Portcast gets $3.2M to create more transparent and sustainable supply chains

A photo of Portcast founders Dr. Lingxiao Xia and Nidhi Gupta

Portcast founders Dr. Lingxiao Xia and Nidhi Gupta

For many manufacturers and freight forwarders, managing logistics is still a very manual process: tracking shipments with a call or online lookup, and entering that data into an Excel spreadsheet. Portcast, which describes itself as a “next-generation logistics operating system,” makes the process more efficient by gathering data from myriad sources and not only track shipments in real-time, but also predicts what might affect its progress, like major weather events, the tide and pandemic-related issues.

The company announced today it has raised $3.2 million in pre-Series A funding, led by Newtown Partners, through the Imperial Venture Fund, with participation from Wavemaker Partners, TMV, Innoport and SGInnovate. Based in Singapore, Portcast serves clients in Asia and Europe, and will use part of its funding to expand into more markets.

Co-founders Nidhi Gupta and Dr. Lingxiao Xia met at Entrepreneur First in Singapore. Before launching Portcast, Gupta, its chief executive officer, served in leadership roles across Asia at DHL. During that time, she realized the logistic sector’s “inefficiencies are actually an opportunity in this space to create something.” Dr. Xia, who holds a PhD in machine learning and has a background in product development and cloud computing, “was a great complementary fit” and is now Portcast’s chief technology officer.

Portcast says it tracks more than 90% of world trade volume that travels by ocean carriers, and 35% of air cargo, and can forecast demand for 30,000 trade routes. Sources include geospatial data, like satellite data about where ships are, what speed and direction they’re moving in, what ports they are headed for, wind speed and wave height. Portcast also looks at economic patterns (for example, Brexit’s impact on ports around the United Kingdom, and how vaccine rollouts around the world changes airline and ship capacity), weather events like typhoon and disruptions like the Suez Canal blockage.

Other data sources include proprietary transactional data from customers including large shipping companies and freight forwarders.

“The challenge for us is how do we let all of this data speak the same language,” Gupta told TechCrunch. “This data is coming in at different frequencies, different granularities, so how do you consolidate that and make sure the machine can start understanding it and interpreting it.”

Portcast’s two main solutions are currentlu Intelligent Container Visibility for real-time tracking of shipment containers, and Forecasting and Demand Management, which tracks booking patterns. Portcast doesn’t use IoT to track containers since it is cost-prohibitive to place a device in every one, but is working with IoT providers on hybrid solutions—for example, putting a tracking device in one container and then using that data to help manage the rest of the shipment.

The startup’s goal is to make predictions that help companies improve the efficiency of their operations, and reduce their reliance on manual processes. “There are logistics operators with hundreds of cargo coming in every single week, they’re going and checking this manually every day. That goes into an Excel sheet and that’s what the planning of downstream operations is based off of,” said Gupta.

But the COVID-19 pandemic created an “urgent need to digitize, and it’s transformed supply chains from being a cost function to the core of getting products on time, so we work with some of the largest manufacturers as well as freight forwarders,” she added. For example, a food and beverage company in Europe sent a shipment to Taipei, a trip that usually takes about 70 days. But it took more than three months to arrive. Portcast was able to track the shipment as it moved across different ports and ships, helping its customers understand what caused the delay.

“Besides just predicting when there will be a likely disruption, we’re able to pinpoint and say there’s a delay of X days because there will likely be a typhoon or a transshipment, and that empowers them because they can tell their trucking and warehousing teams how many containers are going to come in,” said Gupta. “This reduces port fees, detention charges and the number of hours spent on manually checking different company’s websites and trying to figure out what happened to their supply chain.”

One of Portcast’s advantages over other logistics tech startups that want to fix supply chain visibility is that it launched out of the Asia-Pacific region, where ships usually go through multiple ports and have to work around frequent weather events like tropical storms and typhoons. The technology Portcast developed to create shorter voyages between Singapore and Malaysia (for example) is also applicable to intercontinental routes like Asia and Europe, or Asia and the United States.

