Infogrid raises $15.5M from Northzone to retrofit buildings with ‘smart’ IoT

Infogrid, an IoT startup which can retrofit an existing building to make it ‘smart’, has raised $15.5 million. The Series A funding round was led by Northzone with participation from JLL Spark, Concrete VC, The Venture Collective, Jigsaw VC, an unarmed real estate investment group, and an unnamed large international asset owner, although one report speculated that it is Starwood Capital, the property-focused investor.

Infogrid’s platform combines IoT sensors with proprietary AI analysis and has had some success re-vamping facilities management (FM) for some of the world’s largest FM providers, such as global banks, supermarkets, restaurant chains, and the NHS. Infogrid also has an ‘impact-style’ mission to enable businesses to reduce the environmental and social cost of their buildings while simultaneously benefitting their bottom line and asset values.

Infogrid’s system can detect when refrigerated products are being kept outside the required temperature range, measure air quality and check for virus risk indicators such as legionnaires’ disease in water pipes.

William Cowell de Gruchy, founder/CEO and a former British Army officer, said in a statement: “Until now, the lack of viable and scalable technology has meant that facilities management is one of the last industries to be enhanced by digitization, despite covering the world’s largest asset class. Infogrid’s end-to-end smart building system finally arms organizations with insight to take control and take action. This new era of insight and automation will bring about a positive impact on the efficiencies of businesses, the wellbeing of employees, and the environmental footprint of buildings.”

Jeppe Zink, Partner at Northzone added: “With the world undergoing the largest wave of urban growth in history, the built environment already generates 39% of annual global carbon emissions. We were instantly drawn to Infogrid for its ability to future-proof buildings in the long-term.”

Union Labs believes uniting VC and corporate expertise can help startups solve “hard tech” problems

Chris Kim and Nate Williams formed Union Labs with the conviction that investors and companies aren’t collaborating closely enough to ensure the success of the startups they back.

Kim is the former co-founder and chief technology officer at the automatic lock company August. He first met Williams when the company was attempting to create a consortium of stakeholders for the Internet of Things market.

Nate loved the go-to-market side when he came on board. He led the charge for us getting into retail,” Kim said. 

Later, when August was acquired in 2017, the two men continued to work together after Williams took a role as an entrepreneur in residence at Kleiner Perkins. Kim would assist in due diligence as the two continued to refine the thesis that they’d worked on at August — that uniting stakeholders was a critical component of success for new technology companies.

That thesis became the organizing principle for their Union Labs fund, which has raised $29 million of a targeted $50 million fund. 

“We’re starting to see this bifurcation between really, really hard deep tech firms versus other firms that might [have] one out of five of their deals being deep tech. Chris and I saw a lane for ‘applied’ deeptech,” said Williams.

This lane runs through the early-stage technology firms that need guidance from operators at hardware companies rather than the software-as-a-service experts that Williams and Kim said populate most venture capital firms. “Educating a SaaS partnership about ‘hard tech’ is super hard,” said Williams.

In addition to Williams and Kim, Union Labs has two directors: Thomas Lee, who spent years working at Enphase Energy, and Annie Le, a former chief operating officer at Pryze.

One example of the kinds of startups that the new Union Labs fund is hoping to back is Strella Biotechnology, a company that has developed sensors to monitor the ethylene gas emitted by produce to determine the freshness of fruits and vegetables.

Union Labs is targeting 20 investments with the first fund, including 15 direct investments and another three-to-five companies that it intends to incubate.

The other public investments in the company’s portfolio include the car rental optimization service Carnect and a toolkit for home safety called Encircle Labs (that’s not revealing too much about its business).

A fourth portfolio company, that has yet to publicly reveal its services, is working on solving problems in field service management related to training.

While these issues have presented challenges for industry, with the exception of the sensor business, none of them could be considered “hard tech” from a hardware perspective… and indeed, many of them resemble the software-as-a-service businesses that many firms are writing checks to support.

For its part, Union Labs is writing pre-seed and seed-stage checks with an average size of $890,000 for an 11% ownership stake. Williams says the firm will invest anywhere from $500,000 to $1.5 million.

For startups, one selling point for the firm is the connection it still maintains with the Internet of Things consortium Williams helped to establish for August Homes. Through the consortium Williams has been able to pull together corporate backers in telecommunications, utilities, consumer electronics and insurance, along with Kleiner Perkins and GV (which Williams said are investors).

“One of the things we’ve seen is the rise of corporate venture capital firms,” said Williams. And both Kim and Williams want their firm to act as a hybrid, between corporate venture capital and a traditional venture firm. 

Time will tell if they can turn their mission into something more than a marketing message.

Strike first, strike hard, no mercy: How emerging managers can win

Like many of us during COVID-19, I’ve found myself watching a bit more TV than I’m typically accustomed to. My latest binge? “The Karate Kid” series continuation “Cobra Kai” on Netflix.

A long-time fan of “The Karate Kid,” I find my style’s a bit more Miyagi-Do, but, in reflecting upon my last few years as a founding GP at a young VC firm, I see some parallels between what it takes to win as an emerging manager and the mantras by which the Cobra Kai school abides.

