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Startup Digest: upGrad acquires Australian Global Study Partners, Musk’s Starlink faces license hurdle in India & Coinstore enters India despite pending curbs on trade


Here are the top headlines from the startup space.

Startup Digest: upGrad acquires Australian Global Study Partners, Musk’s Starlink faces license hurdle in India & Coinstore enters India despite pending curbs on trade
upGrad makes first overseas deal, snaps up Australian Global Study Partners
Edtech unicorn upGrad which has been growing through acquisitions and has earmarked an M&A war chest of $250 million, has entered into an acquisition agreement to buy 100 percent of Global Study Partners (GSP), the largest study abroad company in Australia, for AUD 16 million, with a commitment of a further AUD 10 million in future.
This marks the first international acquisition for the Ronnie Screwvala-promoted firm and strengthens its foray into the study abroad space.
GSP founder and chief executive Elaine Starkey said with this deal with upGrad, her existing partner institutions and recruiters worldwide can expect significant growth in quality student enrolments.
According to a Redseer report, Indian students opting for higher education abroad are increasing rapidly and is expected to grow 2x till 2024, to reach 1.8 million who would be spending $75-85 billion overseas.
Powerhouse91 acquires wellness startup Expertomind
Thrasio-style startup Powerhouse91 has acquired wellness firm Expertomind for an undisclosed amount. With a combination of functional optimisations across marketing, supply chains and operations combined with significant growth capital, Powerhouse91 said it aims to expand Expertomind by 25 times over the next four to five years. By 2023, it expects the brand to grow ten times.
"Through Powerhouse91, they are set on the right track to expand and grow over 10x within 12-18 months.” Nikhil Agrawal, co-founder of Powerhouse91 said. The acquisition marks Powerhouse91 third deal and follows the company’s recently-concluded acquisition of sports and fitness brand Slovic.
Thrasio-style startup 10Club acquires Aurion, its third sports equipment brand
E-commerce aggregator10club has acquired its third sports-and-fitness brand in a bid to expand its footprint in this category. The company has added Aurion, a sports and fitness equipment maker to its portfolio with the aim of growing them 10x. Earlier 10Club had acquired Skudgear and Rapidtozz.
"Sports & Fitness is one of the fastest-growing categories in our country. With its in-house product development capabilities and intrinsic understanding of the sports goods market, Aurion is well-positioned to achieve further scale in this category," said Deepak Nair, co-founder and COO, 10club.
10club raised $40 million earlier this year in its Seed funding round, co-led by venture capital (VC) firm Fireside Ventures. The company has acquired six brands so far across sports and fitness, home décor, which includes lawn and gardening products and equipment, and baby product categories.
Elon Musk’s Starlink faces license hurdle, govt advises against booking services
Elon Musk's Starlink is facing license hurdles in India, with the government advising citizens against booking its services as the satellite-internet provider does not comply with India's regulatory framework. The government said Starlink cannot offer satellite-based internet services in the country without obtaining a license.
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has clarified Starlink is not a “licensee” and directed the company to comply with India's regulatory framework. The department has also directed Starlink to stop bookings of the services. Starlink is a satellite internet division of billionaire Elon Musk's rocket company SpaceX.
The company had registered in India in November and had begun advertising, gearing to launch the services. The company had launched a local unit, Starlink Satellite Communications Private Limited, according to a Reuters report. The local unit would help Starlink apply for licenses to provide communication services ranging from broadband to satellite.
The company had begun accepting pre-orders for the beta version with a fully refundable deposit of Rs 7,400. However, the government said the company is not licensed to offer the services being advertised to the public.
Cryptocurrency exchange Coinstore enters India despite pending curbs on trade
Singapore-based virtual currency exchange Coinstore has begun operations in India at a time when the Indian government is preparing legislation to effectively bar most private cryptocurrencies. Coinstore has launched its web and app platform and plans branches in Bangalore, New Delhi and Mumbai which will act as its base in India for future expansion.
"With nearly a quarter of our total active users coming from India, it made sense for us to expand into the market," Charles Tan, head of marketing at Coinstore told Reuters. Asked why Coinstore was launching India despite the pending clampdown on cryptocurrencies, Tan said: "There have been policy flip-flops but we hope things are going to be positive and we are optimistic that the Indian government will come out with a healthy framework for cryptocurrencies."
