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Startup Digest: Top startup stories of the week

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Here's a lowdown of all that hit headlines this week.

Startup Digest: Top startup stories of the week
It’s raining unicorns on startup street - from investment platform Groww to health tech startup PharmEasy, from social e-commerce startup Meesho to credit card payment platform CRED, and short video app Moj & Sharechat along with conversational messaging platform Gupshup, all made their new funding announcements and entered the unicorn club this week.
Here's a lowdown of all that hit headlines this week:
Six new unicorns:
> Moj & ShareChat raise $502 million from Lightspeed Ventures, Tiger Global, Snap Inc & Twitter
Homegrown short video app Moj and Indic language social media platform ShareChat have raised $502 million in a latest round of funding. The investment has been led by Lightspeed Ventures and Tiger Global, along with participation from Snap Inc, Twitter and India Quotient amongst others. With the new round, the parent company Mohalla Tech’s valuation stands at a little over $2.1 billion, making it the latest to join the unicorn club. The Bangalore-based company had roped in Twitter as an investor in 2019, but with this round it has added Tiger Global and Snap Inc to its investor portfolio. As of today the company claims, that Moj counts over 120 million monthly active users and ShareChat has over 160 million monthly active users.
> Gupshup raises $100 million from Tiger Global
Gupshup, a Silicon Valley-based conversational messaging platform today announced it has raised $100 million in funding from Tiger Global Management. With this raise the company’s valuation now stands to $1.4 billion. This is the sixth startup to enter the unicorn club just this week. The team plans to use this investment to scale product and go-to-market initiatives globally. As of today, Gupshup claims to be powering over 6 billion messages per month and its API technology enables over 100,000 developers and businesses to build messaging and conversational experiences.
Gupshup’s last funding round was in 2011 and the company claims to have exited 2020 with annual revenue run rate of approximately $150 million. According to the team, this new funding will be followed by a second close with additional funds from more investors. That announcement will be made at a later date, though there is no clarity on the timeline as of now.
> Groww raises $83 million in Series D from Tiger Global; valued at over $1 billion
Homegrown investment platform Groww has raised $83m in Series D round at a valuation of more than $1 billion. With this, Groww becomes the forth unicorn to be born this week after health-tech startup PharmEasy, social e-commerce startup Meesho and credit card payment platform CRED made their funding announcements. Tiger Global led the fundraising with the participation of Groww's existing investors — Sequoia India, Ribbit Capital, YC Continuity and Propel Venture Partners.
In June 2020, Groww launched stocks with an easy-to-use interface for do-it-yourself (DIY) investors. Groww witnessed rapid growth and opened about 20 lac demat accounts. Groww plans to expand its product suite with the new fundraise, hire top-quality talent, and invest heavily in financial education and awareness. Financial education content has been a critical focus for Groww from its inception. In the next two years, the company plans to launch a slew of financial education initiatives aimed at millennials and expand the market for financial services.
> Cred valued at $2.2 billion with new round, Kunal Shah says 'conscious call' to not monetise in first 2 years
Credit card payment platform Cred has turned a unicorn, nearly trebling its valuation in just three months to $2.2 billion with a new round of funding of $215 million. The company is among the few startups to achieve a unicorn status at a very early stage, having begun operations only 2.5 years ago. The Series D round was led by Falcon Edge Capital (new investor) and Coatue Management LLP (existing investor), while Insight Partners (new investor) is also joining the cap table. Existing investors DST Global, RTP Global, Tiger Global, Greenoaks Capital, Dragoneer Investment Group, and Sofina are also investing in this round, the company said.
In early January 2021, Cred had announced a $80 million round of funding, which had valued the company at $804 million. "Valuation is not something we celebrate. More fundraise is more responsibility to deliver returns to investors," Kunal Shah told CNBC-TV18. The focus that we took on affluent customers, contrary to many startups building for the rest of India, has paid off," Shah said. Cred currently has about 6 million members (it selects members only with credit scores above 750), and the company claims over 35 percent of premium credit card holders in India are on Cred. While Shah said there were several secondary transactions in the round, he did not confirm on which investors made exits.
