Minna Technologies, a subscription management tool for banking customers, raises $18.8M

With the proliferation of subscription services, combined with our lives becoming almost 100% digital, there’s a rising need to be able to manage these services. But most banks don’t have much of an answer. Step in Minna Technologies, which sells in its subscription management services into banking apps.

It’s now raised $18.8 million (€15.5m / £14m) in Series B fundraising from Element Ventures, MiddleGame Ventures, Nineyards Equity and Visa, to expand its open banking technology to banks globally.

Founded in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2016, Minna enables customers to manage subscription services via their existing bank’s app. Using Minna, customers can terminate subscriptions just from their banking app, automatically, cutting the data and financial ties between the merchant and customer. The platform can also notify customers when a free trial is about to end and facilitates utilities switching allowing them to find better deals. So far, Minna has partnerships with Lloyds Banking Group, Swedbank and ING.

Minna’s technology reduces the burden on a bank’s call centers, plus banks can also benefit financially from Minna’s role in facilitating utility switching, raising the prospect of banks becoming marketplaces.

The appearance of Minna suggests that the first wave of neo-banks is about to be accompanied by a second wave of overlayed services such as this. The average European is spending £301 (€333) a month on 11 subscriptions, which is predicted to increase to £459 (€508) a month on 17 subscriptions by 2025. IDC predicts that by 2050, 50% of the world’s largest enterprises will focus the majority of their businesses on digitally enhanced products, services, and experiences. Subscriptions are even coming from car makers such as Volvo.

Joakim Sjöblom, CEO and co-founder of Minna Technologies, said: “Over the past four years the subscription economy has exploded from Spotify and Netflix to even iPhones and cars. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for consumers to keep track of the payments and harder for banks to handle inquiries to shut them down. Minna’s tech improves the procedure for banks by simplifying the process, as well as providing an in-demand digital product that consumers are starting to expect from their financial institutions.”

Sjöblom told me that by largely working with incumbent banks, Minna is providing them with a way to fight back against challenger banks.

Pascal Bouvier, Managing Partner, MiddleGame Ventures said: “We strongly believe in a vision where banks develop their checking account offerings into “connected and intelligent” platforms and where retail clients are able to interact in many more ways than in the recent past.”

Digital road freight forwarder Sennder raises $160M Series, plans European expansion

Sennder, a large digital road freight forwarder based out of Germany, has raised $160m in Series D financing. The round was led by an unnamed party, but round participants included Accel, Lakestar, HV Capital, Project A and Scania. To date, Sennder has raised more than $260m, allowing it to lay claim to a potential $1bn valuation.

Sennder directly connects enterprise shippers with trucking companies, thus disintermediating the traditional freight model. It says it will move over 1 million truckloads this year. So far it’s concentrated on the lucrative European market. In June 2020 it merged with French competitor Everoad and acquired Uber Freight’s European business last September. The European logistics and freight sector has a market size of $427bn.

Sennder competes with large incumbents like Wincanton and CH Robinson as well as other startups such as OnTrac in Spin, and Instafreight.

The whole digital freight forwarding market is booming. Only last November, Germany’s Forto, a digital freight forwarder raised another $50 million in funding taking its total raised to $103 million. And in 2018 FreightHub, another European digital freight forwarder, raised $30 million in Series B financing.

Sennder’s new investment will mean it can expand in European markets. It already partners with Poste Italiane in Italy, as well as Scania and Siemens, and is now supplying transport services to over 10 organizations listed in the German DAX 30, and 11 companies comprising the Euro Stoxx 50.

Since its founding in 2015 by David Nothacker, Julius Köhler and Nicolaus Schefenacker, the company has grown to 800 employees and seven international offices.

David Nothacker, CEO and Co-Founder of Sennder, said: “We are now an established industry player on equal terms with other more traditional sector pioneers, but have maintained our founding spirit. As a data-driven company, we contribute to making the logistics industry fit for a sustainable future; ensuring transparency, flexibility and efficiency in the distribution of goods. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of a digitalized logistics industry.

Sonali De Rycker, Partner at Accel commented: “It is always fantastic to see a portfolio company reach such a significant milestone. 2020 highlighted the value that Sennder’s innovative digital offering brings to the freight industry.”

