel, for example. And if it goes, few see any real opening in the short-form video space that market leaders aren’t already deep into. Indeed, TikTok wasn’t a startup story since the Musical.ly acquisition. It was actually part of an emerging global market battle between giant internet companies, that is being prematurely ended by political forces. We’ll never know if TikTok could have continued leveraging ByteDance’s vast resources and protected market in China to take on Facebook directly on its home turf.

Instead of quasi-monopolies trying to finish taking over the world, those with a monopoly on violence have scrambled the map. WeChat is mainly used by the Chinese diaspora in the US, including many US startups with friends, family and colleagues in China. And the Clean Network plan would potentially split the Chinese mobile ecosystem from iOS and Android globally.

Let’s not forget that Europe has also been busy regulating foreign tech companies, including from both the US and China. Now every founder has to wonder how big their TAM is going to be in a world cleaved back the leading nation-states and their various allies.

“It’s not about the chilling effect [in Hong Kong],” an American executive in China told Rita Liao this week about the view in China’s startup world. “The problem is there won’t be opportunities in the U.S., Canada, Australia or India any more. The chance of succeeding in Europe is also becoming smaller, and the risks are increasing a lot. From now on, Chinese companies going global can only look to Southeast Asia, Africa and South America.”

The silver lining, I hope, is that tech companies from everywhere are still going to be competing in regions of the world that will appreciate the interest.

Startup fundraising activity is booming and set to boom more

A fresh analysis from our friends over at Docsend reveals that startup investment activity has actually sped up this year, at least by the measure of pitchdeck activity on its document management platform used by thousands of companies in Silicon Valley and globally (which makes it a key indicator of this hard-to-see action).

Founders are sending out more links than before and VCs are racing through more decks faster, despite the gyrations of the pandemic and other shocks. Meanwhile, many startups shared that they had cut back hard in March and now have more room to wait or raise on good terms. Docsend CEO Russ Heddleston concludes that the rest of the year could actually see activity increase further as companies finish adjusting to the latest challenges and are ready to go back out to market.

All this should shape how you approach your pitchdeck, he writes separately for Extra Crunch. Additional data shows that decks should be on the short side, must include a “why now” slide that addresses the COVID-19 era, and show big growth opportunities in the financials.

Image Credits: Cadalpe (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

SaaS founders could transcend VC fundraising via securitized debt

“In one decade, we went from buying licenses for software to paying monthly for services and in the process, revolutionized the hundreds of billions spent on enterprise IT,” Danny Crichton observes. “There is no reason why in another decade, SaaS founders with the metrics to prove it shouldn’t have access to less dilutive capital through significantly more sophisticated debt underwriting. That’s going to be a boon for their own returns, but a huge challenge for VC firms that have been doubling down on SaaS.”

Sure, the market is sort of providing this with various existing venture debt vehicles, and by other routes like private equity (which has acquired a taste for SaaS metrics this past decade). Danny sees a more sophisticated world evolving, as he details on Extra Crunch this week. First, he sees underwriters tying loans to recurring revenues, even to the point that your customers could be your assets that the bank takes if you go bust. The trend could then build from there:

Part two is to take all those individual loans and package them together into a security… Imagine being an investor who believes that the world is going to digitize payroll. Maybe you don’t know which of the 30 SaaS providers on the market are going to win. Rather than trying your luck at the VC lottery, you could instead buy “2018 SaaS payroll debt” securities, which would give you exposure to this market that’s safer, if without the sort of exponential upside typical of VC investments. You could imagine grouping debt by market sector, or by customer type, or by geography, or by some other characteristic.

Image Credits: Hussein Malla / AP

Help the startup scene in Beirut

Beirut is home to a vibrant startup scene but like the rest of Lebanon it is reeling from a massive explosion at its main port this week. Mike Butcher, who has helped connect TechCrunch with the city over the years, has put together a guide to local people and organizations that you can help out, along with stories from local founders about what they are overcoming. Here’s Cherif Massoud, a dental surgeon turned founder of invisible-braces startup Basma:

We are a team of 25 people and were all in our office in Beirut when it happened. Thankfully we all survived. No words can describe my anger. Five of us were badly injured with glass shattered on their bodies. The fear we lived was traumatizing. The next morning day, we went back to the office to clean all the mess, took measurements of all the broken windows and started rebuilding it. It’s a miracle we are alive. Our markets are mainly KSA and UAE, so customers were still buying our treatments online, but the team needed to recover so we decided to take a break, stop the operations for a few days and rest until next Monday.

