Paris-based Neobrain snaps up €3 million to support employees during change

French HRtech startup Neobrain, which uses AI to support organisations and people during times of change and crisis, has secured €3 million of investment from French venture capital firm Breega. The startup will use the funds to expand internationally, grow its team and conduct more research on the job market. 

At a time when many organisations are restructuring due to coronavirus, employees may experience changing job roles and team structures. Using artificial intelligence, Neobrain (2014) has developed technology that anticipates and facilitates strategic HR decisions. The startup can respond, effectively and relevantly, to three key needs within organizations: employee engagement and loyalty; simplification and flow of internal mobility; alignment of employee skills with company strategy. Thanks to its new technology and its team’s expertise, Neobrain limits the impact of job transformation on employees.

So far NeoBrain has grown its team to 24 people, and has opened offices in its native Paris and abroad in Lisbon. It’s nabbed nearly 60,000 monthly active users, and since the start of the COVID-19 crisis has increased its monthly growth by 50%. 

With the fresh funds, the startup intends to triple its workforce by recruiting around 40 people by the end of the year, and intends to broaden its activity internationally. The HRtech startup will also widen its analysis of the job market from 50 countries (representing 54 million job offers), to 100 countries, in order to strengthen its predictions on the evolution of jobs and skills.

Paul Courtaud, CEO of Neobrain, commented: “Mobility is a major issue to guarantee the sustainability of jobs and organizations. We see that competence and motivation become the link between employment and training.”


UK challenger bank Starling Bank raises €44.3 million to support small businesses

Today UK challenger bank Starling Bank has raised approximately €44.3 million in a funding round led by JTC and Merian Chrysalis Investment Company Limited. The investment follows an approximate €66.5 million investment in February 2020, bringing the total raised by Starling in 2020 to around €110 million and making the total it has raised since its founding approximately €402 million.

Starling Bank, founded in 2014 by Welsh banking veteran Anne Boden, is taking its place as one of the top challenger banks. Voted the Best British Bank last year, it has opened 1.4 million accounts, including 155,000 business accounts, since launching its banking app in May 2017. Its deposit base has more than doubled in the last six months and it now holds more than €2.6 billion on deposit.

Starling is also the fastest-growing bank for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Europe and now holds a 2.6% share of the UK’s SME banking market. It has almost €554 million of SME lending on its balance sheet, with further commitments raising the total to almost €1.1 billion.

The new funding will enable the bank to continue its rapid growth and help it provide much-needed support to small business customers who have been hit by the coronavirus emergency.

The lockdown has accelerated the shift to digital channels. As an app-based bank, Starling has seen robust customer acquisition since the lockdown, especially in the business account channel, where daily sign-ups have accelerated from the start of the year.

Starling’s agile operating model also enabled it to step up its lending to SMEs in May, via a collaboration for around €323 million under the UK Government-backed Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) and direct to its customers under its own CBIL and Bounce Back Loan Schemes.

Anne Boden, founder and chief executive of Starling Bank, said: “This additional funding from our existing investors demonstrates their commitment both to Starling and to our small business and personal customers who need our support now more than ever.”


Tia Health gets over $24 million to build a network of holistic health clinics and virtual services for women

Tia Health, the developer of a network of digital wellness apps, clinics and telehealth services designed to treat women’s health holistically, has raised $ 24.275 million in a new round of funding.

The company said the financing would support the expansion of its telehealth and clinical services to new markets, although co-founder and chief executive Carolyn Witte would not disclose, where, exactly those locations would be.

Co-founded initially as a text-based tool for women to communicate and receive advice on sexual health and wellness, Witte and her co-founder Felicity Yost always had bigger ambitions for their business.

Last year, Tia launched its first physical clinic in New York and now boasts a team of 15 physicians, physician assistants, registered nurses, therapists and other treatment providers. The support staff is what helps keeps cost down, according to Witte.

“We reduce the cost of care by 40% [and] we do that through collaborative care staffing. [That] leverages mid-level providers like nurse practitioners to deliver higher-touch care at lower cost,” she said. 

Tia closed its most recent round before shelter-in-place went into effect in New York on March 17, and since then worked hard to port its practices over to telehealth and virtual medicine, Witte said.

