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Announcing the last judges for the TC Startup Battlefield Europe at VivaTech

Announcing the last judges for the TC Startup Battlefield Europe at VivaTech VivaTech is starting in a couple of days, which means TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield Europe is also starting on Thursday. So let me introduce you to the last batch of judges that will come...

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Whisk, the smart food platform that makes recipes shoppable, acquires competitor Avocando

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Shared housing startups are taking off

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NASA’s newest planet-hunting satellite takes a stellar first test image

NASA’s newest planet-hunting satellite takes a stellar first test image TESS, the satellite launched by NASA last month that will search thousands of stars for Earth-like exoplanets, has just sent back its first test image. It’s just a quick one, not...

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Ucare.ai is using AI to make healthcare more efficient in Southeast Asia

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Shared housing startups are taking off

Shared housing startups are taking off

When young adults leave the parental nest, they often follow a predictable pattern. First, move in with roommates. Then graduate to a single or couple’s pad. After that comes the big purchase of a single-family home. A lawnmower might be next.

Looking at the new home construction industry, one would have good reason to presume those norms were holding steady. About two-thirds of new homes being built in the U.S. this year are single-family dwellings, complete with tidy yards and plentiful parking.

In startup-land, however, the presumptions about where housing demand is going looks a bit different. Home sharing is on the rise, along with more temporary lease options, high-touch service and smaller spaces in sought-after urban locations.

Seeking roommates and venture capital

Crunchbase News analysis of residential-focused real estate startups uncovered a raft of companies with a shared and temporary housing focus that have raised funding in the past year or so.

This isn’t a U.S.-specific phenomenon. Funded shared and short-term housing startups are cropping up across the globe, from China to Europe to Southeast Asia. For this article, however, we’ll focus on U.S. startups. In the chart below, we feature several that have raised recent rounds.

Notice any commonalities? Yes, the startups listed are all based in either New York or the San Francisco Bay Area, two metropolises associated with scarce, pricey housing. But while these two metro areas offer the bulk of startups’ living spaces, they’re also operating in other cities, including Los Angeles, Seattle and Pittsburgh.

From white picket fences to high-rise partitions

The early developers of the U.S. suburban planned communities of the 1950s and 60s weren’t just selling houses. They were selling a vision of the American Dream, complete with quarter-acre lawns, dishwashers and spacious garages.

By the same token, today’s shared housing startups are selling another vision. It’s not just about renting a room; it’s also about being part of a community, making friends and exploring a new city.

One of the slogans for HubHaus is “rent one of our rooms and find your tribe.” Founded less than three years ago, the company now manages about 80 houses in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, matching up roommates and planning group events.

Starcity pitches itself as an antidote to loneliness. “Social isolation is a growing epidemic—we solve this problem by bringing people together to create meaningful connections,” the company homepage states.

The San Francisco company also positions its model as a partial solution to housing shortages as it promotes high-density living. It claims to increase living capacity by three times the normal apartment building.

Costs and benefits

Shared housing startups are generally operating in the most expensive U.S. housing markets, so it’s difficult to categorize their offerings as cheap. That said, the cost is typically lower than a private apartment.

Mostly, the aim seems to be providing something affordable for working professionals willing to accept a smaller private living space in exchange for a choice location, easy move-in and a ready-made social network.

At Starcity, residents pay $2,000 to $2,300 a month, all expenses included, depending on length of stay. At HomeShare, which converts two-bedroom luxury flats to three-bedrooms with partitions, monthly rents start at about $1,000 and go up for larger spaces.

Shared and temporary housing startups also purport to offer some savings through flexible-term leases, typically with minimum stays of one to three months. Plus, they’re typically furnished, with no need to set up Wi-Fi or pay power bills.

Looking ahead

While it’s too soon to pick winners in the latest crop of shared and temporary housing startups, it’s not far-fetched to envision the broad market as one that could eventually attract much larger investment and valuations. After all, Airbnb has ascended to a $30 billion private market value for its marketplace of vacation and short-term rentals. And housing shortages in major cities indicate there’s plenty of demand for non-Airbnb options.

