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Tag Archives: fundings & exits

Landbot gets $2.2M for its on-message ‘anti-AI’ chatbot

Who needs AI to have a good conversation? Spanish startup Landbot has bagged a $2.2 million seed round for a ‘dumb’ chatbot that doesn’t use AI at all but offers something closer to an old school ‘choose your adventure’ interaction by using a conversational choice interface to engage potential customers when they land on a website. The rampant popularity of consumer messaging apps has long been influencing product development decisions, and plenty of fusty business tools have been consumerized in recent years, including by having messaging-style interfaces applied to simplify all kinds of digital interactions. In the case of Landbot, the team is deploying a familiar rich texting interface as a website navigation tool — meaning site visitors aren’t left to figure out where to click to find stuff on their own. Instead they’re pro-actively met with an interactive, adaptive messaging thread that uses conversational choice prompts to get them the information they need. Call it a chatty twist on the ‘lazyweb’… It’s also of course mobile first design, where constrained screen real estate is never very friendly to full fat homepages. Using a messaging thread interface plus marketing bots thus offers an alternative way to cut to the navigational chase, while simultaneously creaming off intent intelligence on potential customers. (Albeit it does risk getting old fast if your site visitors have a habit of clearing their cookies.) Landbot, which was launched just over a year ago in June 2017, started as an internal experiment after its makers got frustrated by the vagaries of their own AI chatbots. So they had the idea to create a drag-and-drop style bot-builder that doesn’t require coding to support custom conversation flows. “Since we already had a product, a business model, and some customers, we developed Landbot as an internal experiment. “What would happen with a full-screen conversation instead of the regular live-chat?,” we thought. What we got?

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Sweden’s Engaging Care raises $800,000 for its digital healthcare SaaS

Engaging Care , a Swedish heathtech startup co-founded by Charlotta Tönsgård, who was previously CEO of online doctor app Min Doktor before being asked to step down , has raised $800,000 in “pre-seed” funding to continue building out its digital healthcare SaaS. Backing the burgeoning company are a host of well-established angel investors in the region. They include Hampus Jakobsson (venture partner at BlueYard Capital and co-founder of TAT, which sold to Blackberry for $150 million), Sophia Bendz ( EIR at Atomico and the former Global Marketing Director at Spotify), Erik Byrenius (founder of OnlinePizza, an online food ordering company sold to Delivery Hero) and Neil Murray’s The Nordic Web Ventures . With the aim of dragging healthcare into the digital age, but in a more patient-friendly and patient-centred way than tradition electronic medical record systems, Engaging Care is developing a SaaS and accompanying apps to bring together patients, healthcare providers and partners to be “smarter and better connected”. Unlike software and digital services that work outside existing healthcare systems, the startup’s wares are billed as being designed to work within them. It is initially targeting people with long-term health conditions. “There has been tremendous progress made in the healthcare sector over the last decade. New advanced drugs, new methods for surgery and other treatments, but how healthcare workers share important information with the patient and the interaction between caregiver and patient still basically happens the same way it did 50 years ago,” Tönsgård tells me. “The systems of today are still designed around the doctor – even though we might spend as little as 15 minutes with him or her every year, but hours, days and years alone with our condition. On top of this, most western healthcare systems are struggling financially, with an ageing population, more prevalence of chronic diseases and a shift in expectations from the public, adding to the challenges”.

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Okta nabs ScaleFT to build out ‘Zero Trust’ security framework

