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Quantum photonics startup Nu Quantum raises £2.1M from Amadeus Capital Partners

For Quantum cryptography and simulation to become real, the technology requires high-performance light-emitting and light-detecting components that operate at the single-photon level and at ambient temperature. One of the few companies operating in this rarified arena is Nu Quantum, the quantum photonics company, is a spin-out from the University of Cambridge.

It’s now raised a £2.1 million in Seed funding in a round led by Amadeus Capital Partners . Ahren Innovation Capital, IQ Capital, Cambridge Enterprise and Martlet Capital also followed-on from the company’s pre-Seed investment round last September, with Seraphim Capital joining as a new investor. Last year it raised a £650,000 pre-seed investment round, also led by Amadeus.

The funding will go towards a state-of-the-art photonics lab in Cambridge and a major recruitment drive for scientists, product team members and business functions as the company approaches the launch of its first commercial technology demonstration.

Nu Quantum brings together a portfolio of intellectual property combining quantum optics, semiconductor photonics, and information theory, spun out of the University of Cambridge after eight years of research at the Cavendish Laboratory. Nu Quantum is one of a handful of companies in the world developing this photonics technology.

The company’s first commercial deliverable will use quantum photonic technology and proprietary algorithms to generate random numbers extracted from quantum-level effects, giving the highest confidence in the quality of these numbers which are ubiquitously used as cryptographic keys to secure data. Nu Quantum is a partner in the consortium led by the National Physical Laboratory, developing the UK standard for quantum random number generation, a project which was awarded £2.8m from the UK government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. 

Dr Carmen Palacios-Berraquero, CEO, Nu Quantum, said in a statement: “Our aim is to enable the potential of quantum mechanics using quantum photonics hardware. This funding will allow us to do just that – a world-class multidisciplinary team and our new laboratories will give Nu Quantum the ability to deliver meaningful demonstrations of our technology into the hands of customers and partners for the first time.”

Alex van Someren, Managing Partner, Amadeus Capital Partners, said: 
“Quantum photonics has the potential to transform cybersecurity through digital cryptography. We’re making another investment in Nu Quantum because we believe in the team and its ability to take its solutions to market. Cambridge is leading the world on developing and commercializing quantum computing hardware and applications, and Amadeus is excited to be backing great entrepreneurs here.”

Nu Quantum is a partner in the consortium led by the National Physical Laboratory, developing the UK standard for quantum random number generation, a project which was awarded £2.8m from the UK government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

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Could developing renewable energy micro-grids make Energicity Africa’s utility of the future?

When Nicole Poindexter left the energy efficiency focused startup, Opower a few months after the company’s public offering, she wasn’t sure what would come next.

At the time, in 2014, the renewable energy movement in the US still faced considerable opposition. But what Poindexter did see was an opportunity to bring the benefits of renewable energy to Africa.

“What does it take to have 100 percent renewables on the grid in the US at the time was not a solvable problem,” Poindexter said. “I looked to Africa and I’d heard that there weren’t many grid assets [so] maybe I could try this idea out there. As I was doing market research, I learned what life was like without electricity and I was like.. that’s not acceptable and I can do something about it.”

Poindexter linked up with Joe Philip, a former executive at SunEdison who was a development engineer at the company and together they formed Energicity to develop renewable energy microgrids for off-grid communities in Africa.

“He’d always thought that the right way to deploy solar was an off-grid solution,” said Poindexter of her co-founder.

At Energicity, Philip and Poindexter are finding and identifying communities, developing the projects for installation and operating the microgrids. So far, the company’s projects have resulted from winning development bids initiated by governments, but with a recently closed $3.25 million in seed financing, the company can expand beyond government projects, Poindexter said.

“The concessions in Benin and Sierra Leone are concessions that we won,” she said. “But we can also grow organically by driving a truck up and asking communities ‘Do you want light?’ and invariably they say yes.” 

To effectively operate the micro-grids that the company is building required an end-to-end refashioning of all aspects of the system. While the company uses off-the-shelf solar panels, Poindexter said that Energicity had built its own smart meters and a software stack to support monitoring and management.

So far, the company has installed 800 kilowatts of power and expects to hit 1.5 megawatts by the end of the year, according to Poindexter.

Those micro-grids serving rural communities operate through subsidiaries in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, and currently serve thirty-six communities and 23,000 people, the company said. The company is targeting developments that could reach 1 million people in the next five years, a fraction of what the continent needs to truly electrify the lives of the population. 

