Trump’s Huawei ban ‘wins’ one trade battle, but the US may lose the networking war

While U.S. government officials celebrate what they must consider to be a win in their battle against the low-cost, high-performance networking vendor Huawei and other Chinese hardware manufacturers, the country is at risk of falling seriously behind in the broader, global competition for telecom tech and customers.

It may be a race that the U.S. is willing to concede, but it should be noted that Huawei’s sphere of influence on other shores continues to expand, even as the company’s ability to operate in the U.S. is completely proscribed.

Indeed, Huawei’s executive director and chairman of its investment review board, David Wang, told Bloomberg that, “Our U.S. business is not that big. We have global operations. We still will have stable operations.”

Wang is right… to a point. Huawei derives most of its sales from international markets, according to a 2018 financial report released earlier this year, but it depends heavily on technology from U.S. chip manufacturers for its equipment. Without those supplies, Huawei could find itself in a very difficult spot, indeed.

Huawei’s end of year financials showed its consumer devices business is now its main money-maker, while the majority of its revenue is not derived from the U.S. market

And the U.S. has its reasons for working to stymie Huawei’s efforts to expand the reach of its networking technologies as this excellent Twitter thread from Adam Townsend persuasively argues.

Essentially, China has invested its basically limitless capital into subsidizing next-gen wireless technology and buying up next-generation startups and innovators, all while the U.S. has borne early stage risk. Meanwhile, it is also using unlimited money to poach regulators and industry experts who might advocate against it.

Huawei continues to make inroads in nations across the emerging markets of Latin America, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia and Africa where demand for connectivity is on the rise. Those are regions where the U.S. has plenty of strategic interests, but America’s ability to sway public opinion or entice governments to act against Chinese networking companies could be severely limited by its inability to offer meaningful incentives or alternatives to them.

Even with the passage of the BUILD Act in October 2018, which was meant to revitalize U.S. foreign aid and investment with a $60 billion package, it’s worth noting that China spent nearly $47 billion in foreign investment in Europe alone in 2018. Chinese direct investments totaled another $49.45 billion into Africa and the Middle East and $18 billion into South America, according to data from the American Enterprise Institute, compiled by Foreign Policy.

Map courtesy of the American Enterprise Institute.

Those investments have turned nations that should be staunch political allies into reluctant or simply rhetorical backers of the U.S. position. Take the relationship between the U.S. and Brazil, for example — a historically strong partnership going back years and one that seemingly only strengthened given the similarities between the two ultraconservative leaders in power in both nations.

However, as Foreign Affairs reports, Brazil is unlikely to accede to President Trump’s demands that Brazil aids in steps to block China’s economic expansion.

“Brazilian business groups have already begun to defend the country’s deep trade ties to China, rightly pointing out that any hope of containing China and once more turning the United States into Brazil’s most important trading partner is little more than unrealistic nostalgia,” writes Foreign Affairs correspondent, Oliver Stuenkel. “Working alongside powerful military generals, these business associations are mobilizing to avoid any delays that sidelining Huawei in the region could cause in getting 5G up and running.”

The whole article is worth reading, but its refrain is that the attempts by U.S. government officials to paint Huawei and Chinese economic inroads as a national security threat in developing economies are largely falling on deaf ears.

It’s not just networking technologies either. As one venture capitalist who invests in Latin America and the U.S. told TechCrunch anonymously: “It’s interesting how the U.S.-China relationships are going to affect what is happening in Latin America. The Chinese are already being more aggressive on the banking side.”

China’s big technology companies are also taking an interest in South America, both as vendors and as investors on the continent.

In an article in Crunchbase, the South American and Chinese-focused venture capitalist, Nathan Lustig underscored the trend. Lustig wrote:

In both the private and the public sectors, China is swiftly increasing its support for Latin America. Chinese expertise in financial technology, as well as its influence in developing markets around the world, is turning China into a strategic partner for startups and entrepreneurs in Latin America. Most of the Chinese investment in Latin America so far is going to Brazil, although this is likely to spread across the region as Chinese investors become better-acquainted with the local tech ecosystems, most likely to Mexico.