UK on-demand supermarket Weezy raises $20M Series A led by NYC’s Left Lane Capital

Weezy — an on-demand supermarket that delivers groceries in fast times such as 15 minutes — has raised $20 million in a Series A funding led by New York-based venture capital fund Left Lane Capital. Also participating were UK-based fund DN Capital, earlier investors Heartcore Capital and angel investors, notably Chris Muhr, the Groupon founder.

Although the company hasn’t made mention of a later US launch, the presence of US investors would tend to suggest that. Weezy is reminiscent of Kozmo, the on-demand groceries business from the dotcom boom of the late ’90s. However, it differs from Postmates in that it doesn’t do pickups.

The cash injection will be used to expand its grocery delivery service across London and the broader UK, and open two fulfillment centers across London. Some 40 more UK sites are planned by the end of 2021 and it plans to add 50 new employees in the next 4 months.

Launched in July 2020, Weezy uses its own delivery people on pedal cycles or electric mopeds to deliver goods in less than 15 minutes on average. As well as working with wholesalers, it also sources groceries from independent bakers, butchers and markets.

It has pushed at an open door during the pandemic. In Q2 2020 half a million new shoppers joined the grocery delivery sector, which is now worth £14.3bn in the UK, according to research.

Kristof Van Beveren, Co-founder and CEO of Weezy, said in a statement: “People are no longer happy to wait around for deliveries, and there is strong demand for a more efficient service.”

Weezy’s co-founders are Kristof Van Beveren and Alec Dent. Van Beveren is formerly from the consumer goods world at Procter & Gamble and McKinsey & Company, while Dent headed up operations at UK startup Drover and business development at BlaBlaCar.

Harley Miller, managing partner, Left Lane Capital, commented: “Weezy’s founding team have the right balance of drive, experience and temperament to lead in e-commerce innovation
and convenience within the UK grocery market and beyond.”

Nenad Marovac, founder and managing partner, DN Capital, said: “Even before the pandemic, interest in online grocery shopping was on the rise. The first time I ordered from Weezy, my delivery arrived in seven minutes and I was hooked.”

UK tests ‘Space Tug’ capable of refiring its engine several times in orbit, and collecting space junk

UK SpaceTech startup Skyrora is currently the only private company capable of launching rockets from UK soil. On Christmas Eve at its testing facility in Fife, Scotland, the team performed a third-stage static fire engine test onboard a new vehicle that will ultimately carry satellites to their final destination. But what’s more interesting is that the vehicle can refire it’s engine several times in orbit and conduct multiple missions in a single trip. This makes it a “Space Tug” able to perform a number of maneuvers in space including the extraction of space junk or maintenance if are satellites already in orbit.

Skyrora went rough one of the early Space Camp accelerator programme from Seraphim Capital.

The Space Tug is the first “mission ready” vehicle of its kind to be developed in the UK and once in orbit it can navigate to any location under its own power, with the ability to make multiple stops etc.

The Space Tug is powered by a 3D-printed 3.5kN engine and the first stage of is launch is fueled using an eco-friendly fuel (Ecosene) made in part from waste plastics

Volodymyr Levykin, CEO Skyrora commented: “We have been deliberately quiet about this aspect of our Skyrora XL launch vehicle as we had huge technical challenges to get it to this stage and we wanted to ensure all tests had a satisfactory outcome, which they now have. With the current climate and a real shortage of good news, we feel it is the right time to share this with the world… We aim not only to conduct efficient launches from UK soil in the most environmentally friendly way, but then also to ensure that each single launch mission has the possibility of conducting the level of work that would have historically taken multiple launches.”

Sir Tim Peake, Astronaut, commented: “It’s fantastic that companies such as Skyrora are persisting in their ambition to make the UK a “launch state”. By driving forward and constantly investing into their engineering capabilities, the UK continues to benefit from these impressive milestones achieved. In undertaking a full fire test of their third stage, which fulfils the function of an Orbital Manoeuvring Vehicle capable of delivering satellites into precision orbits, Skyrora is one step closer to launch readiness. This vehicle will also be able to perform vital services such as satellite removal, refuelling and replacement and debris removal from orbit.”

LAUNCHub Ventures heading towards a $85M fund for South Eastern European startups

LAUNCHub Ventures, an early-stage European VC which concentrates mainly on Central Eastern (CEE) and South-Eastern Europe (SEE), has completed the first closing of its new fund at €44 million ($53.5M), with an aspiration to reach a target size of €70 million. A final close is expected by Q2 2021.

