If you ask Nik Bonaddio why he wanted to build a new mobile trivia app, his answer is simple.
“In my life, I’ve got very few true passions: I love trivia and I love sports,” Bonaddio told me. “I’ve already started a sports company, so I’ve got to start a trivia company.”
He isn’t kidding about either part of the equation. Bonaddio actually won $100,000 on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”, which he used to start the sports analytics company numberFire (acquired by FanDuel in 2014).
And today, after a period of beta testing, Bonaddio is launching BigBrain. He’s also announcing that the startup has raised $4.5 million in seed funding from FirstRound Capital, Box Group, Ludlow Ventures, Golden Ventures and others.
But Bonaddio said BigBrain is approaching things differently than HQ in a few key ways. For starters, although there will be a handful of free games, the majority will require users to pay to enter, with the cash rewards coming from the entry fees. (From a legal perspective, Bonaddio said this is distinct from gambling because trivia is recognized as a game of skill.)
“The free-to-play model doesn’t really work for trivia,” he argued.
In addition, there will be no live video with a live host — Bonaddio said this would “very, very difficult from a technical perspective and very cost ineffective.” Instead, he claimed the company has found a middle ground: “We have photos, we have different interactive elements, it’s not just a straight multiple choice quiz. We do try to keep it interactive.”
Plus, the simpler production means that where HQ was only hosting two quizzes a day, BigBrain will be hosting 20, with quizzes every 15 minutes at peak times.
Topics will range from old school hip hop to college football to ’90s movies, and Bonaddio said different quizzes will have different prize structures — some might be winner take all, while others might award prizes to the top 50% of participants. The average quiz will cost $2 to $3 to enter, but prices will range from free to “$20 or even $50.”
What kind of quiz might cost that much money to enter? As an example, Bonaddio said that in a survey of potential users, he found, “There are no casual ‘Rick and Morty’ fans … They’re almost completely price sensitive, and since they’ve seen every episode, they can’t fathom a world where someone knows more about ‘Rick and Morty’ than they do.”
Env0 lands $17M Series A as infrastrucure as code control plane gains traction
As companies deliver code ever faster, they need tooling to provide some semblance of control and governance over the cloud resources being used to deliver it. Env0, a startup that is helping companies do just that, announced a $17 million Series A today.
M12, Microsoft’s Venture Fund, led the round with participation from previous investors Boldstart Ventures, Grove Ventures and Crescendo Ventures. The company received a $3.3 million seed round, which we covered, last April and a previously unannounced $3.5 million add-on last summer. Today’s round brings the total raised to $23.8 million.
The company’s service helps companies control cloud costs, while giving developers the ability to deploy to the cloud with cost limits. It also provides a level of governance for code as it moves through the development cycle to deployment.
When we spoke to the company last April around its seed round, the company’s product was just entering beta. It has been generally available for about 4 months now and they’ve built out a lot of functionality since then, according to company co-founder and CEO Ohad Maislish.
“The last time we spoke we were just focussed on manual self service and empowering developers in non production environments. Now with infrastructure as code automation and teams and governance, we basically manage all of the cloud deployments for our customers,” Maislish explained.
Since going generally available with the product this year, he reports the company now has dozens of paying customers and is generating revenue. Customers includes JFrog, Varonis and BigID.
The startup has also grown from just 7 employees in April 2020 to 17 today with plans to reach 50 in the next 18 months it begins putting the new capital to work. He says that bringing in a diverse group of workers should help his company grow and bring different ways of solving problems. “I think that bringing people with different cultures, different backgrounds, is key in that they will bring [different ways of thinking].”
For now, the company is based in Israel with plans to open offices in the U.S.. Mailslish says that his plans to move to California were put on hold by the pandemic, but he hopes to open an office in Sunnyvale in the fall.
The Israeli office is a minimum of two days in the office, three days at home or whatever combination employees wish. He says that he plans to hire people in the U.S. office as he establishes himself there and some of those employees can be remote if it makes sense for the role.
