Recent Funding

Silicone 3D printing startup Spectroplast spins out of ETHZ with $1.5M

Posted by | 3d printer, 3d printing, AM Ventures Holding, ETHZ, Gadgets, hardware, Health, Recent Funding, robotics, science, spectroplast, Startups, TC | No Comments

3D printing has become commonplace in the hardware industry, but because few materials can be used for it easily, the process rarely results in final products. A Swiss startup called Spectroplast hopes to change that with a technique for printing using silicone, opening up all kinds of applications in medicine, robotics and beyond.

Silicone is not very bioreactive, and of course can be made into just about any shape while retaining strength and flexibility. But the process for doing so is generally injection molding, great for mass-producing lots of identical items but not so great when you need a custom job.

And it’s custom jobs that ETH Zurich’s Manuel Schaffner and Petar Stefanov have in mind. Hearts, for instance, are largely similar but the details differ, and if you were going to get a valve replaced, you’d probably prefer yours made to order rather than straight off the shelf.

“Replacement valves currently used are circular, but do not exactly match the shape of the aorta, which is different for each patient,” said Schaffner in a university news release. Not only that, but they may be a mixture of materials, some of which the body may reject.

But with a precise MRI the researchers can create a digital model of the heart under consideration and, using their proprietary 3D printing technique, produce a valve that’s exactly tailored to it — all in a couple of hours.

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A 3D-printed silicone heart valve from Spectroplast.

Although they have created these valves and done some initial testing, it’ll be years before anyone gets one installed — this is the kind of medical technique that takes a decade to test. So in the meantime they are working on “life-improving” rather than life-saving applications.

One such case is adjacent to perhaps the most well-known surgical application of silicone: breast augmentation. In Spectroplast’s case, however, they’d be working with women who have undergone mastectomies and would like to have a breast prosthesis that matches the other perfectly.

Another possibility would be anything that needs to fit perfectly to a person’s biology, like a custom hearing aid, the end of a prosthetic leg or some other form of reconstructive surgery. And of course, robots and industry could use one-off silicone parts as well.

ethz siliconeprinting 2

There’s plenty of room to grow, it seems, and although Spectroplast is just starting out, it already has some 200 customers. The main limitation is the speed at which the products can be printed, a process that has to be overseen by the founders, who work in shifts.

Until very recently Schaffner and Stefanov were working on this under a grant from the ETH Pioneer Fellowship and a Swiss national innovation grant. But in deciding to depart from the ETH umbrella they attracted a 1.5 million Swiss franc (about the same as dollars just now) seed round from AM Ventures Holding in Germany. The founders plan to use the money to hire new staff to crew the printers.

Right now Spectroplast is doing all the printing itself, but in the next couple of years it may sell the printers or modifications necessary to adapt existing setups.

You can read the team’s paper showing their process for creating artificial heart valves here.

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PayPal-backed money lender Tala raises $110M to enter India

Posted by | Apps, Asia, Finance, funding, Mobile, payments, Recent Funding, RPS Ventures, Startups, tala | No Comments

Tala, a Santa Monica, Calif.-headquartered startup that creates a credit profile to provide uncollateralized loans to millions of people in emerging markets, has raised $110 million in a new financing round to enter India’s burgeoning fintech space.

The Series D financing for the five-year-old startup was led by RPS Ventures, with GGV Capital and previous investors IVP, Revolution Growth, Lowercase Capital, Data Collective VC, ThomVest Ventures and PayPal Ventures also participating in the round.

The new round, which takes the startup’s total fundraising to more than $215 million, valued it above $750 million, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. Tala has also raised an additional $100 million in debt, including a $50 million facility led by Colchis in the last year.

Tala looks at a customer’s texts and calls logs, merchant transactions, overall app usage and other behavioral data through its Android app to build their credit profile. Based on these pieces of information, its machine learning algorithms evaluate the individual risk and provide instant loans in the range of $10 to $500 to customers.

This model is different from how banks and most other online lenders assess a person’s eligibility for a loan. Banks look at a user’s credit score while most online lenders check the financial history.

Tala is also much faster. It approves loans within minutes and disburses the money via mobile payment platforms. The startup has lent over $1 billion to more than 4 million customers to date — up from issuing $300 million in loans to 1.3 million customers last year, Shivani Siroya, founder and CEO of Tala, told TechCrunch in an interview.

