Bzaar bags $4M to enable US retailers to source home, lifestyle products from India

Small businesses in the U.S. now have a new way to source home and lifestyle goods from new manufacturers. Bzaar, a business-to-business cross-border marketplace, is connecting retailers with over 50 export-ready manufacturers in India.

The U.S.-based company announced Monday that it raised $4 million in seed funding, led by Canaan Partners, and including angel investors Flipkart co-founder Binny Bansal, PhonePe founders Sameer Nigam and Rahul Chari, Addition founder Lee Fixel and Helion Ventures co-founder Ashish Gupta.

Nishant Verman and Prasanth Nair co-founded Bzaar in 2020 and consider their company to be like a “fair without borders,” Verman put it. Prior to founding Bzaar, Verman was at Bangalore-based Flipkart until it was acquired by Walmart in 2018. He then was at Canaan Partners in the U.S.

“We think the next 10 years of global trade will be different from the last 100 years,” he added. “That’s why we think this business needs to exist.”

Traditionally, small U.S. buyers did not have feet on the ground in manufacturing hubs, like China, to manage shipments of goods in the same way that large retailers did. Then Alibaba came along in the late 1990s and began acting as a gatekeeper for cross-border purchases, Verman said. U.S. goods imports from China totaled $451.7 billion in 2019, while U.S. goods imports from India in 2019 were $87.4 billion.

Bzaar screenshot. Image Credits: Bzaar

Small buyers could buy home and lifestyle goods, but it was typically through the same sellers, and there was not often a unique selection, nor were goods available handmade or using organic materials, he added.

With Bzaar, small buyers can purchase over 10,000 wholesale goods on its marketplace from other countries like India and Southeast Asia. The company guarantees products arrive within two weeks and manage all of the packaging logistics and buyer protection.

Verman and Nair launched the marketplace in April and had thousands users in three continents purchasing from the platform within six months. Meanwhile, products on Bzaar are up to 50% cheaper than domestic U.S. platforms, while SKU selection is growing doubling every month, Verman said.

The new funding will enable the company to invest in marketing to get in front of buyers and invest on its technology to advance its cataloging feature so that goods pass through customs seamlessly. Wanting to provide new features for its small business customers, Verman also intends to create a credit feature to enable buyers to pay in installments or up to 90 days later.

“We feel this is a once-in-a-lifetime shift in how global trade works,” he added. “You need the right team in place to do this because the problem is quite complex to take products from a small town in Vietnam to Nashville. With our infrastructure in place, the good news is there are already shops and buyers, and we are stitching them together to give buyers a seamless experience.”

 

9am.health launches with $3.7M to tackle virtual diabetes care

Founders like to create companies around what they know, and Frank Westermann and Anton Kittelberger know diabetes.

They met and bonded over both having type 1 diabetes — Westermann was diagnosed over 25 years ago — and started the MySugr app for diabetes self-management in 2012 (they won a TC pitch-off back in 2011). Four years later, Westermann moved to the U.S. from Austria to introduce MySugr stateside before the company was acquired by Roche for $100 million in 2017.

The pair moved on to their next journey, also in diabetes, starting 9am.health in April, a virtual diabetes clinic designed to provide people living with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes access to personalized care and affordable medications from their homes. 9am.health’s clinic was launched in August.

Today, the San Diego-based company announced a $3.7 million seed round from Founders Fund, Define Ventures, Speedinvest and iSeed Ventures to target the 1 in 3 people living with diabetes in the United States, Westermann told TechCrunch.

“We understand the day-to-day challenges that people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes have,” he added. “Access to care is the real issue, and rather than have patients wait weeks to get an appointment, we send a kit with tests to your home, and you send it back to us.”

9am.health kicked off in Texas and California, and is now available in 33 states. It is finding patients through digital outreach, community work and hospitals.

Even with insurance, the average person living with diabetes spends about $16,750 per year on medical expenses and has approximately 2.3 times higher the costs than if they didn’t have the disease. Instead, patients can subscribe to 9am.health for $40 per month; that includes online prescription shipping, unlimited personal medical care, medications to manage diabetes, hypertension or hyperlipidemia and at-home lab tests.

Westermann sees other companies working in the diabetes space, but says 9am.health is unique in providing “a digital front door for entire diabetes care,” while others focus on specific pain points. By taking that whole approach, he sees opportunity in going beyond diabetes to the general chronic disease realm as many living with diabetes — 98% of Americans in fact — also have other comorbidities like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and mental health issues, he added.