> Meesho gets Softbank backing, turns unicorn
Social commerce platform, Meesho has raised $300 million in a new round of funding led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2. The latest investment valued Meesho at $2.1 billion and saw participation from existing investors - Prosus Ventures, Facebook, Shunwei Capital, Venture Highway and Knollwood Investment.
Commenting on the fund raise Vidit Aatrey, founder and CEO of Meesho said, "We take pride at the rate of speed and scale at which Meesho has grown, positively impacting millions of lives, and creating exponential learning along the way. With the new round of funding, we are extremely thrilled to have SoftBank onboard. We are focused on expanding our vision — from helping aspiring women entrepreneurs to creating Meesho as a single ecosystem that will enable all small businesses in India to succeed online."
Meesho’s long-term mission has been to enable 100 million small businesses including individual entrepreneurs to succeed online in India. These small businesses include individual businesses owned and run by women entrepreneurs and homepreneurs who have become financially independent and successful over the years through Meesho, and have carved out their own identities.
> PharmEasy parent API Holdings raises $350 million led by Prosus Ventures and TPG Growth
API Holdings, parent of consumer digital healthcare platform Pharmeasy has raised about $350 million in primary and secondary funding led by Naspers owned Prosus Ventures & TPG Growth. Existing investors including Temasek, CDPQ, LGT Lightrock, Eight Roads & Think Investments also participated in the Series E round.
API Holdings’ digital healthcare platforms connect over 60,000 brick & mortar pharmacies and 4,000 doctors in 16,000 zip codes across India, the company said in a statement. The platforms also provide SaaS solutions for pharmacies to use in procurement combined with delivery and logistics support, and credit solutions to buy over 200,000 medicines from over 3,000 pharmaceutical manufacturers, it added. The new funds will be used to deepen its penetration across India to reach over 100,000 pharmacies in the next 12 months.
In other funding news: 
  • Spinny, a full stack used car retailing platform in India, has announced the closure of its $65 million Series C funding round from new and existing investors. The round was led by Silicon Valley based venture capital firm General Catalyst - early backers of Airbnb, Stripe, Snapchat, Vroom, Cazoo. Other new investors in the round include Feroz Dewan’s Arena Holdings, and Think Investments. In addition to these, the round saw participation from existing investors Elevation Capital (the Fundamentum Partnership, and others. The additional funding takes the overall funds raised by Spinny till date to more than $120 million.
  • Personal care brand WOW Skin Science raises $50 million from PE firm Chrys Capital. The transaction is a combination of a primary raise by WOW Skin Science to expand the business and secondary sale by existing shareholders.
  • Tech led NBFC Avanti Finance has raised $26 million in debt and equity from Oikocredit, Nomura and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Technopreneur cum philanthropist Pratul Shroff & existing investor NRJN Trust also participated in the round. Avanti will use the funds to strengthen its platform and expand its presence to accelerate livelihoods purpose credit and other financial products to the next 100 million unserved and underserved households in India.
  • Lendingkart has raised $15 million in a new round of debt funding raising from the FMO, Dutch entrepreneurial Development Bank. With this deal, Lendingkart strengthens its 3-year relationship with the bank receiving funds through NCDs and increases its cumulative exposure to $19 million with this transaction, the company said.
  • Asset financing NBFC Mahaveer Finance has raised Rs 20 crore bridge equity through structured funding from Blacksoil Capital before its Series C funding of Rs 100 crore in the current year, the company said. The funds will be utilised to achieve its target AUM of Rs 500 crore for the year.
  • Tech enabled multi-brand car service provider, Pitstop has raised $3.5 million in a Pre-series-B funding round. Ventureast led the funding with participation from ACKO Technologies, LetsVenture, AngelList India, Blume Ventures, among others. As part of this expansion, Pitstop will be adding 250 service vans, which are its primary mode of delivering car maintenance and service. Pitstop will also be enrolling 350 garages to build the required geographical penetration into each new city added. Pitstop is operational in 5 cities including the NCR region.
