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Startup Digest: Mensa Brands acquires High Star; TikTok dethrones Google to become most popular

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Here are the top headlines from the startup space.

Startup Digest: Mensa Brands acquires High Star; TikTok dethrones Google to become most popular
Here are the top headlines from the startup space.
Google approaches Karnataka HC against CCI's probe into Play Store rules
Google has filed a writ petition in the Karnataka High Court, seeking more time to respond to Competition Commission of India's (CCI) questions into its Play Store rules.
‘We have filed a writ in Karnataka High Court regarding the interim relief application in the Google Play probe by the CCI, seeking to move forward in line with established due process principles. We respect the CCI’s investigative process and will continue to engage cooperatively and constructively in the interest of a fair investigation," Google said in a statement.
Google has also sought that CCI share identity of complainants, and add a judicial member to panel.
Alliance of Digital India Foundation (ADIF) had approached CCI in October seeking interim relief from Google’s Play Store policy. ADIF said app developers, especially those selling digital goods and services, have been unhappy and vocal about their objections to the policy ever since it was announced back in September 2020. Google has been tinkering with the policy since moving the deadline and then lowering the percentage of its app store fees to make it more palatable to the app developers, it noted.
Google had previously stated that apps that choose to sell digital content through its Play Store have to use Google Play billing system and pay a percentage of the in-app purchase as a fee. It had given time until September 30, 2021 to complete the necessary updates. However, it extended the deadline to March 31, 2022 after concerns were raised by the developer community in India.
Infra.Market gets Rs 200 Cr in debt funding: Report
B2B construction materials marketplace, Infra.Market, has raised Rs 200 crore by issuing debentures to a group of investors led by financial institution Avendus, the Economic Times reported.
The funding is intended to help meet the working capital needs of the Tiger Global-backed company. This is debt funding with a three-year tenure. The company is also in talks to raise equity funding, the report added.
Infra.Market became a unicorn—a privately held startup with a valuation of $1 billion or more in February.
Eximius Ventures launches gaming syndicate ‘The Gaming Lounge’, makes first investment in EsportsXO
Micro venture capital fund Eximius Ventures has launched a gaming syndicate ‘The Gaming Lounge’ to take more bets in the gaming sector outside of the fund and has made its first investment in EsportsXO.
The syndicate will invest exclusively in gaming companies in the seed-stage and help them grow with the right capital, industry-specific guidance, and network access. Through this platform, Eximius aims to facilitate the flow of capital into the nascent-stage gaming industry and promote its growth, the VC fund said in a statement.
The syndicate plans to invest in sic-eight deals per annum exclusively with an equity cheque of up to $500,000. Within gaming, it plans to support several sub-segments such as esports, game development and publishing, and gaming infrastructure, Eximius Ventures added.
“Indian gaming is the second-fastest-growing segment in entertainment after OTT platforms. Globally, it has become the fifth-largest gaming market with a CAGR of 30%. However, merely 10% of the 800 gaming companies are funded today,” said Pearl Aggarwal, founder and managing director of Eximius Ventures.
Hair Forever gets $150K in Pre-Seed round
Hair Extension Manufacturing startup Hair Forever has raised funds worth $150,000 from several angel investors in a pre-seed round.
This is the third venture by the serial entrepreneur Ashish Tiwari, after Healthkhoj and Hair Originals.
The company has already set up the facility in Gurugram, Haryana, and is planning to go aggressive in the terms of manufacturing, to accomplish its target of cutting a thicker slice in the market share in top 4 Indian markets- Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Chandigarh, and Pune, by mid of 2022, it said in a statement.
BangDB elevates bridge funding round from Ten Innovate
BangDB, a converged NoSQL database platform has closed a bridge funding round led by Ten Innovate.
The firm will use the funds in product development along with new sales channels and initiatives, which will be announced in the upcoming weeks, it said in a statement.
The funding comes on the heels of the release of BangDB 2.0 in November which added Graph features along with REST API support for AI, streaming and document database for IOT and other real-time high performance data analytics use cases.
