Prime Movers Lab raises $245 million for second fund to invest in early stage science startups

After revealing its first fund just last year, a $ 100 million pool of investment capital dedicated to early stage startups focusing on sustainable food development, clean energy, health innovation and new space technologies, Prime Movers Lab is back with a second fund. Prime Movers Lab Fund II is larger, with $ 245 million committed, but it will pursue the same investment strategy, albeit with a plan to place more bets on more companies, with an expanded investment team to help manage the funds and portfolio.

“There are a lot of VCs out there,” explained founder and general partner Dakin Sloss about the concept behind the fund. “But there aren’t many VCs that are focused exclusively on breakthrough science, or deep tech. Even though there are a couple, when you look at the proportion of capital, I think it’s something like less than 10% of capital is going to these types of companies. But if you look at what’s meaningful to the life of the average person over the next 30 years, these are all the companies that are important, whether it’s coronavirus vaccines or solar energy production, or feeding the planet through aquaponics. These are the things that are really meaningful to to making a better quality of life for most people.”

Sloss told me that he sees part of the issue around why the proportion of capital dedicated to solving these significant problems is that it requires a lot of deep category knowledge to invest in correctly.

“There’s not enough technical expertise in VC firms to choose winners intelligently, rather than ending up with the next Theranos or clean tech bubble,” he said. “So that’s the first thing I wanted to solve. I have a physics background, and I was able to bring together a team of partners that have really deeply technical backgrounds.”

As referenced, Sloss himself has a degree from Stanford in Mathematics, Physics and Philosophy. He was a serial entrepreneur before starting the fund, having founded Tachyus, OpenGov and nonprofit California Common Sense. Other Partners on the team include systems engineer Dan Slomski, who previously worked on machine vision, electro-mechanical systems and developing a new multi-phase flow fluid analyzer; Amy Kruse, who holds a PhD in neuroscience and has served as an executive in defence technology and applied neuroscience companies; and Carly Anderson, a chemical engineer who has worked in biomedicine and oil & gas, and who has a PhD in chemical and biomolecular engineering. In addition to core partners with that kind of expertise, Prime Movers Lab enlists the help of venture partners and specialist advisors like former astronaut Chris Hadfield.

Having individuals with deep field expertise on the core team, in addition to supplementing that with top-notch advisors, is definitely a competitive advantage, particularly when investing in the kinds of companies that Prime Movers Lab does early on in their development. There’s a perception that companies pursuing these kinds of hard tech problems aren’t necessarily as viable as a target for traditional venture funding, specifically because of the timelines for returns. Sloss says he believes that’s a misperception based on unfortunate past experience.

“I think there are three big myths about breakthrough science or hard tech or deep tech,” he said. “That it takes longer, that it’s more capital intensive, and that it’s higher risk. And I think the reason those myths are out there is people invested in things like Theranos, and the clean tech bubble. But I think that there were fundamental mistakes made in how they underwrote risk of doing that.”

Image Credits: Momentus

To avoid making those kinds of mistakes, Sloss says that Prime Movers Lab views prospective investments from the perspective of a “spectrum of risk,” which includes risk of the science itself (does the fundamental technology involve actually work), engineering risk (given the science works, can we make it something we can sell) and finally, commercialization or scaling risk (can we then make it and sell it at scale with economics that work). Sloss says that if you use this risk matrix to assess investments, and allocated funds to address primarily the engineering risk category, concerns around timeframes to return don’t really apply.

He cites Primer Movers Lab’s Fund I portfolio, which includes space propulsion company Momentus, heading for an exit to the public markets via SPAC (the company’s Russian CEO actually just resigned in order to smooth the path for that, in fact), and notes that of the 15 companies that Fund I invested in, four are totally on a path to going public. That would put them much faster to an exit than is typical for early stage investment targets, and Sloss credits the very different approach most hard science startups take to IP development and capital.

“The inflection points in these types of companies are actually I think faster to get to market, because they’ve spent years developing the IP, staying at relatively low or attractive valuations,” he said. “Then we can kind of come in, at that inflection point, and help them get ready to commercialize and scale up exponentially, to where other investors no longer have to underwrite the difference between science and engineering risk, they can just see it’s working and producing revenue.”

