Pickle app puts on users, as millennials/Gen-Z latch onto location apps to fight Covid lockdowns

As the coming of winter combined with the coronavirus continues to put new restrictions on peoples’ movements, location-based apps are on the rise again. People are looking to find out who is close to them. Who is in their community. People are understandably looking for new friends and resources close to them.

Apps that connect young mums locally (Pumpspotting, Peanut), professionals (Fishbowl, Lunchclub), Jetset daters (Raya, Bumble), digital nomads (Homeis), locals (Nextdoor ) and millennials (Friended) are all being dialed-up.

And with government lockdowns coming back for their “2nd album” the UK’s millennials and Gen-Zs are increasingly turning to location-based apps to try and hang out with each other and burst the so-called ‘rule of six’ bubble, whether the government wants them to or not.

Pickle is fast making a name for itself amongst an estimated 350,000 millennials and Gen-Zs for that reason. After starting out as a taskrabbit-style app for Gen-Z, it is now seeing growth as an app for that generation to find fellow travelers locally, even as their normal travel has been curtailed by COVID-19.

Founder Daneh Westropp says: “Loneliness is the number one fear of young people today – ranking ahead of losing a home or a job. 71% of millennials reported feeling lonely [survey conducted by Cigna] and 69% of millennials experience FOMO when they can’t attend something that their family or friends are going to [study by Eventbrite]. So it comes as no surprise that people genuinely hate doing certain activities alone.” That’s why, she says, Pickle is climbing up app-store rankings.

Westropp understands the feeling of alienation. She ran away from Tehran during the 1988 Iran/Iraq war with her mother and sister, and was raised by a single mother who suffered from loneliness and depression. After dropping out of school at the age of 15 she went on to join the ranks of other entrepreneurs.

But a few problems remain with the Pickle app that are cause for concern. It has no 2FA for starters. Plus, the lack of regulation or content filtering means it’s anyone’s guess who users might be arranging to meet. Those are big red flags for the average observer.

Whether Gen-Z cares or not during a global pandemic that has shut down their lives, remains to be seen.

Vectary, a design platform for 3D and AR, raises $7.3M from EQT and Blueyard

Vectary, a design platform for 3D and Augmented Reality (AR), has raised a $7.3 million round led by European fund EQT Ventures. Existing investor BlueYard (Berlin) also participated.

Vectary makes high-quality 3D design more accessible for consumers, garnering over one million creators worldwide, and has more than a thousand digital agencies and creative studios as users.

With the coronavirus pandemic shifting more people online, Vectary says it has seen a 300% increase in AR views as more businesses start showcasing their products in 3D and AR.

Vectary was founded in 2014 by Michal Koor (CEO) and Pavol Sovis (CTO), who were both from the design and technology worlds.

The complexity of using and sharing content created by traditional 3D design tools has been a barrier to the adoption of 3D, which is what Vectary addresses.

Although Microsoft, Facebook and Apple are making it easier for consumers, the creative tools remain lacking. Vectary believes that seamless 3D/AR content creation and sharing will be key to mainstream adoption.

Designers and creatives can use Vectary to apply 2D design on a 3D object in Figma or Sketch; create 3D customizers in Webflow with Embed API; and add 3D interactivity to decks.

As investors and founders mature, Vienna emerges as a European startup hub

According to Austrian Startup Monitor, entrepreneurs have founded more than 2,200 startups in Austria since 2008, with the number of tech companies growing 12% per year since then, significantly faster than the 3% growth rate for traditional companies.

Home to roughly 50% of Austria’s startups, Vienna has a plethora of VC, corporate and university investors. Top VCs include 3TS Capital Partners, AC & Friends, Cudos Capital, FSP Ventures, Hansmen Group, i4g Investment, i5invest, LilO Ventures, next.march, primeCROWD, Speedinvest and Venionaire Capital, among others.

