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The incumbents go shopping for startups

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The magnet attracts figures from the crowd. Talent acquisition concept.
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Welcome to Startups Weekly — your weekly recap of everything you can’t miss from the world of startups. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Friday.

This week, I explored what happened to one Norwegian hardware startup, whose cap table was sufficiently wonky that three different investors concluded that it was essentially uninvestable as is. Luckily, they had some advice for how to change that.

I also looked at another startup — a Turkish company that raised a $4 million round — that wouldn’t really be able to exist if the country didn’t have some pretty hardcore import taxes in place, exploring the strange world of economic incentives of building behind a wall of tariffs.

Meanwhile, you wait for months for a good acquisition story, and then a ton of them come along all at once! In the photography space alone, I covered two: Nikon bought cinematic camera company RED, and in the photo, video and lens rental space, Lensrentals bought up its archrival BorrowLenses.

But wait! There’s more!

Most interesting startup stories this week

Image Credits: udemy

Welcome to the latest episode in our occasional miniseries “Micromobility Melodrama!” Paris’ Cityscoot, the pioneer of shared electric mopeds, has officially passed the baton to Cooltra in a court-approved acquisition. Once hailed as the future of urban transport, Cityscoot found itself in a pickle, or rather, court-ordered receivership, as the once benevolent 0% interest rates turned villainous, leaving the company and its iconic white-and-blue mopeds stranded. Cooltra, seizing the day (and Cityscoot’s user base), swooped in with a modest €400,000, promising a smooth transition where the only noticeable change for users might be the new stickers on their rides.

Meanwhile, in the latest “Survivor: E-commerce Aggregator Edition,” Razor Group and Perch have decided to form an alliance, seemingly unfazed by the recent demise of their fellow contestant, Thrasio. With a war chest of $100 million and a debt that’s more “long-term relationship” than “fling,” they’re ready to take on the Amazon jungle. Razor, now strutting around with a $1.7 billion valuation cap, and Perch, the damsel in distress no more, are betting that their combined tech and Shein-envy will make them the last ones standing.

Have another handful:

Successful merger in customer success: in B2B land, Totango and Catalyst have decided to join forces, not with a flash of cash, but with a merger of stocks.

We were surprised to learn: Accenture has snapped up Udacity, the learning platform that’s been around the block since 2011, hoping to inject some digital savvy into the workforce with a side of AI flair.

Up-to-the-decade information: Anthropic’s new chatbot was a bit on the meh side, insisting it couldn’t answer because its knowledge only extends up to 2021.

Most interesting fundraises this week

Amorai, AI, startup, chatbot
Image Credits: Getty Images

Among HR tech gladiators, where the Deels and Riplings tower like Goliaths with their venture capital cannons fully loaded, along comes Remofirst, the plucky David, not with a slingshot but with a $25 million Series A war chest. This HR tech underdog is offering to hire employees and contractors across 180 countries without the hassle of setting up local entities. Personally, I’m struggling to figure out how it’s different from Deel and Ripling — other than the cheaper price tag. Congrats on the $25 million! Incidentally, in the same industry, Deel acquired PaySpace this week.

London fintech darling Monzo has been on a bit of a roller coaster over the past few years. The company just bagged a cool $430 million, hitting a lofty $5 billion valuation and making the financial world do a double take. Despite a past that’s seen more ups and downs than a soap opera, including a U.S. adventure that ended faster than a New York minute (the company withdrew its U.S. banking application) and a valuation wobble that would make even seasoned investors queasy, Monzo’s managed to pull a phoenix act. With 9 million Brits now swiping their Monzo cards and a product lineup that aims to be the Swiss Army knife of finance, Monzo’s message is clear: Reports of its demise were greatly exaggerated.

A handful more:

Keepin’ tabs, raising cash: Axonius, the digital equivalent of a nosy neighbor keeping tabs on every digital asset in the enterprise neighborhood, has just pocketed another $200 million to keep things locked down even more efficiently. “I didn’t feel the need to increase the valuation from the last round,” CEO and founder Dean Sysman said when asked about the valuation.

One step closer to the digital worker: Ema struts out of stealth mode with a $25 million fund, flaunting its ambition to become the universal AI employee that’ll take the drudgery out of your job.

Pack yer bags, we’re off: In the post-COVID tourism revival, Mews, the tech concierge for the hotel world, is riding the wave with a fresh $110 million in its coffers. Valued at a cozy $1.2 billion, Mews is the belle of the ball, despite not yet turning a profit.

This week’s big trend: Lawsuits and Musk

In the latest installment of “As the Musk Turns,” the tech world’s favorite drama king, Elon Musk, finds himself in the legal spotlight once again, this time courtesy of Twitter’s ex-royalty seeking their $128 million pot of severance gold. After Musk’s hostile takeover of the bird app (now sporting an “X” on its chest), he promptly showed the door to CEO Parag Agrawal and his merry band of executives, sparking what could only be described as a Silicon Valley rendition of “The Hunger Games.” Musk, ever the gentleman, allegedly vowed to pursue these C-suite escapees to the ends of the earth, or at least until their bank accounts dry up. The lawsuit paints Musk as a mix between a scorned lover and a Bond villain, accusing him of financial ghosting on a corporate scale.

