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STARTUP DIGEST: Thrasio enters India, Paytm to shut Canada app, Satya Nadella invests in Groww, GlobalBees acquires 3 more brands & Facebook faces $3.2 bn UK class action

STARTUP DIGEST: Thrasio enters India, Paytm to shut Canada app, Satya Nadella invests in Groww, GlobalBees acquires 3 more brands & Facebook faces $3.2 bn UK class action

STARTUP DIGEST: Thrasio enters India, Paytm to shut Canada app, Satya Nadella invests in Groww, GlobalBees acquires 3 more brands & Facebook faces $3.2 bn UK class action
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By Aishwarya Anand  Jan 14, 2022 10:16:37 PM IST (Published)

Startup Digest brings you a roundup of all the movers and shakers from the world of startups and technology this week.

Here are the top headlines from the startup space this week.

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PM Modi to interact with more than 150 startups tomorrow
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will interact with more than 150 startups from various sectors, including agriculture and health, on Saturday via video conferencing on Saturday.
Startups from various sectors such as enterprise systems, space, industry 4.0, security, fintech, environment besides agriculture and health will be part of this interaction, the PMO said on Friday.
More than 150 startups have been divided into six working groups based on themes including growing from roots, nudging the DNA, from local to global, technology of future, building champions in manufacturing, and sustainable development, it said in a release.
Each group will make a presentation before Modi on the allotted theme in the interaction.
The aim of the interaction is to understand how startups can contribute to national needs by driving innovation in the country, the release said.
Thrasio forays into India, commits investment of $500 mn
At a time when the ‘Thrasio’ model is fast catching up in India, where companies acquire brands and then help them grow, the US-based company behind this model, Thrasio, is now entering the Indian market.
Thrasio has committed an investment $500 million in India, which the company says will be a massive market for digital shopping, making it a high priority entry for Thrasio.
“India is a unique market with hundreds of thousands of motivated entrepreneurs. We are thrilled to provide brand owners with the opportunity to successfully sell their businesses as well as to give consumers greater access to quality products,” Carlos Cashman, CEO of Thrasio, said.
Thrasio will be foraying into India by acquiring Lifelong Online, an Indian online consumer brand, which will now be called “Lifelong, a Thrasio company” and will lead the on-ground execution for Thrasio headed by Lifelong’s co-founder and CEO Bharat Kalia.
Logistics startup Delhivery’s IPO gets SEBI nod: Report
Markets regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has cleared logistics startup Delhivery’s Rs 7,460 crore initial public offering (IPO) proposal, sources told the Economic Times.
Delhivery becomes the first top-tier startup this year to have obtained SEBI’s nod to list on domestic bourses, the report added.
The offer may comprise a fresh issue of Rs 5,000 crore and an offer for sale worth Rs 2,460 crore. The company is seeking a valuation of around $5.5 billion, sources had told CNBC-TV18.
Paytm to shut Canada app after sinking on debut in India
Online mobile payments firm Paytm is shutting down its Canada business almost two months after sinking on public market debut in India.
"During these unprecedented times we have had to make some tough business decisions. Unfortunately, as of March 14, the Paytm Canada App will be shutting down permanently. Effective January 14, we will be disabling scheduled payments and top-ups for Paytm Cash which includes EMT transfers, Canada Post and bank transfers," the company said in a blog post.
"Any bill payments that are submitted or that have been pre-scheduled over the next 30 days will be accepted," it added. The company has suggested that customers use available balance in their wallet to pay bills or do gift card purchase latest by March 14.
This comes after Paytm had expanded to Toronto, Canada, in 2014 starting Paytm Labs as a research and development division.
Shiprocket acquires B2B Logistics Aggregator Rocketbox, its 2nd since Zomato-Led funding round
Logistics fulfillment startup Shiprocket has acquired Rocketbox -- a business-to-business (B2B) truck aggregator platform -- to offer cargo shipping solutions to e-retailers.
This is Shiprocket's second acquisition since it raised $185 million in a Series E funding round led by Zomato, Singapore-based Temasek and Lightrock India in December 2021.
Last week, the Zomato-backed startup announced its plan to pick up majority stake in Wigzo Tech -- a data platform that helps brands analyse consumer behaviour.
With these acquisitions, Shiprocket wants to help online retailers offer a more end-to-end experience to customers.
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 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.
