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Startup Monday: Latest tech trends & news happening in the global startup ecosystem (Issue 118- January 27) | by Narine Emdjian | Jan, 2024

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Welcome to Startup Monday, my weekly newsletter that recaps the week in the global startup ecosystem. To have this newsletter emailed to you, you can sign up here.

Top startup news to follow this week:

Venture capital firm Paper Ventures has launched a new fund to support blockchain-based startups in their early growth stages.

The fund’s strategic focus on early-stage startups flows from the desire to provide “maximum value,” setting funded projects on the right path. Paper Ventures disclosed that contrary to popular opinion, pre-seed stage funding is not oversaturated at the moment, and the fund is intended to fill specific gaps in the space in a founder-focussed manner.

The new investment raises Aramco Ventures’ capital to $7 billion and Aramco’s overall venture capital to $7.5 billion counting the $500-million Wa’ed Ventures, which focuses on Saudi start-ups.

“The decision reflects the growing significance of Aramco’s venture capital program in enabling the development of disruptive new technologies, creating diversification opportunities for Aramco, and paving the way for collaborations with innovative start-ups”, the state-owned energy giant said in a recent statement. “In doing so, it aims to help advance the Company’s long-term strategy, which includes a focus on new energies, chemicals and transition materials, diversified industrial businesses, and digital technologies”.

One of the three funds managed by Aramco Ventures, Prosperity7, said it has now grown in capital to $3 billion from $1 billion.

“The newly injected fund will continue to be deployed to support global early to growth-stage enterprises with disruptive technologies, driving the development of next-generation technologies and transformational business models that will bring prosperity and positive impact on a vast scale”, Prosperity7 said in a separate statement.

3. Venture Capital Funding in Energy Storage Increases 59% Year-over-Year, with a Record $9.2 Billion in 2023

Venture capital (VC/PE) funding in Energy Storage in 2023 was the highest ever recorded, with $9.2 billion in 86 deals.

“Energy storage companies saw their highest VC funding in 2023, largely thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act’s Investment Tax Credit and other incentives like manufacturing credits for battery components. Despite this positive trend, M&A activity lagged due to high asset valuations, elevated interest rates, and investor caution,” said Raj Prabhu, CEO of Mercom Capital Group.

Corporate funding in the Energy Storage sector came to $19 billion raised in 120 deals.

Corporate funding for Energy Storage companies in Q4 2023 totaled $3.7 billion in 26 deals.

Lithium-ion-based Battery Technology companies received the most VC funding in 2023. Other top-funded categories included Battery Recycling, Nickel-based Battery Technology, Energy Storage Downstream, and Materials and Components companies.

The Top 5 Energy Storage VC funding deals in 2023 were: Zenobe, which raised $1.1 billion; Redwood Materials, which raised $1 billion; SK On, which brought in $944 million; Verkor, which raised $905 million; and Hithium, which raised $622 million.

Announced debt and public market financing for Energy Storage companies in 2023 came to $9.8 billion in 34 deals. Four Energy Storage companies went public in 2023.

In 2023, 15 Energy Storage companies were acquired. Also, 28 energy storage projects (8.7 GW) were acquired in 2023.

Corporate funding for Smart Grid companies came to $3.3 billion in 60 deals.

VC funding in the Smart Grid sector totaled $1.5 billion in 47 deals in 2023.

The Top 5 Smart Grid VC funding deals in 2023 were Driveco with $273 million, Jolt Energy with $162 million, SPAN with $96 million, Virta with $93 million, and EO Charging with $80 million.

In 2023, 13 debt and public market financing deals were announced, totaling $1.8 billion.

Vancouver, Washington-based , a collaboration platform that provides homebuilders, vendors and — eventually — homeowners with something akin to a digital twin of a home, today announced that it has extended its $7 million seed round from 2023 with another n. The new round was led by the (OVF) and Oregon Venture Fund , with its existing investors like , Legacy Capital Ventures , and following on from their previous investment and also joining in this round. Flying Fish Deepwater Asset Management

“It’s fantastic to have proven investors like OVF and Legacy lead our seed round and partner in helping us navigate all the challenges accompanying rapid growth,” said Digs CEO and co-founder Ryan Fink. “Bringing on additional seasoned experience building and scaling consumer technology will ensure our ability to continue to grow efficiently and accelerate our marketplace strategy.”

Fink, who co-founded the company with Ty Frackiewicz, previously built Streem, which aimed to create digital twins of homes using nothing by phone cameras. Frontdoor acquired Streem in 2019. Now the team is using a different approach that focuses more on helping builders, vendors and homeowners share documents, using AI and computer vision to help them better understand those documents. At the core of that is a modern real-time collaboration platform and document storage service.