Companies that fit this mold often come directly from academia, and keep the team small and focused while they’re figuring out the core scientific discovery or innovation that enables the business. A prime example of this in recent memory is Wingcopter, a German drone startup that developed and patented a technology for a tilt-wing rotor that changes the economics of electric autonomous drone flight. The startup just took its first significant startup investment after bootstrapping for four years, and the funds will indeed be used to help it accelerate engineering on a path towards high-volume production.

While Wingcopter isn’t a Prime Movers Lab portfolio company, many of its investments fit the same mold. Boom Aerospace is currently working on building and flying its subscale demonstration aircraft to pave the way for a future supersonic airliner, while Axiom Space just announced the first crew of private tourists to the International Space Station who will fly on a SpaceX Falcon 9 for $ 50 million a piece. As long as you can prove the fundamentals are sound, allocating money turning it into something marketable seems like a logical strategy.

For Prime Movers Lab’s Fund II, the plan is to invest in around 30 or so companies, roughly doubling the number of investments from Fund I. In addition to its partners with scientific expertise, the firm also includes Partners with skill sets including creative direction, industrial design, executive coaching and business acumen, and provides those services to its portfolio companies as value-add to help them supplement their technical innovations. Its Fund I portfolio includes Momentus and Axiom, as mentioned, as well as vertical farming startup Upward Farms, coronavirus vaccine startup Covaxx, and more.

Startups – TechCrunch

Classiq raises $10.5M Series A round for its quantum software development platform

Classiq, a Tel Aviv-based startup that aims to make it easier for computer scientists and developers to create quantum algorithms and applications, today announced that it has raised a $ 10.5 million Series A round led by Team8 Capital and Wing Capital. Entrée Capital, crowdfunding platform OurCrowd and Sumitomo Corporation (through IN Venture) also participated in this round, which follows the company’s recent $ 4 million seed round led by Entrée Capital.

The idea behind Classiq, which currently has just under a dozen members on its team, is that developing quantum algorithms remains a major challenge.

“Today, quantum software development is almost an impossible task,” said Nir Minerbi, CEO and Co-founder of Classiq. “The programming is at the gate level, with almost no abstraction at all. And on the other hand, for many enterprises, that’s exactly what they want to do: come up with game-changing quantum algorithms. So we built the next layer of the quantum software stack, which is the layer of a computer-aided design, automation, synthesis. […] So you can design the quantum algorithm without being aware of the details and the gate level details are automated.”

Image Credits: Classiq

With Microsoft’s Q#, IBM’s Qiskit and their competitors, developers already have access to quantum-specific languages and frameworks. And as Amir Naveh, Classiq’s VP of R&D told me, just like with those tools, developers will define their algorithms as code — in Classiq’s case a variant of Python. With those other languages, though, you will write sequences of gates on the cubits to define your quantum circuit.

“What you’re writing down isn’t gates on cubits, its concepts, its constructs, its constraints — it’s always constraints on what you want the circuit to achieve,” Naveh explained. “And then the circuit is synthesized from the constraints. So in terms of the visual interface, it would look the same [as using other frameworks], but in terms of what’s going through your head, it’s a whole different level of abstraction, you’re describing the circuit at a much higher level.”

This, he said, gives Classiq’s users the ability to more easily describe what they are trying to do. For now, though, that also means that the platform’s users tend to be quantum teams and scientists and developers who are quantum experts and understand how to develop quantum circuits at a very deep level. The team argues, though, that as the technology gets better, developers will need to have less and less of an understanding of how the actual qubits behave.

As Minerbi stressed, the tool is agnostic to the hardware that will eventually run these algorithms. Classiq’s mission, after all, is to provide an additional abstraction layer on top of the hardware. At the same time, though, developers can optimize their algorithms for specific quantum computing hardware as well.

