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Applications now open for the COVID-X acceleration programme! Using data-driven solutions to save lives (Sponsored)



COVID-X has announced the launch of their Open Call #2! Applications are now open for a unique acceleration programme in Europe, which will fast-track to market 15+ European data technology solutions, that are addressing COVID-19 challenges and facilitating an innovative stack of AI-driven tools in order to defeat the pandemic.

COVID-X Programme, supported by the European Commission under Horizon2020 programme, funds European companies and healthcare providers to boost 30+ data-driven solutions to the markets to overcome clinical challenges in diagnosis, prognosis, and follow-up. The funding is invested in solutions with TRL 7+ and [or in the process of] CE marking, covering two profiles: single solution (EU tech SMEs / Start-Ups) validating their solutions at one of COVID-X pilot sites; or team solution (Tech provider bringing in a healthcare provider that will validate the solution).

COVID-X involves a consortium of 10 prominent partners from 7 different countries: F6S, AUSTRALO, Civitta, Bosonit, Intrasoft, Eight Bells, UPM, Humanitas, SERMAS, Karolinska Inst.

The COVID-X Programme Open Call #1 closed on 27 January 2021, gathering 112 applications from data technology companies and healthcare providers coming from 29 different countries in Europe and beyond. In total, 16 selected single and team solutions were selected and are now completing the 1st Sprint of the programme.

What are the benefits?

The COVID-X Programme provides a tailored acceleration programme, organized in 3 sprints, of 3 months each. These include:

  • Funding
  • Technical coaching
  • Business mentoring sessions
  • Support in ethical issues
  • Piloting with healthcare organizations.

The 10-month programme aims to boost quick market uptake, to defeat COVID-19 with data solutions.

How can we apply?

Open Call#2 has a two-stage application process. In the first stage, the applicant’s eligibility and alignment with the selection criteria are assessed. All eligible applications access the 2nd stage where the complete application form with detailed information about the solution & implementation is required.

The Open Call#2 application is now open in this link. The deadline for the first stage will be on the 22nd of July 2021 (17:00PM CEST). Good luck!

Tips on applying

The COVID-X team invites you to join a series of webinars (free of charge) that will take place in June and July, which will cover the programme from application to technical requirements.

Experts from the consortium will present the programme and solve the questions you may have about applying:

  • June 22nd 12:00 pm CEST – COVID-X Open Call 2, Acceleration services, Application and selection Overview (30 min), Q&A (30 min).
  • June 23rd 12:00 pm CEST – COVID-X Technical Infrastructure Overview (30 min), Q&A (30 min).
  • June 24th 12:00pm CEST – COVID-X Clinical partners & datasets (30 min), Q&A (30 min).
  • July 13th 12:00 pm CEST – COVID-X Open Call 2, Application and selection Overview (30 min), Q&A (30 min)
You can register for the informational webinars, here.
For further information on COVID-X, please visit their website. Good luck!

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Start Ups

The Briefing: Taboola Buying Connexity for $800M, Index Ventures raises $3.1B, And More



Here’s what you need to know today in startup and venture news, updated by the Crunchbase News staff throughout the day to keep you in the know.

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Taboola to acquire Connexity for $800M

Taboola, the online ad and recommendation provider, announced a deal to acquire digital advertising company Connexity for $800 million.

Los Angeles-based Connexity is a portfolio company of Symphony Technology Group, a private equity firm focused on software and analytics. The company works with merchants to determine which product offerings to put on publishers’ websites.

The deal comes roughly three weeks after Taboola went public on Nasdaq by completing a merger with a SPAC. The company trades under the ticker TBLA and was recently valued around $1.9 billion.

Index Ventures raises $3.1B

Index Ventures announced $3.1 billion in new funds this week. The capital will be spread across its seed-, early- and growth-stage funds. The firm will be investing across consumer, enterprise, gaming, fintech, and software infrastructure companies, according to an announcement from Index. Index has invested in companies including Robinhood and Glossier.

–Sophia Kunthara

Public offerings

Outbrain raises $160M in IPO: Outbrain, provider of an online advertising recommendation platform, raised $160 million in its initial public offering. The New York-based company priced shares at $20 each, below the projected range of $24 to $26. It will trade on Nasdaq under the ticker symbol OB.