Beyond the Didi Chuxing acquisition of Brazil’s 99 in January, Chinese companies began investing heavily in Brazilian fintech startups, specifically Nubank and StoneCo, this year.

Indeed, China has an entire catalog of low-cost technologies and economic packages from state-owned and privately held investors to support their adoption, backing up its position as the leader for tech across a range of applications in emerging markets.

For the U.S. to compete, it will have to look beyond protectionism at its shores to actual commitments to greater economic development abroad. With lower tax revenues coming in and the prospect of giant deficits building up as far as the eye can see, there’s not much room to promote an alternative to Huawei internationally. That could leave the country increasingly isolated and create far more problems as it gets left behind.

Thunes raises $10M to make financial services more accessible in emerging markets

Cross-border fintech continues to be an area of interest for venture capitalists. The latest deal sees GGV Capital — the U.S-China firm that’s backed Xiaomi, Airbnb, Square and others — lead a $10 million investment in Singapore-based startup Thunes.

Other investors in the Series A round are not being disclosed at this point.

Thunes — which is slang for money in French and is pronounced ‘tunes’ — is not your typical startup. Its service is a b2b play that provides payment solutions for companies and services that deal with consumers and need new features, increased interoperability and flexibility for users. It makes money on a fee basis per transaction and, in the case of cross border, a small markup on exchange rates using mid-market rates for reference.

The company was founded in February of this year when TransferTo, a company that provided services like mobile top-up cross-border split itself in two. Thunes is the b2b play that uses TransferTo’s underlying technology, while DT One was spun out to cover the consumer business of top-up and mobile rewards.

The investment, then, is a first outside raise for Thunes, which had previously been financed by TransferTo, which is a profitable business, according to Thunes executive chairman Peter De Caluwe, who led payments startup Ogone to a €360 million acquisition in 2013.

De Caluwe, who is also CEO of DT One, told TechCrunch that Thunes reached $3 billion in payment volumes over the last 12 months. His goal for this year is double that to $6 billion and already, he said, it is “on track to get there.” (Steve Vickers, who previously managed Xiaomi in Southeast Asia and has worked with Grab, is Thunes CEO.)

Thunes works with customers across the world in North America, Central America, Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia, but it is looking particularly at Southeast Asia and the wider Asia continent for growth with this new capital. It is not a consuming facing brand, but its biggest customers include Western Union, PayPal and Mpesa — where it has worked to connect the two payment interfaces in Africa — and India’s Paytm and ride-hailing company Grab, which it helps to pay drivers.

In the case of Grab — the $14 billion company backed by SoftBank’s Vision Fund — De Caluwe said Thunes helps it to pay “millions” of drivers per day. Grab uses Thunes’ real-time payment system to help drivers, many of whom need a daily paycheck, to convert their earnings to money in Grab’s wallet, their bank account or cash pick-up locations.

It’s hard to define exactly what Thunes’ role is, but De Caluwe roughly calls it “the swift of the emerging markets.” That’s to mean that it enables interoperability between different wallets, banks in different countries and newer payment systems, too. It also provides feature — like the instant payout option used by Grab — to enable this mesh of financial endpoints to work efficiently — because right now the proliferation of mobile wallets can feel siloed to the ‘regular’ banking infrastructure.

De Caluwe said that Thunes will work to add more destinations, support for more countries, more partners and more features. So growth across the board with this money. It is also looking to increase its team from the current headcount of 60 to around 110 by the end of this year.

Singapore is HQ but Thunes also has staff located in London and Nairobi offices, with some employees in the U.S. — they share a Miami office with DT One — and others remote in India and Indonesia. A Dubai office, covering the important and lucrative Middle East region, is in the process of being opened.

The company is also looking to raise additional capital to support continued growth. De Caluwe, who has spent time working at Telenor and Naspers-owned PayU, said a Series A+ and Series B is tentatively timed for the end of this year or early next year. The Thunes executive chairman sees massive potential since he believes the company “doesn’t have much competition.”

That’s echoed by GGV managing partner Jenny Lee .

“In China and the U.S, currency is homogenous and payment systems are established,” Lee told TechCrunch in an interview. “But in Southeast Asia right now, a huge number of the population is just getting on the internet and there are not a lot of established players.”

