Health tech venture firm OTV closes new $170 million fund and expands into Asia


This post is by Catherine Shu from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

OTV (formerly known as Olive Tree Ventures), an Israeli venture capital firm that focuses on digital health tech, announced it has closed a new fund totaling $170 million. The firm also launched a new office in Shanghai, China to spearhead its growth in the Asia Pacific region.

OTV currently has a total of 11 companies in its portfolio. This year, it led rounds in telehealth platforms TytoCare and Lemonaid Health, and its other investments include genomic machine learning platform Emedgene; microscopy imaging startup Scopio; and at-home cardiac and pulmonary monitor Donisi Health. OTV has begun investing in more B and C rounds, with the goal of helping companies that already have validated products deal with regulations and other issues as they grow.

OTV focuses on digital health products that have the potential to work in different countries, make healthcare more affordable, and fill gaps in overwhelmed healthcare systems.

Jose Antonio Urrutia Rivas will serve as OTV’s Head of Asia Pacific, managing its Shanghai office and helping its portfolio companies expand in China and other Asian countries. This brings OTV’s offices to a total of four, with other locations in New York, Tel Aviv and Montreal. Before joining OTV, Rivas worked at financial firm LarrainVial as its Asian market director.

OTV was founded in 2015 by general partners Mayer Gniwisch, Amir Lahat and Alejandro Weinstein. OTV partner Manor Zemer, who has worked in Asian markets for over 15 years and spent the last five living in Beijing, told TechCrunch that the firm decided it was the right time to expand into Asia because “digital health is already highly well-developed in many Asia-Pacific countries, where digital health products complement in-person healthcare providers, making that region a natural fit for a venture capital firm specializing in the field.”

He added that OTV “wanted to capitalize on how the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust the internationalized and interconnected nature of the world’s healthcare infrastructures into the limelight, even though digital health was a growth area long before the pandemic.”

Neuroglee gets $2.3 million to develop digital therapeutics for neurodegenerative diseases


This post is by Catherine Shu from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

There are now about 50 million people with dementia globally, a number the World Health Organization expects to triple by 2050. Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia and caregivers are often overwhelmed, without enough support.

Neuroglee, a Singapore-based health tech startup, wants to help with a digital therapeutic platform created to treat patients in the early stages of the disease. Founded this year to focus on neurodegenerative diseases, Neuroglee announced today it has raised $2.3 million in pre-seed funding.

The round was led by Eisai Co., one of Japan’s largest pharmaceutical companies, and Kuldeep Singh Rajput, the founder and chief executive officer of predictive healthcare startup Biofourmis.

Neuroglee’s prescription digital therapy software for Alzheimer’s, called NG-001, is its main product. The company plans to start clinical trials next year. NG-001 is meant to complement medication and other treatments, and once it is prescribed by a clinician, patients can access its cognitive exercises and tasks through a tablet.

The software tracks patients’ progress, such as the speed of their fingers and the time it takes to complete an exercise, and delivers personalized treatment programs. It also has features to address the mental health of patients, including one that shows images that can bring up positive memories, which in turn can help alleviate depression and anxiety when used in tandem with other cognitive behavioral therapy techniques.

For caregivers and clinicians, NG-001 helps them track patient progress and their compliance with other treatments, like medications. This means that healthcare providers can work closely with patients even remotely, which is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Neuroglee founder and CEO Aniket Singh Rajput told TechCrunch that its first target markets for NG-001 are the United States and Singapore, followed by Japan. NG-001 needs to gain regulatory approval in each country, and it will start by seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance.

Once it launches, clinicians will have two ways to prescribe NG-001, through their healthcare provider platform or an electronic prescription tool. A platform called Neuroglee Connect will give clinicians, caregivers and patients access to support and features for reimbursement and coverage.

Neuroglee gets $2.3 million to develop digital therapeutics for neurodegenerative diseases


This post is by Catherine Shu from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

There are now about 50 million people with dementia globally, a number the World Health Organization expects to triple by 2050. Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia and caregivers are often overwhelmed, without enough support.

Neuroglee, a Singapore-based health tech startup, wants to help with a digital therapeutic platform created to treat patients in the early stages of the disease. Founded this year to focus on neurodegenerative diseases, Neuroglee announced today it has raised $2.3 million in pre-seed funding.

The round was led by Eisai Co., one of Japan’s largest pharmaceutical companies, and Kuldeep Singh Rajput, the founder and chief executive officer of predictive healthcare startup Biofourmis.

Neuroglee’s prescription digital therapy software for Alzheimer’s, called NG-001, is its main product. The company plans to start clinical trials next year. NG-001 is meant to complement medication and other treatments, and once it is prescribed by a clinician, patients can access its cognitive exercises and tasks through a tablet.

Neuroglee founder and CEO Aniket Singh Rajput (brother of Kuldeep) told TechCrunch that its first target markets for NG-001 are the United States and Singapore, followed by Japan. NG-001 needs to gain regulatory approval in each country, and it will start by seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance.

Once it launches, clinicians will have two ways to prescribe NG-001, through their healthcare provider platform or an electronic prescription tool. A platform called Neuroglee Connect will give clinicians, caregivers and patients access to support and features for reimbursement and coverage.

The software tracks patients’ progress, such as the speed of their fingers and the time it takes to complete an exercise, and delivers personalized treatment programs. It also has features to address the mental health of patients, including one that shows images that can bring up positive memories, which in turn can help alleviate depression and anxiety when used in tandem with other cognitive behavioral therapy techniques.

For caregivers and clinicians, NG-001 helps them track patient progress and their compliance with other treatments, like medications. This means that healthcare providers can work closely with patients even remotely, which is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Singapore-based mental health app Intellect reaches one million users, closes seed funding


This post is by Catherine Shu from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Theodoric Chew, co-founder and chief executive officer of mental health app Intellect

Theodoric Chew, co-founder and chief executive officer of mental health app Intellect

Intellect, a Singapore-based startup that wants to lower barriers to mental health care in Asia, says it has reached more than one million users just six months after launching. Google also announced today that the startup’s consumer app, also called Intellect, is one of its picks for best personal growth apps of 2020.

The company recently closed an undisclosed seed round led by Insignia Ventures Partners. Angel investors including e-commerce platform Carousell co-founder and chief executive officer Quek Siu Rui; former Sequoia partner Tim Lee; and startup consultancy xto10x’s Southeast Asia CEO J.J. Chai also participated.

In a statement, Insignia Ventures Partners principal Samir Chaibi said, “In Intellect, we see a fast-scaling platform addressing a pain that has become very obvious amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe that pairing clinically-backed protocols with an efficient mobile-first delivery is the key to break down the barriers to access for millions of patients globally.”