Classiq CTO Dr. Yehuda Naveh also noted that the company is already working with a number of larger companies. These include banks that have used its platform for portfolio optimization, for example, and a semiconductor firm that was looking into a material science problem related to chip manufacturing, an area that is a bit of a sweet spot for quantum computing — at least in its current state.

The team plans to use the new funding to expand its existing team, mostly on the engineering side. A lot of the work the company is doing, after all, is still in R&D. Finding the right software engineers with a background in physics — or quantum information experts who can program — will be of paramount importance for the company. Minerbi believes that is possible, though, and the plan is to soon expand the team to about 25 people.

“We are thrilled to be working with Classiq, assisting the team in achieving their goals of advancing the quantum computing industry,” said Sarit Firon, Managing Partner at Team8 Capital. “As the quantum era takes off, they have managed to solve the missing piece in the quantum computing puzzle, which will enable game-changing quantum algorithms. We look forward to seeing the industry grow, and witnessing how Classiq continues to mark its place as a leader in the industry.”

Startups – TechCrunch

Stilt, a financial services provider for immigrants, raises $100 million debt facility from Silicon Valley Bank

Stilt founders Priyank Singh and Rohit Mittal

Stilt founders Priyank Singh and Rohit Mittal

Stilt, a provider of financial services for immigrants in the United States, announced today it has raised a $ 100 million warehouse facility from Silicon Valley Bank for lending to its customers. This brings Stilt’s total debt facilities so far to $ 225 million, and will enable it to reach more than $ 350 million in annualized loan volume. The company also announced the public launch of its no-fee checking accounts, which have been in private beta since September.

A Y Combinator alum, Stilt was founded five years ago by Rohit Mittal and Priyank Singh. Both dealt with the challenges of accessing financial services as immigrants and wanted to created a company to serve other people without Social Security numbers or credit histories.

For applicants without traditional credit reports, Stilt’s loan application process considers their personal information, including bank transactions, education, employment and visa status, and also uses proprietary machine-learning algorithms that draws on demographic data from a wide range of financial and non-financial sources.

TechCrunch last covered Stilt when it announced a $ 7.5 million seed round in May 2020.  During the pandemic, demand for loans increased for a wide range of reasons. Some customers sought new loans because their working hours got cut. Other borrowers’ own jobs weren’t impacted, but they needed to transfer money to family members in other countries who had lost income. Several used loans to pay for additional visa processing and many customers turned to Stilt because other financial providers shut down or reduced their loan programs over concerns about repayment.

Despite the economic challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Stilt’s loan performance has remained steady. Many of Stilt’s customers are using their loans to build a credit history in the United States and even borrowers who lost income because of the pandemic continued making payments on time (Stilt also created temporary programs, including waiving interest for a few months, to help those who were struggling financially).

Mittal said immigrants are also in general more creditworthy, because many moved to the United States to pursue educational or career opportunities. The difficulty of securing visas means “all immigrants move to the U.S. after jumping through a lot of hoops,” said Mittal. He added that “it isn’t just people coming from other countries. We also see it in DACA applicants. They tend to be the best risk-adjusted return customers. These are people who are going to school, they are working, they have seen their families work, they are helping their parents, they are doing all these things, and they understand the value of money, so they end up being a lot more financially responsible.”

Stilt's money transfer feature

Stilt’s money transfer feature

Stilt’s new checking accounts, powered by Evolve Bank and Trust, are also designed for immigrants, with features like spot-rate remittance to about 50 countries. Users can also apply for credit lines and pre-approved loans through their accounts. Since opening to existing customers in September, the number of active checking accounts is growing 50% month over month, with many using it for direct deposits of their salaries.

The new debt facility from Silicon Valley Bank means Stilt will be able to provide larger loan volumes and better interest rates, said Mittal. Stilt’s average interest rate is about 12% to 14%, compared to the 30% to 100% charged by other programs, like payday loans, that people without Social Security numbers or credit reports often use.