“Our technology is global in scale and that allows us to compete against other players in this market,” said Gupta. “The other thing that differentiates us is that we work not just with manufacturers, but also with shipping companies, logistics companies and cargo airlines, and that allows us to create network effects. There is a really strong synergy between what’s happening in ocean freight and air freight, and that allows us to understand patterns in the industry and creates leverage for any other company that comes onto our platform.

Portcast’s future plans include moving from predictive AI to include prescriptive AI within the next two quarters. Right now, the platform can tell companies what is causing delays, but prescriptive AI will also enable it to make automated suggestions. For example, it can tell clients what ports are faster, other ships and modes of transport that can help them get around a disruption and how to optimize their capacity.

The company is also planning to launch Order Visiblity by the end of this year, a feature that will track containers filled with a specific item. Consumer prices for many different kinds of products are rising, due in part to overwhelmed supply chains. By enabling companies to track specific SKUs in real-time, Portcast can not only help items arrive more quickly, but also show how much CO2 emissions each shipment creates.

“Carbon offsetting or carbon trading can only happen once you have visibility into how much you are actually spending, and that’s the piece we can get involved in,” said Gupta. “By allowing predictions like, for example, if you will arrive early, that’s an opportunity for a shipping company to slow down and save fuel like bunker fuel, which not only brings an immense amount of savings, but also reduces CO2 emissions.


Singapore-based caregiving startup Homage raises $30M Series C

Homage, the caregiving-focused startup, has raised a $30 million Series C led by Sheares Healthcare Group, which is wholly-owned by investment firm Temasek. Other participants included new investors DG Daiwa Ventures and Sagana Capital, and returning backers East Ventures (Growth), HealthXCapital, SeedPlus, Trihill Capital and Alternate Ventures.

The new funding will be used to develop Homage’s technology, continue integrating with aged and disability care payer and provider infrastructure and speed-up its regional expansion outside Singapore through partnerships with hospitals and care providers.

The Singapore-based company’s services include home visits from caregivers, nurses, therapists and doctors; telemedicine; and services for chronic illnesses. One of the reasons Homage’s platform is able to scale up is its matching engine, which helps clients, like older adults and people living with chronic conditions, find providers who are best suited to their needs (the final matches are made by Homage’s team).

The startup says the round was oversubscribed and one of the largest fundings raised by an on-demand care platform in Southeast Asia and Oceania so far. It brings Homage’s total raised to more than $45 million.

As part of Series C, Sheares Healthcare Group chief corporate development officer Khoo Ee Ping will join Homage’s board of directors.

Homage now has a regional network of more than 6,000 pre-screened and trained care professionals. It claims that its business outside of Singapore has grown more than 600% year-over-year in 2021, and it has more than tripled revenue over the past year.

Bangkok-based insurtech Sunday banks $45M Series B from investors like Tencent

Sunday, an insurtech startup based in Bangkok, announced it has raised a $45 million Series B. Investors include Tencent, SCB 10X, Vertex Growth, Vertex Ventures Southeast Asia & India, Quona Capital, Aflac Ventures and Z Venture Capital. The company says the round was oversubscribed, and that it doubled its revenue growth in 2020.

Founded in 2017, Sunday describes itself as a “full-stack” insurtech, which means it handles everything from underwriting to distribution of its policies. Its products currently include motor and travel insurance policies that can be purchased online, and Sunday Health for Business, a healthcare coverage program for employers. Sunday also offers subscription-based smartphone plans through partners.

The company uses AI and machine learning-based technology underwrite its motor insurance and employee health benefits products, and says its data models also allow it to automate pricing and scale its underwriting process for complex risks. Sunday says it currently serves 1.6 million customers.

The new funding will be used to expand in Indonesia and develop new distribution channels, including insurance agents and SMEs.

Insurance penetration is still relatively low in many Southeast Asian markets, including Indonesia, but the industry is gaining traction thanks to increasing consumer awareness. The COVID-19 pandemic also drove interest in financial planning, including investment and insurance, especially health coverage.

Other insurtech startups in Indonesia that have recently raised funding include Lifepal, PasarPolis, Qoala and Fuse.