Okta , the cloud identity management company, announced today it has purchased a startup called ScaleFT to bring the Zero Trust concept to the Okta platform. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. While Zero Trust isn’t exactly new to a cloud identity management company like Okta, acquiring ScaleFT gives them a solid cloud-based Zero Trust foundation on which to continue to develop the concept internally. “To help our customers increase security while also meeting the demands of the modern workforce, we’re acquiring ScaleFT to further our contextual access management vision — and ensure the right people get access to the right resources for the shortest amount of time,” Okta co-founder and COO Frederic Kerrest said in a statement. Zero Trust is a security framework that acknowledges work no longer happens behind the friendly confines of a firewall. In the old days before mobile and cloud, you could be pretty certain that anyone on your corporate network had the authority to be there, but as we have moved into a mobile world, it’s no longer a simple matter to defend a perimeter when there is effectively no such thing. Zero Trust means what it says: you can’t trust anyone on your systems and have to provide an appropriate security posture. The idea was pioneered by Google’s “BeyondCorp” principals and the founders of ScaleFT are adherents to this idea. According to Okta, “ScaleFT developed a cloud-native Zero Trust access management solution that makes it easier to secure access to company resources without the need for a traditional VPN.” Okta wants to incorporate the ScaleFT team and, well, scale their solution for large enterprise customers interested in developing this concept, according to a company blog post by Kerrest. “Together, we’ll work to bring Zero Trust to the enterprise by providing organizations with a framework to protect sensitive data, without compromising on experience. Okta and ScaleFT will deliver next-generation continuous authentication capabilities to secure server access — from cloud to ground,” Kerrest wrote in the blog post . ScaleFT CEO and co-founder Jason Luce will manage the transition between the two companies, while CTO and co-founder Paul Querna will lead strategy and execution of Okta’s Zero Trust architecture. CSO Marc Rogers will take on the role of Okta’s Executive Director, Cybersecurity Strategy.

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Light raises $121M led by SoftBank as it prepares to bring its camera tech to smartphones

Camera technology company Light is the latest to do the money dance with SoftBank’s massive Vision Fund after it raised a $121 million Series D round. The funding round was led by Vision Fund, the near-$100 billion fund anchored by SoftBank , with participation from consumer camera giant Leica Camera AG. Today’s announcement takes Light to around $186 million raised from investors to date. Light is best known for its futuristic camera technology and shooters. The company first introduced the $1,950 L16 camera back in 2015, which then began shipping in 2017 . The camera uses 16 lenses to capture 52 megapixel imagery which produces impressive results. Perhaps most notably, the L16 is tiny which makes it hugely portable and convenient. Given the small form factor and the rise of mobile photography, it  was with little surprise that earlier this month Light teased its first smartphone camera product . Exact details of what that will look like are unclear, but a Light representative told TechCrunch that its mobile technology has been licensed to an OEM which plans to launch a Light-powered smartphone this coming September. “In this era, pocketable, connected cameras can reconstruct the world in three dimensions and superhuman detail, cars are able to perceive the objects around them without the need for special sensors, and robots are able to thread the elusive needle autonomously,” Light said in a statement. In addition, the company claims the smartphone tech, which supports up to nine cameras on the rear side of the phone, will “shatter the expectations of mobile photography” when it is released. A representative said also that Leica and Light’s partnership may see the duo develop consumer products that utlize Light’s tech, although details of that are even less clear than the smartphone plan at this point. That foray into mobile underscores the plans for this new round of funding for Light. The company said it intends to push its technology, which to date has been utilized in the consumer space, into security, robotic, automotive, aerial and industrial imaging verticals. You can imagine that this ambition to expand fed nicely into SoftBank’s pitch for Vision Fund, which is designed to bring together the world’s top technology companies and encourage synergies between them

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Ultimate Software is acquiring PeopleDoc for $300 million

Public company Ultimate Software is acquiring French startup PeopleDoc for $300 million in cash and stock. The transaction is expected to close in the third quarter of 2018. These two companies both make HR solutions. Ultimate Software has been around for a while. It went public in 1998 and switched to a software-as-a-service solution in 2002 — this solution is called UltiPro. It lets you manage all things HR, from payroll to benefits, time management, onboarding, performance management and more. PeopleDoc is a younger French startup that has raised over $50 million. As the name suggests, PeopleDoc lets you centralized all HR documents related to you in a single location. They can come from multiple sources and systems, they’ll all be there. The startup has also worked on an onboarding solution and other tools to automate HR processes as much as possible.