Startups – TechCrunch

Arbol Raises $7M to Provide Insurance to Cover Weather Risk

The organizers of Wimbledon had the foresight to purchase pandemic insurance after SARS in 2003, paying $ 31M in premiums. This year they were covered for $ 142M in losses. The pandemic has made business owners more cognizant of different types of insurance products available to protect them against often insurmountable losses as a result of unexpected disruptions. Arbol has introduced weather risk insurance, a parametric coverage product, built on the blockchain to provide rapid payments in the event of loss without drawn-out claims processes. The company’s products are currently being deployed in the maritime, energy, hospitality, and agriculture industries, where weather risk can be severe. Since launching in March, Arbol has covered $ 15M in notional risk across the hundreds of deals already consummated. AlleyWatch caught up with Founder and CEO Sid Jha to learn more about the benefits of insuring weather risk, the company’s experience launching right as the pandemic swept in, and the company’s recent funding round from investors that include Finch Finance, Space Capital, and Mubadala Capital Ventures.
AlleyWatch

Silicon Valley-based Splashtop raises €41.3M; here’s how this new US unicorn plans to conquer Europe from Amsterdam

Splashtop

Every year, more and more entrepreneurs seem to recognise Amsterdam’s potential as a hub for innovation. The thriving startup ecosystem of Amsterdam has attracted many international startups to set up their European headquarters in the city. 

Silicon Valley-based Splashtop recently joined the list of international startups that chose Amsterdam as their European HQs. The startup also announced today that it has closed a $ 50M (nearly €41.3m)financing round that pushes its valuation beyond the $ 1B (approx €0.83B) unicorn level. The round was led by existing investor Sapphire Ventures, with participation by other long-time Splashtop investors Storm Ventures, NEA and DFJ DragonFund.

“The newest funding comes a decade after Splashtop’s previous funding: four rounds that raised a total of $ 49M (approx €40.4M),” says the company in a press release. 

Making a Splash amid COVID

Splashtop claims to be an emerging leader in next-generation remote access and remote support. It delivers remote access and remote support software and services for enterprises, academic and research institutions, government agencies, small businesses, MSPs, IT departments and individuals.

According to the company, “the COVID-19 pandemic—which shut down physical access to corporate and academic computing resources worldwide—drove increased demand and appreciation for Splashtop’s solutions, including among larger enterprises.”

“Our sustained profitability and growth—which accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic—validate that Splashtop’s modern approach to remote access is making a real difference in how, where and when people can use the digital resources they need to work, learn and be entertained,” says Mark Lee, co-founder, and CEO of Splashtop. 

“We’re fundraising now at unicorn valuation to amplify our brand and momentum so we can attract talent, expand our enterprise presence, and accelerate our global expansion to delight customers everywhere,” he adds.

Validating Valuation

Splashtop’s unicorn status is validated by the fact that it has been profitable since 2015 even while growing rapidly. It claims that its current growth rate of 160 per cent and profits of 60 per cent represent exceptional performance levels.

“Also fueling Splashtop’s valuation is recognition of the company’s vision for disrupting the established remote access market,” says the company. 

“In the investment world, the Rule of 40 is a way to evaluate the investment prospects of software companies. If the sum of revenue growth and profit margin equals or exceeds 40, the company is deemed a potentially healthy investment,” Lee mentions in an official blog post. 

“Splashtop has a growth rate of 160 per cent and profits of 60 per cent—for a total of 220. That’s more than 5X the Rule of 40! And we’ve been profitable since 2015, so this isn’t some flash-in-the-pan recent development. Achieving a Rule of 200+ really sets us apart among companies reaching unicorn status. We’re proud that we’ve pursued this path, because it bodes well for our long-term business health,” he avers. 

The ripples reach Europe

In 2020, Splashtop opened its EMEA headquarters in Amsterdam and expanded its Euro currency and local multilingual support.

In an exclusive conversation with Silicon Canals, Alexander Draaijer, general manager EMEA of Splashtop, shares the reason behind choosing Amsterdam as its EMEA HQs. “Splashtop has picked Amsterdam due to the fact it’s been recognized as the European capital of innovation while the Netherlands is being perceived as the west coast of Europe. Starting our European HQ in Amsterdam, we can attract a lot of multilingual talent that allows us to hit our growth objectives, but more importantly to support our customers in their native language,” he says. 

