This Dublin-based edtech startup wants to help businesses unlock the power of learning; raises €47.2M

Learning

The European Learning Management System or LMS’s market growth is mostly attributed to the growing adoption of e-learning in training the employees. LMS software applications are designed to develop, manage, and track the report of educational courses and training programs.

According to a report, the market for Europe LMS is expected to reach $ 714.26M (approx €602.9M) by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 17.07% from 2020 to 2025. LMS is segmented into collaborative learning, content management, talent management, performance management, assessment, testing, and others.

The report also suggests that the global pandemic has impacted the adoption of digital learning technologies for the employees. The significant number of cases in the European region has resulted in the countries lockdown which created a dire need in the employment of the LMS in training newly recruited employees thereby impacting the growth of the market.

Cloud-based LMS Raises €47.2M

In a recent development, a Dublin-based company LearnUpon – a cloud-based LMS has received a $ 56M (approx €47.2M) growth equity investment from Summit Partners. 

Additionally, Antony Clavel, a Principal with Summit Partners, will be joining the LearnUpon Board of Directors.

The raised capital will be used by the company to boost its hiring, meet customer demand, and support the continued roll-out of its products.

Let’s learn about LearnUpon

The company was founded in 2012 by Brendan Noud and Des V. Anderson. LearnUpon was founded on the belief that a learning management system should be intuitive for users, quick and seamless to set up, and delivered with industry-leading customer support. The company’s LMS helps to train employees, partners, and customers.

LearnUpon is designed to enable more efficient delivery, tracking, measurement, and certification across numerous learning use-cases, including employee development, customer onboarding, partner education, and compliance training, all of which have traditionally been managed across different systems.

“We believe every learning opportunity should be an experience that advances employee, partner and customer success, and LearnUpon is purpose-built to help organisations of all sizes achieve this goal,” says Brendan Noud, CEO, and co-founder of LearnUpon. 

Development and expansion

The business currently employs 180 people across four offices – Dublin (HQ), Philadelphia, Sydney, and Belgrade – including more than 70 engineering and product development professionals.

Besides, it expects to add more than 100 engineers over the next 18 months to support continued product expansion. 

Noud mentions in a blogpost that LearnUpon has grown its annual recurring revenues by more than 50% year-on-year for each of the last 12 quarters. It has more than 1,000 customers worldwide, including Booking.com, Twilio, USA Football, and Zendesk.

According to him, the company also has 5-star ratings across Capterra, G2Crowd, GetApp, and TrustRadius.

Image credit: LearnUpon

Startups – Silicon Canals

Soleadify secures seed funding for database that uses machine learning to track 40M businesses

Usually, databases about companies have to be painstakingly updated by humans. Soleadify is a startup that uses machine learning to create profiles for businesses in any industry. The first of the company’s products is a business search engine that keeps over 40 million business profiles updated, currently used by hundreds of companies in the USA, Europe and Asia for sales and marketing activities.

It’s now secured $ 1.5 million in seed-round funding from European venture firms GapMinder Venture Partners and DayOne Capital, as well as several prominent business angels, through Seedblink, an equity crowdfunding platform based out of Bucharest, Romania.

The company plans to use the funds to further improve their technology, build partnerships and expand their marketing capabilities.

On top of Soleadify’s data, they build solutions for prospecting, market research, customer segmentation and industry monitoring.

The way it’s done is by frequently scanning billions of webpages, identifying and classifying relevant data points and creating connections between them. The result is a database of business data, which is normally only available through laborious, manual research.

Startups – TechCrunch

Audio learning startup Knowable switches to a $9.99-per-month subscription model

Knowable, the Andreessen Horowitz-backed startup focused on audio learning, is switching business models.

When the company launched last year, it charged users on a per-class basis. Starting today, it’s shifting entirely to a subscription model, where listeners pay $ 50 annually or $ 9.99 per month for unlimited access to the Knowable library.

“This gets us closer to our mission of daily, actionable learning,” co-founder and CEO Warren Shaeffer told me. In other words, the subscription encourages people to treat learning through Knowable as an ongoing habit, rather than a one-off experience.

