Connect with us

Techcrunch

8 Czech VCs on green shoots, pandemic impacts and 2021 opportunities – TechCrunch

The Czech Republic may be better known for beer, hockey and the sights of Prague, but its entrepreneurial community is as ambitious as any.

Published

on

While London, Paris, Berlin and Stockholm feature regularly in tech coverage, the rest of Europe has been busy.

The Czech Republic may be better known for beer, hockey and the sights of Prague, but its entrepreneurial community is as ambitious as any. Pipedrive is an EU-based CRM company with offices in eight countries, but it has a Czech co-founder in VP of Product Martin Henk, one of several founders to emerge from the ecosystem.

Then there was Integromat, which did not raise any external capital but sold for around 2.5 billion crowns ($114 million), making its seven Czech founders into multimillionaires. Prague’s Memsource is valued at approximately 1.3 billion crowns or $59 million. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

To unpack this rare gem of Europe’s startup scene, we spoke to eight area investors.

Among the trends they identified are startups in B2B, business automation processes, e-commerce, AI, SaaS and COVID-19-related solutions, as well as “smart” everything: factories, cities, offices, etc. Other themes included cybersecurity, AR/VR, remote work, and cybersecurity.

Saturated areas included cryptocurrency, blockchain, fintech and martech. The people we spoke to said they see travel, dating apps and other businesses traditionally based on physical interaction as weaker segments. Still, new opportunities are popping up in remote work, psychedelics and wellness.

Use discount code CZECHIA to save 25% off a 1-year Extra Crunch membership.
This offer is only available to readers in Europe and expires on April 30, 2021.

Respondents said they invest around 50% inside Czechia and 50% across Central and Eastern Europe, while some are more focused across CEE generally, with some percentage of the fund supporting startups that have scaled to the U.S.

Most said their investments hadn’t been significantly impacted by COVID-19, but future uncertainly is a concern. The advice is to “be frugal to accommodate to the new situation and roll on.”

As far as green shoots, COVID-19 has “played a role of an accelerator for innovation in many business areas and even e-government and other rigid/conservative industries,” said one. D2C startups have benefitted and “Zoom selling” now seems “totally plausible.”

We surveyed:

Petra Končelíková, partner, Nation1.vc

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Innovative.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Snuggs.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
I miss a more innovative approach.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Steady rapid growth, innovative mind.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Social media, logistics, travel.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
We are solely focusing on the European market, with an impact on the Czech Republic.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Healthcare, industry 4.0.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Huge potential.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Remote work is not an issue, but the pandemic has of course huge impact on startups. They are forced to pivot and accommodate to this new world.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Travel and gastro.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Accommodate to the new situation and roll on.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
Vaccination.

Who are key startup people you see creating success locally, whether investors, founders or even other types of startup ecosystems roles like lawyers, designers, growth experts, etc. We’re trying to highlight the movers and shakers who outsiders might not know.
Financial experts — financial planning, CFOs to hire as an service from agencies.

Oleksander Bondarev, associate, Credo Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Developer tools, communication apps, applied AI.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Around.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Cloud CI/CD.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Great team.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Martech.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Only in founders from: Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Romania or Hungary.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Productboard, UiPath, Pricefx, Supernova, Spaceflow.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Maturing.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Yes.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Enabling communication, transparency within the remote workforce.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Be frugal.

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
We are trying to be the most founder-friendly fund in the region. As an ex-founder (Olek) I love speaking with and advising all startups that come my way 🙂

Ondrej Bartos, founding partner, Credo Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Automation, AI, enabling remote, authentication.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
TypingDNA.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Outstanding founders tackling big opportunity.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
VR/AR has been an area with lots of investment, therefore very competitive. AI is overhyped but most AI are actually not that intelligent.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Less. We focus on Central Europe as a region (if that would count as local, then more than 50%).

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Central Europe is well positioned in automation, security, developer tools and analytics. I’m most excited about UiPath, Productboard, Pricefx, TypingDNA, Spaceflow, Around (in our portfolio). Best CE founders are in my view Daniel Dines, Hubert Palan, Marcin Cichon plus Oliver Dlouhý (Kiwi.com).

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
There are a lot of great developers in Prague, good energy and enough success stories and role models to follow. There is a lot of investment capital there (just as everywhere else I guess), not too much smart money yet, so definitely opportunity for good VCs to take a look (and they are looking).