Through two subsidiaries, Black Star Energy, in Ghana, and Power Leone, in Sierra Leone, Energicity has a 20-year concession in Sierra Leone to serve 100,000 people and has the largest private minigrid footprint in Ghana, the company said.

Most of the financing that Energicity has relied on to develop its projects and grow its business has come from government grants, but just as Poindexter expects to do more direct sales, there are other financial models that could get the initial developments off the ground.

Carbon offsets, for instance, could provide an attractive mechanism for developing projects and could be a meaningful gateway to low-cost sources of project finance. “We are using project financing and project debt and a lot of the projects are funded by aid agencies like the UK and the UN,” Poindexter said. 

The company charges its customers a service fee and a fixed price per kilowatt hour for the energy that amounts to less than $2 per month for a customers that are using its service for home electrification and cell phone charging, Poindexter said.

While several other solar installers like M-kopa and easy solar are pitching electrification to African consumers, Poindexter argues that her company’s micro-grid model is less expensive than those competitors.

“Ecosystem Integrity Fund is proud to invest in a transformational company like Energicity Corp,” said James Everett, managing partner, Ecosystem Integrity Fund, which backed the company’s. most recent round. “The opportunity to expand clean energy access across West Africa helps to drive economic growth, sustainability, health, and human development.  With Energicity’s early leadership and innovation, we are looking forward to partnering and helping to grow this great company.”

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Gousto, a UK meal-kit service, raises another $41M as business booms under lockdown

Food delivery — be it ready-made restaurant meals, groceries, or anything in between — has seen a huge surge of activity in the last few weeks as people have sheltered in place to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus. Today, one of the startups that’s built a business specifically in meal-kits in the UK is announcing funding to double down on its growth.

Gousto, a London-based meal-kit service, has closed £33 million ($41 million) in funding, money that it’s going to be using to continue investing in its technology — both in the AI engine that it says customers use to get more personalised recommendations of what to cook and eat, and in the backend tech used to optimise its own logistics and other operations — and in building more capacity to meet rising demand and expanding next-day delivery in the near future (it mainly operates on a three-day turnaround between ordering and delivery currently).

The company said that it’s currently delivering some 4 million meals to 380,000 UK households each month and is on course to cross 400 million meals delivered by 2025. It offers currently a choice of more than 50 recipes each week and gives people the option to tailor what they get, with the whole system running in an automated packing process, working out to average price per meal per person to £2.98 at its cheapest.

The funding — which was being raised before the novel coronavirus hit — is being led by Perwyn, with participation also from BGF Ventures, MMC Ventures and Joe Wicks — a hugely popular YouTube fitness coach who has built a lifestyle brand around healthy eating. This brings the total raised by Gousto to around £130 million ($162 million). It’s not disclosing its valuation with this round. It has 100 employees today and plans to expand that to 700 by 2022.

CTO Shaun Pearce said that Gousto was in high-growth mode before COVID-19, operating on forecasts of growing 70% year-on-year. That number — as with so many other delivery and specifically food-based delivery businesses right now — has spiked upward in recent weeks, not just from paying customers but also for Gousto’s own efforts to do something for the relief efforts, with food businesses like Gousto’s some of the remaining “key” businesses that have been allowed to stay open when others like restaurants have closed.

“We continue to be laser-focused on our vision to become the UK’s most-loved way to eat dinner. This additional investment is not only a validation of our track record, but it is also an endorsement of our strategic vision of the future which is rooted in investing in innovative technology to transform the way we search for, shop for, and cook our food,” said Timo Boldt, CEO and founder, in a statement. “In these challenging times, we want to continue offering people more choice and especially more convenience. We will maintain our close relationships with the government and other charitable partners to ensure those already struggling don’t see their situation worsen.”

In the last several weeks, Pearce said Gousto has also seen big changes in customer behavior from pre-existing customers, with a 28% increase in family boxes. “Those who buy from us want to buy more,” he said. Like some other smaller food delivery companies (and small can be as big as the online grocery Ocado) it’s also no longer accepting new customer sign-ups and is focused just on meeting the demand of pre-existing customers.

Gousto’s has also been trying to do its part in relief operations. It’s been working with the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to produce meal kits for vulnerable people, and it has donated some 6,000 meals to The Trussell Trust foodbank network and to the homeless charity, Shelter. It’s also ensuring that when its system is overcrowded that NHS employees get priority access to its ordering platform. (This is in addition to the contactless and other safety procedures that Pearce said that Gousto has put in place to minimise the risk of spreading the virus both to its workers and customers.)