GGV has just opened its first office in Singapore — Lee herself is Singaporean — and the company intends to make fintech a major focus of its deals in the region. To date, Thunes is just its second investment in Southeast Asia, so there is certainly more to come.

WorldCover raises $6M round for emerging markets climate insurance

WorldCover, a New York and Africa-based climate insurance provider to smallholder farmers, has raised a $6 million Series A round led by MS&AD Ventures.

Y-Combinator, Western Technology Investment, and EchoVC also participated in the round.

WorldCover’s platform uses satellite imagery, on-ground sensors, mobile phones, and data analytics to create insurance options for farmers whose crops yields are affected adversely by weather events—primarily lack of rain.

The startup currently operates in Ghana, Uganda, and Kenya . With the new funding WorldCover aims to expand its insurance offerings to more emerging market countries.

“We’re looking at India, Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia. India could be first on an 18 month timeline for a launch,” WorldCover co-founder and chief executive Chris Sheehan said in an interview.

The company has served over 30,000 farmers across its Africa operations. Smallholder farmers as those earning all or nearly all of their income from agriculture, farming on 10 to 20 acres of land, and earning around $500 to $5000, according to Sheehan.

Farmer’s connect to WorldCover by creating an account on its USSD mobile app. From there they can input their region, crop type, determine how much insurance they would like to buy and use mobile money to purchase a plan. WorldCover works with payments providers such as M-Pesa in Kenya and MTN Mobile Money in Ghana.

The service works on a sliding scale, where a customer can receive anywhere from 5x to 15x the amount of premium they have paid.  If there is an adverse weather event, namely lack of rain, the farmer can file claim via mobile phone. WorldCover then uses its data-analytics metrics to assess it, and if approved, the farmer will receive an insurance payment via mobile-money.

Common crops farmed by WorldCover clients include maize, rice, and peanuts. It looks to add coffee, cocoa, and cashews to its coverage list.

For the moment, WorldCover only insures for events such as rainfall risk, but in the future it will look to include other weather events, such as tropical storms, in its insurance programs and platform data-analytics.

The startup’s founder clarified that WorldCover’s model does not assess or provide insurance payouts specifically for climate change, though it does directly connect to the company’s business.

“We insure for adverse weather events that we believe climate change factors are exacerbating,” Sheehan explained. WorldCover also resells the risk of its policy-holders to global reinsurers, such as Swiss Re and Nephila.

On the potential market size for WordCover’s business, he highlights a 2018 Lloyd’s study that identified $163 billion of assets at risk, including agriculture, in emerging markets from negative, climate change related events.

“That’s what WorldCover wants to go after…These are the kind of micro-systemic risks we think we can model and then create a micro product for a smallholder farmer that they can understand and will give them protection,” he said.

With the round, the startup will look to possibilities to update its platform to offer farming advice to smallholder farmers, in addition to insurance coverage.

WorldCover investor and EchoVC founder Eghosa Omoigui believes the startup’s insurance offerings can actually help farmers improve yield. “Weather-risk drives a lot of decisions with these farmers on what to plant, when to plant, and how much to plant,” he said. “With the crop insurance option, the farmer says, ‘Instead of one hector, I can now plant two or three, because I’m covered.”

Insurance technologyis another sector in Africa’s tech landscape filling up with venture-backed startups. Other insurance startups focusing on agriculture include Accion Venture Lab backed Pula and South Africa based Mobbisurance.

With its new round and plans for global expansion, WorldCover joins a growing list of startups that have developed business models in Africa before raising rounds toward entering new markets abroad.

In 2018, Nigerian payment startup Paga announced plans to move into Asia and Latin America after raising $10 million. In 2019, South African tech-transit startup FlexClub partnered with Uber Mexico after a seed-raise. And Lagos based fintech startup TeamAPT announced in Q1 it was looking to expand globally after a $5 million Series A round.

 

 

A mini-series on the Thai cave rescue is heading to Netflix

The rescue of a boys soccer team from caves in Thailand captivated the world last year, and now a mini-series chronically the incredible scenes is headed to Netflix .

The streaming giant announced this week that it has secured the rights from 13 Thumluang Company, which represents the boys and their coach, “to tell the true story of how they were rescued after being trapped for two weeks inside of the flooded Tham Luang caves.”