Co-founder and chief executive officer Theodoric Chew launched Intellect earlier this year because while there is a growing pool of mental wellness apps in the United States and Europe that have attracted more funding during the COVID-19 pandemic, the space is still very young in Asia. Intellect’s goal is encourage more people to incorporate mental health care into their daily routines by lowering barriers like high costs and social stigma.

Intellect offers two products. One is a consumer app with self-guided programs based on cognitive behavioral therapy techniques that center on issues like anxiety, self-esteem or relationship issues.

The other is a mental health platform for employers to offer as a benefit and includes a recently launched telehealth service called Behavioural Health Coaching that connects users with mental health professionals. The service, which includes one-on-one video sessions and unlimited text messaging, is now a core part of Intellect’s services, Chew told TechCrunch.

Intellect’s enterprise product now reaches 10,000 employees, and its clients include tech companies, regional operations for multinational corporations and hospitals. Most are located in Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia and India, and range in size from 100 to more than 3,000 employees.

For many small- to mid-sized employers, Intellect is often the first mental health benefit they have offered. Larger clients may already have EAP (employee assistance programs), but Chew said those are often underutilized, with an average adoption rate of 1% to 2%. On the other hand, he said Intellect’s employee benefit program sees an average adoption rate of 30% in the first month after it is rolled out at a company.

Chew added that the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted more companies to address burnout and other mental health issues.

“In terms of larger trends, we’ve seen a huge spike in companies across the region having mental health and wellbeing of their employees being prioritized on their agenda,” said Chew. “In terms of user trends, we see a significantly higher utilization in work stress and burnout, anxiety and relationship-related programs.”

Intellect’s seed round will be used to expand in Asian markets and to help fund clinical research studies it is currently conducting with universities and organizations in Singapore, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Singapore-based mental health app Intellect reaches one million users, closes seed funding


This post is by Catherine Shu from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Theodoric Chew, co-founder and chief executive officer of mental health app Intellect

Theodoric Chew, co-founder and chief executive officer of mental health app Intellect

Intellect, a Singapore-based startup that wants to lower barriers to mental health care in Asia, says it has reached more than one million users just six months after launching. Google also announced today that the startup’s consumer app, also called Intellect, is one of its picks for best personal growth apps of 2020.

The company recently closed an undisclosed seed round led by Insignia Ventures Partners . Angel investors including e-commerce platform Carousell co-founder and chief executive officer Quek Siu Rui; former Sequoia partner Tim Lee; and startup consultancy xto10x’s Southeast Asia CEO J.J. Chai also participated.

In a statement, Insignia Ventures Partners principal Samir Chaibi said, “In Intellect, we see a fast-scaling platform addressing a pain that has become very obvious amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe that pairing clinically-backed protocols with an efficient mobile-first delivery is the key to break down the barriers to access for millions of patients globally.”

Co-founder and chief executive officer Theodoric Chew launched Intellect earlier this year because while there is a growing pool of mental wellness apps in the United States and Europe that have attracted more funding during the COVID-19 pandemic, the space is still very young in Asia. Intellect’s goal is to encourage more people to incorporate mental health care into their daily routines by lowering barriers like high costs and social stigma.

Intellect offers two products. One is a consumer app with self-guided programs based on cognitive behavioral therapy techniques that center on issues like anxiety, self-esteem or relationship issues.

The other is a mental health platform for employers to offer as a benefit and includes a recently launched telehealth service called Behavioural Health Coaching that connects users with mental health professionals. The service, which includes one-on-one video sessions and unlimited text messaging, is now a core part of Intellect’s services, Chew told TechCrunch.

Intellect’s enterprise product now reaches 10,000 employees, and its clients include tech companies, regional operations for multinational corporations and hospitals. Most are located in Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia and India, and range in size from 100 to more than 3,000 employees.

For many small to mid-sized employers, Intellect is often the first mental health benefit they have offered. Larger clients may already have EAP (employee assistance programs), but Chew said those are often underutilized, with an average adoption rate of 1% to 2%. On the other hand, he said Intellect’s employee benefit program sees an average adoption rate of 30% in the first month after it is rolled out at a company.

Chew added that the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted more companies to address burnout and other mental health issues.

“In terms of larger trends, we’ve seen a huge spike in companies across the region having mental health and wellbeing of their employees being prioritized on their agenda,” said Chew. “In terms of user trends, we see a significantly higher utilization in work stress and burnout, anxiety and relationship-related programs.”

Intellect’s seed round will be used to expand in Asian markets and to help fund clinical research studies it is currently conducting with universities and organizations in Singapore, Australia and the United Kingdom.

New venture firm The-Wolfpack takes a fresh approach to D2C startups


This post is by Catherine Shu from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

The-Wolfpack’s co-founders, Toh Jin Wei, Tan Kok Chin and Simon Nichols

The-Wolfpack’s co-founders, Toh Jin Wei, Tan Kok Chin and Simon Nichols (Image Credit: The-Wolfpack)

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the consumer, leisure and media companies hard, but a new venture firm called The-Wolfpack is still very upbeat on those sectors. Based in Singapore, the firm was founded by former managing directors at GroupM, one of the world’s largest advertising and media companies, and plans to work very closely with each of its portfolio companies. Its name was chosen because they believe “entrepreneurs thrive best in a wolfpack.”

The-Wolfpack’s debut fund, called the Wolfpack Pioneer VCC, is already fully subscribed at $5 million USD, and will focus on direct-to-consumer companies, with plans to invest in eight to 10 startups. The firm is already looking to raise a second fund, with a target of $20 million SGD (about $14.9 million USD) and above, and will set up another office in Thailand, with plans to expand into Indonesia as well.

The-Wolfpack was founded by Toh Jin Wei and Simon Nichols, who met while working at GroupM, and Tan Kok Chin, a former director at Sunray Woodcraft Construction who has worked on projects with Marina Bay Sands, Raffles Hotel and the Singapore Tourism’s offices.

In addition to providing financial capital, The-Wolfpack wants to build ecosystems around its portfolio companies by connecting them with IP owners, digital marketing experts, content producers and designers who can help create offline experiences. It also plans to invest in startups based on opportunities for them to collaborate or cross-sell with one another.

Toh told TechCrunch that formal planning on The-Wolfpack began at the end of 2019, but he and Nichols started thinking of launching their own business five years ago while working together at GroupM.

“Our perspective on what the industry needed was similar — strategic investors who truly knew how to get behind D2C founders,” Toh said.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact has hurt spending in The-Wolfpack’s three key sectors (consumer, leisure and media). But it also presents opportunities for innovation as consumer habits shift, Nichols said.

