March 19, 2019
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Canaan Partners

SeeTree raises $11.5M to help farmers manage their orchards

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SeeTree, a Tel Aviv-based startup that uses drones and artificial intelligence to bring precision agriculture to their groves, today announced that it has raised an $11.5 million Series A funding round led by Hanaco Ventures, with participation from previous investors Canaan Partners Israel, Uri Levine and his investors group, iAngel and Mindset. This brings the company’s total funding to $15 million.

The idea behind the company, which also has offices in California and Brazil, is that in the past, drone-based precision agriculture hasn’t really lived up to its promise and didn’t work all that well for permanent crops like fruit trees. “In the past two decades, since the concept was born, the application of it, as well as measuring techniques, has seen limited success — especially in the permanent-crop sector,” said SeeTree CEO Israel Talpaz. “They failed to reach the full potential of precision agriculture as it is meant to be.”

He argues that the future of precision agriculture has to take a more holistic view of the entire farm. He also believes that past efforts didn’t quite offer the quality of data necessary to give permanent crop farmers the actionable recommendations they need to manage their groves.

SeeTree is obviously trying to tackle these issues and it does so by offering granular per-tree data based on the imagery gathered from drones and the company’s machine learning algorithms that then analyze this imagery. Using this data, farmers can then decide to replace trees that underperform, for example, or map out a plan to selectively harvest based on the size of a tree’s fruits and its development stages. They can then also correlate all of this data with their irrigation and fertilization infrastructure to determine the ROI of those efforts.

“Traditionally, farmers made large-scale business decisions based on intuitions that would come from limited (and often unreliable) small-scale testing done by the naked eye,” said Talpaz. “With SeeTree, farmers can now make critical decisions based on accurate and consistent small and large-scale data, connecting their actions to actual results in the field.”

SeeTree was founded by Talpaz, who like so many Israeli entrepreneurs previously worked for the country’s intelligence services, as well as Barak Hachamov (who you may remember from his early personalized news startup my6sense) and Guy Morgenstern, who has extensive experience as an R&D executive with a background in image processing and communications systems.

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81% of VC firms don’t have a single black investor — BLCK VC wants to change that

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Venture capital has a diversity problem.

BLCK VC, a new organization founded by Storm Ventures associate Frederik Groce and NEA associate Sydney Sykes meant to connect, engage and advance black venture capitalists, is ready for a new era in the industry.

Their mission: Turn 200 black investors into 400 black investors by 2024.

“We think of ourselves as an organization formed by black VCs for blacks VCs to increase the representation of black investors,” Sykes told TechCrunch.

“You can look around and say ‘well, I know five black VCs,’ but you can also say this firm does not have a single black VC, they may not even have a single underrepresented minority … We want to make firms reckon with the fact that there is a racial diversity problem; there is a lack of black VCs and every firm should really care about it.”

BLCK VC has been at work since the beginning of 2018, building and expanding a network of black investors in the San Francisco area, Los Angeles and New York. They seek to provide a community for black investors, a space for honest conversations and questions, and a resource for VC firms looking to make more diverse hires. Today at AfroTech, the organization is taking the wraps off its plan to diversify the VC industry.

“There’s an incredible need to ensure there are resources in place so people don’t churn out of the community; getting people in the door is only half the battle,” Groce told TechCrunch. “This is us saying ‘hey, get involved.’ It’s time to broaden and give others access to what we are doing. It takes a village if we really want to see things start to shift.”

According to data collected by Richard Kerby, a partner at Equal Ventures, 81 percent of VC firms don’t have a single black investor. Roughly 50 percent of black investors in the industry are at the associate level, or the lowest level at a firm; only 2 percent of black investors are partners at a firm.

“It takes a village if we really want to see things start to shift,” BLCK VC co-chair Frederik Groce told TechCrunch.

The lack of representation, especially in powerful positions, has made it difficult for black aspiring investors to enter the industry, as well as for black investors to stay in VC.

“VC, more than a lot of industries, is very network driven in the way that they hire,” Sykes said. “The network started 40 or 50 years ago with a lot of white men who had the wealth at the time to invest in companies. As VC has grown, a lot of the people who started it hired people they knew, there wasn’t an effort to recruit from outside of their network. That has made VC this very homogenous industry.”

Aside from Kerby’s data and a Harvard Business School study on diversity in innovation, there is limited data available on black VCs and funding for black founders. Digitalundivided‘s research arm ProjectDiane is one of the few organizations to report on funding for black female founders, for example. According to its latest report, black women have raised just .0006 percent of all tech venture funding since 2009.

BLCK VC’s board includes Adina Tecklu, a venture investor at Canaan Partners; Brian Hollins, a growth equity investor at Goldman Sachs; Earnest Sweat, an investment manager at Prologis Ventures; and Elliott Robinson, a partner at M12 Ventures.

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Instead of points, Bumped gives equity in the companies you shop at

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What does brand loyalty even mean anymore? App downloads, points, stars, and other complex reward systems have not just spawned their own media empires trying to decipher them, they have failed at their most basic objective: building a stronger bond between a brand and its consumers.