The startup, which employs more than 550 people, will use the new capital to enter India, said Siroya, who built Tala after interviewing thousands of small and micro-businesses.

In the run up to launch in India, Tala began a 12-month pilot program in the country last year to conduct user research and understand the market. It has also set up a technology hub in Bangalore, she said.

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Shivani Siroya (Tala CEO) at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017

“The opportunity is very massive in India, so we spent some time customizing our service for the local market,” she said.

According to World Bank, more than 2 billion people globally have limited access to financial services and working capital. For these people, many of whom live in India, securing a small size loan is extremely challenging as they don’t have a credit score.

In recent years, several major digital payment platforms in India, including Paytm and MobiKwik, have started to offer small-sized loans to users. Traditional banks are still lagging to serve this segment, industry executives say. (Outside India, Tala competes with Branch, a five-year-old San Francisco-based startup that has raised more than $170 million to date and earlier this year inked a deal with Visa.)

Tala goes a step further and takes liability for any unpaid returns, Siroya said. More than 90% of Tala users pay back their loan in 20 to 30 days and are recurring customers, she added.

The startup also forwards the positive credit history and rankings to the local credit bureaus to help people secure bigger and long-term loans in the future, she added.

Tala, which charges a one-time fee that is as low as 5% for each loan, relies on referrals, and some marketing through radio and television to acquire new customers. “But a lot of these users come because they heard about us from their friends,” Siryoa said.

As part of the new financing round, Kabir Misra, founding general partner of RPS Ventures, has joined Tala’s board of directors, the startup said.

Tala said it will use a portion of its new fund to expand its footprint and team in its existing markets — East Africa, Mexico and the Philippines — and also build new solutions.

Siroya said the startup has identified some more markets that it wishes to serve. She did not disclose the names, but said she is eyeing more countries in South Asia and Latin America.

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Starship Technologies raises $40M, crosses 100K deliveries and plans to expand to 100 new universities

Posted by | autonomous delivery, Gadgets, hardware, Morpheus Ventures, Recent Funding, robotics, starship technologies, Startups, TC, Transportation | No Comments

Starship Technologies invented the category of rolling autonomous sidewalk delivery robots, and to date, the company has made more than 100,000 commercial deliveries on behalf of customers. The milestone comes as Starship adds $40 million in Series A funding, bringing its total funding to $85 million. When it announced an additional $25 million in June 2018, Starship was also piloting its first university deployment — and now the company has a plan to expand to 100 university campuses over the next two years based on the strength of that pilot.

“When I came on board, I was testing a whole bunch of different go-to-market strategies,” explained Starship Technologies CEO Lex Bayer. “We were testing grocery delivery, university campuses, corporate campuses, industrial campuses, and we’ve actually seen tremendous traction on most of these environments. Our grocery business north of London, in Milton Keynes, is going exceptionally well […] But one of the experiments was to try university campuses. And I think, you know, as a company that’s a startup still, we have to always focus and have sequencing in terms of how we grow. And the university campus has just been pulling our business forward — not only our students pulling it, meaning there are more orders than the restaurant or the robots can keep up with and we had to add restaurants and add hours. And so we’ve seen signal from the students, but we’ve also seen signal from universities reaching out to us, and from the food service providers.”

This vertical focus on post-secondary schools will see Starship robots deployed at the University of Pittsburgh today, and Purdue University in Indiana on September 9, with many more to follow. Starship’s ambitious goal is to deploy at 100 schools within the next two years, as mentioned, and it’s going to be using this funding in pursuit of that expansion. The market appetite is strong, as Bayer notes, and it’s a way to show that the robots can operate in all kinds of environments, in and among campuses that blend seamlessly with public city streets and sidewalks. Plus, the student population has proven the ideal initial customer base.

“I think, you know, starting with the younger generation is always great for that,” Bayer said. “Because so much of the way they see the world is the way the world can be; they’re not encumbered by all of the past and the way things were done before. And so when you present them with a better solution, they just use it and they say, ‘Oh, this is how things should be normally. This is the way things should be moving forward.’ ”

Pitt Student with StarshipAnd that perceived normalcy leads to high utilization: One of the robots serving one of the universities where Starship operates manages to drive the equivalent of the distance between San Francisco and New York City, which is quite an accomplishment when you consider that they only travel at a top speed of four miles per hour. Starship’s all-electric delivery robots have, in total, racked up 350,000 miles across its delivery trips, and delivered 9,000 rolls and 15,000 bananas, among various other grocery and food items.

