Category: TC

Vericool raises $19.1 million for its plant-based packaging replacement for plastic coolers

Vericool, a Livermore, Calif.-based startup that’s replacing plastic coolers and packaging with plant-based products, has raised $19.1 million in a new round of financing.

The company’s stated goal is to replace traditional packaging materials like polystyrene with plant-based insulating packaging materials.

Its technology uses 100% recycled paper fibers and other plant-based materials, according to the company, and are curbside recyclable and compostable.

Investors in the round include Radicle Impact PartnersThe Ecosystem Integrity FundID8 Investments and AiiM Partners, according to a statement.

“We’re pleased to support Vericool because of the company’s track record of innovation, high-performance products, well-established patent portfolio and focus on environmental resilience. We are inspired by the company’s social justice commitment to address recidivism and provide workplace opportunity to formerly incarcerated individuals,” said Dan Skaff, managing partner of Radicle Impact Partners and Vericool’s new lead director. 

Startups Weekly: A new era for consumer tech

TechCrunch is out hunting for bright spots in the startup world as we all come to grips with the pandemic — particularly where checks are actually being written despite everything.

D2C is back to the future

First up this week, we surveyed top direct-to-consumer investors, and they seemed pretty optimistic despite the struggles of some sector leaders. Here’s Lightspeed Venture Partners Nicole Quinn, for example, on investor activity versus current opportunity:

I would argue it is too weak as investors look at the unit economics of some of the recent IPOs and think that is true for all of D2C. In reality, there are sectors such as beauty where many companies have product margins >90% or true brands such as Rothy’s where there is such a strong word-of-mouth effect and this gives them an unfair advantage with far better unit economics than the average.

Other respondents include: Ben Lerer and Caitlin Strandberg from Lerer Hippeau, Gareth Jefferies from Northzone, Matthew Hartman of Betaworks Ventures, Alexis Ohanian of Initialized Capital and Luca Bocchio of Accel.

Arman Tabatabai has the full investor survey on Extra Crunch, while Connie Loizos has a separate interview with Ohanian over on TechCrunch.

Proptech will be going (more) remote

Arman also ran a popular investor survey on real estate and proptech a few months back, so a virus update edition was warranted given the existential questions facing the future of physical space. Here’s one clarifying explanation from Andrew Ackerman of Dreamit Ventures:

Startups targeting residential landlords and property managers could be big winners. Anything that makes tenants more comfortable like residential tenant amenity platforms (e.g. Amenify) or automates maintenance requests (e.g. TravtusAptly), simplifies maintenance itself (e.g NestEgg) or eases operations like package receiving (e.g. Luxer One) are suddenly top of mind.

VC investors have a saying, “Don’t make me think,” and right now, we are thinking hard about what COVID-19 means for our portfolio, so don’t be surprised if we are a little slower than normal to write checks. That said, we are acutely aware of the fact that some of our best returns came from investments made during difficult times. Fortunately, we think quickly.

Read the full thing on Extra Crunch.

A new era for consumer tech

It’s no surprise that SaaS companies are seeing new growth from millions staying at home. But what else is going on besides work? Josh Constine pulls together the rebirth of Houseparty, the integration of Zoom into popular social networks and other trends today to elegantly explain the big picture: social tools actually being used like everyone had hoped(!).

What is social media when there’s nothing to brag about? Many of us are discovering it’s a lot more fun. We had turned social media into a sport but spent the whole time staring at the scoreboard rather than embracing the joy of play. But thankfully, there are no Like counts on Zoom . Nothing permanent remains. That’s freed us from the external validation that too often rules our decision-making. It’s stopped being about how this looks and started being about how this feels. Does it put me at peace, make me laugh, or abate the loneliness? Then do it. There’s no more FOMO because there’s nothing to miss by staying home to read, take a bath, or play board games. You do you.

Check it out on TechCrunch, then be sure to check out our ongoing coverage of where this is headed: virtual worlds(!?). Eric Peckham analyzed the sprawling topic in an eight-part series last month, then sat down for an in-house TechCrunch interview this week to explain how he sees the pandemic impacting the existing trends. 

More than two billion people play video games in the context of a year. There’s incredible market penetration in that sense. But, at least for the data I’ve seen for the U.S., the percent of the population who play games on a given day is still much lower than the percent of the population who use social media on a given day.

