Creative Destruction Lab’s second Super Session is an intense two-day startup testbed

Canadian startup program Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) escapes succinct description in some ways – it’s an accelerator, to be sure, and an incubator. Startups show up and present to a combined audience of investors, mentors, industry players (some of whom, like former astronaut Chris Hadfield, verge on celebrity status) – but it’s not a demo day, per se, and presentations happen in focused rooms with key, vertically aligned audience members who can provide much more than just funding to the startups who participate.

North founder Stephen Lake on stage at CDL’s Super Session 2019.

Seven years into its existence, CDL really puts on a show for its cornerstone annual event (itself only two years old) clearly shows the extent to which the program has scaled. From an inaugural cohort of just 25 startups with a focus on science, CDL has grown to the point where it’s graduating 150 startups spanning cohorts across six cities associated with multiple academic institutions. It has consistently added new areas of focus, including a space track this year, for which Hadfield is a key mentor, as is Anousheh Ansari, the first female private space tourist to pay her own way to the International Space Station and the co-founder and CEO of Prodea Systems.

The ‘Super’ in Super Session

This is the second so-called ‘Super Session’ after the event’s debut in 2017. It includes roughly 850 attendees, made up of investors, mentors, industry sponsors and the graduating startups themselves. As CDL Fellow Chen Fong put it in his welcoming remarks, CDL’s Super Session is an opportune moment for networking, mentorship and demonstration of the companies the program has helped foster and grow.

A keynote track included talks by Ansari and Hadfield, as well as from Celmatix CEO and founder Piraye Beim, and a fireside chat with North founder and CEO Stephen Lake. Subjects ranged from the importance of the linkage between exploration and technology, to what Beim described as “probably the first CDL talk to include menstrual health, vibrators, incontinence, and menopause, all in the span of 15 minutes.” Lake meanwhile discussed the future of seamless human-computer interfaces, and Ansari discussed her work founding the XPRIZE program and the impetus behind the current moment and interest in private space innovation.

Celmatix CEO and founder Piraye Beim speaking at the 2019 Creative Destruction Lab Super Session in Toronto.

The variety in the keynote speaker mix and topic selection is reflective of the eclectic and comprehensive nature of CDL’s modern program, which scouts globally for prospective startup participants. Its six hubs then enter into a matching process with startups signed on to take part, where each scores the other and that leads to placement.

How CDL works

CDL’s originating thesis is all about supplying the limiting resource in a startup ecosystem; the thing which the program’s organizers think is the missing ingredient that differentiates Silicon Valley from any other innovation hub in the world. Namely, CDL theorizes that this missing ingredient is what CDL Associate Director Kristjan Sigurdson calls “entrepreneurial judgement.”

Sigurdson explains that this basically boils down to the ability to know what are the most important things you need to do as an entrepreneur, and in what order. The missing piece, he says, isn’t ideas, funding availability or a lack of effort – instead it’s the kind of judgement that results from experience. CDL’s model, which emphasizes five sessions held periodically during which a panel of mentors helps startups set three clearly defined objectives they can accomplish within the next eight weeks.

After each of these sessions, some triage occurs – essentially CDL mentors gathered in closed door meetings and are asked if they’d work with any of the startups that presented during the session. If startups don’t receive sponsorship in these closed door meetings, then they’re not asked to participate in the next session, and effectively are out of the program. All told, the program graduates around 40-45 percent of the startups that enter the program, Sigurdson said.

Group session with small group mentoring on site at Creative Destruction Lab’s 2019 Super Session in Toronto.

CDL is also a bit out of the ordinary in that it takes no equity from the startups it works with – it’s fundamentally an academic program, started by the University of Toronto, and its designed to provide real-world business cases for the school’s MBA students to work on. But it’s become so much more – providing mentorship and guidance as described, and also connecting researchers who often enter into formal advisory roles with CDL companies.

Sigurdson also noted that CDL has actually seen “much higher investment levels” vs. the average for more traditional incubation or acceleration programs. “It’s a program that I think allows companies to raise money much more organically even though it’s an artificial program we created,” he said, referencing CDL’s own comparative research.

Lab-grown and forged in fire

True to its name, Creative Destruction Lab in practice feels like a generative cauldron of ideas, shared with peers and industry specialists for debate, discussion and reformation. Sessions are remarkable to witness – where else are you going to see brand new companies get direct feedback from astronauts and representatives of global space agencies, for instance.

Creative Destruction Lab opening keynote for its Super Session 2019 event.

The model is unique, but clearly effective, and able to scale – as evidenced from its growth to what it is today, from its starting point in 2012, when one founder described it as ‘7 people in a room.’ The room featuring presentations from space track companies alone featured around 50 people in attendance for instance – almost all of which were top-flight industry leaders and investors, including Hadfield, Ansari, CDL alumni Mina Mitry of Kepler Communications, and prominent Toronto angel investor Dan Debow. Startups presenting in the space track included Wyvern, a hyperspectral imaging company; Mission Control, a startup that wants to be the software layer for Moon rovers; and Atomos, which is building space tug for extra-atmospheric ‘last-mile’ transportation solutions.

It’s easy to see why this program results in solid investment pipeline, given the profile of the sponsors and mentors involved. And it’s another strong stake in the ground for the claim that Canada’s startup scene, with Toronto as its locus of gravity, is increasingly earning (and outperforming) its reputation as a global center of innovation.

Norrsken opens East Africa startup fund and hub in Kigali

Startups in East Africa have a new source for investment and mentorship.

Sweden’s Norrsken Foundation—a coworking space and investment fund based in Stockholmopened its tech fund and entrepreneurship hub in Rwanda today to support ventures across the region.

Norrsken’s Kigali center is located on the former École Belge campus and will begin with seed investments of $25K to $100K for early stage startups in all sectors starting this year, Norrsken CEO Erik Engellau-Nilsson told TechCrunch.

The fund size is still being determined and Norrsken Kigali will extend the fund to larger series-stage investments from $100K to $1 million in the future.

Norrsken’s Fredrika Wessman is the head of Africa expansion and the organization is in the process of hiring a local director for its new Kigali operation.

The Swedish foundation’s move into Rwanda is strongly connected to the organization’s focus on the power of tech entrepreneurs to solve problems and generate capacity.

“We believe the single most important thing we can do here is help people get wealthy, because if that happens more investors will start to look at this region and see there’s business opportunities and bring more capital,” said Engellau-Nilsson.

“The aim is to build the biggest hub for entrepreneurship in East Africa.”

Startups that receive Norrsken funding from its Kigali center will receive mentorship and support of the overall Norrsken organization and network. “That includes unicorn founders, leading tech founders, and developers. We also look to expand that network to local accelerators and incubators,” said Engellau-Nilsson.

The Kigali center is Norrsken’s first launch outside of Sweden and the organization looks to open in 25 markets globally over the next decade.

Norrsken was formed in 2016 by Niklas Adalberth, the founder of Swedish payments solutions unicorn Klarna. Engellau-Nilsson was an exec with Adalberth at Klarna from 2013 to 2017, and both aimed to do more to support impact-driven, early stage ventures.

“We wanted to use our experience and tech to solve real problems instead of finding another way to do things like deliver burrito’s faster,” said Engellau-Nilsson.

Over 340 entrepreneurs and 120 companies currently work out of Norrsken’s Stockholm location. The organization’s fund has invested in 17 ventures, including three Africa focused startups—agtech company Wefarm, digital publisher Kognity, and weather forecasting firm Ignitia.

Norrsken chose Rwanda as the base for its East African  for the country’s progress over the last decade on infrastructure, increasing internet penetration, and improving its business environment. In 2019, Rwanda ranked higher than any African country on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business list, 29th, before Spain.

Though the country has a relatively small population (12 million) and tech scene, the government of Rwanda has prioritized tech events and development in the country. This includes becoming a leader on  drone delivery and regulatory systems, working most notably with San Francisco based UAV startup Zipline.

Of the East African countries from which Norrksen will source investments, Kenya stands out as one of the continent’s top hubs for tech startup formation, VC, and exits.

As for how ventures can reach out to pitch to Norrsken’s new fund, “If there are entrepreneurs who want to reach out to us, we’re ready to go,” said Engellau-Nilsson. Norrsken posted an informational and contact link for its Rwanda hub today.

 

 

Why identity startup Auth0’s founder still codes: It makes him a better boss

If you ask Eugenio Pace to describe himself, “engineer” would be fairly high on the list.