“The first few years were really proving that this could be done, and that this technology is even possible,” Bayer explained. “And so it took us four years to get to the first 10,000 deliveries. And then it took us eight months to go from 10,000 deliveries to 50,000 deliveries, and now it’s taken us less than four months to get to 100,000. So that is a major milestone, and we’re the first autonomous vehicle company to do that. It’s something we’re obviously very proud of. But it really shows the sort of inflection that our company’s going through and how we’re really scaling up.”

Starship’s funding this round was led by Morpheus Ventures, and included existing investors Shasta Ventures, Matrix Partners, MetaPlanet Holdings and more, along with new investors TDK Ventures, Qu Ventures and others.

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Sequoia leads $40M investment in mobile messaging startup Attentive

Posted by | Attentive, Brian Long, funding, Fundings & Exits, Mobile, Recent Funding, sequoia capital, Startups | No Comments

Attentive, a startup helping retailers personalize their mobile messages, is announcing that it has raised $40 million in Series B funding.

The startup was founded by Brian Long and Andrew Jones, who sold their previous startup TapCommerce to Twitter. When they announced Attentive’s $13 million Series A last year, Long told me the startup is all about helping retailers find better ways to communicate with customers, particularly as it’s harder for their individual apps to stand out.

Attentive’s first product allowed for what it calls “two-tap” sign-up, where users can tap on a promotion link from a brand’s website, creating a pre-populated text that opts them in to for SMS messages from that retailer.

Since then, it’s built a broader suite of messaging tools, with support for cart abandonment reminders, A/B testing, subscriber segmentation and other features that allow retailers to get smarter and more targeted in their messaging strategy.

The startup says mobile messages sent through its platform are seeing click-through rates of more than 30%, and that it now works with more than 400 customers, including Sephora, Urban Outfitters, Coach, CB2 and Jack in the Box.

The Series B was led by Sequoia, with participation from new investors IVP and High Alpha, as well as previous backers Bain Capital Ventures, Eniac Ventures and NextView Ventures. The plan for the new funding is to grow the entire team, especially sales and engineering.

“CRM is changing,” Long said in a statement. “Businesses can’t build a relationship with the modern consumer through email alone. Email performance, as measured by how many subscribers click-through on a message, is down 45% over the last five years. Rather than continuing to shout one-way messages at consumers, smart brands will stay relevant by embracing personalized, real-time, two-way communication channels.”

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Statespace picks up $2.5M to help gamers train

Posted by | Entertainment, FirstMark Capital, Gaming, lux capital, Recent Funding, Startups, statespace, TC | No Comments

Gaming continues to grow in popularity, with esports revenue growing 23% from last year to top $1 billion in 2019.

But the metrics by which talent is evaluated in gaming, and the methods by which gamers can train to better hone their craft, are varied and at times non-existent. That’s where Statespace, and specifically the company’s gaming arm Klutch, come into play.

In 2017, Statespace launched out of stealth with their first product, Aim Lab. Aim Lab is meant to mimic the physical rules of a game to give gamers a practice space where they can improve their skills. Moreover, Aim Lab identifies weaknesses in a player’s gameplay — one person might struggle with their visual acuity in the top-left quadrant of the screen, while another might have trouble spotting or aiming at targets on the bottom-right side of the screen — and allows gamers to focus in on their weaknesses to get better.

Today, the company has announced a $2.5 million seed funding round led by FirstMark Capital, with participation from Expa, Lux Capital and WndrCo. This brings the company’s total funding to $4 million.

Alongside growing Aim Lab, which is on track to soon reach 1 million users, one of the company’s main goals is to create a standardized metric by which gamers’ skills can be measured. In football, college athletes and NFL coaches have the Scouting Combine to make decisions around recruiting. This doesn’t necessarily take into account stats like yardage or touchdowns, but rather the raw skills of a player, such as 40-yard sprint speed.

In fact, Statespace has partnered with the Pro Football Hall of Fame for “The Cognitive Combine,” becoming the official integrative medicine program cognitive assessment partner of the organization. Statespace wants to create a similar “combine” for gaming.

