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Take This Job And Automate It: Startups Tackling Labor Shortages Draw More VC Interest

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For decades, startups and the venture capital industry have touted themselves as engines of job creation.

Sure, they’ve ushered in technologies that decimated scores of jobs and occupational categories from newspaper deliverers and taxi operators to travel agents to telephone operators.  

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But, the argument goes, startups have also pioneered whole new careers that didn’t exist decades ago. This includes titles like social media marketer, robotic process automation engineer, Uber driver, Airbnb host, Instacart shopper …  and the list goes on.

Now, in a job market beset with labor shortages, it seems the gig economy startup boom may have created demand for services far exceeding the supply of workers. If so, we can expect that going forward, startups working to automate repetitive, risky or unrewarding tasks will be getting a greater share of buzz in venture circles. 

“Certainly today we see areas of work where there aren’t enough people to do that work,” said Peter Barrett, founder and general partner at Playground Global, a deep-tech focused venture firm that is backing startups looking to bring automation to areas including cancer therapy, farming and e-commerce fulfilment. 

More money to mechanize jobs

Those are a few of many industries targeted by automation-oriented entrepreneurs. In fields from construction to transport to homecare to food service, employers are struggling to fill open positions at prevailing wages. 

Startups and growth-stage companies are increasingly securing funding to do these jobs. A survey of seed-stage funding rounds in Crunchbase for 2021 showed labor-saving robotics as an increasingly popular investment theme. A curated list featured companies such as Bear Flag Robotics, a developer of autonomous tractors; Pickle Robot, maker of bots for package handling and logistics; and Chef Robotics, which is bringing robotics to restaurant kitchens.

Of course the popular mental image of automation — a metal man doing someone’s job — isn’t an accurate depiction of how things actually work, Barrett notes. In the real world, automation may be purely software or a mix of hardware and software. And the notion of taking a job isn’t quite right either. Usually it’s more about reducing or altering the human tasks required to do the job.

That’s the concept behind one of the biggest venture-backed exits of 2021, the IPO of robotic process automation (RPA) provider UiPath. The company, recently valued at around $38 billion, touts its mission on its homepage: “We make software robots, so people don’t have to be robots.” In other words, it looks for ways to get software to do the boring and repetitive aspects of desk jobs.

UiPath is one of several RPA companies to raise massive funding, with the sector seeing brisk investment and dealmaking of late. Two tech behemoths — SAP and ServiceNow — have made acquisitions in the space this year, respectively snapping up German startup Signavio and India-based Intellibot.io. Meanwhile, UiPath’s best known venture-backed rival, Automation Anywhere, is reportedly getting prepared for a potential IPO filing of its own.

RPA software allows companies to automate aspects of invoicing, data entry and even customer service and marketing. Purveyors of the technology generally pitch it as a way not to eliminate jobs but to free up time for employees to focus on higher-value activities. However, some observers of the space see a good likelihood that bots will reduce the ranks of white-collar jobs over time. 

Industry and agriculture

Startups are also targeting industrial jobs. Path Robotics, a developer of  autonomous welding robots, just raised $56 million in Series B funding to scale a technology founders and investors say could help relieve an expected severe labor shortage among American welders. Without some solution, such as automation, the company says the shortage could lead to “a choke point for American manufacturing across industries.”

The list of other industries automation-oriented startups are targeting is lengthy, covering agriculture, shipping, warehouses, and pretty much anywhere there’s a repetitive job to be done.

Of course, there are plenty of jobs robots can’t do. For instance, when visiting California lettuce farms as part of diligence for autonomous tractor portfolio company Farmwise, Barret said he was struck by the skills involved in picking lettuce.

“It’s a highly skilled, multisensory talent … It has to look right, smell right, sound right,” he said. “No one knows how to make a robot that can do that.”

Restaurant workers increasingly made of metal

Meanwhile, on the hourly wage front, actual metal machines are coming to do jobs in a number of categories.

“For restaurants, we think intelligent automation is going to transform the industry,” said venture capitalist and startup entrepreneur Buck Jordan, founder of Wavemaker Labs, which is incubating and developing several labor-reducing technologies in the food-prep space. His portfolio includes Miso Robotics, maker of a burger-flipping robot, as well as machines that will make precise boba milk tea and artisanal pizza.

On the food front, it’s noteworthy that much of the recent startup activity around automation seems centered on products and services, such as custom boba tea and on-demand delivery, that have become mass-market hits in the past couple of decades. It’s a reminder of the extent to which we modern humans regularly add new and enticing consumables to our routines.

Relying on actual humans to satiate our never-ending wish lists will inevitably be futile.  If we want to continue and augment upon a modern pampered lifestyle of on-demand products, services, and deliveries, it’s clear machines will need to do an even bigger share of the work.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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Start Ups

Telehealth giant Amwell to acquire Portland healthtech startup Conversa

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National telehealth provider Amwell said it will acquire Portland, Ore.-based healthtech startup Conversa and SilverCloud Health.