The new funding will enable the company to grow its team and carve out some of the digital diabetes market share that was valued at $13 billion in 2020 and is forecasted to grow annually by 18.8% through 2027. 9am.health will also invest in advancing its virtual screening ability and expand the types of medication it can offer.

9am.health diabetes kit

“We want to tear down the barriers and make care as easy as possible and managing diabetes part of life,” Westermann said. “When you live with chronic illness, it is an everyday thing, and sometimes you feel good, and others days you don’t. That’s why we named the company 9am.health because you can wake up at 9 a.m. and start your diabetes journey all over again.”

Lynne Chou O’Keefe, founder and managing partner at Define Ventures, says the future of healthcare is going to be more consumer-focused and will be wrapped around the patient’s care journey. She considers 9am.health to be leading this type of care with a platform that bundles education, community, coaching and care that is direct-to-consumer.

Chou O’Keefe has been investing in healthcare her entire VC career, and sat on the board of Livongo for four years. Through that experience she learned how patients struggle with their care decisions, and finds 9am.health’s founders to have a similar deep expertise and understanding in diabetes, especially with the success they had with MySugr.

“The last place you should receive healthcare is in the doctor’s office, while the first place should be wherever you are,” she added. “This is a very different way than what the healthcare system is today. We feel that people want to manage their diabetes, but then go on and live their lives.”

 

Defy Partners leads $3M round into sales intelligence platform Aircover

Aircover raised $3 million in seed funding to continue developing its real-time sales intelligence platform.

Defy Partners led the round with participation from Firebolt Ventures, Flex Capital, Ridge Ventures and a group of angel investors.

The company, headquartered in the Bay Area, aims to give sales teams insights relevant to closing the sale as they are meeting with customers. Aircover’s conversational AI software integrates with Zoom and automates parts of the sales process to lead to more effective conversations.

Aircover’s founding team of Andrew Levy, Alex Young and Andrew’s brother David Levy worked together at Apteligent, a company co-founded and led by Andrew Levy, that was sold to VMware in 2017.

Chatting about pain points on the sales process over the years, Levy said it felt like the solution was always training the sales team more. However, by the time everyone was trained, that information would largely be out-of-date.

Instead, they created Aircover to be a software tool on top of video conferencing that performs real-time transcription of the conversation and then analysis to put the right content in front of the sales person at the right time based on customer issues and questions. This means that another sales expert doesn’t need to be pulled in or an additional call scheduled to provide answers to questions.

“We are anticipating that knowledge and parsing it out at key moments to provide more leverage to subject matter experts,” Andrew Levy told TechCrunch. “It’s like a sales assistant coming in to handle any issue.”

He considers Aircover in a similar realm with other sales team solutions, like Chorus.ai, which was recently scooped up by ZoomInfo, and Gong, but sees his company carving out space in real-time meeting experiences. Other tools also record the meetings, but to be reviewed after the call is completed.

“That can’t change the outcome of the sale, which is what we are trying to do,” Levy added.

The new funding will be used for product development. Levy intends to double his small engineering team by the end of the month.

He calls what Aircover is doing a “large interesting problem we are solving that requires some difficult technology because it is real time,” which is why the company was eager to partner with Bob Rosin, partner at Defy Partners, who joins Aircover’s board of directors as part of the investment.

Rosin joined Defy in 2020 after working on the leadership teams of Stripe, LinkedIn and Skype. He said sales and customer teams need tools in the moment, and while some are useful in retrospect, people want them to be live, in front of the customer.

“In the early days, tools helped before and after, but in the moment when they need the most help, we are not seeing many doing it,” Rosin added. “Aircover has come up with the complete solution.”

 

Ascend raises $5.5M to provide a BNPL option for commercial insurance

Ascend on Wednesday announced a $5.5 million seed round to further its insurance payments platform that combines financing, collections and payables.

First Round Capital led the round and was joined by Susa Ventures, FirstMark Capital, Box Group and a group of angel investors, including Coalition CEO Joshua Motta, Newfront Insurance executives Spike Lipkin and Gordon Wintrob, Vouch Insurance CEO Sam Hodges, Layr Insurance CEO Phillip Hodges, Anzen Insurance CEO Max Bruner, Counterpart Insurance CEO Tanner Hackett, former Bunker Insurance CEO Chad Nitschke, SageSure executive Paul VanderMarck, Instacart co-founders Max Mullen and Brandon Leonardo and Houseparty co-founder Ben Rubin.