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
I have no doubts that the pandemic has been accelerating remote work, which ultimately should lead to more remote-first startups which might benefit new geos.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Travel and hospitality seem most fragile and unpredictable due to COVID-19. Remote and enabling remote seem like the biggest opportunity; automation and enabling digital transformation are attractive as well.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Our investment strategy is unchanged; actually we’ll double down on it. There is a lot of opportunity for good tech startups, technology is what’s helping people and countries to get out of crises faster with less damage. Our advice to startups is still the same: Focus on your cause and try to solve problems in your space better than anybody else.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
We definitely see green shoots in some of the enterprise software companies. “Zoom selling” now seems totally plausible, sales cycles shortened in some verticals as companies need to digitize and enable remote work.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
I’ve always had hope. Yes, there have been low moments especially when quarantined, but overall I haven’t lost hope for people to cope with this unprecedented situation, and for technology to play a significant role in the recovery. I still have this hope 🙂

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
I feel like I had been traveling too much, two- or three-day transatlantic trips make little sense and I think I won’t go back there. Also, I don’t think I’ll go back to 5+ days in the office every week, home office works fine with me and it will stay with me and the company in some capacity. That being said, it is what I feel now. I may be wrong and things may go back to “old normal” — which I would consider a big mistake and lost opportunity.

Osman Salih, associate, Bolt Start Up Development a.s.

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
We are looking for synergies with our parent company O2 Czech republic and other companies under the PPF Group.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
IP Fabric.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
We would like to see more insurtech startups in Europe.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
We are looking for synergies with our partner companies rather looking into a specific branch.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Fintech is oversaturated with very low margins.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
We mostly invest locally, but our most successful investment was in Taxify (now Bolt).

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Definitely security domain is best positioned. We are excited about IP Fabric (founder is ex-Cisco CEO Pavel Bykov), Whalebone (R. Malovič), Wultra (P. Dvořák).

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
The interest is bigger, a lot of successful startups raise demand for opportunities.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
We don’t think so, local network is important. Remote work is not for everyone.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
There will be shifts in retail. This is an opportunity for startups like Pygmalios, which provide analytics for retail.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Luckily the impact is not big. Biggest worries are about difficulties with travel abroad for business meetings. Our advice is hold the runway longer 🙂

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes, demand for call center tools like omnichannel solution mluvii.com, which works at the home office move up significantly.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
At spring our country was “best in COVID” and now it is “worst in COVID.” Last spring thousands of people from the startup community helped and came up with brilliant ideas, apps and solutions but at the end most outcomes (like eRouška and https://koronavirus.mzcr.cz/en/) were screwed by slow or faulty decisions of government. Instead of hope I’m disappointed, but I believe that vaccination will help us to get life back on the track.

Who are key startup people you see creating success locally, whether investors, founders or even other types of startup ecosystems roles like lawyers, designers, growth experts, etc. We’re trying to highlight the movers and shakers who outsiders might not know.
Patrik Juránek from Startup Disrupt community.

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
Prague is great and safe city for living — when you setup a branch in Prague you can attract people from all of the CEE region to move in.

Lukáš Konečný, principal, Y Soft Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Anything that helps businesses run smarter is something we would like to take a look at. More specifically we are interested in areas such as Internet of Things, smart factories, smart cities, smart office, cybersecurity, big data and AR/VR. And especially when there is some kind of hardware involved — that something we really love.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
VRgineers.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
It would be great to see more startups focusing on hardware. Admittedly, creating hardware and scaling-up a hardware-focused business is always a bigger challenge, but the opportunities are so vast and many are yet untapped.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Apart from the “obvious” aspects such as innovativeness, global potential, scalability, strong team and fit with our investment thesis, we look for founders who show great strategic thinking and execution skills, who really understand the market and their customers’ needs and listen to feedback.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Considering our focus on B2B, we have better overview of this part of the economy. Lately, we have seen a huge number of startups using AI/ML for computer vision or natural language processing use cases creating very similar products, meaning it will be rather difficult for them to differentiate and outperform the rest of the competition. But that does not mean that a new revolutionary idea cannot appear.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Our focus is on the Central European region — so far we have invested in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, but we are open to founders from other neighboring countries as well. The majority of our portfolio is located in the Brno/South Moravia region, where Y Soft is based. It is not an outcome of an intentional strategy, but just the reality of which startups interested us the most.