For example, even though consumer spending has dropped, people are still “drawn towards brands that build towards higher-quality engagements,” he said. “There is a real business advantage for D2C brands who’ve recognized this shift and know how to act on it.”

The-Wolfpack hasn’t disclosed its investments yet since deals are still being finalized, but some of the brands its debut fund are interested in include one launched by an Australian makeup artist who wants to scale to Southeast Asia, and an online gaming company whose ecosystem includes original content, gaming teams and studios. The-Wolfpack plans to help them set up a physical studio to create an offline experience, too.

“Typically brands have talked at customers, but it’s become a two-way conversation, and startups who get D2C right have a real potential for exponential growth that’s worth investing in,” said Toh.

Corporate services platform Sleek lands $4 million in new funding


This post is by Catherine Shu from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Sleek, the corporate services platform that helps entrepreneurs launch and run new companies in Singapore and Hong Kong, has raised $4 million.

The new funding was led by SEEDS Capital, the investment arm of government agency Enterprise Singapore. Returning investors MI8 Limited and Pierre Lorinet also participated, along with Singapore Fintech Association co-founder Varun Mittal as part of Sequoia Capital’s scout program.

Sleek co-founder and chief growth officer Adrien Barthel told TechCrunch that the funding is part of Sleek’s seed round and brings the startup’s total raised so far to $7 million. It will start raising a Series A next year.

Founded three years ago by Barthel and Julien Labruyere, Sleek first began offering online corporate services, including company incorporation, compliance, digital accounting and tax filing, in Singapore before expanding into Hong Kong. Sleek now serves more than 3,000 companies, ranging from individual consultants to SMEs, startups and investment vehicles for funds, Barthel said.

Sleek is one of several cloud-based corporate services platforms focused on Singapore and/or Hong Kong, where regulations make it easier to incorporate companies and file taxes online, that have recently raised new venture capital funding. Others include Lanturn, Osome and Bluemeg. These startups were originally launched to reduce the amount of time and money spent on performing operational tasks, but the COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for their services.

“We are happy to see other digital initiatives coming up around us,” Barthel told TechCrunch. “The market is wide enough for us to evolve on different positioning, and we’re only starting to see traditional firms looking at embracing the use of technology.”

While Sleek’s peers also offer secretarial, accounting and tax services, Barthel said his company’s vision “is to become the entrepreneur’s operating system, by going beyond that common service ground and building a range of services that are here to fit all entrepreneurs’ needs.”

For example, it recently released an electronic signature app called SleekSign that has digitized 145,000 signatures so far, added payroll services and launched a corporate insurance desk. Barthel said more product releases are planned for the end of this year and the first quarter of 2021.

In addition to growing its roster of services for entrepreneurs, Sleek also plans to expand into new markets where regulations also mesh well with its digital services.

“Our platform being common law friendly, we’re looking at such jurisdictions with attention, such as Australia, the United Kingdom and North America,’ said Barthel. “We are also closely looking at a few regional markets in Southeast Asia where regulatory frameworks are evolving and accepting progressively the use of technology for governance management and accounting.”

Metigy gets $20 million AUD to making online marketing easier for SMEs


This post is by Catherine Shu from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

David Fairfull, CEO and co-founder of Metigy

David Fairfull, CEO and co-founder of Metigy

Metigy, a marketing platform created to help small businesses automate more of the decision making in their online ad campaigns, has raised a Series B of $20 million AUD (about $14.6 million USD). The new funding, led by returning investor Cygnet Capital, will be used to grow the Sydney, Australia-based startup’s international customer base, especially in the United States and Southeast Asia. Other participants in the round included Regal Funds Management, OC Funds, Five V Venture Capital and Thorney, plus returning

Founded in 2015, Metigy is currently used by about 26,000 businesses and has channel partnerships with Google and Optus. About 44% of its customers are in Australia and New Zealand, while 26% are in Southeast Asia, and 22% are in the United States. The startup has raised AUD $27.1 million (about USD $19.9 million) in total.

Co-founder and chief executive officer David Fairfull told TechCrunch Metigy was created because “half of SMEs fail in the first two years and marketing is one of the top two reasons for this. It’s a global issue and a paradigm that can be changed by harnessing technology.”

Fairfull and other members of Metigy’s founding team previously worked at We Are Social, a global creative agency. While there, they “spotted an opportunity to give small businesses access to the same data and strategic insights” as larger marketing teams.

Marketing platform Metigy's Command Center

Marketing platform Metigy’s Command Center

Metigy’s platform gives more support to small or inexperienced marketing teams by using real-time data from their online advertising channels to create a livestream of recommendations. For example, it will tell marketing teams if they should start posting more content right away, use more hashtags or schedule more posts. The platforms also predicts what posts will result in the most conversions, helping companies decide how to spend their advertising budget.

For example, one of Metigy’s customers, parking app Share with Oscar, used Metigy to analyze what was trending on social media when members of the Royal Family visited Sydney. As a result, Fairfull said they were able to generate 2,700 customer engagements by spending about AUD $10 (about USD $7).

Other social marketing platforms like Hootsuite and Sprout Social are “essentially process solutions that help make the marketer more efficient,” said Fairfull. “However, if you don’t understand marketing, then all this process efficiency won’t help you gain results.”

Metigy is focusing on the United States and Southeast Asia because of the large number of SMEs there. By 2022, there is expected to be 30 million SMEs in the U.S. “On top of this, success in marketing technology is often benchmarked by success in the U.S., so expanding in this region adds credibility,” Fairfull added.

But in terms of volume, Southeast Asia offers a more promising market. “The real growth opportunity for us though is in Southeast Asia, where there is expected to be 150 million SMEs across the 11 markets by 2022,” Fairfull said. But the majority of them don’t have large marketing teams or access to the kind of ad technology that larger companies do. Companies in the region also tend to be more price sensitive, Fairfull added, so artificial intelligence and machine learning-based technology helps lower the cost of software like Metigy to an attractive price.

Malaysia-based inventory management platform Food Market Hub raises $4 million from Go-Ventures, SIG


This post is by Catherine Shu from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Food Market Hub co-founders Anthony See and Shayna Teh

Many restaurants still rely on spreadsheets to track their inventory of produce, meat and other ingredients. But using manual methods often results in food wastage and higher costs. Malaysia-based Food Market Hub is a cloud-based platform that connects food and beverage (F&B) outlets directly to suppliers, making it easier to communicate and manage orders. The startup announced today it has closed a Series A round of $4 million from Go-Ventures, the investment arm of Gojek, and SIG.

