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STARTUP DIGEST: BYJU's acquires Gradeup, Flipkart launches D2C initiative, Kuvera partners with Amazon Pay India

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There were several important developments in the startup space during the week. Here’s a wrap of top stories that made headlines in the startup universe.

STARTUP DIGEST: BYJU's acquires Gradeup, Flipkart launches D2C initiative, Kuvera partners with Amazon Pay India
There were several important developments in the startup space during the week. Here’s a wrap of top stories that made headlines in the startup universe.
BYJU's acquires Gradeup; makes 8th acquisition of the year
Edtech decacorn and India’s most valued startup BYJU’s has acquired online exam preparation platform Gradeup in a bid to double down on the competitive exam preparations segment.
The company which already had a presence in Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) and National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET) will be going deeper into the exam preparation space and expanding its offering across 150 exams in 25 categories.
Post the acquisition, BYJU’s will be rebranding Gradeup to BYJU’S Exam Prep and offer test prepration across segments including post-graduate entrance exams, Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Graduate Aptitude Test (GATE), Common Admission Test (CAT) among others.
This marks the eight acquisition for BYJU’s in 2021, which has already shelled out more than $2.2 billion in acquisitions, this year alone.
Unacademy announces $10.5M ESOPs buyback
Edtech startup Unacademy has announced its largest ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) buyback plan worth $10.5 million for its team members and educators.
Co-Founder Roman Saini tweeted that it was the third and largest buyback by the online learning firm. He also thanked the employees for believing in its “vision of democratising education”.
“We are announcing Teacher Stock Options (TSOPs) for all Unacademy Educators. Unacademy Educators will be eligible for fully vested Stock Grants on completion of 3, 4 and 5 years with Unacademy,” co-founder and CEO Gaurav Munjal tweeted.
Flipkart launches D2C initiative ‘Flipkart Boost’
Flipkart has announced the launch of ‘Flipkart Boost’, an integrated programme for digital-first consumer brands to move into the next phase of growth.
Through a service fee model, Flipkart Boost will provide Made in India brands, Rajneesh Kumar, SVP & Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at Flipkart said on Twitter.
The Flipkart Boost programme will shortlist brands based on a clear set of pre-decided objective criteria, which covers their growth potential, sustainable revenue run rate, focus on quality, commitment to building a long-lasting brand, strong product mix and customer orientation.
Kuvera partners with Amazon Pay India
Investment platform Kuvera.in partners with Amazon Pay India. Kuvera will provide its services, products and technology know how to create an exclusive experience for Amazon Pay’s users to facilitate investments into Mutual Funds, Fixed Deposits, and more over time.
At 600 million users and growing, India is the second largest internet market globally. However, only 30 - 40 million users have access to quality investment products.
T-Hub on-boards nine new partners to help startups
Startup ecosystem builder T-Hub on Monday announced that it has partnered with nine new companies that will be helping startups grow during the on-going pandemic.
These service providers include Paytm, RBL Bank, Miro, Cometchat, NYBACS, ABSOL, Oscar Global, Umashankar and Associates, and Flexibees.
Through this partnership, T-Hub will be providing a platform for these providers to showcase their offerings and forge connections with the startup ecosystem, the company said in a statement.
The new partners will be providing T-Hub startups with an array of services to improve their efficiency and adapt to changes brought on by the post-pandemic era. The partnership benefits are open to all the startups associated with T-Hub and its various programmes, the firm claimed.
These nine companies have been added to T-Hub’s existing group of 66 service providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS), DigitalOcean and Google Cloud that benefit the startups from 20 unique categories.
Capillary Technologies ramps up Loyalty Game with the acquisition of Persuade
Global customer loyalty and customer engagement solutions provider, Capillary Technologies has announced the acquisition of Minneapolis-based customer experience company, Persuade.
This marks the company’s first US acquisition and fourth globally.
Capillary’s acquisition of Persuade, a brand with over thirty years of expertise, further extends Capillary’s presence in North America and strengthens its position as the global customer loyalty and engagement leader.
