VoltServer adds a data layer to electricity distribution in a move that could help smart grid rollout

Stephen Eaves, the chief executive of a new startup which promises to overlay data on electricity distribution has spent years developing data management technologies.

Eaves’ first company, the eponymous Eaves Devices focused on energy systems in aerospace and defense — they converted the military’s fleet of B2 bombers to use lithium ion batteries.

The second company he was involved in was developing modular array devices to install in central offices and cell towers and conducted early work on electric vehicle development.

His goal, Eaves says, was to “make electricity inherently safe”.

VoltServer is the latest company from Eaves to pursue that goal. Eaves makes transmission safer by breaking electrical distribution into packets and those packets are sent down transmission lines to ensure that are not faults. If there’s a break in the line, the equipment stops transmitting energy.

“We take either AC or DC electricity into a transmitter and the transmitter breaks the electricity into packets and the receiver takes the packets and puts them back together and distributes it as regular AC/DC current,” Eaves explains.

The architecture is akin to a router. There’s digital signal processing in the transmitter powered by a semiconductor that’s a gateway for the electricity. “It’s like the devices you find in solar power converters,” says Eaves.

Already roughly 700 stadiums, large offices, and indoor grow facilities have deployed the company’s technology. And the traction was enough to attract the attention of Alphabet subsidiary, Sidewalk Labs, which led a recent $7.4 million financing into the company. To date, the company has raised $18 million from a clutch of investors including: Marker Hill Capital, Slater Technology Fund, Natural Resources Capital Management, Clean Energy Venture Group, Angel Street Capital and Coniston Capital.  

“We’re kind of a combined hardware and software company,” says Eaves. “[Customers] buy the boxes and the company has third parties that install it.. There are software applications to track energy usage to assign processes for what to do in an outage.”

Typical installations can be anywhere from $30,000 to $1 million and the company is targeting three core markets — intelligent building infrastructure, communications, and indoor agriculture, according to Eaves. In fact, the company’s largest installation is a lettuce farm in Florida. “You’re in a very constrained environment and you want a very safe transmission technology. And we’ve developed a lighting product. It removes a lot of the conversion electronics that would normally be in the growth space,” says Eaves.

The technology certainly slashes the cost for power transmission in a stadium. Traditional power transmission can cost roughly $36 per linear foot, while VoltServer can cut that cost to less than $10 per foot, according to the company.

VoltServer isn’t the only startup that’s looking to add data controls to electricity distribution. Companies like Blueprint PowerBlue Pillar, and monitoring companies like Enertiv and Aquicore are all looking at ways to monitor and manage distribution. At the grid scale, there’s Camus Energy which looks to provide energy “orchestration” services.

“Electricity powers our world, but the fundamental danger inherent in AC or DC electricity makes today’s electrical systems expensive to install or change,” said Sidewalk Labs chairman and chief executive, Dan Doctoroff in a statement. “[This technology] is a breakthrough, offering a less expensive, safer and more efficient way to distribute electricity that can make buildings more affordable and flexible.  Over time, that can make cities more affordable, sustainable, and adaptable as our needs change.”

For some investors in the energy sector, these kinds of distribution and transmission technologies are a critical component of the next generation of grid technologies needed to bring the world closer to 100% renewable transmission.

“What is relevant is internet-connected, controllable energy assets that you can control from some centralized dispatch,” says one investor active in energy investing. 

Recycling robots raise millions from top venture firms to rescue an industry in turmoil

The problem of how to find the potential treasure trove hidden in millions of pounds of trash is getting a high-tech answer as investors funnel $16 million into the recycling robots built by Denver-based AMP Robotics.

For recyclers, the commercialization of robots tackling industry problems couldn’t come at a better time. Their once-stable business has been turned on its head by trade wars and low unemployment.

Recycling businesses used to be able to rely on China to buy up any waste stream (no matter the quality of the material). However, about two years ago, China decided it would no longer serve as the world’s garbage dump and put strict standards in place for the kinds of raw materials it would be willing to receive from other countries. The result has been higher costs at recycling facilities, which actually are now required to sort their garbage more effectively.

At the same time, low unemployment rates are putting the squeeze on labor availability at facilities where humans are basically required to hand-sort garbage into recyclable materials and trash.