Tan said Coinstore plans to recruit about 100 employees in India and spend $20 million for marketing, hiring and development of crypto-related products and services for the Indian market. Coinstore is the second global exchange to enter India in recent months, following in the footsteps of CrossTower which launched its local unit in September.
Totality Corp partners with Vauld ahead of the launch of its first NFT project
Totality Corp, a startup for Playable NFT's Gaming Universe, has partnered with Vauld, a cryptocurrency exchange backed by PayPal Cofounder Peter Thiel's Valar Ventures that aims to provide core banking elements to all crypto users.
The cryptocurrency exchange has features such as AIP, which will provide backend infrastructure for Totality Corp's NFT projects, the company said in a statement. This collaboration will be strengthened with the upcoming launch of Totality Corp's Lakshmi NFT under the brand ZoinVerse, which will allow people to buy NFT shared through Vauld, the firm added.
"With Totality’s expertise in NFT’s, content and gaming along with Vauld’s expertise in payments, crypto, trading wallets layers will result in ZoinVerse becoming the MetaVerse of choice,” said Anshul Rustaggi, Founder, Totality Corp. Totality Corp was founded in 2019 with the intention of capitalizing on the global gaming market, the firm claimed.
Ather Energy to set up second factory in Hosur, expands overall capacity to 400K units
Hero MotoCorp-backed electric two-wheeler maker Ather Energy plans to set up its second manufacturing facility, which once commissioned in 2022, will expand its capacity to 4-lakh vehicles per year from 1.20 lakh units at present.
The new facility will come up at Hosur, in Tamil Nadu to cater to the growing demand for its e-two-wheelers -- 450 X and 450 Plus -- the company said in a statement.
Ather Energy had set up its first manufacturing facility at Hosur earlier this year. Apart from EV manufacturing, the new manufacturing unit will also focus on lithium-ion batteries, which is a key focus area for Ather Energy, the firm stated. With the new facility, the company plans to manufacture 400,000 units per annum, a significant jump from its current capacity of 120,000 units, it added.
The startup said it continues to gain strength in the two-wheeler EV space, adding it has been registering 20 per cent month-on-month sales growth since November 2020. The company has committed to invest Rs 650 crore in the next five years to enhance operational efficiency and production capacity to meet the exponential surge in demand, as per the release.
AJVA Fintech launches “eMSME Saarthi”
AJVA Fintech, an end-to-end solutions provider of MSME services has announced the launch of the MSME scheme discovery platform called “eMSME Saarthi”. As per the company, the platform will bring a developmental change in providing transparency to all the Micro, Small and Medium enterprises in disseminating information about government schemes.
MSMEs need to input their business-specific credentials to discover the customized scheme list. After the discovery of the curated scheme list, users can select the scheme they wish to avail and can generate a detailed diagnostic report from the system, the company said in a statement.
AJVA Fintech specializes in providing a one-stop solution to aid financial and other related compliance requirements for MSMEs. The company aims at facilitating every client with simplified solutions.
Nivesh launches insurance platform Samavesh
IAN Fund-backed fintech firm Nivesh has launched its insurance platform Samavesh in a bid to help increase insurance penetration with its unique hybrid model.
The company has obtained license for the insurance broking business from the Insurance Regulatory & Development Authority of India (IRDAI) through its wholly-owned subsidiary – Samavesh Insurance Brokers Private Limited, enabling it to offer all kinds of insurance products from all insurance companies.
As per the company insurance coverage in India has been very low with life insurance penetration at 3.2 percent and non-life insurance penetration at just 1 percent. 95 percent of the insurance business is offline and agent-driven.
The platform will enable the partner distributors to suggest the right insurance products depending on the requirements of the customers, the firm said in a statement. Embedded in a digital setup, the insurance platform will cater to both urban and rural customers. The company had raised $1.6 million (Rs 11.8 crore) in a round led by seed and early-stage investor IAN Fund earlier this year.
Tej Courier partners with SaaS-based startup Shipsy
Courier service provider Tej Courier has partnered with SaaS-based smart logistics management platform Shipsy in order to provide real-time delivery updates and enhance the customer experience in Tier-II Cities.
Shipsy’s mission to help businesses digitize logistics operations is enabling Tej Courier to optimize end-to-end last-mile delivery planning and execution, the firm said in a statement. Its route optimization capabilities will help Tej Courier to reduce cost per shipment, gain end-to-end delivery visibility and drive high levels of operational efficiencies.