Bizongo acquihires edtech startup Hexa
B2B ecommerce and supply chain enablement platform Bizongo has acquihired Hexa, a cloud platform for college placements.
This is the first0ever acquihire by the B2B SaaS platform as it gears up to innovate and launch new products in the made-to-order segment in the coming months, the company said in a statement.
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.
Unicorn Fractal acquires Neal Analytics to scale AI offerings
Artificial intelligence technology startup Fractal, which recently turned unicorn, has acquired Neal Analytics, a cloud, data, engineering and AI Microsoft Gold consulting partner, for an undisclosed amount.
As per the company, this acquisition will help Fractal strengthen its presence in the Pacific Northwest, Canada, and India. Fractal's acquisition will help Neal Analytics with its AI engineering capabilities and cloud-first offerings on Microsoft's multi-cloud ecosystems. It will also help Fractal’s clients to scale AI and power decisions.
“This partnership will accelerate our ability to power data-driven decisions end-to-end for our Fortune 500 sized clients,” said Srikanth Velamakanni, Co-founder and Group Chief Executive, Fractal.
Indifi ties up with GPay to source loans
Small businesses-focused lending platform Indifi has announced a partnership with Alphabet's payment app, Google Pay, for helping it source new lending opportunities from merchants.
Google Pay has 10 million merchants who will be given the option of availing a pre-approved loan from Indifi in the app itself, based largely on their payment receipts data, Aditya Harkauli, chief business officer at Indifi, said.
Harkauli made it clear that the partnership with GPay is limited to advances alone and added that the lending risk will be taken by a wholly-owned subsidiary of Indifi. Harkauli said the partnership is already live and in a year, the company expects 10 percent of all the loans that it sources to come from the GPay partnership, and expects the ticket sizes of loans to average about Rs 2.5 lakh.
The company already has partnerships with players like Amazon, Flipkart, Swiggy and Zomato to source loans from their respective ecosystems, and the tie-up with GPay is an extension of that.
WhatsApp on-boards Verloop.io to drive conversational commerce
WhatsApp has onboarded Verloop.io, an artificial intelligence-powered conversational platform for customer support, as its business solution provider (BSP).
As one of the select WhatsApp BSPs globally, Verloop.io will enable more than 2,000 enterprises to tap all touchpoints of a buyer's purchase journey using WhatsApp chatbots on WhatsApp Business accounts for better lead conversation and customer support.
The WhatsApp-Verloop.io association comes at a time when an increasing number of companies are harnessing the power of social interaction to market products to their target audience and address customer queries.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella invests in Groww, joins as adviser
Tiger Global-backed Groww on Saturday said Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella has joined the company as an investor and adviser.
"Groww gets one of the world's best CEOs as an investor and adviser. Thrilled to have @satyanadella join us in our mission to make financial services accessible in India," Groww's co-founder and CEO Lalit Keshre tweeted.
However, he didn't disclose the financial details of the investment.
Groww had raised $250 million in October last year in a funding round led by Iconiq Growth, which valued the mutual fund and stock investment platform at $1 billion, turning it into a unicorn.
Y-Combinator backed Betterhalf.ai announces ESOP for its employees
Betterhalf.ai, a new-age matrimony platform, has announced its employee stock option plan (ESOP) for its employees.
With the ESOP buyback option, the startup aims to encourage its existing employees while promoting external hiring. The Y Combinator-backed startup claims to be among the few to offer ESOP buyback at pre-Series A stage. In 2021,
Betterhalf.ai raised $3 million in pre-Series A funding from S2 Capital and Quiet Capital with participation from angel investors such as Kunal Shah, the founder of CRED. Now, it is heading to its Series-A fundraise, the company said in a statement.
EaseMyTrip's board approves issuance of bonus shares
Online travel platform EaseMyTrip has said its board has approved issuance of bonus shares with a view to allow its shareholders increase their equity and gain greater exposure to its future growth.
The board of directors of the company at its meeting held on January 12, 2022, have approved and recommended the issuance of fully paid-up bonus shares in the ratio of 1:1, out of its free reserves created out of profit, EaseMyTrip said in a statement.
It will be subject to the shareholders' approval through a postal ballot and the record date will be announced in due course, the company added.
Furniture startup WoodenStreet to double stores in 2022, to invest Rs 50 cr
Furniture startup WoodenStreet will invest Rs 50 crore in 2022 and plans to double its on-ground presence from 45 to 100 stores this year by adding more stores across the country.
