Scoutbee launches free tool to help organisations search for COVID-19 support-related supplies

Scoutbee, the supplier discovery platform, has rolled out a new free tool for organisations helping to fight the coronavirus pandemic and who are in need of critical supplies.

Targeting NGOs, public bodies, local and national governments and healthcare providers, the platform does real-time analysis of terabytes of global supply chain data to significantly speed up the “request for proposal” (RFP) process.

The idea is to help organizations find suppliers 75% faster for critically needed medical equipment and supplies, such as surgical masks, hazmat suits, swabs and tubes, hand sanitizers etc.

Scoutbee is able to do this because it has essentially mapped out the world’s global manufacturing supply chain, and claims that its AI-powered procurement solution understands capacity as it expands and contracts across different geographical locations and for different kinds of products.

“When coronavirus began to cause pharma and medical supply shortages, we knew we should help,” says Gregor Stűhler, co-founder and managing director of Scoutbee, revealing that the team were able to build a simple tool in only 48 hours.

“The problem many NGOs face right now is that the peak demand is concentrated on a handful of suppliers that can be found on Google. We work to spread the demand broadly to help ease the situation. AI can really help in such a crisis. Traditional procurement methods are not transparent and awfully slow. The search and validation for a supplier would often take two or three weeks. The COVID-19 crisis makes it clear how vulnerable the old system is when time is pressing”.

Since rolling out the tool, Stűhler says Scoutbee has already seen the impact it is having by enabling users to target the right suppliers at speed.

“For example, in a number of latest sourcing cases we can see that Chinese suppliers are now having capacity again and can readily deliver. On the same cases, we observe that more Indian suppliers are becoming unavailable. During the crisis, we have been able to facilitate the demand for several thousand breathing masks, protective suits and gloves, which were requested from us, within 48 hours”.

Encore’s musical messages let you commission a video performance to send to loved ones

Encore, the U.K. marketplace that lets you find and book a musician or band online for your event, is launching a new online product to help musicians find an additional revenue stream during the coronavirus pandemic, and bring a little joy to all of us.

Dubbed musical messages, the new offering lets you pay one of Encore’s musicians to create and send a personalised musical message to loved ones, or anyone you cannot be with in-person, whilst also supporting the U.K.’s national health service (NHS). That’s because, for every message commissioned, Encore is making a donation of £2.50 to the NHS.

At launch, videos cost from £15 and customers have the opportunity to support musicians further by adding a tip once they receive the video. Encore co-founder James McAulay tells me during the MVP tests carried out over the last week, some customers have tipped up to £50 per video, in a spirit of wanting to keep musicians in work.

“Coronavirus has caused thousands of events to be cancelled or postponed around the U.K., [and] musicians all over the U.K. are now stuck at home unable to earn money from performing,” McAulay explains. “In March alone, the Encore team had to process almost 500 gig cancellations, so we began brainstorming ways to help these musicians make money from home”.

He said the most obvious route to income for a musician right now is asking for donations on livestreams, “but we heard from our musicians that they’ve seen mixed results from this approach”. That’s likely because the internet is now awash with live streaming, and supply is perhaps outpacing demand.

“We wanted to go beyond this and develop a compelling product that didn’t rely on asking for donations,” says McAulay. “We also wanted to find a way to spread messages of love and hope throughout one of the darkest periods any of us have lived through, which led us to the idea of personalised music messages”.

In testing, Encore has already had almost 100 videos requested and filmed since last week, generating nearly £1,000 for a handful of musicians and donating hundreds of pounds to the NHS. But (hopefully) it’s just the start.

“The reactions from both the senders and recipients have been extremely heartwarming and musicians are having fun with it!” adds the Encore co-founder. “This is also reflected in the success of the tipping mechanism, with people sometimes tipping more than the original video amount”.

Meanwhile, examples of musical messages sent so far include birthday messages when people can’t celebrate in person, wedding anniversaries, messages to people in hospital or isolation, or something as simple as “We love you and miss you” requests.

“We’ve worked with 10 musicians over the last week to build the beta, and we’re about to release to all 20,000 musicians this week,” says McAulay.