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An app that uses AI to help you improve your basketball shot just raised $4 million

Let’s be real: you are  most certainly never going to be as good as Steve Nash, Chris Paul, James Harden — or really any professional NBA player. But it probably won’t stop you from trying to practice or model your game around your favorite players, and spend hours upon hours figuring out how to get better. And while there are going to be plenty of attempts to smash image recognition and AI into that problem, a company called NEX Team is hoping to soften the blow a bit by helping casual players figure out  their game, rather than trying to be as good as a professional NBA player. Using phone cameras and image recognition on the back end, its primary app HomeCourt will measure a variety of variables like shot trajectory, jump height, and body position, and help understand how to improve a player’s shooting form. It’s not designed to help that player shoot like Ray Allen, but at least start hitting those mid-range jumpers. The company said it’s raised $4 million from  Charmides Capital and Mandra Capital, as well as Steve Nash, Jeremy Lin, Sam “Trust The Process” Hinkie (sigh), Mark Cuban and Dani  Reiss. “We don’t call ourselves a basketball company, we think of ourselves as a mobile AI company,” CEO and co-founder David Lee said. “It happens that basketball is the first sport where we’re applying our tech. When you think about digitizing sports, as a runner or cyclist, you’ve had access to a feedback loop for a while on treadmills and other tools. But for basketball and other sports like basketball, that loop didn’t exist. We believed with computer vision, you can digitize a lot of different sports, one of which is basketball. We’re not just building an app for the professional basketball athletes, we’re focused on building an app where value can be generated across the basketball community.” The app starts off with an iPhone. Players can boot up their camera and begin recording their shots, and the app will go back and track what worked and what didn’t work with that shot, as well as where the player is making and missing those shots.It’s not tracking every single motion of the player, but once a player makes a shot, it will track that trajectory and shooting form, like where his or her feet are planted. That kind of feedback can help players understand the kinds of small tweaks they can make to improve their shooting percentage over time, such as release speed or jump hight.

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Standard Cognition raises another $5.5M to create a cashier-less checkout experience

As Amazon looks to increasingly expand its cashier-less grocery stories — called Amazon Go – across different regions, there’s at least one startup hoping to end up everywhere else beyond Amazon’s empire. Standard Cognition aims to help businesses create that kind of checkout experience based on machine vision, using image recognition to figure out that a specific person is picking up and walking out the door with a bag of Cheetos. The company said it’s raised an additional $5.5 million in a round in what the company is calling a seed round extension from CRV. The play here is, like many startups, to create something that a massive company is going after — like image recognition for cashier-less checkouts — for the long tail businesses rather than locking them into a single ecosystem. Standard Cognition works with security cameras that have a bit more power than typical cameras to identify people that walk into a store. Those customers use an app, and the camera identifies everything they are carrying and bills them as they exit the store. The company has said it works to anonymize that data, so there isn’t any kind of product tracking that might chase you around the Internet that you might find on other platforms. “The platform is built at this point – we are now focused on releasing the platform to each retail partner that signs on with us,” Michael Suswal, Co-founder and COO said. “Most of the surprises coming our way come from learning about how each retailer prefers to run their operations and store experiences. They are all a little different and require us to be flexible with how we deploy.” It’s a toolkit that makes sense for both larger and smaller retailers, especially as the actual technology to install cameras or other devices that can get high-quality video or have more processing power goes down over time.

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Travel giant Booking invests $500M in Chinese ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing

Didi Chuxing, China’s largest ride-hailing company, has pulled in some strategic capital after Booking Holdings invested $500 million into its business. The deal will see Booking Holdings — which was formerly known as Priceline — work closely with Didi to offer its on-demand car services through its Booking.com apps via an integration. Likewise, Didi customers will have the option to book hotels through Booking.com and its sister site Agoda. The deal isn’t about money. Didi has said publicly that it has multiple billions of US dollars on its balance sheet, thanks to a gigantic $4 billion funding round that closed at the end of 2017 and a history of raising big in recent years. Instead, the tie-in helps on a strategic level. Besides Booking.com and Agoda, Booking also operates Kayak, Priceline.com, Rentacars.com and OpenTable, all of which makes it a powerful ally for Didi. That’s particularly important since the Chinese firm is in global expansion mode, having launched services in Mexico , Australia and Taiwan this year. Beyond those three, it acquired local ride-hailing company 99 in Brazil and announced plans to roll into Japan . Beyond boosting a brand and consumer touchpoints, linking up with travel companies makes sense as ride-hailing goes from simply ride-hailing to become a de facto platform for travel between both longer haul (flights) and short distance (public transport) trips. That explains why Didi has doubled down on dock-less bikes and other transportation modes. “Building on its leadership and expertise in the global online travel market, Booking is championing a digital revolution of travel experience