This brings Food Market Hub’s total funding to $4.7 million so far. Founded in 2017 by Anthony See and Shayna Teh, Food Market Hub is currently used by about 2,000 food and beverage outlets in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The platform handles about $200 million in purchase orders on an annual basis and is used by well-known brands like Din Tai Fung, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Putien.

Food Market Hub automates purchasing and inventory tracking by connecting food and beverage outlets with central kitchens and suppliers. Orders can be placed through the platform or by email and WhatsApp. The platform also uses AI-based tech to forecast purchasing needs by analyzing past data.

Part of Food Market Hub’s Series A will be used to expand into Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. Teh told TechCrunch that the company chose those three countries because they are the largest food and beverage markets in Southeast Asia, and share many similarities with Malaysia.

“The F&B sector does not use digitized procurement and inventory management solutions, which leads to inefficiency and significant added costs,” she said.

Several other startups focused on digitizing the food supply chain in those countries have also recently raised venture capital funding, including Thailand’s FreshKet, Indonesia’s Eden Farm and TaniHub, and Singapore-based Glife.

Teh said Food Market Hub doesn’t view those companies as competitors, because they focus on supplying produce and other ingredients to restaurants. Instead, Food Market Hub’s core business “is a communication platform that allows restaurants to communicate with and place orders to their existing suppliers,” she said.

“In fact, our customers will likely use our platform to place orders to these companies in the future,” she added.

Food Market Hub’s target clientele include restaurants that are growing into chains or franchises, which means manual purchase orders and inventory management quickly becomes inefficient. Before they started using Food Market Hub, many clients relied on Excel spreadsheets and notebooks to track inventory level and placed orders through phone calls, emails or WhatsApp, Teh said.

The company claims close to zero churn, with clients sticking to the platform unless their restaurant shuts down. Unfortunately, many food and beverage businesses have been forced to close because of the COVID-19 pandemic, including some of Food Market Hub’s customers. On the other hand, the pandemic underscored the importance of controlling inventory closely to manage costs.

“Restaurant owners and managers embraced technology at a much faster rate than ever before and we have been a beneficiary,” said Teh. “We have seen record demand for our products in recent months and are onboarding hundreds of outlets each month and expect this to only accelerate going forward.”

Resellee wants to become the Pinduoduo of Southeast Asia


This post is by Catherine Shu from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Launched in the Philippines, social commerce startup Resellee wants to recreate the success of Pinduoduo, one of China’s fastest-growing e-commerce companies, in Southeast Asia. A major part of Resellee’s business is grocery deliveries, including fresh produce, and it has struck partnerships with the government and farmers’ groups to meet demand during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The startup announced this week it has raised $1 million in seed funding from Mintech Enterprises and Hofan Capital to build its technology and expand into new countries. Resellee was co-founded last year by chief executive officer Marc Concio, former head of e-commerce at Voyager Innovations, parent company of PayMaya, one of the Philippines’ largest online payment services.

Concio told TechCrunch that there are currently about 40,000 resellers on Resellee’s platform, and each has an average of about 20 buyers. Resellee sellers typically make about P5,000, or US $100, a month.

Like Pinduoduo, India’s Meesho and other social commerce platforms, Reselllee does not require sellers to carry their own inventory. Instead, it maintains a network of suppliers, including manufacturers and farmers, and lists available products on a marketplace. Then sellers chose what they want to add to their stores, which they market to potential buyers through their social media networks.

Resellee offers a wide range of products, including electronics and fashion items, but it currently focuses on grocery deliveries and prepaid credit for mobile phones and online games, which are all in high demand because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Concio’s interest in social commerce was piqued after observing Pinduoduo’s astronomical growth in China, where it became the second-largest e-commerce company in the country less than five years after launching in 2015. Pinduoduo’s group buying model leverages users’ existing social networks, especially on WeChat, to pull together buyers for products at discounted prices, and has done well in smaller cities and rural areas.

“Resellee hopes to learn from this and be the Pinduoduo of Southeast Asia by pioneering social e-commerce and group buying in the Philippines, then expanding to Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia, where social commerce has not started yet or is still in its early stage,” Concio said.

Social commerce is well-positioned to take off in the Philippines for several reasons, he added. One is the enormous amount of time spent of social media platforms there: four hours per day, versus two and a half hours in India, and two hours in China. The Philippines has one of the youngest median ages in Asia, around 23.5 years old, and that is the demographic most likely to use social commerce, Concio said.

Another reason is that many people want to start their own businesses, or need to make side income, especially during the pandemic, but have little access to working capital. Since Resellee’s sellers don’t need to carry their own inventory and can rely on the platform’s supply chain and logistics network, that means they can launch a store without spending any money. Most of the work they need to do is convincing people on their social media networks, like Facebook or Viber, to buy from their Resellee stores.

“We believe the same hypergrowth for social commerce will happen in the Philippines given all of the above, with Resellee pioneering both social e-commerce and group buying here,” Concio said.

Resellee’s competitors include some of the biggest e-commerce platforms in the region, like Lazada, Shopee and EZBuy, which have added social commerce features. Concio said one of Resellee’s advantages is its focus on helping sellers make money, and partnerships with farmers groups and the Philippine government. This includes a project to build an online platform that will aggregate supply information from farmer’s cooperatives across the country, and match them to Resellee’s sellers and buyers, eliminating middle men in the supply chain.

Resellee initially outsourced its logistics, but Concio said its deliveries were not prioritized by carriers, which led to customer complaints, especially for fresh produce. As a result, Resellee set up its own logistics arm, called Resellee Riders, in Metro Manila, where most of its grocery customers are. This enabled Resellee to launch next-day deliveries in the area this week (orders in other places are still carried out by third-party logistics providers).

While Resellee accepts online payments, including online wallets and bank cards, most buyers prefer to use its cash on delivery option. Sellers make money through commissions, which they can transfer to their online wallets or bank accounts. Resellee’s platform also gives them the option of using the funds to buy discounted mobile or gaming prepaid loads, or top-ups, which they can also offer in their stores. Along with fresh produce, prepaid loads are one of the key parts of Resellee’s business strategy. The platform guarantees the highest commissions and discounts for mobile prepaid loads from some of the Philippines’ top providers, including Smart, Sun and TalknText.

“The mobile prepaid market is a US $4 billion annual market versus total e-commerce in the Philippines of only US $2.3 billion,” Concio said. “This is one of our key strategies to own the mobile prepaid market, other than fruits and vegetables like Pinduoduo.”

PingCAP, the open-source developer behind TiDB, closes $270 million Series D


This post is by Catherine Shu from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

PingCAP, the open-source software developer best known for NewSQL database TiDB, has raised a $270 million Series D. TiDB handles hybrid transactional and analytical processing (HTAP), and is aimed at high-growth companies, including payment and e-commerce services, that need to handle increasingly large amounts of data.