Its principal backer is the European Investment Fund, corporates and a number of Bulgarian tech founders and investors.

With this new fund, LAUNCHub aims to invest in 25 startups in the next 4 years. The initial investment range will be between €500K and €2M in verticals such as B2B SaaS, Fintech, Proptech, Big Data, AI, Marketplaces, Digital Health. The fund will also actively invest in the Web 3.0 / Blockchain space, as it has done so since 2014.

LAUNCHub has also achieved a 50:50 gender split in its team, with Irina Dimitrova being promoted to operating partner while Raya Yunakova who joins as an Investor, previously working for PiLabs in London and Mirela Yordanova joins as an Associate, previously leading the startup community at Google for Startups Campus in London.

The investor is mining a rich view of highly skilled developers in the CEE countries where there are approximately 1.3 developers for every 100 people in the workforce. “Central and Eastern Europe’s rapid economic growth has caught the attention of Western investors searching for the next unicorn. The region has huge and still untapped potential with more and more local success stories, paving the way for the next generation of CEE tech founders.” said Todor Breshkov, Founding Partner at LAUNCHub Ventures .

LAUNCHub Ventures competes with other investors like Earlybird in the region, but they tend to invest at a later stage and is more typically a co-investor with LAUNCHub. Nearby Greece also features Greek funds such as Venture Friends and Marathon, but these tend to focus on their core country and diaspora entrepreneurs. Others include Speedinvest (usually focused on DACH) and Credo Ventures, more focused on the Czech Republic and CEE.

LAUNCHub partner and cofounder Stefan Grantchev told me: “Our strategy is to be regional, not to focus specifically on Bulgaria – but to look at all the opportunities in the region of South-Eastern Europe.”

LAUNCHub Ventures has backed companies including:

  • Giraffe360 (Robotic camera for real estate listing automation, co-investment with Hoxton Ventures and HCVC)

  • Fite (Premium direct to consumer digital live streaming for sports, followed-on by Earlybird)

  • GTMHub (The world’s leading and most intuitive OKR software, followed-on by CRV)

  • FintechOS (Banking and Insurance middleware for automation and digital innovation acceleration, followed-on by Earlybird and OTB)

  • Cleanshelf (Enterprise SaaS management and optimization platform, followed-on by Dawn Capital)

  • Office RnD (Co-working and flexible office space management, followed-on by Flashpoint Ventures)

  • Ferryhopper (Ferry ticketing platform for Southern Europe, co-investment with Metavallon)

Curve says closing its new $95M Series C funding caused the delay on accounts filing

Curve, the London-based fintech that combines multiple cards and accounts into one smart card and an app, has secured a Series C finding round of $95 million. The financing was led by IDC Ventures, Fuel Venture Capital and Vulcan Capital (the investment arm of the estate of Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul G. Allen), with participation from OneMain Financial, the US personal finance company, and Novum Capital. Several previous investors also participated. The fundraise brings the total investment in Curve to almost $175 million. Curve says it plans to use the funds to expand internationally, including to the US, and to deepen its European reach. It will also be pushing its Curve Credit product. 

The startup is now claiming 2 million customers and now covers Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Google Pay in 31 European markets. In December, Curve created a JV with Plaid to bring open banking to the UK, allowing users to connect and see their bank accounts in one place.  It also now has a subsidiary in Vilnius, Lithuania, in order to serve its EU-based following Brexit, and partnered with Samsung for its Pay Card.

However, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Its ‘Go Back in Time’ feature which can roll-back purchase 14 to 90 days, has come under fire for potentially allowing customers to fall into a debt spiral. 

Speaking to TechCrunch, Shachar Bialick, founder and CEO of Curve, said: “We tried to remove the friction customers have at the checkout. For instance, you might be out and not have an internet connection, or you want to switch the card to be charged, so you can pay, and then later go back in time and change the accounts that were used. And then what transpired is that customers were using this feature because they wanted to free up cash in their checking account during COVID times. In March, many of our customers asked us to be able to ‘go back in time’ from the debit cards to their credit cards for transactions they’ve made in January and in December, 2019, and because they need to free more cash in their checking account.” He said it’s also led to a new product allowing customers to split payments into installments.