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Mention Me, the referral marketing platform, raises $7M led by Eight Roads Ventures

Mention Me , the London-headquartered referral marketing platform, has raised $7 million in further funding. The round is led by Eight Roads Ventures and is the first time the five and a half year old company has raised venture capital, having only ever done a small angel round in 2015. That’s noteworthy given the company’s two founders: Andy Cockburn and Tim Boughton, who met at Homeaway where they were U.K. MD and European CTO respectively before its $3 billion IPO on the Nasdaq. Counting over 300 customers — including FarFetch, Ovo Energy, Ted Baker and ZipCar —  Mention Me offers a marketing platform to make it easy and effective for companies to conduct referral marketing. The platform supports referral programs in 16 languages, but its biggest draw is the ability to A/B test, iterate and measure campaigns so that they work best for the cohort they target. Another feature that stands out is Mention Me’s refer by name functionality. This sees the marketing platform let you refer customers simply by having enter your full name into the referral box instead of relying on a unique referral code or URL. This, Mention Me co-founder Cockburn says, is designed to mimic the way referrals are naturally made in conversation with friends i.e. ‘go to this store and mention my name’. “Most businesses are sitting on a huge asset: the trust and good will of their customers,” he says. “If those customers are out telling their friends about the brand and how they feel about it, it should become the most valuable marketing channel the business has.

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Fastly raises another $40 million before an IPO

Last round before the IPO. That’s how Fastly frames its new $40 million Series F round. It means that the company has raised $219 million over the past few years. The funding round was led by Deutsche Telekom Capital Partners with participation from Sozo Ventures, Swisscom Ventures, and existing investors. Fastly operates a content delivery network to speed up web requests. Let’s say you type nytimes.com in your browser. In the early days of the internet, your computer would send a request to one of The New York Times’ servers in a data center. The server would receive the request and send back the page to the reader. But the web has grown immensely, and this kind of architecture is no longer sustainable. The New York Times use Fastly to cache its homepage, media and articles on Fastly’s servers. This way, when somebody types nytimes.com, Fastly already has the webpage on its servers and can send it directly. For some customers, it can represent as much as 90 percent of requests. Scale and availability are one of the benefits of using a content delivery network.

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WeWork’s biggest rival in China is on an acquisition spree

WeWork may have combined forces with its fiercest rival in China, Naked Hub, in a recent merger , but its new enemy numero uno in the country is also building up a roster of friends through aggressive M&A. Ucommune may not be spending the kind of cash WeWork China did — it reportedly spent $400 million to get Naked Hub — but it is quietly picking up smaller rivals via acquisitions. Last week, it completed its fourth piece of M&A of the past year with a deal to buy  Workingdom for 300 million RMB, or roughly $45 million. Two-year-old Workingdom offers working spaces in Shanghai, and online services that help SMEs and multinationals growth their businesses. An acquisition spree from Ucommune — which was forced to rebrand from UrWork following a lawsuit from WeWork — has seen it snap up lesser but strategic players  Wedo , Woo Space  and New Space  to boost its presence and rival WeWork. All told, and thanks to these deals, Ucommune claims to operate 60 offices in Beijing, 20 more in Shanghai and a significant presence in Guangdong, Macau and Hong Kong. In comparison, Naked Hub says it has 10,000 members across its 24 office locations while WeWork says it has 10,000 members in 13 locations in Greater China. The U.S. firm plans to grow its reach to 40 offices by the end of this year, a move that it says will quadruple its membership numbers in China to 40,000. Those numbers explain why the acquisition deals aren’t likely to stop any time soon for Ucommune. The Chinese he company said in its latest announcement that it will “continue to acquire more co-working companies to grow its global footprint.” Currently, its presence outside of China includes New York and Singapore, but it is clearly exploiting the bursting of the co-working bubble which initially attracted a huge number of companies to the space, particularly in China. Inside a Ucommune space Ucommune last raised money when it closed a $17 million round at a valuation of 9 billion RMB ($1.4 billion) in February 2018.