Two days later, Tia went live with telehealth services and the company’s membership of 3,000 women responded. Witte said roughly half of the company’s patients have used the company’s telehealth platform. Since Tia began as an app first before moving into physical care services, the progression was natural, said Witte. The COVID-19 epidemic just accelerated the timeline. “In the last 90 days close to 50% of Tia’s 3,000 members have engaged in chat or video,” Witte said. 

The move to telehealth also allowed Tia to take in more money for its services. With changes to regulation around what kinds of care delivery are covered, telehealth is one new way to make a lot of money that’s covered by insurance and not an elective decision for patients.

“That has allowed us to give our patients the ability to use their insurance for that virtual care and bill for those services,” Witte said of the regulatory changes. 

The staff at Tia consists not just of doctors and nurse practitioners (there are two of each), but also licensed clinical therapists that provide mental health services for Tia’s patient population too.

“Before COVID we surveyed our 3,000 patients in NY about what they want and mental health was the most requested service,” said Witte. “We saw a 400% increase in mental health-related messages on my platform. We rolled out this behavioral health and clinical program paired with our primary care.”

As Tia continues to expand the services it offers to its patients, the next piece of the puzzle to provide a complete offering for women’s health is pregnancy planning and fertility, according to Witte.

The company sees itself as part of a movement to repackage a healthcare industry that has concentrated on treating specific illnesses rather than patient populations that have unique profiles and care needs.

Rather than focusing on a condition or medical specialization like cardiology, gastroenterology, gynecology or endocrinology, the new healthcare system treats cohorts or groups of people — those over 65, adult men and women, as groups with their own specific needs that cross these specializations and require different types of care.

We are really focused on collecting longitudinal data to better understand and treat women’s health,” said Witte. “A stepping stone in that regard is expanding our service line to support the pregnancy journey.” 

Tia’s latest round was led by new investor Threshold Ventures, with participation from Acme Ventures (also a new backer) and previous investors, including Define Homebrew, Compound and John Doerr, the longtime managing partner at KPCB.

When the company launched, its stated mission was to use women’s data to improve women’s health.

“We believe reproductive-aged women deserve a similar focus, and a new model of care designed end-to-end, just for us,” the company said in a statement

As Tia continues to stress, women have been “under-researched and underserved by a healthcare system that continues to treat us as ‘small men with different parts’ — all-too-often neglecting the complex interplay of hormones, gene regulation, metabolism and other sex-specific differences that make female health fundamentally distinct from male health. It’s time for that to change.”

But Tia won’t be changing anything on the research front anytime soon. The company is not pursuing any clinical trials or publishing any research around how the ways in which women’s menstrual cycles may affect outcomes or influence other systems, according to Witte. Rather the company is using that information in its treatment of individual patients, she said.

The company did just hire a head of research — an expert in reproductive genomics, which Witte said was to start to understand how the company can build out proof points around how Tia’s care model can improve outcomes. 

Tia will reopen its brick-and-mortar clinic in New York on June 1 and will be expanding to new locations over the course of the year. That expansion may involve partnerships with corporations or existing healthcare providers, the company said.

“By partnering with leading health systems, employers, and provider networks to scale our Connected Care Platform, and open new physical and digital Tia doors, we can make ‘the Tia Way’ the new standard of care for women and providers everywhere,” Tia said in a statement.

As it does so, the company said it will continue to emphasize its holistic approach to women’s health.

As the company’s founders write:

Being a healthy woman is all-too-often reduced to not having an STD or an abnormal Pap, but we know that the leading cause of death for women in America is cardiovascular disease. We also know that women are diagnosed with anxiety and depression at twice the rate of men, and that endocrine and autoimmune disorders are on the rise. In pregnancy, c-section and preterm birth rates continue to go up instead of down, as does maternal mortality, with the U.S. reporting more maternal deaths than any developed country in the world.

