Caregiving startup Homage raises $10 million Series B to enter new Asian markets

In many countries, an aging population coupled with a low birth rate is increasing the demand for qualified caregivers. In Asia, the need is especially urgent because rapid demographic shifts and changing social structures means family members who traditionally cared for relatives are unable to because they need to work or live far away. Homage wants to help with a platform that not only matches pre-screened professionals and clients, but also enables caregiving organizations to scale up more quickly.

The startup announced this week that it has raised Series B funding, led by EV Growth, with new investors Alternate Ventures and KDV Capital. Returning investor HealthXCapital also participated. The amount of funding was undisclosed, but sources tell TechCrunch it was $10 million.

Launched in 2016 by Gillian Tee, Lily Phang and Tong Duong, Homage currently operates in Singapore and Malaysia, with plans to expand into five more countries over the next two years. Before Homage, Tee, its CEO, worked in the United States, where she was co-founded Rocketrip, a business travel startup backed by Y Combinator. Tee tells TechCrunch she realized the need for a caregiving platform while looking for carers.

“We saw that in ASEAN and the Asia Pacific region, there is really a need to build long-term care infrastructure,” she says.

This includes increasing the pool of basic caregivers to reduce costs and also making it easier for families to be matched with professionals. Homage’s platform currently includes about 2,000 caregivers and focuses on elderly care, but also provides services needed by a wide age range, including rehabilitation care, physiotherapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy.

The platform was also created to give caregiving organizations a tech platform that allows them to expand more quickly and cost efficiently, in turn reducing care expenses for families. Homage interviews caregivers before they are added to the platform and partners with health organizations to provide continuing education and training. On the enterprise side, it helps providers with administrative tasks like compliance and bookings.

Tee says Homage’s screening process goes beyond interviews and background checks.

“From solving my own caregiving problems, I believe that a platform is needed, a highly-curated one, so that every single individual has to be fully competency assessed,” she says.

For caregivers, this means building a profile, and in addition to the information they provide, Homage also works with nurses to evaluate how they are able to perform important tasks like manual transfer techniques. That information is then used by its matching engine.

“The human mind can take in so many details at once, so we have an algorithm for manual transfer techniques, like bent pivot transfers or two-handed transfers, down to that granularity,” Tee says. “It is captured into the system and that translates into mobility, and gives categories of mobility, so it helps us shortlist much better than humans can.” Then final assessments and matches are done by one of Homage’s operators.

Homage also provides compliance tools that collect information about licenses, background and health checks, AED and CPR training and other documentation. On the bookings side, Homage helps organizations manage fluctuations in demand, since many families only need carers a few days a week. Caregivers on the platform range from full-time nurses to part-time carers and it also helps organizations plans breaks to prevent burnout.

Tee says many caregiving organizations put together their own system for administrative tasks and Homage gives them an alternative that lets them set up operations or expand more quickly.

Homage’s funding will be used on expanding its base of caregivers, providing training and new services, including its medical delivery service.

In a press statement, EV Growth managing partner Willson Cuaca said “Increasing aging population and low TFR (total fertility rate) are inevitable. Urbanization and a fast-paced working environment make caregiving service one of the key services in our daily life. Gillian and the team have been consistently trying to make the on-demand caregiving service as accessible as possible, fast and reliable. We are proud to be part of the Homage journey to bring back caregiving with control, grace, and dignity.”

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Xiaomi spins off POCO as an independent company

Xiaomi said today it is spinning off POCO, a sub-smartphone brand it created in 2018, as a standalone company that will now run independently of the Chinese electronics giant and make its own market strategy.

The move comes months after a top POCO executive — Jai Mani — and some other founding and core members left the sub-brand. The company today insisted that POCO F1, the only smartphone to be launched under POCO brand, remains a “successful” handset. The POCO F1, a $300 smartphone, was launched in 50 markets.

Manu Kumar Jain, VP of Xiaomi, said POCO has grown into its own identity in a short span of time. “POCO F1 is an extremely popular phone across user groups, and remains a top contender in its category even in 2020. We feel the time is right to let POCO operate on its own now, which is why we’re excited to announce that POCO will spin off as an independent brand,” he said in a statement.