Meal kit services in recent years have taken a beating in recent years, typified perhaps most publicly by Blue Apron, which saw its stock drop drastically after going public in part because of the huge amount of competition (not just from other pure-play meal kit companies but a plethora of others like Amazon that have added on meal kits to other existing business lines such as other grocery delivery).

Pearce said that Gousto’s growth and popularity and flexibility that it offers users by way of the AI engine to craft recipes they might actually want to use sets it apart from current competition, which in the UK includes HelloFresh, Mindful Chef, offerings from most major grocers, and many more.

“We continue to be impressed by Gousto and its dedication to its customers,” said Andrew Wynn, founder and managing partner at Perwyn, in a statement. “The business has adapted quickly to continue providing an essential service to so many. This reaffirms the decision we took far before COVID-19, that we’re investing in the right people and a business set for even greater success.”

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COVID-hit UK startups cry out for help, as UK gov trails Europe in its response

The UK government is reportedly looking at a range of options to support the startup industry, possibly involving a co-investment model involving state-owned funds (via the British Business Bank) and private VC funds. Investors have been warning that typically loss-making, early-stage startups are at risk of collapse amid the coronavirus crisis. But the moves come far later than generous packages put together by Continental European governments to support their startup sectors.
Ministers understood to be keen to support the strong UK startup and innovation sector and options allegedly being considered include convertible loans, which could either be later repaid or …

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New guidance on SBA loans means most startups are still excluded from $349 billion stimulus

Under new guidance issued by the Small Business Administration it seems non-profits and faith-based groups can apply for the Paycheck Protection Program loans designed to keep small business afloat during the COVID-19 epidemic, but most venture-backed companies are still not covered.
Late Friday night, the Treasury Department updated its rules …

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Investors in LatAm get bitten by the hotel investment bug as Ayenda raises $8.7 million

Some of Latin America’s leading venture capital investors are now backing hotel chains.

In fact, Ayenda, the largest hotel chain in Colombia, has raised $8.7 million in a new round of funding, according to the company.

Led by Kaszek Ventures, the round will support the continued expansion of Ayenda’s chain of hotels in Colombia and beyond. The hotel operator already has 150 hotels operating under its flag in Colombia and has recently expanded to Peru, according to a statement.

Financing came from Kaszek Ventures and strategic investors like Irelandia Aviation, Kairos, Altabix and BWG Ventures.

The company, which was founded in 2018, now has more than 4,500 rooms under its brand in Colombia and has become the biggest hotel chain in the country.

Investments in brick and mortar chains by venture firms are far more common in emerging markets than they are in North America. The investment in Ayenda mirrors big bets that SoftBank Group has made in the Indian hotel chain Oyo and an investment made by Tencent, Sequoia China, Baidu Capital and Goldman Sachs, in LvYue Group late last year, amounting to “several hundred million dollars”, according to a company statement.

“We’re seeking to invest in companies that are redefining the big industries and we found Ayenda, a team that is changing the hotel’s industry in an unprecedented way for the region”, said Nicolas Berman, Kaszek Ventures partner.

Ayenda works with independent hotels through a franchise system to help them increase their occupancy and services. The hotels have to apply to be part of the chain and go through an up to 30-day inspection process before they’re approved to open for business.

“With a broad supply of hotels with the best cost-benefit relationship, guests can travel more frequently, accelerating the economy,” says Declan Ryan, managing partner at Irelandia Aviation.

The company hopes to have more than 1 million guests in 2020 in their hotels. Rooms list at $20 per-night, including amenities and an around the clock customer support team.

Oyo’s story may be a cautionary tale for companies looking at expanding via venture investment for hotel chains. The once high-flying company has been the subject of some scathing criticism. As we wrote:

The New York Times  published an in-depth report on Oyo, a tech-enabled budget hotel chain and rising star in the Indian tech community. The NYT wrote that Oyo offers unlicensed rooms and has bribed police officials to deter trouble, among other toxic practices.

Whether Oyo, backed by billions from the SoftBank  Vision Fund, will become India’s WeWork is the real cause for concern. India’s startup ecosystem is likely to face a number of barriers as it grows to compete with the likes of Silicon Valley.

Source: TechCrunch

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Canadian online pharmacy, PocketPills has raised $7.35 million as it expands into Quebec

PocketPills, which bills itself as the sole online pharmacy operating in Canada, has raised $7.35 million in new financing as it expands across the country.