This is the first funding for the company that is live in 20 states. It developed payments APIs to automate end-to-end insurance payments and to offer a buy now, pay later financing option for distribution of commissions and carrier payables, something co-founder and co-CEO Andrew Wynn, said was rather unique to commercial insurance.

Wynn started the company in January 2021 with his co-founder Praveen Chekuri after working together at Instacart. They originally started Sheltr, which connected customers with trained maintenance professionals and was acquired by Hippo in 2019. While working with insurance companies they recognized how fast the insurance industry was modernizing, yet insurance sellers still struggled with customer experiences due to outdated payments processes. They started Ascend to solve that payments pain point.

The insurance industry is largely still operating on pen-and-paper — some 600 million paper checks are processed each year, Wynn said. He referred to insurance as a “spaghetti web of money movement” where payments can take up to 100 days to get to the insurance carrier from the customer as it makes its way through intermediaries. In addition, one of the only ways insurance companies can make a profit is by taking those hundreds of millions of dollars in payments and investing it.

Home and auto insurance can be broken up into payments, but the commercial side is not as customer friendly, Wynn said. Insurance is often paid in one lump sum annually, though, paying tens of thousands of dollars in one payment is not something every business customer can manage. Ascend is offering point-of-sale financing to enable insurance brokers to break up those commercial payments into monthly installments.

“Insurance carries continue to focus on annual payments because they don’t have a choice,” he added. “They want all of their money up front so they can invest it. Our platform not only reduces the friction with payments by enabling customers to pay how they want to pay, but also helps carriers sell more insurance.”

Ascend app

Startups like Ascend aiming to disrupt the insurance industry are also attracting venture capital, with recent examples including Vouch and Marshmallow, which raised close to $100 million, while Insurify raised $100 million.

Wynn sees other companies doing verticalized payment software for other industries, like healthcare insurance, which he says is a “good sign for where the market is going.” This is where Wynn believes Ascend is competing, though some incumbents are offering premium financing, but not in the digital way Ascend is.

He intends to deploy the new funds into product development, go-to-market initiatives and new hires for its locations in New York and Palo Alto. He said the raise attracted a group of angel investors in the industry, who were looking for a product like this to help them sell more insurance versus building it from scratch.

Having only been around eight months, it is a bit early for Ascend to have some growth to discuss, but Wynn said the company signed its first customer in July and six more in the past month. The customers are big digital insurance brokerages and represent, together, $2.5 billion in premiums. He also expects to get licensed to operate as a full payment in processors in all states so the company can be in all 50 states by the end of the year.

The ultimate goal of the company is not to replace brokers, but to offer them the technology to be more efficient with their operations, Wynn said.

“Brokers are here to stay,” he added. “What will happen is that brokers who are tech-enabled will be able to serve customers nationally and run their business, collect payments, finance premiums and reduce backend operation friction.”

Bill Trenchard, partner at First Round Capital, met Wynn while he was still with Sheltr. He believes insurtech and fintech are following a similar story arc where disruptive companies are going to market with lower friction and better products and, being digital-first, are able to meet customers where they are.

By moving digital payments over to insurance, Ascend and others will lead the market, which is so big that there will be many opportunities for companies to be successful. The global commercial insurance market was valued at $692.33 billion in 2020, and expected to top $1 trillion by 2028.

Like other firms, First Round looks for team, product and market when it evaluates a potential investment and Trenchard said Ascend checked off those boxes. Not only did he like how quickly the team was moving to create momentum around themselves in terms of securing early pilots with customers, but also getting well known digital-first companies on board.

“The magic is in how to automate the underwriting, how to create a data moat and be a first mover — if you can do all three, that is great,” Trenchard said. “Instant approvals and using data to do a better job than others is a key advantage and is going to change how insurance is bought and sold.”

Immi takes in $3.8M to cook up plant-based instant ramen

Immi is putting a healthy spin on instant ramen by going plant-based and offering more bold tastes. The company announced Tuesday that it raised $3.8 million in seed funding.