Given the economic reality, recyclers are turning to AMP’s technology — a combination of computer vision, machine learning and robotic automation to improve efficiencies at their facilities.

trash cans

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Abulla Al Muhairi

That’s what attracted Sequoia Capital to lead the company’s latest investment round — a $16 million Series A investment the company will use to expand its manufacturing capacity and boost growth as it looks to expand into international markets.

“We are excited to partner with AMP because their technology is changing the economics of the recycling
industry,” said Shaun Maguire, partner at Sequoia, in a statement. “Over the last few years, the industry has had their margins squeezed by labor shortages and low commodity prices. The end result is an industry proactively searching for cost-saving alternatives and added opportunities to increase revenue by capturing more high-value recyclables, and AMP is emerging as the leading solution.”

The funding will be used to “broaden the scope of what we’re going after,” says chief executive Matanya Horowitz. Beyond reducing sorting costs and improving the quality of the materials that recycling facilities can ship to buyers, the company’s computer vision technologies can actually help identify branded packaging and be used by companies to improve their own product life cycle management.

“We can identify… whether it’s a Coke or Pepsi can or a Starbucks cup,” says Horowitz. “So that people can help design their product for circularity… we’re building out our reporting capabilities and that, to them, is something that is of high interest.”

That combination of robotics, computer vision and machine learning has potential applications beyond the recycling industry as well, according to Horowitz. Automotive scrap and construction waste are other areas where the company has seen interest for its combination of software and hardware.

Meanwhile, the core business of recycling is picking up. In October, the company completed the installation of 14 robots at Single Stream Recyclers in Florida. It’s the largest single deployment of robots in the recycling industry and the robots, which can sort and pick twice as fast as people with higher degrees of accuracy, are installed at sorting lines for plastics, cartons, fiber and metals, the company said.

AMP’s business has two separate revenue streams — a robotics as a service offering and a direct sales option — and the company has made other installations at sites in California, Colorado, Indiana, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The traction the company is seeing in its core business was validating for early investors like BV, Closed Loop Partners, Congruent Ventures and Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, the Alphabet subsidiary’s new spin-out that invests in technologies to support new infrastructure projects.

For Mike DeLucia, the Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners principal who led the company’s investment into AMP Robotics, the deal is indicative of where his firm will look to commit capital going forward.

“It’s a technology that enables physical assets to operate more efficiently,” he says. “Our goal is to find the technologies that enable really exciting infrastructure projects, back them and work with them to deliver projects in the physical world.”

Investors like DeLucia and Abe Yokell, from the investment firm Congruent Ventures, think that recycling is just the beginning. Applications abound for AMP Robotic’s machine learning and computer vision technologies in areas far beyond the recycling center.

“When you think about how technology is able to impact the built environment, one area is machine vision,” says Yokell. “[Machine learning] neural nets can apply to real-world environments, and that stuff has gotten cheaper and easier to deploy.”

No one knows how effective digital therapies are, but a new tool from Elektra Labs aims to change that

Depending on which study you believe, the wearable and digital health market could be worth anywhere from $30 billion to nearly $90 billion in the next six years.

If the numbers around the size of the market are a moving target, just think about how to gauge the validity and efficacy of the products that are behind all of those billions of dollars in spending.

Andy Coravos, the co-founder of Elektra Labs, certainly has.

Coravos, whose parents were a dentist and a nurse practitioner, has been thinking about healthcare for a long time. After a stint in private equity and consulting, she took a coding bootcamp and returned to the world she was raised in by taking an internship with the digital therapeutics company, Akili Interactive.

Coravos always thought she wanted to be in healthcare, but there was one thing holding her back, she says. “I’m really bad with blood.”

That’s why digital therapeutics made sense. The stint at Akili led to a position at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as an entrepreneur in residence, which led to the creation of Elektra Labs roughly two years ago.

Now the company is launching Atlas, which aims to catalog the biometric monitoring technologies that are flooding the consumer health market.

These monitoring technologies, and the applications layered on top of them, have profound implications for consumer health, but there’s been no single place to gauge how effective they are, or whether the suggestions they’re making about how their tools can be used are even valid. Atlas and Elektra are out to change that. 

The FDA has been accelerating its clearances for software-driven products like the atrial fibrillation detection algorithm on the Apple Watch and the ActiGraph activity monitors. And big pharma companies like Roche, Pfizer and Novartis have been investing in these technologies to collect digital biomarker data and improve clinical trials.