How to build a great “revenue stack”

Every business has been scrambling to figure out online sales and marketing during the pandemic. Fortunately the Cambrian explosion of SaaS products began years ago and now there are many powerful options for revenue teams of all shapes and sizes. The problem is how to put everything together right for your company’s needs. Tim Porter and Erica La Cava of Madrona Venture Group have created a framework for how to build what they call the “revenue stack.” While most companies are already using some form of CRM, communications and agreement management software generally, each one needs to figure out four new “capabilities.” What they define as revenue enablement, sales engagement, conversational intelligence and revenue operations.

Here’s a sample from Extra Crunch, about sales engagement:

Some think of sales engagement as an intelligent e-mail cannon and analysis engine on steroids. While in reality, it is much more. Consider these examples: How can I communicate with prospects in a way that is both personalized and efficient? How do I make my outbound sales reps more productive and enable them to respond more quickly to leads? What tools can help me with account-based marketing? What happened to that email you sent out to one of your sales prospects?

Now, take these questions and multiply them by a hundred, or even a thousand: How do you personalize a multitouch nurture campaign at scale while managing and automating outreach to many different business personas across various industry segments? Uh-oh. Suddenly, it gets very complicated. What sales engagement comes down to is the critical understanding of sending the right information to the right customer, and then (and only then) being able to track which elements of that information worked (e.g., led to clicks, conversations and conversions) … and, finally, helping your reps do more of that. We see Outreach as the clear leader here, based in Seattle, with SalesLoft as the number two. Outreach in particular is investing considerably in adding additional intelligence and ML to their offering to increase automation and improve outcomes.

Around TechCrunch

Hear how working from home is changing startups and investing at Disrupt 2020

Extra Crunch Live: Join Wealthfront CEO Andy Rachleff August 11 at 1pm EDT/10am PDT about the future of investing and fintech

Register for Disrupt to take part in our content series for Digital Startup Alley exhibitors

Boston Dynamics CEO Rob Playter is coming to Disrupt 2020 to talk robotics and automation

Across the week

TechCrunch
The tale of 2 challenger bank models

Majority of tech workers expect company solidarity with Black Lives Matter

‘Made in America’ is on (government) life support, and the prognosis isn’t good

What Microsoft should demand in exchange for its ‘payment’ to the US government for TikTok

Equity Monday: Could Satya and TikTok make ByteDance investors happy enough to dance?

Extra Crunch
5 VCs on the future of Michigan’s startup ecosystem

Eight trends accelerating the age of commercial-ready quantum computing

A look inside Gmail’s product development process

The story behind Rent the Runway’s first check

After Shopify’s huge quarter, BigCommerce raises its IPO price range

#EquityPod

From Alex Wilhelm:

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

As ever, I was joined by TechCrunch managing editor Danny Crichton and our early-stage venture capital reporter Natasha Mascarenhas. We had Chris on the dials and a pile of news to get through, so we were pretty hyped heading into the show.

But before we could truly get started we had to discuss Cincinnati, and TikTok. Pleasantries and extortion out of the way, we got busy:

It was another fun week! As always we appreciate you sticking with and supporting the show!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PT and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.


Source: Tech Crunch

Share Ventures, an LA-based studio for company creation, is MoviePass co-founder Hamet Watt’s next act

Nearly eight years ago, Hamet Watt and Stacy Spikes launched MoviePass, the subscription-based movie ticketing service that captured the minds and dollars of investors and brought thousands of cinephiles a too-good-to-be-true deal for all-you-can watch movie passes.

Watt, who came to MoviePass as an entrepreneur in residence at True Ventures, previously founded the brand and product placement startup NextMedium and also spent time as a board partner at Upfront Ventures. Now, the serial entrepreneur and startup investor is combining his two career paths under the auspices of Share Ventures.

“It’s what I feel like I’ve been put here to do,” says Watt. “I love solving problems with design and entrepreneurship. I wasn’t fully scratching the itch as an investor by itself.”

With $10 million in financing from a slew of investors including Upfront Ventures, Alpha Edison, the general partners and founders of True Ventures, and a Korean family office, Share Ventures will look to launch between two and four companies per year.