Bumped wants to reinvent the loyalty space by giving consumers shares of the companies they shop at. Through Bumped’s app, consumers choose their preferred retailer in different categories (think Lowe’s vs The Home Depot in home improvement), and when they spend money at that store using a linked credit card, Bumped will automatically give them ownership in that company.

The startup, which is based in Portland and was founded in March 2017, announced the beta launch of its service today, as well as a $14.1 million series A led by Dan Ciporin at Canaan Partners, along with existing seed investors Peninsula Ventures, Commerce Ventures, and Oregon Venture Partners.

Bumped is a brokerage, and the company told me that it has passed all FINRA and SEC licensing. When consumers spend money at participating retailers, they receive bona fide shares in the companies they shop at. Each retailer determines a loyalty percentage rate, which is a minimum of 1% and can go up to 5%. Bumped then buys shares off the public market to reward consumers, and in cases where it needs to buy fractional shares, it will handle all of those logistics.

Bumped’s app allows users to track their shares

For founder and CEO David Nelsen, the startup doesn’t just make good business sense, it can have a wider social impact of democratizing access to the public equity markets. “A lot of brands need to build an authentic relationship with the customers,” he explained to me. “The brands that have a relationship with consumers, beyond price, are thriving.” With Bumped, Nelsen’s goal is to “align the interests of a shareholder and consumer, and everybody wins.”

His mission is to engage more Americans into the equity markets and the power of ownership. He notes that far too many people fail to setup their 401k, and don’t invest regularly in the stock market, citing a statistic that only 13.9% of people directly own a share of stock. By offering shares, he hopes that Bumped engages consumers to think about their relationship to companies in a whole new way. As Nelsen put it, “we are talking about bringing a whole new class of shareholders into the market.”

This isn’t the first time that Nelsen has built a company in the loyalty space. He previously was a co-founder and CEO of Giftango, a platform for prepaid digital gift cards that was acquired by InComm in late 2012.

Consumers will have to choose their Bumped loyalty partner in each category, like burgers

That previously experience has helped the company build an extensive roster for launch. Bumped has 19 brands participating in the beta, including Chipotle, Netflix, Shake Shack, Walgreens, and The Home Depot. Another 6 brands are currently papering contracts with the firm.

Ciporin of Canaan said that he wanted to fund something new in the loyalty space. “There has been just a complete lack of innovation in the loyalty space,” he explained to me. “I think about it as Robinhood meets airline points programs.” One major decider for Ciporin in making the investment was academic research, such as this paper by Jaakko Aspara, showing that becoming a shareholder in a company tended to make consumers significantly more loyal to those brands.

In the short run, Bumped heads into a crowded loyalty space that includes companies like Drop, which I have covered before on TechCrunch. Nelsen believes that the stock ownership model is “an entirely different mechanism” in loyalty, and that makes it “hard to compare” to other loyalty platforms.

Longer term, he hints at exploring how to offer this sort of equity loyalty model to small and medium businesses, a significantly more complex challenge given the lack of liquid markets for their equity. Today, the company is exclusively focused on publicly-traded companies.

Bumped today has 14 people, and is targeting a team size of around 20 employees.

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Ollie, a purveyor of ‘human grade’ pet food, just landed $12.6 million in fresh funding

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Ollie, a two-year-old, New York-based subscription service that sells what it calls human-grade pet food, has raised $12.6 million in Series A funding.

The round was led by Canaan Partners, with participation from WME Ventures, Rosecliff Ventures, RiverPark Funds, Correlation Ventures and earlier backers Primary Venture Partners, Lerer Hippeau Ventures. It brings the company’s total funding to roughly $17 million, including a $4.4 million seed round led by Primary and Lerer Hippeau last fall.

The company certainly takes dog food seriously, promising to customize recipes based on each dog’s “unique needs” as well as recommending the perfect portion and delivering that precise amount of food to its customers’ doors.

It uses a third-party USDA kitchen in the Pennsylvania to produce its meals, which include chicken and beef and lamb heart dishes with butternut squash, rutabaga, chickpeas, potato, cranberries, kale, strawberries, and cod liver oil, among other ingredients that you probably do not associate with dog food (yet!).

Pricing is based ona dog’s calorie needs, with small dogs starting at $3 per day, and averaging around $6 per day per dog.

The company isn’t alone in chasing after the pet food market, which is expected to reach $75 billion in revenue this year globally, but it’s still early days for gourmet on-demand pet food, particularly when compared with the glut of human-grade human food subscription-based companies to emerge in recent years (and, in a growing number of cases, flame out).

Among the outfits Ollie is competing with: The Farmer’s Dog, a pet-food subscription service that scooped up $8.1 million earlier this year; The Honest Kitchen, a 15-year-old, San Diego-based company that said last year it was on track to make $40 million in revenue;  and NomNomNow, a two-year-old, Oakland, Ca.-based startup that appears to be bootstrapped for now.

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