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    Startup Digest: A look at the top news from the startup space this week

    Startup Digest: A look at the top news from the startup space this week

    Startup Digest: A look at the top news from the startup space this week
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    By Aishwarya Anand   IST (Published)

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    Zomato’s 10-Minute Delivery service, Ola to acquire Avail Finance, Rebel Foods announces $10M ESOP, OYO to offer free accommodation to Ukraine refugees & Elon Musk mulls building a new social media platform. Here are the top headlines from the startup space this week.

    Zomato’s Deepinder Goyal defends 10-minute delivery service 

    Zomato co-founder and CEO Deepinder Goyal defended the company’s latest 10-minute delivery service, a day after the move was criticised and doubts were raised over the company’s pilot programme. Several people on social media labelled the 10-minute food service as unnecessary and potentially dangerous for delivery partners.

    To address these concerns, Goyal took to Twitter and said that the delivery service "will be for specific nearby locations, popular and standardised items only.”

    In his tweet, Goyal also focused the concern around the safety of Zomato riders.  “I just want to tell you more about how 10-minute delivery works, and how it is as safe for our delivery partners as 30-minute delivery," he said in his tweet. Goyal also said that the company is building new food stations to enable the 10-minute service for specific customer locations only.

    Zomato on Monday announced that the company will launch a 10-minute food delivery service which will be called Instant and will be piloted in Gurugram from the next month.

    'Adherent to laws', says Infra.Market after I-T probe reveals Rs 224 cr undisclosed income

    Thane-based Infra.Market has told CNBC-TV18 that it will continue to work with the Income Tax Department to address all queries after the enforcement agency's 'search and seizure operation' detected an undisclosed income of Rs 224 crore.

    In a statement on Sunday, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) said it found and seized a large number of incriminating evidence in the form of hard copy documents and digital data during search operations, which began on March 9 and covered 23 premises of the startup across Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh.

    While the I-T department refused to reveal the name of the company, the reference to "Thane-based unicorn start-up group, primarily engaged in the business of wholesale and retail of construction material with an annual turnover exceeding Rs 6,000 crore" indicated that it was investigating Infra.Market.

    The CBDT said evidence revealed that the group has booked bogus purchases, made huge unaccounted cash expenditures, and obtained accommodation entries, aggregating to the tune of over Rs 400 crore.

    In response to the I-T department's statement, Infra.Market's spokesperson told CNBC-TV18, "As per our company policy, we ensure adherence to the applicable tax laws, at all times. We continue to work with the department to solve all their queries related to any transaction. Since the investigation is still ongoing we will wait for the final report to comment further."

    ACQUISITION NEWS

    Ola to acquire founder Bhavish Aggarwal brother's firm Avail Finance

    IPO-bound ride-hailing giant Ola has entered into an agreement to acquire the online lending platform Avail Finance, which is run by Ola’s founder and CEO Bhavish Aggarwal’s brother Ankush Aggarwal.

    The companies did not disclose the terms of the deal as the transaction is still awaiting approval from shareholders, it said in the blogpost. However, a report by Moneycontrol citing sources mentioned that Ola will buy Avail Finance for $50 million in a share swap deal.

    Ola had first invested in Avail Finance back in 2019 and presently owns 9% stake in it.

    Reliance Retail buys 89% stake in lingerie retailer Clovia for Rs 950 cr

    Reliance Retail Ventures Limited (RRVL) on Sunday announced the acquisition of a majority 89 percent equity stake in Clovia, an industry leader in the bridge-to-premium intimate wear category, with an investment of Rs 950 crore.

    RRVL will acquire the stake in Purple Panda Fashions, which owns and operates the Clovia business, through a combination of secondary stake purchase and primary investment, said a joint statement.

    The founding team and management will own the balance stake in the company, it added. With this acquisition, RRVL will further strengthen its portfolio in the innerwear segment, as it already has acquired Zivame and Amante brands in the past.

    IPO-bound Netcore Cloud acquires majority stake US-based Unbxd for $100M

    SaaS startup Netcore Cloud has picked up a majority stake in US-based product discovery platform Unbxd for $100 million.

    The firm plans to expand its footprint across developed markets with an infusion of additional capital into the cloud-backed Unbxd, it said in a statement.  Post this acquisition, Unbxd will operate as an independent entity and there will be no changes to the company's management.

    This acquisition marks Netcore Cloud’s fourth investment over the last three years, following the acquisition of Quinto.ai (conversational commerce), Boxx.ai (product recommendation), and Hansel.io (product experience).