The hope is that the company can offer this metric to publishers, colleges and esports orgs, giving them the ability to not only evaluate talent, but to better serve casual users through improved matchmaking and cheat detection.

“We want to go a level beyond your kill:death ratio,” said co-founder and CEO Dr. Wayne Mackey. Those metrics greatly depend on factors like who you’re playing with. You won’t always be matched against players who are on an even keel with you. So we want to look at fundamental skills like hand-eye coordination, visual acuity, spatial processing skills and working memory capacity.”

Klutch has partnered with the National Championship Series as the official FPS training partner for 2019. NCS has majors for both CS:Go and Overwatch, two of the biggest competitive FPS games in the world. The company is also partnering with top Twitch streamers and Masterclass to create The Academy.

Academy users will be able to get advanced tutorials from streamers like KingGeorge (Rainbox Six Siege), SypherPK (Fortnite), Valkia (Overwatch), Drift0r (CoD) and Launders (CS:GO).

Obviously, gaming is a major part of Statespace’s business model. But the skeleton of the technology has a number of different applications, particularly in medicine. Statespace is currently in the research phase of rolling out an Aim Lab product that is specifically focused on helping people who have had strokes recover and rehabilitate.

Statespace wants to use the funding to build out the team and expand the Klutch Aim Lab platform beyond Steam to mobile and eventually console, with Xbox prioritized over PlayStation, as well as launching the Academy.

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Mobile messaging financial advisory service Stackin’ adds banking features and raises cash

Posted by | Banking, computing, credit scoring, Experian, Finance, Information technology, Los Angeles, market research, Mobile, personal finance, radius bank, Recent Funding, social leverage, Stackin', Startups, TC, TechStars, Twilio, uproxx, wavemaker partners | No Comments

When Stackin’ initially pitched itself as part of the Techstars Los Angeles accelerator program two years ago, the company was a video platform for financial advice targeting a millennial audience too savvy for traditional advisory services.

Now, nearly two years later, the company has pivoted from video to text-based financial advice for its millennial audience and is offering a new spin on lead generation for digital banks.

The company has launched a new, no-fee, checking and savings account feature in partnership with Radius Bank, which offers users a 1% annual percentage yield on deposits.

And Stackin’ has raised $4 million in new cash from Experian Ventures, Dig Ventures and Cherry Tree Investments, along with supplemental commitments from new and previous investors including Social Leverage, Wavemaker Partners and Mucker Capital.

“Stackin’ has a unique and highly effective approach to connect and communicate with an entire generation of younger consumers around finance,” said Ty Taylor, group president of Global Consumer Services at Experian, in a statement.

Founded two years ago by Scott Grimes, the former founder of Uproxx Media, and Kyle Arbaugh, who served as a senior vice president at Uproxx, Stackin’ initially billed itself as the Uproxx of personal finance.

It turns out that consumers didn’t want another video platform.

“Stackin’ is fundamentally changing the shape and context of what a financial relationship means by creating a fun, inclusive and judgement free environment that empowers our users to learn and take action through messaging,” said Scott Grimes, CEO and co-founder of Stackin’, in a statement. “This funding allows us to build out new features around banking and investing that will enhance the relationship with our customers.”

Later this fall the company said it would launch a new investment feature that will encourage Stackin’ users to participate in the stock market. It’s likely that this feature will look something like the Acorns model, which encourages users to invest in diversified financial vehicles to get them acquainted with the stock market before enabling individual trades on stocks.

According to Grimes, the company made the switch from video to text in March 2018 and built a custom messaging platform on Twilio to service the company’s 500,000 users.

“In a short time, we have built a large customer base with a demographic that is typically hard to reach. Having financial institutions like Experian come on board as an investor is a testament that this model is working,” Grimes wrote in an email.

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Unity, now valued at $6B, raising up to $525M

Posted by | augmented reality, Fundings & Exits, Gaming, Recent Funding, Secondaries, Startups, TC, unity-technologies | No Comments

Unity’s private valuation is climbing but it’s growing unclear whether the company’s leadership is planning to take the 15-year-old gaming powerhouse public anytime soon.

The company announced today that is has received signed agreements from D1 Capital Partners, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Light Street Capital, Sequoia Capital, and Silver Lake Partners to fund a $525 million tender offer that will allow Unity’s common shareholders — the majority of which are early or current employees — to sell their shares in the company.