Flux and Pleo partner to bring itemised digital receipts to Pleo’s ‘smart’ expense cards

When three former employees of Revolut founded Flux in 2016, the mission was clear: build a platform to bridge the gap between the itemised receipt data captured by a merchant’s point-of-sale (POS) system and what little information typically shows up in your bank statement or mobile banking app.

Off the back of this, the young fintech saw an opportunity to power loyalty schemes and card-linked offers, and provide merchants with deeper analytics. However, that was always intended to be just the start.

Once Flux had made fully itemised digital receipts a reality — which requires bank and merchant partnerships — it foresaw that there were a multitude of other use cases where automated digital receipts could be useful, including expense reports.

Today, that particular use case comes into focus with the announcement that Flux has partnered with Danish fintech Pleo, the “business spending platform” that lets companies easily issue employees with cards and help them manage expenditure.

The tie-in will provide what the two fintechs are describing as the U.K.’s first “paperless” and fully automated expensing solution for businesses and employees. This will see digital receipts automatically generated and, crucially, reconciled within Pleo’s expensing software.

Once activated — and presuming you are a user of both services — Flux will send real-time, itemised digital receipts direct to Pleo when cardholders shop online or in-store at Flux-supported retailers using a Pleo card. The process is described as automatic and invisible to the end-user.

Unlike other solutions, Flux does not require photos, QR codes or any use of OCR (optical character Rrecognition) technology to generate and deliver its digital receipts. “Pleo users will not need to photograph a paper receipt or upload an email,” say the two companies.

In other words, Flux is a fully digital solution — even if it is only as useful as the merchants it is supported by. They currently include Just Eat, chuh, KFC, itsu, Pure, Giraffe, Ed’s Easy Diner, Japan Centre and Sakagura, with several more retailers due to be announced this year. On the banking side, alongside Pleo, Flux has integrations with Barclays Launchpad, Monzo and Starling Bank.

Cue statement from Roisin Levine, Head of Banks at Flux: “Here at Flux we’re passionate about improving the experience for our customers. Expensing is a natural partnership for us as a digital receipts company – we’ve all experienced the pain of trying to manage expenses and reconcile accounts! We’re incredibly excited to be working with Pleo to bring the U.K. its first fully-automated, invisible expensing solution, and we look forward to rolling this out by Q4 2020 to the 7,000 companies using Pleo in the U.K.”

Addionics, a startup creating ‘next-gen’ batteries for electric cars and more, raises $6M

Addionics, an Israeli/U.K. startup that is developed next-generation rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles and other applications, has raised $6 million in funding. The round is led by Next Gear Ventures, and includes a $2.5 million grant as part of the European Union’s Horizon2020 innovation competition.

Founded by former Imperial College London academics, Addionics has created what it claims are improved rechargeable batteries through a redesign of chargeable battery architecture. It has developed a “patent-protected” and scalable 3D metal fabrication method that are said to enhance car battery performance, increase mileage and safety, and reduce cost and charging time.

Specifically, this new so-called “smart 3D structure” minimises internal resistance and improves the “mechanical longevity, thermal stability and other fundamental limitations and degradation factors” in standard batteries, says Addionics.

It also says its approach is different to other companies that are trying to improve batteries, which tend to focus on chemistry rather than on physics. Addionics’ chemistry agnostic approach means that it can still benefit from advances in chemistry, while bringing something additional to the table.

Addionics CTO Dr. Vladimir Yufit explains in a statement: “We are agnostic to the battery chemistry. Therefore, we can take existing or future batteries and enhance their performance by our smart 3D components. No matter what chemistry technology will win the electrification race, we will improve it even more”.

Or to put it more colourfully, Yufit says Addionics is “betting on the race, and not on the horse”.

To that end, the company is initially targeting the automotive market but also sees its technology finding a home in other products such as consumer electronics, medical devices, grid energy storage, drones, and more.

In terms of commercial traction, it’s still early days. However, Addionics says it is currently working with an unnamed tier-1 American automotive company on a proof-of-concept design and testing Addionics cells in vehicles.

Dr. Moshiel Biton, Addionics CEO, says that the goal is to have 3-4 major collaborations with “world-leading OEMs” over the next year.