Orbion, manufacturer of in-space plasma propulsion systems, raises $20M Series B
Electric propulsion developer Orbion Space Technology has raised $20 million in a Series B funding round, which it says it will use to scale production capacity of its Aurora propulsion system.
The Michigan-based startup manufactures Hall effect plasma thrusters for use in small and cube satellites. Thrusters are used throughout the lifespan of a satellite (or any object in space that needs to maintain its orbit, like the space station) to adjust orbital altitude, avoid collisions, and de-orbit the craft once it has reached the end of its useful life. Hall thrusters use a magnetic field to ionize a propellant and produce plasma.
While they have long been used in space, this type of thruster has mostly been too expensive for small satellite operators. Orbion says it has created a cost-effective production capacity to meet the growing demand of startups and developers launching to low Earth orbit. Orbion CEO Brad King said in a statement that the company considered contract manufacturers but ultimately chose a vertically integrated manufacturing model. Now, the company says it has outgrown its existing manufacturing space.
The company is facing “unprecedented market demand” for its Aurora system, King said. With the boom of the so-called new space economy, driven in part by the decreased costs of processors, components and even launch, it’s no surprise that there’s been a concurrent uptick in demand for efficient in-space propulsion systems.
The company had previously raised a $9.2 million Series A in August 2019. Since that time, the company secured a research partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense that’s testing the resiliency of American space systems. Orbion also landed a contract with satellite manufacturer Blue Canyon Technologies last September.
This most recent funding round was led by the US-India VC firm Inventus Capital Partners, with additional participation from Material Impact, Beringea and Wakestream Ventures.
“The space game is changing,” Inventus Capital Partners investor Kanwal Rekhi said in a statement. “Large satellites are being replaced by a multitude of nano-satellites; just like the PCs replaced mainframes. Orbion is providing these nano-satellites maneuverability to get into more precise orbits and stay there longer.”
Accept.inc secures $90M in debt and equity to scale its digital mortgage lending platform
A lot of startups were built to help people make all-cash offers on homes with the purpose of gaining an edge against other buyers, especially in ultra-competitive markets.
Accepti.inc is a Denver-based company that is attempting to create a new category in real estate technology. To help scale its digital mortgage lending platform, the company announced today that it has secured $90 million in debt and equity – with $78 million in debt and $12 million in equity. Signal Fire led the equity portion of its financing, which also included participation from existing seed investors Y Combinator and DN Capital.
Accept.inc describes itself as an iLender, or a “technology-enabled lender” that gives people a way to submit all-cash offers on a home upon qualifying for a mortgage.
Using its platform, a buyer gets qualified first and then can start looking for homes that fall at or under the amount he or she is approved for. They can purchase a more expensive home, but any amount above what they are approved for would have to come out of pocket. Historically, most buyers don’t know that they will have to pay out of pocket until they’ve made an offer on a specific home and an appraisal comes under the amount of the price they are paying for a home. In those cases, the buyer has to cough up the difference out of pocket. With Accept.inc., its execs tout, buyers know upfront how much they are approved for and can spend on a new home “so there are no surprises later.”
SignalFire Founding Partner and CTO Ilya Kirnos describes Accept.inc as “the first and only iLender.”
He points out that since it is a lender, Accept.inc doesn’t make its money by charging buyers fees like some others in the all-cash offer space.
“Unlike ‘iBuyers’ or ‘alternative iBuyers,’ Accept.inc fronts the cash to buy a house and then makes money off mortgage origination and title, meaning sellers, homebuyers and their agents pay no additional cost for the service,” he told TechCrunch.
IBuyers instead buy homes from sellers who signed up online, make a profit by often fixing up and selling those homes and then helping people purchase a different home with all cash. They also make money by charging transaction fees. A slew of companies operate in the space including established players such as Opendoor and Zillow and newer players such as Homelight.
Since its 2016 inception, Accept.inc says it has helped thousands of buyers, agents and sellers close on “hundreds of millions of dollars” in homes. The company saw ”14x” growth in 2020 and from June 2020 to June 2021, it achieved “10x” growth in terms of the size of its team and number of transactions and revenue, according to CEO and co-founder Adam Pollack. Accept.inc wants to use its new capital to build on that momentum and meet demand.