Xiaomi created POCO brand to launch high-end, premium smartphones that would compete directly with flagship smartphones of OnePlus and Samsung. In an interview with yours truly in 2018, Alvin Tse, the head of POCO, and Mani, had said that they are working on a number of smartphones and also thinking about other gadget categories.

At the time, the company already had 300 people working on POCO, and they “shared resources” with the parent company.

“The hope is that we can open up this new consumer need …. If we can offer them something compelling enough at a price point that they have never imagined before, suddenly a lot of people will show interest in availing the top technologies,” Tse said in that interview.

In the years since, Xiaomi, which is known to produce low-end and mid-range smartphones, itself launched a number of high-end smartphones such as the K20 Pro. It is unclear why the company never launched more smartphones under POCO brand.

More to follow…

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Funnel closes $47M Series B to prepare marketing data for better reporting and analysis

Funnel, the Stockholm-based startup that offers technology to help businesses prepare — or make “business-ready” — their marketing data for better reporting and analysis, has closed $47 million in Series B funding.

Leading the round is Eight Roads Ventures, and F-Prime Capital, with participation from existing investors Balderton Capital, Oxx, Zobito, and Industrifonden, in addition to Kreos Capital.

Funnel says it will use the injection of capital to accelerate its plans in the U.S. where the company is seeing “strong demand” from enterprises. It will also invest in its technical teams to further its vision of “creating a single source of truth of marketing, sales and other commerce data”.

Founded in 2014 by Fredrik Skantze and Per Made, who are also behind Facebook advertising tool Qwaya, Funnel set out to let marketers automate their online marketing data from multiple platforms in real-time, so that they can more accurately analyse their online marketing spend.

Initially that included visualising the marketing data, but now the company has decided to focus solely on collecting the data from all of the disparate marketing channels, and cleaning it up and normalizing it so that it can be imported into popular business intelligence tools to be analysed.

“[We have] shifted away from visualizing the marketing data to ‘just’ collecting and making it business-ready as we have seen that to be the real pain point for customers,” Funnel co-founder and CEO Fredrik Skantze tells TechCrunch.

“Visualization is done well in existing business intelligence tools once the data is properly prepared. Automating the collection and preparation of the data has proven to be a very hard thing to do right and we wanted to make sure we were the best at this which we now confidently can say we are as we hear that again and again from customers”

To that end, Skantze explains that Funnel has direct connections to tools like Tableau and Google Data Studio. The idea is that customers can instantly visualize the data in the tools they are already familiar with.

Since we last covered Funnel mid 2017, the overarching trend has been an explosive growth in digital marketing. Skantze says that in 2017, 39% of worldwide marketing spend was digital and was mostly e-commerce, gaming and app companies who were putting the majority of their budgets online. Since then, forecasts have been repeatedly adjusted upwards, and in 2020, leading markets like the U.K. are now approaching 70% for digital marketing.

“That means the big brands are putting their big budgets online,” he says. “These brands are moving their marketing online because of the performance promise of digital marketing. But delivering on that performance promise requires being data-driven. This is a huge shift for these organizations that they are gradually coming to grips with as they are traditionally more branding focused. It requires creating new roles like marketing analytics, marketing technologists and putting in place a data infrastructure. This is complex”.

That, of course, plays nicely into the hands of Funnel, which is seeing enterprises far beyond e-commerce and apps utilise its wares. “We have spent the last year building out the enterprise readiness of our product and offering [features] like security certifications and enterprise features to be ready to take on these customers,” adds Skantze.

Meanwhile, during the last year, the Funnel team has grown from 73 to 140, and the company signed new office space for a total of 400 people across Stockholm and Boston, ready for further expansion.

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Trucks VC general partner Reilly Brennan is coming to TC Sessions: Mobility

The future of transportation industry is bursting at the seams with startups aiming to bring everything from flying cars and autonomous vehicles to delivery bots and even more efficient freight to roads.