“The bridge funding has come at an opportune time and will be used for research and product development along with enhancing the user base for BangDB coupled with establishing new sales channels to allow us to win high profile enterprise accounts,” said Sachin Sinha, Founder and CEO of BangDB.
Healthcare startup Zorgers raises undisclosed funds in angel round
Home healthcare startup Zorgers has raised an undisclosed amount in an angel funding round from the Ritu Marya Family Office.
It plans to use the funds to expand its presence across geographies, and mobilize 50,000 healthcare professionals in the next two years, the firm said in a statement.
The eight-year-old healthcare startup that specializes in at-home healthcare and provides services like ICU at Home, Critical Care, and End-of-Life Palliative Care, Assisted Living-Elderly Care, Cancer Treatment at Home, Dialysis at Home, and Physiotherapy, along with a plethora of clinical procedures.
The firm currently has a fleet of 4500 healthcare professionals across the country, including 50 + doctors on board.
Mensa Brands adds home-grown denim brand High Star to its cart
E-commerce roll-up brand Mensa acquired High Star, a home-grown denim brand that caters to digital-first consumers.
Mensa Brands has set a target of achieving a 10x gross turnover for the brand within the next 4 to 5 years. “Our team has outlined a strategic roadmap for expanding the brand’s footprints in the domestic and international markets across channels to reach consumers and continue to improve customer experience,” Ananth Narayanan, Founder and CEO of Mensa Brands said.
Mensa’s team will bring their expertise to expand the brand’s presence pan India and take it global. Within the first year of onboarding, Mensa will support High Star in areas such as digital marketing, technology, working capital management and channel expansion, a statement said.
‘House of Brands’ IDAM acquires 60% stake in MeeSoGood
IDAM Natural Wellnes, the parent company of D2C personal care brand Bella Vita Organic, has picked up around 60 percent stake in MeeSoGood, a chocolate and coffee brand, for an undisclosed amount.
The strategic acquisition was made by IDAM to primarily help MeeSoGood cater to the increased demand in volumes and access different markets across India, the firm said in a statement.
This was IDAM’s second acquisition so far.  In October, IDAM announced the acquisition of pet wellness firm Petveda.
“With this acquisition, Idam has taken its first step into the F&B industry. we share a similar vision with MeeSoGood where we inculcate a consumer-first app,” said Saahil Nayar, co-founder and chief operating officer, Idam House Of Brands.
Onsurity launches healthCare credits programme for startups
Employee healthcare benefits platform Onsurity has launched Onsurity Edge Credits Programme - a health benefits credit programme for startups.
The programme is designed to empower startups by offering their employees membership with HealthCare along with wellness benefits, the firm said in a statement. Startups who opt-in for the credits programme will receive up to Rs 25,000 credits which can be redeemed to buy comprehensive healthcare plans for employees, it added.
The subscription-based employee healthcare platform for startups and SMEs plans to reach more 10,000 small businesses through this programme in the next 12 months.
“We are thrilled to launch a credits programme taking us a step closer towards our vision of ‘Gift of Health’ to expedite comprehensive, affordable healthcare benefits to the ones who need it the most: startups and their workforce…It will help these emerging businesses in saving on their working capital and at the same time ensuring that their employees are looked after,” said Kulin Shah, Co-founder and COO at Onsurity.
Fintech startup Eko clocks 30% MoM growth within seven months; to enable over 10M micro/solo entrepreneurs by 2026
Fintech startup Eko has seen a 30% month-on-month growth within seven months. Previously, the company recorded 12.5x revenue growth over 4 years, ending 2020.
The company quadrupled the volume of new transacting users in six months, exceeding the volumes of pre-covid offline acquisitions per month, it said in a statement.
“From pioneering money transfer to devising unique credit products like daily loans with flexible payments to extending the services beyond banking transactions, we like to keep up our spirit of continuous innovation. When Covid presented us with a new challenge, we took the plunge to go completely digital," Abhinav Sinha, co-founder Eko, said.
The company is looking to enable over 10 million micro and solo entrepreneurs by 2026. It has also scaled its intellectual and financial landscape to build over 100 products and services on its platform.
