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Vesta closes on $30M in an a16z-led Series A to build a new kind of mortgage infrastructure – TechCrunch

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If you’ve ever taken out a mortgage, you know how painful and tedious the process can be.

In an effort to make it simpler, faster and cheaper, a pair of former Blend employees have teamed up to build mortgage loan origination software that will connect banks, credit unions, mortgage bankers and brokers. Or in other words, they want to make it easier for financial institutions to make the whole lending process easier and more transparent for customers. 

The sheer volume of loan originations is testament to the need for more efficient loan origination systems (LOS). For example, the Mortgage Bankers Association forecasts there will be more than $2.59 trillion in loan originations in 2022. While down from the previous year, which saw a big jump in refinancings and new home purchases due to historically low interest rates, that’s still a lot of loans. It’s common knowledge that inefficiencies in the process are rampant — leading to longer closing times and higher associated fees, among other things.

During their time at Blend — a 10-year-old publicly traded company whose white label technology powers mortgage applications on the site of banks — Mike Yu and Devon Yang realized that current mortgage infrastructure has not kept up with the pace of change in more digitally native industries. This is a common refrain in the industry, which is why we are seeing an increasing number of startups pop up in the space. For example, Polly this week announced it has raised $37 million in a round led by Menlo Ventures to automate workflows for mortgage companies.

And today, Yu and Yang’s new company, San Francisco-based Vesta, is announcing it has raised $30 million in Series A financing led by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) with participation from new investor Zigg Capital. Existing backers Conversion Capital and Bain Capital Ventures also participated in the round, bringing the company’s total raised since its November 2020 inception to $35 million. In a nutshell, Vesta’s technology aims to provide a customizable platform for mortgage origination, supporting approval, underwriting and the closing and funding of home loans.  

Image Credits: Vesta

A16z general partner Angela Strange believes the mortgage industry still lacks a “consistent engine” to orchestrate and standardize loan origination. 

“It’s about change management as much as anything else because replacing the existing process is hard. It requires the technical and financial know-how to develop and implement a new backbone in a highly regulated industry,” said Strange, who joined Vesta’s board as part of the financing. “All the players — banks, brokers and title agents — agree that a new system is needed, but to date no one has successfully built it. Vesta’s team understands the depth of the problem and is technically adept to solve it.  The infrastructure they are creating will be a core driver to automation and adoption in the industry.”

Yang was Blend’s first engineering hire and led all platforms and integrations for that company. Yu was deeply involved in the company’s product launches, including Blend’s installation with Wells Fargo.

With their new capital, the duo hopes to advance on their mission “to enable a seamless, transparent experience for financial institutions and their customers through an intelligent, opinionated and intuitive workflow platform.” Part of that includes “aggressive” hiring plans — particularly across engineering and product development — and an emphasis on its go-to-market strategy.

Vesta says its SaaS model expedites the lending process with a platform that is designed to eliminate redundancies, reduce compliance risk and help lenders better understand, measure and improve their origination processes. That includes the aim of serving as a system of record for loan origination data and documents, a customizable workflow engine that orchestrates the origination process across the various parties involved and open APIs and ecosystem so that lenders can choose their partners or build their own point solutions.

In fact, Yu says the company’s biggest differentiator is that it is focused on only being the core platform, and on offering developer tools and APIs to enable other point solutions (such as the aforementioned Polly) to integrate “seamlessly with the system of record.”

“This is very contrary to the incumbents,” Yu told TechCrunch. “We view the future of mortgage infrastructure, and financial services infrastructure in general, to be a modular ecosystem where lenders and banks are choosing the various point solutions that are best in class for their use case and combining them seamlessly.”

Christian Lawless, managing partner at Conversion Capital, called the challenge that Vesta is tackling a “massive, non-obvious” opportunity in a “highly fragmented” industry.  

Historically, much of the mortgage market has been built atop antiquated technology from the 1980s which has slowed progress, hindered innovation, access to affordable rates, and stifled competition,” he wrote via email. “While modern innovation in other industries favors unbundling and open architecture, today’s mortgage process does not. It is long and painful, weighed down by antiquated technologies and highly manual operations that were built to lock customers in with high break fees and costly integrations. This has forced a growing divide between the modern, digitally native mortgage companies with more efficient and profitable workflow engines, and their antiquated peers which continue to lose market share.”