Zomato surges in market debut: India-based food delivery provider Zomato saw shares surge in first-day trading, rising around 65 percent as investors snapped up stock. The company raised around $1.3 billion in the offering.

— Joanna Glasner

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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Star-Gazing Investors Launch More Money Into Space Tech



Although Jeff Bezos‘ and Richard Branson‘s brief space jaunts have generated massive media interest in space travel for the last week, investors have been over the moon about space tech for at least two years now.

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Venture funding in space travel, satellite communication and aerospace — which includes space-related technologies such as thrusters and propulsion systems — hit a new high last year, and that record is likely to be eclipsed this year.

According to Crunchbase data, nearly $5.2 billion in venture funding has gone into space tech funding already this year — including huge rounds such as SpaceX’s $850 million round and Long Beach, California-based Relatively Space‘s$650 million Series E.

Those figures put this year on pace to rocket past the nearly $6 billion invested in space tech last year. Deal flow also is on track to exceed last year’s with 136 funding rounds announced thus far this year compared to 238 in 2020.

“I think in the last 12 to 18 months … you are seeing investors open up to new types of space technologies,” said Beau Jarvis, CEO of El Segundo, California-based Phase Four, a developer of a thruster for satellite propulsion that closed a $26 million Series B last month.

“Investors are seeing the ecosystem is more complex than just rocket launching,” he said.

Not just rockets

While companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Bezos’ Blue Origin and Branson’s Virgin Galactic catch many of the headlines, those in the industry say the current escalation in funding is really due to satellite technologies and investors seeing the possibilities involved in building up the infrastructure of space for the betterment of business down below.

“This current interest really started about two years ago,” said Stewart Alsop, co-founder and partner at Alsop Louie Partners, an early-stage technology venture capital firm that has investments in Phase Four and Berthoud, Colorado-based propulsion technology company Ursa Major Technologies.

Alsop said the sector has seen its share of ups and downs as it has grown into what he calls “Space 2.0” after the first wave of companies like SpaceX and Rocket Lab were founded. As launching has become cheaper and propulsion technologies have improved, investors are seeing the commercial, government and military possibilities of space.

“Investor appetite is not waning,” he said. “The deal flow right now is amazing.”

Steve Jurvetson, co-founder of Future Ventures, sits on the board of SpaceX and said that while space tourism “sets people dreaming again,” some of the biggest opportunities related to space tech are really related to communication, earth imaging and telecom.

He said those opportunities and others have definitely increased interest in the sector. By his count, in the last three years, more than 300 venture capital firms have made their first bets in space tech.

“As we see companies have matured, more investors have wanted to invest,” said Mark Boggett, managing director of London-based space investment firm Seraphim Capital.

Boggett said space sits at the crossroads of several large trends, including connectivity, mobility and data, and that is driving investments to new heights — especially as both launch and cost of satellites have decreased about 100x over the years.

As costs have lowered, companies continue to emerge that are using real-time information from satellites that can provide useful — and financially valuable — data around sustainability and climate change or can help bring connectivity to the more than 50 percent of the world that does not have the infrastructure for such, Boggett said.

“We are creating a digital platform in the sky,” he added.

Seeing the money

Of course, while the possibility of making money in an emerging market like space attracts investors’ attention — actually seeing money being made is what makes them flock to an industry.

To that point, SPACs — or special-purpose acquisition companies — have proven very interested in helping birth space tech companies into the public market.

Just this month, Google-backed Planet Labs announced it will go public in a $2.8 billion SPAC deal. In April, Seraphim Capital-backed satellite-to-cell company AST & Science — now known as AST SpaceMobile — went public through a SPAC. Also in April, Canadian space operations and satellite company MDA had an initial public offering on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

In March, another Seraphim Capital-backed company — small satellite builder and data company Spire Global — announced a SPAC deal which will value it at $1.6 billion. That same month, Rocket Lab announced it would merge with a SPAC to go public later in the year in a deal that values the company at more than $4 billion.

Space SPACs

Of course, not all has gone well for space tech companies seeking an entrance to the public market. This month, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Santa Clara, California-based in-space transit company Momentus and its SPAC with making false claims and allowed investors to drop out.

Peter Kant, CEO of Boston-based propulsion developer Accion Systems, said the interest from SPACs in space technologies is very real. Accion just raised a $42 million Series C this week and Kant said the company was approached by SPACs while fundraising.