“Digs is taking how we build and own a home to the next level,” said Gene Munster, managing partner at Deepwater. “We’re excited to partner again with Fink and team who are using AI to solve real pain points that millions feel every day, whether you’re a builder or a homeowner.”

Digs is now out of beta and available in the U.S. and Canada and besides several boutique builders, it also counts some national developers among its users.

To help grow the team, Digs recently hired as its chief operating officer. Holove was previously the CEO of Drop, the marketplace best known for its keyboard and audiophile selections. Corsair acquired Drop in 2023. Maybe even more importantly, before that, he was the COO of Streem — and before that the CEO of Basis, which Intel acquired in 2014 (and, as with so many Intel acquisitions around that time, ). He was also previously the CEO of Eye-Fi, which was ultimately acquired by Ricoh. Tell me if you spot a trend here. quickly abandoned

Monitoring software and infrastructure in production, the practice known as observability is becoming increasingly harder — not easier.

“Today, developers are using dozens of tools that need to be integrated, cost a lot and feel like they were designed in the 2000s,” Masar told TechCrunch in an email interview. “And they take ages for users to comprehend fully.”

Better Stack doesn’t stand alone in the market for observability suites. Among its rivals is , which offers tools for storing, managing and analyzing machine-generated data and logs. There’s also (valued at over $1.6 billion), Chronosphere and , the last of which secured a investment last April.

Just a year after $11.6 million, raised another in a Series B round led by IVP with some existing investors participating once again. The Berlin-based startup has been working on a graphic design tool that you can use in your web browser without having to install an app.

At this point, you might think about two competitors. On the one hand, Adobe has been around for a few decades with industry-leading creative apps, such as Illustrator and Photoshop.

On the other hand, has challenged Adobe on the lower end of the market with popular and easy-to-use design tools. And according to a recent , Canva is said to be raising a $1.5 billion round at a $26 billion valuation. report from Bloomberg

Compared to Adobe’s apps, “if you just think about exporting something from Illustrator, it’s a headache,” Kittl co-founder and CEO Nicolas Heymann told me. Compared to Canva, Kittl “offers a broader feature set and it allows you to have access to the actual graphic file,” Heymann said.

Kittl essentially wants to nail down the middle of the market. The company is trying to build a design tool that is more powerful than Canva and that doesn’t carry all the legacy of Adobe’s applications. The company lets you create an account for free, but you have to subscribe to access all product features.

“As a designer, you usually use multiple tools. You work in Illustrator, you buy stock footage, you create a graphics file, then you browse Pinterest for inspiration. When you have your file, you make an export, you upload it to WeTransfer, you share it to a client and you have a feedback loop,” Heymann said.

Kittl wants to combine all these features in a single tool. It lets you create logos, T-shirt designs, cards, social media posts and more using a built-in illustration library and a collection of copyright-free photos as starting points. The company also has a wide range of design templates with users contributing to this collection with new templates.

Robot adoption in the restaurant business is becoming popular as it can help restaurants address their high pain points like labor shortages, and rising wage issues . Robotics enables restaurants to save 30% to 70% of labor costs, and restaurants could replace more than 80% of restaurant positions with robots, according to . a research report

“Burger chains hire six to eight kitchen staff per shift to grill burgers,” Aniai CEO Gunpil Hwang said. “Alpha Grill enables restaurants to engage only one staff member to grill burgers.”

The New York-headquartered startup says it will launch Factory One this year to meet the growing market demand for Alpha Grill, with around 500 pre-orders for delivery starting in the first quarter of 2024. Its manufacturing facility will be able to produce more than 1,000 robots annually. The company’s double-sided Alpha Grill, launched in 2022, can cook 200 patties per hour, or eight patties simultaneously (after human staff places them on a grill).

The cloud-based AI software and real-time vision sensor will enable Alpha Grill to perceive the environment, identify the color of patties on a grill and monitor the patties’ temperature, shape and quality. If the user’s patty does not meet its cooking recipes, specifications and requirements, Alpha Grill promptly notifies the cooking staff to ensure quality control.

The startup is currently developing its second product, Alpha Kitchen, Hwang told TechCrunch. With an expected 2025 launch, Alpha Kitchen will be able to automate the entire burger-making process, from cooking patties and toasting buns to dispensing vegetables and other ingredients.

Aniai currently serves seven customers, including fast-food burger chains in South Korea, CJ Freshway, BAS Burger and DownTowner. It has also been testing Alpha Grill with burger chains in the U.S. since last year. The outfit says it will also use the latest capital speed up its expansions in the U.S. and South Korea.