The tender offer gives employees “the opportunity for some liquidity,” Unity CFO Kim Jabal says. The total amount raised will depend on the enthusiasm of common shareholders to sell their stakes in Unity.

This event could potentially signify that the company is pushing back its timeline for an IPO, keeping employees that have been sitting on equity for several years happy as Unity labors on in private markets. It’s worth noting that the company has raised hundreds of million previously with the same intent of buying back employee shares. It was reported earlier this year that Unity was targeting an IPO in the first half of 2020.

The company also confirmed that it wrapped up a $150M Series E funding round in May that doubled the company’s valuation to $6 billion. The announcement confirms the valuation we reported on in May though at a higher amount of capital raised.

These announcements follow a high-profile lawsuit filed last month by a former female executive at the company who claimed that she had been sexually harassed repeatedly by current Unity CEO John Riccitiello.

SF-based Unity has more than 2,000 employees. The company builds developer tools which are used game studios to create video games across a number of platforms. The company claims that half of all games are created using the company’s game engine.

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Tile finds another $45M to expand its item-tracking devices and platform

Posted by | Amazon, Apple, Bessemer Venture Partners, Bluetooth, Bryant Stibel, ceo, Cloud, Comcast, Francisco Partners, funding, Gadgets, ggv capital, Google, hardware, partner, Qualcomm, Recent Funding, semiconductor, spokesperson, Startups, switzerland, TC, technology, telecommunications, tile, United States | No Comments

Tile — the company that makes popular square-shaped tags and other technology to help people keep track of physical belongings like keys and bags — has made more recent moves to link up with chipmakers, helping it expand to wireless headsets and other electronic and other connected items as part of a wider smart home strategy. Now, Tile is announcing a round of funding of $45 million to double down on those strategies and fulfill a plan to have its technology in millions of devices by the end of this year.

The growth equity is being led by Francisco Partners, with participation from previous investors GGV Capital and Bessemer Venture Partners and new backers Bryant Stibel and SVB Financial Group.

CJ Prober — who joined as CEO last year in part to develop Tile’s newer areas of business — said in an interview that the funding will help the startup be more aggressive in doubling down on these new opportunities.

“We’re seeing great business momentum, with the first embedded partner products from our strategic initiatives coming out this year,” he said. It now has partnerships with five semiconductor companies, including Qualcomm and most recently Nordic, which they integrate Tile functionality on to their hardware, he added. “All this is now paying off with great momentum.”

Prober would not comment on the company’s valuation with this round, except to say that it was definitely an up round. A spokesperson described the Series C as having “opened” with this $45 million commitment, which implies that there may be more funding coming, but Tile has declined to specify any more detail on this front. The startup had previously raised rounds in stages — as you can see by this timeline in PitchBook. For some more context, Tile’s last noted valuation (also in PitchBook) was around $166 million, but that was now more than two years ago, before the various initiatives and other changes at the company.

Tile is not disclosing any metrics on its market share or how many of its devices are now in use, but it typically is rated as the largest of a crowded market for item-tracking devices (with others in the space including TrackR (Adero), Chipolo, and more).

But it notes that its European business (a relatively new area of focus for Tile) has grown by 160% in the last quarter. That’s coming from a small base, though: Prober confirmed that the U.S. is still by far its biggest market in terms of sales and users.

And it also had a strong Prime Day on Amazon this year, doubling its unit sales (but didn’t provide hard numbers for comparison). It said it has exceeded projections for sign-ups for its Premium tier, which provides free battery replacements, 30-day location history, smart alerts (prompting you, for example, when you’ve left your keys somewhere), customer support and more for $30 for the year, or $3 per month.

The company has been planting a lot of seeds, and some of them have yet to sprout. Last year, Tile announced that it would take an investment from Comcast to help it develop new products for its wider connected consumer strategy.

Prober, however, described this as still in the “roadmapping phase” and would not get into specifics except to say that there are a number of different initiatives in the works. There also was a partnership with Google unveiled at the most recent I/O that will see its home devices also being able to be tracked by the Tile platform.

I asked Prober if he worries ultimately about whether large tech companies like Apple, Amazon, Google and the rest — which all want to “own” connected home customers and the ecosystem of hardware and services that they may use — are seen as opportunities or threats for Tile, given that it’s piggy backing on their platforms and devices. His and the company’s fundamental feeling — one that should be supported in the spirit of competition and consumer choice — is that having a cross-platform option is the way to go.