Connected technologies could provide better care, but the technologies aren’t without risks. Specifically the accuracy of data and the potential for bias inherent in algorithms which were created using flawed datasets mean that there’s a lot of oversight that still needs to be done, and consumers and pharmaceutical companies need to have a source of easily accessible data about the industry.

”The increase in FDA clearances for digital health products coupled with heavy investment in technology has led to accelerated adoption of connected tools in both clinical trials and routine care. However, this adoption has not come without controversy,” said Coravos, co-founder and CEO of Elektra Labs, in a statement. “During my time as an Entrepreneur in Residence in the FDA’s Digital Health Unit, it became clear to me that like pharmacies which review, prepare, and dispense drug components, our healthcare system needs infrastructure to review, prepare, and dispense connected technologies components.

The analogy to a pharmacy isn’t an exact fit, because Elektra Labs currently doesn’t prepare or dispense any of the treatments that it reviews. But Atlas is clearly the first pillar that the digital therapeutics industry needs as it looks to supplant pharmaceuticals as treatments for some of the largest and most expensive chronic conditions (like diabetes).

Coravos and here team interviewed more than 300 professionals as they built the Atlas toolkit for pharmaceutical companies and other healthcare stakeholders seeking a one-stop-shop for all of their digital healthcare data needs. Like a drug label, or nutrition label, Atlas publishes labels that highlight issues around the usability, validation, utility, security and data governance of a product.

In an article in Quartz earlier this year, Coravos made her pitch for Elektra Labs and the types of things it would monitor for the nascent digital therapeutics industry. It includes the ability to handle adverse events involving digital therapies by providing a single source where problems could be reported; a basic description for consumers of how the products work; an assessment of who should actually receive digital therapies, based on the assessment of how well certain digital products perform with certain users; a description of a digital therapy’s provenance and how it was developed; a database of the potential risks associated with the product; and a record of the product’s security and privacy features.

As the projections on market size show, the problem isn’t going to get any smaller. As Google’s recent acquisition bid for FitBit and the company’s reported partnership with Ascension on “Project Nightingale” to collect and digitize more patient data shows, the intersection of technology and healthcare is a huge opportunity for technology companies.

“Google is investing more. Apple is investing more… More and more of these devices are getting FDA cleared and they’re becoming not just wellness tools but healthcare tools,” says Coravos of the explosion of digital devices pitching potential health and wellness benefits.

Elektra Labs is already working with undisclosed pharmaceutical companies to map out the digital therapeutic environment and identify companies that might be appropriate partners for clinical trials or acquisition targets in the digital market.

“The FDA is thinking about these digital technologies, but there were a lot of gaps,” says Coravos. And those gaps are what Elektra Labs is designed to fill. 

At its core, the company is developing a catalog of the digital biomarkers that modern sensing technologies can track and how effective different products are at providing those measurements. The company is also on the lookout for peer-reviewed published research or any clinical trial data about how effective various digital products are.

Backing Coravos and her vision for the digital pharmacy of the future are venture capital investors including Maverick Ventures, Arkitekt Ventures, Boost VC, Founder Collective, Lux Capital, SV Angel, and Village Global.

Alongside several angel investors, including the founders and chief executives from companies including: PillPack, Flatiron Health, National Vision, Shippo, Revel and Verge Genomics, the venture investors pitched in for a total of $2.9 million in seed funding for Coravos’ latest venture.

“Timing seems right for what Elektra is building,” wrote Brandon Reeves, an investor at Lux Capital, which was . one of the first institutional investors in the company. “We have seen the zeitgeist around privacy data in applications on mobile phones and now starting to have the convo in the public domain about our most sensitive data (health).” 

If the validation of efficacy is one key tenet of the Atlas platform, then security is the other big emphasis of the company’s digital therapeutic assessment.  Indeed, Coravos believes that the two go hand-in-hand. As privacy issues proliferate across the internet, Coravos believes that the same troubles are exponentially compounded by internet-connected devices that are monitoring the most sensitive information that a person has — their own health records.