The round’s lead investors were GGV Capital, Access Technology Ventures, Anatole Investment, Jeneration Capital and 5Y Capital (formerly known as Morningside Venture Capital). It also included participation from Coatue, Bertelsmann Asia Investment Fund, FutureX Capital, Kunlun Capital, Trustbridge Partners, and returning investors Matrix Partners China and Yunqi Partners.

The funding brings PingCAP’s total raised so far to $341.6 million. Its last round, a Series C of $50 million, was announced back in September 2018.

PingCAP says TiDB has been adopted by about 1,500 companies across the world. Some examples include Square; Japanese mobile payments company PayPay; e-commerce app Shopee; video-sharing platform Dailymotion; and ticketing platfrom BookMyShow. TiDB handles online transactional processing (OLTP) and online analytical processing (OLAP) in the same database, which PingCAP says results in faster real-time analytics than other distributed databases.

In June, PingCAP launched TiDB Cloud, which it describes as fully-managed “TiDB as a Service,” on Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud. The company plans to add more platforms, and part of the funding will be used to increase TiDB Cloud’s global user base.

KKR, Rakuten to acquire most of Walmart’s stake in Japanese supermarket chain Seiyu


This post is by Catherine Shu from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Walmart announced today it will sell most of its shares in Seiyu, the Japanese supermarket chain it acquired 12 years ago, to KKR and Rakuten. The deal values Seiyu at about $1.6 billion and means Walmart will almost completely exit its operations in Japan.

Under the agreement, investment firm KKR will buy a 65% stake in Seiyu, while Rakuten, Japan’s largest e-commerce company, will take a 20% stake through a newly created subsidiary called Rakuten DX. Walmart will retain a 15% stake in Seiyu.

After struggling with strong competition in Japan and low margins, Walmart reportedly considered relisting Seiyu or its holding company, Walmart Japan Holdings last year.

Rakuten is already familiar with Seiyu’s business because it formed a strategic alliance with Walmart in 2018 that included launching an online grocery delivery service in Japan. Called Rakuten Seiyu Netsuper, the online delivery service includes a dedicated fulfilment center, in addition to inventory picked up from Seiyu’s supermarkets.

After the deal, Seiyu will be part of Rakuten DX, which is intended to bring more brick-and-mortar stores online through Rakuten’s e-commerce and cashless payment channels.

Japan’s online grocery delivery market has trailed behind other countries, due in part to the reluctance of shoppers to purchase fresh food online. But the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a rapid shift in consumer habits. According to a July 4 report from the Japan Times, internet sales accounted for about 5% of total grocery sales, compared to 2.5% before the pandemic.

Rivals to Rakuten include grocery delivery services run by Aeon (in partnership with Ocado), Amazon and Ito-Yokado.

Hong Kong insurtech startup Coherent gets $14 million Series A led by Cathay Innovation


This post is by Catherine Shu from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Based in Hong Kong, Coherent helps insurance providers go digital. With their services more relevant than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic, the startup announced it has raised $14 million in new funding. The Series A round, led by Cathay Innovation with participation from Franklin Templeton, will be used to grow Coherent’s client base in Asia, including insurers who want to add more digital services to their usual sales processes because of the pandemic.

Founded in 2018, Coherent’s platform, called Product Factory, allows insurance providers to digitize their backend operations by uploading Excel pricing models, which means their IT departments don’t need to write new code or re-haul their IT infrastructure.

The company also offers three tools for working with customers. Coherent Connect is a social media marketing campaign manager; Coherent Explainer is a sales tool for breaking down quotes; and Coherent Flow allows agents to sell policies to customers remotely with features like video chat and electronic signatures.

While Coherent’s remote tools are a key selling point now, outdated legacy systems have long been a pain point for insurance providers, slowing down backend operations and sales while increasing the cost of premiums.

John Brisco, co-founder and chief executive officer of Coherent, told TechCrunch that the startup has worked with more than 30 insurers in 10 global markets during 2020.

Global premiums initially shrank, but research by Swiss Re predicts the insurance industry will recover by next year, led by demand in China.

Coherent will focus on China and emerging markets in Asia. The startup, which currently has about 120 employees, plans to increase the number of its tech and actuarial talent in Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai and Manila, and build new teams for Japan, the United States and Thailand.

Singapore-based sales productivity platform Nektar raises $2.15 million seed round


This post is by Catherine Shu from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Nektar co-founders Abhijeet Vijayvergiya and Aravind Ravi Sulekha

Nektar co-founders Abhijeet Vijayvergiya and Aravind Ravi Sulekha

Singapore-based Nektar.ai, a productivity platform for sales teams, has raised $2.15 million in seed funding. Founded earlier this year, Nektar has been working in stealth mode with five companies, and has plans for an early adopter release before a public launch by the end of 2021. Its seed round was led by Nexus Venture Partners, with participation from Insignia Venture Partners, Arka Venture Labs, Better Capital and Vietnam Investments Group.

Individual investors also contributed to the funding, including Five9 executive vice president Anand Chandrasekaran; Airtel chief executive of enterprise business Ganesh Lakshminarayanan; Vinod Muthukrishnan, the chief growth officer of Cisco’s Contact Center Business Unit; Venkat Tadanki, who sold his former startup Daksh to IBM in 2004; and Capillary Technologies co-founder and CEO Aneesh Reddy.

Founded by CEO Abhijeet Vijayvergiya, former president and Asia-Pacific managing director at Capillary Technologies, and chief technology officer Aravind Ravi Sulekha, Nektar lets sales teams integrate workplace tools, like Slack, Google Meet, Microsoft Team, Microsoft Exchange and WhatsApp, with CRM platforms, including Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics and Hubspot.

Vijayvergiya told TechCrunch this helps sales teams by reducing time spent on administrative tasks and enabling them to feed data from various software into analytics tools and automated to-do lists. One of Nektar’s features are “playbooks,” or sets of best practices, goals and alerts that sales, customer support and marketing teams can collaborate on and reference.

During stealth mode, Nektar has been working with five companies, and currently has a waitlist of about 20 companies. Most of its early users are primarily late-stage SaaS companies, Vijayvergiya said.

Vijayvergiya said Nektar’s most direct competition are customization tools that are already built into CRM software. Nektar’s advantage is that it it acts as an “AI layer on top of the sales data” and is quicker to use than CRM customization features.

“Most sales tools today work for the organization and make the user work for the tools rather than the tools working for the user,” he added.

