The Sturm und Drang dominating many conversations about the economy in late 2022 may create a sense that tough times are curbing the spirit of innovation, especially in the tech industry.
Nothing could be further from the truth. There’s still a healthy flow of venture capital investment flowing to startups, based on innovative ideas emanating from those startups.
For Acceleration Economy readers, it’s vital to understand where innovation is happening, where the venture community is placing its bets, and which companies have strong potential to help you reimagine your business to dazzle customers.
In this second monthly report, I’m reviewing nine timely investment rounds, the technology that is winning over investors, and the plans that these companies hope will help them win over customers. Some infusions are putting startups into or near that rarefied unicorn class of $1 billion valuations. There are also smaller seed rounds going to companies taking on a diverse set of business challenges.
Swiftly: Retail Tech That Builds Loyalty
Seattle-based Swiftly secured $100 million in a round led by BRV Capital Management, bringing total funding to $210 million and its valuation over $1 billion. Swiftly’s omnichannel retail technology is designed for brick-and-mortar stores to build strong digital relationships with customers. Customers include Family Dollar.
Swiftly says its tools offer customers a more personalized and connected shopping experience, along with exclusive personalized discounts and simple mobile checkout. Swiftly also offers a retail media network so customers can develop advertising revenue streams.
“Our mission is to empower brick-and-mortar retailers to move from analog to algorithms, as winners in this new era of commerce will be determined by how fast they can reinvent their business to capture shoppers digitally and monetize those digital relationships,” said Henry Kim, co-founder and CEO of Swiftly, in announcing the funding round.
Datamaran: ESG Risk Management
An ESG risk management software platform developer, Datamaran secured roughly $13.3 million (11.7 million British pounds) led by two clients that publicly held companies: Fortive and American Electric Power.
The Datamaran platform provides evidence-based insights and a near real-time assessment of ESG risks that can be tailored to a client’s sector, geography, or stakeholder context.
Datamaran identifies and monitors over 400 external risk factors — including environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG), innovation and technology, and geopolitical issues — through ongoing scanning of the regulatory, media, and corporate disclosure environments. The company says that the C-suite audience now makes up over 40% of revenue and continues to scale rapidly.
TrueFoundry: Democratizing AI
There’s no shortage of companies or research pointing to the need to democratize AI in order to improve the success rate of AI projects. TrueFoundry, founded by Facebook alums, raised a $2.3 million seed round led by Sequoia India and Southeast Asia’s Surge to support its mission of democratizing AI.
Company leaders say almost 90% of machine learning (ML) models don’t end up in production and 50% fail. While large companies can deploy large teams to overcome such outcomes, smaller companies can’t.
“TrueFoundry was born out of the idea that no business — big or small — should miss out on the opportunities of machine learning. With our automated platform, data scientists, and engineers are able to deploy machine learning models at the speed and maturity of big tech, cutting their production timelines from several weeks to a few hours,” they said in a blog post announcing their funding.
Spot: Collaboration + Avatars and Metaverse
Spot, which developed an avatar-based Metaverse experience along with team chat and videoconferencing tools to enhance employee experience and productivity, secured $5.5 million in seed funding led by Freestyle. The company positions its software as a more comprehensive platform than Slack or Teams.
Customers communicate within its platform using virtual avatars in a branded office setting. Organizations can build their own virtual, customizable workspace that reflects the company’s brand and culture. Team members can host meetings, share screens, collaborate instantly, or start a conversation just by interacting with the avatars in the space.
TractionAg: Better Farm Management
An Indianapolis-based developer of cloud-based farm management software that handles accounting and operations, TractionAg raised $3 million in seed funding. The Indianapolis startup plays in the same market as one we recently profiled, Cropin, which introduced Cropin Cloud industry cloud software for agriculture, though the latter’s products and ambitions are more expansive — befitting a company that’s been around for more than 10 years.
TractionAg delivers a suite of farm-specific capabilities including accounting, operations, and a fully digital payroll system that automatically files and pays the grower’s Federal and State payroll taxes. The company says 60% of farmers are using accounting systems that aren’t agriculture specific and therefore miss farm management insights.
The Muse: Job Search and Career Development
The New York-based startup said it received $8 million in new investment led by MBM Capital.
The company says its platform is already used by 75 million people annually, with a strong concentration among Gen Z and millennial jobseekers. It’s also used by 10% of the Fortune 500 as they seek to attract and hire top talent. The company says that candidates applying through its platform are three times more likely to be hired than candidates applying through other platforms.
With additional resources, the company said it plans to seek out and acquire other quality brands that attract high-demand job seekers.
Afresh: AI For Healthy, Profitable Produce
San Francisco-based Afresh develops AI-powered software that tracks demand and manages orders for fresh produce in food stores. The company secured $115 million in a round led by Spark Capital, bringing total funding to $148 million.
The company is looking to have a social impact by eliminating fresh food waste; it cites studies indicating that 40% of all food in the U.S. is thrown away.
Afresh says customers (including Albertsons and SaveMart) reduce food waste by 25% and see a 2% to 4% increase in top-line revenue as well as a 40% increase in their produce operating margin.
“Food, more so than anything else, shapes the health of people and our planet. We founded Afresh with the purpose of eliminating food waste and making nutritious food more accessible,” CEO and Co-Founder Matthew Schwartz said, noting the firm aims to serve thousands of more stores across the U.S. and Europe, and expand to support new fresh categories like meat and bakery.
Pie Insurance: Small Business Disrupter
A tech-enabled provider of workers’ comp insurance to small businesses, Denver-based Pie Insurance raised a $315 million investment round led by Centerbridge Partners and Allianz X. This round increases the total capital raised to over $615 million. The company says it’s disrupting a fragmented market by more accurately pricing and underwriting insurance risks.
The company intends to invest in further innovating within its proprietary pricing algorithms as well as delivering experiences directly to small businesses and the partner agents who serve them.
OpenStore: Buying Shopify Merchants
OpenStore, a 1-year-old company that acquires Shopify businesses to let entrepreneurs make quick exits, closed on $32 million in a round led by Lux Capital that values OpenStore at $970 million. Total equity funding is now over $150 million
Over the past 18 months, OpenStore acquired dozens of businesses delivering tens of millions in revenue. It represents a path to liquidity for merchants.
For more exclusive coverage of innovative cloud companies, check out Cloud Wars Horizon here: