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Startup Digest: GlobalBees acquires 3 more brands, Flipkart, 1MG see a surge in demand for COVID-19 essentials, says report & Meta delays office reopening, mandates booster shots

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Here are the top headlines from the startup space.

Startup Digest: GlobalBees acquires 3 more brands, Flipkart, 1MG see a surge in demand for COVID-19 essentials, says report & Meta delays office reopening, mandates booster shots
SoftBank-backed GlobalBees takes over 3 more brands, plans to house 100 brands by 2025
GlobalBees, which acquires and scales fast-growing brands on e-commerce marketplaces, has announced the investment in three more direct-to-consumer (D2C) companies. The new entrants to the SoftBank-backed venture's house of brands are: healthy-snack food brand — The Butternut Company, fitness equipment brand — Strauss, and sustainable clothing brand — Mush.
The Thrasio-styled startup now has 11 portfolio brands, including The Better Home, andMe, Prolixr, Absorbia, Yellow Chimes, HealthyHey, Rey Naturals, and Intellilens. "These brands have a great growth trajectory and come with a deep purpose to build meaningful products across categories that address unique consumer needs," said Nitin Agarwal, CEO, GlobalBees.
Over the next three years, GlobalBees is looking to invest in more than 100 brands across verticals including fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), sports, home organisation, and lifestyle. The announcement comes less than two weeks after GlobalBees became one of India's youngest unicorns, or startups valued at $1 billion or more, after raising $111.5 million in Series B funding led by Premji Invest and Steadview Capital with participation from existing investors SoftBank and FirstCry.
Bizongo acquihires edtech startup Hexa
B2B e-commerce and supply chain enablement platform Bizongo has acquihired Hexa, a cloud platform for college placements. This is the first-ever acquihire by the B2B SaaS platform, as it gears to innovate and launch new products in the made-to-order segment in the coming months, the company said in a statement.
Hexa co-founder Shubam Goyal, Head of Product, will join Bizongo as Senior Product Manager and Sushmita Chavan, Head of Business Operations at Hexa will join as Product Intelligence Specialist along with six other team members.
Bizongo aims to add close to 100 people across its product, engineering and sales team by December 2022.
The technology company is actively looking at acquihire as a way to strengthen its workforce, it added. The development follows after Bizongo’s fundraise of $110 million in its Series D round led by Tiger Global Management.
Flipkart, 1MG see surge in demand for COVID-19 essentials: Report
E-commerce firms such as Flipkart and 1MG have seen a significant increase in the demand for COVID-19 essentials such as oximeters and test kits following a sudden surge in the number of infections in the country. "The sale of oximeters and test kits saw a surge of over 4.4x and 12x in metros," said a Flipkart spokesperson told Moneycontrol.
1MG, which recently got acquired by Tata Digital, also said that the sale of testing kits grew five-fold in the first week of January as compared to the last week of December. The sale of oximeters grew four-fold while that of thermometers and respiratory masks doubled during the period under review, the report added.
The company also saw a notable increase in immunity boosters and vitamin supplements. "They’re growing at a rate of 50 percent week on week. Our overall sales have seen a growth of around 40-50 percent in the last couple of weeks," said Prateek Verma, Head ePharmacy Tata 1mg told Moneycontrol.
CoutLoot launches video commerce feature in a boost for small retailers
CoutLoot, an offline to online social commerce platform, has launched a video commerce feature that enables small sellers to use short online videos and engage with potential buyers.
The company built on the lines of Taobao said creator economy-led revenue streams could see a massive upsurge and enhance the social experience of both sellers as well as buyers. In its new video commerce plugin format, over 6.5 lakh sellers can put up a video on the app and describe their products and store. The video story will entirely be user-generated content, customized to showcase the sellers' journey, the firm said in a statement.
The videos will also bring transparency to the fore - by showcasing real-life conditions of the products, helping buyers validate the authenticity of the sellers and their products. At the same time, sellers can leverage short stories for customer acquisition as videos become social proof, the startup added.
According to a recent report by RedSeer, the gross merchandise value of live commerce through short videos is expected to reach $5 billion in India by 2025.