Sitics Logistic Solutions acquires cold chain startup Udgam Logistics
Third-party logistics firm Sitics Logistic Solutions on Tuesday said it has acquired Delhi-based cold chain and distribution start-up Udgam Logistics, paving its entry into the USD 25-billion cold chain space besides tapping into new markets.
The company, however, did not disclose the acquisition amount.
This is the second buyout for the Palakkad (Kerala)-based technology-enabled supply chain company in the recent past. In early-May this year, it acquired Quifers, an innovative logistics tech start-up.
The latest acquisition of Udgam Logistics has driven Sitics up the value chain in the global third-party logistics market, it said. The company added that while it places the company among the unique integrated supply chain service providers, it also gives entry into the $25-billion cold chain market.
Jio-bp partners with BluSmart to set up EV charging infra in India
Jio-bp, the fuels and mobility joint venture between Reliance Industries Limited and bp, has announced a partnership with BluSmart, an all-electric ride-hailing platform to set up a network of commercial large-scale EV charging stations.
As part of the partnership, Jio-bp will set up these stations for passenger electric vehicles and fleets across the country.
BluSmart, through its all electric fleet, provides zero-surge and zero-tailpipe emission ride-hailing service in the Delhi NCR. Running the largest fleet of EVs, the company now plans to expand its network into other major cities across India.
Through the partnership, both companies will collaborate in planning, development and operation of EV charging infrastructure, at suitable locations across cities where BluSmart operates.
With the first phase rollout in NCR, these EV charging stations will be capable of accommodating a minimum of 30 vehicles at each station and will be concentrated in urban areas.
BeatO acquires Novique Health to provide programme for reversal of diabetes
Healthtech platform BeatO on Thursday said it has acquired Pune-based Novique Health for an undisclosed amount to provide a programme for reversal of Type 2 diabetes.
Through this acquisition, the company will augment its services of combating diabetes through clinically proven management, reduction, and reversal of diabetes by addressing the condition''s root cause, BeatO said in a statement.
Novique Health is an online speciality medical clinic focused on a scientific approach for the treatment and reversal of Type 2 diabetes.
Notion acquires Automate.io; gets its first engineering hub in India
Work collaboration company Notion has acquired Automate.io, a SaaS company based in Hyderabad. The financial details of the deal have not been not disclosed.
The San Francisco-based company will absorb Hyderabad-based Automate.io’s entire 40-member team, which will continue to operate in the city, the company said in a blog post.
With this acquisition Notion gets its first engineering hub in India. Automate's home in Hyderabad will also become Notion's fifth global office, joining existing locations in Dublin, Tokyo, New York, and San Francisco. It will be Notion's first engineering hub outside the US, where the company will continue hiring key engineering talent, while supporting their community of passionate local users.
US-based CrossTower launches crypto trading platform in India
US-based trading platform and digital asset investment firm CrossTower has launched its crypto trading platform in India on Tuesday.
The platform was methodically built on a robust, scalable, and resilient infrastructure with best-in-class safeguards, services, and capabilities, the company said in a statement.
“As a part of its launch, CrossTower is offering its first 1,000 Indian customers an opportunity to earn extra Bitcoin up to ₹500 on their first trade on the exchange," the company added.
As per the company, CrossTower is ranked fourth out of 152 global exchanges by CryptoCompare. The ranking was based upon asset and market quality, data, security, KYC, regulations, and the team.
iD fresh foods founder slams fake WhatsApp propaganda
The CEO of iD Fresh Foods Musthafa PC has issued a statement condemning the fake communal message that has gone viral on WhatsApp and other social media platforms over the past few days.
Musthafa in a statement said, “Over the last few days, several customers have been reaching out to me concerned about dubious social media posts and forwards regarding iD products. While we don’t know ‘why’ these claims are being made or ‘who’ is behind this conspiracy to malign the brand, I can tell you with 100 percent conviction that none of it is true.”