    PhonePe acquires micro-entrepreneur platform GigIndia

    Walmart-owned fintech firm PhonePe has acquired Pune-based GigIndia which is a network for freelance micro-entrepreneurs, for an undisclosed sum.

    Under the deal, PhonePe will integrate with itself the 1.5 million entrepreneurs, and over 100 enterprises as customers, besides the company’s employees. The digital payments and financial services player will leverage GigIndia’s network of freelance microentrepreneurs to help corporates and enterprises acquire more customers and scale up their distribution channels, it said in a statement.

    BabyChakra acquires Tinystep in an all-cash deal

    Parenting platform BabyChakra has acquired a regional parenting network, Tinystep in an all-cash deal to further strengthen its growth across the country. While the venture did not disclose the deal size, this is BabyChakra’s first acquisition.

    The venture now expands its regional footprint by providing in-depth access to a robust network of parents across 9 languages. BabyChakra targets to reach 75 million moms by the end of 2022.

    BabyChakra has earmarked Rs 100 crores in building mom-baby content to commerce platform over the next 3 years. And by acquiring Tinystep, it aims to reach 75 million mothers.

    Bizongo acquires IoT solutions provider Clean Slate, aims to help 100 factories adopt IoT by 2023

    Bizongo, a full-stack B2B trade enablement platform has acquired Mumbai-based IoT and Real-Time Location Services (RTLS) solutions provider Clean Slate Technologies.

    Through this acquisition, Bizongo aims to equip more than 100 Indian factories with its IoT-powered cloud factory solution by 2023, it said in a statement.  Clean Slate is a bootstrapped startup and its team including co-founders Mayank Sharma, Siddharth Desai and Anubhaw Kumar will join Bizongo.

    SparkCognition acquires Integration Wizard

    AI software solutions provider SparkCognition has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Integration Wizards, a visual AI player, for an undisclosed sum.

    Through this acquisition, it plans to expand its IP portfolio to include computer vision capabilities to provide greater value to its industry solutions, the company said in a statement.

    US-based SparkCognition had raised $123 million Series D fundraising round and hit a unicorn valuation of over $1.4 billion at the beginning of 2022.

    OTHER STARTUP NEWS

    Rebel Foods announces $10M ESOP liquidation program

    Cloud kitchen unicorn Rebel Foods has announced a $10 million employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) liquidation program for eligible current and former employees.

    Through this programme, Rebel Foods’ 150+ current and former employees can liquidate the ESOPs periodically without terms and conditions. The opportunity can be availed once in a one-year period.

    The company will set aside a pool of funds every year to enable such liquidation, the firm said in a statement.

    CoinSwitch completes maiden ESOP buyback of $2.5M

    Crypto unicorn CoinSwitch has completed its first ESOP buyback worth $2.5 million (Rs 19 crore). In less than two years, CoinSwitch has grown from 20 to 500 employees as it expands its wealth-tech offering and builds a Web3 team, it said in a statement.

    The ESOP buyback follows CoinSwitch’s $260 million in Series C fundraise in September 2021, from Coinbase Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) at a valuation of $1.9 billion. Between January 2021 and January 2022, the registered user base grew from a little more than 1 million to 15 million.

    BharatPe join hands with Ingenico to offer advanced payment and commerce services to merchants

    Fintech unicorn BharatPe has entered into a five-year strategic partnership with Ingenico, a worldline brand to help fuel the adoption of POS devices in India.

    As a part of the deal, Ingenico will roll out 100,000 of its Axium range of Android Smart POS and PPaaS (Ingenico’s Payments Platform as a Service) to BharatPe’s merchant network in India over the next 12 months, the company said in a statement.

    BharatPe with Ingenico’s PPaaS solution, will have the flexibility to bring its innovative business applications to the market in the shortest span of time. PPaaS is a suite of payment and commerce services that combines solutions for managing terminals with third-party applications and alternative payment methods.

    OYO to offer free accommodation to Ukraine refugees

    Homegrown hospitality platform OYO will offer free accommodation to refugees fleeing Ukraine. Starting with Poland, the company has initiated concerted efforts to appeal to its 600-plus Belvilla homeowners on its platform in Poland to open their holiday homes to refugees.

    "These stays will be free for refugees who cannot pay for them, and the costs will be borne by the company and its homeowners, who volunteer to host refugees. The company will support administratively, and help cover operational expenses incurred by the homeowners," Oyo said in a statement.

    The IPO-bound hospitality startup further said it is also encouraging not only homeowners in Poland but also those in other European countries to open up their homes. It is also in conversation with non-profits organisations for partnering to ensure that refugees and asylum seekers who are fleeing Ukraine are matched with available housing facilities.

