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4 years after launch, fintech platform Esusu saddles unicorn with $130M Series B – TechCrunch

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Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for January 27, 2022! Today’s news is a pretty positive roundup. New fund? Oh yeah. Huge rounds? You bet. We even have new unicorns to discuss. On the other side of the coin, the IPO market appears more ossified than open. – Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Facebook’s stablecoin bet proves unstable: So much for Facebook – er, Meta – taking over the blockchain world with its own stablecoin. The assets of Diem, for which Meta was a key consortium member, are reportedly being sold for a few hundred million dollars. Cheap? No. But also a fraction of the hopes that the project once had.
  • The new seed, Series A and Series B benchmarks: How far have the standards shifted for early-stage startups when it comes to revenues? The good news is that we have the data. The bad news is that it’s mostly what you expected – startups are raising larger, later rounds with less revenue than before. Growth, it turned out, was the more surprising delta to examine.
  • New funds! TechCrunch has notes on a number of new funds out today that are worth digging into. This Week in Fintech has a fund now, and Portugal’s Indico Capital Partners has €50 million for its ocean tech fund. There are others. South Korean internet conglomerate Naver Group has a $100 million fund for what TechCrunch described as “metaverse creators.” It’s amazing how fast that word became ubiquitous, and therefore passé.

Startups/VC

We have a host of mega-rounds to chat through today, but first some words of warning: It appears that the IPO climate is frozen shut.

What that will mean for companies like Esusu, which just raised $130 million, or Ascend, which just raised $280 million in equity and debt for its BNPL-flavored approach to insurance, is that there is a mountain of private-market wealth out there that needs an exit. The question is just when those checks can be cashed. And if they will get more than a dollar back per dollar invested.

IPO issues or not, the crypto world is busy taking on more external capital. One particular play in the blockchain world is the infrastructure effort, building products that will support other products. This is often a good bet. Twilio is an example of the infra game coming up trumps. AWS is another. So when another crypto backend player like Fireblocks pushes its valuation to $8 billion, we know what’s going on. (And speaking of crypto, don’t forget the impending tax issue or the startups working to keep folks off the government’s naughty list.)

And now, our regular funding round rundown:

  • Quan wants to take on employee churn: There are two kinds of employee exits, from the corporate perspective: regretted churn and unregretted churn. The former is when someone you wanted to keep quits, and the latter is when someone you wanted to fire does you a favor. Quan, which just raised capital, wants to tackle the former by, we report, bridging the “gap between engagement surveys and well-being perks.”
  • Bloss is building a company for expecting parents: With birth rates in decline in many parts of the world, it’s clear that we’re in a new era when it comes to parenting. A time when it’s more choice than default. Bloss wants to link expecting parents with experts, which makes good sense, given that babies don’t precisely come with a handbook when they enter the world. The company just raised a pre-seed round.
  • Parthean will teach you personal finance whether you like it or not: That’s slightly unfair, but the idea behind Parthean is that most folks aren’t great with money and need help. So, it is going to teach users concepts and then prompt them to take a particular action toward, in theory, financial health. Natasha’s story here is great, and worth reading if you are curious about the intersection of edtech and fintech. The company just raised $1.1 million.
  • The.com is a website builder with a great URL: Short URLs were mega-hype back in the day when you had to have a .com or live a life apart from the consumer spotlight. Things have since changed. But The.com is taking us back to the ’90s with its great name and product: website building. But unlike the template-focused builders of the past, this time the company is using “blocks.” As someone with both websites and no coding skills, this appeals to me.
  • The Vets is a bet that you want the vet to come to your step: Flush with $40 million in new capital, The Vets wants to make animal care an at-home affair. As someone who has spent far too much time in the last year standing outside his local vet, waiting for a certain puppy to finish her checkup while, variously, burning up in the summer and freezing in the winter, I love this idea.

And there was more. France’s Sigfox, which raised more than $300 million, is dead. A Quizup founder is building an MMO, and PortalOne raised $60 million for its “immersive” gaming platform. Whew! What a day!

Dear Sophie: 3 questions about immigration and naturalization

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

My F-1 OPT will run out this June. My employer has agreed to register me in the H-1B lottery in March.

What are my options if I’m not selected in the lottery?

—Gritty Grad

Dear Sophie,

I’m in the U.S. with an L-1A visa that will max out later this year. My wife has been with me during the whole period on an L-2. Can my wife apply for H-1B this year?

Would she need to leave the country to activate it?

—Helpful Hubby

Dear Sophie,

I have a 10-year green card that will expire later this year. I’ve been married to a U.S. citizen for 11 years, but we are in the process of divorcing.

Can I apply for U.S. citizenship even after my divorce?

—New Year, New Life

(TechCrunch+ is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

  • LG Energy Solution goes public: The IPO market is closed, but there are always exceptions. Such is the case with LG’s electric vehicle battery maker. For obvious reasons – the global car industry is racing toward an all-electric future as quickly as its aging leaders can manage. And all those cars are going to need batteries. The company is now worth a little more than $98 billion.
  • Messenger updates its E2E encryption: While governments around the world continue to try to find enough backbone to make the comically bad choice of banning encryption, Meta is moving along with its work to make its Messenger service more secure. Good!
  • And if you have longed to pay for yet another streaming service, the good news is that Disney+ is coming to 42 more countries later this year.