This comes on the back of a viral WhatsApp forward that claimed that the company mixes calf rennet and cow bones to increase the volume of the batter. The forward further stated that the company only hires Muslims and that their products are halal certified, since the company was founded by PC Musthafa and his four cousins Abdul Nazer, Shamsudeen TK, Jafar TK and Noushad TA. According to the forward, Rs 35 crore the company raised in 2014 adhered to strict Sharia Islamic Law.
Musthafa in the statement said that their products use the finest vegetarian ingredients and are made in a facility that complies with the food safety management system.
India becomes second largest market for Coursera
Online learning platform Coursera grew over 49 percent in India over the past 12 months emerging as the second largest market globally with around 12.5 million users while the US reported 16.6 million users as of June-end.
Nearly 7.5 million new learners in India were added since January 2020 and overall course enrolments stood at 24.6 million as of June-end.
“India will be our global hub for certain APAC regions. We will have a few servicing groups around the world but India will be the core hub for servicing our learners around the world especially the Asian region,” Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO, Coursera said.
Maggioncalda told CNBC-TV18 that the demographic dividend of India is huge.
“There is opportunity in India, and a post pandemic world allows people to learn and work from everywhere. Online education is the only way to reach India's education targets,” added Maggioncalda.
The company has launched a series of new partnerships with enterprises and universities along with a pricing strategy that works for the price sensitive India consumer.
WhatsApp says user reports on spam do not undermine end-to-end encryption
WhatsApp on Wednesday said reports sent to it by users flagging spam and abuse do not undermine end-to-end encryption of the messaging platform.
The messaging giant’s clarification came in response to a report by non-profit newsroom ProPublica that said even though WhatsApp says it does not see user content, the Facebook-owned company has an extensive monitoring operation and regularly shares personal information with prosecutors.
"WhatsApp provides a way for people to report spam or abuse, which includes sharing the most recent messages in a chat. This feature is important for preventing the worst abuse on the internet. We strongly disagree with the notion that accepting reports a user chooses to send us is incompatible with end-to-end encryption," a WhatsApp spokesperson said.
The spokesperson added that in India, in accordance with the government's IT rules, it also publishes monthly reports that contain details of how WhatsApp keeps users safe and prevents abuse on the platform on the basis of these user reports.
Organisations in India project 9.4% salary increase in 2022: Aon survey
Notwithstanding the COVID second wave hitting the nation hard, Indian organisations have displayed resilience, and the salary increment is being projected to grow from an average of 8.8 percent this year to an estimated average of 9.4 percent in 2022, according to a survey.
As per Aon's 26th Annual Salary Increase Survey released on Tuesday, most businesses have an optimistic view going into 2022, with 98.9 per cent of companies intend to give salary increases in 2022, as compared to 97.5 per cent companies in 2021.
There is positive sentiment across most sectors, and India Inc is firmly on the path to recovery, with most firms projecting salary hikes back to FY 2019 levels by FY 2022, the report added.
The survey further noted that the pandemic has accelerated the digital journey for organisations and this has led to an unprecedented war for digital talent in the short term and is driving up salary increase budgets and attrition numbers across sectors.
Math learning deteriorates due to the Pandemic: Cuemath Report
1 in every 4 parents of younger students believe Math understanding has worsened due to the pandemic, according to a report by Cuemath, an online math-course provider backed by Google parent Alphabet.
The study also highlights that 44% of parents have reported fear of math as a prominent factor for learning loss. This is one of the reasons why 1 in every 3 parents of children from Grade 1 to Grade 3 feel additional pressure while teaching their kids.
Furthermore, 6 out of 10 parents feel that enhanced classroom teaching methods such as interactive videos, game-based learning, and DIY activities by either schools or EdTech platforms are lucrative solutions to address this learning loss.
This finding is supported by the fact that online learning platforms are preferred over offline neighbourhood tuitions by a whopping 150%, the report claimed.
The report also highlighted that Math anxiety and confusion are cited as significant concerns of learning loss for parents in cities such as Mumbai (40%), Bangalore (37%), Kolkata (35%), and Chennai (43%).
