Bunch scores $3.8M to turn mobile games into video chat LAN parties

The best parts of gaming are the jokes and trash talk with friends. Whether it was four-player Goldeneye or linking up PCs for Quake battles in the basement, the social element keeps video games exciting. Yet on mobile we’ve lost a lot of that, playing silently by ourselves even if we’re in a squad with friends somewhere else. Bunch wants to bring the laughter back to mobile gaming by letting you sync up with friends and video chat while you play. It already works with hits like Fortnite and Roblox, and developers of titles like Spaceteam are integrating Bunch’s SDK to inspire longer game sessions.

Bunch is like Discord for mobile, and the chance to challenge that gaming social network unicorn has attracted a $3.8 million seed round led by London Venture Partners and joined by Founders Fund, Betaworks, North Zone, Streamlined Ventures, 500 Startups and more. With Bunch
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Standard Cognition raises $40M to replace retailers’ cashiers with cameras

The Amazon Go store requires hundreds of cameras to detect who’s picking up what items. Standard Cognition needs just 27 to go after the $27 trillion market of equipping regular shops with autonomous retail technology.

Walk into one of its partners’ stores and overhead cameras identify you by shape and movement, not facial recognition. Open up its iOS or Android app and a special light pattern flashes, allowing the cameras to tie you to your account and payment method. Grab whatever you want, and just walk out. Standard Cognition will bill you. It even works without an app. Shop like normal and then walk up to kiosk screen, the cameras tell it what items you nabbed, and you can pay with cash or credit card. That means Standard Cognition stores never exclude anyone, unlike Amazon Go. “Our tagline has been ‘rehumanizing retail'” co-founder Michael Suswal tells me. “We’re removing the
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Ezra raises $4M to diagnose cancer with MRIs, not painful biopsies

1 in 41 men will die of prostate cancer. But sticking a needle through your rectum into your prostate to screen for cancer brings along a ton of bacteria and terrible side effects like pain, infection, urinary trouble, and even erectile dysfunction. It turns out you can detect cancer with Magnetic Resonance Imaging…it’s just prohibitively expensive to do one-off MRIs and have radiologists analyze the scans. But by buying MRI slots in bulk and using artificial intelligence to scan them, a new medtech startup called Ezra wants to replace blood tests and biopsies with MRIs as the new standard of care.

Today, Ezra launches v1 of its MRI prostate cancer screening subscription service in New York City. For $999 per year, patients get one MRI, access to medical staff and educational guides, and on-going support if the test finds they have cancer. For now, human radiologists still analyze the scans.
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Pirate Studios raises $20M from Talis Capital for its ‘self-service’ tech-enabled music studios

Pirate Studios, the music technology company that operates fully automated and self-service 24 hour music studios, has secured $20 million. The investment was led by Talis Capital, the London-based VC family office.

Talis was already an existing backer of Pirate Studios, with Talis’ Matus Maar also named as a co-founder of the startup. Other investors include Eric Archambeau (Spotify investor and ex-partner at Benchmark and Wellington Partners), Bart Swanson of Horizons Ventures, and partners of Gaw Capital, the $20 billion Hong Kong-headquartered proptech fund. The new funding will enable Pirate Studios to continue to expand across the U.K., Germany and the U.S., where it has been building what the startup describes as a community of musicians, DJs, producers and podcasters who need access to professional rehearsal, production and recording studios at affordable rates. The company charges as little as £4 per hour, depending on what
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iBanFirst raises $17 million to help companies move money around the world

French startup iBanFirst is raising another $17 million (€15 million) from Serena Capital and Breega Capital, with existing investor Xavier Niel putting more money as well.

iBanFirst solves a very specific problem. If you operate a company that works with suppliers all over the world, chances are you waste a ton of money exchanging and sending money. iBanFirst wants to make currency conversion as easy as transferring money from your savings account to your current account. You first send money from your corporate bank account to your iBanFirst account. You can then convert and hold money in 28 currencies. iBanFirst shows you the interbank exchange rate and how many fees you’ll pay. But you’ll likely pay way less than using your traditional bank account. With 100 employees and 2,000 clients, iBanFirst now focuses on clients who transfer at least €100,000 per year. “We’ve already done a €50 million transfer,”
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Another crypto exchange goes old school as KuCoin raises $20M from VCs

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: One of the biggest trends in crypto this year is companies raising money the old-fashioned way — through venture capitalists.