While we’re focusing here on residential-focused startups, it’s also worth noting that the trend toward temporary, flexible, high-service models has already gained a lot of traction for commercial spaces. Highly funded startups in this niche include Industrious, a provider of flexible-term, high-end office spaces, Knotel, a provider of customized workplaces, and Breather, which provides meeting and work rooms on demand. Collectively, those three companies have raised about $300 million to date.

At first glance, it may seem shared housing startups are scaling up at an off time. The millennial generation (born roughly 1980 to 1994) can no longer be stereotyped as a massive band of young folks new to “adulting.” The average member of the generation is 28, and older millennials are mid-to-late thirties. Many even own lawnmowers.

No worries. Gen Z, the group born after 1995, is another huge generation. So even if millennials age out of shared housing, demographic forecasts indicate there will plenty of twenty-somethings to rent those partitioned-off rooms.

Shared housing startups are taking off
Source: TechCrunch

NASA’s newest planet-hunting satellite takes a stellar first test image

NASA’s newest planet-hunting satellite takes a stellar first test image

TESS, the satellite launched by NASA last month that will search thousands of stars for Earth-like exoplanets, has just sent back its first test image. It’s just a quick one, not “science-quality,” but it does give you an idea of the scale of the mission: the area TESS will eventually document is 400 times the area covered by this shot.

What you see above is the star field around the constellation Centaurus; this 2-second exposure captured more than 200,000 stars. That’s just in one image from one of the four cameras on board; the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite will employ all four during its mission, watching individual regions of space for 27 days straight over the course of two orbits.

Here’s a crop from the center:

Repeated high-resolution imagery of these star fields will let the team on the ground watch for any that dim briefly, indicating that a planet may be passing in between the star and our solar system. This will let it watch far, far more stars than the otherwise similar Kepler mission, which even by looking at only dim stars with a relatively narrow field of view, found evidence of thousands of exoplanets for scientists to pore over.

TESS just yesterday received a gravity assist from the moon, putting it near its final orbit. A last engine burn on May 30 will complete that maneuver and the satellite will enter into the highly eccentric, as yet untried orbit designed by its creators.

Once that orbit is attained and all systems are go, new imagery will come in about every two weeks when TESS is at its closest point to Earth. “First light,” or the first actual fully calibrated, usable image from the satellite, is expected some time in June.

NASA’s newest planet-hunting satellite takes a stellar first test image
Source: TechCrunch

Ucare.ai is using AI to make healthcare more efficient in Southeast Asia

Ucare.ai is using AI to make healthcare more efficient in Southeast Asia

AI is being applied across the board in many industries worldwide, and its scope of influence is only likely to continue to expand as Kaifu Lee, a noted AI expert who was formerly head of Google China, recently told TechCrunch.

The main battle appears to be between companies in the U.S. and China, but this week a startup in Southeast Asia came out of stealth mode to show that innovation is present elsewhere in the world.

Ucare.ai is focused on applying AI on the healthcare system to increase efficiencies and help patient coverage. It focuses on three distinct audiences: patients, health providers and those who pay the bills.

In particular, the company uses deep learning and neural network algorithms to predict healthcare patterns in patients, and beyond, to reduce preventable hospitalization, and, in turn, save on costs and hassles. That also allows medical professionals and insurers to focus on the more obvious risk patients, Ucare.ai said.

The company was founded in 2016 by Neal Liu, an MIT graduate who career includes five years with Google and stints with Microsoft, eBay and others. The company picked up seed funding in 2016, finance executive Christina Teo came on board as CEO (Liu is CTO) a year later and this week Ucare.ai came out of stealth with the announcement of its $8.2 million Series A round from backers that include Walden International and Singapore’s Great Eastern.

