Startups Venture

Last Week In Venture: Scads Of Scoots, Sourcing AI Data In Africa, And Games With Friends

Hello and welcome back to Last Week In Venture, the weekly roundup of deals which may have flown under your radar.

There are lots of companies operating outside the limelight enjoyed (but sometimes despised) by public companies and big unicorns alike. However, their stories are worth sharing, because they give a glimpse around the corner, at what’s coming up next.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into some highlights from the week that was in venture-land.

Superpedestrian

If you live in or near a big city in the U.S., chances are you’ve seen scads of scooters scattered about the sidewalks of your otherwise lovely downtown. Fantastically fun for urbanites with higher risk appetites (your correspondent included), electric scooters (and other lightweight transportation options) have the potential to vanquish cars from city centers.

Billions of dollars have been invested in scooter service startups. But as the old saying goes, in a gold rush, it’s best to be the one selling pickaxes. Scooter manufacturers like Superpedestrian build the devices which the services use to mine consumer demand for point-to-point transportation.

Founded in 2012 as a bicycle company with an exclusive license from MIT for its Copenhagen Wheel patent, which turns ordinary bikes into electric-assisted bicycles with built-in locking and environmental sensing capabilities. With the recent micromobility craze, though, the company expanded its offerings to include network-connected electric scooters and a fleet management platform built for scooter rental service providers.

The company is preparing to launch its hardware and software offering in January 2020. In the lead-up to that, this week, the company announced it raised $20 million in Series C funding from General Catalyst, Spark Capital, Hanaco Venture Capital, and Empire Angels.

Samasource

Yeah, machine learning is cool, but we humans are the ones that tell computers what to grok. Behind every well-tuned neural network is a mountain of training data, which is often harvested and enriched by hand.

You do this in small ways almost every day. Ever have to pick out the pictures with storefronts or stoplights to prove you’re not a robot? You’re helping to enrich a dataset used to train a neural net. You’re the one doing the labeling because it’s trivially easy for us people, but it’s computationally difficult, for now.

Samasource is one of several companies in the business of building proprietary training datasets. Its differentiator? Location. Though headquartered in San Francisco, the company employs a staff of 2,900 people worldwide. The company is the largest AI and automation employer in East Africa, according to coverage in TechCrunch.

This week, the company announced it raised $14.8 million in a Series A round led by Ridge Ventures (formerly known as IDG Ventures USA). Samasource says on its website that 25 percent of the Fortune 50—including major automakers and tech giants like Google, Microsoft, and IBM—use its services.

Bunch

You know what can be a lot of fun? Playing video games. You know what’s more fun than playing video games? Playing video games with your friends.

Some readers of a certain age may have packed up their tower PCs and trundled them over to a LAN party. Most of us have, at one point or another, sat on the couch with the gang, just hanging and playing round. Kids these days though, they got it easy. Realtime remote multiplayer over high speed connection is the mode du jour. While that’s worked well on PC and console platforms, mobile is where the money’s at. And its where casual and serious gamers alike are spending more time.

But you needn’t play alone. Bunch is an app which helps, well, you and a bunch of friends play mobile games together in real-time. With video chat and multiplayer capabilities, the company aims to provide a more fun, interactive experience for social gamers. The app lets you see when your friends are online and lets you start playing from within the app or via a link passed over text message. Bunch is available for iOS and Android.

This week, the company closed $3.85 million in seed funding from League of Legends maker Riot Games, Finnish mobile game studio Supercell, Miniclip, Colopl Next, and Chinese tech giant Tencent.

And with that, we’re done for the week. The Crunchbase News crew will be back for a short week before Thanksgiving. Friendly reminder that if you’re using a frozen turkey, you should start thawing it in the fridge on Monday.

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

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