In a statement, Sunday co-founder and chief executive officer Cindy Kuo said, “Awareness for health insurance will continue to increase and we believe more consumers would be open to shop for insurance online. We plan to expand our platform architecture to offer retail insurance to our health members and partners while we continue to grow our portfolio in Thailand and Indonesia.”

RISE will return to Hong Kong in 2022

RISE, one of Asia’s largest tech conferences, is returning to Hong Kong in March 2022 as an in-person event, and will be held there for at least five years, announced organizer Web Summit today. Last year, Web Summit said RISE would move to Kuala Lumpur, but its return to Hong Kong means the conference will no longer be held in Malaysia’s capital, though a spokesperson told TechCrunch that it is plans to host other events there in the future.

RISE will take place at the AsiaWorld-Expo from March 14 to 17, 2022.

In November 2019, while large pro-democracy demonstrations were taking place, Web Summit announced it was postponing RISE to 2021. Then in December 2020, it said that the 2021 event would not be held, and RISE would instead resume in Kuala Lumpur in 2022.

In an emailed statement, a RISE spokesperson told TechCrunch, “The political situation in Hong Kong did not impact our decision to consider Kuala Lumpur as a host city. Rise 2022 was originally meant to take place in Kuala Lumpur. However, this is no longer feasible. We would like to thank the MDEC, who invited us to host RISE in their wonderful city,” adding “RISE has already had five successful years in Hong Kong since its launch in 2015. Our long-standing relationship with the city made it a natural decision to stay.”

In Web Summit’s announcement, co-founder and chief executive officer Paddy Cosgrove said, “We are extremely grateful for the support the city of Hong Kong has given RISE over the last five years, and we couldn’t be more excited to return in-person in 2022.”

The announcement included a statement from Hong Kong’s secretary for commerce and economic development, Edward Yau, who said, “I’m very excited that RISE, the world-renowned tech event, has chosen to return to Hong Kong and stay here in the coming five years.”

Southeast Asia “omnichannel” health startup Doctor Anywhere gets $88M SGD

Doctor Anywhere, a startup that takes an “omnichannel” approach to healthcare, announced today it has raised $88 million SGD (about $65.7 million USD) in Series C funding. The round was led by Asia Partners, with participation from Novo Holdings, Philips and OSK-SBI Partners. It also included returning investors EDBI, Square Peg, IHH Healthcare, Kamet Capital and Pavilion Capital. 

As part of the round, Asia Partners co-founder Oliver Rippel and Novo Holdings Equity Asia senior partner Dr. Amit Kakar will join Doctor Anywhere’s board of directors. The company’s Series C, which it claims is one of the largest private rounds raised by a Southeast Asian healthtech company, brings its total funding to more than $140 million SGD. 

Doctor Anywhere’s omnichannel approach means that in addition to online consultations, it runs in-person clinics, provides home visits, medication deliveries and operates an in-app marketplace for health and wellness products. 

Founded in 2017 by Lim Wai Mun, Doctor Anywhere claims it now serves more than 1.5 million users. It is available in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines, and recently established tech hubs in Bangalore and Ho Chi Minh City. 

Lim told TechCrunch in an email that when he started working on Doctor Anywhere, there were already successful telemedicine platforms in the United States, the United Kingdom and China, but the model was still nascent in Southeast Asia. A former investor, Lim began Doctor Anywhere as a side project because he had older relatives who could not leave their homes for medical visits. 

Doctor Anywhere launched as an online-only telehealth platform, but “we quickly realized that physical presence is very important in order to build trust with users,” Lim said. As a result, the company started its home care services and physical clinics. 

According to Doctor Anywhere’s estimates, the COVID-19 pandemic fast-tracked the adoption of telehealth services in Southeast Asia by at least five years. The company saw more demand for online medical consultations, medication deliveries and marketplace purchases. 

“In the past year, we have more than doubled the size of our network, from around 1,000 providers at the start of 2020 to currently close to 2,500 medical professionals across Southeast Asia,” Lim said. 

In response to the pandemic, Doctor Anywhere launched an online COVID-19 Medical Advisory Clinic last year to provide on-demand consultations for people with suspected symptoms. It also created an online mental wellness module with psychologists. Lim said the company has seen an increase in demand for mental health-related services, like insomnia and anxiety. 