    EaseMyTrip opens retail office in Dubai

    Online travel platform EaseMyTrip has opened a retail office in Dubai to cater to the growing B2C retail segment under its international expansion strategy.

    Located in the Bur Dubai area, the retail office will house a team of the company's travel experts to guide customers in planning holidays and provide a hassle-free booking experience, the firm said in a statement.

    Magicpin announces its Remote-First workplace policy

    Discovery platform for offline retailers Magicpin has adopted a remote-first workplace policy, in a bid to empower its employees to work from wherever they are based.

    The firm said it launched new features, strengthened teams and expanded into new categories all while working remotely. The company raised $60 million in its Series D funding to bolster its hyperlocal retail market expansion. At present, the Magicpin network includes 6 million active users and 200,000+ merchant partners across 50+ cities in India.

    Meesho launches an integrated e-commerce app for buyers and sellers

    Social commerce unicorn Meesho has launched an integrated e-commerce mobile app for both buyers and sellers. With the latest version of the app, Meesho users can now toggle between the two interfaces - buyer and seller, with a single click.

    Sellers, in particular, can expect an enhanced e-commerce experience with access to multiple features on the app that was earlier present only on the web versions, the company said in a statement. These include order processing, payment tracking, inventory management and seller support. Meanwhile, supporting features like uploading pictures of the product catalogues, creating and placing advertisements along with complete access to Meesho’s price and product recommendation tools will be added to the app.

    The unified app and its features will help more than 4 lakh sellers on the platform become successful online, the firm added.

    MFine launches vitals’ measurement feature, adds BP & glucose monitoring to its platform

    Digital health startup MFine has launched a vitals’ measurement feature on its app. Under this new feature, the firm has added Blood Pressure and Glucose monitoring to the suite of self-check health tools available on its platform, eliminating the need for any external devices to measure and track these health vitals.

    Launched 3 weeks ago in beta, the BP monitoring tool has already been used by more than 10000 users and is clocking over thousands of readings every day by users from across the country, the company said in a statement.  The firm also said its algorithm is able to measure BP with close to 90 percent accuracy.

    With a focus on building an integrated care experience for its users, MFine is working on various next-gen AI technologies which convert any smartphone into a rich diagnostics and vitals monitoring device.

    PolygonLEAP 2021: 31 Web3 startups selected for first cohort

    The PolygonLEAP 2021 Accelerator has announced its first cohort of 31 startups. The accelerator programme is launched by Polygon in association with the innovation management firm Lumos Labs and aims at supporting and mentoring start-ups working in the Web3 space.

    The accelerator will support the 31 shortlisted solutions, selected from over 270 applicants globally, in building their innovative decentralised ideas while getting access to expert mentorship, ecosystem support, and marketing support in the Bootcamp phase, the company said in a statement.

    Asteria Aerospace launches drone software platform SkyDeck

    Jio Platforms' subsidiary Asteria Aerospace, a drone manufacturer and solution provider in India, has launched its drone operations platform SkyDeck.

    SkyDeck is a cloud-based software platform to deliver a Drone-as-a-Service (DaaS) solution for various industry verticals, such as agriculture, surveying, industrial inspections, and surveillance and security, according to the company.

    SkyDeck provides a unified dashboard and services for drone fleet management, scheduling and executing drone flights, data processing, and visualisation and AI-based analysis of aerial data captured using drones.

    GLOBAL TECHNOLOGY & STARTUP NEWS

    Elon Musk giving 'serious thought' to build a new social media platform

    Tesla CEO Elon Musk is giving "serious thought" to building a new social media platform, the billionaire said in a tweet on Saturday.

    Musk was responding to a Twitter user's question on whether he would consider building a social media platform consisting of an open-source algorithm and one that would prioritize free speech, and where propaganda was minimal.

    Musk, a prolific user of Twitter himself, has been critical of the social media platform and its policies of late. He has said the company is undermining democracy by failing to adhere to free speech principles.

    His tweet comes a day after he put out a Twitter poll asking users if they believed Twitter adheres to the principle of free speech, to which over 70% voted "no".

    New rules for US tech giants to come into force in October, EU's Vestager says

    Tough new rules targeting US tech giants agreed late on Thursday are expected to come into force in October, EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said.

    As per Reuters, the rules, which Vestager proposed a year ago, are called the Digital Markets Act and set out a list of dos and don'ts for Amazon, Apple, Meta, Alphabet unit Google and Microsoft.

