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[Funding alert] Early cancer-detection startup Epigeneres Biotech raises $ 6M in Series B round

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Mumbai-based Epigeneres Biotech, the exclusive licensee in India of Singapore-based Tzar Labs, has raised $ 6 million in a Series B funding round. Lead investors in this round include Kotak Investment Advisors, Moez Daya (of Satya Capital), and LetsVenture Angel Fund. Other investors include Ashish Kacholia, East River Advisors, One Decacorn, Nandita Advisors, and Chockalingam Valliappa, to name a few. This funding further embellishes the Company’s already illustrious investor list, which features the likes of HCG, Torrent Pharma, Vijay Karnani (Ex-Goldman Sachs, India), Venkat Ramaswamy (of Edelweiss), and Sanjeev Khandelwal (of K-Labs). The Company has V Krishnan (Promoter, Justdial) and Shailesh Haribhakti (BOD Torrent Pharma) as board members.

Speaking on the funding, Nitin Deshmukh of Kotak said,

“The ability to detect cancer through a simple blood test at Stage Zero can be a major breakthrough that can change the way cancer diagnosis is approached. We see this as an excellent opportunity to partner in the pioneering growth story of a home-grown Indian company, that is innovating diagnostic technologies in oncology”

“I am proud and excited to be backing this transformational early-detection technology, which will be a dramatic enabler in cancer detection, treatment and in safer cancer drug development. I have a strong conviction that Epigeneres’ technology and research-backed approach is scalable, value driven, performance backed, and a remarkable investor opportunity.” (Moez Daya is a founder and partner at Satya Capital, founder and ex CEO of Celtel International),” added Moez Daya.

Nimesh Kampani who led the round on LetsVenture said, “We believe that the Epigeneres Biotech offering will transform the way cancer care is delivered with real-time, comprehensive and swift insights, something never experienced before in India or the world. We see tremendous potential and are excited to back the Company in its accelerated growth.”

In May 2021, Epigeneres Biotech announced their early detection cancer test (co-developed  with Tzar Labs, Singapore – a specialised molecular diagnostic company), with a pioneering breakthrough in RNA bio-markers technology which can even detect cancer in Stage Zero (i.e., before tumour formation). With initial approvals in place, the latest round of investment will go towards expanding its Lab facilities, scaling operations, and development of an AI platform to launch the service in India – a world first. And, continue bringing the best diagnostic technology to patients and providers.

Ashish Tripathi, Founder & Chairman, Epigeneres said,

“This latest round of financing will help us continue our upward trajectory in early detection of cancer. The investment will go toward expanding the R&D team, scaling operations, and development of new products, even as we continue bringing out the finest healthcare technologies and solutions. We have received very positive feedback from the market and with the help of our investors and the Government, we will soon begin to commercialise the cancer test; first in India, and then at a global level.”

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Experts weigh in on how ONDC is set to transform the ecommerce business landscape in India

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The Open Network For Digital Commerce (ONDC) is not a platform. A platform suggests that to transact, everyone has to be in a closed loop. ONDC by design is a network of networks. So it is completely open access, it’s unbundled and interoperable,clarified Thampy Koshy, CEO, ONDC, dispelling some of the issues in the minds of businesses around ONDC.

Thampy highlighted that ONDC is not a platform but a list of protocols enabling the exchange of products and services. There is no central platform; it only allows multiple platforms to talk to each other. Anybody who has a product or service to sell can make it available in the open network that any smart buying platform can access. Thampy was speaking at a panel discussion titled ‘The network effect: ONDC & India’s ecommerce’ at TechSparks 2022. Other panelists included Anjali Bansal, Founder, Avaana Capital & Steering Committee Member, ONDC and Kumar P Saha, Founder, ndhgo.

The interoperable network has started its beta testing process with categories like groceries, food and beverages for small retailers in Bengaluru. ONDC plans to add home and kitchen, agriculture, fashion, apparel, footwear and accessories across India by the next few months. The ONDC pilot is currently up in about 80-85 cities.

Opportunities for smaller sellers

As a buyer or as a seller, it’s your choice as an individual or a small business or a large business, who you choose to transact with. Think UPI, but UPI with physical goods and services. So of course, there is a much higher degree of complexity,said Anjali.

The network, according to her, is meant to be a public good. It’s meant for many entrepreneurs and founders, just like how UPI generated a whole set of new business models, ONDC, she hopes will generate a similar set of new business models that will create enormous consumer value, shareholder value and eventually national value.

Kumar believes ONDC will not just be restricted to the MSMEs. I think it will be equally big for the enterprises and large businesses. And this is just the beginning, he said.

Hyperlocal and kirana is where we have started with because I think that has a very immediate consumer effect and visibility. But the full power of the network of ONDC absolutely applies to large enterprises to mid-sized enterprises and consumers and kiranas,said Anjali.