Late stage technology deals at an all-time high in India: IVCA-EY report
The average ticket size of late stage technology deals is at an all-time high so far in 2021 compared to the last two years, as per a report an IVCA-EY report
A total of 500 deals attracting venture capital funding to the tune of $17.2 billion in the first half of 2021 compared to a total of $11.1 billion in 2020, the report added.
The number of early stage deals saw a significant dip of almost half compared to 2019, the "State of Indian Markets: Investment Environment (Startup) Report" by IVCA and EY says.
The study found 245 early stage deals so far in 2021, compared to 498 deals in the same time in 2019. It further said there have been many deals above $20 million this year with a surge in the velocity of funding into startups by VCs.
GLOBAL TECHNOLOGY & STARTUP NEWS
PayPal to acquire Japan’s Paidy for $2.7 Bn
US payments giant PayPal will acquire Japanese buy now, pay later (BNPL) firm Paidy in a $2.7 billion largely cash deal, Reuters reported.
The deal tracks rival Square’s agreement last month to buy Australian BNPL success story Afterpay for $29 billion.
"The acquisition will expand PayPal's capabilities, distribution and relevance in the domestic payments market in Japan, the third largest ecommerce market in the world, complementing the company's existing cross-border ecommerce business in the country," PayPal said in a statement.
Buying Paidy will help PayPal expand in a country where online shopping volume has more than tripled over the last 10 years to some $200 billion, but more than two-thirds of all purchases are still paid for in cash, PayPal said in an investor presentation.
Carlyle leads $312M funding round for Japanese unicorn Spiber
Global private equity firm Carlyle said on Wednesday it led a $312 million funding round for Japanese biotech company Spiber, joining other global investors in betting on a growing number of late-stage Japanese startup firms.
As per Reuters, Carlyle's 10 billion yen ($91 million) stake in Spiber represents the group's first non-buyout, minority investment in an unlisted startup in Japan, where startup funding is soaring.
The round, which also includes investments from fund managers Fidelity and Baillie Gifford, will be made through a combination of the allotment of new shares and a capital infusion at a valuation of about 135 billion yen ($1.22 billion).
ByteDance in talks with banks to borrow over $3Bn
ByteDance, the Chinese owner of short-video platform TikTok, is in talks with Wall Street banks to borrow more than $3 billion to refinance its debt, sources told Reuters.
The company plans to take advantage of currently low interest rates to repay its debt and terms and the loan size are still subject to changes.
Technology news website The Information reported that ByteDance and the banks discussed raising $4 billion to $5 billion to refinance debt and fund overseas expansion.
Sea looking to raise $6.3Bn in SE Asia’s biggest fundraising
E-commerce and gaming company Sea is looking to raise $6.3 billion in a share and convertible bond sale in Southeast Asia’s largest ever capital raising, Reuters reported.
This is the second major fund raising in less than a year for the $185 billion company, which is seeking to scale up its global expansion by testing out possible new markets, and the latest among a slew of deals in Southeast Asia.
Sea, known for its Shopee e-commerce platform, is looking to sell 11 million American Depository Receipts with the option to offer 1.65 million more as part of a so called greenshoe option, the Singapore-headquartered company said in a regulatory filing on Thursday.
It is also raising $2.5 billion in a convertible bond that has a $375 million greenshoe attached. At Sea’s closing stock price of $343.8 in New York on Wednesday, the share sale could raise up to $3.8 billion.
The combined deal would be the largest ever capital raising for a Southeast Asian company, according to Refinitiv data.
Google's voice assistant in new EU antitrust investigation: Reports
Google faces an EU antitrust investigation over whether it may be forcing device makers to install Google Assistant as the default voice assistant on Android devices, news agency MLex reported on Thursday.
A fresh EU antitrust case could expose Google to a fine as much as 10% of its global turnover. It has been fined more than 8 billion euros ($9.5 billion) by the European Commission in the last decade in three separate cases.
The Commission also wants to know if Google may be using its certification process for new devices to ensure exclusivity by another means, and the importance of the Google Play Store for different ecosystems, MLex said.
The regulator is also checking whether users may be able to use at least two voice assistants at the same time, the news agency said.