“It seems like raising $300 million is easier than raising $30 million because of the aggressiveness of the SPAC market,” he said with a laugh.

In the end, the company raised its money a little earlier than scheduled because of the interest it was seeing from SPACs, but decided going public via a SPAC was not right for Accion at this time.

“There is just such a range of opportunities coming to the market for investors,” said Boggett referring to exit strategies now available to companies in the industry.

With the returns the sector is seeing from going public, he added, the industry now has a complete ecosystem for investing — from seed rounds to large growth raises to the public markets.

“We now have the full funding ladder,” he said.


Space technologies are being defined by the industries of space travel, satellite communication and aerospace as according to Crunchbase data. Funding numbers include pre-seed, seed and all venture rounds.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

Stay up to date with recent funding rounds, acquisitions, and more with the Crunchbase Daily.

From next-generation batteries to autonomous driving technology to electric aircraft, automakers led private funding rounds collectively valued at…

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Start Ups

Automakers Reap Big Exits With SPACs, But There Are Bumps In The Road



After years spent pouring billions into an assortment of transportation and battery tech startups, automakers are reaping some returns.

Mostly, they have SPACs to thank. As more venture-backed transport and cleantech startups go public via mergers with blank-check acquirers, automakers are among the stakeholders poised to gain from successful offerings. 

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At least six automaker-backed companies have already completed SPAC offerings, and more are waiting in the wings. We used Crunchbase data to look at what’s driving the momentum, and at which direction things appear to be heading.

Completed SPAC deals

Per Crunchbase data, at least seven companies with automakers among their backers have gone public via SPAC since last year. Four are EV makers. They include: Nikola Motors and Lordstown Motors (both backed by GM), as well as electric-bus maker Proterra (backed by GM, BMW and Daimler), and luxe EV maker Faraday Future (backed by China’s Geely).

Three other automaker-backed SPACs that have hit public markets are electric battery technology company QuantumScape (backed by Volkswagen), lidar developer Luminar (backed by Daimler and Volvo), and online customer parts marketplace Xometry (backed by BMW).

Electric vehicle companies have been particularly popular targets for SPACs, as we’ve covered before. Although many private EV companies are pre-revenue and virtually all are deeply unprofitable, they have a number of qualities that SPACs find attractive. This includes potential for high future revenue projections, the ability to put large capital raises to work, and an enthusiastic following among public market investors.

Not yet completed SPAC deals

Since it usually takes a few months from announcement to completion of a successful blank-check merger, several automaker-backed SPACs are still in progress.

One of the most closely watched SPAC tie-ups is in the electric aircraft space. Joby Aviation, a Toyota-backed developer of planes capable of vertical takeoffs, announced plans to go public in a SPAC deal that sets a $6.6 billion post-money equity value for the Santa Cruz, California-based company.

Another is in the autonomous driving space. Aurora, a developer of self-driving technology that counts Hyundai among its backers, is merging with a SPAC called Reinvent Technology Partners Y in a deal that values the company at around $11 billion.

Aftermarket ups and downs

Not every offering has been a reliable hit with public investors.

Both Nikola and Lordstown have seen sharp declines from their peak prices amid allegations that they overpromised and underdelivered. Lordstown’s CEO and CFO resigned last month following charges of overstating pre-orders. Nikola’s founder and executive chairman stepped down last fall, following allegations of overstating the company’s progress.

Three others — QuantumScape, Luminar and Proterra — are also trading at  a fraction of their former highs.

Still, even off their peaks, the majority of automaker-backed newly public companies are sustaining valuations in the multiple billions. And, as announcements of new transportation SPAC deals continue to roll in at a steady clip, it appears we have miles to go before this cycle runs out of spark.

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias

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Why Training And Education Are Key For LatAm’s Emerging Startup Market To Thrive



By John Freddy Vega

Colombia is best known for its amazing coffee, emeralds, and roses. Many people know about them from movies and TV shows that highlight these wonderful aspects of the country. Others know Colombia thanks to Gabriel García Márquez and his magical realism.

This is my country, my life and it’s a part of a beautiful and incredibly diverse bigger whole: Latin America, the region I grew up in, and with which I identify myself wherever I go.