Ensuring consumer trust in the network

Any network participant who wants to be a part of ONDC, Thampy outlined, would have to first undergo a certain set of due diligence – who they are, what kind of business they are in, what’s their credibility and so on, so forth. Secondly, they have to ensure that their IT systems are certified by the team who’s developing the entire protocol. Third is that they define a network participant agreement, which is common for everybody. It’s not a negotiated agreement, whether you’re a large entity like a bank or a financial institution, or a small startup – all views on the same network agreement which binds you to a certain behaviour in the network.

And this network agreement will also include as its part the network policies as existing today, and as they evolve from time to time. These policies are essentially how they have to behave among themselves and with the outside world. And this is also digitally trackable, so it’s all part of the protocol itself. Failure to adhere to the policies will lead to penalties and suspensions.

While you are in a network, whether you’re a seller platform or a buyer platform, your performance in the network is continuously tracked and rated, and it’s available to the whole world. Once you are there as a business and have established your credibility with your GSTN number, pan number and so on, you are a tracked person to the community as a whole,added Thampy.

Most people come into business to do business in a sustainable way, said Kumar. You live and die by your reputation. So if you build a reputation for good quality, you’ll get lots more business, and if you develop a bad reputation for bad quality, you don’t get business,he added.

Setting a global example

Ecommerce is a global problem, where everybody is trying to find a solution. For instance, the American economy is trying to find solutions over regulation by developing the American Innovation and Choice Online Act. Similarly, Europe is trying to ensure fair and open digital markets with the Digital Markets Act. But India is showing a global example,said Thampy.

India is trying to use technology and markets with enabling policies, which is a truly democratic method. India showing how to use the market to the big capitalists in the world is a fantastic global example,he concluded.

Techsparks 2022

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Kenya’s Uncover raises $1M to expand skincare product enterprise across Africa • TechCrunch

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Africa’s beauty and personal care market is growing accelerated by its growing young and fashion conscious population, increasing spending power, and urbanization. The market’s potential has in recent years attracted major brands, with Fenty Beauty by Rihanna and LVMH being the latest entrants.

Niche local brands are also emerging to offer tailored beauty and skin care products. Kenya-based Uncover Skincare is one of them and it seeks to revolutionize the sector through data-led manufacturing that is aligned with the needs of the modern African woman.

Backed by a $1 million seed funding, Uncover is scaling its operations in Kenya and expanding to Nigeria in January. This is after recently introducing a new range of skin products in the market, with plans to launch more next year. Its products are sold through its online platform, on marketplaces, and in the stores of partner brands.

“We are using the funding to launch more products, go into additional markets, and also double down on our tech and data to effectively produce, reach and market to our audience,” Uncover co-founder and CEO, Sneha Mehta told TechCrunch.

FirstCheck Africa, Samata Capital, Future Africa, IgniteXL participated in the round, in addition angel investors ex-SokoWatch COO, Kwenhui Tawah, and ex-L’Oreal executive and current WPP Scangroup CEO, Patricia Ithau. The new funding brings the total amount raised by Uncover, since launch in 2020, to $1.225 million.

Uncover is scaling its operations in Kenya and expanding to Nigeria in January. This is after recently introducing a new range of skin products in the market, with plans to launch more next year. Image Credits: Uncover Skincare

Mehta co-founded Uncover with Jade Oyateru (COO) and Catherine Lee (Advisor) inspired to build a data driven, digital-first, health and wellness brand for the African woman, by leveraging their experience and expertise.

Mehta has over 10 years’ experience helping businesses scale across Africa, while Oyateru is a nutritionist and consumer goods expert. Lee is an economist turned filmmaker.

Uncover was launched after incubation at Antler. It uses African botanicals and outsources its manufacturing to Korean original design manufacturers, who they say ensures its products are “healthy, safe, affordable and effective.”

“Our production happens in Korea (one of the world’s biggest beauty markets) , where we are leveraging the best technology, labs, and scientists in the world who understand stability testing, safe ingredients, and formulations. We are able to deliver because women in our community have graciously provided information and tried our products, to help us formulate specifically for this market,” said Mehta.

The startup also offers virtual consultations through an in-house esthetician, and produces skin-tertainment content to reach more users, and recently introduced a skin quiz for personalized recommendations.

“I have experienced the lack of safety in products firsthand, the lack of information and the feeling of being stuck. This is part of the reason why we are building these tools for people to get personalized information, and advice including diet tips.”

Mehta says since launch the startup’s revenue has grown 20-fold, buoyed by the growing demand for its products, and the community it continues to build.

“We have had incredible traction since, and our community has grown from zero to about 60,000 women in Kenya in two years… we have built brand awareness, loyalty, and our values of education and knowledge and empowerment have been established at the market,” she said.

Uncover hopes to continue building and strengthening this community, starting with Kenya and Nigeria, which are the next major beauty and personal-brand markets in the continent after South Africa.