The local ecosystem benefits from several initiatives, including the Social Impact Awards, Vienna Startup Awards, Design Week, Climate KIC Stage, Innovation Incubation Center and INiTS Accelerator. The well-run Pioneers Festival contributed massively to the ecosystem for several years after a certain TechCrunch editor-at-large gave the organizers an excuse to expand on a simple TechCrunch meetup. But the festival was shuttered last year after its sale to a local accelerator meant that the event itself ran out of steam. Perhaps it was just as well, given this year’s pandemic.

State support for startups is also there. The Austrian government created a comprehensive startup program in 2016 to make the country more attractive to startups setting up there.

Standout exits include fitness app maker Runtastic, acquired by Adidas for $240 million in 2015, as well as listings marketplace Shpock, which was acquired by Norwegian publishing conglomerate Schibsted in 2015. Other notable startups originally from Vienna include mySugr, wikifolio, kompany and Codeship.

There have been jitters on the way, however. The Austrian Private Equity and Venture Capital Organization’s 2019 report found that Austria’s startups saw €237.6 million invested in 2018, but, this number fell 8.2% to €218 million in 2019; the number of deals exceeding €500,000 also dipped by 8.7%. Foreign funding also slowed in 2019 after a few years of a bull run — between 40% and 63% of deals sized €0.25-€1.99 million were significantly funded by foreign investors in 2018.

Despite the decline, local investors have started to pick up the slack, boosting the number of funding rounds over €5 million to 12 deals in 2019 from 11 in 2018. In both years, all but one of those deals drew a substantial part of the funding round from foreign investors.

We expect more to emerge from Vienna’s tech scene in the future. The Pioneers Festival (RIP) proved that Vienna is a fascinating bridge between Western European capital and entrepreneurial culture, and East European entrepreneurs and talent, which it will no doubt continue to benefit from in years to come. But — just as will happen with Lisbon this year and the loss of Web Summit — the loss of a major conference in Vienna to shine a light on the city and ecosystem, combined with the pandemic, may have cooling effects for the next couple of years.


Notable Vienna startups:

  • Newsadoo: Uses artificial intelligence to personalize news.
  • Cashpresso: Links customers, merchants and banks to offer consumer financing options.
  • Jobrocker: An online job search portal that connects applicants’ CVs with job openings.
  • Storyblok: A headless content management system.
  • Byrd: First-mile shipping service that allows customers to ship items hassle-free.
  • Music Traveler: A marketplace that centralizes spaces with musical instruments and equipment.
  • PAYUCA: Provides flexible access to parking spaces in private office and residential buildings.
  • Refurbed: Fast-growing marketplace for refurbished electronics, across the German-speaking world.
  • Presono: A web platform for creating, managing and showing presentations in companies.
  • Blockpit: Develops software for portfolio tracking, tax calculation and compliance reporting of transactions for cryptocurrencies and crypto assets.
  • Robo Wunderkind: A robot for kids to build and program.
  • Medicus: Converts health data with their cryptic numbers and medical language into an easy-to-understand visual experience.
  • Cybershoes: VR accessory that allows you to walk through your favorite VR games.

Here’s who we interviewed:

Eva Arh, principal, Capital 300

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
B2B software, robotics, no/low-code automation, AI-enabled vertical solutions, e-health, companies enabling others to hire and engage talent remotely.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Lokalise.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Companies that enable others to manage and automate billing even further (e.g., per API call), next-gen video conferencing, solutions guiding women through menopause, providing solutions that help companies to offer mental health services to distributed teams, bringing cloud kitchens to the next level (not running central kitchens).

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
As always, ambitious, smart, hard-working teams eager to build a category leader in a huge market.