Conversa, founded in 2014, sells platforms tailored to different medical conditions that allow medical teams to communicate with patients remotely. The company raised $8 million at the beginning of this year, after COVID-19 generated increased need for the service.

Conversa also helps medical providers automate text-based conversations and other administrative tasks before, during and after patients check in to medical care.

Amwell said it will use Conversa’s patient profiling and engagement tools to boost client experience and outcomes.

Murray Brozinksy, CEO of Conversa Health, said the deal will help “usher in the hybrid care delivery model of the future.”

Amwell said it paid approximately $320 million in stock and cash to acquire Conversa and SilverCloud, a digital platform that caters to mental healthcare. The transaction is expected to close at the end of the third quarter.

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Source: https://www.geekwire.com/2021/telehealth-giant-amwell-acquire-portland-healthtech-startup-conversa/

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Egyptian ride-sharing company Swvl plans to go public in a $1.5B SPAC merger

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Cairo and Dubai-based ride-sharing company Swvl plans to go public in a merger with special purpose acquisition company Queen’s Gambit Growth Capital, Swvl said Tuesday. The deal will see Swvl valued at roughly $1.5 billion.

Swvl was founded by Mostafa Kandil, Mahmoud Nouh and Ahmed Sabbah in 2017. The trio started the company as a bus-hailing service in Egypt and other ride-sharing services in emerging markets with fragmented public transportation.

Its services, mainly bus-hailing, enables users to make intra-state journeys by booking seats on buses running a fixed route. This is pocket-friendly for residents in these markets compared to single-rider options and helps reduce emissions (Swvl claims it has prevented over 240 million pounds of carbon emission since inception).

After its Egypt launch, Swvl expanded to Kenya, Pakistan, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The company also moved its headquarters to Dubai as part of its strategy to become a global company.

Swvl offerings have expanded beyond bus-hailing services. Now, the company offers inter-city rides, car ride-sharing, and corporate services across the 10 cities it operates in across Africa and the Middle East.

Queen’s Gambit, the women-led SPAC in charge of the deal, raised $300 million in January and added $45 million via an underwriters’ overallotment option focusing on startups in clean energy, healthcare and mobility sectors.

The statement also mentions a group of investors — Agility, Luxor Capital and Zain Group — which will contribute $100 million through a private investment in public equity, or PIPE.

Per Crunchbase, Swvl has raised over $170 million. From an African perspective, Swvl features as one of the most venture-backed startups on the continent. The company has been touted to reach unicorn status in the past and will when this SPAC merger is completed.

The company will aptly trade under the ticker SWVL. The listing will make it the first Egyptian startup to go public outside Egypt and the second to go public after Fawry. It will also make the mobility company the largest African unicorn debut on any U.S.-listed exchange, beating Jumia’s debut of $1.1 billion on the NYSE. Swvl joins music-streaming platform Anghami as the second startup in the region to go public via a SPAC merger in the Middle East.

Swvl had annual gross revenue of $26 million in 2020, according to the statement, and the company expects its annual gross revenue to increase to $79 million this year and $1 billion by 2025 after expanding to 20 countries across five continents.

On why Queen’s Gambit picked Swvl for this deal, Victoria Grace, founder and CEO, said in a statement that the company fit the profile of what she was looking for: “a disruptive platform that solves complex challenges and empowers underserved populations.”

“Having established a leadership position in key emerging markets, we believe Swvl is ready to capitalize on a truly global market opportunity,” she added.

In May, TechCrunch wrote that SPACs didn’t target African startups for several reasons, including a lack of global appeal and private capital and market satisfaction. Judging by Grace’s comments, Swvl has that global appeal and is ready to venture into the public market despite being in operation for just four years.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/28/egyptian-ride-sharing-company-swvl-plans-to-go-public-in-a-1-5b-spac-merger/

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Egyptian ride-sharing company Swvl plans to go public in a $1.5B SPAC merger

Published

on

Cairo and Dubai-based ride-sharing company Swvl plans to go public in a merger with special purpose acquisition company Queen’s Gambit Growth Capital, Swvl said Tuesday. The deal will see Swvl valued at roughly $1.5 billion.

Swvl was founded by Mostafa Kandil, Mahmoud Nouh and Ahmed Sabbah in 2017. The trio started the company as a bus-hailing service in Egypt and other ride-sharing services in emerging markets with fragmented public transportation.

Its services, mainly bus-hailing, enables users to make intra-state journeys by booking seats on buses running a fixed route. This is pocket-friendly for residents in these markets compared to single-rider options and helps reduce emissions (Swvl claims it has prevented over 240 million pounds of carbon emission since inception).

After its Egypt launch, Swvl expanded to Kenya, Pakistan, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The company also moved its headquarters to Dubai as part of its strategy to become a global company.