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Undo gets $14M to scale to meet the software accountability challenge

Undo , a long time player in the debugging tools space, offering its program execution capture and replay technology to help others diagnose software failures, has closed a $14 million Series B round led by Cambridge Innovation Capital , the Cambridge, UK-based builder of tech and healthcare companies. The 2005 founded startup — initially bootstrapped (out of founder Greg Law’s garden shed) — has come a long way, and now has more than 30 paying customers for what it describes as its “record, rewind and replay” debugging technology, including the likes of SAP HANA, Mentor Graphics, Cadence and Micro Focus. A quick potted history: In 2012, Law quit his job to go full time on Undo, raising a small amount of angel funding and then a $1.25M from seed investment in 2014, followed by $3.3M in a series A funding in 2016. New investors in the Series B round include Global Brain Corporation, a Japanese venture capital fund; and UK-focused Parkwalk Advisors, while all Undo’s existing investor groups also participated —  including Rockspring; Martlet; Sir Peter Michael (founder of Quantel, Classic FM and California’s Peter Michael Winery); the Cambridge Angels group and Jaan Tallinn (co-founder of Skype and Kazaa). The Series B will be used to expand Undo’s software development team, accelerate product development and grow its US operations. Undo says its best markets so far are electronic design automation (EDA); database manufacturers/data management; and networking. “This funding will be used to significantly improve performance as part of Undo’s  always-on recording  vision, and also to accelerate our product roadmap and broaden the technology beyond compiled code so that it can be used with Java and other VM-based languages,” it tells us. “Our main competitor is the status quo — engineering organisations that do not evolve with the times. Old-school debugging techniques (e.g. printf, logging, core dump analysis) have been around for decades. 2000 was all about static analysis. 2010 was about dynamic analysis, 2020 will be about capturing software failures ‘in the act’ through capture & replay technology.” Undo argues that its Live Recorder technology offers “a completely new way of diagnosing software failures during development and in production” — arguing that its approach is superior to traditional debugging techniques such as printf, logging, core dump analysis which are “general purpose and provide limited information”, while it says static and dynamic analysis “are deep but can only look at specific instances of bugs” — whereas it claims its tech “can capture failure instances across the whole spectrum and therefore plugs in the gaps which no-one else has filled yet”. The UK company also sees a growing opportunity for its approach given increasingly complex and increasingly autonomous software risks becoming unaccountable, if it’s making decisions without people knowing how and why. So the wider vision for Undo is not just getting faster at fixing bugs but addressing the growing need for software makers to be able to articulate — and account for — what their programs are doing at any given moment. “Longer term it’s about that journey towards software accountability,” says Law .

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Hong Kong’s GoGoVan raises $250M from investors including Alibaba’s logistics subsidiary

Logistics on-demand service GoGoVan became Hong Kong’s first billion-dollar startup via a merger last year, and now is doubling down on growth after raising $250 million in new capital. The new round was led by InnoVision Capital, with participation from the Russia-China Investment Fund, Hongrun Capital and Qianhai Fund of Funds. Two other notable investors include Alibaba’s Cainiao logistics subsidiary — Alibaba is already an investor via its Hong Kong entrepreneurship fund — and 58 Daojia Group, the parent of the ’58 Suyun’ business that merged with GoGoVan. There’s more capital coming soon it seems, with GoGoVan saying in an announcement that the $250 million is “the first phase of its new round of funding.” Despite reaching unicorn status via the merger, GoGoVan didn’t disclose a valuation for this new round. The company plans to use the money to expand its business into new markets, and in particular India and Southeast Asia, having focused on China primarily to date. Together with 58 Suyun, GoGoVan claims to cover 300 cities with some eight million registered users and 2,000 staff. The service itself is anchored around short distance logistics and trips, but GoGoVan CEO Steven Lam explained that the company plans to soon introduce a door-to-door option and other offerings that “simplify logistics and delivery services.” GoGoVan’s main rival is Lalamove, a fellow Hong Kong-based logistics startup.  Lalamove raised $100 million last year  at a valuation of nearly $1 billion. While GoGoVan’s exit was its merger, Lalamove is looking to remain independent and it has begun thinking about an IPO, which could take place in Hong Kong, its head of international Blake Larson told TechCrunch. GoGoVan and Lalamove are two of the last that remain standing from what was once a very cluttered field as the rise of Uber saw dozens of companies sprout up as an ‘Uber for logistics’ services. The secret to their survival? Getting deep into the Chinese market is one crucial factor, but from talking to the two companies over the years, both cast  the ‘Uber for X’ buzzword aside and concentrated on working with SMEs and repeat business customers rather than the shallow (and fickle) consumer market. Uber’s Cargo service , for example, offered on-demand logistics in Hong Kong but it didn’t live long before being shuttered .