What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Concerned about solutions that leverage behavioral data to influence people for the sake of optimizing profit, overload of sales and marketing tech, overload of chatbot providers. [It is] hard to compete with players that have benefited from huge network effects such as food delivery.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
We focus on German-speaking areas and Central Eastern Europe. Opportunistically we would also invest outside of the region, still in Europe.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Austria — no specific industry focus within software. However, well-positioned in the biotech space, CEE — given the strong presence of IT outsourcing companies, the region is well-positioned to build solutions in the business-process automation, dev tool space. Storyblok (our portfolio). Others to watch: Anyline, Adverity, Bitpanda, PlanRadar, Refurbed.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Regarding Vienna — we are seeing the first generation of entrepreneurs building global companies. Their and their team experience will be at utmost value creating a new wave of tech companies that compete on a global level.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Yes, we already see this — exciting companies coming out of small cities in Poland, Germany, etc. and companies going remote.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Telemedicine, online education has been accelerated. We see a shift that otherwise would have taken years, especially in the relatively conservative German-speaking area. As mentioned previously, mental health solutions, hiring and employing remotely are some of the opportunities highlighted by COVID-19. Companies that are heavily exposed are those that have been serving the long tail of companies, small merchants, and local businesses that were closed down or experienced much less traffic in past months and hence are extremely sensitive around their cost base, discontinuing services that are not 110% essential.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
We have always been very selective and focused, partnering up three to four times a year. We continue at the same pace. The companies that perform well despite COVID-19 are still in a strong position for attracting external capital. Of course, we help our portfolio to secure a runway and have a discussion how/whether the situation has impacted their offering/GTM. Some companies have to rethink their value proposition, some rethink their target groups either to make up for slower sales cycles or on the other hand to leverage and benefit from the current situation.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes, we see that Lokalise is growing heavily with the current customer base as their customers expand to new markets, likely to make up for slower revenue growth in their existing markets. We see that Nethone (fraud prevention) is able to double down on e-commerce. Online fraud and online transactions are skyrocketing as people spend much more time online. (On the other hand, their airline customers of course show a different trajectory.)

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
It is inspiring to see how founders go through the current situation, act instead of reacting, especially in those countries where there is less government support incentives in place. Personally, I am also happy to see that people use the work from home time to rethink and introduce healthier habits.

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
As the world has gone online and the location matters much less, there is an opportunity to distribute the created value and wealth more evenly — be it a company founded in a “non-tech-hub” location or be it talent hired remotely.

Edge computing startup Edgify secures $6.5M Seed from Octopus, Mangrove and semiconductor

Edgify, which builds AI for edge computing, has secured a $6.5m seed funding round backed by Octopus Ventures, Mangrove Capital Partners and an unnamed semiconductor giant. The name was not released but TechCrunch understands it nay be Intel Corp. or Qualcomm Inc.

Edgify’s technology allows ‘edge devices’ (devices at the edge of the internet) to interpret vast amounts of data, train an AI model locally, and then share that learning across its network of similar devices. This then trains all the other devices in anything from computer vision, NLP, voice recognition, or any other form of AI. 

The technology can be applied to anything from MRI machines, connected cars, checkout lanes, mobile devices and anything that has a CPU, GPU or NPU. Edgify’s technology is already being used in supermarkets, for instance.

Ofri Ben-Porat, CEO and co-founder of Edgify, commented in a statement: “Edgify allows companies, from any industry, to train complete deep learning and machine learning models, directly on their own edge devices. This mitigates the need for any data transfer to the Cloud and also grants them close to perfect accuracy every time, and without the need to retrain centrally.” 

Mangrove partner Hans-Jürgen Schmitz who will join Edgify’s Board comments: “We expect a surge in AI adoption across multiple industries with significant long-term potential for Edgify in medical and manufacturing, just to name a few.” 

Simon King, Partner and Deep Tech Investor at Octopus Ventures added: “As the interconnected world we live in produces more and more data, AI at the edge is becoming increasingly important to process large volumes of information.”

So-called ‘edge computing’ is seen as being one of the forefronts of deeptech right now.

London Business School and LocalGlobe launch new VC course aimed at women, Black and Asian candidates

With the UK’s Black Tech Fest on this week it’s timely that a new executive education course aimed at those wanting to enter the venture capital industry has been launched to serve previously under-represented groups, especially women, Black, Asian and other minorities.

