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May 26, 2019
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Agtech startup Agrilyst is now Artemis, raises $8M Series A

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Artemis, the ag-tech startup formerly known as Agrilyst, today announced that it has raised an $8 million Series A funding round. The round was co-led by Astanor Ventures and Talis Capital, with participation from iSelect Fund and New York State’s Empire State Development Fund. With this, the company, which won our 2015 Disrupt SF Battlefield competition, has now raised a total of $11.75 million.

When Agrilyst launched, the company mostly focused on helping indoor farmers and greenhouse operators manage their operations by gathering data about their crop yields and other metrics. Over the course of the last few years, that mission has expanded quite a bit, though, and today’s Artemis sees itself as an enterprise Cultivation Management Platform (CMP) that focuses on all aspects of indoor farming, including managing workers and ensuring compliance with food safety and local cannabis regulations, for example.

The expanded platform is meant to give these businesses a single view of all of their operations and integrates with existing systems that range from climate control to ERP tools and Point of Sale systems.

Compliance is a major part of the expanded platform. “When you look at enterprise operations, that risk is compounded because it’s not just that risk across many, many sites and many acres, so in 2018, we switched to almost entirely focusing on those operations and have gained a lot of momentum in that space,” Kopf said. “And now we’re using the funding to expand from mainly focusing on managing that data to help with profitability to using that data to help you with everything from compliance down to the profitability element. We want to limit that exposure to controllable risk.”

With this new focus on compliance, the company also added Dr. Kathleen Merrigan to its board. Merrigan was the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture in the Obama administration and is the first Executive Director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University . She is also a venture partner at Astanor Ventures .

“Technology innovation is rapidly transforming the agriculture sector. Artemis’ approach to using data as a catalyst for growth and risk management provides the company a significant advantage with enterprise-level horticulture operations,” said Merrigan.

Cannabis, it’s worth noting, was not something the company really focused on in its early years, but as the company’s CEO and founder Allison Kopf told me, it now accounts for about half of the company’s revenue. Only a few years ago, many investors were also uncomfortable investing in a company that was in the cannabis business, but that’s far less of an issue today.

“When we raised our seed round in 2015, we were pitching to a lot of funds and a lot of funds told us that they had LPs that can’t invest in cannabis. So if you’re pitching that you’re going to eventually be in cannabis, we’re going to have to step away from the investment, ” Kopf said. “Now, folks are saying: ‘If you’re not in cannabis, we don’t want to invest.’”

Today, Artemis’s clients are worth a collective $5 billion. The company plans to use the

SoFar Sounds house concerts raises $25M, but bands get just $100

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Tired of noisy music venues where you can hardly see the stage? SoFar Sounds puts on concerts in people’s living rooms where fans pay $15 to $30 to sit silently on the floor and truly listen. Nearly 1 million guests have attended SoFar’s more than 20,000 gigs. Having attended a half dozen of the shows, I can say they’re blissful…unless you’re a musician to pay a living. In some cases, SoFar pays just $100 per band for a 25 minute set, which can work out to just $8 per musician per hour or less. Hosts get nothing, and SoFar keeps the rest, which can range from $1100 to $1600 or more per gig — many times what each performer takes home. The argument was that bands got exposure, and it was a tiny startup far from profitability.

Today, SoFar Sounds announced it’s raised a $25 million round led by Battery Ventures and Union Square Ventures, building on the previous $6 million it’d scored from Octopus Ventures and Virgin Group. The goal is expansion — to become the de facto way emerging artists play outside of traditional venues. It’s already throwing 600 shows per month across 430 cities around the world, and over 40 of the 25,000 bands who’ve played its gigs have gone on to be nominated for or win Grammys. The startup has enriched culture by offering an alternative to late night, dark and dirty club shows that don’t appeal to hard-working professionals or older listeners.

But it’s also entrenching a long-standing problem: the underpayment of musicians. With streaming replacing higher priced CDs, musicians depend on live performances to earn a living. SoFar is now institutionalizing that they should be paid less than what gas and dinner costs a band. And if SoFar suck in attendees that might otherwise attend normal venues or independently organized house shows, it could make it tougher for artists to get paid enough there too. That doesn’t seem fair given how small SoFar’s overhead is.