Air Doctor scores $7.8M to connect travellers with local doctors

Air Doctor, the health tech startup that connects travellers with local doctors, has raised $7.8 million in Series A funding. The round is led by Kamet Ventures (the AXA-backed venture builder), and The Phoenix Insurance Company.

Founded in 2016, Air Doctor aims to empower travellers who get sick when abroad and need non-emergency advice or treatment. It has created a network of local private physicians that travellers can access, typically via travel insurance or perks. The platform is available across 42 countries in 5 continents, and lets you search by location, language, specialty, and cost.

“Air Doctor was born out of the founding team’s own travelling experiences, out of that terrible feeling you get when you fall ill in a foreign country and don’t know who to turn to or how to get the fast response you need,” says Jenny Cohen Derfler, CEO and co-founder of Air Doctor.

“Yam [Derfler, Head of Product Innovation] came up with the idea after eight months of travelling around South America, in which both he and his friends at different times felt completely helpless when they got sick and, more often than not, couldn’t find English-speaking doctors”.

Derfler says Air Doctor’s initial focus was that of the travelling patient, but the team quickly realised that this is a problem that affects an entire ecosystem around medical care for travellers.

“Local doctors have no reliable way of accessing a whole new group of private customers, insurance companies waste huge amounts of money on tedious and questionable medical services, and also want to improve the customer experience of being connected to healthcare, and travel agents want a reliable service to bundle up as part of their packages. It became clear we needed to build a platform that would benefits all parties,” she says.

By combining a global network of medical professionals with a digital platform, Air Doctor is able to lower costs for insurance companies, and offer value-added solutions for credit card companies and mobile operators. On the supply end, it also claims to increase physicians’ income and digital presence, while providing “the highest level of healthcare” for international travellers in their native languages.

“Our aim is to provide every traveler in the world access to experienced local doctors and specialists when they need it, and by doing so to help them avoid having to go to hospitals or tourist clinics,” adds Derfler.

The that end, Air Doctor’s first customer was The Phoenix, one of Israel’s leading insurance companies, which has subsequently invested as part of this Series A round. By offering Air Doctor to its customers, The Phoenix was able to reduce its loss ratio by reducing claim costs, reorienting patients to outpatient clinics rather than emergency services, and streamlining payments.

“Our big selling point for the travellers themselves is control,” underlines the Air Doctor CEO. “When you’re sick while away from home, you want to feel like you are in control of your situation. Our online platform helps patients find immediate solutions, by providing them with a wealth of information about a wider range of local practitioners so they can choose the most appropriate doctor for their needs and preferences. Most importantly, we help them access medical care in their native language, which is one of the biggest things when it comes to feeling in control of your situation”.

Meanwhile, this latest round follows Air Doctor’s seed round of $3.1 million in July 2018. The new investment will be used to bolster Air Doctor’s medical network and R&D capabilities and for international expansion across the insurance, telecom, and credit card industries.

Meri Williams steps down as CTO of UK challenger bank Monzo

Monzo, the U.K. challenger bank that now counts over 4 million account holders, has lost its CTO, TechCrunch has learned.

According to multiple sources, Meri Williams, who joined the fast-growing fintech in September 2018 to much fanfare, announced internally that she was departing, saying that she wanted to voluntarily help with cost-cutting measures. However, it is worth noting that Williams had already cut back her involvement with Monzo and had been consulting for other tech companies. One source told TechCrunch she was most recently only working one day per week for Monzo.

Meanwhile, it is not clear who is taking up Williams CTO responsibilities, especially as previous CTO and Monzo co-founder Jonas Huckestein (pictured right, with Meri Williams) is thought to be on paternity leave. Monzo declined to comment.

Prior to holding the CTO role at Monzo, Williams worked at print and design company MOO — an early darling of the London startup ecosystem — and was brought to the bank for her experience “growing complex engineering organisations and managing fast-moving teams,” according to a press release issued at the time of her hire. Before working at MOO, she was Head of Engineering at M&S Digital and previously worked for the U.K.’s Government Digital Service.

Enable raises $13M to help distributors, manufacturers and retailers manage rebates

Enable, a U.K. startup that has developed a cloud-based “rebate management solution” to help distributors, manufacturers and retailers manage rebates, is announcing $13 million in Series A funding.