Co-founders Kevin Lee and Kevin Chanthasiriphan both grew up in food families from Taiwan and Thailand, respectively, and met a decade ago while working at the same tech company. They bonded over getting noodles every day.

Fast-forward to today, and they both saw family members stricken with diabetes and high blood pressure and started thinking about what a better-for-you food and beverage brand would look like.

Taking the love of the Asian food they grew up with, they wanted to develop one of those brands for the U.S.

“We immediately agreed on instant ramen,” Chanthasiriphan told TechCrunch. “My dad still eats instant ramen each night, and it is such a massive market: 4 billion packets are sold per year, but it is also a product that has been dominated by the same three incumbents for years.”

The global instant noodle space is projected to be a $32 billion industry by 2027, with $7.7 billion of value in the U.S. However, the ramen most people buy in the grocery store includes noodles made of refined carbohydrates that get cooked in oil, while the soup packets are high in sodium and preservatives, he said.

Their take on it is Immi, which is plant-based, low carb and low sodium, high fiber and has 22 grams of protein on average. The product comes in three flavors — Black Garlic “Chicken,” Tom Yum “Shrimp” and Spicy “Beef.”

The pair went into the company full-time in 2019 and have spent the better part of the last few years heads down in R&D, but the finished product didn’t come easy. In fact, when speaking with people in the industry, they were told that creating a healthier version of ramen would be “kind of impossible,” Lee said. They had to start from the ground up and make it themselves, formulating the first recipes in their own kitchens.

Immi’s variety pack includes Black Garlic “Chicken,” Tom Yum “Shrimp” and Spicy “Beef.” Image Credits: Immi

The funding raise comes as Immi releases a reformulation of their product this year aimed at replicating traditional instant ramen in broth taste, mouthfeel, texture and slurpability.

Siddhi Capital led the round and was joined by Palm Tree Crew, Constellation Capital, Animal Capital, Pear Ventures, Collaborative Fund and a group of individuals, including Patrick Schwarzenegger, Kat Cole and Nik Sharma, as well as executives from Thrive Market, Caviar, Daring Foods, Madhappy, Twitch, Kettle & Fire, MUD\WTR, Native, Amity Supply, Visionary Music Group, Italic, Tatcha and Casper.

Melissa Facchina, co-founder and general partner at Siddhi Capital, said her firm invests in food and beverage brands and its investment arm is a mentor to the Immi team.

“We were blown away by them,” she said. “It costs a lot of money to innovate in this industry, and it is exciting for myself and family to have something that we can grab and go. The second version launching looks exactly like the traditional brick pack and now has adult flavors that attach to a different culinary pallet.”

The natural or better-for-you foods industry has changed “dramatically” in the last decade,  Facchina said. Most of it is driven by consumers that want transparency in the supply chain, cleaner ingredients and authentic brands.

Consumer packaged goods brands that are reinventing themselves already have successful product lines, but few brands are taking a look at certain categories she said are ripe for reinvention, like cereal. Her firm is an investor in Magic Spoon, and she sees Immi reinventing ramen and Asian cuisine, saying “the Kevins as a founder group are highly moldable, high-achieving and want to surround themselves with best-in-class people.”

Meanwhile, the new funding will be split between R&D, hiring and marketing, Lee said. The company is taking in customer feedback to enhance the flavors, and would like to optimize its supply chain, hire for key executive roles and put spending toward testing new marketing channels. Immi sells its product via its own online store, but would like to expand into wholesale channels and online grocers.

Immi’s products were launched in January and saw inventory sell out in the first month without any marketing. They have since sold over 10,000 orders across the U.S. and are even looking to go international.

Going forward, the company will be working on two initiatives: The first is to develop an infrastructure to expand its product offerings, like more flavors and noodle types, so it can launch a new flavor every few months. Lee and Chanthasiriphan also aim to develop additional Asian food products that have cleaner ingredients, like snacks and confections, that they loved eating when they were children.

The second is marketing and distribution. The company has amassed a community of 4,000 members that help Immi with rapid taste testing.

“We are figuring out how to bring our products to a more mainstream audience, especially those that may not be following a certain diet, but want to bring in food and beverages that are healthier,” Lee said. “We are also bringing in taste makers of culture, celebrities and TikTok influencers to broaden consumer interest and bring Immi into the mainstream cluster.”