London Business School and LocalGlobe, one of Europe’s leading seed investors, worked together to created two new programs to provide formal business education for roles across the VC world. The Newton Venture Program courses will cover the full spectrum of investment roles in the venture ecosystem, from VC investors to Limited Partners, angel investors, accelerators, and tech transfer officers. The aim of the programs is to upskill the venture capital sector while broadening the routes through which people can join the industry. 

The courses will aim for a gender split of 50/50, with at least 50% coming from Black, Asian or other minorities. backgrounds, and will be available to anyone just starting out or mid-career professionals. 

There will be two cohorts a year, of up to 60 students, with the first online program set to start in April 2021. The first on-campus cohort will start in October 2021. Applicants are welcome to apply from anywhere around the world; the majority are expected to be from the UK, the EU, Africa and Israel.  

An online-only program will cost £2,050 or £16,000 for the in-person, on-campus program at London Business School, which is aimed at mid-career professionals. Scholarships of up to 100% will be available for both programs.

The initiative is backed by a grant from Research England, a part of UKRI, and the Newton program will be looking for other institutions or VC firms to under-write the course. LocalGlobe and Phoenix Court Works are committed to sponsoring 20 digital scholarships.

The program will give cohorts direct access to experts from top-performing global VC firms such as a16z, Benchmark, USV, and others and experienced entrepreneurs and their founding teams.  Leading academic authorities on the VC industry – including, for example, Luisa Alemany, Julian Birkinshaw, Gary Dushnitsky and Florin Vasvari — will teach key concepts, lead case-study discussions, and share their latest research insights with participants.

Practicing investors and ecosystem experts will mentor the cohorts on subjects including how to source and win deals, venture financial and legal, fund management, and how to support portfolio companies. Students will also be able to take part in industry roundtables, local city meetups and become part of the Newton Alumni network. 

The on-campus program, with opening and closing weeks at London Business School, is aimed at those with five to 15 years of overall work experience. It will include participants who are already investors as well as those with strong operational backgrounds looking to become investors. The syllabus will include time spent at sponsoring VC firms, experience with top-tier venture capital investors and limited partners, work with tech transfer offices, accelerator offices and other partners and sponsors. Each participant will benefit from one-to-one mentoring and complete deep-dive modules covering specific industries and technologies, from fintech to AI.

According to Atomico’s respected State of European Tech report, just 0.9% of founders in Europe are Black. Nor does the wider IT sector look much better. The Chartered Institute for IT records in 2019 that there were 268,000 Black, Asian and other minority ethnic (BAME) IT specialists in the UK, accounting for 18% of IT workers, a number that has increased by two percent over the past five years from 16% in 2015). 

According to Diversity.VC in 2019, just 30% of those working in venture capital were women. The British Business Bank found in its 2019 report, UK VC Female Founders, that less than 1p of every £1 of venture capital invested in the UK went to all-female founding teams. 

Lisa Shu, Executive Director, Newton Venture Program (pictured) said in a statement: “To find the next generation of world-leading tech businesses, investors need to be more representative of our society…The Newton Venture Program is a chance to train the next generation of investment professionals and open up venture capital investing to a wider, more representative range of voices and experiences.”

Minister for Digital and Culture, Caroline Dinenage MP said: “Investors play a vital part in the tech sector with their financial backing and guidance helping entrepreneurs turn their business dreams into reality. The sector needs to reflect society, not just because it is the right thing to do but because it makes good business sense, so this new course is a welcome step to boost diversity and help create more opportunities for founders from all walks of life to succeed.”

Startups joining SK Telecom’s accelerator include AI-driven mapping and vision for delivery robots

We don’t often cover telecom technology startups, but it’s periodically worth checking in to see what’s happening in that space. We can get a good indication from the latest cohort to emerge from an accelerator associated with South Korea’s largest wireless carrier, SK Telecom.

This group of startups will join the Telecom Infra Project accelerator in South Korea, which is part of a global program of telecoms specialist centers, and run in partnership with SK Telecom.