After all, he said Knowable is already seeing a 24% cross-purchase rate as listeners sign up for new courses. Plus, this will allow the company to experience with other formats, such as briefer lessons. And it’s similar to the subscription model employed by MasterClass and other companies offering video classes.

But why focus on audio in the first place? Shaeffer said that he and his co-founder Alex Benzer have “both seen firsthand that a great teacher can change the trajectory of somebody’s life.” At the same time, they didn’t have time to watch hours of video.

“Every [online learning company] today is very focused on the idea that you need to stare at a screen to learn in a structured way,” Shaeffer said.

Knowable team

The Knowable team

At the same time, many people listen to podcasts when they want to learn new things. So the pair created Knowable with the idea that when you go out for a walk, you can have an easy way to spend that time on what Benzer called “nutritious” content, rather than a “low-calorie true-crime podcast.”

“Warren and I are personally excited about helping people spend less time anxiously doomscrolling, and more time acquiring optimism and confidence through self-guided learning,” he said.

Courses include Alexis Ohanian on entrepreneurship, Mark Bittman on eating well and a variety of experts on public speaking.

Shaeffer said there are now 100 hours of educational content in the Knowable library — about half of it consists of Knowable Originals created by the company’s producers (Knowable’s content team is currently led by former This American Life producer Amy O’Leary), with the other half coming from a new, curated marketplace, where anyone can apply to sell a course.

The content, Shaeffer added, is “audio-first, not audio-only.” Yes, you mostly listen to the classes, but there’s additional material like quizzes and workbooks.

“We think audio is a great catalyst for inspiring,” he said. As a result, Knowable has focused on “soft skills” in categories like professional development, self-improvement and health.

But he also suggested that it’s a “fallacy” to think that you can’t teach more concrete hard skills through audio: “If you want to be a programmer, we’re envisioning a course where someone gets an overview of all the different ways they can learn, and it becomes a launchpad into a deeper dive.”

Startups – TechCrunch

Nym Health raises $16.5 million for its auditable machine learning tools for automating hospital billing

A little less than two years after raising its seed round, the Israeli-based Nym Health has added another $ 16.5 million to its cash haul so it can roll out its technology developing auditable machine learning tools for automating hospital billing.

The new financing came from investors, including GV (the investment arm of Google previously known as Google Ventures), and will be used by the company to expand its technology development and sales and marketing efforts across the U.S.

Billing has been a huge problem for healthcare systems in the U.S., thanks to complicated coding that needs to be entered to ensure insurance providers pay for the services medical professionals give to patients.

Nym claims to have solved the problem by developing technologies that can convert medical charts and electronic medical records from physician’s consultations into proper billing codes automatically. The company uses natural language processing and taxonomies that were specifically developed to understand clinical language to determine the optimal charge for each procedure, examination and diagnostic conducted for a patient, according to Nym.

The company was founded in 2018 by two former members of Israel’s 8200 cybersecurity unit of the army. Adam Rimon and Amihai Neiderman both wanted to work on something together and Neiderman was set on doing something in the medical space involving natural language processing. Rimon had just finished a doctorate in computational linguistics, so the move into charting and medical coding seemed natural.

“Because of our approach we can generate full audit trails,” said Neiderman. “We can explain how we understood everything in patient charts.”

Having automated processes that are also auditable is important for healthcare providers in case they need to provide justification to insurance companies for the services they performed.

Nym’s software can’t address fraud if physicians are padding their bills with services they didn’t offer, but it can provide an audit and justification for the services that a hospital coded for — and potentially wring more money for hospitals that lose out thanks to improperly coded bills. “On the medical decision-making we never intervene. We assume that the physician is trying to do their best and they’re sticking to the protocol,” said Neiderman. 

Interest in developing better billing systems for healthcare is high among venture investors, considering that coding related denials of payment can cost hospitals $ 15 billion, according to Nym. It’s a service that brought attention not just from GV, but Bessemer Venture Partners, Dynamic Loop Capital, Lightspeed, Tiger Global, and angel investors including Zach Weinberg and Nat Turner from Flatiron Health.