The Commission has said it will issue a final report on its sector inquiry in the first half of 2022 after which it may open investigations.
China bans private tutors from giving online classes
China has banned private tutors from giving classes online or in unregistered venues such as residential buildings, hotels and coffee shops, ramping up its effort to stamp out all for-profit tutoring, Reuters reported.
Authorities this year banned for-profit tutoring in subjects on the school curriculum in an effort to ease pressure on children and parents.
"In some places, subject tutoring has moved 'underground' or put on a different 'vest' to evade the regulations," the Ministry of Education said in a statement announcing the new ban.
The crackdown on tutoring has roiled the shares of tutoring companies traded in Hong Kong and New York, including New Oriental Education & Technology Group and Gaotu Techedu.
Chinese government summons gaming firms, says it will crack down on ride-hailing
China's government on Wednesday summoned gaming firms including Tencent and NetEase to ensure they implement new rules for the sector.
As per Reuters, it also said it would crack down on illegal behaviour in the ride-hailing industry. Gaming firms were told by the government to implement measures such as curbing minors' hours of access to their video games to protect their physical and mental health, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Beijing last month moved to ban under-18s from playing video games for more than three hours a week in a tighter set of regulations for gaming as it looks to strengthen control over sectors of its economy such as tech, education and property.
Separately on Wednesday, the Transport Ministry said it would intensify a crackdown on illegal behaviour in the ride-hailing industry and deal with online platforms that are still using noncompliant vehicles and drivers.
The statement comes after Chinese government regulators launched a cybersecurity probe into ride-hailing giant Didi Global in July.
China’s Xi Jinping says it will set up a stock exchange in Beijing for SMEs
China’s President Xi Jinping has said that the country would set up a stock exchange in its capital, Beijing, to serve small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), according to Reuters.
Mainland China’s two major stock exchanges are in the financial hub of Shanghai and in the southern city of Shenzhen, on the mainland’s border with Hong Kong.
In a video address at the opening of the China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS), Xi said China would continue to support the innovation-driven development of SMEs.
This would be done “by deepening the reform of the New Third Board and setting up the Beijing stock exchange as the primary platform serving innovation-oriented SMEs,” he added.
Reuters reported in March that China was considering establishing a bourse to attract overseas-listed companies and bolster the global status of its onshore share markets, citing sources with knowledge of the matter.
Beijing city denies it is advising companies to invest in Didi
Reports that China's Beijing city government is advising state-owned companies to invest in embattled ride-hailing giant Didi Global are untrue, the city government told Reuters in a faxed statement.
Bloomberg News on Friday reported that China's capital city is considering taking Didi under state control and has proposed that government-run companies invest in Didi.
Didi had issued its own denial of the report on Saturday.
Beijing-based Didi completed a New York initial public offering in June but has been caught up in China's regulatory crackdown on technology companies in the past year to improve market competition, data handling and their treatment of employees.
Chinese startup WeRide develops self-driving vans
WeRide, a China-based autonomous driving startup will start developing self-driving vans for urban logistics service, with automaker JMC and delivery firm ZTO Express, according to Reuters.
The startup is pursuing what is known in the auto industry as a level 4 autonomous standard, in which the vehicle can handle all aspects of driving in most circumstances with no human intervention.
WeRide is currently testing autonomous passenger cars and mini-buses.
Backed by Nissan Motor, WeRide said that it would jointly develop self-driving vans with JMC, in which Ford Motor has a stake, and ZTO. A pilot test will take place near the airport in Guangzhou city, as per Reuters.
Bitcoin bruised after chaotic debut as legal tender in El Salva
Bitcoin licked its wounds on Wednesday, a day after its heaviest losses in 2-1/2 months as El Salvador's historic adoption of the crypto asset as legal tender caused chaos online and on the street.
As per Reuters, the coin last traded at $46,560 , having endured wild trade the day before in which it hit a near four-month high of $52,956 before plunging 11.1%, its largest fall since June 2.
Analysts said the sharp retreat was partly due to investors who had bought the rumour of El Salvador's move now selling the fact.