We believe that the solution is a preventive “whole women’s health” model…

Startups – TechCrunch

Internet grows to 366.8 million domain names in Q1 2020 Verisign released the latest issue of the Domain Name Industry Brief, which shows that the first quarter of 2020 closed with 366.8 million domain name registrations across all top-level domains (TLDs), an increase of 4.5 million domain name registrations, or 1.2 percent, compared to the fourth quarter of 2019.1,2 Domain name registra…

Copenhagen-based Podimo raises €15 million to build a global podcaster ecosystem

Today Podimo, a fast growing podcasting provider, has announced snapping up €15 million in a round led by 83North, with participation from existing investors and Heartcore. The Danish startup aims to bring smart curation, discoverability features and intuitive design to listeners, as well as a new revenue stream to creators.

Founded in 2019, Podimo is a podcast and short-form audio platform that offers personalised recommendations for users, and supports podcast creators through a revenue share model, driven by their subscription-based service. Podimo’s ambition is to deliver an outstanding podcast experience for both creators and consumers globally.

“Podimo’s long-term ambition is to create robust revenue streams to the podcasting community and to be a positive partner to everyone within the ecosystem”, says Morten Strunge, CEO and Founder. “Our dream is to be part of developing the podcast industry, where we can help match audiences with content they love and create incremental income to support creators, allowing them to focus on creating great content. Our focus is solely on podcasts and short-form audio.”

As we are entering a new decade of podcasts, we see that Podimo is a key player in revolutionizing the industry and has a leading role in reshaping consumer and creator experiences”, says Arnon Dinur, Partner, 83North. “Podimo has a very strong team in place and a proven track record. We are excited to be part of the journey.”

So far the service is currently live in Denmark and Germany. The fresh funds will be used to drive market expansion across the rest of Europe, as currently more than 20% of the European population listen to podcasts. The finance will also be used to develop the platform, invest in content and creators, develop a podcaster studio and build the team.


Finnish edtech Kide Science raises €1.5 million to get kids excited about science

Today edtech startup Kide Science, a global early childhood science learning provider, has secured €1.5 miillion funding in a seed round led by Selected existing investors including Zanichelli Venture also participated, bringing the total the startup has raised to €2.4 million since launching.

Kide Science, founded in 2017, is all about helping children to be curious about science and the natural world in everyday life. The platform is aimed at kids aged 3 to 8 years and helps them learn through play-based learning, storytelling and dramatic arts. In fact, the pedagogical methods they use are based on rigorous academic research conducted at the University of Helsinki, Finland.

Kide Science’s research-led method has helped them to win customers in 14 global markets. In their home country of Finland, the business has a rapidly growing customer base, including the City of Helsinki and nation’s largest private kindergarten chain (200 locations and 10,000 children). It also produces a TV show on YLE, Finland’s national public service broadcaster. In addition, Kide Science has signed deals in MENA, the Far East and with a large chain of learning centres in China. The latter will see the company’s programmes delivered in 70 locations across 30 provinces.

The fresh funds will be used to accelerate Kide Science’s international growth, pursuing new opportunities in Asia and across key international homeschooling markets. It will also be used for rapid expansion of the startup’s existing parent product as well as funding key hires in global business development and marketing.

Sari Hurme-Mehtälä, Kide Science’s CEO commented: “We’re excited that this new investment allows us to rapidly scale our global sales and marketing activities. This will help us teach key science skills to even more children globally, enabling them to better understand their world. Being purely learning sector focused is an ideal partner for us and we look forward to working with them.”


London-based Poplar raises around €2 million to make AR and 3D experiences

Today UK startup Poplar has closed around €2 million in a round led by Fuel Ventures, to push its ambition to become the world’s leading augmented reality creative platform. This seed round, which sees Haatch Ventures, Ascension Ventures and Super Ventures also invest, will help Poplar deliver on-demand creation of premium AR and 3D experiences to accommodate the growing demand for branded AR campaigns. Since the pandemic lockdown in March, AR engagement has spiked by 19% as consumers turn to social, web and mobile for alternative ways to engage with retailers and brands.

Poplar, founded in 2018, is making it easy to build your own AR experience fast and affordably. The Poplar platform automatically assembles teams of certified and trusted AR and 3D creators to build premium immersive digital experiences, such as at home virtual try-ons, branded face filters, product visualisation and other interactive AR experiences. Poplar’s AR campaigns are currently used in sectors like fashion and beauty, retail, entertainment, food, gaming and more.