It plans to take more than 5 lakh sqft of retail space on lease as WoodenStreet expects to inaugurate multiple stores and warehouses in various cities, according to a statement.
The brand will also introduce new products in the market ranging from smart office furniture and modular kitchen solutions, and aims to generate around Rs 600 crore in revenue in 2022, it added.
IAMAI sets up India EdTech Consortium to uphold Code of Conduct by EdTech platforms
The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) has announced the formation of the India EdTech Consortium (IEC) that includes leading edtech companies like Byju's, Simplilearn, Unacademy, upGrad, Vedantu and others.
Aligned with the government's recent advisory, the IEC will ensure that every learner shall have access to quality and affordable education, which not only improves their academic performance but also makes them future-ready, a statement said.
With consumer interest at the core of the consortium, the edtech companies have committed to observe and adhere to a common 'Code of Conduct' and establish a two-tier grievance redressal mechanism to ensure that the positive impact of the industry reaches every deserving consumer while protecting their interests and promoting their rights, it added.
Several edtech entities have joined the IEC such as such as Byju's, Careers 360, Classplus, Doubtnut, Great Learning, Harappa, Times Edutech & Events Ltd, Scaler, Toppr, UNext Learning, Vedantu and WhiteHat Jr.
LetsVenture announces partnership with MeitY Startup Hub
Early-stage investment platform LetsVenture has partnered with MeitY Startup Hub, established as an initiative of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).
The partnership comes against the backdrop of MeitY Startup Hub's mission to build a conducive innovation and startup ecosystem and pave the way towards a strong economy built on the twin engines of innovation and technological advancement, according to the company.
MeitY Startup Hub and LetsVenture will launch a sustainable and scalable programme to build the angel investor ecosystem in India by creating workshops and training programmes to attract traditional business people to become start-up investors. LetsVenture will also provide access to the global market through its affiliates.
Startup hub at IIM Bangalore NSRCEL selects 7 healthcare firms for 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.
‘Deeply aggrieved’: Zomato CEO on delivery man's death, promises job to kin, medical, financial help worth Rs 22 lakh
Food delivery platform Zomato’s CEO Deepinder Goyal today expressed deep sorrow over the death of the company's delivery partner Salil Tripathi in an unfortunate road incident.
Goyal said the company is extending all possible support to help the family get through this. “We are deeply aggrieved by the death of our delivery partner Salil Tripathi in an unfortunate road incident. We are extending all possible support to help the family get through this,” Goyal wrote on Twitter.
Tripathi died on Saturday night after he was hit by a speeding SUV--allegedly a police vehicle--while waiting to pick up an order.
Goyal said Zomato team is "personally assisting the family" and has been at the hospital with the family since the night of the accident. Zomato founder added that the company is helping the delivery partner’s family with an “insurance grant of Rs 10 lakh, and depending on what the family needs going further, we will continue to support them in every possible way”.
In addition to this, Goyal said Zomato employees have collectively contributed Rs 12 lakhs towards the family's future.
RBI to set up new Fintech department
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has set up a fintech department to focus on the rapidly growing financial sector, as per an internal circular of the central bank.
The department has subsumed the FinTech Division of Department of Payment and Settlement Systems, Central Office (DPSS, CO), with the new entity coming into effect from January 04, 2022.
The department will not only promote innovation in the sector, but also identify the challenges and opportunities associated with it and address them in a timely manner, the circular stated.
It will also provide a "framework for further research on the subject that can aid policy interventions by the Bank."
Piyush Goyal urges global VC funds to focus on startups in smaller cities in India
Union Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal on Friday called upon the global venture capital funds to focus more on startups from tier 2 and 3 cities of the country and explore new sectors for investing.
Chairing a roundtable with global venture capital (VC) funds, the minister said the government has already taken a number of steps to support startups and would do so in the future also.
Goyal invited the VC funds to explore new sectors for investing, promote and protect the intellectual property created by the young Indian entrepreneurs, provide expertise to scale up and explore greater capital infusion.
"These funds have a total Assets Under Management (AUM) of more than $30 billion in the Indian region," the commerce and industry ministry said.
Indian startups raised $42 Bn in 2021: Orios Venture Partners Report
Indian startups have raised $42 billion in 2021, up from $11.5 billion in the previous year, a report by Orios Venture Partners said.