Hot on the heels of Binance raising money from Singapore’s Vertex Ventures, KuCoin, a relatively new crypto exchange, has pulled in $20 million. The money comes from two big-name investors — IDG Capital and Matrix Partners — and the venture capital arm of Chinese crypto organization Neo, and it’ll be used to expand KuCoin’s global reach, develop technology and launch an investment arm of its own. We’ve confirmed that the deal is based on equity, not a sale of tokens as is often the case with crypto investments. Binance took its investment as part of its plan to introduce a fiat currency exchange in Singapore, and likewise KuCoin — which relocated from Hong Kong to Singapore this year — is turning to investors to
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Microsoft to acquire Xoxco as focus on AI and bot developers continues

Microsoft has been all in on AI this year, and in the build versus buy equation, the company has been leaning heavily toward buying. This morning, the company announced its intent to acquire Xoxco, an Austin-based software developer with a focus on bot design, making it the fourth AI-related company Microsoft has purchased this year.

“Today, we are announcing we have signed an agreement to acquire Xoxco, a software product design and development studio known for its conversational AI and bot development capabilities,” Lili Cheng, corporate VP for conversational AI at Microsoft wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition. Xoxco, which was founded in 2009 long before most of us were thinking about conversational bots, has raised $1.5 million. It began working on bots in 2013, and is credited with developing the first bot for Slack to help schedule meetings. The companies did not reveal the price,
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Loans marketplace Mintos scores €5M Series A and plans to launch a debit card

Mintos, the Latvian fintech that operates a global loans marketplace to let you invest in loans from various loan originators, has raised €5 million in Series A funding. Backing the startup once again is the Riga-based venture capital firm Grumpy Investments (previously known as Skillion Ventures). More noteworthy, the new capital will be used to launch a Mintos banking account and debit card, significantly expanding the company’s offering.

“Both banking account and the card in our opinion is a natural step in our journey of revolutionising financial services through technology and serving our investors and will nicely complement our current offering of investments in loans, and low-fee mid-market rate currency exchange,” Mintos co-founder and CEO Martins Sulte tells me. “This development also means that, theoretically, our investors won’t need their banks anymore”. The Mintos banking account will act like any other IBAN account. You’ll be able to receive a
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WeWork picks up ANOTHER $3B from SoftBank

WeWork has picked up another $3 billion in financing from SoftBank Corp, not to be confused with SoftBank Vision Fund. The deal comes in the form of a warrant, allowing SoftBank to pay $3 billion for the opportunity to buy shares before September 2019 at a price of $110 or higher, ultimately valuing WeWork at $42 billion minimum.

In August, SoftBank Corp invested $1 billion in WeWork in the form of a convertible note. According to the Financial Times, SoftBank will pay WeWork $1.5 billion on January 15, 2019 and another $1.5 billion on April 15. SoftBank is far and away WeWork’s biggest investor, with SoftBank Vision Fund having poured $4.4 billion into the company just last year. The real estate play out of WeWork is just one facet of the company’s strategy. More than physical land, WeWork wants to be the central connective tissue for
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Cognigo raises $8.5M for its AI-driven data protection platform

Cognigo, a startup that aims to use AI and machine learning to help enterprises protect their data and stay in compliance with regulations like GDPR, today announced that it has raised an $8.5 million Series A round. The round was led by Israel-based crowdfunding platform OurCrowd, with participation from privacy company Prosegur and State of Mind Ventures.