One investor who is right at the center of this is Reilly Brennan, founding general partner of Trucks VC, a seed-stage venture capital fund for entrepreneurs changing the future of transportation.

TechCrunch is excited to announce that Brennan will join us on stage for TC Sessions: Mobility.

In case you missed last year’s event, TC Sessions: Mobility is a one-day conference that brings together the best and brightest engineers, investors, founders and technologists to talk about transportation and what is coming on the horizon. The event will be held May 14, 2020 in the California Theater in San Jose, Calif.

Brennan is known as much for his popular FoT newsletter as his investments, which include May Mobility, Nauto, nuTonomy, Joby Aviation, Skip and Roadster.

Stay tuned to see who we’ll announce next.

And … $250 Early-Bird tickets are now on sale — save $100 on tickets before prices go up on April 9; book today.

Students, you can grab your tickets for just $50 here.


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SpinLaunch spins up a $35M round to continue building its space catapult

SpinLaunch, a company that aims to turn the launch industry on its head with a wild new concept for getting to orbit, has raised a $35M round B to continue its quest. The team has yet to demonstrate their kinetic launch system, but this year will be the year that changes, they claim.

TechCrunch first reported on SpinLaunch’s ambitious plans in 2018, when the company raised its previous $35 million, which combined with $10M it raised prior to that and today’s round comes to a total of $80M. With that kind of money you might actually be able to build a space catapult.

The basic idea behind SpinLaunch’s approach is to get a craft out of the atmosphere using a “rotational acceleration method” that brings a craft to escape velocity without any rockets. While the company has been extremely tight-lipped about the details, one imagines a sort of giant rail gun curled into a spiral, from which payloads will emerge into the atmosphere at several thousand miles per hour — weather be damned.

Naturally there is no shortage of objections to this method, the most obvious of which is that going from an evacuated tube into the atmosphere at those speeds might be like firing the payload into a brick wall. It’s doubtful that SpinLaunch would have proceeded this far if it did not have a mitigation for this (such as the needle-like appearance of the concept craft) and other potential problems, but the secretive company has revealed little.

The time for broader publicity may soon be at hand, however: the funds will be used to build out its new headquarter and R&D facility in Long Beach, but also to complete its flight test facility at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

“Later this year, we aim to change the history of space launch with the completion of our first flight test mass accelerator at Spaceport America,” said founder and CEO Jonathan Yaney in a press release announcing the funding.

Lowering the cost of launch has been the focus of some of the most successful space startups out there, and SpinLaunch aims to leapfrog their cost savings by offering orbital access for under $500,000. First commercial launch is targeted for 2022, assuming the upcoming tests go well.

The funding round was led by previous investors Airbus Ventures, GV, and KPCB, as well as Catapult Ventures, Lauder Partners, John Doerr and Byers Family.

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Copilot is a subscription personal finance tracker aiming to kill Mint

When Intuit acquired Mint more than a decade ago, mobile was in a different place — as were tech-enabled financial services. There hasn’t been much progress for the personal finance tracker app category in the meantime. Mint has stumbled along with with integration issues and tiresome data misclassifications. For many, the best alternative has been firing up a spreadsheet.

Copilot is a new personal finance-tracking app from a former Googler that seems like it could garner a following based on its slick design and ease-of-use. The subscription iOS app lets you load your financial data, create custom categories for transactions and set budgets. It’s been invitation-only for the past several months, but is launching publicly today.

Founder Andrés Ugarte told TechCrunch that he started the effort after eight years at Google — most recently inside its Area 120 experimental products division — because of slow progress in the personal finance space since Mint’s acquisition.

“I’ve been trying to use personal finance apps for the last eight years, and I eventually ended up giving up on them,” Ugarte says. “I was willing to make them work, and create my own categories and fix the data so that stuff was all categorized correctly. But I was always disappointed because the apps never felt smart because they would make the same mistakes again.”