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Generally, the Czech startup ecosystem is getting more mature, especially thanks to serial entrepreneurs as well as more experienced first-time founders, and the developing business angel/VC ecosystem. It is hard to pick just one industry, as the spectrum of companies is very vast.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
From the investors’ point of view, the Czech startup ecosystem can provide a lot of interesting opportunities, and especially for foreign investors the investments can be a “good value for money,” even though the VC ecosystem has become more competitive in the last years due to influx of new money. The seed and partly Series A segment can be seen as rather saturated, but there is a significant potential in the larger Series A or later-stage investments.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
The main Czech hubs, Prague and Brno, are probably not going to see their status weakened, as they are not only business centers, but also have the main universities where the talented people are and are hearts of the cultural life that is attractive to many. But we will see a shift toward remote woking, allowing founders to tap a wider talent pool.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
We believe that after the shock caused by COVID-19 fades away, there will be more opportunities for the companies in segments we invest in, as the induced trends are only forcing businesses to run smarter. The trends most relevant to us will be those associated with accelerated digital transformation, changes in supply chains and evolution of workspaces.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
COVID-19 has not impacted our strategy. The only changes were on the tactical level, as for a certain period of time we shifted more capacities to portfolio support. Most of our founders had to deal with a negative impact on their sales funnel, as some customers postponed or cancelled the planned deals. Some of the founders had to deal with disruptions in the distribution channels, as some of their partners’ businesses were hit rather hard, and a small number of companies had to resolve issues with their supply chain. These challenges are still, to an extent, worries to our portfolio companies, as the economic development is still uncertain. To deal with the situation, cash flow became the main focus, together with more active communication with key business partners throughout the value chains.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
We have seen a lot of positive signals in retention and some green shoots regarding revenue, but the situation is still too fragile.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
It is hard to find glimmers of hope lately, as the situation in the Czech Republic is really not developing well. However, I was recently able to participate in several online events that young entrepreneurs, in some cases even high school or university students, attended to present their projects or to improve their business skills. And it was great to see people who are still deeply interested in — and invested in — the entrepreneurial path, regardless of the current situation.

Vaclav Pavlecka, managing partner, Air Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
We are sector agnostic, so it’s not so much about “trends,” rather than other aspects of startups in our pipeline.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Cross Network Intelligence.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
Many sectors are “to-be-disrupted yet” but for example I believe that the predictive medicine (that helps you avoid the problem instead the one that is helping to solve the problem that is already there) will be one of the major trends for the near future.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Distinctive unique selling proposition, market-oriented and sales-hungry team, disruptive potential, upmarket potential.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Social networks in general are the type of services I am concerned about due to a long-term impact on one’s mental health and due to social confirmation bias and decreasing ability for a healthy unheated critical discussion in society. As for oversaturation, it is hard to generalize, since every industry still has its niches. But a top of my mind idea for an oversaturated market is the marketing technologies sector (as well as many other software products). Solutions are easily replicable (think chatbots) and successful only at the limited market.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
We tend to focus on companies with the local strings (with exceptions made — e.g., Californian clothing startup Nahmias).

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
We see a huge potential of local talents in cybersecurity, industry automation (due to the fact that Czechia has one of the densest “per capita” car production in the world), gaming industry (including esports), crypto and health. As for companies I think Apiary, Beat Games, Warhorse gaming studio, Mews.com, Kiwi.com, Snuggs, Prusa Research, Productboard, Rossum, Integromat and Alheon.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
“Local” VCs and investors are definitely willing to make meaningful connections and co-invest. The ecosystem is more mature every year and grows stronger. Prague and the surrounding region also has its charm that attracts many talents as the city has an ideal balance between the life quality and costs in comparison to other metropolitan areas.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
I believe that we will see a big “return to the good part of the old system” in the end of this year/early 2022, so I won’t expect the big shift in the sense of geographic “founder density” outside of the major cities. If, however, the COVID-19 restrictions should last more years, then many social changes can be sparked, including geographic mobility and flexibility.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
No surprise there — the whole travel industry, gastronomical industry and culture tech are in the deepest crisis in decades. Many other industries are under big pressure to increase the speed of change, e.g., the education industry, the entertainment industry. Also in general small to medium businesses are having tough times locally, since the government restrictions are not being implemented efficiently and their communication isn’t built around a sound strategy.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Our investment strategy is built around long-lasting principles and therefore we didn’t have to change it completely. Of course the investment appetite in sectors hit by crisis decreased significantly but other opportunities emerged. As for portfolio impact, proptech vertical was hit heavily and some of our companies had to reiterate their product offering. Our general advice to any startup in our portfolio is to boost the dialogue with their customers, learn how their needs are shifting (if so) and try to steer the wheel in the right time. If needed, we are ready to support our founders financially and also teamwise, since we are hands-on investors.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
D2C startups with a sound unit economy and their own strong distribution channels are thriving (not only locally). This includes our portfolio.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
Not losing hope really. I think people were in much deeper crises and that we refer to the current situation as we do only due to lack of historical comparability. We are still living in times of prosperity and the pandemic will eventually go away thanks to the scientific progress people have achieved. So I think the beacon of positive change are all the RNA vaccines out there. I am thrilled by the restless work of scientists involved in their development and I believe they should receive much greater social credit than they do nowadays.