Shipsy’s unified customer communication capabilities keep Tej Courier’s consumers updated with delivery progress via SMSs and WhatsApp. It enables customers to live-track their orders using a simple link and boosts engagement by displaying intuitive tracking graphics.
WhatsApp welcomes NPCI move to increase its UPI payment cap to 40 million users
The National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), which operates the country’s retail payment and settlement systems, has approved increasing the user cap for WhatsApp's payment service from the current 20 million to 40 million.
"We welcome this approval and thank NPCI for the increase in our cap to 40 million,” said Manesh Mahatme, director-payments, WhatsApp India. Mahatme added that over the next 6 months, the messaging app has planned significant investments in payments on WhatsApp- across India -- including many more “India-first” features -- that will accelerate its growth.
"Since our initial approval from NPCI, we have been working to deliver a simple, reliable, and secure experience for WhatsApp users that we hope will accelerate the adoption of UPI for the “next five hundred million” Indians,” Mahatme claimed. The NPCI had allowed WhatsApp to start payment services in November last year with a cap of 20 million users.
Australia challenges Facebook to back anti-troll defamation law
Facebook will show it has no interest in making the online world safe if it quits Australia over laws holding it liable for defamation on its platform, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday.
As per Reuters, in the latest of several attempts to hold global internet companies to greater account for content on their platforms, Australia plans to make them share the identities of people with anonymous accounts if another person accuses them of defamation.
If the social media company fails to give that information, it must assume legal liability. The proposed law would also make social media operators legally responsible for defamatory comments beneath publishers' posts on their platforms.
Asked on TV station Nine News if he was worried Facebook might quit Australia over the new law, Morrison said doing that "would be an admission that they have no interest in making the online world safe".
The company, which has renamed its parent entity Meta, has previously said it could not reasonably be expected to monitor all comments on its website for defamation, and that it often has less access to users' pages than the users themselves.
UK regulator set to block Meta's Giphy deal - FT
The UK competition regulator is expected to block Meta Platforms' acquisition of online GIF platform Giphy in the coming days, the Financial Times reported.
The Competition and Markets Authority is set to reverse the deal in what would be the first time the watchdog has reversed a Big Tech acquisition, the report said.
The regulator had in October fined the US social media giant Facebook, now Meta, 50.5 million pound ($67.35 million) for breaching an order that was imposed during an investigation into its purchase of the GIF platform, Giphy.
Facebook bought Giphy, a website for making and sharing animated images, or GIFs, in May last year to integrate it with its photo-sharing app, Instagram. The deal was then pegged at $400 million by Axios.
Russia says Twitter mobile slowdown to remain until all banned content is removed
Russia will continue slowing down the speed of Twitter on mobile devices until all content deemed illegal is deleted, state communications regulator Roskomnadzor told Reuters, as Moscow continues to make demands of Big Tech. Russian authorities have taken steps recently to regulate technology giants more closely by imposing small fines for content violations, while also seeking to force foreign companies to have official representation in Russia and store Russians' personal data on its territory.
Twitter has been subjected to a punitive slowdown in Russia since March for posts containing child pornography, drug abuse information or calls for minors to commit suicide, Roskomnadzor has said. Twitter denies allowing its platform to be used to promote illegal behaviour. It says it has a zero-tolerance policy for child sexual exploitation and prohibits the promotion of suicide or self-harm.
Roskomnadzor said Twitter, which has fined a total of 38.4 million roubles ($511,900) this year, has systematically ignored requests to remove banned material since 2014, but has taken down more than 90% of illegal posts. The regulator has said it will seek fines on the annual turnover of Google and Facebook in Russia for repeated legal violations, threats the two companies did not comment on at the time.
China foreign exchange regulator fines Tencent's Tenpay for misconduct
China's foreign exchange regulator said it fined Tencent Holding's Tenpay for violating foreign exchange rules, as authorities step up supervision of the country's fintech industry, Reuters reported.
The State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) Shenzhen branch fined Tenpay, Tencent's online payment platform, 2.78 million yuan ($436,000) for misconduct, including conducting foreign exchange business beyond the scope of its registration, according to a statement posted on the regulator's website.
The FX regulator also gave the company a number of warnings, ordered it to rectify the violations and confiscate illegal gains, the statement said.
"In response to the problems found in the routine inspection in 2019-2020, Tenpay has immediately formulated an improvement plan and implemented it item by item, and has now completed the rectification of all of them," Tenpay said in a statement to Reuters.