I spent a few hours poking around Copilot over the past couple of days and I like what I’ve seen. The design is friendlier than other options, but its major strengths are that you can easily re-categorize a transaction that didn’t automatically fall in the bucket that you wanted it to, mark internal transfers between accounts and exclude one-off purchases from your tracked budget. Other apps have also allowed these functionalities, but Copilot lets you denote whether you want every transaction with a particular vendor to route to a certain category or bypass your budget entirely, so it actually learns from your activity.

In some ways, the killer feature of Copilot is just how great Plaid is. The app relies heavily on the Visa-acquired financial services API startup and I can see why the startup was so successful. The integration’s intuitiveness alongside Copilot’s already-smooth on-boarding process gives users early indication for the app’s thoughtful design.

Copilot has its limitations, mainly in that the team is just two people right now, so those holding out for desktop or Android support might have to wait a bit. Some may be turned off by the app’s $2.99 monthly subscription price, though there are more than a few reasons to avoid free apps that have access to all of your financial info. Copilot maintains that users’ financial info will never be sold to or shared with third parties.

Ugarte has largely been self-funding the effort by selling off his Google shares, but the team just locked down a $250,000 angel round and is searching for more funding.

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Foxconn and Fiat Chrysler partner to develop EVs and an ‘internet of vehicles’ business

Foxconn Technology Group, the Taiwanese electronics giant best known for its iPhone manufacturing contract, is forming a joint venture with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to build electric vehicles in China.

The joint venture was disclosed in a regulatory filing. Nikkei was first to report the joint venture.

According to the filing, each party will own 50% of the venture to develop and manufacture electric vehicles and engage in an IOV, what Foxconn parent company Hon Hai calls the “internet of vehicles” business. Hon Hai’s direct shareholding in the subsidiary will not exceed 40%, the filing says.

The venture will initially focus on making electric vehicles for China. But these vehicles could be exported at a later date, according to Foxconn.

The wording in the regulatory filing suggests these will be new vehicles that are designed and built from the ground up and not a project to electrify any of the vehicles in FCA’s current portfolio.

The venture could give FCA a better path to capturing more business in China, the world’s largest market for electric vehicles.

Foxconn has invested in other electric vehicle ventures before, although this appears to be the first tie-up in which the company will develop and build the product. EV startup Byton was originally started as Future Mobility Corporation as a joint venture between Harmony Auto, Tencent and Foxconn. And Foxconn is also an investor in XPeng Motors, the Chinese electric vehicle startup that recently raised a fresh injection of $400 million in capital and has taken on Xiaomi as a strategic investor.

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Visa’s Plaid acquisition shows a shifting financial services landscape

When Visa bought Plaid this week for $5.3 billion, a figure that was twice its private valuation, it was a clear signal that traditional financial services companies are looking for ways to modernize their approach to business.

With Plaid, Visa picks up a modern set of developer APIs that work behind the scenes to facilitate the movement of money. Those APIs should help Visa create more streamlined experiences (both at home and inside other companies’ offerings), build on its existing strengths and allow it to do more than it could have before, alone.

But don’t take our word for it. To get under the hood of the Visa-Plaid deal and understand it from a number of perspectives, TechCrunch got in touch with analysts focused on the space and investors who had put money into the erstwhile startup.

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Investors like Sundar Pichai; they just pushed Alphabet into the trillion dollar club for the first time

Alphabet this afternoon became the fourth tech giant to join the highly exclusive trillion-dollar club, one whose original member, Apple, saw its market cap soar past $1 trillion for the first time in August 2018 and that has since welcomed — and pushed back out — Amazon, which passed the $1 trillion mark in September 2018 but is now valued at $931 billion; and Microsoft, a charter member since August 2019 and now worth $1.27 trillion.

Saudi Aramco, the petroleum and natural gas company that went public last month, also now has a market value of $1.19 trillion.

That Alphabet would be the next tech giant to crack into the ranks is hardly surprising. The now 22-year-old company has grown like gangbusters since its second year in business and has exploded in value since going public in 2004. Still, it’s impossible not to draw a line between today’s development and the news in early December that the company’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, were handing over day-to-day control to Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Alphabet’s Google since 2015. (That’s when Alphabet itself was incorporated as a holding company.)