Watt says that the new studio will focus on what he calls “human performance”. The businesses will use a blend of technology and human interaction to create services targeting fitness, nutrition, and mental health, according to Watt.

Share Ventures’ initial focus will be on two main areas, the future of living and the future of working. Within those two areas, the company will focus on developing businesses that enable the development of individual purpose, mental and physical enhancement, and personal and professional growth, according to Watt. And

Image Credit: Share Ventures

For Watt, the studio model represents the next iteration of startup investing. “We think the studio is going to lead the way,” he says.

Rather than invest in companies and management teams that are unknown quantities, Watt thinks the studio will be able to create discrete companies much faster in the same way that companies today iterate on new products and services.

“We have aggregated tools into a company building stack,” says Watt. “These are tools that are usable that third parties have developed and internal tool stacks.”

Image Credit: Share Ventures

Watt says Share Ventures will operate as a holding company with pooled equity shared across the employees at the company. “As we work on portfolio companies and build out dedicated teams, there’s a generous pool to incentivize talent.”

In some ways, the model isn’t that different from Bill Gross’ idealab, the Pasadena, Calif.-based incubator company that’s a few miles up the road from Share Ventures Los Angeles home base. Another inspiration is @Ventures, the dot-com era company that built a number of different portfolio companies. “Our investors are getting founders takes in all the companies that we build,” Watt says.

The company has ten people on staff to help build its first slate of companies.

Watt began talking to investors in 2018 about the idea and spent the bulk of 2019 trying to build out its first few companies.

We run a lot of experiments, we generate a lot of ideas,” Watt says. “The number of shots on goal that we’re taking before we launch a company is significant.”


Source: Tech Crunch

How I accidentally gatecrashed a startup’s morning meeting

There’s a certain kind of panic that at some point gets us all.

You just got to work but did you leave the oven on at home? The gut-punch “call me ASAP” message from your boss but now they’re not answering their phone. Or that moment you unexpectedly see your camera light flash on your computer and you’re suddenly in a video call with a ton of people you don’t know.

Yes, that last one was me. In my defense it was only slightly my fault.

I got a tip about a new security startup, with fresh funding and an idea that caught my interest. I didn’t have much to go on, so I did what any curious reporter did and started digging around. The startup’s website was splashy, but largely word salad. I couldn’t find basic answers to my simple questions. But the company’s idea still seemed smart. I just wanted to know how the company actually worked.

So I poked the website a little harder.

Reporters use a ton of tools to collect information, monitor changes in websites, check if someone opened their email for comment, and to navigate vast pools of public data. These tools aren’t special, reserved only for card-carrying members of the press, but rather open to anyone who wants to find and report information. One tool I use frequently on the security beat lists all the subdomains on a company’s website. These subdomains are public but deliberately hidden from view, yet you can often find things that you wouldn’t from the website itself.

Bingo! I immediately found the company’s pitch deck. Another subdomain had a ton of documentation on how its product works. A bunch of subdomains didn’t load, and a couple were blocked off for employees only. (It’s also a line in the legal sand. If it’s not public and you’re not allowed in, you’re not allowed to knock down the door.)

I clicked on another subdomain. A page flashed open, an icon in my Mac dock briefly bounced, and the camera light flashed on. Before I could register what was happening, I had joined what appeared to be the company’s morning meeting.

The only saving grace was my webcam cover, a proprietary home-made double layer of masking tape that blocked what looked like half a dozen people from staring back at me and my unkempt, pandemic-driven appearance.

I didn’t stick around to explain myself, but quickly emailed the company to warn of the security lapse. The company had hardcoded their Zoom meeting rooms to a number of subdomains on their company’s website. Anyone who knew the easy-to-guess subdomain — trust me, you could guess it — would immediately launch into one of the company’s standing Zoom meetings. No password required.

By the end of the day, the company had pulled the subdomains offline.

Zoom has seen its share of security issues and forced to change default settings to prevent abuse, largely driven by greater scrutiny of the platform as its usage rocketed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

But this wasn’t on Zoom, not this time. This was a company that connected an entirely unprotected Zoom meeting room to a conveniently memorable web address, likely for convenience, but one that could have left lurkers and eavesdroppers in the company’s meetings.

It’s not much to ask to password-protect your Zoom meetings, because next time it probably won’t be me.


