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Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for July 26, 2021. Tech news got off to a cracking start this week after the Chinese government spent the weekend rolling out a new regulatory framework for the myriad edtech startups in the country. The Ant IPO was really just the start of the recent blizzard of changes concerning how China’s government runs its economy. The food delivery market was also impacted recently, along with Tencent Music. I noodled a bit here on what the situation may mean for the country’s startups. — Alex
The TechCrunch Top 3 (or so)
- Bezos wants U.S. space contracts: After retired U.S. billionaire Jeff Bezos recently went up to zero-g for a few minutes, much snark concerning the wealthy spending their fortunes on a vanity space race was tweeted. The flip of that argument is that there’s real-world applications for all the money that Bezos, Branson and Musk are spending. In this case, Bezos is willing to cut the price of Blue Origin’s lunar lander project just to get access to a NASA contract. This is either a neat way to save taxpayer money or some weird sort of corporate bribe. Your call on that one.
- Box wades into the signature wars: The other month, Box, the former startup darling, dropped $55 million on an e-sig company. Now Box is rolling out Box Sign to all its customers for free. The e-sig market is full of big players (DocuSign) and smaller entities (PandaDoc). To see Box offer its e-sig service to existing business customers for no cost means that the software capability is becoming more table stakes than standalone product. Startups take note.
- A new alt-food unicorn: NotCo makes plant-based milks and meats. It just carved itself a fresh slice with a $235 million Series D that values the company at $1.5 billion. We’re highlighting this round because it underscores the amount of capital and, we presume, demand that alternative food products are attracting today. What was a dream just a few years ago is building big startups and even some public companies.
- Keep your password, but show your face: We don’t often wade into the nuances of the Fifth Amendment, but a judge’s order out of D.C. caught our eye. Alleged insurrectionist Guy Reffitt was arrested three weeks after the January 6 Capitol riot and faces five federal charges. The FBI seized his laptop, which was password-protected. However, prosecutors said it could be unlocked using Reffitt’s face. The government used a “loophole in the Fifth Amendment,” TechCrunch’s Zack Whittaker writes, to compel the use of biometrics to open a Windows laptop.
Kicking off our startup news today, make sure you check out this profile of Olumide Soyombo, a Nigerian angel investor who just put together a new fund. Soyombo’s brand-new firm, which he’s dubbed Voltron Capital, intends to invest all over Africa. It’s a potentially huge market for startups and venture capital, so expect more stories like this. How did it come to be? We’re sure that the check that Soyombo wrote to PayStack before Stripe bought it had something to do with it.
As we head into our regular digest of recent funding rounds, one startup sector that is not struggling to attract capital is facial recognition. Sure, you probably find it creepy that companies and agencies are tracking your face without your consent, but that isn’t stopping the financial class from pumping funds into the companies that comprise the facial recognition market. Zack Whittaker has the story here.
- Faster protein sequencing is coming: That’s the news underneath Glyphic Biotechnologies’ new $6 million raise. The company’s tech could massively reduce the time it takes to sequence a protein, possibly unlocking all sorts of things in the health world.
- Amazon-backed D2C beauty startup raises more: MyGlamm, an Indian direct-to-consumer company, has added to its capital base to the tune of $47.8 million. The company previously raised a $23.5 million Series C. Now it has lots more capital. Beauty is a huge market; D2C is a popular GTM model. And investors are willing to fund growth. That’s the story here.
- Embedded fintech is hot: The embedded fintech space — when “complicated, but also commoditized, aspects of financial services are built and wrapped in an API for anyone else to implement in their own products,” per our own Ingrid Lunden — is attracting new capital. This time it’s Solarisbank, a Berlin-based player, which is buying a competitor, Contis, to go along with its new $1.65 billion valuation.
- Speaking of embedded fintech, Sila raised money: Yes, we have more on the world of fintech APIs. Sila, a “banking and payment platform,” TechCrunch wrote, just raised a $13 million Series A. The Portland, Oregon-based company was founded in 2018 and has raised $20 million to date.
- Queenly raises more: A TechCrunch favorite from the most recent Y Combinator batch, Queenly has raised a seed extension (Seed 2? Early Series A? You can use whatever term you wish!) from Andreessen Horowitz. The company was light on growth details, aside from noting a 20% rise in dresses on its platform since February. The startup is akin to a StockX for formalwear.
- Today’s SoftBank investment is Embark Veterinary: While it is often fun to recall some of the more exotic SoftBank investments — RIP Zume — Embark Veterinary wants to use DNA testing to help pets live longer. This we will not mock. As we own dogs, and dogs are very good. The $75 million in Series B values Embark at around $700 million.
Data-driven iteration helped China’s Genki Forest become a $6B beverage giant in 5 years
Many Extra Crunch readers will not have heard of China’s fastest-growing bottled beverage company: Genki Forest is a direct-to-consumer startup that started selling its sodas, milk teas and other products just five years ago.
Today, its products are available in 40 countries and the company hopes to earn $1.2 billion in 2021. After closing its latest funding round, Genki Forest is valued at $6 billion.
Industry watchers frequently compare the upstart to giants like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, but founder Binsen Tang comes from a tech background, having funded ELEX Technology, a social gaming company that found success internationally.
“China doesn’t need any more good platforms,” Tang told his team in 2015, “but it does need good products.”
Leveraging China’s robust distribution network, lighting-fast manufacturing capabilities and a vast pool of data that enables holistic digitization, Genki Forest sells more than 30% of its products online.
“Everything feels right about the company,” said VC investor Anna Fang. “The space, the founder, the products and the back end … they exemplify the new Chinese consumer brand.“
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Big Tech Inc.
Two quick notes today from the world of Big Tech companies:
- Earnings season is upon us: Many, many major tech companies are reporting their financial performance in the next two weeks. TechCrunch will cover the key bits, even if we’re not a public-markets publication. Still, keep your eyes sharp as it’s going to be a deluge of numbers.
- The EV market is still raising huge blocks of capital. EV truck company Rivian recently added $2.5 billion to its coffers, and Lordstown got a cash infusion (bailout?) that should keep it on the roads.
TechCrunch Experts: Growth Marketing
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Join TechCrunch Managing Editor Danny Crichton for a Twitter Spaces event tomorrow, July 27, at 3:30 p.m. PDT/ 6:30 p.m. EDT. Danny will be joined by Seth Levine, the co-author of “The New Builders: Face to Face with the True Future of Business,” who will stick around for a Q&A after a chat about the book.
TechCrunch Disrupt $99 early-bird passes end Friday
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