By comparison, SoFar makes Uber look downright generous. A source who’s worked with SoFar tells me the company keeps a lean team of full-time employees who focus on reserving venues, booking artists, and promotion. All the volunteers who actually put on the shows aren’t paid, and neither are the venue hosts, though at least SoFar pays for insurance. The startup has previously declined to pay first-time SoFar performers, instead providing them a “high-quality” video recording of their gig. When it does pay $100 per act, that often amounts to a tiny shred of the total ticket sales.

“SoFar, however, seems to be just fine with leaving out the most integral part: paying the musicians” writes musician Joshua McClain. “This is where they willingly step onto the same stage as companies like Uber or Lyft — savvy middle-men tech start-ups, with powerful marketing muscle, not-so-delicately wedging themselves in-between the customer and merchant (audience and musician in this case). In this model, everything but the service-provider is put first: growth, profitability, share-holders, marketers, convenience, and audience members — all at the cost of the hardworking people that actually provide the service.” He’s urged people to #BoycottSoFarSounds

A deeply reported KQED expose by Emma Silvers found many bands were disappointed with the payouts, and didn’t even know SoFar was a for-profit company. “I think they talk a lot about supporting local artists, but what they’re actually doing is perpetuating the idea that it’s okay for musicians to get paid shit,” Oakland singer-songwriter Madeline Kenney told KQED.

SoFar CEO Jim Lucchese, who previously ran Spotify’s Creator division after selling it his music data startup The Echo Nest and has played SoFar shows himself, declares that “$100 buck for a showcase slot is definitely fair” but admits that “I don’t think playing a SoFar right now is the right move for every type of artist.” He stresses that some SoFar shows, especially in international markets, are pay-what-you-want and artists keep “the majority of the money”. The rare sponsored shows with outside corporate funding like one for the Bohemian Rhapsody film premier can see artists earn up to $1500, but these are a tiny fraction of SoFar’s concerts.

Otherwise, Lucchese says “the ability to convert fans is one of the most magical things about SoFar” referencing how artists rely on asking attendees to buy their merchandise or tickets for their full-shows and follow them on social media to earn money. He claims that if you pull out what SoFar pays for venue insurance, performing rights organizations, and its full-time labor, “a little over half the take goes to the artists.” Unfortunately that makes it sound like SoFar’s few costs of operation are the musicians’ concern. As McClain wrote, “First off, your profitability isn’t my problem.”

Now that it has ample funding, I hope to see SoFar double down on paying artists a fair rate for their time and expenses. Luckily, Lucchese says that’s part of the plan for the funding. Beyond building tools to help local teams organize more shows to meet rampant demand, he says “Am I satisfied that this is the only revenue we make artists right now? Abslutely not. We want to invest more on the artist side.” That includes better ways for bands to connect with attendees and turn them into monetizable fans. Even just a better followup email with Instagram handles and upcoming tour dates could help.

We don’t expect most craftspeople to work for “exposure”. Interjecting a middleman like SoFar shouldn’t change that. The company has a chance to increase live music listening worldwide. But it must treat artists as partners, not just some raw material they can burn through even if there’s always another act desperate for attention. Otherwise musicians and the empathetic fans who follow them might leave SoFar’s living rooms empty.

MultiVu raises $7M seed round for its next-gen 3D sensor

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MultiVu, a Tel Aviv-based startup that is developing a new 3D imaging solution that only relies on a single sensor and some deep learning smarts, today announced that it has raised a $7 million seed round. The round was led by crowdfunding platform OurCrowd, Cardumen Captial and Hong Kong’s Junson Capital.

Tel Aviv University’s TAU Technology Innovation Momentum Fund supported some of the earlier development of MultiVu’s core technology, which came out of Prof. David Mendlovic’s lab at the university. Mendlovic previously co-founded smartphone camera startup Corephotonics, which was recently acquired by Samsung.

The promise of MultiVu’s sensor is that it can offer 3D imaging with a single-lens camera instead of the usual two-sensor setup. This single sensor can extract depth and color data in a single shot.

This makes for a more compact setup and, by extension, a more affordable solution since it requires fewer components. All of this is powered by the company’s patented light field technology.

Currently, the team is focusing on using the sensor for face authentication in phones and other small devices. That’s obviously a growing market, but there are also plenty of other application for small 3D sensors, ranging from other security use cases to sensors for self-driving cars.