Source: Tech Crunch

Daily Crunch: Trump bans transactions with ByteDance and Tencent

Trump escalates his campaign against Chinese tech companies, Facebook extends work from home until the middle of 2021 and Netflix adds support for Hindi. Here’s your Daily Crunch for August 7, 2020.

The big story: Trump signs orders banning US business with TikTok owner ByteDance and Tencent’s WeChat

Both orders will take effect in 45 days, but its specific impact is unclear since Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross will apparently not identify what transactions are covered until then.

This comes after Trump had already said that he was banning TikTok unless the app is sold to an American owner. (Specifically Microsoft, which has acknowledged that it’s in acquisition talks.)

TikTok hit back against the order by saying that it was “issued without any due process” and would risk “undermining global businesses’ trust in the United States’ commitment to the rule of law.”

The tech giants

Facebook extends coronavirus work from home policy until July 2021 — Facebook has joined Google in saying it will allow employees to work from home until the middle of next year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Netflix’s latest effort to make inroads in India: Support for HindiNetflix has rolled out support for Hindi, a language spoken by nearly half a billion people in India.

Judge says Uber, Lyft preliminary injunction ruling to come in ‘a matter of days’ — Lyft argued that reclassifying drivers as employees would cause irreparable harm.

Startups, funding and venture capital

The rules of VC are being broken — The latest episode of Equity discusses “rolling funds” and how they could change the VC landscape.

Mashroom raises £4M for its ‘end-to-end’ lettings and property management service — The startup pitches itself as going “beyond the tenant-finding service” to include the entire rental journey.

Wendell Brooks has resigned as president of Intel Capital — Anthony Lin, who has been leading mergers and acquisitions and international investing, will take over on an interim basis.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

How to pick the right Series A investors — It’s important for founders to get to know the people coming onto their board, and Jake Saper of Emergence Capital has some thoughts on how to do that.

IoT and data science will boost foodtech in the post-pandemic era — Three “must-dos” for post-pandemic retail grocers: rely on the data, rely on the biology and rely on the hardware.

Survey: Tell us what you think of Extra Crunch — Like Extra Crunch? Don’t like Extra Crunch? Tell us why!

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Civic tech platform Mobilize launches a census hub for the 2020 count’s critical final stretch —The new site, GetOutTheCount.com, will amplify nonprofits’ census efforts and collect them in one place.

Federal judge approves ending consent decrees that prevented movie studios from owning theaters — U.S. District Court Judge Analisa Torres cited the rise of streaming services like Netflix as one of the reasons for her decision.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.


Source: Tech Crunch

Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+ hands-on

During an Unpacked event that featured the announcement of five key new devices, the Galaxy Tab S7 didn’t get a ton of love. Understandable, perhaps. It doesn’t quite have the star power of the Note line, nor does it have the novelty of a new foldable or Bluetooth earbuds. Tablets in general just aren’t exciting the way they once were.

But Samsung’s continued to plug away. The company makes a lot of tablets. That’s just kind of its thing. Why make one when you can make a dozen, each with different price points and target audiences? It’s the Galaxy Tab line, however, that’s always been the one to watch, providing a premium slate experience designed to complement its Galaxy handsets.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

In fact, in a world where Android tablets are largely the realm of budget devices, Samsung remains one of the few out there still manufacturing a device that can go head-to-head with the iPad. The latest model brings a number of key features, though the biggest of all isn’t available on the Tab S7+ review unit the company sent along.

The device will be among the first tablets to receive 5G connectivity. Pricing and availability are still forthcoming on that SKU, though, honestly, I don’t imagine a ton of people are going to be demanding cellular connectivity on their tablets as long as so many people continue working from home. When travel finally starts up again, that might be a different story.

That said, the model Samsung sent along just after the Unpacked event is a beast. It’s the specced-up version of the Tab S7+, which starts at $849. The higher tier bumps the RAM up from 6GB to 8GB and the storage from 128GB to 256GB. Add in the bleeding-edge Snapdragon 865+, and you’ve got an extremely capable machine on your hands here.

The design matches the premium specs. Gone is the plasticky design of early models, traded up for a sleek and sturdy glass and aluminum design. It’s a tablet that looks and feels as premium as its price tag indicates. It’s a bit heavy, though, at 1.26 pounds for the 12.4-inch model, versus 1.41 pounds for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. The truth about these devices is they’re no longer designed to be held up above your face as you lie in bed.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

They are, of course, intended to be real multitasking work/play machines. I should note that I’m writing this as someone who continues to use a laptop for all of his work, but I can certainly appreciate the advances the category has made in recent years. I also know a handful of people who have mostly successfully traded in their work machines for a tablet, be it an Android device, Surface or iPad.