Eko claims to have served the needs of 35+ million customers with the help of over 250K entrepreneurs in over 100 cities of India. Processing over $3.4 billion transactions in FY20, the company has achieved a 50% reduction in cost at a 2x volume in 4 months of digital marketing.
Moreover, the company has also doubled its organic volume of leads with exceptional efforts in the last 2 months. Eko is actively hiring for product, engineering, operations, and marketing roles as well, it said.
Nexus VP co-founder Naren Gupta passes away
Naren Gupta, the co-founder of Nexus Venture Partners and a pioneer of venture capital in India, passed away on December 26 at the age of 73.
Gupta founded Nexus Venture Partners along with Suvir Sujan and Sandeep Singhal in 2006 and has been actively investing in Indian startups for the last 15 years. Nexus is one of India's earliest and largest homegrown venture capital firms, managing over $1.2 billion.
He was credited with turning Nexus around after its bets in Housing, ShopClues and Snapdeal went awry a few years ago. Nexus’ unicorns from only the last one year- startups valued at over a billion dollars include Unacademy, enterprise software firm Postman and B2B marketplace Infra.market, while IPO-bound Delhivery and software firm Druva’s valuations have doubled to about $3 billion as well.
Gupta is largely credited for Nexus' US and SaaS bets, something that has paid huge dividends for the firm. US-based advertising platform Pubmatic too went public last year at a $1.4 billion valuation, where Nexus holds a 25 percent stake.
Entrepreneur Pankhuri Shrivastava passes away
Pankhuri Shrivastava, the 32-year old founder of women-focused social community platform ‘Pankhuri’and rental startup Grabhouse, passed away on December 24 due to a cardiac arrest.
"With profound grief and sorrow, we regret to inform the sad demise of our CEO Pankhuri Shrivastava.We lost her on 24th December 2021 due to a sudden cardiac arrest. May her soul obtain Sadgati. Om Shanti," Shrivastava's company tweeted.
Venture capitalists and top executives mourned her untimely demise on social media.
GLOBAL TECHNOLOGY & STARTUP NEWS
TikTok dethrones Google to become most popular website: Report
Popular short video-sharing platform TikTok has surpassed tech giant Google as the most popular website of the year, says a report.
According to a report by IT security company Cloudflare, the viral video app gets more hits than the US-based search engine, reports BBC.
The rankings show that TikTok knocked Google off the top spot in February, March and June this year, and has held the number one position since August.
In 2020, Google was first, and a number of other sites, including TikTok, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Netflix, were all in the top 10.
As per the report, it is believed one of the reasons for the surge in Tiktok's popularity is because of the Covid-19 pandemic, as lockdowns meant people were stuck at home and looking for entertainment.
The social network, which is owned by China-based Bytedance, now has more than one billion active users across the world and that number continues to grow.
Baidu's Jidu Auto to mass produce its 'robot' electric vehicles in 2023
Baidu Chief Executive Robin Li said Jidu Auto would start mass production of its first "robot" electric vehicles (EV) in 2023, as per Reuters.
Jidu, an electric vehicle venture between China's tech giant Baidu and Chinese automaker Geely, would make EVs that are of the autonomous Level-four, which needs no human intervention, Li said at Baidu's annual developers' conference.
Starboard acquires stake worth $800M in GoDaddy - WSJ
Activist investor Starboard Value LP has purchased a 6.5% stake in web services firm GoDaddy worth about $800 million, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Shares of GoDaddy, which have dropped 8% so far this year, rose 2.6% in premarket market trading.
According to the report, Starboard plans to push the company to improve its performance.
Arizona-based GoDaddy has seen a surge in online traffic as several businesses increasingly shifted to digital operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Russian court fines Alphabet's Google and Meta Platforms
A Moscow court has fined Alphabet's Google 7.2 billion roubles ($98 million) for what it said was a repeated failure to delete content Russia deems illegal, the first revenue-based fine of its kind in Russia.
According to Reuters, Moscow has increased pressure on big tech this year in a campaign that critics characterise as an attempt by the Russian authorities to exert tighter control over the internet, something they say threatens individual and corporate freedom.
