Hello and welcome back to Last Week In Venture, a weekly rundown of venture deals which may have flown under your radar.
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We’ve got a few to get to but a lot to say, so we’ll keep highlights of the Crunchbase News team’s other work brief. We listened to what immigrant entrepreneurs are saying about U.S. immigration policy, documented declines in Chinese supergiant VC funding, learned what happens when NBA players play ball as VCs, forecasted the future with Utah founders, covered some big new funds, some public company earnings reports, and the usual mix of venture rounds large and small.
That’s a small fraction of what we covered, which is in turn a tiny chunk of all that happened last week. There are plenty of companies outside the unicorn spotlight, and their stories help surface trends and highlight entrepreneurial success in all sorts of places.
So without further ado, let’s check out some more rounds from the week that was in venture-land.
The Hands Behind The AI Curtain
There’s really very little about AI that’s truly artificial. The algorithms are written by humans. The data a neural network synthesizes into a statistical model of a particular system is often about humans and our activities. And, importantly, the job of preparing data for clean ingestion into the high-FLOPS number cruncher is also largely a human-driven task.
Every time you fill out one of those ReCAPTCHA things, identifying cars or storefronts, you’re doing a bit of labor to tag and validate a dataset which Google will do with what it wishes. Which is great for Google, but not every company is able to limit access to web content only to the people who contribute free labor toward narrowing the gap between human and machine intelligence. That must be nice.
For everyone else who needs AI training data prepared, cleaned, and validated, there are companies like Supahands, which employ large and often distributed teams who parse data. Whether it’s annotating images, categorizing objects, or transcribing information from one form to another, large, hand-validated datasets are incredibly useful to machine learning engineers. A model is only as good as its inputs.
Kuala Lumpur-based Supahands raised an undisclosed sum in its Series A round, which was led by SEA-based social impact-focused venture firm Patamar Capital‘s Investing In Women Fund and prior investor Cradle Seed Ventures. Supahands is also backed by 500 Startups and the Axiata Digital Innovation Fund, among others.
Sixty-four percent of the company’s 3,000-plus distributed workforce are women who primarily hail from Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia, according to Supahands. The company’s leadership team and board of directors are also majority women. The Supahands site lists Uber and Rakuten as clients.
The company says it will use its new investor capital to continue expansion in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region.
A Future Where The Paths Are Paved With Data
Here’s a wild bit of smart cities tech for you. Walking is how most people get around. Heck, race walking is an Olympic sport. You know what isn’t? Power walking, because at least to a company like London-based Pavegen, all walking is power walking. The company initiated a £5 million (roughly $6.31 million) equity crowdfunding round through CrowdCube and had raised an unspecified sum from multi-industry conglomerate Hinduja Group.
According to the about page on its website, “Pavegen is the global leader in converting footfall into off-grid power and data.” The company says that each footstep on its walkways “generates 2 to 4 joules of off-grid electrical energy or around 5 watts of power for the duration of a footstep.” Embedded Bluetooth beacons connect to walkers’ smartphones, “rewarding users for their steps and generating permission-based analytics.” Its data platform offers an API to installation owners. The company says its footfall data is anonymous because it’s tracking the amount of energy its tiles generate, which is a proxy for footfalls.
Now, on the one hand, I think the whole “generating electricity from pedestrian traffic” thing is pretty darn neat. But its incentivized, permission-based analytics component feels a little like something out of Minority Report. Sure, the smart cities of the future may metabolize the data exhaust of burned calories into capital, but at what cost to pedestrian rights of way and consumer privacy? It’s something to think about next time you’re on a dumb concrete sidewalk.
Wellness-Focused Consumer Electronics, By And For Women
If you’re in the market for tech accessories like colorful thread-wrapped Apple earbuds, whimsical phone cases and laptop covers, bike compasses, and approachable high-design sex tech for women, then a site like Soda Says might be your jam.
This week, Soda Says launched in the U.S., leading with its new sex tech vertical. “The technology industry is finally seeing the value in female-focused design in the sex tech industry,” said Soda Says CEO Grace Gould in a statement announcing the funding round.
Manage (To Grow) An Audience And Make Money Online
These days, a nontrivial number of folks and organizations earn their keep by writing stuff on the internet. If you have an ounce of talent and a ton of persistence, you too may earn your 1,000 true fans and get to do the same. The thing is, managing the business relationship between your indie publication and the folks who read your stuff and want to pay you for it can be a challenge. After all, this is a relatively new and very online way to make a living.
Pico is a Brooklyn-based startup building tools for individual writers and small newsrooms to grow a business around their audiences. Pico offers landing pages, customizable popups, newsletter subscriptions, and payments infrastructure to power it all. To that end, payments unicorn Stripe co-led Pico’s $4.5 million seed round alongside Precursor Ventures. Bloomberg Beta, Village Global, and Axel Springer Digital Ventures participated in the deal.
And with that, we’re done for the week! Have a great weekend everyone!
Image Credits: Last Week In Venture graphic created by JD Battles. Photo by Milada Vigerova, via Unsplash.