“Obviously, Amsterdam is easily accessible to people around the world and allows us to easily travel efficiently when needed,” he adds.

According to the company, it has recruited 7 people in its first year of it European presence and plans to hire more once it opens its brand new office at the Piet Heinkade in Amsterdam on the 1st of February 2021.

“This year, we would like to grow over 200 per cent. That means we are looking to hire roughly 10 people in the first quarter of this year with roles varying from customer success, sales, support, and marketing, to channel managers, so we can support and enable key partners across our EMEA markets that can help us scale. I wouldn’t be surprised if we would finish 2021 with 30 people in our new office,” Draaijer says. 

In 2020, It also achieved SOC 2/SOC 3 security auditing compliance and became ready to comply with Europe’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).

Customer-centricity

Draaijer tells Silicon Canals that customer-centricity is a big part of Splashtop’s culture. To illustrate the customer-centric attitude, Draaijer says Splashtop even gave away free licenses to keep struggling businesses afloat, in areas hit hardest by the worldwide pandemic. 

Recently, Splashtop introduced volume discounts to help the remote working effort and to support business continuity in these challenging times. 

“One user costs € 90,- a year. We offer a 20 per cent discount for any user over four, 45 per cent discount for any user over 10, and 50 per cent for any user over 50. And we don’t remove the discount when people renew their subscriptions – this is for life,” he adds.

According to him, even though Splashtop is relatively new to Amsterdam and Europe, it already managed to attract a strong portfolio of customers, with about one thousand paying customers in the Netherlands alone, including NEP Hilversum, healthcare centres like Het Slingeland Ziekenhuis, educational institutions like Leiden University of Applied Sciences and a host of Managed Service Providers. 

“Educational institutions in Europe and Africa are very much our target. We recently signed up many large innovative educational institutions like the Royal College of Art in London and the University of Westminster, both in the UK, but also the IED European Institute of Design in Italy, the Robert Schumann University in Germany and many more.”

Africa and the Middle-East to follow

According to Draaijer, after focusing on the European market from the Amsterdam headquarters, Splashtop will set its focus on Africa and the Middle-East. During 2020, Splashtop expanded its global reach, including new partnerships in EMEA, South America, and Asia.

Startups – Silicon Canals

Lynk, a “knowledge-as-a-service” platform with more than 840,000 experts, raises $24 million

Lynk co-founder and chief executive officer Peggy Choi

Lynk co-founder and chief executive officer Peggy Choi

Lynk, a “knowledge-as-a-service” platform that connects clients with over 840,000 experts in a wide range of fields, announced today it has raised $ 24 million led by Brewer Lane Ventures and MassMutual Ventures, with participation from Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund. The company uses machine learning algorithms to match users, who include investment firms, Fortune 100 companies and government entities, with experts on its platform, helping connect them with people they would probably not find at traditional consultancies or by searching online.

“At the core of it, the search is a people search based on what you know, and not just where you work, to put it very simply,” co-founder and chief executive officer Peggy Choi told TechCrunch.

Founded in 2015, Lynk has now raised a total of $ 30 million. It has more than 200 employees across offices in eight cities: Hong Kong, New York City, Singapore, London, Mumbai, Shanghai, Hyderabad, Toronto and Manila. Its funding will be used for product launches and to expand in North America and China, where its seen demand grow over the past twelve months.

Lynk’s flagship product, Lynk Answers, is currently used by about 200 enterprise clients when their employees need to do research for projects including geographical expansion, product-market fit and due diligence, with many relying on the platform for on-the-ground research in areas they can’t travel to because of the pandemic. For example, investors talk with advisors on Lynk to understand new technology or the dynamics in a sector. Over the past few years, companies have used Lynk to help them react quickly to geopolitical changes, including events that affected their supply chain. Some sought supply chain experts when shipments got stuck in customs or they wanted to diversify their manufacturing by setting up factories in Southeast Asia.

Before Lynk, Choi worked in finance, including at Silver Lake in London and TPG in San Francisco. As an investor, “every day you have to do a lot of conversations with executives and different kinds of experts to learn about new industries or companies really quickly. Through that experience, I realized that talking to the right person makes a huge difference,” she said.