Google said in an email it would study the court ruling before deciding on further steps.
The court fined Meta Platforms 2 billion roubles ($27.15 million) on the same grounds. Russia's communication watchdog Roskomnadzor said that Facebook and Instagram failed to remove two thousand pieces that violate Russian laws whereas Google keeps 2,600 pieces of banned content.
Apple's App Store broke competition laws, Dutch watchdog says
The Netherlands' top competition regulator said Apple broke the country's competition laws and ordered changes to the iPhone maker's App Store payment policies, as per a Reuters report.
Apple's practice of requiring app developers to use its in-app payment system and pay commissions of 15% to 30% on digital goods purchases has come under scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers around the world.
An investigation by the Netherlands' Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) on whether Apple's practices amounted to an abuse of a dominant market position was launched in 2019. But it was later reduced in scope to focus primarily on dating market apps, including Tinder owner Match Group
"We disagree with the order issued by the ACM and have filed an appeal," Apple said in a statement. It added that "Apple does not have a dominant position in the market for software distribution in the Netherlands, has invested tremendous resources helping developers of dating apps reach customers and thrive on the App Store."
Reuters reported in October that the ACM had found Apple's practices anti-competitive and ordered changes. The regulator's decision said Apple violated competition laws. It has ordered Apple to adjust the unreasonable conditions in its App Store that apply to dating-app providers.
Chinese citizens slam Musk online after space station near-misses
Chinese citizens lashed out online against billionaire Tesla founder Elon Musk's space ambitions after China complained that its space station was forced to take evasive action to avoid collision with satellites launched by Musk's Starlink programme, Reuters reported.
The satellites from Starlink Internet Services, a division of Musk's SpaceX aerospace company, had two "close encounters" with the Chinese space station on July 1 and October 21, according to a document submitted by China earlier this month to the U.N.'s space agency.
"For safety reasons, the China Space Station implemented preventive collision avoidance control," China said in a document published on the website of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.
The complaints have not been independently verified.
In a post on China's Twitter-like Weibo microblogging platform on Monday, one user said Starlink's satellites were "just a pile of space junk", while another described them as "American space warfare weapons".
With nearly 30,000 satellites and other debris believed to be orbiting the planet, scientists have urged governments to share data to reduce the risk of catastrophic space collisions.
SpaceX alone has deployed nearly 1,900 satellites to serve its Starlink broadband network, and is planning more.
"The risks of Starlink are being gradually exposed, the whole human race will pay for their business activities," a user posting under the name Chen Haiying said on Weibo.
US space agency NASA was forced to abruptly call off a spacewalk at the end of November, citing risks posed by space debris. Musk tweeted in response that some Starlink satellite orbits had been adjusted to reduce the possibility of collisions.
China began constructing the space station in April with the launch of Tianhe, the largest of its three modules. The station is expected to be completed by the end of 2022 after four crewed missions.
Ferrari signs deal with tech firm Velas to create digital products for fans
Ferrari has signed a multi-year accord with Swiss technology firm Velas Network to create digital content for its fans, Reuters reported.
From next season, Velas, a provider of digital products and services, will become a partner of Ferrari's Formula 1 racing team.
"In addition, Velas will be Title Sponsor of the Ferrari Esports Series, the online mono-brand series of the Prancing Horse, and of the Esports team that will compete in the F1 Esports Series, the official digital championship competed in by all teams participating in the FIA Formula 1 World Championship," Ferrari said in a statement.
Velas is a leading provider of blockchain technology and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), cryptographic assets stored on a blockchain which have an identification code that makes them unique and have gained popularity as a way to sell digital art.
Crypto exchange Binance gets in-principle nod from Bahrain
Binance has received in-principle approval from the Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB) to become a crypto-asset service provider in the kingdom, Reuters reported.
Binance, the world's biggest cryptocurrency exchange by trading volume, said the in-principle approval came after the company applied for a licence from the CBB as part of its plans to become a fully regulated centralised cryptocurrency exchange.
Binance still had to complete the full application process, the company said in a statement, which it said it expected to happen in due course.
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