  • CareerLabs, a profile building platform for college students and working professionals, has secured $2.2 million in a new financing round as it looks to scale its platform, including a new product. Rocket Internet's VC fund - Global Founders Capital invested in the Bengaluru-based startup’s Pre-Series A round with participation from Toshan Tamhane, chief digital officer, UPL; Ajit Isaac, founder chairman of QuessCorp; Rohit Kale, MD, Spencer Stuart, Professors of ISB; Ghanshyam Das, former MD- Asia Pacific & Middle East, Nasdaq and Abhishek Nag, director of Business Development -India and South Asia, Netflix and other angel investors.
  • Experiential learning platform AntWak has raised its seed round of funding led by Matrix Partners India. Better Capital and Kunal Shah, founder, CRED Club also participated in this round. Antwak today offers 1000+ free, bite-sized professional learning courses in 15+ domains such as cybersecurity, digital marketing, data engineering, user experience, sales & BD, data engineering, powered by 2,500+ experts from 500+ brands & corporates across 30+ countries, a statement read.
  • Actor Salman Khan has invested in Short video platform Chingari, which has also announced that the actor will join as its global brand ambassador. Salman Khan’s funding was part of a larger $13 million round in the company led by OnMobile Global Limited, a global player in mobile entertainment. Chingari this week also announced that OnMobile Global Limited, a global player in mobile entertainment, led a $13 million round in the company.
  • Video communication workflows platform, Superpro.ai has raised $300K as part of their Seed Round led by IvyCap Ventures Angel Fund. The funding round also saw the participation of Penthalon Ventures, ah! Ventures and Superpro.ai’s existing investor SOSV. Besides, angel investors including Piyush Prahladka (ex-Google, ex-Uber), Gopi Vikranth (Associate Principal at ZS, ex-Mu-sigma) from the US have also participated.
  • Digital lending infrastructure company Kudos has raised an undisclosed amount of Pre-Series A funding from top tier fintech founders and super angels. The stellar group of investors include Nithin Kamath of Zerodha, Nitin Gupta of UNI, Patanjali Somayaji of Walnut, Sumit Maniyar of Rupeek, Nischal Shetty of WazirX, Anish Achuthan of Open Banking, Ganesh Rao of NOCP & ex-Suryoday Microfinance, Amit Choudhary of DawaaDost & ex-Motilal Oswal, entire leadership team of One Card and Vaibhav Domkundwar of Better Capital who has been a strategic advisor to the company.
  • Hyperlocal D2C platform for gated communities DusMinute has raised $1.1 million in pre-series A funding led by Indian Angel Network, along with a clutch of HNI investors. DusMinute offers amenities like supermarket, pharmacy, home services, café, and more, through in-society store and an exclusive app, for residents of gated communities, a statement said. The startup has ensured safe and convenient shopping experience for its users, especially during the lockdown period, by delivering all necessities within minutes from their own community store, the company said. Bangalore based DusMinute has been servicing prominent properties of Brigade, Prestige, Sobha, Provident, SNN, Shriram, and Godrej among others in the city.
  • D2C coffee startup Rage Coffee has raised an undisclosed amount in pre-Series A funding led by Refex Capital with participation from 9 Unicorns Venture Capital Fund, Emarson Computers, CC One Venture Labs, Spotlight Capital and others The company has also raised revenue-based financing from Getvantage in this round, a statement said. The freshly infused capital will be utilized for marketing and distribution purposes as Rage Coffee is planning to expand its online presence and offline footprint, the company added. The company will also use the funds to scale up its production and launch innovative new products.
  • In other news:
    > BYJU’s acquires Aakash Educational Services for $1 billion
    Edtech company, BYJU’S has announced its strategic partnership with Aakash Educational Services Limited (AESL), a test prep services player. Sources confirm to CNBC-TV18 that BYJU’s is acquiring Aakash Educational Services for nearly $1 billion. This partnership aims to create greater value for the student community by combining Aakash’s pedagogy expertise in the test-prep segment with BYJU's content and tech capabilities. After the integration, BYJU's will make further investments to accelerate Aakash’s growth. EY was the exclusive financial advisor for BYJU's on this transaction. Phoenix Advisers was the exclusive advisor for the AESL.