“Our customers have different devices, products from different companies and it’s our job to ensure that Tile works well across all of those,” he said. “We see ourselves a little bit like Switzerland, which is also something that our customers and partners appreciate.”

While we’re seeing a surge of new communications technologies and protocols — 5G being perhaps the one we are hearing about most at the moment — Tile is sticking to Bluetooth for now.

“We love what Bluetooth enables for our customers in terms of the form factor, the cost and profile of the device and the power consumption,” said Prober. “We’re constantly evaluating different alternatives, and if there is an alternative we would consider that, but in our view that doesn’t exist right now.”

It’s a choice that its investors are also supporting.

“Tile pioneered the smart location category,” said Andrew Kowal, partner with Francisco Partners, in a statement. “With Bluetooth technology projected to be included in nearly 30 billion devices shipping in the next five years, Tile is poised to deliver an embedded finding solution for a rapidly expanding market. We are extremely excited to be partnering with Tile as the company enters the next chapter of its growth story.”

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LIV, a startup making VR gaming more interactive for audiences, raises $1M from Oculus founder and Seedcamp

Posted by | Europe, Gaming, LIV.tv, Palmer Luckey, Recent Funding, SeedCamp, Startups, TC, Virtual reality | No Comments

LIV, a Prague-based company that wants to make VR gaming more fun to watch, and in turn bring players and spectators closer together, has picked up $1 million in funding. That’s a pretty modest raise as far as ambitious upstarts go — and LIV is certainly ambitious. However, the list of backers includes noteworthy names, such as the founder of Oculus (and designer of Oculus Rift), Palmer Luckey.

Other investors in LIV include Jaroslav Beck, CEO and co-founder of Beat Games (the studio behind VR streaming hit Beat Saber); early-stage VC Seedcamp; accelerator Techstars; Prague’s Credo Ventures; VR company VIVE; and mixed reality production specialist Splitverse.

Founded in 2016, LIV is betting on the premise that VR gaming represents an entirely new platform, and it is new platforms with nascent ecosystems where the biggest opportunities lie. Furthermore, while the watching of video game live streams shows no signs of abating — made popular via sites such as Twitch — the spectator experience hasn’t transitioned very gracefully to VR.

“Creating content in VR is incredibly hard, there are no tools for it, and no shareable content form factor that conveys the experience of being in VR,” says LIV co-founder AJ Shewki, who was previously a competitive gamer under the moniker “Dr Doom.”

“LIV empowers developers and content creators to grow their audience through shareable VR content. Developers integrate our SDK, and content creators are then able to create content with those games and experiences using the LIV App. The content format is called ‘Mixed Reality Capture’ (MRC).”

The “Mixed Reality Capture” experience is inevitably best watched rather than conveyed through the written word (you can see an example below). However, what MRC essentially does is inject a live video or, alternatively, a 3D avatar of the player’s body, inside the video game stream so spectators experience not only what the player sees (the classic VR first-person perspective) but can also follow the “real-world” movements the player makes to execute moves within the game. As a player moves their arms, for example, their avatar can be seen replicating the same moves based on sensor data pulled from the VR gear the player is wearing.

It is this ability to closely watch and potentially learn from the best players that has made video game streaming so popular. But, argues Shewki, the move to VR was initially a backwards step in this regard, as it required additional technology to close the gap between player and spectator.

“The LIV App gives streamers the tools to broadcast themselves as themselves, or as their favourite avatars, inside any of the 100s of games that we support. We support hundreds if not thousands of avatars, including the popular Japanese VRM avatar format,” says Shewki.

“The LIV App also brings utilities like stream chat, stream alerts, scene controls and camera controls natively into the headset using our proprietary 3D overlay system, built specifically with performance in mind (which in VR is already a scarce resource). The LIV SDK is integrated by developers to get their games LIV-ready. We support Unity, Unreal as well as custom engines, and have done integrations with all of them.”

Longer term, Shewki says he wants LIV to not only enable a better live-streaming experience but to evolve into what the company is describing as a “real-time audience interaction platform” for VR streamers and games developers. The thinking here is that spectators of VR can also become participants beyond the simple chatroom experience that exists today.