Startup hub at IIM Bangalore NSRCEL selects 7 healthcare firms for the final-stage incubation programme
NSRCEL, the startup hub at IIM Bangalore said it has selected seven early-stage healthcare startups for the final stage of the incubation programme to start their "lab to market" journey. The seven healthcare startups -- MedPiper Technologies, Dial4242 Ambulance Services, Dockare, Daffodil Health, Onward Assist, MayaMD and NeuroLeap -- are currently undergoing a 9-month incubation programme.
The programme is designed to support MVP (minimum viable product) to commercialisation stage ventures that have the potential to increase access and affordability of healthcare in India, NSRCEL said in a statement. NSRCEL said its structured incubation programme provides support to healthcare innovators and entrepreneurs through their 'lab to market' journey.
With the NSRCEL healthcare incubation programme, both clinicians and hospitals can engage with startups and mentor and monitor the progress of those startups, which can contribute to their strategic objectives, it added.
"This is a first of its kind incubation program wherein the clinicians, technology, business, and healthcare industry experts together are nurturing the ventures for the first time in India in a big way," Prashanth R Reddy, Program Advisor Healthcare Incubation NSRCEL at IIM-Bangalore, said.
The ventures selected in this cohort are working in areas like oncology, neurology, mental health and HR tech for doctors, among others. They will be engaged in domain-specific support through mentors, industry experts, and investors in the healthcare space during their incubation journey, NSRCEL said, adding it would facilitate networking and peer-learning sessions to explore synergies within and beyond the NSRCEL startup ecosystem.
Breakfast and snacks brand True Elements allots ESOPs worth Rs 4 crore
True Elements, a breakfast and snacks startup brand, has initiated an allotment of equity shares under its employee stock ownership plan (ESOPs), starting December 2021. Largely bootstrapped, the brand currently has an ARR of Rs 75 crores and has allotted Rs 4 crore worth of shares under its ESOP scheme to 60 employees at zero consideration, it said in a statement.
The company is offering employee stock ownership plans to their current employees, while also providing stock appreciation rights to all the future employees joining the organization. Unlike some programmes which require employees to contribute a part of their CTC (cost to company) as an investment towards stock options, True Elements has made this a top-up component, beyond the CTC, it claimed. True Elements is aiming to achieve Rs 300 crore ARR in the next 18-24 months.
smallcase partners with fintech platform Fintso to offer direct equity
Fintso, a B2B2C fintech platform, has partnered with smallcase to provide new investment opportunities to 15 lakh retail investors managed by 3,400 financial product distributors on its wealthtech platform.
Through this partnership, distributors will be able to offer curated baskets of stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that are based on a theme, strategy, or goal to their clients, called smallcases, the firm said in a statement. As per the company, this partnership provides investors with access to professionally managed smallcases, based on strategies that reflect an idea or a theme.
Investors get an in-depth understanding of the investment methodologies, and the savvier investors can compare relevant ratios and graphs to make an informed decision on choosing smallcases. Investors on the platform would be able to transact in smallcases using their existing demat accounts across India’s top brokers and track their holdings natively. This integration will also facilitate new customers to open demat accounts digitally with their broker of choice.
With distributors aiding the investment process, investors using Fintso will be able to access smallcases and make curated stocks a part of their portfolios, making them an intrinsic part of their long-term wealth creation. Fintso is a full-stack wealthtech platform focused on giving access to retail investors, especially the NeXT Billion, by enabling Independent Financial Product Providers (IFPPs) with access to financial products, digital execution, and advisory support.
"With this integration, smallcases, managed by leading advisors, become a core part of the investor's portfolio delivered through trusted intermediaries operating on Fintso's best-in-class technology platform," said Kamath, founder and chief executive officer, smallcase. smallcase is a financial technology company building a platform for direct indexing and model portfolios of stocks and ETFs known as smallcases.
Muvi expands OTT ecosystem offering, launches apps for Windows 10 & Windows 11 OS
SaaS company Muvi has announced the launch of a Windows Desktop App Extension for its Content Owners and creator-focused End-to-End Streaming Platform - Muvi One.
With the launch of this Native Windows Desktop App, Muvi One’s customers can now quickly extend the reach of their Video/Audio Streaming Services running on top of Muvi One’s solution to the Windows Ecosystem as well, the firm said in a statement.
Muvi One is a no-code Streaming Platform that boasts of fastest deployment timeline for content owners and creators looking to launch their OTT services across multi-devices. As a ‘ready-to-launch’ platform, Muvi One facilitates a hassle-free launch ecosystem for its content creator customers.