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Rumors confirmed, Street Fighter 6 kicks off in June 2023

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Fighting Game fans are excited now that Capcom announced that Street Fighter 6 is coming to PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S and PC on June 2, 2023. The game was initially announced in February 2022, but that reveal did not include a specific release date beyond 2023.

The trailer at The Game Awards focused on new mini games and the international setting. In addition to the 18 previously announced fighter, the trailer also confirms that several new fighters — Dee Jay, Manon, Marisa and JP — that will join the game’s roster.

Notably, the June 2 release date for Street Fighter 6 may be a strategic choice for Capcom. June is the very beginning of Q3.

The last installment of the franchise — Street Fighter V — released nearly seven years ago so fans have been eager for another installment. A day before The Game Awards, the game’s June release date was leaked via the PlayStation Store.

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5 Things to Do Now to Propel Your Business in 2023

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Entrepreneurship is a daily leap of faith. In times of economic uncertainty, that leap may feel like a dive off a cliff. We are in one of those times. It likely will take months to fully re-adjust to the forces that have pummeled the world’s economy, and to entrepreneurs, months can feel like years.

With the right playbook, entrepreneurs can survive and thrive in whatever economic scenario. Here are five things you can do to propel your business ahead now and through the difficulties of business cycles for years to come.

1. Learn the lessons of more challenging times

A rocky economy presents a unique opportunity to make tough decisions about the business plan. Everything is open to reexamination. How has the market changed? Are your customers facing challenges that create new opportunities for your solutions? How do new conditions change your assumptions, and what actions do you need to take in response?

Critically evaluate your product roadmap. Is this the time to pivot or become more aggressive with your current plans? Prioritize the highest margin features that are achievable in the next twelve months. Push out projects that don’t make that list, and re-assign resources accordingly. Re-assess pricing. Even as inflation tiptoes back from the highest levels in forty years, raw material and transportation costs remain way up. What will impact your customers if you adjust the pricing or add surcharges to offset these costs, at least temporarily?

It’s been a rough year for hiring. Many companies took the talent they could get. If there are employees or gig workers who would fare better in a different job, now is the time to let them go. Make tough-minded corrections that will pay off overall — corrections that might be avoidable in less challenging times.

Related: How to Turn Inflation and Recession into Your Largest Business Opportunity

2. Tighten your grip on cash

Venture capitalists are pulling back. In the third quarter, Crunchbase reported that funding for startups in U.S. and Canada fell 50% year-over-year. Valuations are down across the board. If you are fortunate enough to be a later-stage startup that benefited from VC largess in 2021, make your last raise last longer than intended.

Keep your dry powder dry, and put off going for another round until the markets even out. Reemphasize the basics for early-stage companies with less market validation and greater distance between now and a potential exit. Delay all capital expenditures. Leverage the hybrid work model if possible, to reduce rent and other office expenses. Continue with Zoom or Google Meet. Now is not the time to rack up travel costs. Re-negotiate fees and terms with service providers. Seek credit terms with key suppliers, in a word, bootstrap.

3. Talk to customers, in person. Now.

How have the business needs of your customers — whether paying or beta — changed over the last 18 months? Are there benefits to your solution that have more recognized value now? Nearly every business, for example, from corporates to startups, has been forced to re-learn the lessons of supply chain management. Startups that can help their customers make better business decisions based on artificial intelligence (AI), reduce costs by improving inventory management or protect against out-of-stock scenarios by identifying and building relationships with new, more local sources of supply will have an edge.

Related: Finding Validation in Serving Customers

4. Non-dilutive capital

According to PitchBook, venture capitalists are showing greater interest in portfolio companies “whose satellite, robotics and software tools can do double duty” in military and commercial markets. International conflicts are one reason, of course.

Another is that the defense and military security industries are generally viewed as recession-proof. Our firm routinely encourages portfolio companies to consider non-dilutive funding from the Small Business Administration — grants to support cutting-edge technologies range from $150,000 to more than $1 million.

Navigating the application process isn’t for the faint of heart. A startup must be realistic about the work involved, but in many states, there are resources to help. Besides the funding, severe responses to agency requests for proposals are reviewed and evaluated by technologists. At a minimum, this can be terrific feedback and a great source of industry contacts.

5. Blue-chip cultures attract blue-chip talent

Company culture can be an asset or a liability. An inclusive, rich culture helps key hires say yes. Finding stakeholders that believe what you believe and are aligned with your team’s values significantly improves the odds that they will stick with you in good times or bad.