The cohort includes a ship berthing monitoring system; an app that turns a group of mobile phones into a TV studio; an AI-powered indoor positioning system which creates interactive maps; a vision system for delivery robots; and one which allows remote audiences to experience live events ‘together’ via a digital stadium.

The selected start-ups include:

Dabeeo: Dabeeo’s AI-powered indoor positioning system which uses vision data produced through smartphone cameras to create interactive maps, used for gaming, marketing and logistics. Crunchbase  

Neubility: Neubility develops vision-based localization and path planning technologies for last-mile delivery robots. Crunchbase

Seadronix: Seadronix is a computer vision-based ship parking monitoring solution that provides an AI-based berthing monitoring system. Through producing around-view images, distance and speed between the ship and the port to pilot or captain it assists ship parking. Crunchbase  

39degC: This is a mobile multi-camera live streaming app. It directly connects multiple smartphone feeds to each other using a technology called WiFi-Direct – turning them into a TV studio.

Kiswe: Kiswe is a supplier of entertainment broadcast technology. Its product CloudCast is a “Broadcast Studio in the Cloud” which enables partners to send a digital feed into the cloud to produce live and non-live content.  Its other product, Hangtime , allows remote audiences to experience live events ‘together’ through creating a digital stadium with chat rooms, and control over viewing angles from within the platform. Crunchbase

Helsinki rides the Slush wave toward a booming startup future

In September 2020, Helsinki’s City Council approved plans for an expansion of the existing “Maria 01 Campus,” a former downtown hospital complex. Even before it starts spreading its acreage, the facility is already home to 120 startups and 12 venture capital funds. The campus is owned by the biggest startup conference in the Nordics, Slush, the City of Helsinki and Helsinki Enterprise Agency and is slated to become one of the largest, if not — possibly — the largest tech startup campus in Europe, at 70,000 square meters (or 75,3473 square feet) by 2023.

The scale of the project speaks to the confidence and ambition of the Helsinki startup ecosystem, which has grown immeasurably over the last 10-15 years.

The fact that Slush, a conference, is involved is no accident. The event is a nonprofit created by the university. This has enabled it to scale to one of Europe’s largest tech events (pre-COVID) at over 20,000 attendees. Its success has also led to traditionally conservative Finns embracing entrepreneurship. The entire city gets involved, and thousands of university students volunteer for the good of the city and the ecosystem. The collegiate nature of the Slush experience has reflected how Helsinki has grabbed the opportunities of tech with both hands.

Born of Aalto University and its student society for entrepreneurship, AaltoES, Slush originally started as a tech meetup. Indeed, I went to some of the first ones. But with the 2010’s success of local startup Rovio, creator of Angry Birds, as well as Supercell, creator of Clash of Clans, the event took off. It helped that Peter Vesterbacka (previously a pioneer at HP Bazaar Labs) was a tireless promoter of Slush and egged it on from being a meetup into a full-blown conference that could attract the biggest names in tech.

Slush’s ability to attract VCs to a Northern European country in the middle of winter was impressive. The city rolled out the red carpet. That meant inbound VC exploded. According to the Finnish Venture Capital Association (FVCA), VC investment into Finland grew almost five times to €188 million between 2014 and 2018. Finland is now a European leader in terms of venture capital (says the FVCA) as a percentage of GDP, and foreign VC investments grew by 58% between 2017-18.

VC has grown leaps and bounds in the city itself. Crunchbase lists 54 venture funds of various guises in Helsinki. They include Conor Venture Partners, Inventure, VNT Management, Icebreaker.vc, Superhero Capital, Evli Growth Partners, OpenOcean, Loudspring, Norsepower Oy, Tesi, NordicNinja VC and Maki.vc.

Slush has even seen ex-employees go on to found big startups. Food delivery startup Wolt, co-founded by Miki Kuusi an early CEO of Slush, has raised $160 million. Other big startup companies from Helsinki’s ecosystem include Smartly, Singa, Giosg, ZenRobotics and Blok. And let’s not forget it produced MySQL and CRF Health back in the day. In 2018, Small Giant Games, was acquired by Zynga in a deal worth up to $700 million.