The company promises that it can help businesses protect their critical data assets and prevent personally identifiable information from leaking outside of the company’s network. And it says it can do so without the kind of hands-on management that’s often required in setting these kinds of systems up and managing them over time. Indeed, Cognigo says that it can help businesses achieve GDPR compliance in days instead of months. To do this, the company tells me, it’s using pre-trained language models for data classification. That model has been trained to detect
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Mercaux bags $4.5M to help bricks-and-mortar retail tool up to sell more

Retail tech SaaS platform Mercaux has closed a £3.5 million (~$4.5M) Series A funding round led by European VC fund Nauta Capital. 

The 2013 founded London-based startup sells software for retailers to tap into digital capabilities in their physical retail stores — offering a modular platform that’s intended to support digital transformations at a pace of the retailer’s choosing. “Historically offline retail was just a sales channel. But with the rise of e-commerce, and ability to communicate with clients digitally at any moment of time, offline stores (and in-store employees) have started to play multiple roles,” says founder and CEO Olga Kotsur. Physical stores are “not just a sales channel but also an e-commerce window, marketing channel, customer relationship centre” and much more, she argues. Or, well, they can be — if retailers spend to upgrade legacy IT systems that have not been designed with more expansive
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“Rent tech” focused RET closes first fund; pours $5M into management platform SmartRent

Today, Real Estate Technology Ventures (RET) Ventures announced the final close of $108 million for its first fund.  RET focuses on early-stage investments in companies that are primarily looking to disrupt the North American multifamily rental industry, with the firm boasting a roster of LPs made up of some of the largest property owners and operators in the multifamily space.

RET is one of the latest in a rising number of venture firms focused on the real-estate sector, which by many accounts, has yet to experience significant innovation or technological disruption. 

The firm was founded in 2017 by managing director, John Helm, who possesses an extensive background as an operator and investor in both real estate and real estate technology.  Helm’s real-estate journey began with a position right out of college and eventually led him to the commercial brokerage giant Marcus Millichap, where he worked as CFO

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China’s NetEase raises $600M for its music streaming business

As Tencent Music, China’s largest streaming firm, reportedly stalls on its proposed U.S. IPO, one of its closest challengers is doubling down.

NetEase Cloud Music, a rival operated by games and publishing giant NetEase, just closed a fresh $600 million injection from a bevy of investors that include Baidu and General Atlantic, the company announced this week. NetEase will maintain a majority share in the company following this deal although it isn’t clear what the valuation is. The business is already valued at over $1 billion, that landmark was reached last year when it raised 750 million RMB, that was around $108 million at the time. Tencent Music operates a constellation of streaming and live-streaming music apps which Tencent claims reach a cumulative audience of 800 million users. That’s quite a generous figure since China’s official stat keeper recognizes that the country has 800 million internet users
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Sustainable clothing startup For Days raises $2.8M for its closed-loop manufacturing process

For Days, a clothing startup that wants to reduce the enormous amount of textile waste created annually, announced today that it has raised $2.8 million in  seed funding. The round led by Rosecliff Ventures joined by Collaborative Fund, with participation from Congruent Ventures, Third Prime Capital, Closed Loop Ventures, Bleu Capital, Gramercy Fund, and Ride Ventures. For Days’ makes its clothing with a closed-loop manufacturing and recycling process enabled by a T-shirt membership programs that lets customers mail back worn shirts for recycling in exchange for new ones.

While there is a growing roster of brands focused on quality sustainable clothing, including Everlane and Alternative Apparel (and a growing community of DIYers who want to reduce their environmental and social impact by making their own clothes), a lot of wardrobe basics, like T-shirts, socks, and underwear, need to be replaced more frequently than jackets, sweaters, or jeans.
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Anorak raises £5M Series A for its life insurance advice platform

Anorak Technologies, the U.K. startup building a life insurance advice platform, has raised £5 million in Series A funding. Notably, the round is led by previous backer Kamet Ventures, the tech incubator funded by insurance giant AXA. It brings the total raised by Anorak to £9 million.