“Being a CEO is pretty busy,” he told TechCrunch in a call last week. “But I’m an engineer in my heart — I am a problem solver,” he said.

Pace, an Argentinan immigrant to the U.S., founded identity management company Auth0 in 2013 after more than a decade at Microsoft. Auth0, pronounced “auth-zero,” has been described as like Stripe for payments or Twilio for messaging. App developers can add a few lines of code and it immediately gives their users access to the company’s identity management service.

That means the user can securely log in to the app without building a homebrew username and password system that’s invariably going to break. Any enterprise paying for Auth0 can also use its service to securely logon to the company’s internal network.

“Nobody cares about authentication, but everybody needs it,” he said.

Pace said Auth0 works to answer two simple questions. “Who are you, and what can you do?” he said.

“Those two questions are the same regardless of the device, the app, or whether if I’m an employee of somebody or if I am an individual using an app, or if I am using a device where there’s no human attached to it,” he said.

Whoever the users are, the app needs to know if the person using the app or service is allowed to, and what level of access or functionality they can get. “Can you transfer these funds?,” he said. “Can you approve these expense reports? Can you open the door of my house?” he explained.

Pace left Microsoft in 2012 and founded Auth0 during the emergence of Azure, which transformed Microsoft from a software giant into a cloud company. It was at Microsoft where he found identity management was one of the biggest headaches for developers moving their apps to the cloud. He wrote book after book, and edition after edition. “I felt like I could keep writing books about the problem — or I can just solve the problem,” he said.

So he did.

Instead of teaching developers how to become experts in identity management, he wanted to give them the tools to employ a sign-on solution without ever having to read a book.

DHL brings Africa eShop to 20 countries in a competitive nod to Jumia

DHL is expanding its DHL Africa eShop business to 9 additional markets, upping the presence of the global shipping company’s e-commerce platform to 20 African countries.

DHL went live with the digital retail app in April, bringing more than 200 U.S. and U.K. sellers — from Neiman Marcus to Carters — online to African consumers.

Africa eShop operates using startup MallforAfrica.com’s white label fulfillment service, Link Commerce. Payment methods include local fintech options, such as Nigeria’s Paga and Kenya’s M-Pesa.

DHL’s move to offer Africa eShop to 20 of the continent’s 54 countries comes a month after Africa’s most visible (and well funded) e-tailer, Jumia, went public. Jumia—which operates consumer retail and online service verticals in 14 African countries—raised over $200 million in an NYSE IPO.

There’s a competitive e-commerce scenario brewing between the two platforms. DHL Africa e-Shop touts itself as “Africa’s Largest Online Shopping Platform.” Jumia said “We believe that our platform is the largest e-commerce marketplace in Africa,” in its SEC S1 filing.

It’ll take a little more time to shake out the stats behind each company’s branding claims.

DHL didn’t respond directly to the question of Africa eShop’s new market moves and competition with Jumia. “DHL’s growth expansion has always been centered around satisfying our customer’s wants…Africa e-Shop will be no different,” DHL spokesperson Megan Roper told TechCrunch.

DHL’s app takes advantage of the shipping giant’s existing delivery structure on the continent, able to get goods to doorsteps through its DHL Express courier service.

DHL’s partner for the new app, MallforAfrica, brings experience collaborating with a number of big-name retailers, including Macy’s and Best Buy. MFA’s payment and delivery system serves as a digital broker and logistics manager for big-name retailers to sell goods in Africa.

E-commerce ventures have captured the attention of VC investors looking to tap Africa’s growing consumer markets. McKinsey & Company projects consumer spending on the continent to reach $2.1 trillion by 2025, with e-commerce accounting for up to 10 percent.

Africa’s e-commerce startup landscape has already seen some ups and downs. Jumia’s recent IPO filing on the NYSE is a first for any startup operating in Africa. Despite continuing losses, Jumia’s post-IPO results earned the confidence of Wall Street analysts.

 

DHL’s Africa e-Shop expansion also demonstrates momentum for digital sales on the continent.

On the flip side, the distressed acquisition of Nigerian e-commerce hopeful Konga.com, backed by roughly $100 million in VC, created losses for investors. And in late 2018, Nigerian online sales platform DealDey shut down.