Startup Genome marks out Helsinki as one of the top global ecosystems. For 2020, it valued the Helsinki startup ecosystem at $5.8 billion, with total early-stage funding of $511 million, higher than the global average for emerging ecosystems.

Helsinki has around 250 gaming enterprises and 30 of them exceed $1 million in annual sales. In 2017 Finland was the first EU country to publish a national AI strategy and the University of Helsinki created a free AI education program that saw approximately 90,000 people from 80 different countries enroll in the first four months.

Over the whole country, nearly 300,000 Finns work in tech, an enormous amount when you consider the population of Helsinki is 1.3 million.

According to analysts Tracxn top startups include:

  • Canatu (transparent conductive films and touch sensors using carbon nanomaterial): Raised $74 million.
  • Kiosked (smart native advertising technology): Raised $64 million.
  • ICEYE (developer of SAR microsatellite for earth observation applications): Raised $152 million.
  • Varjo (provider of head-mounted display with resolution matching a human eye): Raised $100 million.

To learn more about Finland’s startup ecosystem, we spoke to these investors:

Pirkka Palomaki, partner, Maki.vc

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
We are a generalist but are keen on deep tech and brand-driven companies both in B2C and B2B. We have been tracking closely new materials-based innovations, as well as breakthrough innovations in quantum computing. Breakthroughs happen also elsewhere and [we] have invested in B2B SaaS as well as one cloud-native massive multiplayer game company.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
One the latest investments is in a Swedish company called Carbon Cloud. They make it easy to discover your climate footprint and show it to the world — they can be found, for example, on the side of Oatly’s packaging. Carbon dioxide impact of consumer goods should be as visible as the nutrition values in food.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Femtech. There’s still quite little competition, but tremendous amount of work to do. Our team is keen to see more solutions on reproductive health, but also going beyond to solutions e.g., in syncing female’s personal cycle with optimal nutrition or training.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
The team is always in the center and we are looking for entrepreneurs that are rewriting the future in global markets.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Free-to-play games is a tough and competitive market. There will likely be new winners, but also even greater number of companies that don’t make it compared to many other industries.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
We have a global mandate, but the Nordics is our home and where we have done most of our investments.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
There are several, but the first on the top of mind is sustainability and new materials. Spinnova is a great example providing the textile industry with the most sustainable fibre in the world, produced with minimal harm to the environment, at a reasonable cost. With the stretch and strength qualities of cotton and the insulation of lamb’s wool, it can suit apparel, footwear, accessories, [and] home textiles to name a few applications. I’m also looking forward to seeing a great ecosystem and several startups being built around quantum computing. There are already a number of promising quantum technology companies, such as the Finnish IQM that builds world-class quantum computers and Bluefors that specialize in cryogen-free dilution refrigerator systems for quantum computing.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
There is strong supporting ecosystem in Finland for startups, strong engineering history and great culture of getting things done.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
The beauty of the startup ecosystem is that is built on innovation. We will most likely see more distributed organizations in the future, but I believe the major hubs will maintain their attractiveness in the future as well.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Travel and hospitality has naturally taken a big hit. It will take time for the industry to fully recover and I would expect innovations in the domain in the future, whether it is in virtual travel or creating confidence in worry-free travel in the future.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Extending the runway has been a general rule for many and making the company stronger and more competitive when things start picking up again.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Customer support agents have been strained during the pandemic. Our portfolio company Ultimate.ai has been well-positioned to scale the customer support with their virtual agents while maintaining or even improving customer experience. I’ve been super happy to see them grow and expand rapidly.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.

Calling Amsterdam VCs: Be featured in The Great TechCrunch Survey of European VC

TechCrunch is embarking on a major new project to survey the venture capital investors of Europe, and their cities.

Our <a href=”https://forms.gle/k4Ji2Ch7zdrn7o2p6”>survey of VCs in Amsterdam will capture how the city is faring, and what changes are being wrought amongst investors by the coronavirus pandemic. (Please note, if you have filled the survey out already, there is no need to do it again).