Despite the global economic context, the foodtech sector has demonstrated notable resilience in recent years. Innovative technologies and alliances among the entrepreneurial ecosystem, industry, and investors have facilitated the creation of efficient solutions to address significant challenges in the sector. As a result, the promotion of a new vertical in the food sector has been initiated, which not only offers investment and business opportunities but also generates a significant impact on the lives of people and the planet.

Additionally, Eatable Adventures has announced the initial investments made through this fund, totaling €6 million, encompassing nine leading Foodtech technological projects: Agreen Biosolutions, Agreenet, Hypesound, Foreverland, Néboda, Mmmico, Regrowth, Soonapse, and Trusty.

The selection of these projects has occurred within the framework of two national acceleration programs dedicated to fostering the implementation of innovative technological solutions in this sector: Spain Foodtech, implemented in Spain through a country program developed in collaboration with ICEX Spain Export and Investments and CNTA; and FoodSeed, operating in Italy as part of the national network of CDP Venture Capital Sgr accelerators, where the accelerator serves as a co-investor and operational manager.

Likewise, the investment vehicle will extend its coverage to a third European acceleration program, set to launch in the upcoming months. This expansion aims to amplify the influence of these technologies on an international scale.

“The experience that we have gained over these years in the Foodtech vertical offers us a complete and precise vision of the ecosystem, which has allowed us to select and invest in the startups with the greatest development potential and fit with the needs of the sector”, commented José Luis Cabañero, Founder and CEO of Eatable Adventures. “Incorporating technology and innovation is essential to increase production, optimize resources, and reduce the environmental footprint of the food system.”

It was led by Dr. Hans Riegel Holding (HRH), one of the two holding companies of the internationally successful confectionery group Haribo, with the support from the EIC Fund, a breakthrough initiative of the European Commission to make direct equity investments in European highly innovative startups and SMEs. REWE Group, one of the leading trade and tourism groups in Germany and Europe, and Betagro Ventures also participated in the round. They were joined by other existing investors, including Clay Capital, FoodLabs, Redalpine, Simon Capital and Happiness Capital. With these investors, Infinite Roots brings on board partners with expertise in launching and distributing food products globally.

With this new funding, the company moves into a new era of commercial growth, planning to expand its production capacities and invest in launch activities worldwide. In the long term, Infinite Roots aims to play a key role in transforming the global food system with the versatile applications of mycelium.

“Rethinking food production and consumption has never been more pressing, and requires our collective efforts. We are thrilled to join forces with industry champions to establish the next generation of tasty, healthy and sustainable foods. We are in a unique position to define a new era of mushroom mycelium-based products. With Infinite Roots’ technology and products, we aspire to lead the monumental shift to a more sustainable and healthy food system,” said Dr. Mazen Rizk, Founder and CEO of Infinite Roots.

OpenDialog , an award-winning, conversational AI platform used by regulated industries, has raised €7.3 million in a Series A round led by AlbionVC to continue its mission of making Generative AI safe to use in regulated industries, while also bringing unparalleled operational efficiency and customer experience.

Terry Walby, co-founder and CEO of OpenDialog, said: “We’re building a category-defining business that redefines the way humans interact with technology and that makes advanced and Generative AI realizable for enterprises. Businesses are keen to take advantage of the technology they see manifested in applications like ChatGPT, but they’re struggling to figure out how to make that a reality in a business context without exposing themselves to risks. We can offer them the security, granular control, explainability and safety which is essential for all businesses, but particularly those operating in regulated sectors like insurance, healthcare, financial services and utilities.”

With an initial focus on the healthcare and insurance sectors, OpenDialog has a unique way of managing conversations while leveraging LLMs to make them safe and compliant from beginning to end. In this way, OpenDialog is unlocking the full power of conversational AI for the most complex and highly regulated industries and simultaneously de-risking the process. Its no-code platform allows enterprises, from insurance giant Davies Group to NHS trusts and beyond, to combine the market’s most powerful LLMs and NLU technologies into a single automation platform.

These enterprises use OpenDialog to build AI-powered chatbots and sophisticated digital assistants that are uniquely tailored to their specific business and regulatory needs, with fine-grained control over how the AI is used to provide the highest levels of automation, whilst ensuring compliance. By automating complex business processes in this way, the AI-powered chatbots and digital assistants built with OpenDialog create deep insights by collecting millions of data points every day that underpin a system of continuous improvement and enhancement.

Founded in 2017, OpenDialog’s unique context-first, multi-agent based, methodology is a radically different approach to developing conversational AI applications because it means OpenDialog can automate multi-step complex business processes through natural conversation — something even the most advanced LLMs are unable to complete. What’s more, with OpenDialog, building the very best and personalized automated customer experiences can take just a few weeks and be achieved without the need for specialist teams.

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