Before diving into that, let me quickly set the stage for what the competitive landscape looks like for emerging managers these days. I’ll focus primarily on the seed landscape here, but the Cobra Kai framework applies just as readily to later stage funds as well.

Leading up to the coronavirus pandemic, the venture industry saw a record number of dollars raised by seed funds less than $100 million in size. As is the case across stages however, there has been a notable decline in seed volume in the wake of COVID-19.

US fundraising activity for sub $100M seed rounds

U.S. fundraising activity for sub-$100M seed rounds. Data source: PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor. Image Credits: Fika Ventures

The opposing dynamics of a contraction in deal volume and an unprecedented amount of readily available investable capital has led to a tremendous amount of competition for the highest-quality deals. This flight to quality can be clearly seen in the rise of seed valuations in the upper quartile compared to the decline in other cohorts. Amid a backdrop of COVID chaos, upper quartile valuations have hit an all-time high.

angel/seed pre-money valuations by quartile

Angel/seed pre-money valuations by quartile. Data source: PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor. Image Credits: Fika Ventures

Due to their smaller fund size and prescriptive portfolio construction mandates, emerging managers have little leeway in terms of the valuations at which they can invest — their ownership requirements and check size limits impose a hard ceiling to which their investors hold them strictly accountable.

If budging on valuation is not a viable tactic to compete against established firms — which, in addition to their ability to be less price sensitive also boast more recognizable brand names, larger teams and higher AUM that affords them higher budgets for platform resources — how can emerging managers win? Enter Cobra Kai.

Strike first

Let’s face it. As an emerging manager, the chances of you winning a deal once the established players start to circle drops precipitously. In order to win, you need to have a first-mover advantage.

On a practical level, there are two windows of opportunity to achieve this:

Apple hires former venture capitalist Josh Elman for App Store discovery role

As part of Apple’s ongoing efforts to improve app discovery, the company has hired former venture capitalist Josh Elman for a related role on the App Store.

Credit: Josh ElmanCredit: Josh Elman

In a statement Monday, Elman said he would be joining Apple to “help customers discover the best apps for them.” He added that he was excited to “build ways to help over a billion customers and millions of developers connect.”

Read more…

Here are 60 of our favorite iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro cases for every taste

AppleInsider has spent a few weeks now gathering up our favorite cases for Apple’s new iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro. Here are some of the best options out there and what we thought of them.

A pile of cases for the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 ProA pile of cases for the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro

As a reminder, the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are the same size, meaning cases can work interchangeably between the two devices.

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EveryAction acquires Mobilize, the Democratic volunteering platform

Nonprofit donor management platform EveryAction is buying Mobilize, a company that connects Democratic campaigns to volunteers and helps marshal activists toward progressive causes. Mobilize, formerly known as MobilizeAmerica, grew out of Higher Ground Labs, an incubator focused on leveraging tech for left-leaning political causes and campaigns.

With the acquisition, EveryAction can now extend Mobilize’s organizing tools to its existing base of more than 15,000 clients, which includes the Sierra Club and the Human Rights Campaign. EveryAction is a nonprofit-focused wing of NGP VAN, a company that provides much of the digital infrastructure for the Democratic Party. The terms of the Mobilize deal were not disclosed.

Mobilize, founded in early 2017, rode the wave of Trump-era activism on the left to become a ubiquitous tool helping progressive campaigns translate online interest and energy into action. The platform powered outreach for many candidates in 2020’s Democratic primary, including now President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign, who continued to use Mobilize into the general election.

After Trump’s surprise win in 2016 — and the surprising strategies that got the campaign there — Democrats turned to the startup scene to hone new tools. If the last four years served as a testing ground for Democratic political startup, 2020 sees them on the cusp of a new era altogether.

Earlier this year, Mobilize raised a $3.75 million Series A round led by progressive tech incubator Higher Ground Labs. Chris Sacca’s Lowercase Capital and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, a prominent Democratic donor, also participated in the Series A. Mobilize’s acquisition follows another recent exit connected to Higher Ground Labs: In August, Social Capital, founded by billionaire ex-Facebooker Chamath Palihapitiya, picked up text banking platform Hustle.

Within EveryAction, Mobilize will become its own unit led by Mobilize CEO and co-founder Alfred Johnson. The company’s existing team will move over into the new division under EveryAction’s umbrella. Mobilize co-founder and President Allen Kramer will also move over to EveryAction as deputy general manager of organizing.

“EveryAction is the leading software provider to nonprofits with clients like the National Audubon Society, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the United Nations Foundation,” Johnson told TechCrunch. “They are uniquely poised to bring our best-in-class offering for events and volunteer management to these very deserving organizations.”

Prior to the acquisition, EveryAction was already connected to Mobilize as an integration on its platform and Johnson called the news a “natural evolution” of that relationship. “Our two companies are extremely aligned in mission: to help cause-driven organizations build bigger movements by driving and deepening supporter engagement,” Johnson said. “Together, we can help more people do more good.”