Through partnerships with insurers like Pacific Blue Cross the company provides co-insurance reductions for prescriptions. “We have an option for you to come and join our platform just like any pharmacy,” says company co-founder and chief operating officer, Harj Samra.

Samra launched the company in 2018 with Raj Gulia, a fellow proprietor of pharmacies across Canada, and the serial entrepreneur and co-founder of RocketFuel Abhinav Gupta. After RocketFuel’s public offering, Gupta was toying with several ideas for direct to consumer companies when he was approached by Gulia and Samra.

Together the three men launched PocketPills to bring the online pharmacy model to Canada as a way to save money for insurers.

The problem for insurers is that the use of generic drugs in Canada lags behind that of the U.S., says Gupta. “The difference is quite substantial. The U.S is about 90% generic fill rate and in Canada that number is at 70%,” he says. 

PocketPills covers everything that a regular Canadian pharmacy would outside of controlled substances and narcotics. The bulk of the company’s prescriptions to date are for medications for chronic conditions.

Now the company is looking to expand across the country, opening fulfillment locations in Nova Scotia and soon in Quebec.

To back that growth and continue its development, PocketPills turned to a large Canadian family office and the investment firm Waterbridge to finance its $7.35 million round.  

“PocketPills is timed well for massive value creation in the Canadian health care industry through its technology innovations. It has captured a sweet spot at the intersection of cost (insurers and employers), convenience (patients) and care (chronic diseases),” said Manish Kheterpal, Managing Partner, WaterBridge Ventures, in a statement.

Source: TechCrunch

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Deciding how much equity to give your key employees

Anu Shukla had found the perfect VP of Engineering to help her build her latest startup, a company called RewardsPay. By that point, she had founded or cofounded several venture-backed startups (she’s up to five). The standard, she knew, was a roughly 1.5% to 2% stake for a key employee at the executive level.

But Shukla knew sometimes you need to give up more to get the right person. “At that point, there wasn’t much cash in the company,” Shukla says of RewardsPay, the company she founded in 2010 to help consumers convert rewards points into a commodity they could spend elsewhere. “This is the person we were asking to come in and build the technology and build our technology team,” she adds. He was also someone with experience who could command a sizable salary from a more established company.

Shukla ended up giving him a 3% equity share in the company. He needed to remain motivated to stick around for the long-run, Shukla explains, “and we also knew through subsequent rounds of funding he would become diluted.”

Tech’s main currency is built on a range of factors

Equity, typically in the form of stock options, is the currency of the tech and startup worlds. After dividing initial stakes among themselves, founders use it to lure talent and compensate employees for the salary cut that they almost inevitably will take when joining a startup. It helps keep employees motivated with the tantalizing prospect of a big payday when the company is sold or goes public.

But how much equity should founders grant the first engineers hired to help them build their product and the new hires that follow? What about that highly coveted VP of Sales brought on once a company has a product to sell? And what about others a young startup seeks to enlist in the cause, including key advisors whose insights and connections might increase its chances of success or perhaps an outside director with the right expertise to join a nascent board of directors?

Properly parceling out equity is a challenge for first-time founders. What stake an employee deserves depends on a range of factors, from skills to seniority and employee badge number.

“Is this employee #5 we’re talking about or employee #25?” asks serial entrepreneur Joe Beninato, who has founded or cofounded four startups and worked at another four. “What’s the experience of the person coming over? You have to look at each situation individually.”

1% or .05%? It depends on position and seniority

Yet while complex, several online guides provide compensation benchmarks that help founders think about the size of each slice of the company they give away when recruiting talent. Index Ventures, for instance, has published a handbook aimed at helping entrepreneurs figure out option grants at the seed level. At a company’s earliest stages, expect to give a senior engineer as much as 1% of a company, the handbook advises, but an experienced business development employee is typically given a .35% cut. An engineer coming in at the mid-level can expect .45% versus .15% for a junior engineer. A junior biz dev person should expect .05%, which is the same for a junior person coming in as a designer or in marketing.

And just because someone gets a big title, it doesn’t mean you should give away the store. “We see a lot of role and title inflation going on at the seed stage, which is best avoided,” warns Reshma Sohoni, co-founder and general partner at Seedcamp, a European seed fund quoted in the Index handbook. “At this stage, you are unsure of who is going to continue the adventure with you.”

Timing trumps seniority and experience

When Shukla was building her team at RewardsPay, she gave the earliest engineers joining her team an equity share of between .5% and 1%, depending on both experience and a person’s salary requirements. Some were willing and able to work for a minimal salary and higher equity, whereas others asked for higher cash compensation because of their personal circumstances. Regardless, Shulka says, “the early team you put together definitely gets a lot more stock than later employees.”