In an article for Wired, Koravos wrote:

Our healthcare system has strong protections for patients’ biospecimens, like blood or genomic data, but what about our digital specimens? Due to an increase in biometric surveillance from digital tools—which can recognize our face, gait, speech, and behavioral patterns—data rights and governance become critical. Terms of service that gain user consent one time, upon sign-up, are no longer sufficient. We need better social contracts that have informed consent baked into the products themselves and can be adjusted as user preferences change over time.

We need to ensure that the industry has strong ethical underpinning as it brings these monitoring and surveillance tools into the mainstream. Inspired by the Hippocratic Oath—a symbolic promise to provide care in the best interest of patients—a number of security researchers have drafted a new version for Connected Medical Devices.

With more effective regulations, increased commercial activity, and strong governance, software-driven medical products are poised to change healthcare delivery. At this rate, apps and algorithms have the opportunity to augment doctors and complement—or even replace—drugs sooner than we think.

Plant-based dairy replacements are coming to ice cream pints in San Francisco and New York

Plant-based replacements are so hot right now, they’re even hitting the coolest thing in food — ice cream.

The new plant-based dairy replacement maker, Eclipse Foods, has just signed a deal with hipster ice cream brands Humphry Slocombe and Oddfellows to put its dairy replacements into their mixes.

Unlike other plant-based products which provide an alternative to dairy without mimicking its texture and taste, the folks at Eclipse Foods say their product is indistinguishable from milk from animals — and made using allergen-free ingredients.

Starting on Saturday, store shelves in New York and San Francisco will be stocked with the OddFellows and Humphry Slocombe artisanal ice cream brands made from plants.

The company has raised $3.5 million from investors including Alexis Ohanian and his Initialized Capital investment firm, Gmail creator Paul Buchheit and the former chairman of Daiya Foods, Eric Patel.

“I’m excited to be investing in more plant-based foods,” said Ohanian, in a statement. “Aylon and Thomas were immediately impressive as accomplished experts in food science and the quality of the ice cream is already near indistinguishable from its dairy counterpart and it’s only going to get better. This is filling a need in the surging plant-based food space that is competitively priced, sustainably produced, and — most importantly –delicious.”

Compared to some of its competitors, the Eclipse Foods path to market is relatively straightforward — since it’s not using any genetically modified ingredients to make its dairy replacements. It’s more like the Beyond Meat than the Impossible Foods of the dairy industry.

“We’re not using any expensive biotech to get to where we’re going,” says Aylon Steinhart, the company’s chief executive. “We take plants and we use our world class expertise in functional plant proteins and how they work to blend plants together in a quite simple way.”

Founded by Steinhart a former expert at the Good Food Institute, a non-profit focused on plant-based food innovation, and Thomas Bowman, the former director of product development at JUST, Eclipse Foods launched from Y Combinator’s famed accelerator in March of this year.

The low-cost inputs that the company says it uses, including corn and cassava, means that it won’t require as much capital to scale up, says Steinhart.

For now, the company is pursuing the roadmap laid out by Pat Brown’s Impossible Foods and replicated by dozens of other startups going after plant-based or lab-grown replacements to traditional proteins. That means partnering with famous chefs and artisanal brands whose products sell at a higher price point than your McDonalds or Burger King soft serve ice cream cones (or Wendys ultra-delicious Frosty).

Instead of plain vanilla, Eclipse Foods plant-based liquid ice cream base will be showing up in flavors like OddFellows‘ Miso Cherry and Olive Oil Plum ice creams or Humphry Slocombe‘s spiced Mexican Hot Chocolate.

Ultimately, the company has plans to go down market and sell into the same kinds of stores that are offering Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods burgers and patties.

If every Burger King has an Impossible Whopper and every Carls Jr. has a Beyond Famous Star, then every restaurant should have a dairy-free ice cream offering,” says Bowman. “It’s got no allergens. No GMOs … no gums no gels and no stabilizers.”

Chargify adds revenue forecasting tools to its suite of hosted payment management services

Chargify, the payment management service owned by Scaleworks, has added revenue forecasting tools to its software as a service offering.

The company’s new revenue forecasting tools uses historical data and month-over-month performance pulled from a company’s billing platform.

The company says its new tool can cut forecasting down from two months to as little as two minutes.

With a suite of billing and revenue management tools, Chargify already has a good window into previous performance. And the company hopes those forecasting tools can help businesses benchmark their revenue progress.