The more that games become virtual worlds for socializing and hanging out beyond just the mission of the gameplay, the more who will turn to virtual worlds as a social and entertainment outlet when they have five minutes free to do something on their phone. Social media fills these small moments in life. MMO games right now don’t because they are so oriented around the gameplay, which takes time and uninterrupted focus. Virtual worlds in the vein of those on Roblox where you just hang out and explore with friends compete for that time with Instagram more directly.

Some SEM prices are going down due to the pandemic

Danny Crichton put on his data scientist hat for Extra Crunch and analyzed more than 100 unicorns across tech sectors and looked how how the pricing of their keywords has changed due to the pandemic/recession.

The results aren’t surprising — there has been a collapse in prices for almost all ads (with some very interesting exceptions we will get to in a bit). But the variations across startups in their online ad performance says a lot about industries like food delivery and enterprise software, and also the long-term revenue performance of Google, Facebook and other digital advertising networks.

cloud ice cream cone imagine

Big tech should do more to help startups now

Besides offering wily developer platforms, I mean. Josh argued on TechCrunch that hosting costs and associated expenses should be spared or delayed by the dominant companies to be nice, and to avoid crushing their own ecosystems.

Google, Amazon and Microsoft are the landlords. Amidst the coronavirus economic crisis, startups need a break from paying rent. They’re in a cash crunch. Revenue has stopped flowing in, capital markets like venture debt are hesitant and startups and small-to-medium sized businesses are at risk of either having to lay off huge numbers of employees and/or shut down. Meanwhile, the tech giants are cash rich. Their success this decade means they’re able to weather the storm for a few months. Their customers cannot.

On the other hand, now is also a good time for mid-sized startups to try to take market share from incumbents who don’t act friendly enough to the rest of the startup world…..

Odds and ends

  1. Eliot Peper, author of a variety of popular sci-fi and tech fiction stories (and occasional TechCrunch contributor), has a new book out called “Uncommon Stock: Version 1.0” about a small startup that accidentally crosses paths with a drug cartel. Current subscribers to this newsletter will find that the link above takes them to a free download (that ends Sunday).
  2. I had been planning to moderate a panel at SXSW on the topic of remote work, but other events flipped that on its head. The panel, featuring Katrina Wong, VP of Marketing at Hired, Darren Murph, Head of Remote at Gitlab, and Nate McGuire, Founder of Buildstack, happened on Zoom. And now the video is available here — check out to get key tips on going remote-first from these experts.

Across the week

TechCrunch

Now might be the perfect time to rethink your fundraising approach

How child care startups in the U.S. are helping families cope with the COVID-19 crisis

Private tech companies mobilize to address shortages for medical supplies, masks and sanitizer

One neat plug-in to join a Zoom call from your browser

Extra Crunch

When is it time to stop fundraising?

Slack’s slowing growth turns around as remote work booms

A look inside one startup’s work-from-home playbook

Lime’s valuation, variable costs and diverging categories of on-demand companies

#EquityPod

From Alex:

The three of us were back today — NatashaDanny and Alex — to dig our way through a host of startup-focused topics. Sure, the world is stuffed full of COVID-19 news — and, to be clear, the topic did come up some — but Equity decided to circle back to its roots and talks startups and accelerators and how many pieces of luggage does an urban-living person really need?

The answer, as far as we can work it out, is either one piece or seven. Regardless, here’s what we got through this week:

  • Big news from 500 Startups, and our favorite companies from the accelerator’s latest demo day. Y Combinator is not the only game in town, so TechCrunch spent part of the day peekin’ at 500 and its latest batch of companies. We got into some of the startups that stuck out, tackling problems within the influencer market, trash pickup and esports.
  • Plastiq raised $75 million to help people and businesses use their credit card anywhere they want. And no, it wasn’t closed after the pandemic hit.
  • We also talked through Fast’s latest $20 million round led by Stripe. Stripe, as everyone recalls, was most recently a topic on the show thanks to a venture whoopsie in the form of a check from Sequoia to Finix.1 But all that’s behind us. Fast is building a new login and checkout service for the internet that is supposed to be both speedy and independent.
  • All the Stripe talk reminded us of one of the startups that launched so it could beat it out: Brex. The startup, which has amassed over $300 million in known venture capital to date, recently acquired three companies.
  • We chatted through the highlights of our D2C venture survey, focused on rising CAC costs in select channels, the importance of solid gross margins and why Casper wasn’t really a bellwether for its industry.