For one thing, investors seem to like that much of Pichai’s compensation is tied to the company’s performance. According to an SEC filing from last month, Pichai — now the CEO of both Google and Alphabet — will receive $2 million in salary per year, but he’s poised to earn much more — at least $150 million — if the company hits certain performance targets this year, next year, and in 2022.

Analysts have also said they’re hopeful the leadership transition will see Alphabet become more transparent when it comes to reporting its financials to investors. Indeed, despite the company’s many holdings — from YouTube to Waymo, its self-driving car business — Alphabet has been famously vague when it comes to explaining plainly how its various bets are panning out.

Not last, there’s a widespread expectation that Alphabet will become more amenable to larger share buybacks, or that it might institute a dividend payment for the first time because so much of Pichai’s bonus is tied to share performance.

Either way, as the WSJ notes, citing Dow Jones Market Data, it took Alphabet nearly two years to rise from a company with an $800 billion market cap to one that enjoyed a $900 billion market cap.

Meanwhile, it jumped from $900 billion to $1 trillion in just the last several months.

This story is developing . . .

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‘PigeonBot’ brings flying robots closer to real birds

Try as they might, even the most advanced roboticists on Earth struggle to recreate the effortless elegance and efficiency with which birds fly through the air. The “PigeonBot” from Stanford researchers takes a step towards changing that by investigating and demonstrating the unique qualities of feathered flight.

On a superficial level, PigeonBot looks a bit, shall we say, like a school project. But a lot of thought went into this rather haphazard looking contraption. Turns out the way birds fly is really not very well understood, as the relationship between the dynamic wing shape and positions of individual feathers are super complex.

Mechanical engineering professor David Lentink challenged some of his graduate students to “dissect the biomechanics of the avian wing morphing mechanism and embody these insights in a morphing biohybrid robot that features real flight feathers,” taking as their model the common pigeon — the resilience of which Lentink admires.

As he explains in an interview with the journal Science:

The first Ph.D.student, Amanda Stowers, analyzed the skeletal motion and determined we only needed to emulate the wrist and finger motion in our robot to actuate all 20 primary and 20 secondary flight feathers. The second student, Laura Matloff,uncovered how the feathers moved via a simple linear response to skeletal movement. The robotic insight here is that a bird wing is a gigantic underactuated system in which a bird doesn’t have to constantly actuate each feather individually. Instead, all the feathers follow wrist and finger motion automatically via the elastic ligament that connects the feathers to the skeleton. It’s an ingenious system that greatly simplifies feather position control.

In addition to finding that the individual control of feathers is more automatic than manual, the team found that tiny microstructures on the feathers form a sort of one-way Velcro-type material that keeps them forming a continuous surface rather than a bunch of disconnected ones. These and other findings were published in Science, while the robot itself, devised by “the third student,” Eric Chang, is described in Science Robotics.

Using 40 actual pigeon feathers and a super-light frame, Chang and the team made a simple flying machine that doesn’t derive lift from its feathers — it has a propeller on the front — but uses them to steer and maneuver using the same type of flexion and morphing as the birds themselves do when gliding.

Studying the biology of the wing itself, then observing and adjusting the PigeonBot systems, the team found that the bird (and bot) used its “wrist” when the wing was partly retracted, and “fingers” when extended, to control flight. But it’s done in a highly elegant fashion that minimizes the thought and the mechanisms required.

PigeonBot’s wing. You can see that the feathers are joined by elastic connections so moving one moves others.

It’s the kind of thing that could inform improved wing design for aircraft, which currently rely in many ways on principles established more than a century ago. Passenger jets, of course, don’t need to dive or roll on short notice, but drones and other small craft might find the ability extremely useful.

“The underactuated morphing wing principles presented here may inspire more economical and simpler morphing wing designs for aircraft and robots with more degrees of freedom than previously considered,” write the researchers in the Science Robotics paper.

Up next for the team is observation of more bird species to see if these techniques are shared with others. Lentink is working on a tail to match the wings, and separately on a new bio-inspired robot inspired by falcons, which could potentially have legs and claws as well. “I have many ideas,” he admitted.

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