Binance removes Singapore products on main platform after regulator's warning
Binance, one of the world's largest cryptocurrency exchanges, said it will restrict its services in Singapore, Reuters reported. The comes a day after the city state's central bank said it should stop offering payment services.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore became the latest regulator to take aim at Binance, warning last week that its global platform, Binance.com, could be breaking the law by providing payment services to Singapore residents without an appropriate licence.
Binance.com will stop offering Singapore dollar payment options and Singapore dollar trading pairs from September 10 and the app will be removed from the Singapore iOS and Google Play stores, it said in a post on its website.
The restrictions only apply to Binance's global platform and not its Singapore platform, which Changpeng Zhao, the company's chief executive has urged users to switch to.
Twitter tests 'Communities' feature for tweeting to groups
Twitter on Wednesday launched a global test of a tool it calls Communities, a feature similar to Facebook Groups that gives users a way to tweet to people with similar interests. The feature is currently being tested on iOS and Web, with Android users set to get it soon.
In a blog post, Twitter said certain users can create Communities and more will be added in the coming months. The company did not disclose the number of users who can create Communities in the test, but any user can participate in a group if invited.
Communities are publicly visible, though at this stage people need to be invited to join by a moderator or another member.
The social media company has in recent months rolled out a bevy of new features including subscription-based "super follows" and live audio chat rooms, aiming to turn around years of business stagnation.
Facebook unveils its first smart glasses
Facebook has launched its first smart glasses on Thursday in a step toward its aim of offering true augmented-reality spectacles, Reuters reported.
The glasses, which were created in partnership with Ray-Ban maker EssilorLuxottica, allow wearers to listen to music, take calls or capture photos and short videos and share them across Facebook's services using a companion app. Facebook said the glasses line, called "Ray-Ban Stories," would start at $299.
Facebook, which has been criticized over its handling of user data, said it would not access the media used by its smart-glasses customers without their consent.
The company also said it would not use the content of the photos or videos captured using the glasses and stored in the Facebook View app for personalizing ads, and said the glasses would be an "ads-free experience."
Facebook apologises after AI puts ‘primates’ label on video of Black men: NYT
Facebook has issued an apology on behalf of its artificial intelligence software that asked users watching a video featuring Black men if they wanted to see more "videos about primates."
The social media giant has since disabled the topic recommendation feature and says it's investigating the cause of the error, but the video had been online for more than a year.
A Facebook spokesperson told The New York Times, that the automated prompt was an "unacceptable error" and apologized to anyone who came across the offensive suggestion.
The video, uploaded by the Daily Mail on June 27, 2020, documented an encounter between a white man and a group of Black men who were celebrating a birthday. The clip captures the white man allegedly calling 911 to report that he is "being harassed by a bunch of Black men," before cutting to an unrelated video that showed police officers arresting a Black tenant at his own home.
After criticism, Apple says it will delay child safety updates
Apple has said it would take more time to collect feedback and improve proposed child safety features after the criticism of the system on privacy and other grounds both inside and outside the company, Reuters reported.
The iPhone maker’s promise last month to check US customer phones and computers for child sex abuse images sparked a global backlash from a wide range of rights groups, with employees also criticising the plan internally.
Critics argued the feature could be exploited by repressive governments looking to find other material for censorship or arrests and would also be impossible for outside researchers to determine whether Apple was only checking a small set of on-device content.
Apple countered that it would allow security researchers to verify its claims, but the company on Friday said it would take more time to make changes to the system.
Amazon to proactively remove more content that violates rules from cloud service: Report
Amazon has decided to take a more proactive approach to determine what types of content violate its cloud service policies and enforce their removal, sources told Reuters.
The move is likely to renew debate about how much power tech companies should have to restrict free speech.
Over the coming months, Amazon will hire a small group of people for its Amazon Web Services (AWS) division to develop expertise and work with outside researchers to monitor for future threats, a source familiar with the matter said.
It could turn Amazon, the leading cloud service provider world-wide, into one of the world’s most powerful arbiters of content allowed on the internet, experts say.