Singapore-based digital business assistant Osome raises $3 million


This post is by Catherine Shu from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Osome’s founding team, Anton Roslov, Victor Lysenko and Konstantin Lange

Osome’s founding team, Anton Roslov, Victor Lysenko and Konstantin Lange

Osome, a Singapore-headquartered business assistant app that digitizes accounting and compliance tasks, has raised $3 million. An extension of Osome’s seed round, the new funding was led by XA Network and AltaIR Capital.

The startup currently has about 4,500 SME clients across Singapore, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom, founder and chief executive officer Victor Lysenko told TechCrunch. The new funding brings Osome’s total raised to $8 million from investors including Target Global. “We are in a good place in terms of cash reserves and operational performance so we used this opportunity to raise funding before a much larger Series A planned for 2021,” Lysenko said.

When the startup launched in 2018, he said it reached $1 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR) by the end of the year, then increased that amount to $4 million in December 2019. Osome expects to hit $8 million ARR by the end of this year.

Osome’s platform uses machine learning-based tech to automate administrative, accounting, payroll and tax-related work. Depending on subscription tier, it also gives businesses access to chartered accountant services.

Osome's digital business assistant

Osome’s digital business assistant

The startup started two years ago in Singapore, where it also offers incorporation services, before expanding to the United Kingdom and Hong Kong.

Lysenko told TechCrunch that Osome launched in Singapore because the country’s “simple business rules and a simple tax system allowed us to offer clients a ready-made solution quickly.” The city-state’s small size also made it easier to get quick client feedback and arrange partnerships.

Osome is now looking at Australia as a potential new market, because of its proximity to its Singapore headquarters and its similar accounting and corporate service rules.

Thanks to the country’s relatively digital and streamlined process for incorporating businesses, several other tech-based business service platforms are also based in Singapore. These include Sleek, Lanturn and Bluemeg. Despite competing with each other, Lysenko said the number of companies “is an excellent support for our thesis that this market is ripe for disruption.”

“Having said that, we believe that while all our competitors are looking at this space from a digital perspective, our special sauce is that we digitize the process to a much deeper extent and do not rely on third-party solutions as much as others do,” he added.

The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns prompted some companies to start using Osome, particularly in the e-commerce segment. About one in 10 of Osome’s clients earn most of their revenue online, and that share is growing, Lysenko said.

“We found ourselves in a very stable industry,” he added. “We saw a slight 10% drop in revenue in April and May, but in June, growth resumed, and we returned to our previous trajectory. We have tripled our revenue in the last 12 months.”

Indonesian logistics platform Logisly raises $6 million Series A to digitize truck shipments


This post is by Catherine Shu from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Indonesia’s logistics industry is very fragmented, with several large providers operating alongside thousands of smaller companies. This means shippers often have to work with a variety of carriers, driving up costs and making supply chains harder to manage. Logisly, a Jakarta-based startup that describes itself as a “B2B tech-enabled logistics platform,” announced today it has raised $6 million in Series A funding to help streamline logistics in Indonesia. The round was led by Monk’s Hill Ventures.

This brings the total Logisly has raised since it was founded last year to $7 million. Its platform digitizes the process of ordering, managing and tracking trucks. First, it verifies carriers before adding them to Logisly’s platform. Then it connects clients to trucking providers, using an algorithm to aggregate supply and demand. This means companies that need to ship goods can find trucks more quickly, while carriers can reduce the number of unused space on their trucks.

Co-founder and chief executive officer Roolin Njotosetiadi told TechCrunch that about “40% of trucks are utilized in Indonesia, and the rest are either sitting idle or coming back from their hauls empty handed. All of these result in high logistics costs and late deliveries.”

He added that Logisly is “laser focused on having the largest trucking network in Indonesia, providing 100% availability of cost-efficient and reliable trucks.”

Logisly now works with more than 1,000 businesses in Indonesia in sectors like e-commerce, fast-moving consumer goods (FCG), chemicals and construction. This number includes 300 corporate shippers. Logisly’s Series A will be used on growing its network of shippers and transporters (which currently covers 40,000 trucks) and on product development.

The startup’s clients include some of the largest corporate shippers in Indonesia, including Unilever, Haier, Grab, Maersk and JD.ID, the Indonesian subsidiary of JD.com, one of China’s largest e-commerce companies.

Other venture capital-backed startups that are focused on Indonesia’s logistics industry include Shipper, which focuses on e-commerce; logistics platform Waresix; and Kargo.

Warren gets $1.4 million to help local cloud infrastructure providers compete against Amazon and other giants


This post is by Catherine Shu from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Started as a side project by its founders, Warren is now helping regional cloud infrastructure service providers compete against Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, Google and other tech giants. Based in Tallinn, Estonia, Warren’s self-service distributed cloud platform is gaining traction in Southeast Asia, one of the world’s fastest-growing cloud service markets, and Europe. It recently closed a $1.4 million seed round led by Passion Capital, with plans to expand in South America, where it recently launched in Brazil.

Warren’s seed funding also included participation from Lemonade Stand and angel investors like former Nokia vice president Paul Melin and Marek Kiisa, co-founder of funds Superangel and NordicNinja.

The leading global cloud providers are aggressively expanding their international businesses by growing their marketing teams and data centers around the world (for example, over the past few months, Microsoft has launched a new data center region in Austria, expanded in Brazil and announced it will build a new region in Taiwan as it competes against Amazon Web Services).

But demand for customized service and control over data still prompt many companies, especially smaller ones, to pick local cloud infrastructure providers instead, Warren co-founder and chief executive officer Tarmo Tael told TechCrunch.

“Local providers pay more attention to personal sales and support, in local language, to all clients in general, and more importantly, take the time to focus on SME clients to provide flexibility and address their custom needs,” he said. “Whereas global providers give a personal touch maybe only to a few big clients in the enterprise sectors.” Many local providers also offer lower prices and give a large amount of bandwidth for free, attracting SMEs.

He added that “the data sovereignty aspect that plays an important role in choosing their cloud platform for many of the clients.”

In 2015, Tael and co-founder Henry Vaaderpass began working on the project that eventually became Warren while running a development agency for e-commerce sites. From the beginning, the two wanted to develop a product of their own and tested several ideas out, but weren’t really excited by any of them, he said. At the same time, the agency’s e-commerce clients were running into challenges as their businesses grew.

Tael and Vaaderpass’s clients tended to pick local cloud infrastructure providers because of lower costs and more personalized support. But setting up new e-commerce projects with scalable infrastructure was costly because many local cloud infrastructure providers use different platforms.

“So we started looking for tools to use for managing our e-commerce projects better and more efficiently,” Tael said. “As we didn’t find what we were looking for, we saw this as an opportunity to build our own.”