We’d like to know how Amsterdam’s startup scene is evolving, how the tech sector is being impacted by COVID-19, and, generally, how your thinking will evolve from here.

Our survey will only be about investors, and only the contributions of VC investors will be included. More than one partner is welcome to fill out the survey.

The shortlist of questions will require only brief responses, but the more you can add, the better.

You can fill out the survey here.

Obviously, investors who contribute will be featured in the final surveys, with links to their companies and profiles.

What kinds of things do we want to know? Questions include: Which trends are you most excited by? What startup do you wish someone would create? Where are the overlooked opportunities? What are you looking for in your next investment, in general? How is your local ecosystem going? And how has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy?

This survey is part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing to help founders find the right investors.

https://techcrunch.com/extra-crunch/investor-surveys/

For example, here is the recent survey of London.

You are not in Amsterdam, but would like to take part? Or you are in another part of the country? That’s fine! Any European VC investor can STILL fill out the survey, as we probably will be putting a call out to your city next anyway! And we will use the data for future surveys on vertical topics.

The survey is covering almost every European country on the continent of Europe (not just EU members, btw), so just look for your country and city on the survey and please participate (if you’re a venture capital investor).

Thank you for participating. If you have questions you can email [email protected]

Quantum photonics startup Nu Quantum raises £2.1M from Amadeus Capital Partners

For Quantum cryptography and simulation to become real, the technology requires high-performance light-emitting and light-detecting components that operate at the single-photon level and at ambient temperature. One of the few companies operating in this rarified arena is Nu Quantum, the quantum photonics company, is a spin-out from the University of Cambridge.

It’s now raised a £2.1 million in Seed funding in a round led by Amadeus Capital Partners . Ahren Innovation Capital, IQ Capital, Cambridge Enterprise and Martlet Capital also followed-on from the company’s pre-Seed investment round last September, with Seraphim Capital joining as a new investor. Last year it raised a £650,000 pre-seed investment round, also led by Amadeus.

The funding will go towards a state-of-the-art photonics lab in Cambridge and a major recruitment drive for scientists, product team members and business functions as the company approaches the launch of its first commercial technology demonstration.

Nu Quantum brings together a portfolio of intellectual property combining quantum optics, semiconductor photonics, and information theory, spun out of the University of Cambridge after eight years of research at the Cavendish Laboratory. Nu Quantum is one of a handful of companies in the world developing this photonics technology.

The company’s first commercial deliverable will use quantum photonic technology and proprietary algorithms to generate random numbers extracted from quantum-level effects, giving the highest confidence in the quality of these numbers which are ubiquitously used as cryptographic keys to secure data. Nu Quantum is a partner in the consortium led by the National Physical Laboratory, developing the UK standard for quantum random number generation, a project which was awarded £2.8m from the UK government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. 

Dr Carmen Palacios-Berraquero, CEO, Nu Quantum, said in a statement: “Our aim is to enable the potential of quantum mechanics using quantum photonics hardware. This funding will allow us to do just that – a world-class multidisciplinary team and our new laboratories will give Nu Quantum the ability to deliver meaningful demonstrations of our technology into the hands of customers and partners for the first time.”

Alex van Someren, Managing Partner, Amadeus Capital Partners, said: 
“Quantum photonics has the potential to transform cybersecurity through digital cryptography. We’re making another investment in Nu Quantum because we believe in the team and its ability to take its solutions to market. Cambridge is leading the world on developing and commercializing quantum computing hardware and applications, and Amadeus is excited to be backing great entrepreneurs here.”