“The technology, which passed the proof-of-concept stage will bring 3D Face Authentication and affordable 3D imaging to the mobile, automotive, industrial and medical markets,” MultiVu CEO Doron Nevo said. “We are excited to be given the opportunity to commercialize this technology.”

Right now, though, the team is mostly focusing on bringing its sensor to market, though. The company will use the new funding for that, as well as new marketing and business development activities.

“We are pleased to invest in the future of 3D sensor technologies and believe that MultiVu will penetrate markets, which until now could not take advantage of costly 3D imaging solutions,” said OurCrowd Senior Investment Partner Eli Nir. “We are proud to be investing in a third company founded by Prof. David Mendlovic (who just recently sold CorePhotonics to Samsung), managed by CEO Doron Nevo – a serial entrepreneur with proven successes and a superb team they have gathered around them.”

OpenFin raises $17 million for its OS for finance

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OpenFin, the company looking to provide the operating system for the financial services industry, has raised $17 million in funding through a Series C round led by Wells Fargo, with participation from Barclays and existing investors including Bain Capital Ventures, J.P. Morgan and Pivot Investment Partners. Previous investors in OpenFin also include DRW Venture Capital, Euclid Opportunities and NYCA Partners.

Likening itself to “the OS of finance”, OpenFin seeks to be the operating layer on which applications used by financial services companies are built and launched, akin to iOS or Android for your smartphone.

OpenFin’s operating system provides three key solutions which, while present on your mobile phone, has previously been absent in the financial services industry: easier deployment of apps to end users, fast security assurances for applications, and interoperability.

Traders, analysts and other financial service employees often find themselves using several separate platforms simultaneously, as they try to source information and quickly execute multiple transactions. Yet historically, the desktop applications used by financial services firms — like trading platforms, data solutions, or risk analytics — haven’t communicated with one another, with functions performed in one application not recognized or reflected in external applications.

“On my phone, I can be in my calendar app and tap an address, which opens up Google Maps. From Google Maps, maybe I book an Uber . From Uber, I’ll share my real-time location on messages with my friends. That’s four different apps working together on my phone,” OpenFin CEO and co-founder Mazy Dar explained to TechCrunch. That cross-functionality has long been missing in financial services.

As a result, employees can find themselves losing precious time — which in the world of financial services can often mean losing money — as they juggle multiple screens and perform repetitive processes across different applications.

Additionally, major banks, institutional investors and other financial firms have traditionally deployed natively installed applications in lengthy processes that can often take months, going through long vendor packaging and security reviews that ultimately don’t prevent the software from actually accessing the local system.

OpenFin CEO and co-founder Mazy Dar. Image via OpenFin

As former analysts and traders at major financial institutions, Dar and his co-founder Chuck Doerr (now President & COO of OpenFin) recognized these major pain points and decided to build a common platform that would enable cross-functionality and instant deployment. And since apps on OpenFin are unable to access local file systems, banks can better ensure security and avoid prolonged yet ineffective security review processes.

And the value proposition offered by OpenFin seems to be quite compelling. Openfin boasts an impressive roster of customers using its platform, including over 1,500 major financial firms, almost 40 leading vendors, and 15 out of the world’s 20 largest banks.

Over 1,000 applications have been built on the OS, with OpenFin now deployed on more than 200,000 desktops — a noteworthy milestone given that the ever popular Bloomberg Terminal, which is ubiquitously used across financial institutions and investment firms, is deployed on roughly 300,000 desktops.

Since raising their Series B in February 2017, OpenFin’s deployments have more than doubled. The company’s headcount has also doubled and its European presence has tripled. Earlier this year, OpenFin also launched it’s OpenFin Cloud Services platform, which allows financial firms to launch their own private local app stores for employees and customers without writing a single line of code.

To date, OpenFin has raised a total of $40 million in venture funding and plans to use the capital from its latest round for additional hiring and to expand its footprint onto more desktops around the world. In the long run, OpenFin hopes to become the vital operating infrastructure upon which all developers of financial applications are innovating.

Apple and Google’s mobile operating systems and app stores have enabled more than a million apps that have fundamentally changed how we live,” said Dar. “OpenFin OS and our new app store services enable the next generation of desktop apps that are transforming how we work in financial services.”