Other telehealth startups in the region include WhiteCoat, Speedoc and Doctor World. Lim said Doctor Anywhere wants to differentiate by quickly launching new products in response to user inquiries, and “cultivating a balance between technology and human touch.” 

The funding will be used to deepen Doctor Anywhere’s presence in its current markets and expand into new ones. It also plans to scale its tech infrastructure and big data capabilities for a better online-to-offline user experience, and will introduce new medical specialty modules, shorten medication delivery times and develop personalized healthcare plans. 

New Zealand-based student wellbeing platform Komodo raises $1.8M NZD

Adolescence is a turbulent period and its challenges are being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Even in the best of times, teens dealing with personal and school problems might have trouble talking about them. New Zealand-based startup Komodo is a student wellbeing platform that wants to give students a place to communicate with staff, while providing schools with data to help them spot and address issues like depression or bullying.

Founded in 2018 by Chris Bacon, Matt Goodson and Jack Wood, the startup announced today it has raised $1.8 million NZD (about $1.26 million) in seed funding led by Folklore Ventures, with participation from Icehouse Ventures and Flying Fox Ventures. Individual investors included employee engagement platform Culture Amp co-founder Rod Hamilton; Chloe Hamman, Culture Amp’s director of people science; leaders from learning platform Education Perfect; and Kristi Grant, the director of people experience at Auror.

Some of Komodo’s clients and partners in New Zealand and Australia include Marist College Ashgrove in Queensland; St. Andrew’s College in Christchurch; the Australian Boarding Schools Association (ABSA); Independent Schools of New Zealand; and the Council of British International Schools.

Komodo was originally created to monitor the wellbeing of youth athletes, based on research Bacon performed while earning a PhD at the University of Canterbury. A lot of its clients were schools, and that’s when the team began to expand Komodo’s scope.

“The draw for us was witnessing specific examples,” Wood told TechCrunch. “We had schools coming back to us saying ‘we’ve got a kid that’s been bullied for the past three months who hasn’t even remotely felt confident to approach a staff member and start talking about it. We’ve finally seen that come up in Komodo and they feel happy they have a confidential channel to voice that concern.’”

A photo of Komodo Wellbeing co-founders Jack Wood and Chris Bacon

Komodo co-founders Jack Wood and Chris Bacon

Komodo has a web application and a mobile app, which is what most students use. The platform can be customized by schools and includes psychologist-designed surveys and questions about topics like how students feel about going to school, socialization and relationships or major transitions like starting high school or preparing for university. The amount of time students check into Komodo depends on their school. At some it’s once a week, others once every two weeks or month. Schools use the platform differently based on their environment—for example, if they’re learning remotely, they may do more frequent check-ins.

For schools, data collected from surveys can help them see trends emerge and catch potential problems earlier, like cyberbullying. Before implementing Komodo, its founders say some schools did wellbeing surveys a few times per year, but many of them relied on staff and teachers’ intuition—for example, if a student who is typically outgoing suddenly becomes withdrawn. Komodo gives them a more efficient way to identify and address issues, though Wood and Bacon emphasize that it’s not meant to replace person-to-person interactions.

“Ultimately our bigger vision is facilitating and getting wellbeing support to students as early as possible,” said Bacon. The founders have spent a lot of time talking with Culture Amp’s Hamilton “about how it’s really important that the individuals you’re providing data to can actually understand and use it on a regular basis,” he added. “The key part for us to provide visibility and psychologists who can come in and support [school staff] even more.”

Komodo’s seed funding will be used to add more psychologists to its in-house team, develop the platform and expand into more schools in Australia and New Zealand before other markets, including the United States.


North Base Media leads $2.7M pre-Series A funding in digital media startup Vietcetera

Ho Chi Minh City-based Vietcetera, a digital medial network originally created for millennials and Gen-Z, will broaden its target demographic after getting $2.7 million in pre-Series A funding. The capital was raised over two rounds this year, led by media-focused venture firm North Base Media.