Netflix has partnered with Crazy Rich Asians team SK Global Entertainment and Jon M. Chu, the production house and director behind the smash film, to bring the as-yet-unnamed series to its platform. Thai director Nattawut “Baz” Poonpiriya, whose credits include Bad Genius, will also help lead the project.

There’s no word on how much Netflix has paid for the project, but Thai newspaper The Nation reported that the team plans to donate 20 percent of their earnings to charity “because the families and the boys recognize they have been helped and supported by so many people.”

“This is an opportunity for me as a filmmaker — and also a Thai citizen — to write a Thank you
letter to the rest of the world,” said Poonpiriya in a statement.

“The story combines so many unique local and universal themes which connected people from all walks of life, from all around the world. Thailand is a very important country for Netflix and we are looking forward to bringing this inspiring local, but globally-resonant story of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds to life, once again, for global audiences,” added said Erika North, who is director of international originals at Netflix.

Indeed, the story is one that fits snuggly inside Netflix’s strategy of telling local stories to the world. With nearly 150 million subscribers worldwide, it is a formidable outlet for storytelling.

The company often plays up how popular local content in markets like Korea, Latin America and other places is with its viewers across the world. The Thai cave story already has a global backdrop, so we can expect that’ll get big numbers when it is released.

On that, there’s no date right now but it’ll be some time since the production team has only just been confirmed.

That gives us plenty of time to ponder how perennial tech genius/panto villain Elon Musk, who waded into the saga and proceeded to insult one of the rescuing divers, will be portrayed. Answers on a postcard, please.

SoftBank makes a huge bet on Latin America

Rappi represents a new era for Latin American technology startups.

Based in Bogotá, Colombia, the on-demand delivery startup has taken the region by storm, attracting a record amount of venture capital funding in mere months. Today marks the beginning of a new round of explosive growth as SoftBank, the Japanese telecom giant and prolific Silicon Valley tech investor, has confirmed a $1 billion investment in the business.

The king-sized financing comes two months after SoftBank announced its Innovation Fund, a new pool of capital committed to spending billions on the growing tech ecosystem in Central and South America.

VC funding in Latin America catapulted to new heights in 2018. Startups located across Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and more have secured nearly $2.5 billion since the beginning of 2018, according to PitchBook, up from less than $1 billion invested in 2017.

SoftBank plans to transfer the Rappi investment to the Innovation Fund “upon the fund’s establishment,” according to a press release. For now, the SoftBank Group and affiliated Vision Fund will each invest $500 million in the company. Jeffrey Housenbold, a managing director at SoftBank responsible for investments in Brandless, Opendoor and DoorDash, will join Rappi’s board of directors.

“SoftBank’s vision of accelerating the technology revolution deeply resonated with our mission of improving how people live through digital payments and a super-app for everything consumers need,” Rappi co-founder Sebastian Mejia said in a statement. “We will continue to focus on building innovations for couriers, restaurants, retailers and start-ups that translate into new sources of growth.”

The latest round, the largest ever for a Latin American tech startup, brings Rappi’s total raised to date to a whopping $1.2 billion. The company was valued at more than $1 billion last year with a $200 million financing.

Rappi is among few venture-backed ‘unicorns’ based in Latin America. São Paulo-based Nubank, a fast-growing fintech startup, garnered a $4 billion valuation last year with a $180 million investment.

Rappi didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Proof of Capital is a new $50M blockchain fund that’s backed by HTC

It’s often said that the dramatic fall of crypto prices last year ushered in a new era for technology-focused startups in the blockchain space, and the same argument can be made for the venture capitalists who fund them. Proof of Capital is the latest fund to emerge after it officially announced a maiden $50 million fund today.

The fund is led by trio Phil Chen, who created HTC’s Vive VR headset and is currently developing its Exodus blockchain phone (he spent time as a VC with Horizons Ventures in between), Edith Yeung, who previously headed up mobile for 500 Startups, and Chris McCann, a Thiel Fellow whose last role was head of community for U.S. VC firm Greylock Partners.