The report titled 'The Indian Tech Unicorn Report 2021' said India saw 46 unicorns (companies with $1 billion valuations) in 2021 alone, more than doubling the total number of unicorns to 90.
These include ShareChat, Cred, Meesho, Nazara, Moglix, MPL, Grofers (now Blinkit), Mamaearth, GlobalBees, Acko, Spinny and others.
India -- with 90 unicorns -- is the third-largest unicorn hub behind the US (487) and China (301), and ahead of the UK (39).
India has the third-largest startup ecosystem in the world with about 60,000 startups.
India will not be pressured on a duty cut: Govt officials to Tesla
Hours after Elon Musk tweeted to say that he was unable to share launch plans for India as Tesla was still working through a lot of challenges with the government, Indian government officials have reacted sharply to his remarks.
"By such tweets, Tesla is trying to put pressure on government using social media, and this is not the first time," a government source told CNBC-TV18.
Indian officials have made it clear that Tesla cannot ask for a duty cut without making a commitment on producing in India.
This is in reference to Musk’s tweet in which he said: “Tesla still working through a lot of challenges with the Indian government.”
GLOBAL TECHNOLOGY & STARTUP NEWS
Truecaller acquires CallHero for $4.5 million
Sweden-headquartered Truecaller has entered into an agreement to acquire the Israeli company CallHero that helps users verify and answer calls with the help of a digital assistant, a Smart Agent.
The agreed purchase price amounts to $4.5 million, of which $2.6 million will be paid in cash upon completion of the acquisition and $1.9 million through newly-issued shares in Truecaller, the company said in a statement.
It added that the purpose of the issue of new shares is to strengthen the long-term commitment to Truecaller for certain key persons at CallHero. “In addition, a potential additional purchase price of a maximum of $2 million will be paid, provided that certain goals are achieved for a period of up to four years after the transaction is completed,” it said.
Google buys London site for $1Bn
Tech giant Google has spent $1 billion on a central London building where it is currently a tenant, showing its confidence in the future of the office as a place to work, Reuters reported.
Google, which employs 6,400 people in Britain, plans a multimillion-pound refurbishment of its offices within the Central Saint Giles development it is buying, close to Covent Garden in central London.
Google plans to refit the building so it is adapted for in-person teamwork and has meeting rooms for hybrid working, as well as creating more space for individuals.
Facebook faces $3.2 bn UK class action over market dominance
Social media giant Facebook, now known as Meta Platforms, faces a 2.3 billion pound plus ($3.2 billion plus) class action in Britain over allegations it abused its market dominance by exploiting the personal data of 44 million users.
Liza Lovdahl Gormsen, a senior adviser to Britain's Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) watchdog and a competition law academic, said she was bringing the case on behalf of people in Britain who had used Facebook between 2015 and 2019.
The lawsuit, which will be heard by London's Competition Appeal Tribubal, alleges Facebook made billions of pounds by imposing unfair terms and conditions that demanded consumers surrender valuable personal data to access the network.
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 office, Reuters reported.
For employees who opt to work from 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 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 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.
Microsoft board to review sexual harassment, discrimination policies
Microsoft will review the effectiveness of its sexual harassment and gender discrimination policies and practices in response to a shareholder proposal that passed at its latest annual meeting, the company's board said.
As per Reuters, the review will produce a transparency report with results of any sexual harassment investigations in recent years against the company's directors and senior executives, including allegations that a board committee probe beginning in 2019 involved Bill Gates.
Data on the number of cases investigated and their resolution is also expected to be part of the review along with steps that have been taken to hold employees, including executives, accountable for sexual harassment or gender discrimination.
US House panel subpoenas social media firms in Jan 6 attack probe
The US House of Representatives committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol has subpoenaed Facebook parent Meta, Google parent Alphabet, Twitter and Reddit, seeking information about how their platforms were used to help spread misinformation and violent extremism in the failed bid to overturn the 2020 presidential election, Reuters reported.
The subpoenas are the latest development in the panel's investigation into the causes of the attack on the Capitol by the then-President Donald Trump's supporters, and the role played by Trump, who has pushed false claims that he lost a rigged election to Joe Biden.
The companies have until January 27 to comply. Meta said it has turned over documents on "a schedule committee staff requested -- and we will continue to do so". Google said it has been cooperating with the committee by "responding substantively to their requests for documents" and will continue to do so. Reddit said it would continue to work with the committee on their requests. Twitter declined to comment.