Singapore is gaining ground as startup destination that locates founders within striking distance of Greater China whilst also giving them access to Southeast Asia, a nascent but fast-growing market where the ‘internet economy’ is tipped to reach $200 billion by 2025 according to a recent report co-authored by Google.

Ucare.ai spent its initial two years developing its core AI smarts, the backbone of its service, by stitching together de-identified healthcare data using a mix of publicly available information and data from private partners, before then building out products for the health sector.

“Healthcare costs are only going in one direction as people are living longer and chronic diseases become more prevalent,” Teo told TechCrunch an interview. “That means that costs are going up, and payers are paying more, while corporate health is receiving a lot of attention with corporate clients expecting cost coverage and intervention programs.”

Ucare.ai CEO Christina Teo (left) and CTO Neal Liu (right)

That’s the ecosystem Ucare.ai has set out to impact. With hospitalization one of the most significant costs, the startup wants to reduce that through AI-powered predictive services. Healthcare provider Parkway Shenton, which has over 1,000 clinics, is one public name that signed on with Ucare.ai with other partners as-yet-undisclosed. Clients like Parkway pay for various different products which can provide real-time predictions, or more regular report-like information, Teo explained.

Liu had been based in Singapore while at Google, and he saw an opportunity to develop the startup there whilst tapping into the unique features of the city-state.

“Singapore is ideal,” Teo, herself a Singaporean, told TechCrunch. “It has a robust healthcare system, is well audited, there’s tech adoption such as cashless payments, and data privacy is taken seriously.”

“It’s also a country where you can study people of different backgrounds and lifestyles, which makes it fairly good for scientists. The cost of businesses is reasonable, there are government grants and there’s talent,” she added.

There’s also the potential to expand the business. Ucare.ai has focused its efforts on Singapore, to date, but Teo said there are opportunities to move into neighboring markets to both improve the systems by adding more data and grow the business from a revenue perspective.

“The heavy lifting has been done in the last two years, now we’re looking at opportunities to scale and repeat the business models in other parts of Southeast Asia,” she said, adding that Greater China is also a focus of interest.

Right now, the startup has less than 20 staff with a blend of nationalities, but Teo said the headcount is climbing on “a near-daily basis.”

Other notable healthcare-focused startups in Southeast Asia include fellow Singapore-based CXA, which helps corporates provide quality healthcare to employees, and mClinica, which maps healthcare sales and data in the region.

Ucare.ai is using AI to make healthcare more efficient in Southeast Asia
Source: TechCrunch

Jirnexu pulls in $11M for its financial comparison service in Southeast Asia

Jirnexu pulls in M for its financial comparison service in Southeast Asia

It’s been a busy week for startup funding in Southeast Asia. Following big deals for Carro and Carousell, financial comparison startup Jirnexu is the latest to announce new capital after it closed an $11 million Series B round.

The new investment comes courtesy of Japan’s SBI Group — a returning investor which led the round having co-led Carro’s $60 million raise — alongside new backer SIG Asia Investments. The deal takes Jirnexu to $17 million from investors to date.

The startup was founded in 2012 and it is based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It operates financial comparison services in its native Malaysia (‘RinggitPlus‘) and in Indonesia, under the ‘KreditGoGo‘ brand, that aggregate offerings from banks and financial companies that include Citibank, HSBC, Standard Chartered, and UOB. In short, the company acts as a user acquisition channel for financial organizations that want to reach consumers and maintain a dialogue with them.

In recent years, Jirnexu has gone beyond basic banking products to offer insurance and e-policies, while it has introduced chatbots in conjunction with five financial organizations to help ease the process of sign-up and selection for their customers.

“Our core focus is to become the only band of services a consumer needs for their personal finance and money,” Jirnexu CEO Yuen Tuck Siew, who founded the company after returning home from a decade in the UK, told TechCrunch in an interview. “Two years ago, it was all about banking, particularly secure credit, now we’ve announced live quotes for insurance and we’ll be adding more insurance products.”