As for the big global names, Alibaba has talked about Africa expansion, but for the moment has not entered in full.

Amazon offers limited e-commerce sales on the continent, but more notably, has started offering AWS services in Africa.

To watch is how DHL’s Africa eShop expansion factors into the continent’s online-sales market, particularly vis-a-vis Jumia.

On a B2C level, Africa eShop brings distinct advantages on a transaction cost basis (i.e. the cost of delivery) given it’s connected to one of the world’s logistics masters.

Another component of DHL and MallforAfrica’s partnership is the market for offering e-commerce fulfillment services. MallforAfrica CEO Chris Folayan acknowledged Jumia as a competitor to his company’s logistics offering, but said, “I’m not building Link Commerce to go after Jumia…I’m building Link Commerce to become the powerhouse e-commerce platform to help emerging markets gain access to U.S. and UK products.” On a call with TechCrunch, Folayan also confirmed Link Commerce would open up to vendors from Asia in the next 12 months.

On its recent earnings call, Jumia CEO Sacha Poignonnec flagged carving out the “Jumia logistics services as a standalone entity” as a future company priority.

These developments could put DHL’s Africa eShop, MallforAfrica, and Jumia on a footing to compete with (or work with) big e-commerce names entering Africa. They certainly add another layer of competition to online retail and fulfillment services on the continent.

For the moment, the DHL Africa eShop expansion creates additional choice on overlapping product categories with Jumia, such as phones, tablets, fashion, health, beauty, and gaming.

Africa eShop will also offer African consumers more price competition in the operating countries it shares with Jumia—currently 10: South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Cameroon, Uganda, Ivory Coast, Rwanda, Senegal, and Ghana.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canopy’s upscale co-working business adds a new location in SF on the heels of strategic funding

Canopy, an upscale, profitable developer of co-working spaces, has expanded its footprint in San Francisco to a third location on the heels of a strategic financing round.

Co-founded by the product designer Yves Behar; the second generation design-build developer Amir Mortazavi; and serial entrepreneur and medical office space developer Steve Mohebi, Canopy bills itself as a better-designed WeWork for high-powered adults (or aspiring high-powered adults).

Canopy co-founders Amir Mortazavi, Yves Behar and Steve Mohebi

The company opened its latest office space in the financial district of San Francisco and has plans to double its . Jackson Square location with a new penthouse space.

Investors in the round were culled from Canopy members and a few institutional investment funds including: Structure Capital, Montage Ventures, Graph Ventures and individuals like Erik  Blachford, the former chief executive of Expedia, Mark PIncus, the former chief executive of Zynga, and Spencer Raskoff the co-founder of Zillow.

Canopy’s latest office will be at 353 Kearny Street and Pine. The ground floor will house a retail store in partnership with Monocle Magazine ad contain 32 offices suitable for everyone from one person shops to larger teams of ten.

Like all of its offices, Canopy’s new building will be kitted out with Herman Miller sit-to-stand desks and Sayl chairs, and sound masking for privacy.

“Designing our spaces along with my friend and co-founder, Yves Behar, to serve the unmet demands of the premium segment has been a true labor of passion,” said co-founder and CEO, Amir Mortazavi, in a statement. “We build everything around our members’ needs — a generosity of space, abundant natural light, easy flow between private and shared spaces — to ensure the overall Canopy experience is at once inspiring and calm.”

The company boasts 300 members already and its founders say the business is already profitable. Canopy’s workspaces are not for everyone. Prices start at $100 per month to take advantage of the company’s addresses for people who want a virtual office. For folks who want ten days worth of access to the co-working space’s common areas and an actual seat at a table, the price tag is $365 per month ($275 gets you 60 days of access out of a year).

Meanwhile, anyone who wants to be able to sit at an actual desk and work at a Canopy space better be willing to shell out $925 per month. That’s… not cheap.

Getting a seat at the VC table

We are witnessing the greatest paradigm shift in power since the advent of the venture capital industry. Since taking my first VC role in 2012, I’ve seen more change in the past year than all other years combined.

Six years after Ellen Pao’s landmark gender discrimination case against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Mary Meeker announced her departure to start a new fund with three other KPCB investors. Arlan Hamilton from Backstage Capital graced the cover of Fast Company with the caption “Venture Catalyst.” AllRaise’s circulation of a growing list of job postings is regularly hitting the inboxes of female investment talent climbing the check-writing ranks. To quote Seth Godin, “When you put the right idea into the world, people can’t unsee it.”