“Inaccurate coding is bad for everybody,” says Ben Robbins, a venture partner at GV.

Nym charges between $ 1 and $ 4 per chart it analyzes, and is already working with around 40 medical providers in the U.S., according to the company.

 

Startups – TechCrunch

Buying half, learning, buying other half

Hi all – I don’t own a business but ran into an interesting opportunity. What do you think? And what are some recommendations?

My daughter does gymnastics at a gymnastics gym. It’s rather smaller than the surrounding competitors but I’m finding that is a selling point for those parents that bring their kids there (instead of the puppy mill gyms). The actual gym needs a face lift, help with migrating from paper to online, advertising and marketing. Bones are there, but it’s run by a man who seems tired and quite frankly, depressed. He’s done everything himself – my husband is in IT so can handle the migration online and the advertising/marketing. The gym has virtually no online presence. Business is mostly by word of mouth. And I can handle the day to day (being in corporate business myself). Only one of us will quit our jobs once we go fully 100%, but at 50% we will continue to work FT.

I’ve known the owner for a couple years and we’ve had some serious conversations about buying into the business (starting at 50%). He’s agreed to teach me and my husband the business, how he runs it, what needs to improve and so forth… and then when comfortable wants to be bought out for the remaining 50%. We will have all the details set on a writer contract.

I’ve asked for balance sheets for last 3-5 years, full class offerings (which has much room for improvement), and business goals. What else needs to be done? I’m new to all of this but don’t even know where to start!

Also, he is on a 7 year lease (one year 3 of 7, now) – and I’ve asked for a copy of this as well.

I’ll analyze the numbers, but from conversations I think he is just depressed and wants out. His wife is terminally ill and he needed to send his daughter back to Europe to live with his parents while he cares for his wife. It’s sad – but I think he’s just lonely and likely wants to go back to Europe and wants out of the business.

It’s located in NY/NJ area. Initial price discussed was 120k, but I need to see numbers to see if this makes sense (I think it’s high, but I think he will go down). I think I’d aim for 80k

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Startups – Rapid Growth and Innovation is in Our Very Nature!

Bespoken Spirits raises $2.6M in seed funding to combine machine learning and accelerated whiskey aging

Bespoken Spirits, a Silicon Valley spirits company that has developed a new data-driven process to accelerate the aging of whiskey and create specific flavors, today announced that it has raised a $ 2.6 million seed funding round. Investors include Clos de la Tech owner T.J. Rodgers and baseball’s Derek Jeter.

The company was co-founded by former Bloom Energy, BlueJeans and Mixpanel exec Stu Aaron and another Bloom Energy alumn, Martin Janousek, whose name can be found on a fair number of Bloom Energy patents.

Bespoken isn’t the first startup to venture into accelerated aging, a process that tries to minimize the time it takes to age these spirits, which is typically done in wooden barrels. The company argues that it’s the first to combine that with a machine learning-based approach though what it calls its ACTivation technology.

“Rather than putting the spirit in a barrel and passively waiting for nature to take its course, and just rolling the dice and seeing what happens, we instead use our proprietary ACTivation technology — with the A, C and T standing for aroma, color and taste — to instill the barrel into the spirit, and actively control the process and the chemical reactions in order to deliver premium quality tailored spirits — and to be able to do that in just days rather than decades,” explained Aaron.

Image Credits: Bespoken Spirits

And while there is surely a lot of skepticism around this technology, especially in a business that typically prides itself on its artisanal approach, the company has won prizes at a number of competitions. The team argues that traditional barrel aging is a wasteful process, where you lose 20% of the product through evaporation, and one that is hard to replicate. And because of how long it takes, it also creates financial challenges for upstarts in this business — and it makes it hard to innovate.

As the co-founders told me, there are three pillars to its business: selling its own brand of spirits, maturation-as-a-service for rectifiers and distillers and producing custom private label spirits for retailers, bars and restaurants. At first, the team mostly focused on the latter two — and especially its maturation-as-a-service business. Right now, Aaron noted, a lot of craft distilleries are facing financial strains and need to unlock their inventory and get their product to market sooner — and maybe at a better quality and hence higher price point — than they previously could.