    Byju Raveendran, founder and CEO, BYJU's said, "Our complementary strengths will enable us to build capabilities, create engaging and personalised learning programs. The future of learning is hybrid and this union will bring together the best of offline and online learning, as we combine our expertise to create impactful experiences for students."
    > Swiggy closing $800 million fund raise, valuation close to $5 billion
    Swiggy CEO Sriharsha Majety informed the employees on Monday that the company is in the final stage to close the $800 million fund-raise. The deal pegs the valuation of the company close to $5 billion, sources told CNBC-TV18. Swiggy did not comment on the mail sent by the CEO to employees.
    Among the new investors in the company are Falcon Edge Capital, Think Investments, Goldman Sachs, and Amanda Capital. "We're closing around $800 million in financing," Majesty said in the email, adding that existing investors Prosus and Accel also invested in the round.
    "The fundraise was heavily oversubscribed," he added. Swiggy's fundraise comes ahead of rival Zomato's IPO expected to take place in the next few months. Swiggy and Zomato were badly impacted in the early months if the pandemic but both have reported sharp recovery. "We've managed to drive a strong recovery in the food delivery business with a very clear path to profitability," Majety said.
    > PE fund True North Fund sells part stake in IPO bound Policybazaar: Buyers include Serum Institute
    Private equity fund True North has sold a part of its holding in India’s largest online insurance aggregator PolicyBazaar to a clutch of five independent buyers – vaccine maker Serum Institute of India (SII), Ashoka India Equity Investment Trust Plc, Triumph Global Holdings Pte, IIFL Special Opportunities Fund Series 8 and India Acorn Fund, as per Moneycontrol.
    Exact quantum of the diluted stake or valuations were undisclosed in the official announcement. On February 21, 2021, Moneycontrol had reported that Policybazaar had selected bankers for a mega domestic listing in 2021. “In October 2020, True North had conducted the first tranche of its stake sale in the company. It continues to be invested in the company for its next phase of growth,” the statement read.
    Divya Sehgal, Partner, True North, stated, "We’ve had a great partnership with PolicyBazaar over the last three years. We are extremely pleased with the company’s sustained growth momentum and efficiency in delivering great results in spite of the challenging market conditions. We will continue to support PolicyBazaar as it heads towards public markets in the next 12-15 months and scripts many more success stories."
    > KKR closes $15 billion Asian PE fund
    Private equity giant KKR announced the close of its Asia-focused private equity fund - KKR Asian Fund IV, with a corpus of $15 billion. KKR will invest approximately $1.3 billion in capital alongside fund investors through the firm and its employees’ commitments, a statement said. According to PE firm, KKR Asian Fund IV is the company’s largest private equity fund for the Asia Pacific region. The fund, which exceeded its target size to reach its hard cap for fund investors’ commitments, received strong support from a diverse group of new and existing global investors, including strong representation by Asia Pacific-based investors, the statement said.
    KKR launched its Asia Pacific platform in 2005, and today has over $30 billion in assets under management in the region across strategies, including private equity, infrastructure, real estate, and credit. Asia Pacific Private Equity portfolio currently includes investments in approximately 60 companies in 11 countries across the region.
    > upGrad hits ARRs of Rs 1,200 crore with a monthly revenue of Rs 100 crore
    Riding high on the online learning boom. edtech platform upGrad reports monthly earnings of Rs 100 crore as Annual Revenue Run rate (ARR) hits the Rs 1,200 crore mark. The company is now targeting 25 percent revenue growth in the next quarter with profitability in sight, a statement read. upGrad’s revenues grew 100% in 2020 as it serviced 1 million learners in 50+ countries.
    > Ather Energy clocks best quarter as sales surge
    EV startup Ather Energy has seen its "best ever" quarter as sales surged 250 percent as it reported positive margins for the first time. The company said it expanded into 10 cities from 4 and saw a 6x increase in test rides in the quarter.
    Here is Ather Energy’s quarterly report card:
    Sales: Up 250 percent.
    Test rides: Up 6X.
    Cities: Expanded from 4 to 10.
    Fast chargers: Increased from 79 to 129.