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Restaurant booking startup Eatigo chows down ~$10M more from TripAdvisor

Eatigo, a Southeast Asia-based dining service that describes itself as an ‘anti-Groupon’ for restaurants, had a busy 2017 that saw it expand into a number of markets including India. Now it is primed to continue that growth further still after it gobbled down a fresh serving of capital from TripAdvisor, the travel giant that it already counts as an investor. Ok, no more food jokes, I promise… The funding is undisclosed but Eatigo CEO and co-founder Michael Cluzel told TechCrunch it is ‘eight-digits.’ We do know that it takes Eatigo to over $25 million raised to date which, given that the startup had raised more than $15 million following the completion of its previous round , suggests that the amount is around the $10 million mark. Eatigo was founded in Bangkok in 2013 and it is designed to help restaurants fill unused inventory by offering deals to customers at certain times of the day. The appeal to eaters is deals, but unlike group buying services such as Groupon, Eatigo encourages restaurants to manage their inventory and time so that they are filling their quiet hours for additional revenue not ramming people into restaurants for the sake of it. The latter scenario, of course, puts pressure on staff, reduces service quality and is generally not conducive to a good dining experience. It is also questionable whether discounts drive long-time loyalty, a cornerstone the Groupon of old was built on, but I digress. The Eatigo service is present in six countries where it claims four million registered users and over 4,000 restaurants. That latter number ranges from high-end affairs, such as upscale hotel restaurants, to chain outlets and — my own personal favorite — street food outlets. The important part here, besides the money, is that this new deal appears to signal a closer relationship between Eatigo and TripAdvisor, and particularly TripAdvisor’s The Fork subsidiary and its TripAdvisor Restaurants service. The Fork, which the company got via a 2014 acquisition , is TripAdvisor’s expansion into food, allowing users to find information on availability and bookings on restaurants and in cities. Like Eatigo, it allows for advanced bookings at a discount but the service is squarely focused on Europe, having initially been founded in France. In that respect, it makes sense for the duo to collaborate. “As we look to further our presence in the Asia Pacific region, we believe our latest strategic investment in Eatigo will continue to support a great business and strong management team

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Golden Equator Capital and Korea Investment Partners announce $88M Southeast Asia fund

There’s more money flowing into Southeast Asia’s tech startup scene after Singapore’s  Golden Equator Capital and Seoul-based Korea Investment Partners announced plans for a collaborative $88 million (SG$120 million) fund for the region. The two investment firms will act as joint partners for the vehicle, which is expected to hit a first close before September and a final close by the end of 2018. Already, they claim to have 65 percent of the target capital committed by LPs. The firms are aiming for the Series A and B spaces with a typical check size of between $1.5 million and $3.7 million for what will be known as the GEC-KIP Fund. It isn’t exactly clear what focus the fund will adopt for investments. Southeast Asia often falls off the radar for investment in Asia, with the far larger countries of China and India typically getting the attention, but rising internet access among the region’s cumulative population of over 600 million signals growth potential. A recent report co-authored by Google forecasts Southeast Asia’s ‘internet economy’ reaching more than $200 billion by 2025, up from just $30 billion in 2015. A few unicorns, including ride-sharing companies Grab and Go-Jek, have also helped put it on the map for investors. Speaking of investors, Golden Equator Capital is part of Golden Equator , a Singapore-based group of businesses that includes financial services, consulting, an incubator and, of course, investment funds. The firm has existing ties with Korea — via a Korea-focused health tech incubator launched last year — and its advisory team includes Taizo Son , founder of Japanese VC firm Mistletoe and brother of SoftBank chairman Masayoshi Son.

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