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Unfortunately, however, the media often highlights our region’s violent past, the one we are still leaving behind as we close wounds and move forward towards a better future, and it is not easy for us to face it. We all have sacrificed something along the way and share a common burden left to us from our own past.

This is not to try and compare the world’s painful moments to Colombia’s. Rather, I want to state that, despite what’s seen on social media, Latin America has the opportunity to take a great leap and undergo a monumental economic and social transformation.

In 2014, together with an initial competitor and later partner, Christian Van der Henst, I created Platzi to bring first-rate education to all corners where the Internet reaches — not only to a country, but also throughout Latin America or any Spanish-speaking place where required.

Talent is equally distributed, but the opportunities and access to methods, techniques and subjects that mark the future of new generations are not.

I have been lucky. Partly, yes, self-taught, but it shouldn’t have been that way.

Only 30 percent of the Latino university age population manages to attend higher education in the U.S. Families live on a very low income in Latin America, and it takes between six and 11  generations to get out of poverty due to the lack of opportunities.

More than two million students learn to code at Platzi. We were fortunate enough to go through Y Combinator, the best gateway to Silicon Valley. We got their approval, also in the form of investment, and returned home to transform the region.

In recent years we have obtained, in addition to financing, the support of institutions and entities such as the Inter-American Development Bank and the Organization of American States to continue with our mission.

Since then, our students have seen how their progress goes hand in hand with their training. They’ve gained better jobs and more opportunities for the future, and some have even taken the entrepreneurial path. Nothing excites us more than to see how they take charge of their lives and get to be job creators themselves.

In recent years, Latin America has received notable capital injections, both from SoftBank and from leading Silicon Valley funds. Yes, Sand Hill Road has finally looked south of the San Diego border.

Rappi, a catalyst for the economy in its own right, is the spearhead of a dynamic ecosystem. After its success, it has been followed by Kavak, Justo, and Cornershop, acquired by Uber, by the way. There is also Nubank, DLocal and Bitso.

Internet giants like Netflix, Amazon, Uber, Oracle, and Microsoft have not only opened subsidiaries to drive sales, but also rely on the talent and ingenuity of our brains. From our workforce — blue collar to white collar — that is the path we are paving.

Despite this infusion of capital, however, a principal factor is still missing in the region: education. Without training for the challenges facing startups, it will not be possible to grow at the right pace. Or, at least, the one desired by venture capital investors.

The pandemic has given e-learning an unparalleled boost. Investment in edtech increased by 146 percent in 2020, according to a report by the Latin American Venture Capital Association.

Technical talent — so valued, nurtured and revered not only in Silicon Valley — spreads like a weed from nothing, yes, but not completely. You need a base, a beginning, a start that is not always found. That is why our mission at Platzi helps these investments find a fertile field in which to grow. In this way, the intellectual workforce progresses at the same rate as business.

John Freddy Vega is founder and CEO of Platzi

Investment in both physical and telecommunications infrastructure have made Latin America a fertile field for applications, businesses, and startups that solve major challenges. At the same time, the people have embraced fintechs with real conviction.

The intersection between technology and finance already accounts for 40 percent of venture capital investment in Latin America in 2020. Nubank, Bitso, DLocal are all regional unicorns serving millions of people. This has increased the market share in digital services, the facilities that fintech companies and the mobile economy offer help to maintain a more dynamic economy.

Along with finance, insurance and transportation have been the fastest-adopted sectors in the region and I predict we will soon see more competitors in these fields and that these sectors will also be hiring more rapidly.

Now, where will they find the people capable of leading a disruption? Yes, it is true that exorbitant salaries can attract foreign talent. But it’s also true that it is not an easily replicable solution.

Creating this new breed of exponentially minded specialist professionals will completely change the perspective of the region, precisely now, when the eyes of the world are on our ability to get into debt and succeed triumphantly.

We still have a pending challenge, a dream: to build a great technology company on a global scale. That is why we are pushing together. Latin America needs a giant, like Alibaba has been for China, or Samsung for South Korea, or Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook for the United States — true generators of employment, wealth and a competitive ecosystem in order to have an effect throughout the region.

This is why we want to multiply our support. We must improve education and training to give Latin American people a fighting chance. This will lead us all to a better tomorrow.

John Freddy Vega is founder and CEO of Platzi, a Latin American online education platform empowering countries across the world by helping the next generation of students acquire in-demand tech skills.

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