Swvl offerings have expanded beyond bus-hailing services. Now, the company offers inter-city rides, car ride-sharing, and corporate services across the 10 cities it operates in across Africa and the Middle East.

Queen’s Gambit, the women-led SPAC in charge of the deal, raised $300 million in January and added $45 million via an underwriters’ overallotment option focusing on startups in clean energy, healthcare and mobility sectors.

The statement also mentions a group of investors — Agility, Luxor Capital and Zain Group — which will contribute $100 million through a private investment in public equity, or PIPE.

Per Crunchbase, Swvl has raised over $170 million. From an African perspective, Swvl features as one of the most venture-backed startups on the continent. The company has been touted to reach unicorn status in the past and will when this SPAC merger is completed.

The company will aptly trade under the ticker SWVL. The listing will make it the first Egyptian startup to go public outside Egypt and the second to go public after Fawry. It will also make the mobility company the largest African unicorn debut on any U.S.-listed exchange, beating Jumia’s debut of $1.1 billion on the NYSE. Swvl joins music-streaming platform Anghami as the second startup in the region to go public via a SPAC merger in the Middle East.

Swvl had annual gross revenue of $26 million in 2020, according to the statement, and the company expects its annual gross revenue to increase to $79 million this year and $1 billion by 2025 after expanding to 20 countries across five continents.

On why Queen’s Gambit picked Swvl for this deal, Victoria Grace, founder and CEO, said in a statement that the company fit the profile of what she was looking for: “a disruptive platform that solves complex challenges and empowers underserved populations.”

“Having established a leadership position in key emerging markets, we believe Swvl is ready to capitalize on a truly global market opportunity,” she added.

In May, TechCrunch wrote that SPACs didn’t target African startups for several reasons, including a lack of global appeal and private capital and market satisfaction. Judging by Grace’s comments, Swvl has that global appeal and is ready to venture into the public market despite being in operation for just four years.

PlatoAi. Web3 Reimagined. Data Intelligence Amplified.
Click here to access.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/28/egyptian-ride-sharing-company-swvl-plans-to-go-public-in-a-1-5b-spac-merger/

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Start Ups

Microsoft acquires Seattle startup Suplari, which uses AI to analyze corporate spending

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Suplari co-founders Jeff Gerber, Brian White, and Nikesh Parekh. (Suplari Photo)

Microsoft has acquired Suplari, a Seattle startup that uses artificial intelligence to help companies understand and get a handle on their spending.

Founded in 2016, Suplari analyzes procurement and spending data flowing into various enterprise systems. It can provide recommendations for cost savings, risk exposure, and other efficiency gaps. The software serves as an alternative to compiling data in an app such as Excel or Tableau and having a team of analysts comb through the information themselves. Suplari manages more than $180 billion in spend across millions of transactions per month.

Microsoft said it will pair Suplari with Microsoft Dynamics 365 “to help customers maximize financial visibility by using AI to automate the analysis of current data and historical patterns from multiple data sources.”

“Today’s announcement also signals our continued commitment to enabling organizations to move beyond transactional financial management to proactive operations that enhance decision making, mitigate risks, and reduce supplier costs through our data-first approach,” Microsoft vice president Frank Weigel wrote in a blog post.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Suplari said its “Suplari Spend Intelligence Cloud” will continue to remain available for existing customers.

Suplari is among a bevy of startups using artificial intelligence and machine learning to automate manual processes involving tons of data, and provide recommendations based on the computer-aided number crunching. There are several companies in Seattle applying similar technology in various industries, such as AttunelyLexionSigma IQ, and others.

Suplari had raised $18 million to date, according to PitchBook. Investors include Amplify Partners, Madrona Venture Group, Shasta Ventures, Two Sigma Ventures, and Workday Ventures.

The company was co-founded by Jeff Gerber, Brian White, and Nikesh Parekh, Suplari’s CEO.

Parekh is a real estate technology veteran who previously held leadership positions at Market Leader and Trulia. Gerber is a long-time engineering leader who co-founded startups including iConclude (acquired by Opsware and later by HP) and helped lead Apptio’s machine learning and intelligent app development. White worked with Gerber at iConclude as an early employee and did stints at Amazon Web Services and Skytap.

Parekh said Microsoft and Suplari have had partnership discussions over the past several years.

“Given Microsoft’s AI, cloud and data investments, customers can expect that Suplari will continue to deliver more AI-driven, predictive & prescriptive insights and integrated workflows for finance, procurement, & supply chain teams,” he wrote in a blog post.

The deal is the latest in a string of IPOs, fundings, and acquisitions across the Seattle startup ecosystem. Earlier this week Seattle startup Algorithmia was acquired by DataRobot.

PlatoAi. Web3 Reimagined. Data Intelligence Amplified.
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Source: https://www.geekwire.com/2021/microsoft-acquires-seattle-startup-suplari-uses-ai-analyze-corporate-spending/

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