Elevation Capital promotes Mukul Arora as Co-Managing Partner
Early-stage venture capital firm Elevation Capital has promoted Mukul Arora to co-Managing Partner alongside Ravi Adusumalli. Arora has been with the firm for the last 11 years and has led or co-led Elevation’s investments in FirstCry, Meesho, Spinny, Swiggy, Unacademy and Xpressbees.
Arora will lead the firm along with US-based Adusumalli. His role will entail creating investment theses and looking for new areas of investment for the firm as a whole. "We’re at a point where, over the next 10 years, technology companies will lead India’s growth. Our number one goal is to be the most loved fund amongst founders. We will continue to partner with founders from Day 1," Arora said.
Elevation has invested in startups like Paytm, Swiggy, Urban Company, Meesho, Unacademy, ShareChat, NoBroker, and Spinny, which are delivering India-first solutions, and Adusumalli said that the firm will continue to look to partner with disruptive innovators at the Seed and Series A stages.
LegalPay ties up with NBFC for insolvency financing
LegalPay, a fintech startup focused on litigation financing, has partnered with Jumbo Finance, a non-banking financial company (NBFC) for secured interim financing. This is part of the startup’s overall plans to have such partnerships at a time when an increasing number of companies are going under insolvency, it said.
This assumes significance as under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016, interim financing is a short-term super-secure loan that allows an insolvent company to remain operational while it is undergoing a Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process (CIRP).
LegalPay is targeting mid-market companies including MSMEs undergoing insolvencies that have a requirement in the range of Rs 10 lakh to Rs 5 crore. Meanwhile, India’s stressed asset market is estimated to be worth around $150 billion and is likely to see an uptick in deal activity going forward, the company added.
"We are aggressively capturing the insolvency market and partnering with renowned NBFCs to deploy funds in the insolvency market and enjoy lucrative interest rates for short-term super-secured lending. This will provide investors with more opportunities to invest in distressed debt assets over the foreseeable shorter time horizon,” said LegalPay CEO and Founder Kundan Shahi.
Cropin partners with Heaven Sprout Foods to accelerate digitisation in Latin American agri-ecosystem
AI-led agritech firm Cropin has entered into a strategic partnership with Heaven Sprouts Foods to accelerate digitisation in Latin America’s agriculture ecosystem. With this partnership, Cropin will grow its focus on enabling agri-businesses in the Latin American region, adopt and drive digitisation across their operations, according to a statement.
Cropin's suite of products aims for an all-inclusive, sustainable and productive agriculture in Latin America, focusing on low carbon emissions through farming practices and a climate-smart approach. This partnership will expand opportunities for both the social and economic development of the agri-ecosystem in the region.
SMEs need to transform finance functions, loses Rs 67 lakh annually due to outdated ways of managing finances: RazorpayX Study
To understand the challenges faced by MSMEs in managing financial operations slow adoption of digital solutions and its impact on their businesses, RazorpayX had commissioned an IDC Infobrief study on 'SME Banking is Broken: Will India’s Promising Neobanks Fix it?’.
One in every 2 businesses agree that limited resources and lack of knowledge are the two major roadblocks to their digital transformation aspirations, revealed the study. The annual average loss from legacy systems dependence is Rs 67 lakh (per SME, annually) which equals 1,689 hours worth of man-hours per SME, per year.
The report highlighted that over 45 percent of SMEs fear there is a high chance of manual errors because of the dependence on traditional processes. Meanwhile, over 56 percent of SMEs reported that they wasted time from deploying resources for repetitive tasks. 66 percent of SMEs insist on the need for easier access and faster means for loan approvals and verifications. 75 percent of SMEs wish for a reduction in time spent on data entry when it comes to payroll, according to the study.
Delivery businesses may see doubling of women workforce to 15%: Vahan Report
Hiring of blue-collar workers in various categories of delivery business is expected to see strong growth aided by rising online shopping in 2022 due to the spread of coronavirus and attractive discounts offered by e-commerce players, according to a report.
2021 was marked by an increase in the focus of organisations on the delivery space to achieve gender parity at the workplace and this indicated a change in perception regarding the women workforce, according to a report by Vahan, an HR consultancy start-up for blue-collar workers.