 

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Experts deliberate on technologies leading to the rise of gaming and content in India

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Technology is seeping into every aspect of the world and online gaming is no stranger to it. Over the years, online gaming and esports have been through a lot of changes and today this industry is more advanced and progressive. Technology has enabled a variety of changes which is why online gaming continues to grow in popularity.

To discuss these new-age technologies in depth and how they are changing the gaming landscape, a panel discussion was held on Playing to the fantasy: Rise of gaming & content in India at TechSparks 2022 featuring Gaurav Barman, Senior Business Development Manager, AWS; Vinayak Shrivastav Co-founder and CEO, VideoVerse; Ranga Jagannath, Senior Director – Growth, Agora; and Ratheesh Mallaya, Director of Products, Zynga.

Here are some of the key highlights from the discussion:

Tech enabling the growth of esports in India

The panel discussion started with understanding the rise of esports gaming in India. Despite being around for more than a decade, it’s only recently seen a boom in popularity. The current size of the Indian esports industry is Rs 250 crore and the forecast for the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) is expected to be 46 percent in the next four years. The esports industry is expected to see a growth of four-folds estimated to be Rs 1,100 crore by 2025.

Technology is a major propelling force that’s driving this rise. Gaurav of AWS shed more light by discussing a few of the technologies that AWS provides that help in building more interactive engagement for esports and gaming platforms.

Esports companies in India can build engagement, which is much more interactive by offering players the ability to communicate with each other beyond linguistic or geographical boundaries. This can be done by providing multilingual, real-time, translation across geographies. Companies can also build real-time recommendation systems in terms of feed that the user sees, said Gaurav.

Vinayak of VideoVerse spoke about how technology that aids in the production of short-form content is going to play a key role in driving the popularity of esports.I think what’s important for all of us to see is that e-gaming as an entire market is just continuously changing. It’s going to continuously keep evolving over the next couple of years, he said. In such a scenario, Vinayak believes that the services that VideoVerse provides with their flagship product Magnifi will play an important role in amplifying the entire ecosystem.

Magnifi uses state-of-the-art AI and ML technology to auto-produce key moments and highlights from live matches within seconds. Such kind of short-form content is what Vinayak feels is the need of the hour and will drive the growth of the esports market as well.

Hits and misses in the industry

The panelists further deliberated what has been working well for the gaming industry and what has tanked completely. Ranga of Agora spoke in detail about real-time engagement and how greatly it has benefited the gaming landscape.

What we’ve seen is that apps and games which have embedded technologies that are truly real-time tend to be able to monetise much better and significantly more, as compared to games that either don’t have real-time engagement, or they have laggy real-time engagement. Games that have real-time engagement also tend to be more active with better user retention, he remarked.

He further explained that it doesn’t just stop at real-time engagement, but the ability for gaming companies to analyse what’s happening in that real-time engagement is what is working in their favour.

While it’s important to know what is working for the esports landscape, it’s even more important to understand what’s not. Ratheesh shared some pearls of wisdom from some of the failures that Zynga has faced.

When you’re looking to build local, there is definitely a big opportunity out there. But that has to be on top of a really strong core that is fun and engaging for the users. We launched a game around the time of Independence Day in India based on a match game, but it did not turn out the way we wanted it to because of this reason,he said.

Ratheesh highlighted that there is a great scope for games with Indian IP and in fact, according to a recent report, about 60 percent of the audience that doesn’t play games have said they will play if there is an Indian IP. But just building a game on something vernacular or Indian IP will not work out. He also pointed out how games that are currently top-grossing like Garena Free Fire, Coinmaster, and Candy Crush all have great visuals and quality and that’s what is enticing users to stay hooked on the game.

Talking about other hits, Gaurav emphasised how Web3 technologies and blockchain will hugely benefit the industry. Gaming companies are now looking at making digital assets interoperable and with the advent of the Metaverse, an entire make-believe world is possible where players can socialise, connect, and share content beyond the scope of gaming.

From my perspective, technology is going to play a pivotal role in the evolution of this industry. Be it blockchain, NFT, or metaverse, all of that will come together as a platform where interoperability is enabled through underlying technology and used to build these solutions at this point in time, he said.

Along with Web3 technologies, Vinayak shared how cloud-based video editing and streaming solutions will become pivotal for the overall growth of the ecosystem as they’ll make broadcasting, editing, and collaborating with peers in the industry much easier.

Microtransactions in the gaming industry

The panel ended by discussing microtransactions in the gaming industry where Ratheesh shared some useful insights on how transactions and in-app purchases have to be tailored according to the genre of the game. There are different monetisation strategies like subscription-based model, battle pass kind of monetisation strategy or an impulse buy. Those are all options available to you. But what strategy you deploy depends completely on the genre of the game, he shared. He also suggested that microtransactions on gaming apps must be personalised to the users’ needs and that they must be pivotal in framing up the monetisation strategy for any gaming app.

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