Journey launches its real-time group “Peloton For Meditation”

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Sitting silently with your eyes closed isn’t fun but it’s good for you…so you probably don’t meditate as often as you’d like. In that sense it’s quite similar to exercise. But people do show up when prodded by the urgency and peer pressure of scheduled group cycling or aerobics classes. What’s still in the way is actually hauling your lazy butt to the gym, hence the rise of Peloton’s in-home stationary bike with attached screen streaming live and on-demand classes. My butt is particularly lazy, but I’ve done 80 Peloton rides in 4 months. The model works.

Now that model is coming to mindfulness with the launch of Journey LIVE, a subscription iOS app offering live 15-minute group meditation classes. With sessions starting most waking hours, instructors that interact with you directly, and a sense of herd mentality, you feel compelled to dedicate the time to clearing your thoughts. By video and voice, the teachers introduce different meditation theories and practices, guide you through, and answer questions you can type in. Each day, Journey also provides a newly recorded on-demand session in case you need a class on your own schedule.

“‘I tried Headspace’ or ‘I tried Calm’ . With a lot of the current meditation apps, people go on but they drop off very quickly” says Journey founder and CEO Stephen Sokoler. “It means that there’s an interest in meditating and having a better life but people fall off because meditating alone is hard, it’s confusing, it’s boring. Meditating with a live teacher who can connect with you and say your name, who makes you feel seen and heard makes huge difference.”

Journey subscriptions start at $19.99 per month after a week-long free trial. That feels a bit steep, but prices drop to $7.99 if paid annually with the launch discount, or you can dive in with a $399 lifetime pass. The challenge will be keeping users from abandoning meditation and then their subscription without resorting to growth hacking and annoying notifications that are antithetical to the whole concept. Journey has now raised a $2.4M seed round led by Canaan and joined by Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, Betaworks, and more to get the company rolling.

Sokoler’s own journey could set an example of the possibilities of sticking with it. “Meditation changed my life. I was fortunate enough to move to Australia, find a book on Buddhism, and then I had the willpower to start practicing meditation every day” he tells me. “I lost 85 pounds. People ask me how I lost the weight and they expect me to say a diet like keto or Atkins, but it was because of the program I was in.” Suddenly able to sit quietly with himself, Sokoler didn’t need food to stay occupied or feel at ease.

The founder saw the need for new sources of happiness while working in employee rewards and recognition for 12 years. He built up a company that makes momentos for commemorating big business deals. Meditation proved to him the value of developing inner quiet, whether to inspire happiness, calm, focus, or deeper connections to other people and the world. Yet the popular meditation apps ignored thousands of years of tradition when meditation would be taught in groups that give a naturally ethereal activity more structure. He founded Journey in 2015 to bring meditation to corporate environments, but now is hoping to democratize access with the launch of Journey LIVE.

“You could think of it as a real-life meditation community or studio in the palm of your hand” Sokoler explains. Instructors greet you when you join a session in the Journey app and can give you a shout-out for practicing multiple days in a row. They help you concentrate on your breath while giving enough instruction to keep you from falling asleep. You can see or hide a list of screen names of other participants that make you feel less isolated and encourage you not to quit.

Finding a market amidst the popular on-demand meditation apps will be an uphill climb for Journey LIVE. While classes recorded a long time ago might not be as engaging, they’re convenient and can dig deep into certain styles and intentions. Calm and Headspace run around $12.99 per month, making them cheaper than Journey LIVE and potentially easier to scale.

But Sokoler says his app’s beta testing saw better retention than competitors. “If you’ve ever been to the New York Public Library, there’s so many books versus going to a local curated bookstore where something is right there for you. This is much more approachable, much more accessible” Sokoler tells me. “There’s a paradox of choice and having so many options makes it hard for people to stick with it and come back every single day.”

With our phones and Netflix erasing the downtime we used to rely on to give our brain a break or reflect on our day, life is starting to feel claustrophobic. We’re tense, anxious, and easily overwhelmed. Meditation could be the antidote. Unlike with cycling or weightlifting, you don’t need some expensive Peloton bike or Tonal home gym. What you need is consistency, and an impetus to slow down for fifteen minutes you could easily squander. We’re a tribal species, and Journey LIVE group classes could use camaraderie to lure us into the satisfying void of nirvana.

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