Listen here!

John Borthwick & Matt Hartman of betaworks discuss coronavirus adaptation strategies

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of hopping on Zoom with betaworks’ John Borthwick and Matt Hartman to discuss the tech world’s adaptation to this new locked-down world, the future of new media and answer questions from the audience.

We discussed whether new media companies can raise capital right now, and touched on emerging trends around audio, voice, AR, live events, travel-related companies and many other topics.

It was a delight, and I’m excited to do more of these in the future.

For those of you who missed the Zoom, here’s a rundown of what we discussed (audio embed below).

The future of collectibles is digital

The estimated size of the global collectibles market is $370 billion.

People have an innate propensity to collect, which drives purchases of collectible goods like art, games, sports memorabilia, toys and more. But given that the world is rapidly adopting digital each day, how likely is it that this market can continue to grow as is?

Won’t this primarily physical market have little choice but to evolve with the times?

With an increase in digital adoption, a step-function innovation is emerging; digital collectibles. The new medium is gaining in popularity and its influence is spreading relatively quickly.

The potential impact on the cryptocurrency landscape, while seemingly unrelated, is quite profound. Businesses already present in the collectibles market have new offerings, demographics and economic impacts to take into account. Even household brands are acknowledging their significance and building strategies around them.

Image by Christian Braun via hobbyDB

Digital collectibles have taken a foothold and are well on their way to increase their presence in our daily lives.

What is a digital collectible?

Wefunder launches campaign to help coronavirus-impacted small businesses crowdfund loans

With the COVID-19 crisis, startups across Silicon Valley are looking for opportunities where they can both increase the visibility of their services and be helpful to people and businesses deeply affected by the pandemic.

Wefunder, an investment crowdfunding platform, announced an initiative Tuesday to help small businesses impacted by the coronavirus secure loans through its platform on friendlier terms.

The goal of the Coronavirus Crisis Loan program is to “provide critical cash flow during this economic crisis at a reduced interest rate,” a release from the company detailed. Loans can be structured in amounts ranging from $20,000 to $1 million with payments deferred until 2021 (and flexible, depending on revenue). The startup has a pretty simple calculator on its site to help businesses estimate what their payment structure would look like.

For Wefunder’s part, it’s not charity — they’re still taking a slice of the total volume raised, though they are halving their usual percentage from 7.5% to 3.75%. Wefunder also charges individuals a 2% cut from their contribution.

Wefunder was founded in 2011 and has raised just over $9 million in funding from investors, including Visary Capital and Y Combinator. In recent years, legislation passed that has made it possible for companies to raise smaller amounts of money — about $1 million or less in total — from non-accredited investors. The company says that businesses have raised $130 million to date through the platform.

Back in 2016 when the legislation was first introduced, equity crowdfunding was a pretty hot topic of discussion, but for the most part, equity crowdfunding hasn’t become commonplace. Part of this is the result of prevalent seed capital, something that has likely increased the riskiness of the startups that seek funding through platforms like these. This is obviously less of an issue when a good deal of the motivation to invest in a small business is because of the social good component, as might be the case with investors backing businesses taking advantage of this new program.

Alongside its loan program, Wefunder has also announced a three-month startup accelerator program focused on startups that can help tackle problems that will result from the crisis. They’ve notably cast a pretty wide net for the startups they are looking for, everything from remote collaboration to telemedicine to homeschooling, but they will invest $50,000 in each company and then help them raise more money through their platform on demo day.

Join our conference call with immigration attorney Sophie Alcorn Tuesday at 1pm PDT

The world has been turned upside-down the past few weeks, with flight cancellations, global travel bans and a massive slowdown of worldwide commerce.

For immigrants to the United States here on work visas, these are particularly ambiguous and challenging times.

We’ve had prominent Silicon Valley immigration attorney Sophie Alcorn of Alcorn Immigration Law talk about all the nuances of immigration the past few months across our stages and through her Dear Sophie column on Extra Crunch, where she has answered questions like “how do I get visas for employees who work from home” and answering questions around the changes to the H-1B process.