    Assembly times: Down 32 percent.
    > Alteria Capital makes first close of Fund II at Rs 1,325 crore
    Venture debt provider, Alteria Capital has announced the first close of its second fund at Rs 1,325 crore, as it looks to ramp up its deployment across early and growth stage startups in India. The company had received approval from Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) in December 2020 for its second venture debt fund with a target corpus of Rs 1,000 crore and a greenshoe option of Rs 750 crore. At present, Alteria Capital manages Rs 2,300 crore of assets under management across its two funds.
    With the second fund, the venture debt provider will target startups across early and growth stages with cheque sizes up to Rs 150 crore. There will also be an allocation for structured debt products aimed for late-stage companies, said the company. In the past, Alteria Capital has backed companies, including Rebel Foods, BharatPe, Lendingkart, Zestmoney, Dunzo, Portea, Toppr, Spinny, amongst others. The company also claimed that with its ability to recycle capital from previous investments, Alteria will effectively have over Rs 4,000 crore available for funding in startups across venture debt and structured solutions.
    > Speciale Invest raises Rs 140 crore for second seed fund
    Speciale Invest, a seed stage venture capital firm investing in deep technologies has announced the first closing of its second fund. The second fund has raised Rs 140 crore and the firm claims it has exceeded its target and was oversubscribed with the backing of an experienced group of domestic investors. The fund expects to invest in about 18-20 start-ups building enterprise software products including SAAS, Developers tools and frontier technologies including Space Tech, Robotics, Photonics, Alternative Energy across India and Asia.
    Portfolio companies of Speciale Invest include enterprise software companies Wingman, True Lark, TotalCloud, Scapic, iAuro, Pocket52 and; and hardware startups The ePlane Company, Agnikul, Astrogate Labs, CynLr, and Kawa Space. Speciale Invest’s interests include Enterprise Software Products (emerging from deep tech in Cloud, Voice & Vision ML/AI, Image Analytics, AR/VR ) and Industrial Hardware Products (emerging from deep tech in Propulsion tech, Robotics, Rocket engines, Lithium tech, Micro-electronics, Optical Communication tech).
    Global news this week:
    Audio app Clubhouse in talks to raise funds at $4 billion valuation: Bloomberg News
    Audio app Clubhouse is in discussions to raise funds at a valuation of about $4 billion, Bloomberg News reported on Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter. Clubhouse did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. The San Francisco-based company, whose app allows people to discuss varied topics in audio chatrooms, has seen its popularity surge after appearances by billionaires Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg.
    The success of the invite-only, year-old platform, which recently reported 10 million weekly active users, has demonstrated the potential of audio chat services, particularly as people stay inside homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    E-commerce firm StockX valued at $3.8 billion after new funding round
    E-commerce firm StockX said on Thursday it had raised $255 million in a financing round, valuing the company at more than $3.8 billion, reports Reuters. The all-cash offer was led by Altimeter Capital, with participation from existing investors and new institutional investor Dragoneer.
    Google-backed TAE Technologies raises $280 million from new, existing investors
    TAE Technologies, a California-based firm building technology to generate power from nuclear fusion, said on Thursday it had raised $280 million from new and existing investors, including Google and New Enterprise Associates, as per Reuters. The company, which did not disclose its latest valuation, was valued at $2.6 billion after raising funds in May 2019, according to data platform PitchBook. Including the latest funding, TAE has raised $880 million till date. The fresh capital will mostly be deployed towards further fusion work and a new reactor scale facility, the company said.
    Founded in 1998 and formerly known as Tri Alpha Energy, TAE Technologies kept a low profile for years and operated in stealth mode. Over the years, it has drawn the interest of investors including Venrock, brokerage Charles Schwab and the Kuwait Investment Authority. The company is also working on producing baseload power from the Hydrogen-Boron fuel cycle, which is an environment-friendly fuel source. Baseload power refers to the minimum amount of power that needs to be supplied to an electrical grid at any given point in time. Prior to the latest funding round, TAE had raised about $130 million earlier this year.