Indeed, in many circumstances, the timing of an employee’s decision to join has a disproportionate impact on how much equity is offered. It makes sense: the earlier someone commits to your startup, the more risk the hire is taking on.

If a key hire is the third person joining a two-person team, he or she can almost be considered a co-founder and may get as much as 10% of the company. But if a head of sales or VP of marketing joins once a startup has a product to sell and promote, they may get between 1% and 2%, depending on experience.

“The percentages really vary dramatically,” Beninato says. “I don’t want to say it’s like a decaying exponential, but it’s something like that. The first people get more, and it goes down over time.”

Time for an employee option pool

Eventually, founders need to think about creating an employee option pool — a more disciplined way to award equity over shaving off more shares with each new hire. “After a seed round, you want to have that employee pool at around 10% or 12%, plus or minus,” says James Currier, a four-time founder who is now a managing partner at NFX, an early-stage venture capital firm. Calibrating the precise size of that option pool, Currier and others say, depends on a company’s hiring ambitions over the coming 12 to 18 months — through a next funding cycle.

Again, online guides can help. The Holloway Guide to Equity Compensation, for instance, is an 80-page handbook that explains arcane terms such as “cliffs,” “claw backs,” “single trigger” and “double trigger” that any entrepreneur must know to even understand what their lawyers and advisors are telling them. The guide also identifies landmines to avoid and breaks down the equity ownership of a pair of sample companies whose employee pools range from 9% to 20%.

Over time, founders will need to tinker with the option pool as everyone’s shares are diluted with each venture round. “After an A, you want to put it back to 10 to 15%, depending on how many managers you need,” Currier says. Adds Anu Shukla, “Usually, the VCs are going to ask for a completely empty option pool where every share is available.”

Prepare to negotiate

The size of the option pool must be part of the negotiations with any venture capitalist — and founders would be wise to have thought about the issue before sitting in a VC’s conference room. “VCs often sneak in additional economics for themselves by increasing the amount of the option pool on a pre-money basis,” warn Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson in their book, Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist. At that point, the option pool is coming from the founders’ shares and those of their earliest investor so Feld and Mendelson encourage founders to push back if they feel the VCs are asking for an unduly large option pool.

“The entrepreneur can say, ‘look, I strongly believe we have enough options to cover our needs,’” Feld and Mendelson advise. To protect the VCs, they say, offer full anti-dilution protection in case the founders are wrong, and they need to expand the option pool before the next financing.

No one gets everything at once

Equity awards, regardless of their form, are subject to vesting schedules. Traditionally, startups have used a four-year benchmark with a one-year cliff: no ownership until an employee has worked twelve months, and then 25% for each year worked (or an additional 1/48th for every month worked). Yet there’s also the growing recognition that building a successful company usually takes a lot longer than four years, and options are about retaining people to build something great. As a result, longer vesting schedules are becoming more commonplace.

The growing time it takes companies to go public or be acquired is also affecting other stock option terms. Typically, employees have had up to 90 days after leaving a company to exercise their options, which can be costly and come with a large tax bill. Now companies are sometimes extending that period well beyond 90 days so that an employee won’t end up with nothing if they leave long before they can turn their equity into cash.

Boards of advisors and directors

Equity is also suitable for drawing a different kind of talent to your company: experienced people in the field who won’t come to work for you full-time but, if their interests were aligned with yours, might serve as advisors who increase your chances of success. (At this stage of a company, non-founder board members are likely to be its investors, so their equity will be commensurate with the size of their investment.)

Currier, the serial entrepreneur turned venture capitalist, says he typically offered between .1% and .3% of the company to attract an advisor to one of his companies. “What you’re hoping for is that one advisor who tells you something that triples the value of your company,” he says. “The problem is you don’t know which one of the five or six people you’d brought in as advisors will be that person. So you pay them all .2% and hope one gives you that idea that more than pays for itself.”

The takeaway: cash is limited, but so is equity

Giving out equity may feel painless. After all, it’s an easy way to preserve your cash as you staff your startup with top-notch hires that can significantly increase your chances of success. But take the time to understand the value of what you’re giving away, and bring discipline to the process early by creating an employee pool. Then if you have to spend a little extra to get someone really exceptional, as Shukla’s RewardsPay had to do, you’ll know where you stand.

Source: TechCrunch