Startups Venture

Last Week In Venture: Mind-Bending Bot Blockers, At-Home Play, And The Rebel’s Way To Get Money For College

Hello and welcome back to Last Week In Venture, a weekly roundup of deals that may have flown under your radar in the last few days, brought to you by Crunchbase News.

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Forget the world of venture and startup stuff for a second and reflect with me on what a crazy week it was. Notre Dame cathedral burned. The U.S. DOJ dropped the ball, and a redacted version of the Meuller report. Oh, and for U.S. readers, it was Tax Day on Monday.

This is to say you might’ve missed out on some of the bigger stories we covered here at Crunchbase News this week. We covered the IPOs of Zoom and Pinterest, and that of Africa-focused ecommerce giant Jumia. We covered supergiant (>$100M) venture rounds that are reportedly in the works for Pax Labs, and big venture deals already sealed by Sila Nano and Luckin Coffee. We wrote up a new fund for NY startups, gave a first look to Fastly’s S-1, devoured corporate food funding analysis, and sparked up a little joy with some cannabis startup coverage.

Of course, this is just a small chunk of what happened last week at the intersection of tech and money. There are plenty of startups operating outside the media and unicorn spotlight which are worth mentioning too.

In this review of the week that was in ventureland, we bring you three brief profiles of companies that caught our eye this week. Let’s dive in.

Blocking Manipulative Bot Networks With Machine Learning

This attempt to create the illusion of grassroots support for a cause is called astroturfing, and London, U.K.-based Astroscreen intends to seek and stop it. This week, Astroscreen announced it raised $1 million in a seed round co-led by a triumvirate of backers: Speedinvest, Luminous Ventures, and the UCL Technology Fund.

Whether you like it or not, if you use social networking and content-sharing platforms, you and your understanding of reality are pawns in someone else’s game. Who’s playing? Trolls, terrorists, intelligence organizations, and other actors, both state and non-state.

The consequences: doubt in political institutions, denial of earth’s roundness, and, most terrifyingly, an anti-vaccination movement which threatens to undo decades of progress by public health organizations. All because, by design, the internet is a kind of copy machine that makes it trivially easy to reproduce and broadcast content at scale. It’s a double-edged sword.

Given a sufficiently large bot swarm, messages stemming from one nefarious actor can be amplified to an unsuspecting audience. All it takes is a few people to share a false, misleading, or hateful message, and the mind-virus spreads organically.

On its website, the company bills itself as “an early warning system for this information warfare.” Using its expanding database of known bots and bot-keepers, the company says it can detect coordinated activity, attribute authorship using linguistic fingerprinting, and flag disinformation attacks based on the context of conversation around a topic, using machine learning.

The Rebel’s Approach To Getting College Aid

If there’s one thing to be said of a college education in America, it’s that it’s hella expensive to get.

Mos is in the business of “[building] products for citizens to access their rights and enjoy their benefits in the simplest way possible.” In practice, that means a single application for prospective college students to automatically submit FAFSA petitions “to every state grant and scholarship for which they qualify.”

Mos is an SF-based venture founded by Amira Yayahoui, a self-described activist and entrepreneur originally hailing from Tunisia. The company’s name, according to its website, “was inspired by the original rebel: Luke Skywalker, who came from the desert of Mos Espa.”

The company doesn’t sell user data and a guarantee. “If students don’t find at least double our fee in aid, we give the money back,” the company says on its website. Mos raised $4 million in a seed round led by Sweet Capital. Uber co-founder Garrett Camp’s startup studio Expa and Kleiner Perkins chairman John Doerr were among the participants in the round.

A Platform For At-Home Educational Play Programs

Based in Bozeman, Montana, MyVillage is a company which helps qualified people start and manage their own early childhood education and day care programs out of their own homes.

MyVillage provides the software platform, helps to expedite the state licencing process, and provides curricula and program guides to its community of educators succeed. In turn, the company helps connect parents with little kids who need a place for them to learn and play during the day.

MyVillage raised $5.95 million in an extension of its seed round, with this tranche being led by non-profit venture fund Acumen. Participating investors include The Impact Engine and workplace software company Atlassian. The company currently helps at-home educators in Montana and Colorado, but plans to scale nationwide.

A Little Reminder For The Weekend

It’s okay to turn off the news. Go for a walk in the park. Share a meal with friends or family. Crack open the book you’ve been meaning to get to. All the dread and ennui can be saved for next week.

To our non-Orthodox Christian readers, Happy Easter. To our Jewish readers, happy Passover. To us all, a friendly reminder that Monday is Earth Day. 🌎

Image Credits: Last Week In Venture graphic created by JD Battles. Photo by Keith Hardy, via Unsplash.