A tablet’s worth as a work machine is, of course, only as good as its case — a statement you can’t reasonably make about most products. Along with the device itself, Samsung has upgraded the case in a couple of nice ways. The typing experience doesn’t quite match a devoted laptop keyboard, but it’s been pretty well refined. The keys have a decent amount of travel and a nice spring for a laptop cover. The leather case also detaches into two pieces, so the back can be used as a stand, without the keyboard present. Of course, the trade-off for this sort of case is the fact that it can’t really be used on one’s lap without things falling and pieces detaching.

It wouldn’t be a Samsung tablet without the S Pen, of course. The peripheral is, thankfully, included. There’s no slot for the stylus (something I keep asking for but never get; life’s hard sometimes), but it does snap magnetically to the top of the device, albeit a bit weakly. Samsung has certainly built up a nice little ecosystem for the input device, and I’m pretty consistently impressed that it’s able to recognize and convert my chicken scratch. Seriously, my already terrible penmanship has only atrophied over time.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Points, too, for a beautiful OLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate. Depending on what you’re looking to do with it, you might need to toggle that to save on battery life. Both models are pretty solid on that front, with 8,000 and 10,900 mAh, respectively, but the 5G models will no doubt take a hit.

Samsung is really pushing DeX hard — even harder than it has in the past. You can set it to automatically trigger the desktop approximation when you plug in the keyboard. The interface is an attempt to approximate something akin to the Windows desktop experience, but a number of apps still don’t support the interface and overall it still feels clunky. It’s easy to extrapolate a bit and imagine how it will improve things like multitasking, but it doesn’t feel like it’s quite all the way there.


Source: Tech Crunch

R&D Roundup: Supercomputer COVID-19 insights, ionic spiderwebs, the whiteness of AI

I see far more research articles than I could possibly write up. This column collects the most interesting of those papers and advances, along with notes on why they may prove important in the world of tech and startups. This week: supercomputers take on COVID-19, beetle backpacks, artificial spiderwebs, the “overwhelming whiteness” of AI and more.

First off, if (like me) you missed this amazing experiment where scientists attached tiny cameras to the backs of beetles, I don’t think I have to explain how cool it is. But you may wonder… why do it? Prolific UW researcher Shyam Gollakota and several graduate students were interested in replicating some aspects of insect vision, specifically how efficient the processing and direction of attention is.

The camera backpack has a narrow field of view and uses a simple mechanism to direct its focus rather than processing a wide-field image at all times, saving energy and better imitating how real animals see. “Vision is so important for communication and for navigation, but it’s extremely challenging to do it at such a small scale. As a result, prior to our work, wireless vision has not been possible for small robots or insects,” said Gollakota. You can watch the critters in action below — and don’t worry, the beetles lived long, happy lives after their backpack-wearing days.

The health and medical community is always making interesting strides in technology, but it’s often pretty niche stuff. These two items from recent weeks are a bit more high-profile.

One is a new study being conducted by UCLA in concert with Apple, which especially with its smartwatch has provided lots of excellent data to, for example, studies of arrhythmia. In this case, doctors are looking at depression and anxiety, which are considerably more difficult to quantify and detect. But by using Apple Watch, iPhone and sleep monitor measurements of activity levels, sleep patterns and so on, a large body of standardized data can be amassed.


Source: Tech Crunch

Federal judge approves ending consent decrees that prevented movie studios from owning theaters

A federal judge has approved the Department of Justice’s efforts to end the Paramount Consent Decrees — 70-year-old court orders that prevented movie studios from engaging in a variety of anticompetitive behaviors, including ownership of movie theaters.

U.S. District Court Judge Analisa Torres cited the rise of streaming services like Netflix as one of the reasons for her decision:

Motion picture distributors that are not subject to the Decrees have entered the market since the 1940s — most significantly, The Walt Disney Company, the leading movie distributor in 2018 with about $3 billion in domestic box office revenues … Other motion picture distributors not subject to the Decrees include Lionsgate (20 films released in 2018), Focus Features (13 films), Roadside Attractions (12 films), and STX Entertainment (10 films). …None of the internet streaming companies — Netflix, Amazon, Apple and others — that produce and distribute movies are subject to the Decrees. Thus, the remaining Defendants are subject to legal constraints that do not apply to their competitors.