After months of “great resignation” fever, the over-heated demand for talent may be cooling off. Maybe offers aren’t as fast or grand as they were a year ago. Maybe Twitter won’t be the only advanced technology business to let people go. Regardless, the search for great talent isn’t a faucet that a young company turns off and on. A startup might modulate the timing or the number of hires but stand at the ready to recruit and filter for culture fit.

Related: 3 Ways to Stay Competitive in the War for Talent

With the right mindset and intentional approach, an entrepreneur can make 2023 a year to strive and thrive. As Yogi Berra, my favorite baseball player of all time, said, “Swing at the strikes.” In business, like baseball, the right swing can turn even the most challenging pitch into a hit.

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Akros Technologies, an AI-powered asset management platform, raises funding from Z Holdings • TechCrunch

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Artificial intelligence is taking over almost every industry. The investment and finance industry is no exception. In Deloitte’s 2019 report, the firm reveals that AI is transforming the financial ecosystem to reduce costs and make operations more efficient by providing automated insights and alternative data, analysis and risk management.

Technology such as AI has digitized the finance sector, ranging from payments and remittances to lending. However, asset management is still in the nascent stage of digitization, according to the chief strategy officer and co-founder of Akros Technologies, Jin Chung.

Akros Technologies wants to disrupt the current asset management industry via its AI-driven asset management software platform that mines market data for stocks. Akros just raised $2.3 million from Z Venture Capital, the corporate venture capital wholly owned by Z Holdings, which also owns the Japanese messaging app Line and internet portal Yahoo Japan.

Akros intends to strengthen strategic ties with Z Holdings via strategic investment, the startup said. The latest funding, which brings Akros’s total amount raised to $6.1 million since its 2021 inception, will help Akros to scale its software platform and asset management products and ramp up its users, including local and global financial institutions and fintech companies.

The outfit is already in discussions with potential partners to expand its AI-powered product called portfolio management as a service, or PMaaS, an all-in-one operating system for portfolio management. Chung explained to TechCrunch that PMaaS “enables B2B clients such as financial institutions, fintech startups and robot-advisors to launch their own exchange-traded funds (ETFs) without having to set up ETF teams and infrastructure.”

He added that it expects to secure more than five B2B clients in the first quarter of 2023.

The startup claims that its AI-powered portfolio management platform can reduce “the overall cost structure [of] the traditional fund development,” including management fees and unnecessary fees involved in the investment process, by more than 80%. The outfit aims to maximize the finance management performance of data-driven ETFs and offer a portfolio management solution via the PMaaS for Akros’s users to help them compete with global ETF institutions like Vanguard or JPMorgan.

In August, Contents Technologies launched Korean pop music, also known as K-pop, and Korea Entertainment ETF, on the NYSE Arca Exchange under the ticker KPOP, using Akros’s PMaaS solution to develop the ETFs. In addition, Akros listed an AI-driven target income ETF, called Akros Monthly Payout ETF (ticker: MPAY), on the NYSE in May with monthly distributions at an annualized target rate of 7%, according to the startup.

To build a slew of investment strategies that lower the cost of portfolio modeling and generate scores of investment portfolios, Akros applies a generative AI model based on a decision transformer, which predicts future actions through the sequencing model, Chung said, adding the company also employs GPT-3 natural language processing (NLP) to analyze unstructured language data.

Akros plans continuously to enhance its engineering technology by bolstering its business to disrupt the asset management market and attract new partners across the globe, including Japan, Singapore and the U.S., co-founder and chief executive officer Kyle Moon said in a statement.

Founded by CEO Moon, CSO Jin and chief marketing officer Justin Gim, Akros employs seven people.

Co-founders of Akros Technologies: (Left to right) Justin Gim, Kyle Moon and Jin Chung. Image Credits: Akros Technologies

Moon previously worked for Qraft Technologies as head of AI research and CSO and had experience listing four ETFs on NYSE. Before co-founding Akros, Gim had more than nine years of experience in the asset management industry; Chung did research work for Bayesian deep learning in autonomous driving cars at Oxford Robotics Institute.

In March, Akros raised $3.75 million in funding from PeopleFund, a South Korean peer-to-peer lending platform. The company declined to provide its valuation when asked.

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