"This trend is likely to take root from 2022 onwards and open space for the women to enhance their contribution to the delivery segment to 15 percent in 2022. It is an increase from 7-10% of the overall hiring requirement per month of delivery staff across industries from food delivery to e-commerce in 2021," the report said.
According to the report, the emerging situation will lend support to a massive surge in demand for delivery workers where metros will contribute over 60 percent of the overall demand in 2022, followed by tier-II and tier-III cities. Vahan witnessed rapid demand for delivery workers in the August-November first week period last year, fuelled by contests, discounts and incentives, running across the board around the IPL season and T20 World Cup, it said.
"This trend is likely to hold true in the near future where grocery delivery service providers will extend quick commerce service to attract and retain customers," it said. The blue-collar job market in India is set to repeat its astounding growth performance in 2022 as online shopping behaviour and preference for speedy delivery takes root in the country, Vahan CEO Madhav Krishna said.
GLOBAL TECHNOLOGY & STARTUP NEWS
Meta delays office reopening, mandates booster shots for returning workers
Facebook parent Meta Platforms has delayed its US office reopening date and mandated COVID-19 booster shots for employees returning to the office, Reuters reported. For employees who opt to work from the office, the reopening date has been delayed to March 28 from the earlier plan of January 31, the tech giant said.
All workers returning to the office will have to present proof of their booster jabs, while the company closely monitors the Omicron variant situation, it said. Meta currently requires all its US employees coming to the office to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Employees have until March 14 to decide whether to return to the office, request to work remotely full time or request to work from home temporarily.
Employees who are not vaccinated for medical or religious reasons can request such remote work, a spokesperson said. "Employees who take no action can face disciplinary measures, including termination. Obviously, this would be a last resort," the spokesperson said by e-mail.
Apple submits plans to allow alternative payment systems in S.Korea, says regulator
South Korea's telecommunications regulator said that Apple had submitted plans to allow third-party payment systems on its app store, to comply with a law banning major app store operators from forcing software developers to use their payments systems.
As per Reuters, the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) had requested Apple and Alphabet's Google to submit compliance plans after the bill was passed in August last year. The law went into effect in September. Google announced its plans to allow alternative payment systems in South Korea in November to comply with the amended Telecommunication Business Act, dubbed the "anti-Google law".
"Apple has a great deal of respect for Korea's laws and a strong history of collaboration with the country's talented app developers ... We look forward to working with the KCC and our developer community on a solution that benefits our Korean users," Apple said in a statement.
The KCC said Apple plans to allow alternative payment systems for a lower service fee versus the current 30 percent commissions. Apple did not provide details, such as the timeline of when the change will take effect or commission fee rates, but it plans to discuss further details with the KCC, the regulator said.
WhatsApp co-founder Acton named Signal's interim CEO
Messaging app Signal's founder and chief executive officer Moxie Marlinspike will step down and WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton will become the interim CEO, Marlinspike said in a blog post. "It's a new year, and I've decided it's a good time to replace myself as the CEO of Signal", he said. Marlinspike, who will remain on Signal's board, said he is scouting for candidates for the permanent CEO position.
Acton founded Signal's rival messaging app WhatsApp in 2009. The company was bought by Meta Platforms, then Facebook, in 2014. He left WhatsApp in 2017 due to differences around the use of customer data and targeted advertising, according to Signal's website. In February 2018, he alongside Marlinspike, started the non-profit Signal Foundation, which currently oversees the app, by providing initial funding of $50 million.
Uber rival Bolt raises $711 million at valuation of over $8 billion
Estonian startup Bolt has raised €628 million ($711.40 million) from investors led by Sequoia Capital and Fidelity Management and Research Co, taking its valuation to €7.4 billion ($8.38 billion). Bolt, a rival of Uber's ride-sharing and food delivery business, last raised funding in August at a valuation of more than €4 billion.
The company also offers electric scooter rentals, car-sharing and a 15-minute grocery delivery service, catering to over 100 million customers in 45 countries and over 400 cities across Europe and Africa. "We are expanding all the five product lines extremely quickly, developing product R&D and rolling out in new cities," chief executive Markus Villig told Reuters in an interview.