Thought Machine hits $1 billion valuations in JPMorgan-backed investment: Report
British fintech startup Thought Machine has raised $200 million in a fresh round of funding that lifts its valuation above the coveted $1 billion mark, according to CNBC. The cash injection was led by Nyca Partners, a US-based venture capital firm that has previously bet on companies including Affirm and Revolut, with additional backing coming from major lenders including JPMorgan Chase, Standard Chartered and ING. Existing investors Lloyds Banking Group, Eurazeo, and SEB also increased their holdings.
Thought Machine plans to use the fresh cash to expand internationally. The firm opened an office in New York earlier this year, with about 20 employees leading its US expansion.
AMC, Sony offer NFTs to people who purchase advance Spider-Man tickets
AMC is the latest legacy company to get into the NFT game. As per CNBC, the theatre giant and Sony Pictures will offer 86,000 non-fungible tokens to members of its AMC Stubs Premiere, AMC Stubs A-List and AMC Investor Connect who order tickets for the December 16 opening of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” in advance.
Brands big and small are looking for new ways to connect with consumers and, potentially, boost some sales. With crypto-collectables soaring in popularity, marketers have latched on to the next digital wave.
AMC said more than 100 NFT designs will be available, in partnership with Cub Studios. Tickets for the film go on sale on November 29. Customers who qualify for the NFT will receive an email with redemption instructions on December 22, and the token must be redeemed by March 1.
Fintech startup Slice raises $220 million, hits "unicorn" status
Slice, an app-based credit card challenger fintech company, is India's newest unicorn, having raised $220 million in a Series B funding round led by investment giant Tiger Global and equity firm Insight Partners. The company is now valued at over $1 billion.
Existing investors also participated in the round, with investment firm Moore Strategic Ventures, Private equity firm Advent International's affiliate Sunley House Capital, India's Blume Ventures, and Japan's Gunosy Capital pitching in.
The company plans to use the capital for scaling up. Slice is also planning to step up hiring for positions like engineering, design and data science while adding new consumer products. Slice is also gearing up to launch payments on India's Unified Payments Interface (UPI). The startup currently has 600 employees and 5 million registered users on the app.
Cloud storage services startup Digiboxx gets $1.5 million in Series A funding
File storage and sharing or cloud storage services startup Digiboxx has raised $1.5 million in a pre-series-A funding round led by Capgro Fund. The firm said it will use the fund for expanding its product portfolio and talent. The maiden funding values the firm at $15 million.
Within a year of operations, it has secured more than 1 million users. It's digital file storage, sharing and data management solution and it allows individuals as well as small businesses to store personal and work data, the company said in a statement. Digiboxx is supporting eight regional languages and plans to launch in other regional languages, soon.
ABL Workspaces secures Rs 15 crore in Series A round
Coworking and flexible working space provider ABL Workspaces has raised Rs 15 crore from Canada-based Ethik Inc in a Series A funding round.
According to the company, the fresh capital is raised with the intention to expand its seating capacities and centres across Delhi-NCR and develop its team and technology.
Founded in 2017, ABL Workspaces has registered a surge in clientele by 20 to 25% month-on-month. At present, the co-working startup carters to several leading brands including Ariston Thermo (Racold), Kotak Bank, Netambit, Clovia, Simba beer among others.
Jade Forest bags $1 million from Mumbai Angels Network
D2C beverage brand Jade Forest has raised $1 million in a funding round led by Mumbai Angels Network. The funds will be used to expand the reach of the premium cocktail mixer as well as enter the ready-to-drink beverage segment, the company said in a statement. The brand plans to expand its portfolio of drinks into different verticals as well as venture into the export market in the coming years.
Jade Forest was launched in 2019 and the brand retails across the country’s top metros; in all, it is available in 23 cities pan India. The company said it is growing at 15-20% month-on-month and has five products in its portfolio.
We Founder Circle becomes the investing partner for Concepto
We Founder Circle, a founder-driven angel network, will be backing the annual virtual pitching event Concepto by IMT Ghaziabad as investing partner and facilitator. Concepto aims to help aspiring entrepreneurs and startup founders in the initial stages of their business ventures by providing them with opportunities to pitch their ideas to investors.
We Founder Circle will give these startups direct entry to their accelerator programme EvolveX, where it would be offering $20,000 seed funding. The event will comprise three rounds, including an introductory presentation, pitch deck presentation, and final pitch to the investors, the statement said.
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