In particular, the startup is focused on consumer digital identification and eKYC that will help it to tailor suggested packages more accurately for consumers.

Jirnexu has raised new funding in 2016 and 2017, but Siew said this newest round gives significant runway that will allow it to focus on longer-term strategies with more clarity than before.

“We can now plan multiple years ahead which is absolutely essential with what we can do. No matter how longterm you want to think, [when you need to raise money regularly] you’re always looking at KPIs. Now we can plan and invest in projects that can really have a huge impact for customers,” he explained.

Much of the effort right now, he added, is on hiring for senior executive positions and operational roles, including a CTO, to build out the business and push into new financial verticals.

For now, the company isn’t looking to expand to new markets. Siew suggested that new launches would likely come after a Series C round but, per earlier comments, that’s not an event he sees happening in the immediate term.

Likewise, he said there is potential to work more closely with SBI — which operates a range of financial services in Japan — in the future. But initially, the company is just focused on executing on its plans with its investors’ backing.

“They understand the challenges in the market and see the value of us being able to overcome issues like regulatory and long sales cycles,” the Jirnexu CEO said.

Jirnexu pulls in M for its financial comparison service in Southeast Asia
Source: TechCrunch

Index and Atomico back Teatime Games, a stealthy new startup from QuizUp founders

Index and Atomico back Teatime Games, a stealthy new startup from QuizUp founders

Teatime Games, a new Icelandic “social games” startup from the same team behind the hugely popular QuizUp (acquired in by Glu Mobile), is disclosing $9 million in funding, made up of seed and Series A rounds.

Index Ventures led both, but have been joined by Atomico, the European VC fund founded by Skype’s Niklas Zennström, for the $7.5 million Series A round. I understand this is the first time the two VC firms have done a Series A deal together in over a decade.

Both VCs have a decent track record in gaming. Index counts King, Roblox and Supercell as previous gaming investments, whilst Atomico also backed Supercell, along with Rovio, and most recently Bossa Studios.

As part of the round, Guzman Diaz of Index Ventures, Mattias Ljungman of Atomico, and David Helgason, founder of Unity, have joined the Teatime Games board of directors.

Meanwhile, Teatime Games is keeping shtum publicly on exactly what the stealthy startup is working on, except that it plays broadly in the social and mobile gaming space. In a call with co-founder and CEO Thor Fridriksson yesterday, he said a little more off the record and on condition that I don’t write about it yet.

What he was willing to describe publicly, however, is the general problem the company has set out to solve, which is how to make mobile games more social and personalised. Specifically, in a way that any social features — including communicating with friends and other players in real-time — enhances the gameplay rather than gets in its way or is simply bolted on as an adjunct to the game itself.

The company’s macro thesis is that games have always been inherently social throughout different eras (e.g. card games, board games, arcades, and consoles), and that most games truly come to life “through the interaction between people, opponents, and the audience”. However, in many respects this has been lost in the age of mobile gaming, which can feel like quite a solitary experience. That’s either because they are single player games or turn-based and played against invisible opponents.

Teatime plans to use the newly-disclosed investment to double the size of its team in Iceland, with a particular focus on software engineers, and to further develop its social gaming offering for third party developers. Yes, that’s right, this is clearly a developer platform play, as much as anything else.

On that note, Atomico Partner Mattias Ljungman says the next “breakout opportunity” in games will see a move beyond individual studios and titles to what he describes as fundamental enabling technologies. Linked to this he argues that the next generation of games companies being developed will “become ever more mass market and socially connected”. You can read much more on Ljungman and Atomico’s gaming thesis in a blog post recently published by the VC firm.

Index and Atomico back Teatime Games, a stealthy new startup from QuizUp founders
Source: TechCrunch

Beth Seidenberg of Kleiner Perkins is said to be leaving to start her own fund

Beth Seidenberg of Kleiner Perkins is said to be leaving to start her own fund

Beth Seidenberg joined Kleiner Perkins 13 years ago to focus on life sciences for the storied venture firm. Now, according to a Recode report, she’s heading off to start her own life sciences venture fund in L.A. where she lives.