Other investors included Go-Ventures, Gojek’s corporate venture arm; East Ventures; Summit Media; Genesia Ventures; Hustle Fund; and Z Venture Capital, the corporate venture arm of Z Holdings, which is owned by SoftBank Group and Naver Corporation.

Vietcetera was founded in 2016 by Hao Tran and Guy Truong and now claims an audience of 20 million users per month. Its advertisers include AIA Life Insurance, Google, Facebook, Nestlé, MasterCard, Vingroup and Tiki. Tran told TechCrunch that Vietcetera will also monetize by “prioritizing original content licensing and development.”

The network was originally created for millennials and Gen-Z audiences who wanted “content going beyond showbiz, sensational news and entertainment.” To serve more groups of readers, Vietcetera will launch new content or vertical brands in 2022 focused on women’s content, real estate and personal finance.

North Base Media was founded in 2013 by Marcus Brauchli, former lead editor of the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, and Media Development Loan Fund chief executive officer Saša Vučinič to back digital media startups in markets where mobile internet penetration is growing. Its other portfolio companies include The News Lens, Atlas Obscura, Rappler and Majarra.

Vietcetera’s new funding will be used on content, including new shows and podcasts, mobile app development, franchise and content licensing, and potential acquisitions.


Apple will now let App Store developers talk to their customers about buying direct

Apple announced today it has reached a proposed settlement (embedded below) in a lawsuit filed against it by developers in the United States. The agreement, which is still pending court approval, includes a few changes, the biggest one being that developers will be able to share information on how to pay for purchases outside of their iOS app or the App Store—which means they can tell customers about payment options that aren’t subject to Apple commissions. The settlement also includes more pricing tiers and a new transparency report about the app review process.

The class-action lawsuit was filed against Apple in 2019 by app developers Donald Cameron and Illinois Pure Sweat Basketball, who said the company engaged in anticompetitive practices by only allowing the downloading of iPhone apps through its App Store.

In today’s announcement, Apple said it is “clarifying that developers can use communications, such as emails, to share information about payment methods outside of their iOS app. As always, developers will not pay Apple a commission on any purchases taking place outside of their app or the App Stores.”

This would allow developers to communicate with customers by email and “other communication services,” which was difficult to do under the App Store’s rules, which forbid developers from using contact information obtained within an app to contact users outside of the app. The settlement would lift this rule for all app categories, enabling developers to tell consenting users about payment methods that avoid Apple’s commissions.

In terms of pricing tiers, Apple said it will expand the number of price points available to developers from fewer than 100 to more than 500. It also agreed to publish a new annual transparency report that will share information about the app review process, including how many apps are rejected, the number of customer and developer accounts deactivated, “objective data regarding search queries and results,” and the number of apps removed from the App Store.

The company also said it will create a new fund for qualifying developers in America who earned $1 million or less through the U.S. App Store, which includes 99% of developers in America. Hagens Berman, one of the law firms representing plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said the fund will be $100 million, with payments ranging from $250 to $30,000.

Cameron et al v. Apple Inc. proposed settlement by TechCrunch on Scribd

Mental health startup Intellect gets $2.2M to expand across Asia

Intellect, a Singapore-based startup that wants to make mental health care more accessible in Asia, announced it has raised $2.2 million in pre-Series A funding. It is taking part in Y Combinator’s current batch, which will hold its Demo Day at the end of this month.

The round was led by returning investor Insignia Venture Partners and included participation from Y Combinator, XA Network and angel investors like Rainforest co-founder J.J. Chai; Prenetics and CircleDNA founder Danny Yeung; and Gilberto Gaeta, Google’s director of global HR operations.

This brings Intellect’s total funding since it launched a year ago to $3 million, including a seed round announced in December 2020 that was also led by Insignia.

Intellect offered two main product suites: a consumer app with self-guided programs based on cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, and a mental health benefits solution for employers with online therapy programs and telehealth services. The startup now claims more than 2.5 million app users, and 20 enterprise clients, including FoodPanda, Shopback, Carousell, Avery Dennison, Schroders and government agencies.

Founder and chief executive officer Theodoric Chew told TechCrunch that Intellect’s usage rate is higher than traditional EAP helpline solutions. On average, its mental health benefits solution sees about 20% to 45% engagement within three months after being adopted by companies with more than 5,000 employees.