It’s not clear whether this decision will have any impact on the big streaming services. Torres acknowledged the argument that even when the decrees did not apply to a given studio, they “serve as a yardstick of acceptable behavior, exerting a normative effect on industry actors who are not parties to them.”

But it’s hard to imagine anyone in 2020 thinking it’s a good idea to seriously get into the theatrical business. Domestic attendance was on the decline, even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced most theaters to close.

Netflix and Amazon have shown some interest in owning theaters before this. Amazon was reportedly in the running to acquire in the Landmark theater chain a couple years ago, and rumors that it might acquire AMC sent the theater chain’s stock shooting up earlier this year — but no acquisition has been announced, and in the meantime AMC appears to have stabilized its finances.

Netflix, meanwhile, signed a long-term lease for New York City’s Paris Theatre last year, and it may also have been interested in the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles. However, these seem less like the first steps in a broader theatrical strategy and more like one-off deals designed to give the streamer access to locations that it can use for fancy premieres and other screenings.

The real impact of the ruling may be in other areas, like the elimination (after a two-year sunset period) of restrictions on block booking and circuit dealing. Without those restrictions, studios could potentially require theaters that want access to a lucrative franchise title to screen their less popular films as well.


Source: Tech Crunch

How to pick the right Series A investors

Early-stage startup founders who are embarking on a Series A fundraising round should consider this: their relationship with the members of their board might last longer than the average American marriage.

In other words, who invests in a startup matters as much — or more — than the total capital they’re bringing with them.

It’s important for founders to get to know the people coming onto their board because they’ll likely be a part of the company for a long time, and it’s really hard to fire them, Jake Saper of Emergence Capital noted during TechCrunch’s virtual Early Stage event in July. But forging a connection isn’t as easy as one might think, Saper added.

The fundraising process requires founders to pack in meetings with numerous investors before making a decision in a short period of time. “Neither party really gets to know the other well enough to know if this is a relationship they want to enter into,” Saper said.

“You want to work with people who give you energy,” he added. “And this is why I strongly encourage you to start to get to know potential Series A leads shortly after you close your seed round.”

Here are the best methods to meet, win over and select Series A investors.

Identify industry experts

Saper recommends extending the typically short Series A time frame by identifying a handful of potential leads as soon as a founder has closed their seed round. Founders shouldn’t just pick any one with a big name and impressive fund. Instead, he recommends focusing on investors who are suited to their startup’s business category or industry.


Source: Tech Crunch

IoT and data science will boost foodtech in the post-pandemic era

Even as e-grocery usage has skyrocketed in our coronavirus-catalyzed world, brick-and-mortar grocery stores have soldiered on. While strict in-store safety guidelines may gradually ease up, the shopping experience will still be low-touch and socially distanced for the foreseeable future.

This begs the question: With even greater challenges than pre-pandemic, how can grocers ensure their stores continue to operate profitably?

Just as micro-fulfillment centers (MFCs), dark stores and other fulfillment solutions have been helping e-grocers optimize profitability, a variety of old and new technologies can help brick-and-mortar stores remain relevant and continue churning out cash.

Today, we present three “must-dos” for post-pandemic retail grocers: rely on the data, rely on the biology and rely on the hardware.

Rely on the data

Image Credits: Pixabay/Pexels (opens in a new window)

The hallmark of shopping in a store is the consistent availability and wide selection of fresh items — often more so than online. But as the number of in-store customers continues to fluctuate, planning inventory and minimizing waste has become ever more so a challenge for grocery store managers. Grocers on average throw out more than 12% of their on-shelf produce, which eats into already razor-thin margins.

While e-grocers are automating and optimizing their fulfillment operations, brick-and-mortar grocers can automate and optimize their inventory planning mechanisms. To do this, they must leverage their existing troves of customer, business and external data to glean valuable insights for store managers.

Eden Technologies of Walmart is a pioneering example. Spun out of a company hackathon project, the internal tool has been deployed at over 43 distribution centers nationwide and promises to save Walmart over $2 billion in the coming years. For instance, if a batch of produce intended for a store hundreds of miles away is deemed soon-to-ripen, the tool can help divert it to the nearest store instead, using FDA standards and over 1 million images to drive its analysis.