There’s also the existing market of rectifiers, who, at least in the U.S., take existing products and blend them. These, too, are looking for ways to improve their processes and make it more replicable.

Interestingly, a lot of breweries, too, are now sitting on excess or expired beer because of the pandemic. “They’re realizing that rather than paying somebody to dispose of that beer and taking it back, they can actually recycle — or upcycle maybe is a better word — the beer, by distilling it into whiskey,” Aaron said. “But unfortunately, when a brewery distills beer into whiskey, it’s typically not very good whiskey. And that’s where we come in. We can take that beer bin, as a lot of people call initial distillation, and we can convert it into a premium-quality whiskey.”

Image Credits: Bespoken Spirits

Bespoken is also working with a few grocery chains, for example, to create bespoke whiskeys for their house brands that match the look and flavor of existing brands or that offer completely new experiences.

The way the team does this is by collecting a lot of data throughout its process and then having a tasting panel describe the product for them. Using that data and feeding it into its systems, the company can then replicate the results — or tweak them as necessary — without having to wait for years for a barrel to mature.

“We’re collecting all this data — and some of the data that we’re collecting today, we don’t even know yet what we’re going to use it for,” Janousek said. Using its proprietary techniques, Bespoken will often create dozens of samples for a new customer and then help them whittle those down.

“I often like to describe our company as a cross between 23andme, Nespresso and Impossible Foods,” Aaron said. “We’re like 23andme, because again, we’re trying to map the customer to preference to the recipe to results. There is this big data, genome mapping kind of a thing. And we’re like Nespresso because our machine takes spirit and supply pods and produces results, although obviously we’re industrial scale and they’re not. And it’s like Impossible Foods, because it’s totally redefining an age-old antiquated model to be completely different.”

The company plans to use the new funding to accelerate its market momentum and build out its technology. Its house brand is currently available for sale in California, Wisconsin and New York.

“The company’s ability to deliver both quality and variety is what really caught my attention and made me want to invest,” said T.J. Rogers. “In a short period of time, they’ve already produced an incredible range of top-notch spirits, from whiskeys to rum, brandy and tequila — all independently validated time and again in blind tastings and prestigious competitions.”

Full disclaimer: The company sent me a few samples. I’m not enough of a whiskey aficionado to review those, but I did enjoy them (responsibly).

Startups – TechCrunch

Combining machine learning tools for medical imaging with genetic sequencing nets Sophia Genetics $110M

SOPHiA GENETICS, the shoutily and poorly capitalized-named startup that’s combining machine learning tools for medical imaging and genetic sequencing to come up with a more holistic view of diseases for better patient care, has raised $ 110 million in new funding.

The Series F round for the company was led by aMoon, an Israeli healthcare and life sciences investment fund, and Hitachi Ventures, the investment arm of the Hitachi Group.

Financial services firms like Credit Suisse and the Pictet Group, along with previous investors including Swisscom Ventures, Endeavour Vision, Generation Investment Management, and Eurazeo Growth, also participated in the financing.

The company’s technology uses multiple sources of medical data to come up with potentially novel insights about how diseases spread in the body, and offer better ways to coordinate care. The Boston and Lausanne, Switzerland-based company’s tech is currently used by more than 1,000 healthcare institutions and has analyzed 600,000 genomic profiles, according to a statement.

The goal, the company said, is better patient care.

According to a statement, the new funding will be used to expand the company’s footprint in the U.S. and Asian markets.

It also appears that the company may be gearing up for a public offering. It’s added Didier Hirsch, the former chief financial officer of Agilent, to its board of directors, and has created an audit committee (usually a stepping stone on the way to a dive into public market waters).

“We believe that SOPHIA’s decentralized model will play a pivotal role in empowering health organizations to offer better patient care,” said Dr. Tomer Berkovitz, partner & CFO of aMoon, in a statement.