In contrast, Choi found herself at a loss when her parents wanted to launch an art gallery. “They had all these day-to-day business questions and sometimes they asked me because they thought I would know how to address it. But I don’t know either, I’m not the right person for them, so I had to find the right people,” she said. “When I saw that contrast, I thought, what about using data to organize people in a way based on what they know?”

Lynk, which monetizes by charging enterprise clients a subscription fee, fills the gap between traditional consultancies and consumer-oriented Q&A platforms like Quora or China’s Zhihu. The platform also includes SaaS features that provide an alternative to email chains, like collaboration tools and auto-transcription for expert interviews so they can be organized, searched and referenced by a team.

Lynk’s experts, who the platform calls “Knowledge Partners,” include C-suite executives, independent consultants, lawyers, engineers, financial analysts and scientists, among others. The company finds them through several channels, including digital marketing, a referral program for current Knowledge Partners and partnerships with groups, associations and institutions. Lynk vets experts before they are added to the platform, where they set their own rates.

When users have a question, Lynk’s search engine shows them a list of experts based on criteria like domain expertise and geography. Then they ask potential experts a couple of questions to see if they are the right match. Lynk uses data from those conversations, on an anonymized basis, to refine its search technology and make matching more accurate. Once users pick experts, they work with them in different ways. Most of the time they do a question-and-answer session. Sometimes that turns into speaker and workshop engagements or longer-term projects.

Choi said building an inclusive roster of experts is a priority for Lynk. The company’s team and board are divided equally between women and men and represent more than 20 nationalities. It wants to build a diverse database through initiatives like outreach programs and campaigns like Lynk Elite Expert Women to recruit people, including those who haven’t done consulting before.

“When we were running the [Lynk Elite Expert Women] campaign, we realized that a lot of people find it a very new way of being valued,” said Choi. “Especially if they’ve spent their entire life doing something, they also want to know what people want to know about their area.”

Startups – TechCrunch

Germany’s autoRetouch uses AI for bulk-editing fashion product images online; raises €3.2M

Stuttgart-based autoRetouch claims to be the first image editor to automatically edit apparel images in bulk. Also, it is said to be the first-ever image editor to provide an automated ghost mannequin feature, which isn’t available on Photoshop right now. Now, this German AI-powered computer vision platform, focused on editing product images in bulk, has secured €3.2M funding.

Plans to focus on R&D

autoRetouch’s investment round was led by Breuninger, a 140-year-old European apparel retailer. With this investment, the company intends to expand its team of data scientists and engineers from a five to sixteen, double its R&D focus and build initial customer traction.

“We’re building a deeptech b2b platform adhering to a product design philosophy that results in a b2c-like product experience,” states, autoRetouch’s co-founder and CEO Alex Ciorapciu. “Very few other startups have built a similar level of R&D expertise in computer vision in such a short amount of time.”

“As a retailer in a very dense and competitive online market, we have recognised the importance of a good technological solution to significantly minimise the time between the photoshoot and getting the images on the product sales page,” says Holger Blecker, CEO Breuninger. “When we saw what the autoRetouch team could do with apparel images, we knew they were doing something that was previously thought impossible in image editing.”

AI-powered image editing

Founded by Alex Ciorapciu and Julian Eckerle, autoRetouch is an AI-powered image editing platform. It is touted to be more sophisticated than the existing image-editing standard available for fashion and lifestyle brands, creatives and retailers.

Usually, editing fashion and lifestyle product images is time-consuming and often unrewarding in creative terms. The use of outdated technology is considered the industry standard and results in a cumbersome editing process to retouch them at scale. As per the company, it takes 5 to 15 minutes for tasks ranging from removing background removal to basic skin retouching for any standard, non-creative edit of images featuring human models.

With the use of AI, autoRetouch removes background or retouches skin. It combines both the taskmaster and the tool in a single platform. Its API-first approach lets it work at any scale. Editing with the autoRetouch’s AI platform results in great product images easier, faster and cheaper than ever before despite any compromise on creative controls. Moreover, as there is no need to do repetitive tasks with AI, autoRetouch has let customers save up to 90 per cent of the cost than traditional methods.