Similarly, ventures such as Afresh Technologies and Shelf Engine have built platforms to leverage years of historical customer and sales data, as well as seasonality and other external factors, to help store managers determine how much to order and when. The results have been nothing but positive — Shelf Engine customers have increased gross margins by over 25% and Afresh customers have reduced food waste by up to 45%.


Source: Tech Crunch

How to access ‘America’s Seed Fund,’ the $3 billion SBIR program

One of the best-kept secrets in the world of capital is that the federal government has billions of dollars it’s dying to give away to early-stage founders and inventors — and all you have to do is ask. Well, there’s a bit more to it than that, so here’s a guide to getting in the door of the massive Small Business Innovation Research program.

First, as a bit of background: SBIR is a large network of programs, spread across a dozen federal agencies and the military, established some 40 years ago as a way to help out any American with a great idea but little access to capital.

Over time it has grown to impressive proportions, with a total award budget in 2019 of nearly $3.3 billion. To be clear, this is money intended to be essentially given away to qualified recipients, and not as license fees, or orders, or equity; these cash awards, which range from hundreds of thousands to over a million dollars, come with remarkably few strings attached.

That said, it’s not as if you just reach into the SBIR cookie jar and pull out a million bucks. As with anything involving the federal government, there’s a process — and not a short or simple one. There are extensive official tutorials for later, but this article (informed by tips from officials in the program) should help get you up and running.

It should be noted that this is not the only tech-related government grant program by a long shot, but it is the largest, broadest and arguably the most accessible to small business entrepreneurs and inventors like you — or it will be once you read this guide. Just be ready to put in a little work.

Step 1: Check yourself

Image Credits: Maskot / Getty Images

The first thing you should know is that the SBIR program operates with a specific (though not uncommon) type of entrepreneur in mind: Someone who needs money to develop and commercialize a new technology or intellectual property, but isn’t yet at the stage where they can attract traditional investment, and the risk or cost is too high for an ordinary loan.

SBIR awards (some agencies offer “grants,” others “contracts,” but you can just say “awards”) are basically cash to bring something from idea to commercialization. They are not for footing manufacturing down payments, repaying earlier loans or other miscellaneous operating costs.

If your company or invention needs help to cover R&D to get from experiment to working prototype, or prototype to commercialization, you might be a good fit. It doesn’t matter whether it’s software or hardware, your first product or your tenth — just as long as you’re a self-owned, U.S.-based small business and you’re building a new technology that needs some cash to get started.

A second, lesser-known benefit of the program is that if you get selected, your company is eligible to skip the line for some government procurement processes that would otherwise require competitive offers. If you picture the U.S. government as a potential client down the road, this benefit alone may be worth the toil.

The program is generally divided into phases, which you’ll probably want to do in order.

Phase I is for people demonstrating proof of concept — anywhere on the line from whiteboard to prototype. Awards range from tens of thousands to over $200,000, over a period of six to 12 months, depending on what is warranted for the specific development costs.

Phase II is for those doing deeper R&D on a proven concept and may be more than a million dollars over a two-year period; as you can see, this is a long-term play, not a quick cash grab.

Phase III is where a project may transition to actual paid contracts and purchases — but you can worry about that when you get there.

In other words, while the money has few catches once you get it, the program isn’t a free-for-all. If it sounds like a match and you’re willing to do a little legwork, proceed.

Step 2: Figure out where to apply

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Here’s where it starts getting complicated. There isn’t actually just one SBIR program, there are a dozen, spread across as many federal agencies, from Defense and Energy to NASA and NOAA. Each has its own budget and application process — making this already complex enough that many a grant-seeker has bounced right off it (or closed this tab). But don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it sounds. You’ve got three things going for you.

First, not every technology or business is a fit for every agency.

This is actually a good thing. Think about who the “customer” is for your technology: Your rocket engine isn’t going to be of much use to Health and Human Services; a collision avoidance system for a drone might be good for the Defense Department, but it also might be helpful to the Department of Energy in a different way. What specifically does your tech enable, and why would it be helpful to the work of specifically one agency? That should help narrow it down considerably — but don’t be afraid to think outside the box a little. You might be surprised what some of these departments get up to.

Second, each agency has specific things it’s looking for, both right now and perennially.