Startups – TechCrunch

Homer nabs $50M from Lego, Sesame Workshop and Gymboree for its early learning apps

For better or worse, tablets and smartphones have become a cornerstone of how many younger children pass the time. Today, a company that builds literacy and other educational apps to help make that time more worthwhile is announcing a large round of funding from a number of strategic backers to move into the next phase of its growth, building not just apps but a comprehensive learning platform.

BEGiN, the startup behind the Homer early learning program aimed primarily at kids between the ages of two and eight, has raised $ 50 million in a Series C round of funding, money that it plans to use to, in the words of CEO Neal Shenoy (who co-founded the company with Stephanie Dua), create a “systematic experience” in learning.

The startup has been around since 2013 and got its start with literacy — it says that its reading apps are currently the most popular for children under age five in the U.S. App Store — which remains its core subject area, but it has also expanded into other subject areas and plans to take that further.

“We are launching the industry’s first comprehensive early learning program,” he said in an interview. “And so from a curriculum perspective, this will extend beyond reading to include math, critical thinking, creativity, and socio-emotional learning, we will deliver this learning, these experiences, across digital, physical, tangible product, and in class mediums, we will focus on both serving the child and the parent and the relationship between them says the parent is the child’s first teacher.”

The round includes a number of strategic investors that will help bring this together. The backers include LEGO Ventures, Sesame Workshop, the principal investor in Gymboree Play & Music, 3One4 Capital, Trustbridge Partners and Interlock Partners. In addition to the $ 50 million, Liquidity Capital is also contributing $ 25 million in trajectory-based funding for further growth. The strategic backers plan to help build the curriculum, the products and the distribution for the new program, he said.

The valuation of Homer, and BEGiN itself, is not being disclosed, but the company said that it already has hundreds of thousands of subscribers and generates tens of millions of dollars in revenues.

The funding news and strategic expansion comes at a critical time in the educational industry, and e-learning in particular.

Children’s educational apps — and taking even just those focused on early learning (Age of Learning is another leader in this segment of the market) — have been around for as long as the internet itself. But they have always existed in conjunction with a host of more conventional resources, such as nurseries and schools, playgroups and other activities, and general socialization. The global health pandemic, however, has changed all that for many people: many families, kids included, are spending more time at home and away from teachers and the (real life) social networks that play a part in how they develop.

That’s put a huge emphasis on rethinking how tech-based tools, starting with gadgets like tablets and software like apps, can make up the difference, for now or maybe even for longer, to make sure that kids continue to learn, but also feel engaged and stimulated at a time when a lot of options for doing that have been reduced.

Joining up app makers with those who make educational physical objects is a not a new thing per se: “educational toys,” as any parent knows, are a dime a dozen in terms of supply (if not cost… they can be expensive). But it’s interesting to see toy makers joining up with those who build entertainment content and other products for children for an even bigger-picture approach to identifying and building to address the challenge of how best to deliver some aspects of early-years education.

Indeed, LEGO Ventures is a newish effort from the Danish modular toy maker, founded to help the company, now more than 70 years old, step into the next phase of how children learn and keep themselves entertained.

HOMER’s vision and approach to playful learning fosters curiosity and collaboration in children that aligns closely with LEGO Ventures’ investment ethos supporting founders and companies in bringing the LEGO idea of learning-through-play to life,” said Jamie Beaumont, managing partner, LEGO Ventures, in a statement. “We look forward to working with Neal and the excellent team he has built, and supporting HOMER as they grow and scale their purposeful play offerings across hands-on, in-person and digital experiences.”

As with e-learning companies targeting other age groups, the startup has seen a huge boost in business in the last several months, with a 280% increase in annual subscriptions, 230% increase in website subscriptions, and children accessing 30% more lessons than this time last year. (Overall, the company has had 80%+ year-over-year growth since launch.)

“With its focus on research and kid-centric design, and expansion to embrace the whole child curriculum, HOMER’s approach reflects the mission of Sesame Workshop to help kids grow smarter, strong and kinder,” said Steve Youngwood, president of Media and Education, and chief operating officer of Sesame Workshop, in a statement. “We’re excited to support HOMER’s growth and to look for further ways to partner with them to give young children the best possible start at a critical time of their learning and development.”