Now, she’ll join us for a conference call we are hosting for Extra Crunch members tomorrow, Tuesday, March 24 at 1 p.m PDT (dial-in details below the jump) to discuss all the news that has happened the last few weeks and its impact on immigrants to the U.S. going forward.

I’ll join Sophie and Silicon Valley reporter Natasha Mascarenhas to talk about all the changes underway in the immigration system, with a focus on the visas typical for founders and workers in Silicon Valley. And then we will take questions from the audience to discuss the trends on what Sophie is seeing across her clients and across the Valley today.

If you aren’t able to join us, we’ll post a transcript of the discussion on Extra Crunch. Here’s how to dial in to Tuesday’s call:

IBM, Amazon, Google and Microsoft partner with White House to provide compute resources for COVID-19 research

During today’s White House coronavirus task force press conference, President Trump announced the launch of a new public/private consortium to “unleash the power of American supercomputing resources.” The members of this consortium are the White House, the Department of Energy and IBM . Other companies, including Google, Amazon and Microsoft, as well as a number of academic institutions, are also “contributing lots of different things,” the president said.

While Trump’s comments were characteristically unclear, IBM provided more details, noting that it is working with a number of national labs and other institutions to offer a total of 330 petaflops of compute to various projects in epidemiology, bioinformatics and molecular modeling. Amazon, Google and Microsoft are also part of the consortium, which is being led by IBM, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the Department of Energy.

IBM and its partners will coordinate the efforts to evaluate proposals and provide access to high-performance computing resources to those that are most likely to have an immediate impact.

“How can supercomputers help us fight this virus? These high-performance computing systems allow researchers to run very large numbers of calculations in epidemiology, bioinformatics, and molecular modeling. These experiments would take years to complete if worked by hand, or months if handled on slower, traditional computing platforms,” writes Dario Gil, IBM’s Director of Research.

AWS has already dedicated $20 million to support COVID-19 research while Microsoft has already announced a number of different initiatives, though mostly around helping businesses cope with the fallout of this crisis. Google has now launched its own coronavirus website (though it’s very different from the one Trump once promised) and Alphabet’s Verily is helping Bay Area residents find testing sites if needed. It’s unclear what exactly Google and Microsoft will contribute to these current efforts, though. We’ve reached out to both companies and will update this post if we hear back.

“Today I’m also announcing the launch of a new public/private consortium organized by the White House, the Department of Energy and IBM to unleash the power of American supercomputing resources to fight the Chinese virus,” Trump, who continues to insist on calling COVID-19 ‘the Chinese virus,’ said in today’s press briefing.

“The following leaders from private industries, academia and government will be contributing and they are gonna be contributing a lot of different things, but compute primarily — computing resources to help researchers discover new treatments and vaccine. They will be working along with NIH and all of the people working on this. But tremendous help from IBM, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, MIT, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the Department of Energy’s, the National Science Foundation and NASA. They are all contributing to this effort.”

YC startup Felix wants to replace antibiotics with programmable viruses

Right now the world is at war. But this is no ordinary war. It’s a fight with an organism so small we can only detect it through use of a microscope — and if we don’t stop it, it could kill millions of us in the next several decades. No, I’m not talking about COVID-19, though that organism is the one on everyone’s mind right now. I’m talking about antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

You see, more than 700,000 people died globally from bacterial infections last year — 35,000 of them in the U.S. If we do nothing, that number could grow to 10 million annually by 2050, according to a United Nations report.

The problem? Antibiotic overuse at the doctor’s office or in livestock and farming practices. We used a lot of drugs over time to kill off all the bad bacteria — but it only killed off most, not all, of the bad bacteria. And, as the famous line from Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park goes, “life finds a way.”

Enter Felix, a biotech startup in the latest Y Combinator batch that thinks it has a novel approach to keeping bacterial infections at bay – viruses.

Phage killing bacteria in a petri dish

It seems weird in a time of widespread concern over the corona virus to be looking at any virus in a good light but as co-founder Robert McBride explains it, Felix’s key technology allows him to target his virus to specific sites on bacteria. This not only kills off the bad bacteria but can also halt its ability to evolve and once more become resistant.