The startup’s AR campaigns can increase brand awareness by up to 70% and command conversion rates of up to 80%. So far the platform has 1,600+ certified 3D/AR content creators, who have delivered more than 120 campaigns for major clients like Speedo, Universal Music, L’Oréal, Disney, Jack Daniels, Nestlé and more. 

Poplar has also been garnering a lot of attention, being selected as one of TikTok’s first technology partners for AR Branded effects creation, as well as a Trusted Partner for Google’s 3D display advertising format, Swirl. A 3D Google Swirl ad was recently produced through Poplar’s platform for the promotion of MG Motors’ new compact SUV, which resulted in eight times more engagement than standard rich media format and 4,600 engaged hours.   

With this new funding, it plans to expand internationally and grow the platform, making its AR and 3D campaigns more affordable and accessible.

David Ripert, Co-founder and CEO of Poplar says: “With Covid-19 dominating our lives, brands are turning more to digital and social channels to reach consumers in new, immersive ways. Augmented reality is central to that and success will be determined by the quality of the experience. We are growing our platform to bring the very best AR creators together to quickly deliver premium campaigns, without the huge price tag. With 75% of consumers expecting retailers to offer an AR experience and 11 times more likely to make a purchase when AR is available, retail is definitely leading the way in terms of adoption. We expect more industries will follow suit, particularly with the challenges that social isolation is posing to every industry.”

Mark Pearson, Founder and Managing Partner at Fuel Ventures added: “Augmented reality has been on the rise but now, as a result of the pandemic lockdown, is its time to shine. I believe it represents the future of commerce – from being able to see a car in 3D without being in a showroom to trying on clothes in virtual changing rooms. Poplar sees the future of content creation in this medium and I am excited we are on board to help Poplar’s journey to making AR technology more accessible, as the technology grows further in popularity.” 

The proliferation of AR and 3D tech across social platforms has been on the rise in recent years, on platforms like Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and mobile browsers such as Chrome and Safari. Poplar’s platform data shows that, while Snapchat reigns supreme, Instagram has become the go-to platform for branded AR experiences. The on-demand AR platform also found that Facebook made up 25% of all experiences while app-based AR added up to 7%. WebAR experiences have also proven popular thanks to its lower barrier of entry for end-users, making up 18% of all effects created through the Poplar platform.


Otrium raises $26 million to sell end-of-season fashion items

Otrium has raised a $ 26 million Series B funding round (€24 million) with Eight Roads Ventures leading the round. Existing investors Index Ventures and Hans Veldhuizen also participated. Otrium works with clothing brands to help them sell items when they reach the end-of-season status.

Due to fast fashion, you have to regularly clear some space in your stores and recover inventory from third-party stores to release new items. But end-of-season sales aren’t enough. Brands end up with a lot of inventory on their hand. And those items often get destroyed.

Otrium wants to add another sales channel for those specific items — and it’s an online one, which should help when it comes to shelf space. Lockdowns around the world have also generated more excess inventory for the spring–summer 2020 collections.

Fashion brands don’t want to sell outdated items on their own site because scarcity creates value. First, customers should check regularly with their favorite fashion brand to see what they’re selling right now. Second, fashion brands don’t want you to see that you could wait a few months to get an item for cheap.

That’s why Otrium has created a marketplace and tries to be as friendly as possible with fashion brands. If you decide to sell end-of-season collections on Otrium, you can manage your own outlet, get in-depth analytics and enable a dynamic pricing engine to maximize revenue on those outdated items.

200 brands have decided to partner with Otrium, such as Joseph, Reiss, G-Star, Asics, Puma, Vans, Pepe Jeans, Alexachung and Scotch & Soda. There are one million registered customers on Otrium.

The e-commerce website is currently live in the Netherlands, France and Germany. It just launched its site in the U.K. as well. With today’s funding round, you can expect more international expansions in the future.