    Fines for violations range from 10% of a company's annual global turnover to 20% for repeat offenders who could face an acquisition ban. Companies that are designated as online gatekeepers which control access to their platforms and the data generated there will have six months to comply with the new rules.

    Goldman Sachs poised to lead US IPO of SoftBank's Arm, sources tell Reuters

    SoftBank is planning to pick Goldman Sachs as the lead underwriter on the initial public offering of Arm that could value the British chip designing company at as much as $60 billion, three people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

    The IPO preparations come after SoftBank's deal to sell Arm to Nvidia for $40 billion collapsed last month because of objections from US and European antitrust regulators. SoftBank has said it will now likely list Arm on Nasdaq by March 2023.

    SoftBank interviewed investment banks for Arm's IPO in the last few weeks and asked them to commit to providing a credit line as part of their commitments, the sources said. It could not be learned how much Goldman Sachs offered for a credit line.

    Bloomberg News reported last month that SoftBank was asking banks for an $8 billion margin loan tied to Arm's IPO stock.

    Alibaba upsizes share buyback by two-thirds to record $25Bn

    Alibaba raised its share buyback programme to $25 billion, the largest ever repurchase plan by the e-commerce giant, to prop up its battered shares as it fights off regulatory scrutiny and concerns about slowing growth,

    Alibaba shares, which have more than halved in the past year, surged on the news and closed up 11%. Its US-listed stock rose 9 percent in premarket trading, as per Reuters.

    The plan comes amid a tech stock rally in the past few days after Chinese Vice Premier Liu. He said that Beijing will roll out more measures to boost the economy as well as favourable policy steps for capital markets.

    This is the second time Alibaba Group Holding Ltd has expanded its buyback programme in a year. It had hiked the programme from $10 billion to $15 billion last August.

    Tencent posts slowest sales growth as regulatory scrutiny, slowing ad sales bite

    Chinese social media and gaming giant Tencent posted an 8% rise in fourth-quarter revenue, its slowest growth since going public in 2004 that reflected heightened regulatory scrutiny and a slowdown in advertising.

    Tencent said revenue rose to 144.2 billion yuan ($22.63 billion) in the quarter ended Dec. 31, below an average of 147.6 billion yuan from 17 analysts, Refinitiv data showed. Revenue for the full year rose 16 percent, its slowest ever pace as well.

    Tencent said in a statement it expected to benefit from new game launches when new game monetisation licenses are released, adding that it also expects its advertising business to resume growth in late 2022.

    Tencent said on Wednesday its adjusted profit for the December quarter fell by a fourth to 24.9 billion yuan as costs rose. It posted a 60 percent jump in quarterly net profit, helped by one-off gains made through deals such as its disposal of most of its stake in JD.com.

    Prosus to cut ties with Russian Avito classifieds business

    Dutch technology investor Prosus said it would cut ties with its Russian online marketplace Avito, and would not seek to benefit economically from its ownership of the business, Reuters reported.

    Avito was one of Prosus's most valuable investments until Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24, with an estimated valuation of around $6 billion.

    Prosus said in a statement it will "cease all involvement in its Russian operations", with Avito continuing to operate as an independent entity run by its own board and a local management team.

    Apple has not fully complied with order to open up App Store: Dutch watchdog

    Apple is set to be hit with another fine next week for not fully complying with an order to open its App Store to rival forms of payment for dating apps in the Netherlands, Dutch antitrust watchdog ACM told Reuters.

    The iPhone maker has already racked up 45 million euros ($49 million) in penalties to date as ACM (Authority for Consumers and Markets) has slapped weekly 5 million euro fines on the company since January, with the ninth penalty handed out this week.

    Apple submitted a fresh proposal to the ACM this week in a bid to halt the sanction. The offer does not fully comply with its order, an official at the Dutch watchdog, who did not wish to be identified, told Reuters.

    Subsequent fines once the total penalty hits 50 million euros could be higher according to ACM rules.

    Apple urges court to reject Epic's appeal in App Store antitrust case

    Apple has told appellate judges that video game maker Epic Games had failed to show any legal error that would justify them overturning a lower-court ruling that found key App Store policies do not break US antitrust law, Reuters reported.

    Epic, known for its "Fortnite" game, largely lost a trial last year over whether Apple's payment rules for apps were anticompetitive. That decision found Apple had suitable reasons to force some app makers such as Epic to use its payment system and take commissions of 15% to 30% on their sales.

    Following the ruling, Epic appealed in the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals. Apple in its reply said Epic had failed to propose a reasonable alternative to the App Store policies.