Dubbed “LIV Play” and targeting a closed alpha release by the end of the year, the idea is to give audiences the ability to influence what happens in-game and in real time, such as purchasing health potions when a player most needs them or spawning extra monsters when they least expect it.

“Our hypothesis was: If we give viewers more engaging ways to participate, as opposed to what you have today with chat, polls and donations, they will,” explains Shewki. “We ran experiments with Beat Saber where we let audiences replace cubes with bombs and do more fun donations. Our experiment results over 120 days were incredible. Week 1 and 2: 700% higher revenue/minute through higher engagement. It petered out to 300% higher rev/min at 120 days, where it’s stayed.”

In other words, take the same monetisation approach that we have seen in games like Fortnite and apply it to the audience side of live-gaming spectatorship. “Creativity is our only limit here,” enthuses Shewki.

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Mixhalo raises $10.7M to bring better sound quality to live events

Posted by | foundry group, funding, Media, MIXhalo, Mobile, Recent Funding, Startups | No Comments

Mixhalo — the startup co-founded by Incubus guitarist Mike Einziger and his wife, violinist Ann Marie Simpson-Einziger — has raised $10.7 million in Series A funding.

The company’s initial goal was to bring better sound quality to concerts. Instead of hearing music blasted out of speakers, users can connect their smartphone to a network (the startup creates its own wireless channel that doesn’t rely on the venue’s potentially overloaded Wi-Fi or cell networks). Then, through their earbuds, they’ll hear the same sound mix that the musicians receive through their in-ear monitors.

Mixhalo launched two years ago at TechCrunch Disrupt NY, where Incubus and investor Pharrell Williams took the stage to play a couple of songs. The sound arrived loud and clear through my earbuds, and the experience didn’t feel too different from a normal concert.

Since then, Mixhalo has also been used at Y Combinator Demo Day and deployed on tours by Charlie Puth, Incubus and Metallica, as well as Aerosmith’s current Las Vegas residency.

And at the beginning of this year, Marc Ruxin joined as CEO. Ruxin previously led the music discovery startup TastemakerX (which was acquired by Rdio), so this is clearly an area that interests him, but he told me that he wasn’t actually eager to return to the music business. However, he was wowed by Mixhalo’s sound quality, and as he talked to Einziger (who serves as the startup’s chief creative officer), he became convinced that the technology could be used at a wide range of events and venues — conferences, sports, museums, megachurches and more.

Plus, unlike other music startups, Ruxin said the business model here seemed appealingly straightforward: “We sell enterprise software to event organizers.”

mixhalo press 2up dark interpretation

When I’ve described the idea in the past, there’s usually some skepticism about whether concertgoers really care that much about sound, and concern about whether wearing headphones diminishes the social experience.

Ruxin countered Mixhalo offers a number of benefits beyond sound quality — there’s the ability for each listener to control their own volume, and an opportunity to create unique experiences, like offering multiple mixes for a single concert, or watching one band at a festival (or one presenter at Demo Day) while listening to another via Mixhalo.

He also argued that people don’t realize how bad most concert audio is until Mixhalo gives the chance to experience something better.

“We’re definitely solving a problem in music that people don’t realize they have,” he said, comparing it to watching an old TV and thinking it was fine, until you had the chance to watch in HD: “Now, sports that’s not in HD looks crappy.”

As for the effect on the social experience, Ruxin said the idea isn’t to turn the whole event into a silent disco. Instead, Mixhalo allows the audience members to choose the experience they want. And that can change from song to song — he recalled seeing some fans listen to Mixhalo for most of a concert, then take their headphones off to sing along with the hits. Others did the opposite, wanting to get the best sound quality on their favorite songs.

Ruxin said he’s primarily focused on music and sports for now, but he’s also open to working with partners outside those areas, because the technology can be installed in, say, a Broadway musical with “no technical tweaks.”

The funding was led by Foundry Group, with participation from Sapphire Sport, Founders Fund, Defy Partners, Cowboy Ventures, Red Light Management, Another Planet Entertainment, Rick Farman and Rich Goodstone of Superfly and Charlie Walker of C3. Mixhalo has now raised a total of $15 million.

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NEW YORK, NY – MAY 17: (L-R) Pharrell Williams, founder and CEO of MIXhalo Mike Einziger and TechCrunch senior writer Anthony Ha speak onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017 – Day 3 at Pier 36 on May 17, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

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