 

AgBiome lands $166M for safer crop protection technology

AgBiome, developing products from microbial communities, brought in a $116 million Series D round as the company prepares to pad its pipeline with new products.

The company, based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., was co-founded in 2012 by a group including co-CEOs Scott Uknes and Eric Ward, who have known each other for over 30 years. They created the Genesis discovery platform to capture diverse microbes for agricultural applications, like crop protection, and screen the strains for the best assays that would work for insect, disease and nematode control.

“The microbial world is immense,” said Uknes, who explained that there is estimated to be a trillion microbes, but only 1% have been discovered. The microbes already discovered are used by humans for things like pharmaceuticals, food and agriculture. AgBiome built its database in Genesis to house over 100,000 microbes and every genome in every microbe was sequenced into hundreds of strains.

The company randomly selects strains and looks for the best family of strains with a certain activity, like preventing fungus on strawberries, and creates the product.

AgBiome co-CEOs Scott Uknes and Eric Ward. Image Credits: AgBiome

Its first fungicide product, Howler, was launched last year and works on more than 300 crop-disease combinations. The company saw 10x sales growth in 2020, Uknes told TechCrunch. As part of farmers’ integrated pest program, they often spray fungicide applications 12 times per year in order to yield fruits and vegetables.

Due to its safer formula, Howler can be used as the last spray in the program, and its differentiator is a shorter re-entry period — farmers can spray in the morning and be able to go back out in the field in the afternoon. It also has a shorter pre-harvest time of four hours after application. Other fungicides on the market today require seven days before re-entry and pre-harvest, Uknes explained.

AgBiome aims to add a second fungicide product, Theia, in early 2022, while a third, Esendo was submitted for Environmental Protection Agency registration. Uknes expects to have 11 products, also expanding into insecticides and herbicides, by 2025.

The oversubscribed Series D round was co-led by Blue Horizon and Novalis LifeSciences and included multiple new and existing investors. The latest investment gives AgBiome over $200 million in total funding to date. The company’s last funding round was a $65 million Series C raised in 2018.

While competitors in synthetic biology often sell their companies to someone who can manufacture their products, Uknes said AgBiome decided to manufacture and commercialize the products itself, something he is proud of his team for being able to do.

“We want to feed the world responsibly, and these products have the ability to substitute for synthetic chemicals and provide growers a way to protect their crops, especially as consumers want natural, sustainable tools,” he added.

The company has grown to over 100 employees and will use the new funding to accelerate production of its two new products, building out its manufacturing capacity in North America and expanding its footprint internationally. Uknes anticipates growing its employee headcount to 300 in the next five years.

AgBiome anticipates rolling up some smaller companies that have a product in production to expand its pipeline in addition to its organic growth. As a result, Uknes said he was particular about the kind of investment partners that would work best toward that goal.

Przemek Obloj, managing partner at Blue Horizon, was introduced to the company by existing investors. His firm has an impact fund focused on the future of food and began investing in alternative proteins in 2016 before expanding that to delivery systems in agriculture technology, he said.

Obloj said AgBiome is operating in a $60 billion market where the problems include products that put toxic chemicals into the ground that end up in water systems. While the solution would be to not do that, not doing that would mean produce doesn’t grow as well, he added.

The change in technology in agriculture is enabling Uknes and Ward to do something that wasn’t possible 10 years ago because there was not enough compute or storage power to discover and sequence microbes.

“We don’t want to pollute the Earth, but we have to find a way to feed 9 billion people by 2050,” Obloj said. “With AgBiome, there is an alternative way to protect crops than by polluting the Earth or having health risks.”

MarginEdge, a restaurant management software company, raises $18M

MarginEdge announced Monday it raised $18 million in Series B funding to give restaurant operators a real-time view into their costs.

Co-founder and CEO Bo Davis founded the company with Roy Phillips and Brian Mills in 2015. Both Davis and Phillips are veterans of the restaurant industry: Davis was previously the founder of conveyor belt sushi restaurant chain Wasabi, while Phillips was an executive at Bloomin Brands.

What they recognized with independent restaurants was that they struggled with workflow like invoices and tracking food costs and were either building internal tools to help them stay on top of things or were still operating with pen and paper or spreadsheets.

“We focused on building something our friends would like,” Davis told TechCrunch. “We spent three years on the product and worked with 20 restaurants to use the software and focus on getting it right instead of rushing to market.”