Meanwhile, Musk makes sure that the torrent of legal paperwork flows both ways by suing OpenAI, the prodigal AI child he helped birth, for turning into a profit-hungry beast under the influence of Microsoft’s billions. Musk paints a picture of an AI utopia where algorithms frolic freely for the good of humanity, alleging that OpenAI’s founders seduced him with tales of nonprofit nobility, only to pivot to a for-profit model faster than you can say “AGI.” In the lawsuit, Musk portrays himself as the jilted benefactor watching his altruistic AI dreams get cozy with Microsoft’s commercial ambitions. A bit rich, if you ask yours truly, given everything else we know about Musk, but there you go.

Break out the popcorn, I guess.

Other unmissable TechCrunch stories …

Every week, there’s always a few stories I want to share with you but that somehow don’t fit into the categories above. It’d be a shame if you missed ’em, so here’s a random grab bag of goodies for ya:

No Seinfeld marathon for you!: Roku users around the country turned on their TVs this week to find an unpleasant surprise: The company required them to consent to new dispute resolution terms in order to access their device. The devices are unusable until the user agrees.

Aww, it got all over the interneeeeet: In a plot twist that reads like a cyber thriller, YX International, the SMS hub routing millions of texts across the globe, recently played the role of the inadvertent villain by leaving a digital door wide open. Whoops.

But how were you to share with the world that you voted?: Very sus, some might say, as Meta’s social media trifecta — Facebook, Instagram, and the new kid on the block, Threads — decided to take an unscheduled vacation, leaving users staring at error messages and longing for the digital embrace of their newsfeeds, as the U.S. went to vote in our Super Tuesday primary elections.

Insert clever Fortnite reference here: The Apple-Epic Games saga has taken a new turn today as the Fortnite game developer shared that Apple has terminated its developer account.

Maybe stay somewhere else: Airbnb is doling out new badges. The underachievers — the bottom 10% — get their own badge of shame, a digital dunce cap signaling to travelers to swipe left.

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Zen Educate, an online marketplace that connects schools with teachers, has raised $37 million in a Series B round of funding. The raise comes amid a growing teacher shortage crisis…

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“When I heard the released demo, I was shocked, angered and in disbelief that Mr. Altman would pursue a voice that sounded so eerily similar to mine.”

Scarlett Johansson says that OpenAI approached her to use her voice

A new self-driving truck — manufactured by Volvo and loaded with autonomous vehicle tech developed by Aurora Innovation — could be on public highways as early as this summer.  The…

Aurora and Volvo unveil self-driving truck designed for a driverless future

The European venture capital firm raised its fourth fund as fund as climate tech “comes of age.”

ETF Partners raises €284M for climate startups that will be effective quickly — not 20 years down the road

Copilot, Microsoft’s brand of generative AI, will soon be far more deeply integrated into the Windows 11 experience.

Microsoft wants to make Windows an AI operating system, launches Copilot+ PCs

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The top vehicle safety regulator in the U.S. has launched a formal probe into an April crash involving the all-electric VinFast VF8 SUV that claimed the lives of a family…

VinFast crash that killed family of four now under federal investigation

When putting a video portal in a public park in the middle of New York City, some inappropriate behavior will likely occur. The Portal, the vision of Lithuanian artist and…

NYC-Dublin real-time video portal reopens with some fixes to prevent inappropriate behavior

Longtime New York-based seed investor, Contour Venture Partners, is making progress on its latest flagship fund after lowering its target. The firm closed on $42 million, raised from 64 backers,…

Contour Venture Partners, an early investor in Datadog and Movable Ink, lowers the target for its fifth fund

Meta’s Oversight Board has now extended its scope to include the company’s newest platform, Instagram Threads, and has begun hearing cases from Threads.

Meta’s Oversight Board takes its first Threads case

The company says it’s refocusing and prioritizing fewer initiatives that will have the biggest impact on customers and add value to the business.

SeekOut, a recruiting startup last valued at $1.2 billion, lays off 30% of its workforce

The U.K.’s self-proclaimed “world-leading” regulations for self-driving cars are now official, after the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act received royal assent — the final rubber stamp any legislation must go through…

UK’s autonomous vehicle legislation becomes law, paving the way for first driverless cars by 2026

ChatGPT, OpenAI’s text-generating AI chatbot, has taken the world by storm. What started as a tool to hyper-charge productivity through writing essays and code with short text prompts has evolved…

ChatGPT: Everything you need to know about the AI-powered chatbot

SoLo Funds CEO Travis Holoway: “Regulators seem driven by press releases when they should be motivated by true consumer protection and empowering equitable solutions.”

Fintech lender SoLo Funds is being sued again by the government over its lending practices

Hard tech startups generate a lot of buzz, but there’s a growing cohort of companies building digital tools squarely focused on making hard tech development faster, more efficient and —…

Rollup wants to be the hardware engineer’s workhorse

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Google says the new SDK would help Google expand on its core mission of connecting the right audience to the right content at the right time.

Google is launching a new Android feature to drive users back into their installed apps

Jolla has taken the official wraps off the first version of its personal server-based AI assistant in the making. The reborn startup is building a privacy-focused AI device — aka…

Jolla debuts privacy-focused AI hardware

The ChatGPT mobile app’s net revenue first jumped 22% on the day of the GPT-4o launch and continued to grow in the following days.

ChatGPT’s mobile app revenue saw its biggest spike yet following GPT-4o launch

Dating app maker Bumble has acquired Geneva, an online platform built around forming real-world groups and clubs. The company said that the deal is designed to help it expand its…

Bumble buys community building app Geneva to expand further into friendships

CyberArk — one of the army of larger security companies founded out of Israel — is acquiring Venafi, a specialist in machine identity, for $1.54 billion. 

CyberArk snaps up Venafi for $1.54B to ramp up in machine-to-machine security

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

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