After creating their first prototype, Tael and Vaaderpass realized that it could be used by other development teams, and decided to seek angel funding from investors, like Kiisa, who have experience working with cloud data centers or infrastructure providers.

Southeast Asia, one of the world’s fastest-growing cloud markets, is an important part of Warren’s business. Warren will continue to expand in Southeast Asia, while focusing on other developing regions with large domestic markets, like South America (starting with Brazil). Tael said the startup is also in discussion with potential partners in other markets, including Russia, Turkey and China.

Warren’s current clients include Estonian cloud provider Pilw.io and Indonesian cloud provider IdCloudHost. Tael said working with Warren means its customers spend less time dealing with technical issues related to infrastructure software, so their teams, including developers, can instead focus on supporting clients and managing other services they sell.

The company’s goal is to give local cloud infrastructure providers the ability to meet increasing demand, and eventually expand internationally, with tools to handle more installations and end users. These include features like automated maintenance and DevOps processes that streamline feature testing and handling different platforms.

Ultimately, Warren wants to connect providers in a network that end users can access through a single API and user interface. It also envisions the network as a community where Warren’s clients can share resources and, eventually, have a marketplace for their apps and services.

In terms of competition, Tael said local cloud infrastructure providers often turn to OpenStack, Virtuozzo, Stratoscale or Mirantis. The advantage these companies currently have over Warren is a wider network, but Warren is busy building out its own. The company will be able to connect several locations to one provider by the first quarter of 2021. After that, Tael said, it will “gradually connect providers to each other, upgrading our user management and billing services to handle all that complexity.”

Hubilo raises $4.5 million, led by Lightspeed, to focus on virtual events


This post is by Catherine Shu from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Earlier this year, the founders of event analytics platform Hubilo pivoted to become a virtual events platform to survive the impact of COVID-19. Today, the startup announced it has raised a $4.5 million seed round, led by Lightspeed, and says it expects to exceed $10 million bookings run rate and host over one million attendees over the next few months.

The round also included angel investors Freshworks chief executive officer Girish Mathrubootham; former LinkedIn India CEO Nishant Rao; Slideshare co-founder Jonathan Boutelle; and Helpshift CEO Abinash Tripathy.

Hubilo’s clients have included the United Nations, Roche, Fortune, GITEX, IPI Singapore, Tech In Asia, Infocomm Asia and Clarion Events. The startup is headquartered in San Francisco, but about 12% of its sales are currently from Southeast Asia, and it plans to further scale in the region. It will also focus on markets in the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Vaibhav Jain, Hubilo’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that many of its customers before the pandemic were enterprises and governments that used its platform to help organize large events. Those were also the first to stop hosting in-person events.

In February, “we knew that most, if not all, physical events were getting postponed or cancelled globally. To counter the drop in demand for offline events, we agreed to extend the contracts by six more months at no cost,” Jain said. “However, this was not enough to retain our clients and most of them either cancelled the contracts or put the contract on hold indefinitely.”

As a result, Hubilo’s revenue dropped to zero in February. With about 30 employees and reserves for only three months, Jain said the company had to chose between shutting down or finding an alternative model. Hubilo’s team created a MVP (minimum viable product) virtual event platform in less than a month and started by convincing a client to use it for free. That first virtual event was hosted in March and “since then, we’ve never looked back,” said Jain.

This means Hubilo is now competing with other virtual event platforms, like Cvent and Hopin (which was used to host TechCrunch Disrupt). Jain said his company differentiates by giving organizers more chances to rebrand their virtual spaces; focusing on sponsorship opportunities that include contests, event feeds and virtual lounges to increase attendee engagement; and providing data analytic features that include integration with Salesforce, Marketo and Hubspot.

With so many events going virtual that “Zoom fatigue” and “webinar fatigue” have now become catchphrases, event organizers have to not only convince people to buy tickets, but also keep them engaged during an event.

Hubilo “gamifies” the experience of attending a virtual event with features like its Leaderboard. This enables organizers to assign points for things like watching a session, visiting a virtual booth or messaging someone. Then they can give prizes to the attendees with the most points. Jain said the Leaderboard is Hubilo’s most used feature.

Syte, an e-commerce visual search platform, gets $30 million Series C to expand in the U.S. and Asia


This post is by Catherine Shu from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Syte’s cofounders, chief executive Ofer Freyman, chief revenue officer Lihi Pinto-Fryman and chief operating officer Idan Pinto

Syte’s cofounders, chief executive Ofer Freyman, chief revenue officer Lihi Pinto-Fryman and chief operating officer Idan Pinto

Tel Aviv-based visual search and product discovery platform Syte, already used by brands like Farfetch and Fashion Nova, plans to expand in the United States and Asia-Pacific region after its latest funding. The startup announced today it has raised a $30 million Series C, with an additional $10 million in debt.

The round was led by Viola Ventures, with participation from LG Tech Ventures, La Maison, MizMaa Ventures, Kreos Capital, and returning investors Magma, Naver Corporation, Commerce Ventures, Storm Ventures, Axess Ventures, Remagine Media Ventures and KDS Media Fund. Syte’s last round of funding, a $21.5 million Series B, was announced in September 2019. The startup has now raised a total of $71 million.

Launched in 2015 to focus on visual search for clothing, Syte’s technology now covers other verticals like jewelry and home decor, and is used by brands including Farfetch, Fashion Nova, Castorama and Signet Jewelers. Syte says that its solutions can increase conversion by 177% on average.

The company’s platform includes three main products: Visual Discovery to let brands add camera search, recommendation engines and discovery buttons; “Searchendising,” which automatically generates tags based on visual AI to improve search and recommendation results; and a Discovery Marketplace used by publishers, smart devices manufacturers and social platforms to increase the reach of product advertisements.

Since the beginning of 2020, Syte says its customer base has grown 38%, partly because of the increase in e-commerce traffic caused by COVID-19 movement restrictions.

In the company’s press announcement, chief executive officer and co-founder Ofer Fryman said Syte will focus on developing or acquiring product discovery technology “spanning the full range of our senses—visual, text, voice, and more” to create types of personalized recommendations.

A lot of Syte’s current customers are in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, so its new funding is also earmarked to increase its presence in the U.S. and Asia-Pacific markets.

More social media platforms and e-commerce platforms, including Amazon, Target, IKEA, Walmart, eBay, Snap, and Pinterest, are using visual search and recognition technology to give users an alternative to keyword searches. By simplifying the search process or automatically generating tags, visual recognition technology can help improve search results and product recommendations, resulting in more conversions.

There is a roster of other companies that are also working on AI-based visual recognition and search technology for e-commerce. Other startups in the same space that have raised venture capital funding include Donde Search, ViSenze and Slyce.