What does it mean to have a seat at the table, and how many of us have needed to bring our own chairs rather than wait for someone to offer us one?

Here are a few reflections on what having a seat at the investors’ table means to me:

Representation is a competitive advantage.

Venture has operated in many ways like a club since its inception, where deals are shared within small, private circles, often comprised of people with more in common than not. When investment decisions are made by people who are not representative of our population — instead representative of the interests of a very small percentage of the population (in ethnicity, culture, education, and socioeconomic status) — our economy suffers. In other words, fewer wants and needs are addressed by the goods and services in the market, creating less economic prosperity as a whole.

According to the NVCA and Pitchbook, the total investment into venture-backed companies reached $57 billion in just the first half of 2018. To put this into context, $57 billion is more than 114 countries can claim in GDP. Given just how much money is invested — an increasing figure each year as more venture money appears from new participants — we should be concerned that just 9% of U.S. VCs are women despite comprising 50.8% of the U.S. population and driving 70-80% of all consumer purchasing.

#ANGELS and Carta exposed a staggering new statistic that just 9% of company equity is held by women, despite women comprising 33% of the founder and employee workforce.

The private and public markets are waking up to the realization that representation matters. A 2015 McKinsey study found that “companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.” I’m in constant communication with a wide range of investors from established firms to new ones, and the feedback is overwhelmingly positive — having an investment team more representative of the population generates better deal flow. I have this conversation on a biweekly basis and know that the next generation of investors is watching to see what established VC firms are doing to remain competitive.

So, you ask, what’s next for venture capital?

Assimilation is a thing of the past.

I tried to blend in as much as possible when I first entered the venture world, not wanting to draw attention to the fact that I came from a very different background than the people I was interacting with. I didn’t know what ski week was, my parents didn’t belong to private clubs, and Ivy League schools were a distant concept. Yet, I found common ground with my new social circle because they were, in many respects, regular people with “access” broadly defined as the primary differentiator.

Fast forward to today, I see the greatest opportunity for those who are boldly unique. A seat at the table means I can be myself and draw upon my unique experiences to make decisions and support my portfolio companies in a way that only I can. Our industry thrives when contrarian views are developed over time and implemented without compromise. Conformity is the main villain when we decide to settle for the familiar, ultimately generating stagnant venture returns. After all, venture capital is, by definition, meant to be a high-risk asset class.

Safe environments matter. Full stop.

Having a seat at the table means I get to draw the line when male investors, entrepreneurs, and other industry voices choose to transgress or act inappropriately. I feel safe in assuming the male leadership I choose to invest in will have a lower probability of ruining their company due to issues with workplace culture and sexual abuse allegations.

As we witness one industry giant topple after another, spanning film and media, consumer brands, and investors, it has become increasingly apparent that poor judgment calls and mistreatment of talent will no longer be swept under the rug. I occasionally have meetings with entrepreneurs and fellow investors where you could say my “stranger danger” alarms are triggered by off-color comments and malapropos gestures. These are the instances where I will choose to avoid a situation or pass on a business opportunity that could, in time, become a ticking time bomb and, long-term, a poor investment.

There are no more rules.

A close friend in VC often states, “The new rule is: there are no rules.” This means new people arriving to the table, chair in hand, to direct investment decisions, whether top-down as a company builder or bottoms-up as a content creator and micro-influencer. No rules means new faces showing up as limited partners in VC funds, and new managers of VC funds sharing their own unique stories of building their less-conventional careers. No rules also means that VC firms are going to look, act, and feel different, throwing out convention in favor of creativity and inclusivity.

Build it and they will come.

Arlan Hamilton of Backstage Capital said it best during her 36|86 AMA in Nashville with The JumpFund: “We will make our own club!” I nearly fell out of my seat applauding, laughing, and cheering. My own interpretation of this statement has to do with the can-do energy that is showing up in venture. In 2018, we are no longer waiting for someone to save a seat for us at the table or invite us into the room at all. We are showing up with our own chairs, building new tables, and creating new spaces and environments that foster the exchanging of ideas and deal docs.