Patent-pending tech available commercially

Besides its AI-powered imaging editing standard, autoRetouch has come up with its patent-pending Ghost Mannequin effect technology. Previously, this effect was only under preview. Now, this feature is available commercially for users. autoRetouch’s Ghost Mannequin AI, the one-click photography manipulation technology merges two images, and product and inlay shots, intelligently in seconds.

A majority of commercial fashion images use the ghost mannequin effect. With this effect, the model’s or mannequin’s body on which the product is displayed will be digitally edited from two different images to make them transparent or invisible.

All the features of autoRetouch are designed for self-service including the Ghost Mannequin feature. Users can create an autoRetouch account for free and try the service with up to 10 images. To edit additional images, users need to purchase credits available on a pay-as-you-go basis.

As of now, the cost of creating one ghost mannequin image is €0.50 +VAT. On the other hand, configurable workflows for model photography editing are available for €0.10 +VAT per image.

Startups – Silicon Canals

Gardin raises $1.2M pre-seed to use ‘optical phenotyping’ tech to improve food production

Gardin, a ‘deep tech’ hardware and software startup developing optical phenotyping technology and analytics to optimise food production, has raised $ 1.2 million in pre-seed funding.

Leading the round is LDV Capital, with participation from Seedcamp, and MMC Ventures. A number of angel investors are also investing, including Pratima Aiyagari, Gilad Engel, and Abdulaziz Alrashed.

Founded in late 2019, Gardin’s mission, in the U.K. company’s own words, is to help everyone access high quality, nutritious food that is “good for you and for our planet”.

Specifically, the startup is developing tech for farms based on its own “optical phenotyping” hardware and accompanying analytics software. The idea is to enable food producers to measure and monitor the nutritional value of food, from “seed to plate in a real world environment,” rather than a lab.

“With deployment of Gardin’s OS, insight from our analytics will be delivered to help food producers optimise production, grow nutritious food, lower carbon footprint and reduce waste,” says founder and CEO Sumanta Talukdar. “At Gardin, we want to empower food producers to feed the world consciously, sustainably and nutritionally, as it should be”.

Talukdar says he started the company after learning that the traditional food industry currently “does not, or cannot, quantifiably measure food nutrition and quality”. This has seen Gardin partner with some of the leading crop and plant physiologists, phenotyping experts and plant scientists to identify the key biochemical mechanisms in various crops related to plant physiology.

“By designing hardware to specifically measure the signatures of these mechanisms, Gardin is able to quantify plant physiology and key compounds density with high fidelity (i.e. signal/noise ratio) at a cost similar to consumer electronics goods,” he explained. To achieve this, Gardin is employing a multispectral data fusion approach, using a suite of remote sensing and computer vision techniques to capture very specific data which is then “fused” to drive the analytics.

To that end, Gardin has been designed to assist both traditional and CEA (controlled environment agriculture), with the ambitious aim to become the new “food production gold standard”.

“Our full stack product is designed to run and optimise the entire growing environment running silently in the background like an OS i.e we are solving their problems, helping food producers grow higher quality food and reducing their operating costs and carbon footprint,” adds Talukdar.

“We have also designed our platform so we can integrate with their existing architectures. To us, asking a producer in what is already an asset heavy industry to change or add to their system to make us fit, was folly”.

In terms of traction, Talukdar says Gardin has already secured pilot trials that are ready to go live early this year with “key go-to-market clients. They include supermarket chains, food producers and vertical farms.

Startups – TechCrunch

Heidelberg-based Aleph Alpha raises €5.3 million to lead “Made in Europe” AI development

Today AI startup Aleph Alpha announces having raised a €5.3 million seed funding round to research, develop and operationalize European Artificial General Intelligence (AGI).  Headquartered in Germany, Aleph Alpha aims to revolutionize the accessibility and usability of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) in Europe. Founded in 2019, by experts at the forefront of international AI research,…

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