Gal Fontyn, Syte’s vice president of marketing, told TechCrunch that it differentiates with visual AI algorithms developed by co-founder and chief technology officer Helge Voss, who previously worked as a physicist at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research).

Voss’ background in neural networks and machine learning allowed Syte to build a visual search solution that can produce results with over 95% accuracy in object-matching within less than a second, Fontyn said. Its algorithms have also been trained on millions of products from vendors around the world, which Syte claims gives it the “largest vertical-specific lexicon in the industry.” This is what allows it to recognize several objects within an image, and assign them detailed tags.

Brands that use Syte see a 423% increase on average on ROI, Fontyn added.

MindLabs raises £1.4 million for its new platform, a “Peloton for mental health”


This post is by Catherine Shu from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Ideally, mental wellness should be considered part of a healthy daily routine, like exercise. But even exercise is difficult to turn into a regular habit. Peloton addressed physical fitness by combining smart stationary bikes with live classes and community features to create an engaging experience. Now a new startup, MindLabs, is taking a similar approach to mental wellness.

Based in London, MindLabs announced today it has raised £1.4 million (about USD $1.82 million) in pre-seed investment led by Passion Capital, with participation from SeedCamp, as well as several founders of British consumer tech startups: Alex Chesterman (Cazoo and Zoopla); Neil Hutchinson (Forward Internet Group); Steve Pankhurst (FriendsReunited); James Hind (Carwow); and Jack Tang (Urban).

MindLabs was founded earlier this year by Adnan Ebrahim and Gabor Szedlak, who previously launched and ran Car Throttle, an online media and community startup that was acquired by Dennis Publishing last year. Ebrahim told TechCrunch that MindLabs’ goal is to “make taking care of your mental health as normal as going to the gym.”

Its platform will launch next year, first with a mobile app that combines live videos from mental health professionals who lead meditation and mindfulness sessions, and features to help users track their stress levels. The full platform will also include an EEG headband, called “Halo,” that measures signals, like heart and respiration rates, that can help show users how effective their sessions are.

Going from CarThrottle, sometimes described as “a BuzzFeed for cars” to mental wellness might seem like a big leap, but Ebrahim said their experience “running a media company in a tough market with a young, millennial workforce” inspired him and Szedlak to think more about the issue.

MindLabs founders Gabor Szedlak and Adnan Ebrahim

MindLabs founders Gabor Szedlak and Adnan Ebrahim

“We witnessed firsthand how there was a complete lack of investment in helping this generation with their mental health in a way that they’re used to: a community product that is mobile-first and video-led,” Ebrahim said.

“Alongside that, we had to find ways to deal with managing our own mental health given the stresses that can come when running a fast-paced, venture-backed company. And when we saw the alarming statistics in young adult suicide rates and depression, we realized that finding a solution for our own problems would help millions of others, too.”

The two left Dennis Publishing to begin work on MindLabs at the end of January. During the next few months, including time spent in COVID-19 lockdown, they began researching and developing initial concepts for the platform.

“It’s fair to say that the pandemic did end up altering the course of MindLabs,” Ebrahim said. “For example, we built more real-time community features into the app as a result of the isolation and loneliness we are all now facing as a result of lockdown. We really want to make sufferers feel less alone during the hard times, but with the added convenience now of being able to watch our videos at home.

“This has already become the new normal when it comes to physical fitness, with companies like Peloton exploding in growth, and we see the same trend happening with mental wellness, too,” he added.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also been described as a mental health crisis, and downloads of meditation and mindfulness apps like Calm, Headspace and Relax: Master Your Destiny, have grown as people try to deal with anxiety, isolation and depression at home.

Two of the main ways MindLabs’ platform differentiates from other mental wellness apps is the combination of its video classes and EEG headband. The videos will initially range in length from 10 to 40 minutes and, like Peloton’s classes, will be available on livestream or in pre-recorded, on-demand sessions.

Instead of categorizing videos by technique (for example, meditation, breathing or visualization), MindLabs decided to sort them into issues that users want to cope with, like anxiety, relationships, motivation or addiction. For example, meditation classes may include ones focused on “Overcoming COVID-19 Anxiety” or “Coping With Stress At Work.”

Community features will be linked to the classes: the number of concurrent users in a class will be displayed, along with a live feed showing subscriber achievements, like streaks or number of minutes spent in a “calm state,” that other people can react to for positive reinforcement.

Halo was developed with a hardware specialist that Ebrahim said has seven years of building and distributing medical grade wearables.

“Most importantly our headset will be going through the rigor of ISO 13485 so we can ensure the product is of the highest quality and the data we gather is the most accurate,” he added. “We want to make this technology accessible, so we expect the price of the Halo to be comparable to, say, an Apple Watch.”

Other EEG headbands, including products from Muse and Emotiv, have been on the market for a while. In MindLabs’ case, its headband will help users visualize data before, during and after their classes, including information about their brain waves, heart rates and muscle tension, and saved in the app so they can track their progress.

Turning mental wellness into a habit

One of the biggest challenges that all mental wellness apps need to address is user engagement. It can be hard staying motivated to use a self-directed mental health app when someone is already stressed, depressed or very busy. On the other hand, when they feel better, they might stop checking in.

Ebrahim sees this as a major opportunity for MindLabs, and its EEG headband and data visualization features will play a major role. “Even though there was been a proliferation of mental health apps, retention has proven difficult. But we think that is because these apps truly don’t understand their users,” he said.

“With the data we’re able to show, not just through the Halo but through syncing with Apple HealthKit, we can show our subscribers a positive progression of their mental health, similar to how you can see your weight change on a scale, or improvement in heart rate variability in an app. This helps build a powerful habit because we can finally help to close the loop when it comes to improving mental fitness.”

Participating in live classes provides accountability, too, he added. “The act of scheduling a class and tuning in with thousands of others is a powerful force, similar to having a personal trainer in the gym making sure you turn up and workout.”

MindLabs also plans to build communities around its instructors. During livestreams, instructors will welcome new subscribers and mention user achievements. After each workout, users will get a results screen they can share, similar to screenshots from fitness apps like Strava or Nike Training Club.

In terms of protecting personal privacy, Ebrahim said MindLabs is “firmly against any form of data commercialization.” Instead, it will monetize through monthly or yearly subscriptions, and user data collected through Halo or the app will only be used to make personalized content recommendations.

In a statement about Passion Capital’s investment in MindLabs, partner Eileen Burbidge said, “We’re incredibly excited to be working with MindLabs as they transform the way we look after our minds. Mindfulness is more important now than ever and we know that Adnan and Gabor’s commitment to best in class content, quality production and unparalleled user experience means they’re the best to bring this platform to market.”