Early in 2018, I set out to learn more about the startup and venture capital landscape in my new home city of Nashville, Tennessee, and in the broader surrounding geography of the Southeastern U.S. I quickly found that the entrepreneurs and investors I met were surprised by me — a relatively young, half-Mexican, female face did not immediately trigger the words ‘venture’ and ‘capital’.

Questions followed, such as, “How did you end up in venture capital?” and statements like, “People must tell you all of the time that you don’t look like the typical VC.” A few minutes into the conversation and those questions and statements dissipate, though I knew there must be a broader local community sharing my interests and lack of conformity in physical appearance and style. So, I set out and launched ModernCapital to make the venture capital industry more accessible to new talent. Our team of 4 (3 venture fellows plus myself) is 100% female and 50% Latina. As we spend more time digging into the entrepreneurial landscape of our region, more entrepreneurs and future investors from a wide range of backgrounds are contacting us wanting to join the community we are building.

Considering just how much has changed in the dialogue around venture capital and where the greatest next investment opportunities will arise, I am confident this is only the beginning.

Freshworks acquires customer success service Natero

Customer engagement service Freshworks, which you may still remember under its old name of Freshdesk, today announced that it has acquired Natero, a customer success service with some AI/ML smarts that helps businesses prevent churn and manage their customers.

The acquisition, Freshworks CEO Girish Mathrubootham told me, will help the company complete its mission to provide its users with a 360-degree view of their customers. As Mathrubootham stressed, Freshdesk started out with a focus on customer support and then added additional functionality for marketers and other roles over time. Today, however, companies want this full 360-degree view of a customer and be able to offer differentiated service to their top customers, for example. In many ways, the acquisition of Natero closes the loop here.

“The acquisition extends our ‘customer-for-life’ vision to all teams, including account and customer success managers who require up-to-date customer usage and health data to proactively engage those accounts at risk of churn or ready to buy more,” Mathrubootham said.

Natero founder and CEO Craig Soules echoed this and noted that the only way to do this is to have a rich customer model at the core of these efforts. “More and more people wanted to take data from Natero and take it to sales tools,” he said when I asked him about how his company will fit into the Freshworks portfolio — and why he sold the company. “We Freshworks, we saw a company that was going into this direction and that was doing customer success for a very long it. […] It felt like a very natural fit to leverage this customer model.”

Mathrubootham also noted that Freshworks was actually a Natero customer so when Natero got to the point where it was looking for more capital to expand this focus on its customer model, the two companies started talking.

Natero will continue to exist as a stand-alone product, but it will also become part of the Freshworks 360 suite, Freshwork’s integrated customer engagement suite.

Ahead of today’s acquisition, Natero had raised a total of $3.3 million. That’s not a lot for a startup that launched back in 2012, but Soules noted how he was able to fund the company’s expansion through revenue. The two companies did not disclose the acquisition price.

ZenHub Workspaces make GitHub easier to use across teams

ZenHub, a project management tool for GitHub, today announced the launch of Workspaces, a feature that makes it easier for teams to use its service — and GitHub — by allowing them to tweak the service to the needs of specific teams while still using GitHub as the ground truth for their work.

With Workspaces, teams can create multiple workspaces inside a GitHub repository (ZenHub does this through a Chrome extension) so that a team of developers can get a detailed view of every issue, for example, while other teams only get to see what is relevant to them. This also allows different teams to opt for their own work styles, no matter whether that’s Scrum or Kanban.

“What this will allow teams to do is to work in their own unique ways and build their own unique workflows dependent on how they work,” ZenHub founder and CEO Aaron Upright told me. “So a front end team can have its own board of GitHub issues, that’s more of a Kanban-style of workflow. And the back end team can have its own workflow that’s more of a scrum style.”

Issues are still shared across boards and every team can see what the other teams are working on, which will also allow for more transparency inside the company.

Trendy luggage brand Away packs on $100M, rolls past $1.4B valuation

Away‘s new lofty valuation proves how far you can get with excellent branding.

The direct-to-consumer seller of Instagrammable luggage has collected $100 million in Series D funding at a $1.4 billion valuation in a round led by Wellington Management, with support from Baillie Gifford, Lone Pine Capital and Global Founders Capital, reports The Wall Street Journal .

We’ve reached out to Away for comment.