Curve also came under fire this month for failing to file its accounts with Companies House in London. Bialick said: “We missed the filing and the reason for that is because we had a very tight fundraising and we have limited resources so we had to prioritize it over something else. But we’re already in the process of submitting [the accounts] this week.”

Bobby Aitkenhead, Managing Partner of IDC Ventures, said: “Curve’s pioneering approach to finance is more necessary than ever as we accelerate globally to a digital-first world.”

Rick Roberts, from Vulcan Capital, said: “Curve’s model is redefining the future of banking by bringing diverse financial products and solutions together into one digital wallet, for the benefit of banks and customers alike. Their friction-free offering is coming at the ideal time for American consumers, who are looking for safer payment options and greater financial control in the wake of the pandemic.”

Bristol’s Brightpearl raises $33M Series C round led by Sage to boost its platform for retailers

Brightpearl, which allows retailers to streamline their operations thus boosting sales, has raised $33 million in funding to scale its business. This Series C round was led by Sage, which has put  $23 million into the UK company. Previous backers Cipio Partners, Notion Capital and Verdane also participated, puting in $10 million.

The Bristol, UK-based startup has a platform for financial management, CRM, fulfillment, inventory and sales order management, purchasing and supplier management, warehousing and logistics.

Sage now takes a seat on Brightpearl’s board. In a statement it said: “Together, Sage and Brightpearl will help retail and e-commerce customers take advantage of best-of-breed cloud finance and retail management solutions, supporting them on their digital journey. The partnership with Brightpearl is consistent with Sage’s broader strategy to invest in complementary high growth cloud-based software applications.” Brightpearl has existing partnerships with Shopify, eBay and Amazon.

Derek O’Carroll, the chief executive of Brightpearl, said in a statement: “We are delighted to build this new relationship with Sage to further support our retail customers and accelerate the strong presence that Sage and Brightpearl have in the UK and US. Brightpearl’s solution brings significant benefits by automating retail processes so global merchants can save time and deliver outstanding and rapid end-to-end customer experiences.”

Yayzy app automatically calculates the environmental impact of your spending

Ahead of the turning of the New Year, many people are wishing they could do something about the environment. Now, a UK startup hopes to make our environmental impact more personal.

Yayzy has now launched an iOS app (but Android is coming) which literally links to your bank account to work out the environmental impact of what you buy. It uses payment data via Open Banking standards to automatically calculate the carbon footprint of each purchase a user makes, giving them a picture of their total monthly carbon emissions. This makes the carbon footprint calculated more accurate and bespoke to the individual, allowing them to immediately connect their spending to its impact on the planet.

Yayzy has secured £900,000 in backing from Antler Venture Capital, Seedrs (a crowdfunding round) and the CoreAngels Impact Fund. As the user sees what the carbon footprint is of their purchase, they can choose to offset it right then and there on the app via the carbon offsetter Ecosphere Plus. In the app, users can also find tips to reduce their carbon footprint, eco-friendly retailers near them or insights into lifestyle choices that have the highest environmental impact.

Their competitors are people like CoGo, a real-time Carbon Footprint tracker, and and Doconomy and the soon to launch Tred.

But Yayzy is taking a different approach. It brings together all of a user’s spending and shows them item by item as they spend, what the carbon footprint of that spend is. So far – it claims – its competitors don’t do that.

Yaysy app

This can be done ad hoc, item by item, or by signing up to a monthly subscription to either carbon offsetting projects or the user’s own unique climate portfolio. This portfolio would bundle multiple projects together for a more ‘holistic’ impact. Yayzy says all of these projects have been carefully selected based on strict criteria, and also advance the UN Sustainable development goals.

For its underlying carbon data, Yayzy is using Vital Metrics https://www.vitalmetricsgroup.com/
as used by Google, Microsoft and both the UK and US governments, among others.

Mankaran Ahluwalia, cofounder and CEO of Yayzy said in a statement: “While emissions have gradually risen as lockdown eases, YAYZY wants to put us all in the driver’s seat to control our own environmental impact… It is clear from a plethora of surveys that the majority of people want to address climate change before it is too late, but that a huge intention/action gap blocks much of it. Our solution with Yayzy is to make environmental impact ‘up close and personal’ and the action to tackle it super easy, all via your phone.”

Ahluwalia, was as a technology analyst with Infosys and built a lending platform for alternate credit. Cofounder Cristian Dan, CTO, previously built a discounts platform and cofounder Pedro Cabrero, CFO was in equity sales and trading for UBS and Citigroup, and co-founded the a leading online pharmacy in Mexico.