The round is led by Menlo Ventures, with participation from Sierra Ventures. As part of the investment, Menlo Ventures’ Steve Sloane has joined the Enable board.

Founded by long term business partners Andrew Butt and Denys Shortt in 2015 but launched fully in 2017, Enable makes it easy for distributors to track, manage, and optimise rebates. Rebate incentives offered by suppliers are a common industry practice, while the rebates offered are increasingly relied on by distributors to turn a profit.

However, the agreements put in place and the tracking and validating of qualifying terms has created a back office headache and many wasted hours on behalf of parties involved. Enable has set out to digitise the whole process and in turn bring suppliers and distributors more closely aligned.

“We take the pain away with our fully automated platform which becomes the system of record for all B2B deals, and the calculator of granular deal earnings,” explains Enable’s Andrew Butt. This includes a breakdown by product, location, day, supplier, and customer and the reconciliation of sales and purchase transactions pertaining to those deals.

“The complexity of these deals has also massively increased,” says Butt. “For distributors to survive, they must take full control of these deals and ensure that money is not being left on the table, yet until now there has been a lack of software that is designed around the distributor”.

In addition, he says that Enable is also allowing customers to create more targeted and better deals that “increase sales and profit, improve cash flow, and strengthen relationships” with suppliers. “We do this by identifying opportunities in the exiting deals and spotting where new deals can be created,” he adds.

Butt says the opportunity is huge, too, with Manufacturers issuing more than $1 trillion in rebates each year. Noteworthy, until now the company has been largely and in the last two years has on-boarded more than 2,000 trading partners processed rebates on more than $30 billion in sales. Customers include Rexel, Travis Perkins, and Wolseley, as well as other distributors, buying groups, and retailers from across the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

Adds Butt: “Our competitors focus on manufacturers and rebates payable – we’ve flipped the model on its head and deal with distributors and rebates receivable, which is more tricky to manage because distributors deal with a higher number and diversity of products compared to manufacturers. Also, it’s more important as rebates are now more than 100% of the profit for distributors across many verticals”.

More broadly, Butt frames Enable as a “collaborative platform” where manufacturers and distributors come together in a shared ecosystem to do better deals. “It’s like a ‘Dropbox for deals’,” he says. “[In contrast,] our competitors provide a traditional ‘private’ installation of their solution, totally segregated for each customer”.

Voi, the European e-scooter rentals startup, ‘pauses’ operations in several countries

Following similar moves by Lime, Bird, Tier and others, Voi Technology, the European e-scooter rentals and so-called micro-mobility startup, says it has “paused” operations in several countries due to the Coronvirus pandemic. This sees the company suspend operations in all but nine key cities.

In a short statement issued to media on Friday, Voi said it had regrettably been “forced” to pause operations in the majority of cities it operates in, with only a handful of its largest cities being serviced.

The cities where Voi is continuing to operate in are: Copenhagen, Helsinki, Gothenburg, Stockholm and Oslo in the Nordics, and Berlin, Hamburg, Nuremberg and Munich in Germany.

More broadly, the Coronavirus outbreak is a major blow to e-scooter companies as cities around the world are restricting movement and social distancing and isolation is, to varying degrees, being practiced. This is seeing many companies putting in place work-from-home policies and negating the need for daily commutes, where e-scooters are often favoured. The world economy is also taking a hit and therefore recreational spending and travel is on an escalating downwards trend too.

More broadly, the business plans of e-scooter rental startups factor in seasonal demand and sources told me a few months ago that runway across the industry was based on deep enough pockets and operational smarts to get through Winter and be in a strong position to capitalise on peak Spring and Summer season demand. Coronavirus inevitably means “Winter” could now last for a very long time indeed.

The rest of the statement from Voi — which raised $85 million in Series B funding in November — follows below:

In the cities we keep open we will drastically reduce our fleet size but will continue to serve our communities and wherever possible we will keep capacity at important hubs, like major transport interchanges and hospitals.

We have been forced to make this hard decision as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. People are working from home and no longer visiting restaurants, pubs, theatres and friends and consequently have stopped using Voi e-scooters to get around.

We plan to kick start our operations again when the situation allows.