Using the new forecasting tool, companies can pull baseline metrics from historical growth and churn data looking at three-, six-, or twelve-month averages to understand how historical trends could affect businesses, the company said.

Beyond forecasting, the toolkit from San Antonio-based Chargify will save the projections and automatically trigger benchmark tracking to actual performance alongside the baseline forecast.

Scanwell Health launches smartphone tests for UTIs in partnership with Lemonaid Health

Companies continue to refine digital diagnostic tools for in-home healthcare at a rapid clip and the latest to launch is an at-home test for urinary tract infections from the Los Angeles-based startup Scanwell Health.

The company was founded by Stephen Chen, who literally grew up in the diagnostics testing business. His family had built one of the largest manufacturers of urinalysis testing in the country and Chen’s earliest memories of work are standing on an assembly line putting together pregnancy tests.

“I come from a family that manufactures pee-tests,” says Chen. “I was born into the business.”

Through this window into the market, Chen knew that there was a way to circumvent the time consuming process of booking a doctor’s visit to get a test scheduled and performed. “These tests have been sold into doctors’ offices and hospitals and I always thought you could make these tests more accessible,” says Chen. 

Working with a team of technologists, Chen built a software product that can provide the same analysis of a test kit using a smartphone’s camera and an app that would have been performed in a brick and mortar diagnostics testing facility.

“The core chemistry is a traditional diagnostics kit that has been used by the healthcare systems for many years,” he says. “We’ve taken that standalone box and moved it to the smartphone.”

Just like a traditional test, a chemically treated strip reacts with a urine sample and then the company’s application uses computer vision technology to assess the results.

Scanwell Health chief executive, Stephen Chen

So far, Scanwell is the first company to receive clearance from the Food and Drug Administration for its tests, and the only company to receive clearance to be sold over the counter, according to Chen. The test has been cleared

Through its partnership with Lemonaid Health, a telemedicine provider for consultations with nurse practitioners and physicians, customers can get diagnosed using the Scanwell app and receive a consultation and a course of treatment all from the comfort of their home. The tests cost $15 for a pack of three and the consultation with Lemonaid is another $25. That’s compared with roughly $150 for a visit to an urgent care center.

For Scanwell, it’s the culmination of a three year journey to bring their first diagnostic test to market. The company first submitted its product to the Food and Drug Administration for approval in 2015. While Chen waited for clearance from the FDA, he launched Petnostics to build out a user base and test the product in the less stringent world of veterinary health.

Sales from the Petnostics product helped bootstrap the company through its first few years of development and get its first product onto the market. Now, Scanwell is ready to expand, says Chen.

The company has a test for chronic kidney disease in the works through a collaboration with Kaiser Permanent and the Chronic Renal Insufficiency Cohort Study to improve screening for and monitoring chronic kidney disease at home. Using urinalysis testing to screen for excess proteins, the company is hoping it can help identify CKD in more people earlier, allowing for earlier interventions and the potential to avoid costly medical procedures down the road.

“We believe in the power of telehealth and what it can do,” says Chen. “What’s missing is the diagnostics piece. When you go into a doctor’s office you talk to a doctor and they get your symptoms. We’re focused on translating as many of these diagnostics as possible and you can pair with telehealth.”

Helping the company move along its journey are a clutch of well-positioned investors including the Y Combinator accelerator and institutional investors like Founders Fund, Mayfield, DCM, Version One, and Joe Montana’s Liquid 2 Ventures fund.

“This funding from an incredible group of investors, together with the national launch of our test and app, are exciting milestones that will allow us to realize our vision of making reliable, convenient at-home testing available to millions of people,” said Chen, in a statement. “Our partnership with Lemonaid is only the beginning. We have a number of additional diagnostic tests in the pipeline that have the potential to change the way we diagnose and treat infections and monitor chronic diseases. We look forward to working with additional partners to bring these tests to people across the country.” 

Slack Fund, Haystack and CRV invest $4 million in Parabol, the meta-meeting software toolkit

These days it’s not enough to have meetings. Now tech companies need to have meetings about meetings — and to ensure that this can happen efficiently(?), a Los Angeles company called Parabol has just raised $4 million.