Nu Quantum is a partner in the consortium led by the National Physical Laboratory, developing the UK standard for quantum random number generation, a project which was awarded £2.8m from the UK government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

The Little Black Door app makes luxury wardrobes shareable, resalable, and sustainable

When Lexi Willetts and Marina Pengilly realized they could make as much as £30,000 a year reselling their luxury clothes and accessories online, they resolved to create a solution for modern women who are already well-versed in the behaviors of Instagram and the sharing economy. Their solution, Little Black Door, has just gone live on the iOS store, and allows women to see, style and share their wardrobes with friends and followers. It also connects them to resale platforms, unlocking a vastly more environmental-friendly and sustainable way to shop for high-quality fashion. And with the COVID-19 pandemic hitting the fashion world, the app is set to benefit, as consumers head to the re-sale of luxury, rather than new items.

As Willetts puts it: “This started as a response to our own bad wardrobe behaviors. Our overbuying often because we forgot what we had, often thinking to buy rather than borrow from friends. Plus, we saw the headache of creating resale listings. Realizing that so much of our interactions were online, thus producing very rich e-receipt data, we set about thinking of how we could make use of that to create better wardrobe engagement and reduce our overbuying of irrelevant, cheap fashion.”

The problem with platforms like this has always been: how to digitize the wardrobe in the first place. Most people can’t be bothered to go to the trouble. But this app takes a fresh approach. It concentrates on using wardrobe purchase data and leveraging social sharing behavior to more easily create a digital wardrobe. It also allows the wardrobe to be connected with retail, making it far easier to start the resale journey of selling unwanted items.

The resulting LBD app appears at first to be a sort of ‘Instagram and Depop’ mashup. Users add items to their virtual wardrobe which then employs image recognition AI and natural language processing to figure out what the item is, and tries to categorize it as well. It checks with the user if something is a t-shirt, black, short sleeve, minimalism, urban casual, etc. before it’s confirmed into the wardrobe.

But perhaps more interestingly, the LBD app will ingest receipts of items purchased via email. This means the wardrobe can be built up from new or existing data the user already has. Once the wardrobe is built inside the app, the user can see the clothes and categories, their total wardrobe spend, and create “lookbooks” which they can share with friends and followers to comment on. Friends can then borrow items or users can send items to resale via the ‘swipe to sell’ feature.

Most other wardrobe apps haven’t created a ‘viral loop’ whereby the user is incentivized to use the app daily. LBD has added social features to create a community-driven platform that is almost like an ‘Instagram for fashion’.

Previous ‘wardrobe apps’ like this have obsessed over whether the app can recognize clothes or not, but most don’t work well. The better use of AI, as LBD has realized, is to use receipts data and purchase histories, plus retail partner links, to add to wardrobes. This means the wardrobe upload feature isn’t the primary focus, as it is trumped by wardrobe item data. It’s on this basis that they can create more useful and – crucially – playful features.

“We’ve designed features to entertain and engage the user relating to their wardrobe. We create ease of sharing with friends, tapping into the sharing economy mindset… Moreover, the app is designed to build a culture of conscious consumption, encouraging users to buy less ‘fast fashion’, invest in quality pieces, and wear and share the contents of their closets,” says Willetts.

So the app is interesting, but what about the business model? Effectively, LBD is creating a data play around women’s wardrobes. They could use the data to create advertising for relevant and sustainable brands; partnerships with retailers; value-added services; a resale platform with commissions; verified sellers; and a premium version for high-end users with high-end wardrobes.

LBD is hitting four key trends. The rise of resale (see Real Real, Depop); the rise in sharing wardrobe behaviors (rentals like Rent the Runway, Hurr); the rise in the use of AI in e-commence; and the rise of re-receipts and online sales.

The fashion market is big. The global clothing and apparel market is worth $758.4bn and is over 50% female. But although that market has been hit by the COV-19 pandemic – as people needed to dress up less during lockdown – it is recovering, and now with a client base far more aware of the issues of sustainability. So LBD is set to benefit from that general ‘re-set’.

And, in the coming recession, it will be cheaper to shop second hand from sellers you have an insight into (your friends) as well as selling items to re-sale. For retail partners, they get better data on what consumers really do within the privacy of their wardrobes, allowing them to produce and sell more relevant and more targeted collections, reducing inventory waste, and generating a positive environmental impact.