In a call, co-founder and CEO David Vanek told me the startup’s mission is to build the world’s “smartest” automated life insurance advice platform. It wants to offer insurance advice at the most appropriate time and place in a person’s life, such as when buying a house or starting a family, and in turn open up life insurance cover to many more people. As it stands, life insurance, such as accidental death cover, tends to be sold through financial advisors or brokers targeting high net worth individuals. That leaves swathes of people and their dependents without any cover at all.
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Fluidly, the ‘intelligent’ cashflow management SaaS for SMEs, picks up £5M Series A

Fluidly, the London-based fintech that offers an “intelligent” cashflow management SaaS for SMEs, has raised £5 million in Series A funding. The round is led by New-York based Nyca Partners, with participation from other investors including Octopus Ventures, Anthemis, and angel investors Simon Murdoch, and Charlie Songhurst.

Claiming to define a new software category, namely “Intelligent Cash,” Fluidly want to significantly improve small and medium-sized businesses’ cashflow management. To do this it has built machine learning-based technology to predict and optimise the future cash flows for SMEs, thus helping business owners conduct better financial decision-making. As part of this, you connect Fluidly to your business bank account via Open Banking, and to your cloud accounting software. “Fluidly is then able to access the transaction-level bank and accounting data and it uses this data to automatically forecast future cash flows by predicting when invoices will arrive, get paid or other
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Okay, one final Form D note

Some more comments from readers on the changing culture around startups filing their Form Ds with the SEC, and then a short update on SoftBank and a bunch more article reviews.

We are experimenting with new content forms at TechCrunch. This is a rough draft of something new – provide your feedback directly to the authors: Danny at danny@techcrunch.com or Arman at Arman.Tabatabai@techcrunch.com if you like or hate something here.

Lawyers are pretty uniform that disclosure is no longer ideal

If you haven’t been following our obsession with Form Ds, be sure to read our original piece and follow up. The gist is that startups are increasingly foregoing filing a Form D with the SEC that provides details of their venture rounds like investment size and main investors in order to stay stealth longer. That has implications for journalists and the public, since we rely on these
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Enterprise shopping season starts early with almost $50B in recent deals

Black Friday may still be 10 days away, but shopping season started early in the enterprise this year. We have seen acquisitions totaling almost $50 billion in the last couple of months alone, topped by the mega $34 billion IBM-Red Hat deal two weeks ago. What exactly is going on here?

While not every deal has been for that kind of money, we are seeing an unusually large number of mega deals this year, something that some folks were predicting would happen when the big tech companies were allowed to repatriate their money as part of last year’s tax deal. Let’s look at some of the multi-billion deals we have seen so far this year:

SAP agrees to buy Qualtrics for $8B in cash, just before the survey software company’s IPO

Ryan Smith of Qualtrics speaks onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2015

Enterprise software giant SAP announced today that it has agreed to acquire Qualtrics for $8 billion in cash, just before the survey and research software company was set to go public. The deal is expected to be completed in the first half of 2019. Qualtrics last round of venture capital funding in 2016 raised $180 million at a $2.5 billion valuation.

This is the second-largest ever acquisition of a SaaS company, after Oracle’s purchase of Netsuite for $9.3 billion in 2016. In a conference call, SAP CEO Bill McDermott said Qualtrics’ IPO was already oversubscribed and that the two companies began discussions a few months ago. SAP claims its software touches 77 percent of the world’s transaction revenue, while Qualtrics’ products include survey software that enables its 9,000 enterprise users to gauge things like customer sentiment and
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Nested, the online estate agent that makes home sellers ‘chain-free’, raises further £120M

Nested, the London-based “data-driven” estate agency that provides a cash advance to help you buy a new home before you’ve sold your old one, has raised a further £120 million in funding. The new round is a mixture of equity and debt: £20 million and £100 million, respectively. Leading the equity round is Northzone, and Balderton Capital, while the debt finance comes from an unnamed institutional investor.

It is noteworthy that Balderton has only just invested in Nested several rounds into the company’s existence, considering that the London-based venture capital firm typically invests earlier at Series A. Balderton is also a backer of GoCardless, the payments company previously co-founded by Nested founder Matt Robinson. That said, Balderton General Partner Tim Bunting did invest in Nested in a personal capacity very early on. Launched in late 2016, Nested competes with high-end estate agents by providing all of the services needed
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