While Uber is the biggest rival for ride-hailing, Bolt faces competitors in food delivery including Just Eat Takeaway.com and DoorDash, which entered Europe via an $8 billion purchase of Wolt.
Vista Equity invests $300 million in TigerConnect, sources tell Reuters
Healthcare communications software provider TigerConnect has raised $300 million in growth investment from private equity firm Vista Equity Partners, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. The valuation of TigerConnect wasn't known. It last raised $45 million at a valuation of $370 million in September 2020, according to PitchBook data, counting HealthQuest Capital and New Leaf Ventures as its backers. Some of the early investors have exited through Vista's investment, one of the sources said.
Santa Monica, California-based TigerConnect delivers cloud-based clinical communication and collaboration solutions, including telehealth, to over 7,000 healthcare organizations and 700,000 caregivers. In an interview, Brad Brooks, TigerConnect's co-founder and chief executive confirmed the partnership with Vista, but declined to comment on the amount or valuation. He said the company plans to use the proceeds to invest in its product to meet the growing need for clinical collaborations, as well as looking for acquisition opportunities.
Take-Two to buy 'FarmVille' maker Zynga for $11 billion in largest gaming deal
"Grand Theft Auto" video game maker Take-Two Interactive said on Monday it would buy Zynga for $11.04 billion in a cash-and-stock deal that will add popular mobile titles such as "FarmVille" under its umbrella as demand surges for on-the-go gaming.
As per a Reuters report, the deal, the largest ever in the sector, will create a gaming powerhouse with a market cap of nearly $30 billion, spanning console, PC, and mobile devices at a time when more people are gaming on their smartphones.
Take-Two, also known for the adventure game "Red Dead Redemption", offered $3.50 in cash and $6.361 in shares for each Zynga share, a 64 percent premium to the last closing price. Including debt, the acquisition is worth $12.7 billion.
"It's a bombshell deal ... Zynga was on the list of potential M&A transactions for a long time in the video game business," said Serkan Toto, CEO of videogame consulting firm Kantan Games. The deal is expected to close in the first half of this year. There is also a go-shop period of 45 days, meaning Zynga can negotiate with other buyers for a better offer until February 24.
French fintech Qonto nears $5 billion valuation after new fundraising
Qonto, a French online bank for small and medium-sized companies (SMEs), said on Tuesday it had raised 486 million euros, bringing its valuation to 4.4 billion euros ($4.98 billion), in another sign of good health of the French fintech sector, Reuters reported.
France has recorded a streak of large private equity fundraising, as the combination of low-interest rates, investment incentives and stay-at-home measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic have boosted digital companies.
Qonto's latest fundraising is a record for a French fintech, a startup that specialise in financial services. It was led by investment firm Tiger Global and private equity fund TCV, and were followed by eight other, new contributors, including Eurazeo, KKR, and Alkeon.
Previous investors, which include Valar, Alven, DST Global and Chinese tech giant Tencent, also participated in the funding, Qonto said. The money it has raised will allow it to quadruple its staff to 2,000 by 2025, it said, with the aim to bring the number of clients to 1 million SMEs and freelancers. The startup plans to enter new markets in 2023 but did not say which. Qonto does not disclose its financial figures.
NFT sales hit $25 billion in 2021, but growth shows signs of slowing
From cartoon apes to video clips, sales of NFTs reached some $25 billion in 2021 as the speculative crypto-asset exploded in popularity, data from market tracker DappRadar shows, although there were signs of growth slowing towards the end of the year.
Prices of some non-fungible tokens, crypto assets representing a digital item such as an image, video, or even land in virtual worlds, rose so fast last year that speculators sometimes 'flipped' them for a profit within days. The art world has been quick to cash in, with auction houses selling NFTs representing simple cartoons for millions of dollars with no physical objects changing hands. One NFT artwork fetched a record $69.3 million at a Christie's sale in March.
Meanwhile, some of the world's top brands, including Coca-Cola and Gucci, have also sold NFTs. NFT sales volume totaled $24.9 billion in 2021, compared to just $94.9 million the year before, DappRadar, said on Monday. DappRadar collects data across ten different blockchains, which are used to record who owns the NFT. CryptoSlam, which also tracks multiple blockchains, said the 2021 total was $18.3 billion. NonFungible.com, which tracks the ethereum blockchain only, put 2021 sales at $15.7 billion.
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