The firm — and you have to give them credit for the name — has an LP base that is anchored by HTC — no big surprise there given the connections — alongside YouTube co-founder Steve Chen, Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics, Ripple’s former chief risk officer Greg Kidd (who is also a prolific crypto investor) and a number of undisclosed family offices.

“For HTC, it’s obvious, they already have a product to go with it,” Yeung told TechCrunch in an interview, referencing the fact that HTC is keen to invest in blockchain services and startups to build an ecosystem for its play.

The fund also includes a partnership with HTC which, slightly hazy on paper, will essentially open the possibility for Proof of Capital portfolio companies to work with HTC directly to develop services or products for Exodus and potentially other HTC blockchain ventures. But other LPs are also keen to dip their toes in the water in different ways.

“Some of these backers are curious at the possibilities of blockchain,” continued Yeung. “For example, they’re giving us some ideas on how tokenization and gamification could be applied on different platforms.”

Proof of Capital founding partners (left to right) Edith Yeung, Chris McCann and Phil Chen

The fund itself is broadly targeted at early stage blockchain companies in fintech, infrastructure, hardware and the “consumer layers of the blockchain ecosystem.” Its remit is worldwide. Although Chen and Yeung have strong networks in Asia, the fund’s first deal is an investment in Latin America-based blockchain fintech startup Ubanx.

Yeung clarified that the fund is held in fiat currency and that it is focused on regular VC deals, as opposed to token-based investments.

“It’s a VC fund so the setup is traditional,” she explained. “There’s been a lot of interesting movements in the last two years, [but] we come from a more traditional VC background and are excited about the technology.”

“It’s still really early [for blockchain] and a lot of the hype — the boom and bust — is down to the crypto market and ICOs, but the reality is that a lot of these technologies are really nascent. Now, projects are raising equity, even if they have a token,” Yeung added.

Indeed, last year we wrote about the rise of private sales and that even the biggest blockchain companies took on VC fundingcrypto didn’t kill VCs despite the hype — and Yeung said that blockchain startup founders in 2019 are “taking a more concerted approach” to raising money beyond simply issuing tokens.

“Many projects that raised ICO really smelt like equity,” said Yeung. “We are seeing companies today delaying token issuance as much as possible; the whole thing has gone a little more back to earth.”

HTC is an anchor LP in Proof of Capital, and it is working with the fund to help its portfolio companies develop services for its Exodus blockchain phone, pictured above

Movo grabs $22.5M to get more cities in LatAm scooting

Madrid-based micromobility startup Movo has closed a €20 million (~$22.5M) Series A funding round to accelerate international expansion.

The 2017 founded Spanish startup targets cities in its home market and in markets across LatAm, offering last mile mobility via rentable electric scooters (e-mopeds and e-scooters) plotted on an app map. It’s a subsidiary of local ride-hailing firm, Cabify, which provided the seed funding for the startup.

Movo’s Series A round is led by two new investors: Insurance firm Mutua Madrileña, doubtless spying strategic investment potential in helping diversify its business by growing the market for humans to scoot around cities on two wheels — and VC fund Seaya Ventures, an early investor in Cabify.

Both Mutua Madrileña and Seaya Ventures are now taking a seat on Movo’s board.

Commenting on the Series A in a statement, Javier Mira, general director of Mutua Madrileña, said: “The equity investment in Movo reflects Mutua Madrileña’s aspiration to respond to the new mobility needs that are emerging, and to the economic and social changes that are occurring and that are transforming our life habits.”

Movo currently operates in six cities across five countries — Spain, México, Colombia, Perú and Chile.

It first launched an e-moped service in Madrid a year ago, according to a spokeswoman, and has since expanded domestic operations to the southern Spanish coastal city of Malaga, as well as riding into Latin America.

The new funding is mostly pegged for further international expansion, with a plan to expand into new markets in LatAm including Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. Movo is targeting operating in a total of 10 countries by the end of 2019.

The Series A will also be used to grow its vehicle fleet in existing markets, it said.

“We are very excited to be able to offer a solution to the problems of mobility in cities, particularly for short distances in areas with high population density,” said CEO Pedro Rivas in a statement. “We are committed to working together with governments to complement mass public transport with these new micromobility alternatives, so that people can get around in a more sustainable and efficient way.”