    > Prosus to sell 2% Tencent stake worth $15 billion
    Dutch-based technology investment company Prosus NV plans to sell a 2 percent stake in software giant Tencent, worth about $15 billion at current prices, in an accelerated offering to institutional investors. Prosus, majority owned by Naspers of South Africa, said the sale would lower its stake in Tencent to 28.9 percent from 30.9 percent. The move underlines the size of Prosus’s Tencent stake, which it said it had committed not reduce further in the next three years.
    "The proceeds of the sale will increase our financial flexibility, enabling us to invest in the significant growth potential we see across the group, as well as in our own stock," CEO Bob van Dijk said in a statement. Prosus shares fell 4 percent to 94.52 euros shortly after the news, Reuters reported. The company said it had informed Tencent of its intention before Wednesday’s announcement. In addition to its Tencent stake, Prosus owns or invests in online food delivery platforms, classified marketplaces and digital payments businesses.
    Creators' platform Patreon valued $4 billion in latest funding round
    Patreon, a platform that lets artists seek financial patronage from their fans, said it was valued at $4 billion in its latest funding round, more than tripling from September last year, Reuters reported. The San Francisco, California-based company raised $155 million in the fresh round led by new investor Tiger Global Management, with participation from Woodline Partners and previous investors Wellington Management, Lone Pine Capital, New Enterprise Associates, Glade BrookCapital, and DFJ Growth. In the previous funding round, Patreon had raised $90 million, which reportedly valued it at $1.2 billion then.
    The company, which connects creators including musicians, writers, journalists, and podcasters with fans while monetizing their work for a monthly fee, plans to use the fund for developing new tools for creators, potential acquisitions, and expanding its international footprint. Patreon, founded in 2013 by two YouTube creators, grew in popularity over the last year as more creators churned content to engage audiences stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    > US government, states ask judge to deny Facebook's request to dismiss lawsuits
    The Federal Trade Commission and a big group of US states asked a federal court on Wednesday to deny Facebook Inc’s request to dismiss major antitrust lawsuits filed against the social media giant in December, according to Reuters. The FTC, in its filing, said Facebook bought photo-sharing app Instagram because Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg believed it was “a large and viable competitor” and purchased the messaging app WhatsApp to neutralize a nascent threat. The FTC has asked the court to order Facebook to sell those assets.
    The states, which had filed a separate antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, said in its filing : “Deploying a buy-or-bury scheme of predatory acquisitions and exclusionary conduct, Facebook successfully squashes, suppresses, and deters competition, entrenching its monopoly power to this day.” Facebook had asked the court to dismiss the two lawsuits, alleging that they were brought “in the fraught environment of relentless criticism of Facebook for matters entirely unrelated to antitrust concerns."
    It also said that the states, in their case, failed to show that they were harmed by Facebook and that they waited too long. The FTC and states accused Facebook of breaking antitrust law to keep smaller competitors at bay and snapping up rivals, like Instagram for $1 billion in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014 for $19 billion. All told, the federal government and states filed five lawsuits against Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google last year following bipartisan outrage over use and misuse of social media clout both in the economy and the political sphere.
    > Bezos, Musk top Forbes' record-setting billionaire list
    Forbes’ annual world’s billionaires list includes a record-breaking 2,755 billionaires, with Amazon.com Inc founder Jeff Bezos topping it for the fourth consecutive year, the company said on Tuesday. The ranks of the ultra-wealthy are expanding after a year in which the coronavirus pandemic upended world economies and threatened the livelihoods of people across the globe.
    This year’s billionaires are worth a combined $13.1 trillion, up from $8 trillion last year, Forbes said.
    "The very, very rich got very, very richer," said Forbes’ Chief Content Officer Randall Lane, in an interview with Reuters Video News. Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk jumped into second spot on the list, up from 31st last year. Bernard Arnault, chief executive of luxury goods firm LVMH, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg round out the top five of the world’s richest billionaires.
    Investor and business tycoon Warren Buffett fell out of the top five for the first time in over two decades, as tech executives dominate the Forbes rankings. This year’s list has 493 newcomers, including Whitney Wolfe Herd, chief executive of dating app Bumble, which went public this year.
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