But the idea to use a virus to kill off bacteria is not necessarily new. Bacteriophages, or viruses that can “infect” bacteria, were first discovered by an English researcher in 1915 and commercialized phage therapy began in the U.S. in the 1940’s through Eli Lilly and Company. Right about then antibiotics came along and Western scientists just never seemed to explore the therapy further.

However, with too few new solutions being offered and the standard drug model not working effectively to combat the situation, McBride believes his company can put phage therapy back at the forefront.

Already Felix has tested its solution on an initial group of 10 people to demonstrate its approach.

Felix researcher helping cystic fibrosis patient Ella Balasa through phage therapy

“We can develop therapies in less time and for less money than traditional antibiotics because we are targeting orphan indications and we already know our therapy can work in humans,” McBride told TechCrunch . “We argue that our approach, which re-sensitizes bacteria to traditional antibiotics could be a first line therapy.”

Felix plans to deploy its treatment in those suffering from cystic fibrosis first as there is no cure for this disease, which tends to require a near constant stream of antibiotics to combat lung infections.

The next step will be to conduct a small clinical trial involving 30 people, then, as the scientific research and development model tends to go, a larger human trial before seeking FDA approval. But McBride hopes his viral solution will prove itself out in time to help the coming onslaught of antibiotic resistance.

“We know the antibiotic resistant challenge is large now and is only going to get worse,” McBride said. “We have an elegant technological solution to this challenge and we know our treatment can work. We want to contribute to a future in which these infections do not kill more than 10 million people a year, a future we can get excited about.”

Californians can now order alcoholic beverages to go

In a memo yesterday detailing relief efforts for small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has temporarily allowed retailers to sell alcoholic beverages for takeout. This lifts a ban previously imposed on restaurants and bars to only sell alcohol in-house.

Bars can sell manufactured pre-packaged containers of liquid, such as pre-mixed drinks, cocktails, beer or wine, to customers to go when the beverage is purchased with a meal. If you sell an alcoholic beverage to go, you have to pack it in a container with a lid or cap without a sipping hole or opening for a straw.

While the notice temporarily lifted a ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages, it did not impact the open carry laws imposed by the state. If you pick up a beverage and want to drive home to enjoy it at a socially safe distance, you have to put the drink in the trunk. Not the utility compartment or glove compartment. You also can’t consume alcohol in public or in any area where open containers are prohibited, the memo notes.

Other relief efforts include allowing retailers to sell alcohol through drive-through windows or slide-out trays. This is in effect until further notice.

American Airlines will use passenger planes for cargo-only flights to Europe

American Airlines today announced that it will fly a handful of cargo-only flights to Europe, using its standard 777-300 passenger planes, over the course of the next few days. The company says these flights will carry medical supplies, mail for active U.S. military, telecommunications equipment and electronics, as well as packages from e-commerce firms.

This marks the first time American is operating cargo-only flights since 1984, when it retired its last 747 freighter (one of those retired planes, by the way, was then modified to carry NASA’s shuttle on its back).

By default, virtually all airlines carry cargo on their domestic and international flights. American, for example, notes that it shipped over 400 tons of flowers from Amsterdam to the U.S. in the two weeks around Valentine’s day. As airlines started shrinking their operations in light of various travel restrictions and plummeting customer demand during the current COVID-19 outbreak, that cargo capacity shrunk, too, even though there is still plenty of demand for moving cargo between countries. As of now American and the other major U.S. airlines have suspended the majority of their international long-haul flights.

“We have a critical role to play in keeping essential goods moving during this unprecedented time, and we are proud to do our part and find ways to continue to serve our customers and our communities,” said Rick Elieson, President of Cargo and Vice President of International Operations at American. “Challenging times call for creative solutions, and a team of people across the airline has been working nonstop to arrange cargo-only flight options for our customers.”

For now, American only plans to make two round trips between Dallas and Frankfurt over the course of the next four days. “The flights provide much-needed cargo capacity for many of the airline’s regular cargo customers, allowing them to continue operating in this challenging environment,” the company says in its announcement.

Delta, too, recently announced that it would use some of its grounded passenger planes to move cargo as well. As airlines continue to grapple with the fallout of this pandemic, we’ll likely see more of them do this in the coming weeks.