Commenting on its investment in the Cabify subsidiary, Seaya Ventures’ Beatriz Gonzalez, founder and managing partner, said the fund is “committed to the evolution of mobility towards sustainable alternatives in the world’s major cities”.

“We want to be part of the transport revolution by promoting projects like Cabify and, of course, Movo,” she said in a statement which seeks to paint micromobility as a solution for urban congestion and poor air quality. “We are motivated to continue to promote companies with which we share this sense of responsibility towards the development and improvement of people’s quality of life.”

Partnering with Visa, emerging market lender Branch International raises $170 million

The San Francisco-based startup Branch International, which makes small personal loans in emerging markets, has raised $170 million and announced a partnership with Visa to offer virtual, pre-paid debit cards to Branch client networks in Africa, South-Asia and Latin America. 

Branch — which has 150 employees in San Francisco, Lagos, Nairobi, Mexico City and Mumbai — makes loans starting at $2 to individuals in emerging and frontier markets. The company also uses an algorithmic model to determine credit worthiness, build credit profiles and offer liquidity via mobile phones.

“We’ll use [the money] to deepen existing business in Africa. Later this year we’ll announce high-yield savings accounts…in Africa,” says Branch co-founder and chief executive Matt Flannery.

The $170 million round from Foundation Capital and its new debit card partner, Visa, will support Branch’s international expansion, which could include Brazil and Indonesia, according to Flannery. Branch launched in Mexico and India within the last year. In Africa, it offers its services in Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania.

A potential Branch customer

The Branch-Visa partnership will allow individuals to obtain virtual Visa accounts with which to create accounts on Branch’s app. This gives Branch larger reach in countries such as Nigeria — Africa’s most populous country with 190 million people — where cards have factored more prominently than mobile money in connecting unbanked and underbanked populations to finance.

Founded in 2015, Branch started operating in Kenya, where mobile money payment products such as Safaricom’s M-Pesa (which does not require a card or bank account to use) have scaled significantly. M-Pesa now has 25 million users, according to sector stats released by the Communications Authority of Kenya. Branch has more than 3 million customers and has processed 13 million loans and disbursed more than $350 million, according to company stats.

Branch has one of the most downloaded fintech apps in Africa, per Google Play app numbers combined for Nigeria and Kenya, according to Flannery.

Already profitable, Branch International expects to reach $100 million in revenues this year, with roughly 70 percent of that generated in Africa, according to Flannery.

In addition to Visa and Foundation Capital, the $170 Series C round included participation from Branch’s existing investors Andreessen Horowitz, Trinity Ventures, Formation 8, the IFC, CreditEase and Victory Park, while adding new investors Greenspring, Foxhaven and B Capital.

Branch last raised $70 million in 2018. The company’s overall VC haul and $100 million revenue peg register as pretty big numbers for a startup focused primarily on Africa. Pan-African e-commerce startup Jumia, which also announced its NYSE IPO last month, generated $140 million in revenue (without profitability) in 2018.

Startups building financial technologies for Africa’s 1.2 billion population have gained the attention of investors. As a sector, fintech (or financial inclusion) attracted 50 percent of the estimated $1.1 billion funding to African startups in 2018, according to Partech.

Branch’s recent round and plans to add countries internationally also tracks a trend of fintech-related products growing in Africa, then expanding outward. This includes M-Pesa, which generated big numbers in Kenya before operating in 10 countries around the world. Nigerian payments startup Paga announced its pending expansion in Asia and Mexico late last year. And payment services such as Kenya’s SimbaPay have also connected to global networks like China’s WeChat.

On the heels of a $40 million round, TriNetX brings its services for drug trials to Europe

The market for technology and services for clinical drug trials is expected to reach $68.9 billion over the next seven years. The trials, which are necessary to bring new healthcare treatments to market, are by necessity prolonged, complicated affairs.

Several companies are vying for a piece of this multi-billion dollar pie with the offer of new digital services that can scour anonymized patient records from hospitals and university research to optimize how candidates for trials are selected, and how trials are monitored and managed.