Additional reporting Natasha Mascarenhas

Startups – TechCrunch

Datasaur snags $3.9M investment to build intelligent machine learning labeling platform

As machine learning has grown, one of the major bottlenecks remains labeling things so the machine learning application understands the data it’s working with. Datasaur, a member of the Y Combinator Winter 2020 batch, announced a $ 3.9 million investment today to help solve that problem with a platform designed for machine learning labeling teams.

The funding announcement, which includes a pre-seed amount of $ 1.1 million from last year and $ 2.8 million seed right after it graduated from Y Combinator in March, included investments from Initialized Capital, Y Combinator and OpenAI CTO Greg Brockman.

Company founder Ivan Lee says that he has been working in various capacities involving AI for seven years. First when his mobile gaming startup, Loki Studios was acquired by Yahoo! in 2013, and Lee was eventually moved to the AI team, and most recently at Apple. Regardless of the company, he consistently saw a problem around organizing machine learning labeling teams, one that he felt he was uniquely situated to solve because of his experience.

“I have spent millions of dollars [in budget over the years] and spent countless hours gathering labeled data for my engineers. I came to recognize that this was something that was a problem across all the companies that I’ve been at. And they were just consistently reinventing the wheel and the process. So instead of reinventing that for the third time at Apple, my most recent company, I decided to solve it once and for all for the industry. And that’s why we started Datasaur last year,” Lee told TechCrunch.

He built a platform to speed up human data labeling with a dose of AI, while keeping humans involved. The platform consists of three parts: a labeling interface, the intelligence component, which can recognize basic things, so the labeler isn’t identifying the same thing over and over, and finally a team organizing component.

He says the area is hot, but to this point has mostly involved labeling consulting solutions, which farm out labeling to contractors. He points to the sale of Figure Eight in March 2019 and to Scale, which snagged $ 100 million last year as examples of other startups trying to solve this problem in this way, but he believes his company is doing something different by building a fully software-based solution

The company currently offers a cloud and on-prem solution, depending on the customer’s requirements. It has 10 employees with plans to hire in the next year, although he didn’t share an exact number. As he does that, he says he has been working with a partner at investor Initialized on creating a positive and inclusive culture inside the organization, and that includes conversations about hiring a diverse workforce as he builds the company.

“I feel like this is just standard CEO speak but that is something that we absolutely value in our top of funnel for the hiring process,” he said.

As Lee builds out his platform, he has also worried about built-in bias in AI systems and the detrimental impact that could have on society. He says that he has spoken to clients about the role of labeling in bias and ways of combatting that.

“When I speak with our clients, I talk to them about the potential for bias from their labelers and built into our product itself is the ability to assign multiple people to the same project. And I explain to my clients that this can be more costly, but from personal experience I know that it can improve results dramatically to get multiple perspectives on the exact same data,” he said.

Lee believes humans will continue to be involved in the labeling process in some way, even as parts of the process become more automated. “The very nature of our existence [as a company] will always require humans in the loop, […] and moving forward I do think it’s really important that as we get into more and more of the long tail use cases of AI, we will need humans to continue to educate and inform AI, and that’s going to be a critical part of how this technology develops.”

Startups – TechCrunch

Learning how to ask questions is an essential skill for startup founders

For many of us, learning to ask questions was a matter of the five W’s: who, what, where, when, why (and how).

As I interviewed founders about the most valuable learning resources that allowed them to grow into the leaders they are today, I realized that many of them leaned heavily on carefully crafted approaches to asking questions. In all the interviews, inquiry was by far the most cited learning process. I found these founders to be incredibly methodical, brave, curious, disciplined and efficient in their pursuit of learning.  

Founders showed incredible discipline by approaching information gathering as a structured process. Some founders have a highly systematic approach in how they target their outreach:

I learned by being systematic about talking to people smarter than myself. I needed to know hundreds of people and know what they know. I made a table matrix of who I talk to and for what topic. For example, Eric Schmidt is one of six experts I turn to on establishing management OKRs.

— Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn

And in how they catalog/store information about who is an expert …

Startups – TechCrunch