Pollack and Nick Friedman met while in college and started building Accept.inc with the goal of “turning every offer into a cash offer.” The pair essentially “failed for two years,” half-jokes Pollack.
“We basically became an encyclopedia of 1,000 ways the idea of helping people make all-cash offers wouldn’t work,” he said.
The team went through Y Combinator in the winter of 2019 and that’s when they created the iLender concept. In the iLender model, the company uses its cash to buy a house for buyers. Once the loan with Accept.inc is ready to close, the company sells back the house to the buyer “at no additional cost or fees.”
“Basically what we learned through those two years is that you have to vertically integrate all of your core competencies, and you can’t rely on third parties to own or manage your special sauce for you,” Pollack told TechCrunch. “We also realized that if you’re going to build a cash offer for anyone who could afford a mortgage, you’ve got to make it a full bona fide cash offer that closes in three days as opposed to a better version of what existed. And you have to own that, and take the risk that comes with it and be comfortable with that.”
The benefits of their model, the pair say, is that buyers get to be cash buyers, sellers can close in as little as 32 hours, and agents “get a guaranteed commission check.”
“Our mission is that everyone should have an equal chance at homeownership,” Friedman said. “We not only want to level the playing field, we want to create a new standard.”
Buyers using Accept.inc win 6-7 times more frequently, the company claims. With its new capital, It also plans to double its team of 90 and enter new markets outside of its home base of Denver.
SignalFire Partner Chris Scoggins believes that Accept.inc is different from other lenders in that its focus is on “winning the home, not just servicing the loan, with a business model that’s 10x more capital-efficient than other players in the market.
“The team is driven…to level the playing field for homebuyers who today lose out against all-cash offers from home-flippers and wealthy individuals,” he added. “We see an enormous opportunity for Accept.inc to become the backbone of the future of mortgage lending.”
Exclusive: Startup bttn. Takes On Medical Supply Ordering With $1.5M Seed
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JT Garwood and Jack Miller started the Seattle-based company in March after seeing health care companies struggle during the global pandemic to pay fair prices for supplies as they competed with other entities due to shortages.
“My background is in software sales at Microsoft, and we started and then sold PPE.Exchange, a marketplace to alleviate supply shortages during the pandemic,” Garwood told Crunchbase News. “As we talked to health care companies, we learned how hard it was to purchase supplies at a fair price. After conversations with vendors, hospitals and clinics, we saw an opportunity to change the medical supply industry.”
Targeting the U.S. wholesale medical supply market, which is predicted to be valued at $243.3 billion this year according to IBISWorld, bttn. developed a platform aimed at cutting out middlemen, offering direct-from-manufacturer pricing and providing a better ordering experience.
Its marketplace eliminates the need for exclusive and restrictive contracts and enables providers to save between 20 percent and 40 percent on their medical supply bills, while also taking advantage of improved shipping and delivery speeds, Garwood said.
“We are taking a process that traditionally involved fax machines or a sales rep, and putting it on a web application for order automation,” he added. “You can build a cart with gowns and syringes and then subscribe on a 30-, 60- or 90-day basis.”
In its first three months of operation, bttn. secured more than 300 customers and did more than $500,000 in sales, he added. In addition, the company formed partnerships with 11 health care associations and have 20 more being finalized.
The company will use the funds to expand its technical, sales and operations teams.
Deshpande, co-founder and CEO of Farmers Business Network, said in an interview that when he met Garwood, he admired his mission-driven approach to lowering costs for health care businesses.
“bttn. is bringing transparency to small businesses,” he added. “JT and Jack understand where small hospital systems are coming from when buying goods, and have easier options for how to do it. I liked the gritty way they launched and got initial traction. They have a big potential to make an impact and be a big company.”
Illustration: Dom Guzman
Stay up to date with recent funding rounds, acquisitions, and more with the Crunchbase Daily.
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