Startups – TechCrunch

London-based Greyparrot nabs €2 million to automate recycling sorting

Today British AI tech startup Greyparrot has raised around €2 million to tackle the growing waste crisis, by introducing digitisation and automation to recycling. The round was led by Speedinvest, a leading early-stage industrial tech investor, with participation from Force Over Mass. The new funds will be used to further develop and scale Greyparrot’s solution across global markets, setting the company up to revolutionise the recycling industry with artificial intelligence.

Only 14% of waste is recycled, due to inefficient recycling systems, rising labour costs, and strict quality requirements imposed on recycled material. On a global scale to date, 60% of the 2 billion tons of solid waste produced each year ends up in open dumps and landfill, causing major environmental impact. Additionally, less than 1% of waste is monitored and audited, as this expensive manual process is difficult to scale and provides little insight into facilities. 

Greyparrot, founded in 2019, provides AI-driven waste recognition software to monitor and sort waste at scale. Their first product, an Automated Waste Monitoring System, is currently deployed on moving conveyor belts in sorting facilities to measure large waste flows. The system automatically identifies different types of waste, providing composition information and analytics to help facilities increase recycling rates. 

The company launched last year, at a time when the waste management industry was on the cusp of its biggest transformation. Regulation banning waste exports to China and the introduction of strict recycling targets caused an urgent need to recycle locally and much more efficiently. Alongside this, consumer concerns over climate change have been on the rise. The opportunity for Greyparrot is clear, and the startup’s goal is to become the most accurate and widely used waste recognition software to unlock the financial value of waste, which will, in turn, keep our planet clean for generations to come. 

“One of the key problems we are solving is the lack of data. We see increasing demand from consumers, brands, governments and waste managers for better insights to transition to a more circular economy. There is an urgent opportunity to optimise waste management with further digitisation and automation using deep learning,” Mikela Druckman, co-founder and CEO of Greyparrot.

The startup has already partnered with the largest recycling system integrator in South Korea, ACI, who design, build and maintain 60% of government-owned Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) and Mechanical Biological Treatment Facilities (MBT) in the country. Managing Director, Harrison Kim, said: “AI-enabled machine vision is needed to detect materials that current machineries cannot. This software gives us data insights to maximise our material recovery” .

Marie-Hélène Ametsreiter, Lead Partner at Speedinvest Industry, said: “Waste is not only a massive market – it builds up to a global crisis. With an increase in both world population and per capita consumption, waste management is critical to sustaining our way of living. Greyparrot’s solution has proven to bring down recycling costs and help plants recover more waste. Ultimately it unlocks the value of waste and creates a measurable impact for the environment.”


Aircall raises $65 million for its cloud-based phone system

Aircall has raised a $ 65 million Series C round (€60.2 million) with DTCP leading the round, Adam Street participating and existing investors eFounders, Draper Esprit, Balderton and NextWorld injecting more money in the company. Overall, Aircall has raised $ 106 million.

Aircall is building a software-as-a-service company around phone calls. You could use it to operate a call center and handle support requests or to improve the workflow of your sales team, for instance.

“We raised two years ago and we’ve done exactly what we wanted to do over the past two years by creating an executive team and a strong leadership,” co-founder and COO Jonathan Anguelov told me.

When it comes to product, Aircall wants to differentiate itself from traditional call center solutions thanks to integrations with third-party services. For instance, you could see your call information in your CRM to see if somebody on your team has already followed up on a lead. Or you could initiate a phone call from Zendesk if there’s an urgent support request.

More recently, the company has launched integrations with and Gong for demanding customers operating call center. With those integrations, you can get transcriptions and analyze the sentiment of the conversation.

Over the past two years, Aircall has quadrupled its revenue and doubled the number of employees. While the company originally started in France, most of its revenue comes from the U.S. now. Aircall targets small and medium companies, from 10 to 1,000 people.

While the startup didn’t want to share information on its annual recurring revenue (ARR), Aircall says that its ARR is currently above the total cash burn of the past couple of years. Given that they raised $ 29 million and didn’t use all the money, that gives you an idea.

The company started reaching out to investors in January and ended up closing the round during the coronavirus outbreak. “We have done more than 3x on the valuation compared to the previous round,” Anguelov said

There are around 320 persons working for the company now. With today’s funding round, the company plans to expand with more developers, a bigger sales team and a new office in Australia.

Startups – TechCrunch