Claimer raises seed backing to make it easier for UK startups to claim R&D tax credits

Claimer, a London-based startup that makes it easy for companies to claim R&D tax credits in the U.K., has raised £300,000 in seed funding.

Backing the already revenue-generating company is Ben Holmes (who was previously at Index Ventures), Nick Telson and Andrew Webster (the founders of DesignMyNight, which recently exited), Rupert Loman (founder of Gamer Network), and TrueSight Ventures.

Founded by Adam McCann in January 2018 and then launched in April 2019, Claimer streamlines the process of claiming R&D tax credits, which is a U.K. government subsidy popular with tech startups that is designed to encourage innovation. The startup claims its product is approximately 10x faster and up to 6x cheaper than using a tax consultant.

“Claimer is fixing the R&D tax relief space with tech,” McCann tells me. “If you’re not familiar with the scheme, it’s run by HMRC and allows U.K. businesses to claim back up to 33% of their research & development costs as a cash payment in any industry, such as software and hardware development, manufacturing, textiles, biotechnology, foodtech, and many others.

“Most accountants don’t have the in-house expertise to process claims, so they refer clients to R&D tax specialists. For many companies, the process is slow, expensive, and frustrating, because these specialists charge very high fees, often taking weeks to process claims”.

In contrast, McCann says Claimer’s platform makes it easy for businesses to reliably complete their R&D relief claims without any prior tax knowledge. After you upload a claim to the platform — which includes the ability to pull numbers from your accounting software — Claimer’s in-house tax specialists check and optimise it before it is submitted to HMRC.

“We’ve processed claims ranging from £1,000 to over £2 million with a 100% success rate (i.e. no rejections or reductions). Our customers have also awarded us 5 stars on TrustPilot,” he adds.

To that end, Claimer’s success is aligned with that of its customers. The startup charges a fee of 5% or less of the saving/credit received in R&D tax credits, capped to £10,000. McCann says this is much less than the typical uncapped 20-30% usually charged by specialists, “often with undesirable terms such as multi-year lock-in contracts, hidden costs, and large minimum fees”.

Meanwhile, Claimer plans to use the seed funding to grow its engineering team and build version two of the product, which McCann says will utilise open data and machine learning, making it possible for claims to be created automatically.

“And yes, we’ll be claiming R&D tax credits for developing our R&D tax credits platform,” quips the Claimer founder.

Business banking fintech Penta raises another €18.5M

Penta, the Berlin-based business banking challenger that also now operates in Italy, has raised €18.5 million, described as the first closing of a new funding round.

Leading the round is new investor RTP Global and existing investor HV Holtzbrinck Ventures. Also participating is ABN AMRO Ventures and Berliner Volksbank Ventures, and Finleap (the fintech company builder that has a majority stake in Penta).

The new investment sees Alex Pavlov, Partner RTP Global, join Penta’s board, which also includes Barbod Namini, Partner at HV, and Michael Hock, CFO at Finleap.

Comments RTP Global’s Pavlov: “We are always searching for exceptional teams who are ready for the sprints, prepare for the marathons and have the tenacity to grow their business and disrupt their respective market. In Penta, we found all of that: a strong team, rapid growth and the mission of solving the problems of their SME customers by thinking outside the traditional banking frame”.

Headquartered in Berlin, with offices in Milan and Belgrade, Penta provides banking for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). In April 2019, it was acquired by Finleap, the German company builder that co-founded and also owns a stake in banking platform solarisBank, of which Penta is a customer. Shortly after the deal went through, it was confirmed that Marko Wenthin, who previously co-founded solarisBank, had become Penta’s new CEO, replacing outgoing CEO and Penta co-founder Lav Odorović.

Most recently, the banking fintech partnered with BBVA-backed card reader company SumUp in a bid to attract more offline businesses, such as restaurants, craftsman, healthcare and architects. Businesses can order a SumUp Card Reader via Penta, and in doing so will save money on the initial SumUp setup fee and be able to seamlessly integrate SumUp-powered payments with their Penta account.

They also get access to the existing Penta features, such as being able to open a business banking account entirely digitally, issue multiple payment cards, grant limits and permissions per card for staff, facilitate expense management and integrate with popular accounting tools.