MarginEdge’s tool is a restaurant management app that works with a business’ point of sale to streamline inventory, cost-tracking, ordering and recipes to eliminate the paperwork. It also captures all invoices, receipts or bills and converts them to line-item details within 24 hours. It is designed for independent restaurant owners that have under 50 units, Davis said.

Since launching its app in 2018, the Virginia-based company is seeing its platform used in over 2,500 restaurants. It raised a Series A in 2019, then an A2 in 2020 and with the latest round, led by IGC Hospitality, has raised $25 million in total.

IGC Hospitality, which operates restaurant properties, is not only an investor, but is also a customer, said Jeffrey Brosi, founder and managing partner. The company was using some different technology platforms to manage inventory and sales, but was looking for something to manage its whole inventory process.

“Bo came in and did a presentation, and it was amazing,” Brosi added. “The biggest thing for us is [being] user friendly. MarginEdge also has great customer service. We’ve invested in a few companies in the hospitality industry, and know the pain points and what we want to fix. If it makes sense financially, we will invest. This was one pain point that we didn’t have, and Bo filled that void.”

Like all restaurants over the past 18 months, Davis said the global pandemic caused MarginEdge to step back and evaluate. Despite many restaurants going out of business, he credits his business taking off again to restaurants rethinking their processes.

“We were lucky enough to be in a good position with capital that we could keep our team,” he added. “Revenue decreased for the first time, but we grew 45% even with COVID and as of Q1 was seeing 200% annual growth.”

MarginEdge has over 400 employees and its platform processes 45,000 invoices a week. Davis intends to invest the new funding in building out the leadership team, product development, building new features for the back office and on data science, an area he just received an advanced degree in, he said.

The company is using benchmark data around sales, food costs and labor costs and would like to provide more insights to its customers as it relates to inflation, which affects all of those aspects, and as a result, the menu prices.

“A lot of it is using data to understand menu pricing and what other people are doing so you are not pricing yourself out of the market or operating on margins where you can’t survive,” Davis added. “It will be all about predicting rather than reporting. The two things in the kitchen that are hardest are the startup prep list and the inventory late at night, and we make both easier.”

Trade promotion management startup Cresicor raises $5.6M to keep tabs on customer spend

Cresicor, a consumer packaged goods trade management platform startup, raised $5.6 million in seed funding to further develop its tools for more accurate data and analytics.

The company, based remotely, focuses on small to midsize CPG companies, providing them with an automated way to manage their trade promotion, a process co-founder and CEO Alexander Whatley said is done primarily manually using spreadsheets.

Here’s what happens in a trade promotion: When a company wants to run a discount on one of their slower-selling items, the company has to spend money to do this — to have displays set up in a store or have that item on a certain shelf. If it works, more people will buy the item at the lower price point. Essentially, a trade promotion is the process of spending money to get more money in the future, Whatley told TechCrunch.

Figuring out all of the trade promotions is a complicated process, Whatley explained. Companies receive data feeds on the promotions from several different places, revenue data from retailers, accounting source data to show how many units were shipped and then maybe data directly from retailers. All of that has to be matched against the promotion.

“No API is bringing this data back to brands, so our software helps to automate and track these manual processes so companies can do analytics to see how the promotions are doing,” he added. “It also helps the finance team understand expenses, including which are valid and those that are not.”

What certain companies spend on trade promotions can represent their second-largest cost behind manufacturing, and companies often end up reinvesting between 20% and 30% of their revenue into trade promotions, Whatley said. This is a big market, representing untapped growth, especially with U.S. CPG sales topping $720 billion in 2020.

“You can see how messy the whole industry is, which is why we have a bright future and huge TAM,” he added. “With this new funding, we can target other parts of the P&L like supply chain and salaries. We also provide analytics for their strategy and where they should be spending it — which store, on which supply. By allocating resources the right way, companies typically see a 10% boost in sales as a result.”

Whatley started the company in 2017 with his brother, Daniel, Stuart Kennedy and Nikki McNeil while a Harvard undergrad. Since raising the funding back in February, the company has grown 2.5x in revenue, while employee headcount grew 4x over the past 12 months to 20.

Costanoa Ventures led the investment and was joined by Torch Capital and a group of angel investors including Fivestars CTO Matt Doka and Hu’s Kitchen CEO Mark Ramadan.