    Both Apple and Epic are scheduled to file a second round of arguments before the appeals panel calls a hearing, for possibly next year.

    Google acquires microLED startup Raxium

    Google has reportedly acquired Raxium, a five-year-old startup focused on developing microLED displays for AR and VR applications. The terms of the deal are unknown, but Google put a value of $1 billion on Raxium, according to a report from The Information.

    microLED is similar to OLED in that it doesn't use a backlight, instead, each pixel emits its own light.

    Two years ago it acquired North, a pioneer in human-computer interfaces and smart glasses, has built a strong technology foundation.

    Dyson to invest $1.1Bn in Singapore as part of global plan

    Dyson, the inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner, said it would invest S$1.5 billion ($1.1 billion) in Singapore over the next four years, the newest phase of a S$4.9 billion global investment plan.

    When Dyson announced the global investment plan in 2020, it said the money would be divided between the company's global head office in Singapore, its two campuses in Wiltshire, southern England, and the Philippines, as per a Reuters report.

    On Friday, it launched its new global headquarters in a restored power station in the Southeast Asian city-state, where it plans to hire more than 250 additional engineers and scientists.

    Keanu Reeves axed by Chinese video platforms after Tibet concert

    Chinese streaming platforms including Tencent Video and iQiyi have taken down films and video content starring Canadian actor Keanu Reeves after he participated in a Tibet-related concert organised by a non-profit founded by the Dalai Lama.

    Checks by Reuters showed his acclaimed works, the Matrix and John Wick franchises, as well as Speed, were among the films that have been removed. Reuters could not determine when the films were taken down.

    The Los Angeles Times, which first reported the content removal on Thursday said at least 19 of his movies were pulled from Tencent Video.

    While content related to the Matrix films and some of Reeves's other work were still searchable on WeChat, China's ubiquitous messaging service, searches for his English name and its Chinese translation yielded no results.

    Crypto investor Katie Haun raises $1.5Bn, the largest debut fund ever by a female VC: Report

    Crypto investor Katie Haun has raised $1.5 billion for her new fund after leaving Andreessen Horowitz, and shattered a record in the process.

    Haun Ventures’ kickoff marks the largest debut venture fund ever raised by a solo female founding partner, according to Pitchbook.

    Former investment banker Mary Meeker held the prior record with a $1.3 billion fund after spinning out from Kleiner Perkins.

    Haun Ventures will invest in both start-up equity and in some cases the cryptocurrencies issued by those startups, also known as tokens. Haun’s fund will be divvied up into two segments: $500 million for early-stage companies and protocols, and $1 billion for “acceleration,” or later-stage projects.

    Telegram joins program from Brazil's Electoral Court to fight fake news

    Messaging app Telegram has signed an agreement to join a program created by Brazil's Electoral Court to combat misinformation ahead of the country's presidential election in October, the court said on its website.

    Telegram was the only remaining major messaging and social network app that had not yet closed a partnership with the court.

    The app was suspended by Brazil's Supreme Court last week for non-compliance, but the measure was revoked on Sunday.

    US antitrust regulators seek more data from Activision, Microsoft on planned deal

    Microsoft in January agreed to acquire the "Call of Duty" maker for $68.7 billion in the biggest gaming industry deal in history.

    Microsoft will file for approval of the deal in 17 jurisdictions, the company's president, Brad Smith, told reporters last month.

    In order to woo the US and other regulators, the company said in February that it had developed a new set of principles for its app store, including open access to developers who meet privacy and security standards.

    Amazon to open Turkey site with more than $100M investment

    Amazon will set up a logistic base in Turkey to meet rising demand, with a more than $100 million investment, as per Reuters.

    It said the facility will create more than 1,000 jobs in its first year and will support the domestic and export operations of the small- and mid-sized businesses that sell products on the site.

    The Istanbul-based logistic centre will open in the autumn this year, the e-commerce giant added.

    Chinese regulators ask some US-listed firms to prepare for audit disclosures, sources tell Reuters

    Chinese regulators have asked some of the country's US-listed firms, including Alibaba, Baidu and JD.com, to prepare for more audit disclosures, sources told Reuters, as Beijing steps up efforts to ensure domestic companies remain listed in New York.

    This comes as China's regulators are considering a proposal to allow their U.S. counterparts to inspect audit working papers of some Chinese firms that do not gather sensitive data, two of the sources said.

    As part of that move, the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) and other regulatory agencies earlier this month summoned top internet companies, including search engine leader Baidu and e-commerce major JD.com, four sources told Reuters.

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