We’ve reached out to Kleiner and we’re awaiting more information. But the firm seemed to confirm the move to the outlet, reportedly noting that Seidenberg will continue to be a partner in Kleiner’s existing funds and stating that Kleiner remains committed to life sciences.

While the move is interesting from a firm perspective — Kleiner has undergone one transition after another over the last half dozen years, parting ways with at least 10 investors, including Trae Vassallo, Mike Abbott, Chi-Hua Chien, Matt Murphy, and Aileen Lee — it’s perhaps even more interesting as part of an ongoing change to the broader industry.

Whereas a decade or so ago, one held on to his or her role inside a venture fund by their fingernails if they had to, that’s no longer the case. While there are still a handful of firms that it would undoubtedly be hard to leave, it’s become easier for many VCs to abandon situations that no longer work for them for one reason or another. The reason: the volume of money flowing to the venture industry, along with platforms that help to amplify new brands, have made it easier than ever for someone with a track record to launch a venture firm of their own.

An almost surprising number of people to do so have worked formerly for Kleiner, which has yet to recover fully from a bruising battle with one of its former investors, Ellen Pao, after she famously sued the firm for gender discrimination in court.

Lee, for example, spent 13 years with Kleiner before leaving in 2012 to start her own seed-stage venture firm, Cowboy Ventures, and becoming one of the highest-profile women in the venture industry. Chien spent nearly seven years with Kleiner before spinning up his own firm in 2014 called Goodwater Capital; it’s already raising its third fund, shows an SEC filing.

Meanwhile, Trae Vassallo took the wraps off her own fund — cofounded with former General Catalyst partner Neil Sequeira — last year. Called Defy Ventures, it closed on $151 million for its debut effort.

While we don’t know yet why Seidenberg decided to leave Kleiner, we suspect she won’t have much trouble raising her own new fund, either. Life sciences investing has been soaring in recent years, thanks in part to advances in machine learning. More, by Seidenberg’s own telling, she has incubated eight companies at Kleiner and became the founding CEO of two of them. 

An all-cash deal of one of her cancer drug bets, Armo BIoSciences — which Eli Lily said just last week that it’s buying for $1.6 billion — should probably help, too.

 

Beth Seidenberg of Kleiner Perkins is said to be leaving to start her own fund
Source: TechCrunch

Researchers warn of critical flaw affecting PGP and S/MIME

Researchers warn of critical flaw affecting PGP and S/MIME

Those who use PGP and S/MIME to send secure emails are being advised to cease using and disable the tools with immediate effect following a major security scare.

Researcher Sebastian Schinzel, a professor of computer security with Münster University of Applied Sciences, claims to have identified a security flaw that “might reveal the plaintext of encrypted emails, including encrypted emails sent in the past.” One of eight researchers from three Germany universities working on identifying the issue, he added that there is no fix right now.

The research itself is scheduled to be released in full at 7:00 am UTC on Tuesday, but for now Schinzel is spreading word on Twitter while the EFF has also posted a warning after apparently seeing the findings in full.

“Our advice, which mirrors that of the researchers, is to immediately disable and/or uninstall tools that automatically decrypt PGP-encrypted email. Until the flaws described in the paper are more widely understood and fixed, users should arrange for the use of alternative end-to-end secure channels, such as Signal, and temporarily stop sending and especially reading PGP-encrypted email,” the EFF wrote in a blog post, which offers tutorials on how to disable popular plug-ins for Thunderbird, Apple Mail and Outlook.

The EFF isn’t one to casually stoke fear without reason, so you’d be advised to follow its instructions until the full situation is revealed.

We’ll have more information once it is available.