This means there’s not much in the way of guesswork. These numerous and various “solicitations” range from general areas of interest to highly detailed requests, are listed publicly (see the links below) and can usually be searched through or sorted by topic. Once you’ve decided that your tech might be useful to either the EPA or NOAA, for example, look through their solicitations — they’re updated regularly, though the schedule differs by agency — and see if one is already asking for what you’re offering or uses similar keywords. You can and should also search through previous years to see if they’ve requested something like your tech in the past.

Third, there are people whose job it is to help businesses through this process.

Procurement Technical Assistance Centers, or PTACs, exist in every state, as well as D.C., Guam and Puerto Rico. These are staffed with people whose job it is to help small businesses navigate the complexities of government grant programs. You can find your local office by selecting it from the list here.

PTACs are more focused on contracts, however, and for these awards you may want to look up your local Small Business Development Center instead. These SBA-funded organizations are also here to help, and there are several in and around most cities (select them in the drop-down menu here and hit search).

Though each program has its own requirements and solicitations, they’re all public. Here are the agencies with active SBIR programs, starting with the largest, with links to their starting pages for SBIR applicants. The second link is to their solicitations page (though it may use different terminology), which should list or itself link to current topics of interest.

Current solicitations are also centrally listed here in a different format. Please note that these addresses may at any time be rendered obsolete, as the government has no standard format for these programs or websites. Even the promotional materials I was given directly by SBIR officials were already out of date. But a little hunting around should get you to the right place. (And feel free to tell us in the comments if something seems off.)

Some of the programs are more similar than others, but there are a couple of notable exceptions. The NSF, for instance, has more open-ended solicitations for basic research rather than development. But NASA and Defense are definitely the most complicated.

NASA’s SBIR program is divided up among its various research centers — Ames, Goddard, etc. — each of which specializes in different technologies. While the specifics are too many and various to list here, a good way to get started is to look at a list of recent awards for similar or related technologies to your own, and find which center is the lead for it — for example robotic sampling is led by JPL, but small satellite propulsion is at Glenn. Then you can reach out to the SBIR contact for that center.

NASA also has a particularly robust Phase II program, with extended and expanded options for space-based work that necessarily takes longer or costs more money.

Defense has numerous grant programs under several umbrellas, including each branch of the military. To be honest, it’s kind of a mess, but they are working to simplify and accelerate the process. The actual DoD SBIR program, however, overlaps the most with the others and as such should be considered alongside them. You may want to rely on your PTAC or SBA representative to point the way.

Others will have their own idiosyncrasies, but getting started looks similar for all of them.

Step 3: Paperwork

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Once you’ve decided to apply, you’ll want to register at SBIR.gov first thing — you have to get in the system in the first place to be eligible for participation in the process.

The SBIR officials I spoke to emphasized that while understanding the program and finding the right agency or agencies to submit to are important steps, it all falls down if you phone in the actual application — something they’ve seen over and over, apparently.

The applications differ agency to agency, and different topics demand different information, naturally. But in all of them you should be ready to articulate at least the following:

  • Detailed but concise explanation of the technology you’re developing
  • Company budget, financials and investors
  • Commercial applications and plan to achieve them

Although the applications may only be 10 or so pages long, companies should budget at least 80 full-time hours to complete them. For companies with little experience with this sort of thing, hiring a professional grant writer is a perfectly valid option, but by no means required. This is also something that PTACs and SBDCs can help with.

It’s important, officials said, not to focus just on selling the technology or science itself — you must also show that there is a viable path forward for the team and company that the government’s funding will enable. They may not want much in return, but they’d like some assurance that they’re not throwing money down a well.

There is nothing stopping you from applying to multiple programs, though be aware that you probably won’t be able to copy-paste your application from one to the other. You can also apply year after year or quarter after quarter if you like, or to multiple solicitations within the same agency. It’s not uncommon for a company to be accepted only after multiple attempts.

Lastly, if you have any questions about any of this, find and contact the SBIR representative for the agency you’re applying to. These folks are there to liaise and connect you with the right resources, so don’t hesitate to reach out. Just don’t try to pitch them directly — it won’t work.

As you can see, applying to SBIR is not a simple process, but if you know the basic steps and resources, you can frontload the hard work while your project is still at an early stage. And while it may sound like a lot of winnowing is being done, recall that there really is a ton of money going into these programs and the whole point is to support American small businesses. That’s you!


Source: Tech Crunch