John Cowgill, partner at Costanoa, said though Cresicor raised a seed round, the company was already acquiring brands and capital before releasing a product and grew to almost a Series A company without any outside capital, saying it “blew me away.”

Cresicor is the “perfect example” of a company that Costanoa would get excited about — a vertical software company using data or machine learning to augment a pain point, Cowgill added.

“The CPG industry is in the middle of a rapid change where we see all of these emerging, digital native and mission-driven brands rapidly eating share from incumbents,” he added. “For the next generation of brands to compete, they have to win in trade promotion management. Cresicor’s opportunity to go beyond trade is significant. It is just a starting point to build a company that is the core enabler of great brands.”

The new funding will be used mainly to hire more talent in the areas of engineering and customer success so the company can hit its next benchmarks, Alexander Whatley said. He also intends to use the funding to acquire new brands and on software development. Cresicor boasts a list of customers including Perfect Snacks, Oatly and Hint Water.

The retail industry is valued at $5.5 trillion, and one-fifth of it is CPG, Whatley said. As a result, he has his eye on going after other verticals within CPG, like electronics and pet food, and then expanding into other areas.

“We are also going to work with enterprise companies — we see an opportunity to work with companies like P&G and General Mills, and we also want to build an ecosystem around trade promotion and launch into other profit and loss areas,” Whatley said.

Babyscripts secures $12M to roll out its virtual maternity care model

Obstetrics virtual care company Babyscripts raised $12 million in the first round of a Series B investment that will enable the company to accelerate the roll out of its virtual maternity care tool platform to providers.

MemorialCare Innovation Fund led the investment and was joined by Philips Ventures and the CU Healthcare Innovation Fund. The new round of funding gives Babyscripts around $26 million raised to date, Babyscripts co-founder and president Juan Pablo Segura told TechCrunch.

We last checked in on Washington, D.C-based Babyscripts two years ago when Phillips led a $6 million investment into the company. A lot has happened since 2019, Segura said.

At the time, the company had one product and was working with hospitals and healthcare providers to distribute a medical device and mobile app to expecting mothers for monitoring blood pressure and providing neonatal care information.

Today, the company has multiple kits that can be targeted to patients, including blood pressure monitoring, weight and captured blood sugars. Babyscripts can automate 40% to 50% of prenatal care and alert doctors as health problems occur so that both mother and baby are healthy. At one physician site, use of Babyscripts helped open up close to 1,000 appointments in a year so obstetricians there could focus on higher-risk patients, Segura said.

It also has larger population health focuses — driven mainly by the pandemic — to help higher-risk expecting mothers with remote patient monitoring and virtual care, as well as work to solve health inequity issues.

More than 70% of patients using Babyscripts are on Medicaid, which may be the only safety net provider in the patient’s geography, Segura said. As a result, the company began forming partnerships with public health departments, managed Medicaid plans and providers, like Priva Health, so that Babyscripts could be paid for at the local level.

“Right now, one of the biggest challenges for a pregnant patient on Medicaid and working an hourly job is asking moms to choose between prenatal care and putting food on the table,” he added. “Fifty percent of maternal complications can be avoided, but a lot of these issues come from the fact that the model of delivery care hasn’t changed in 40 years. About 12% to 15% of deaths come from blood pressure complications. If we could monitor via Babyscripts or more coordinated care to get intervention faster, we could eliminate massive swaths of delivery events in maternity and reduce mortality events in this country.”

Amid the pandemic, Babyscripts saw enrollments grow 10x. Segura decided to go after a new round of funding to meet that need and opportunities that could be addressed. Babyscripts’s program is now being used by 75 health systems in 32 states, and the company is monitoring 250,000 women each year.

The company continues to receive inquiries from markets and payers that are looking to do more for pregnant patients, so Segura wants to be able to grow to meet that demand and invest in a go-to-market strategy to get its kits into as many hands as possible.

The new funding will also enable the company to release new features. It recently launched a mental health product and is developing a substance use disorder experience amid others, he said. Babyscripts is also working on a national level with payers and is building an infrastructure around that as well.

The company has 45 employees currently, and Segura expects to double that in the next 12 to 18 months in the areas of product, payer growth, clinical expertise, implementation and customer success. Babyscripts is also working toward being available in all 50 states and bringing in more public health departments and payers as partners to get more health systems working together, he added.