AI-driven energy startup Octopus hits $2Bn mark after $200M investment from Tokyo Gas

You’ve heard of challenger banks? Now meet the challenger energy suppliers. The UK’s Octopus Energy has attained a $2.06 billion valuation (£1.5 billion) after attracting a $200 million (£150 million) investment from Tokyo Gas for a 9.7% stake, in order to launch a joint venture. Octopus will own 30% of the venture, with Tokyo Gas owning the majority. After five years of operation, Octopus is now close to the valuation of British Gas owner Centrica.

Octopus will now launch as a brand in Japan with its trademark 100% renewable electricity operation which uses an innovative AI and data-based platform to balance loads around the grid. Its Kraken software is also licensed to Origin Energy, nPower and E.On, Good Energy and Hanwha Corporation, among others, reaching 17 million energy accounts worldwide.

“This joint venture will bring our exciting approach to renewable energy and technology to the world’s largest competitive energy market, and the investment will turbocharge our mission to revolutionize energy globally,” said chief executive Greg Jackson in a statement.

Australia’s Origin Energy is also set to take a stake in Octopus for 50 million dollars (£37 million) following a larger investment in April when Origin bought a 20% stake.

Octopus says it is aiming for 100 million customers around the world by 2027, and recently launched in the US, Australia, Germany and New Zealand.

In the UK, Octopus has a 5% share of the energy supply market and counts 1.8 million households in its retail portfolio, according to the company.

Tokyo Gas president Takashi Uchida said: “Through this partnership, we will contribute to the achievement of a better lifestyle for customers by realizing value creation and delivery tailored to every one of them.”

Japanese renewables lag the UK by 50% (renewables in Japan in 2019 accounted for 18.9% of electricity vs 37.9% in the UK) so the potential for growth is significant. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has set a target of reaching net-zero by 2050.

In the UK Octopus has also launched Electric Juice, an electric vehicle roaming network, and partnered with Tesla to launch Tesla Power.

After lockdowns boost gaming marketplace Eneba, it raises $8M from Practica and InReach

Eneba, a marketplace for gamers that sells games and other products, has raised a $8M round of funding from Practica Capital and InReach Ventures. The funding is described as a ‘combination’ of a Seed and Series A round. Also participating in the funding for the Lithuanian startup was FJ Labs and a group of Angel investors including Mantas Mikuckas, COO of Vinted. The investment highlights once again the strength of the Baltics region as tech ecosystem, after Lithuania produced its first Unicorn in the shape of Vinted, and Estonia’s added Pipedrive to its unicorns list.

With the increased shift to digital entertainment during the pandemic, the startup has managed to garner much more US traffic. Launched in 2018 by two Lithuanian school friends, Vytis Uogintas and Žygimantas Mikšta, Eneba says it has attracted 26 million unique users because of its security features, ‘one-click to buy’ gamer experience and fingerprinting technology. The site also optimizes its localized gaming experiences to show locally trending gaming products. Eneba’s platform is designed to reduce risky transactions, simplifies the refunding process, and deals with fraud threats.

Co-founder and CMO, Žygimantas Mikšta said: “We had a lot of new users coming to Eneba during these uncertain times. While it was extremely satisfying to see our numbers increasing tenfold, there was a challenge to meet the demand. To better reflect our user numbers, we had to quickly expand our team to 130.”

Security has risen up the agenda in online gaming as virtual goods and services connected to games can be highly susceptible to fraud or theft. Although it competes with outlets like Amazon, eBay, and retailers like Gamestop, Game.co.uk, Eneba think they’ve found a better, tailored online pre/post-buying experience for gamers, while addressing the risk problems for sellers and buyers in the gaming world.

Donatas Keras, partner at Practica Capital said: “We are thrilled to be backing Vytis and Žygimantas. We’ve been impressed by their ability to execute at such speed as their company quickly scales, and to drive an incredible product with a unique value proposition for gamers.”

Co-founder of InReach Ventures, Roberto Bonanzinga, said: “In Europe we have a tradition of building successful companies in the gaming space. We are very excited to have discovered Eneba thanks to our AI platform when the company was unknown and under the radar. We have been extremely impressed by what the founders have been able to build in such a short amount of time.”