A clinical trial is, on average, a journey of 12 years and $2 billion to $3 billion,” says Gadi Lachman, the chief executive of TriNetX — one company that’s working on making the clinical trial process more efficient. “In those twelve years more than half the trials get amended… We suggest tradeoffs to the researcher that maximizes the amount of patients that they can find.”

Part of the issue is scope. The pharmaceutical business is global, and demands global input, which is why TriNetX, recently raised $40 million to expand its operations in Asia, Europe, and Latin America. The first use of provceeds has been the acquisition of the European company Custodix, to integrate their candidate matching toolkits for research in the U.S. and Europe.

Belgian-based Custodix is active in 12 countries across Europe with a service that compliments TriNetX’s stateside offerings.

“The two companies have grown up in two separate geographies but are both committed to strong compliance, governance, and a global vision for clinical research,” said Lachman, in a statement. “We now offer the world’s largest platform for clinical research, providing a more powerful resource for pharma companies and healthcare organizations, and more hope for more patients. The expansion gives us local leadership, regional support, and increased resources in the European market.”

TriNetX installs its software in hospitals around the country (and increasingly around the globe) to hoover up information about patients who could be ideal candidates for clinical trials.

Through the Custodix acquisition, TriNetX now has a launchpad from which to start pitching services to geographies in Asia as well, according to the company.

As a result of the deal, the current Custodix chief executive, Brecht Claerhout, will become the managing director of TriNetX Europe — under the brand InSIte, a TriNetX company.

To date, TriNetX has raised $102 million from investors including Merck Global Health Innovation Fund (MGHIF) along with new investors Mitsui & Co, Ltd., ITOCHU Technology Ventures, ITOCHU Corporation, MPM Capital, F2 Ventures, and Deerfield Management.

“Real-world data is important when conducting clinical trials, drug research and discovery today,” said Joe Volpe, VP/Managing Director of Merck GHIF, in a statement. “TriNetX enables a global industry exchange and liberates data with the potential to rapidly provide answers to hard questions. With TriNetX, what previously took days or weeks to determine may often be done in minutes.”

Bringing affiliate marketing and outsourced customer acquisition to Brazil nets Escale $22.6 million

Despite not being Brazilian and having their first exposure to the country only a few years ago, the two co-founders of Escale have managed to raise $22.6 million for their company, which provides customer acquisition services to companies in telecommunications and healthcare across Brazil.

Their secret? A knowledge of search engine optimization technologies honed through side businesses the two ran back in the United States.

The state of online marketing and digital sales was so woefully bad in Brazil that co-founders Matthew Kligerman and Ken Diamond had a green field in front of them on which to build Brazil’s first true online customer acquisition service, according to Diamond.

“We fell in love with Brazil for its warm culture and natural beauty, but as consumers, we had terrible experiences acquiring the most fundamental products and services for our new lives: internet, cell phone plans, health insurance and basic banking needs,” Kligerman said in a statement.

The company’s largest customer, according to Diamond, is NET, the Brazilian cable and telecom operator. NET was the first company to sign on for Escale’s customer acquisition services, but the company’s roster of clients now includes some of Brazil’s largest companies including Bradesco, Sul America, Claro, GNDI, and Amil.

It’s that marquee client list that attracted QED Investors and Invus Opportunities to co-lead the $22.6 million round that Escale just closed. The company’s previous investors Kaszek Ventures, Rocket Internet’s GFC and Redpoint e.Ventures also participated in the funding.

Latin America is in the throes of a startup renaissance at the moment with Brazilian companies like Nubank and iFood and the Colombian company Rappi reaching billion dollar valuations. Meanwhile investors are committing more capital to the region. Softbank, for instance is Softbank committing $5 billion to a new Latin American-focused fund.

With the new funding, Escale intends to move deeper into the development of customer acquisition platforms across verticals like consumer finance, insurance, and education with comparison shopping sites and informational services (a la CreditKarma in the U.S.).

“With millions of web and cloud voice interactions every month, Escale can transform each of those interactions into data points, and continually improve its proprietary acquisition platform, ‘EscaleOS’, to create highly-intelligent, customized marketing and sales funnels, helping consumers at the right moment connect with the products and services they need,” says Nicolas Berman, a partner at Kaszek Ventures. “The more consumer interactions they have, the faster Escale’s data flywheel spins.”