TechCrunch Experts

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Image Credits: SEAN GLADWELL / Getty Images

If you have a software consultant that you think other startup founders should know about, fill out the survey here.

Read one of the testimonials we’ve received below!

Consultant: Parkside Interactive

Recommended by: Anonymous

Testimonial: “Their UX expert review (i.e., user observations) of our application showed that the average time on one of the tasks was around 50 seconds. The resulting recommendation was to introduce a shortcut, which after implementation reduced the average time-on-task to 20 seconds.”



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These are the 12 big bets of future disruptive technologies

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The 12 big bets on future technologies as per Nasscom report

The National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) and Boston Consultancy Group (BCG) have identified 12 big bet technologies that can potentially disrupt markets in the next 3-5 years.

A report titled “Sandboxing into the Future: Decoding Technology’s Biggest Bets”, has identified these technologies of the future: autonomous analytics, Artificial Reality and Virtual Reality, autonomous driving, computer vision, deep learning, distributed ledger, edge computing, sensortech, smart robots, spacetech, sustainability tech, and 5G/6G.

AR VR concept image

The report noted that these 12 technologies will unravel in diverse ways, giving way to regional and vertical-specific big bets. While buyers in North America and Europe are betting on technologies such as autonomous analytics, APAC is likely to focus more on 5G/6G technologies, sensortech and smart robotics. Overall, technology buyers anticipate that investments in emerging technologies will account for 70%- 80% of tech spending by 2030.

“Going forward, it will be interesting to see how businesses will put their bets on emerging technologies and how they would be taking ahead the tech revolution for the larger good of the society,” said NASSCOM President Debjani Ghosh.

Cognizant acquires Utegration

Leading technology services company Cognizant has said it bought Houston-based Utegration LLC, a full-service consulting and solutions provider specializing in SAP  technology and SAP-certified products for the energy and utilities sectors.

Cognizant will gain approximately 350 employees in North America and India upon the close of this acquisition.

“We believe Utegration’s rich industry expertise and differentiated portfolio of energy and utilities-focused products and accelerators is a perfect complement to our SAP practice,” said Rob Vatter, Executive Vice President of Cognizant’s Enterprise Platform Services.

Utegration serves over 50 North America-based clients in the energy and utilities sector with solutions across four domains aligned to market needs: customer experience, billing and advanced metering infrastructure, managed services, data science and analytics, and finance and asset performance management.

HCLTech partners with Intel and Mavenir for 5G solutions

HCLTech, a leading Indian technology services company revealed a new collaboration with Intel Corporation and Mavenir to develop and provide scalable private 5G network solutions for communication service providers (CSP) and broader cross-vertical enterprises.

Through this new collaboration, the companies will work closely on a range of projects and activities across enablement, go-to-market and sales acceleration, with the goal of delivering more 5G solutions to CSPs, Internet of Things (IoT) and enterprise verticals, a statement said.

HCL

The three companies will work cross-functionally to add new offerings and help generate greater value for enterprises. The companies will develop a cloud-native enterprise-to-enterprise (E2E) architecture of an Intel Xeon processor-based 5G solution leveraging Mavenir RAN, Intel SmartEdge and HCLTech’s management, orchestration and automation services.

“There is currently a great need for scalable, reliable 5G solutions across nearly every enterprise and industry,” said Kalyan Kumar, Chief Technology Officer, HCLTech. “This need represents a major opportunity to innovate and deliver solutions that will have a major impact on business operations and outcomes.”

Collins Aerospace to expand operations in India

Collins Aerospace, which is part of Raytheon Technologies has announced that it will be expanding its operations in India. The company inaugurated its Global Engineering & Tech Centre and a new India Operations Centre to mark its 25th year in Bengaluru.

Collins Aerospace has also pledged significant capital and manpower investments over the next five years given that the Indian aerospace & defence (A&D) market is projected to reach $70 billion by 2030.

The team at Collins India is actively collaborating with Indian R&D organisations like NAL, CMTI, DRDO for study into materials, additive manufacturing, pre-qualification tests and other important projects.

Wipro bags top honour for workplace inclusion

Wipro Limited, a leading Indian technology services and consulting company, has been recognised as a ‘Gold’ employer by the India Workplace Equality Index (IWEI) 2022.

Awarded to the top employers by IWEI, the gold employer is the highest of 3 levels, where an organisation is credited with ‘embedding inclusion in the workplace.’ Highlights of Wipro’s efforts in this journey include recognition of Wipro’s leadership in India to advance LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace, from organisational policies to external communications.

wipro

It also demonstrates a long-term and in-depth commitment towards LGBTQ+ inclusion, where Wipro has implemented several initiatives enabling its employees to become active allies for the community.