The capital will be used to build additional brick-and-mortar stores, as well as add to Away’s portfolio of merchandise with an eye toward expanding into generic travel gear. To date, Away has sold more than 1 million suitcases.

“When someone’s going on a trip, we want to make everything that they need to go on on that trip,” Away co-founder and chief brand officer Jen Rubio said recently on NPR’s How I Built This podcast.

Rubio’s eye for branding and social media expertise has bolstered the company, as has various celebrities’ early adoption of the brand. Rubio got her start at Warby Parker as the company’s head of social media. In 2015, she brought her idea for a modern luggage company to Steph Korey, Warby’s former head of supply chain.

Away’s new valuation, up from $400 million in 2018, firmly places Away into the unicorn club. It joins several other recently added female-founded companies to the exclusive group, such as Rent The Runway and Glossier.

Here’s a closer look at its funind history, via PitchBook:

August 2015: $2.5 million seed round at a $7.2 million valuation
September 2016: $8.5 million Series A at a $40 million valuation
May 2017: $20 million Series B at a $120 million valuation
June 2018: $50 million Series C at a $400 million valuation
May 2019: $100 million at a $1.4 billion valuation

Away has brought in a total of $181 million, including the latest investment. Previously, Away raised a $50 million Series C and claimed in the announcement that it had already hit profitability, a notable accomplishment for a startup that was still shy of 3-years-old.

Away is backed by Forerunner Ventures, Accel, Battery Ventures, Comcast Ventures, Shawn Carter, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield and Karlie Kloss.

Butterfield and Rubio’s are romantically linked and perhaps soon-to-be married? The well-known Slack executive Tweeted shortly after the WSJ story on Away broke asking Rubio to marry him. She has yet to announce her response.

All in a day’s work.

Announcing TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise this September in San Francisco

Of the many categories in the tech world, none is more ferociously competitive than enterprise. For decades, SAP, Oracle, Adobe, Microsoft, IBM and Salesforce, to name a few of the giants, have battled to deliver the tools businesses want to become more productive and competitive. That market is closing in on $500 billion in sales per year, which explains why hundreds of new enterprise startups launch every year and dozens are acquired by the big incumbents trying to maintain their edge.

Last year alone, the top 10 enterprise acquisitions were worth $87 billion and included IBM’s acquiring Red Hat for $34 billion, SAP paying $8 billion for Qualtrics, Microsoft landing GitHub for $7.5 billion, Salesforce acquiring MuleSoft for $6.5 billion and Adobe grabbing Marketo for $4.75 billion. No startup category has made more VCs and founders wildly wealthy, and none has seen more mighty companies rise faster or fall harder. That technology and business thrill ride makes enterprise a category TechCrunch has long wanted to tackle head on.

TC Sessions: Enterprise (September 5 at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center) will take on the big challenges and promise facing enterprise companies today. TechCrunch’s editors, notably Frederic Lardinois, Ron Miller and Connie Loizos, will bring to the stage founders and leaders from established and emerging companies to address rising questions like the promised revolution from machine learning and AI, intelligent marketing automation and the inevitability of the cloud, as well as the outer reaches of technology, like quantum and blockchain.

We’ll enlist proven enterprise-focused VCs to reveal where they are directing their early, middle and late-stage investments. And we’ll ask the most proven serial entrepreneurs to tell us what it really took to build that company, and which company they would like to create next. All throughout the show, TechCrunch’s editors will zero in on emerging enterprise technologies to sort the hype from the reality. Whether you are a founder, an investor, enterprise-minded engineer or a corporate CTO / CIO, TC Sessions: Enterprise will provide a valuable day of new insights and great networking.

Tickets are now available for purchase on our website at the early-bird rate of $395. Want to bring a group of people from your company? Get an automatic 15% savings when you purchase four or more tickets at once. Are you an early-stage startup? We have a limited number of Startup Demo Packages available for $2,000, which includes four tickets to attend the event. Students are invited to apply for a reduced-price student ticket at just $245. Additionally, for each ticket purchased for TC Sessions: Enterprise, you will also be registered for a complimentary Expo Only pass to TechCrunch Disrupt SF on October 2-4.

Interested in sponsoring TC Sessions: Enterprise? Fill out this form and a member of our sales team will contact you.