Founded in Brooklyn with a workforce that’s mostly virtual, the new-ish company managed to raise cash from three firms which know a thing or two about enterprise operations — CRVHaystack, and the SlackFund.

Parabol’s software allow distributed and in-house teams to talk about how effective different processes and meetings have been.

The company says that over 500 organizations use the company’s suite of software services.

Think of it as a programmatic view of structuring a meeting and feedback — “Robert’s Rules of Order” for the Internet age.

“There are about 20 million engineers that run the agile development process today,” says Parabol founder and chief executive, Jordan Husney. “In the past everyone would show up to the same office and they would have these highly structured meetings. But as soon as great video conferencing software developed people started thinking more openly about labor and started hiring people all around the world.”

These distributed workforces required even more organizational structure for their meetings as they collaborated on projects, Husney said. This is especially true for adherents to the agile development process, who break down work into sprints that then need to be assessed, he said.

“Parabol was created so that every meeting held amongst team members is actually worth the time invested. With the support of CRV and Haystack, we will make Parabol useful to more kinds of teams, and scale Parabol’s infrastructure to match our rate of growth,” said the company’s chief executive and founder, Jordan Husney, in a statement.

The tools Parabol developed allow workers to conduct retrospective meetings and check-ins, the company said.

The software allows teams to work through five, structured meeting phases where teams evaluate their processes and make improvements at the end of a project, said the company.

“Parabol is transforming the way agile teams across industries work together,” said Izhar Armony, Partner at CRV, in a statement. “We’ve been tracking the rapidly rising need for teams to collaborate at a distance, and believe in the way Parabol is enabling people to meet and work more effectively together.”

 

Uber’s losses top $1 billion, trumping better than expected revenues

Better than expected revenues couldn’t divert investor attention from the fact that Uber still managed to lose more than $1 billion in the most recent quarter as the company’s stock fell in after-hours trading.

There are bright spots in the latest earnings report, not least that the company managed to stanch the bleeding that had cost the company over $5 billion in the previous quarter.

Revenue grew to $3.8 billion, up from $2.9 billion in the year-ago period, representing a 30% boost. But even as Uber’s core business shows signs of stabilizing and its core markets continue to show growth, its other business units appear to be hemorrhaging cash at increasingly high rates.

“Our results this quarter decisively demonstrate the growing profitability of our Rides segment,” said Dara Khosrowshahi, the company’s chief executive, in a statement. “Rides Adjusted EBITDA is up 52% year-over-year and now more than covers our corporate overhead. Revenue growth and take rates in our Eats business also accelerated nicely. We’re pleased to see the impact that continued category leadership, greater financial discipline, and an industry-wide shift towards healthier growth are already having on our financial performance.”

Losses in earnings at the company’s Uber Eats business grew 67% to $316 million from $189 million in the year-ago period. And performance in the company’s freight division looks even worse. Losses in freight ballooned by 161%, growing to $81 million from $31 million in the same quarter of 2018.

Also contributing to the company’s losses for the quarter were stock-based compensation expenses, which added another $401 million to the tallies against the company.

Given that the lock-up period is about to end for institutional investors, that could spell even more trouble for the company — as institutional investors who bought into the company before its public offering may look to sell.

That said, Uber has taken a number of steps to correct its course and put the company on a path to profitability, which Khosrowshahi says should happen in the next two years.

In October, the company announced the last of three rounds of sweeping layoffs at the company that saw 1,185 staffers lose their jobs. Khosrowshahi called the layoffs a chance to ensure that the company was “structured for success for the next few years.” In an email to staff, he wrote, “This has resulted in difficult but necessary changes to ensure we have the right people in the right roles in the right locations, and that we’re always holding ourselves accountable to top performance.”

With the layoffs behind it, Uber can now focus on some of the big operational challenges it had set for itself through the reorganization that the company has announced. That includes adding new features and technologies to its Uber Eats delivery program (despite what recent losses at GrubHub may imply about the food delivery business) and pressing forward with another darling of the tech set these days — the company’s financial services platform.

The launch of this new platform, coupled with a slew of announcements from the company in September, show that Uber may have dialed back on its ambitions, but not by much. As Khosrowshahi said at the event, “We want to be the operating system for your everyday life…. A one-click gateway to everything that Uber can offer you.”