Researchers warn of critical flaw affecting PGP and S/MIME
Source: TechCrunch

Starting a robotics company out of school? Not so fast, suggest investors

Starting a robotics company out of school? Not so fast, suggest investors

Every once in a while, a college student or recent graduate dares to launch a robotics startup and . . . everything goes as well as could be expected. Such is the case, for example, with Alex Rodrigues and Brandon Moak, two former University of Waterloo students who worked on self-driving technologies together in college and formed their now venture-backed, self-driving truck company, Embark, instead of graduating. (Originally called Varden Labs, the startup’s trip through Y Combinator undoubtedly helped.)

Still, to capture the sustained interest of robotics investors, it helps to either have experience in a particular industry or to pull in someone, quickly, who does. That much was established yesterday at UC Berkeley, when three veteran investors — Renata Quintini of Lux Capital, Rob Coneybeer of Shasta Ventures, and Chris Evdemon of Sinovation Ventures — took the stage of a packed Zellerbach Hall to talk about where they’ve invested previously, and where they are shopping now.

Though the three expressed interest in a wide range of technologies and plenty of optimism about what’s to come, each lingered a bit on one point in particular, which was the difficulty robotics founders face who are completely unfamiliar with the particular industry they may hope to reshape with their innovation.

You can catch the entire interview below, but we  thought college students — and their professors and mentors — might want to pay particularly close attention to this concern if they’re thinking about hitting up investors in the not-too-distant future.

Quintini on how comfortable she and her colleagues at Lux are when it comes to backing recent college graduates:

What we care the most about what is your unique insight and what do you know about tackling a certain market or problem that’s not obvious or easy to replicate. In some cases, it’s very fair for someone right out of university who finds a technological breakthrough and . . . that breakthrough alone is understandable and comprehensible to the market and it’s a very backable company, and we’ve done that in the past.

But in some cases, and you’ve heard today, [CEO] Patrick [Sobalvarro] from Veo Robotics speak — and [Veo is] actually giving robotic arms perception sensors to allow people and robots to work together — all his insights came because he came from industry. He was at Rethink Robotics; he’s been in the robotics industry, selling to people who use robots as part of the manufacturing process. And so he actually understands the importance of safety and the selling of those systems to customers. Because he knew that, it made a big difference in how he approaches his go-to-market strategy and how he approaches building a product. And somebody who’s just thinking about, ‘Oh, let me figure out the technology and how to understand when a human is close or not’ and who didn’t think about the other angle wouldn’t be so successful or differentiated in our opinion.

Coneybeer sounded a similar tone. In fact, when asked if he felt there were other overlooked opportunities like that identified by Veo — which is refitting existing robotic arms, rather than trying to remake them from scratch — Coneybeer said the most attractive thing of all to him are startups in search of a problem that actually exists: 

What we’re very cognizant of is people who love robots and are trying to invent a market or invent a need and kind of force fit it, as opposed to people who understand a need and are using robotics as a tool to truly solve that need. That’s a really key differentiator.

We directed an entirely different question to Evdemon, about how Sinovation thinks about domestic versus industrial robots and whether it expects to commit more capital to one or the other. But Evdemon first took the time to note that the problem of founders who don’t know their industries is a very big one, and deserved more discussion:

Chiming in to what Renata and Rob were saying, you understated [the issue]. The majority of the teams that we are looking on both the consumer and industrial robot [worlds] at the moment are more of a technology trying to find a fit in the market, and that’s obviously a very big problem from a venture point of view.

We also see a lot of teams that are fresh out of school, usually a supervising professor with a couple of his or her PhD students having come across some kind of technological breakthrough in university and trying to commercialize that. But robotics are all about what sectors they are being applied to. An ag tech team that knows nothing about agriculture, or a security robot that has a team that’s come up with a great computer vision breakthrough around security issues but that has no idea how the security industry in the U.S. or other parts of the world is structured, is obviously not a good starting point — at least not from a business-minded point of view.

And all of these companies run across tremendous difficulty when it comes to sales. Complementary of teams and market fit [both, are] important for [students] who are thinking about such a move straight out of school.