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.
Uber rival Bolt raises $711 mn at valuation of over $8 bn
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.
WeTransfer owner seeks Amsterdam IPO, plans $182 mn share issue
The owner of WeTransfer, which offers file sharing and collaboration tools said on Wednesday the company will seek an initial public offering of shares and listing on Amsterdam's Euronext stock exchange, according to Reuters.
The Amsterdam-based company, soon to be renamed "The Creative Productivity Group NV", said its offer, for which a date has not yet been set, would include both a primary sale of 160 million euros ($182 million) in new shares and a secondary offering of existing shares by current owners and managers.
The company, best known for the WeTransfer file transfer service, has 87 million monthly users and the groupestimates it had sales of more than 100 million euros in 2021, it said in a statement.
Apple pulls Wordle knockoffs from App Store
Apple said that it has removed from its App Store several knockoffs of Wordle, a website-only word game that has seen a recent surge in popularity thanks to celebrities like Jimmy Fallon.
The once-a-day online word game, originally created in October by former Reddit software engineer Josh Wardle, can only be played on his website and does not have a mobile app.
However, several developers have created identical app versions to cash in on surging demand for the game, with unsuspecting users driving up downloads of the clone apps.
As of Wednesday, the only remaining product on the App Store with that title was Wordle!, a time-based game created by Steven Cravotta more than four years ago, Reuters reported.
Nigeria lifts Twitter ban from midnight, government official says
Nigeria will lift a ban on Twitter from midnight after the social media platform agreed to open a local office, among other agreements with authorities in the West African country, a senior government official told.
The Nigerian government suspended Twitter on June 4 after it removed a post from President Muhammadu Buhari that threatened to punish regional secessionists. Telecoms companies subsequently blocked access to users in Nigeria.
Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, director general of the National Information Technology Development Agency said in a statement that Buhari had given approval to lift the suspension, as per Reuters.
Tesla to accept dogecoin as payment for merchandise, says Elon Musk
Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Friday said the electric carmaker will accept meme-based digital currency dogecoin for merchandise.
"Tesla merch buyable with Dogecoin," Musk said in a tweet. After vouching for Bitcoin, Tesla CEO Elon Musk now supports Dogecoin cryptocurrency, even calling him "Dogefather".
Tesla sells apparel, 'Giga Texas' belt buckles and mini models of its vehicles as well as quirky limited-edition items such as the 'Cyberwhistle', which is modelled after its much-awaited Cybertruck.
In addition, Musk earlier confirmed that the company is "most likely" going to resume taking Bitcoin payment after some due diligence on the improvements in the energy mix used to mine the cryptocurrency.
Musk also confirmed that he has a significant personal investment into bitcoin on top of Tesla's investment and he has smaller Ethereum and Dogecoin holdings.
Jack Dorsey's Block to build an open bitcoin mining system
Block Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey said in a tweet that the fintech firm is building an open bitcoin mining system, as the newly re-branded company looks to expand beyond its payment business and into new technologies like blockchain.
In October, as per Reuters, Dorsey said that Block, formerly Square, was considering building a bitcoin mining system based on custom silicon and open source for individuals and businesses worldwide.
"We want to make mining more distributed and efficient in every way, from buying, to set up, to maintenance, to mining. We're interested because mining goes far beyond creating new bitcoin. We see it as a long-term need for a future that is fully decentralized and permissionless," Block's general manager for hardware, Thomas Templeton tweeted.
North Korean hackers stole $400 mn in cryptocurrency in 2021: Report
North Korea launched at least seven attacks on cryptocurrency platforms that extracted nearly $400 million worth of digital assets last year, one of its most successful years on record, blockchain analysis firm Chainalysis said in a new report.
"From 2020 to 2021, the number of North Korean-linked hacks jumped from four to seven, and the value extracted from these hacks grew by 40%," said the report.
The report said researchers had identified $170 million in old, unlaundered cryptocurrency holdings from 49 separate hacks spanning from 2017 to 2021. The report said it is unclear why the hackers would still be sitting on these funds, but said they could be hoping to outwit law enforcement interest before cashing out.
A United Nations panel of experts that monitors sanctions on North Korea has accused Pyongyang of using stolen funds to support its nuclear and ballistic missile programs to circumvent sanctions.
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