In many Asian cultures, there is still a lot of stigma around mental health issues, but that has changed over the last year and a half as people continue to cope with the emotional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chew said. “From individuals, to companies, insurers and governments, all these different types of people and organizations are today prioritizing mental healthcare on an individual and organizational level in an extremely rapid manner.”

Intellect protects user privacy with zero-knowledge encryption, so the startup and employers don’t have access to people’s records or communications with their coaches and counsellors. Any insights shared with employers are aggregated and anonymized. Chew said the company is also compliant with major data privacy regulations like ISO, HIPAA and GDPR.

Intellect is currently collaborating in 10 studies with institutions like the National University of Singapore, King’s College London, University of Queensland and the Singapore General Hospital. It says studies so far have demonstrated improvements in mental well-being, stress levels and anxiety among its users.

The new funding will be used to expand into more Asian markets. Intellect currently covers 12 countries and 11 languages.


Vietnam after-school learning startup Marathon raises $1.5M pre-seed round

Marathon Education was created after its founders realized after-school education in Vietnam hadn’t evolved much since they were kids. Some of the most popular tuition centers in big cities teach hundreds of students at once. “They’re packed like sardines and that really has not changed in the past one or two decades when I went to these sorts of classes in Vietnam,” said co-founder Pham Duc.

Pham launched Marathon six weeks ago with his brother-in-law Tran Viet Tung to make after-school learning more accessible in Vietnam. Today the startup is announcing it has raised $1.5 million in pre-seed funding led by Forge Ventures (a new fund launched by Alto Partners), with participation from investors including Venturra Discovery and iSeed SEA.

Marathon is currently focused on math and science courses for grades six to 12 of the National Curriculum developed by Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training (MOET), and will eventually cover all MOET subjects.

Before founding Marathon, Pham was an investor at TPG Global, while Tran is a serial entrepreneur whose previous startups include travel platforms Triip.me and Christina’s. Both grew up in Hanoi and spent much of their childhoods going to after-school learning centers.

About 50% to 70% of K-12 students attend after-school classes, but the industry is very fragmented, says Pham. Many learning centers are run by former public school teachers, and are clustered in major cities.

“If you speak to students, I think the biggest issue we’re seeing is accessibility,” said Pham. “If you’re a student in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get into classes run by top tutors.” Meanwhile, students in other areas often travel to Tier 1 cities before major tests, like university entrance exams, staying in a hostel for about a month while attending prep courses.

For teachers, running a center means handling administrative tasks like marketing, admissions and parent communications, which cuts into the time they spend designing their courses. When the current COVID-19 lockdowns started a few months ago, they had to switch quickly to online teaching platforms.

When teachers join Marathon, the company takes over administrative tasks. Its online model also means they can reach more students, including in other cities. Pham says teachers who switch from offline centers to Marathon can potentially increase their earnings two to three times.

Before joining Marathon, teachers go through a screening process, including how many of they previous students passed exams or improved their grades. Marathon pairs them with teaching assistants who work directly with groups of about 20 to 25 students during online lectures, answering questions through instant messenger, and then manage breakout rooms to go through the lessons in detail.

Marathon launched first in Ho Chi Minh City and its expansion strategy will take cultural differences between the north and south of Vietnam into account. For example, it will find tutors with regional accents, and adjust its marketing strategies.

“We are going to focus on the teachers and curriculum separately, because the two regions are quite different. Parents in the south are more experimental and more willing to try out new services. Parents in the north very much rely on their network and word-of-mouth, so they are more cautious about trying out what we’re doing,” Tran said. “So when we serve the north and south, we serve distinctive sets of customers.”

Marathon plans to continue its online-only model after lockdowns end and kids go back to in-person classes for regular school. “After one year in intermittent lockdowns, we’ve noticed there’s been a marked shift in parents’ behavior. They are much more receptive to online learning. Right now, even though there’s a lockdown, attendance rates are 99%,” said Pham. “In the future, I think online is the way to go and it’s much more scalable, so we want to focus our strategy around that.”