Meanwhile, Caleb Winder, managing director of MemorialCare Innovation Fund, said he was attracted to both Babyscripts’ outcomes data and addressing the high rates of complications in pregnancies. It also not only eliminates waiting for hours at the doctor’s office just to be seen for five minutes, but also closes some gaps in care, he added.

“One of the problems in this space is that providers, as much as they want to help, are stretched thin,” Winder said. “There are also access problems. Something like 50% of counties in this country lack one OB, so in-person care is difficult. Babyscripts can help patients anywhere be monitored and their health managed virtually. It can also alert a clinician when there is a real problem. We saw their data, for example, that showed preeclampsia was diagnosed 13 days faster than the standard of care.”

MaxRewards banks $3M to reveal best payment methods that reap the most rewards

When Anik Khan graduated from college, his first job was working on credit cards and business expenses at Accenture. There, he found that someone could bring in a couple of thousand dollars just by having the right credit cards and following the rewards and promotions.

It was back in 2017 when he and David Gao got the idea for his company MaxRewards, a digital wallet app that manages credit cards and automatically activates benefits like rewards, cashback offers and monthly credits. It also makes recommendations at the point of purchase on which card would yield the best reward for that purchase.

Going after the some 83% of Americans that have a credit card, the app version was officially launched in 2019, and now the Atlanta-based company is announcing a $3 million seed round co-led by Dundee Venture Capital and Calano Ventures. Also backing the company are Techstars, Fintech Ventures Fund, Service Provider Capital and Fleetcor president Nick Izquierdo.

Tracking his own credit cards manually prior to MaxRewards, Khan recalled in one year, getting $16,000 in rewards. However, utilizing those benefits was time-consuming and difficult, because the rewards and savings aren’t always made evident by the credit card companies.

“Other companies have tried to do something similar, but the issue is you don’t have the reward information or the offers,” Khan told TechCrunch. “If you were to aggregate this information, you still would have to activate all of these things and use them before they expired.”

Users connect their accounts and when they make a purchase, their location is cross-referenced with the merchant and an algorithm is applied to tell the user which card to use. The average app user has six credit cards.

MaxRewards is free to download and use, and the majority of the app’s functionalities are free. Users who want additional features, like the auto activation or rewards, can join MaxRewards Gold and are given the opportunity to choose their own monthly price — the average is over $25 per month — based on the value they expect to gain, Khan said.

MaxRewards offers and benefits. Image Credits: MaxRewards

Ron Watson, partner at Dundee, said his firm invests in seed-stage companies between the coasts and is interested in consumer and e-commerce companies. Watson said he was impressed with what MaxRewards has been able to do with a team of three. He also relates to the company’s mission, having grown up in a lower, middle-class family that did not frequently go on vacations.

When he got his first job and was suddenly flying everywhere, he recalls building up so many rewards to the point where he was able to go on a vacation to Hawaii and only spend maybe $100, he said.

“I used to put my points into a spreadsheet, but as I got older and had kids, I realized how hard it was for the average person to do that and how important it is to have automation,” Watson said. “I downloaded the app, and on the first day, saved $20.”

The company is often compared to NerdWallet or Mint, but in terms of functionality, Khan said he feels MaxRewards is unique due to its credit card system connectors. Rather than rely on third-party aggregators to discover the rewards, MaxRewards leverages its own proprietary connectors to card systems.

There are hundreds of thousands of offers to be discovered, and consumers are asking for even more features, so Khan decided it was time to go after seed funding. He had raised a small seed, about $200,000, from his time at Techstars, but the new funding will enable him to add to his team of three people. He expects to be at 20 by the end of the year. Khan also wants to accelerate its user acquisition, product improvement and compliance.

Next up, the company is going to automate rewards and savings across additional platforms like debit cards, payment apps and cashback apps, as well as create browser extensions and a web app. Khan also wants to do more on the education side with regard to using credit cards in a smart manner.

Arron Solano, managing partner at Calano, met Khan through Techstars and said he is an advocate for using credit cards in the right way. His firm was looking for a company like MaxRewards.

“During our first call, I remember telling my partner that Anik was a bulldog who knew what he was talking about, especially at that stage,” Solano added. “He had strong team members, his vision lined up well and that checked off a massive box for us. He energized us and showed he could find a market with insanely high ‘super users.’ ”