Brazilian mobile phone insurance technology startup Pitzi is now worth over $100 million

With roughly one million customers across Brazil and a new round of financing, the mobile phone insurance provider Pitzi now finds itself with a $100 million valuation.

The size of its latest round, which was led by QED Investors and included commitments from existing investors like Thrive Capital and Valiant Partners, was undisclosed.

PItzi acts as a reseller for insurance companies to offer products around mobile phone insurance across Brazil. Founded in 2012, the company’s mobile handset insurance offerings were a service that was in the right place at the right time, as low cost handsets caused the market in Latin America’s most populous country to explode.

Pitzi previously raised $20 million from investors including Thrive, Kaszek Ventures, Flybridge and DCM. Even with the company’s success, cell phone insurance in Brazil stands at 4%, compared with global standards of more than 40%. This despite the fact that there are more than 200 million phones in Brazil alone.

“Today, only 4% of smartphones here are protected but we’re driving that towards 90% in the coming years and using those phones to unlock even more transformation in the space,” said Daniel Hatkoff, Founder & CEO of Pitzi, in a statement.

The investment by QED Investors puts Pitzi in some pretty good company when it comes to Latin American financial technology startups. Other Latin American investments in the firm’s portfolio include the multi-billion dollar credit card startup, Nubank; the personal finance lender, Creditas; the business lender, Konfio; and the rental financing company Quinto Andar.

As a result of the investment, Bill Cilluffo, a former president of Capital One International and a general partner with QED will take a seat on the company’s board of directors, according to a statement.

For Hatkoff, the cell phone is a window into other products and services in the insurance industry thanks to the ways that the device has transformed so many experiences for the emerging Brazilian middle class.

“The smartphone will be profoundly transformational in Brazil, allowing the emerging middle class to finally emerge and do things it never imagined possible,” said Hatkoff. “As market leaders, we at Pitzi are obsessed with unlocking the Brazilian consumer’s ability to use their phones in ever more powerful ways. Cell phone protection is just the beginning.”

Los Angeles-based BuildOps, subcontracting software for real estate, raises $5.8 million

Software development companies tackling services for niche industries, like commercial real estate subcontracting, continue to find Los Angeles to be fertile ground for development.

The latest company to raise funding from a clutch of investors is BuildOps, which raised $5.8 million in seed financing from some big names in the Los Angeles tech ecosystem.

Led by Fika Ventures, with additional investments from MetaProp VC, Global Founders Capital, CrossCut Ventures, TenOneTen, IGSB, 1984 Ventures, L2 Ventures, GroundUp, NBA all-star Metta World Peace, Oberndorf Enterprises, Wolfson Group, and scouts from Sequoia Capital, the new financing will be used to support the company’s continued growth.

BuildOps sells software that integrates scheduling, dispatching, inventory management, contracts, workflow and accounting into a single software package for commercial real estate contractors with staff ranging from a few dozen to several hundred employees.

Software for the service industry is nothing new for Los Angeles entrepreneurs. The unicorn ServiceTitan hails from the greater Los Angeles area and a number of other software as a service businesses are calling the greater Los Angeles area home.

It’s hard to argue with the size of the commercial construction market. Over the past three years commercial construction spending grew from $626 billion to $807 billion, according to data provided by the company. And while most large vendors — architects, general contractors and property management companies have some project management software, the fragmented group of subcontractors that provide services to those customers has remained resistant to adopting new technologies, the company said.

Co-founded by former ServiceTitan devel

oper Neeraj Mittal; Microsoft, Nextag, Swurv, and Fundly former executive Steve Chew; and Alok Chanani, who previously founded a commercial real estate company and was a former commander of a transportation unit of the Army in Iraq.

“At BuildOps, we are on a mission to bring a true all-in-one solution on the latest technology to the people who keep America’s hospitals, power plants, and commercial real estate running. We are privileged to be working closely with some of the country’s top commercial contractors,” said Chanani.

That sentiment is echoed by Liquid 2 Ventures managing partner and former National Football League superstar, Joe Montana .

“Liquid 2 Ventures has an investment thesis in supporting America’s working class and I just love the idea of making their lives far easier and better. You have one solution that does it all and talks seamlessly to every single part of their business from parts to ordering to inventory and more,” said Montana in a statement. “There are very few world-class technology solutions for commercial subcontractors like this and we believe in the founders.”