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Corraling Kafka: New ecosystem simplifies, democratizes event-streaming data for enterprises

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Aiven, a cloud-data platform based in Helsinki, has fleshed out an open-source ecosystem for Apache Kafka, a popular event-streaming platform. The new offerings promise to help enterprises consolidate their Kafka infrastructure using open-source components. 

“Event streaming is transitioning toward the main stack of the IT infrastructure,” Filip Yonov, director of data streaming product management at Aiven, told VentureBeat. “At Aiven, we have witnessed the fastest growth in the event-streaming domain compared to all other products.”

Apache Kafka provides the infrastructure for wiring streams of data together from databases, apps, IoT devices, and third-party sources. Kafka helps organize raw data into event streams that reduce data size and are easier to integrate into event-driven apps and analytics. Enterprises use it to improve customer experiences, build the industrial metaverse and monitor patients. 

However, building out a Kafka infrastructure involves a lot of moving parts. Aiven has consolidated all the necessary tooling into one place to simplify this process. Key new enhancements include support for Apache Flink and data governance. These complement existing tools for connecting services, replicating data and managing schemas for Kafka deployments.

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The need for simplicity

LinkedIn originally developed Kafka to integrate data across its large microservices infrastructure and open-sourced it in 2011. Over the intervening years, large enterprises have customized the tooling for their own needs, and several vendors have rolled out proprietary enhancements to fill in gaps around governance and integration. Many organizations use Kafka for various data pipeline scenarios, such as transferring data between applications in real-time or moving data from a database to a data warehouse.

Yonov told VentureBeat that as Kafka clusters become larger and more complex, they require additional tooling and governance to ensure proper operation and management. “Unlike existing Kafka solutions, Aiven’s offering does not require organizations to choose between proprietary tools and vendor lock-in or open-source technologies without support,” he said.

Improving the developer experience with event streaming

One essential aspect has been to democratize the experience for working with event-streaming data. The open-source tool, Klaw, provides a self-service interface for managing Kafka clusters. Kafkawize, which develops Klaw, recently joined Aiven’s open-source development office in September to help integrate their tools together. Now they are working together to improve self-service, simplify user management and enforce data governance. 

Another significant development was to connect streaming data to SQL queries familiar to data engineers. The new Aiven for Apache Flink tools allows teams to process larger volumes of events and run real-time analytics using SQL. Aiven provides this as a fully managed service that reduces the complexity of deploying a Flink cluster. It also simplifies the integration with Aiven for Apache Kafka to filter, enrich and aggregate events on the fly. 

Aiven hopes to replicate the success of other open-source frameworks like PostgreSQL, Kubernetes and Linux, built by a healthy mix of contributions from various communities. 

“We truly believe that fostering an open-source, community-driven and inclusive ecosystem of technologies around Apache Kafka can drive further innovations and new developments in the data-streaming domain, ensuring the long sustainment of the technology in the future,” Yonov said.

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How do tech layoffs impact PERM and the green card process? • TechCrunch

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Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

TechCrunch+ members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie,

I handle HR and immigration at our tech company. We filed a PERM for one of our team members about five months ago for her EB-2 green card, and we’re awaiting certification from the Labor Department. We’ve been gearing up to start PERM for another employee.

Will the layoffs in the tech industry affect the PERM process for EB-2 and EB-3 green cards? What will happen to my team members’ green cards if our company has to do layoffs?

— Pondering in People Ops

Dear Pondering,

It’s wonderful that you’re steadfastly supporting your team with green card sponsorship. This can provide unfathomable peace of mind for people still on non-immigrant status in the U.S. through the green card process. We’re here to help ease the holiday season with education on the options for both companies and individuals.

Let’s dive into the winter wonderland of PERM and employment-sponsored green cards.

Will tech layoffs impact the PERM process?

For the permanent labor certification application — or PERM — your company is currently working on, the short answer is yes, the layoffs may have several different effects depending on where your company is in the process.

The PERM green card process is a multistep and time-intensive one involving a labor market recruitment test requiring employers to demonstrate to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) that there are no qualified U.S. workers (U.S. citizens and green card holders) who are qualified, willing and able to fill the EB-2 or EB-3 PERM position. PERM also aims to ensure that the opportunities, wages and working conditions of U.S. citizens and green card holders are protected.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

If you are in or will soon start the PERM recruiting phase, you may receive a larger number of job applicants for your job posting due to the recent layoffs in the tech sector. With an uptick in potentially qualified applicants, it could prove more difficult to demonstrate that there is no qualified U.S. worker to fill the PERM role. If a qualified U.S. worker is ready, willing and able to fill the PERM role, the labor market test fails and the DOL will not grant the company’s PERM labor certification.

Keep in mind that unemployment is a big concern for the DOL. During the last recession, when millions of jobs were lost, DOL increased its scrutiny of the adjudication of PERMs, particularly within the financial sector, to ensure displaced U.S. workers were considered for positions before international talent.

At the moment, the U.S. unemployment rate is under 4%, so we have a ways to go before we match the 10.6% unemployment rate in 2010. Although there have been many layoffs in tech, I remain optimistic, as there are other indicators that the economy is still strong and there are many job requirements in and beyond the tech sector.



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