Who are key startup people you see creating success locally, whether investors, founders or even other types of startup ecosystems roles like lawyers, designers, growth experts, etc. We’re trying to highlight the movers and shakers who outsiders might not know.
Cedric Maloux, Lubo Smid, Dita Formánková, Tomas Cironis, Ondrej Bartos.

Roman Horacek , partner, Reflex Capital

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
B2B, business automation processes, e-commerce, AI, SaaS, COVID-19-related solutions — across verticals (remote work, conferencing, etc.).

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Webnode, SignageOS and some others that unfortunately cannot be disclosed yet 🙂

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
I would like to see more AI startups (actually using AI).

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Rockstar founders, existing and real market need, scalable solution with solid IP.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Cryptocurrencies, blockchain, talent marketplaces.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
As of now our portfolio is approximately 75%/25% (75% CEE and 25% USA/other).

Which industries in your city and region seem well positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Our companies — APIFY, Productboard, Smartlook, Alice Technologies, SingageOS. Other companies — DoDo, Around, UiPath, Pex,

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Great technical talent with superb ideas falling behind with go-to-market and sales skills.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
I don’t think so, I believe the talent will still be attracted by existing major hubs. Smaller the team, more interaction is needed. Despite all the innovations in remote work one-to-one interactions and social time cannot be fully replaced (yet).

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Exposed — travel, dating apps … all businesses traditionally based on physical interaction. Not a surprise I guess 🙂 Opportunities — remote work applications, psychedelic applications, well-being startups, life science solutions, logistics and related industries, e-commerce for SMEs.

Has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Not really. Our No. 1 investment criteria is strong founders. Most of them were able to adjust their business models to the new market conditions. Spring 2020 advice was cash is king, stay frugal and adjust your business to the new market conditions ASAP or others will.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Yes. I believe COVID-19 played a role of an accelerator for innovations in many business areas and even e-government and other rigid/conservative industries.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
Given all the events of 2020 we had a solid year as a fund. What was inspiring — seeing founders coming across whatever obstacles thrown under their legs … overcoming them with new ideas/inventions and unbreakable entrepreneurial spirit.

Who are key startup people you see creating success locally, whether investors, founders or even other types of startup ecosystems roles like lawyers, designers, growth experts, etc. We’re trying to highlight the movers and shakers who outsiders might not know.
Hard to name one or a few … every single player plays a different role and one individual is unimportant without others. Same as in nature, even the strongest/biggest predators cannot thrive without a thriving ecosystem as a whole.

Saturated areas included cryptocurrency, blockchain, fintech and martech. The people we spoke to said they see travel, dating apps and other businesses traditionally based on physical interaction as weaker segments. Still, new opportunities are popping up in remote work, psychedelics and wellness.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/03/12/8-czech-vcs-on-green-shoots-pandemic-impacts-and-2021-opportunities/

8-czech-vcs-on-green-shoots,-pandemic-impacts-and-2021-opportunities-–-techcrunch

Techcrunch

Maybe SPACs were a bad idea after all – TechCrunch

Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter for your weekend enjoyment.

Published

on

Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s broadly based on the daily column that appears on Extra Crunch, but free, and made for your weekend reading. Want it in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here.

Ready? Let’s talk money, startups and spicy IPO rumors.

Hello friends, I was out yesterday with what I’m calling Moderna Syndrome. Basically I got whacked by my second vaccine dose, and instead of enjoying a day off eating candy and spoiling my dogs I spent the entire day on the couch unable to move. All that’s to say that I missed Coinbase and DoorDash earnings when they came out.

Catching us up, Coinbase met its forecasts that it had previously released (more here), and today its stock is flat. DoorDash, in contrast, beat market expectations and is currently up just over 25% as I write to you.

But despite huge quarters from each, both companies are far below their recently set all-time highs. Coinbase is worth around $265 per share today, off from an all-time high of $429.54, which it set recently. And DoorDash is worth $145 this afternoon, far below its $256.09 52-week high.

They are not alone amongst recent public offerings that have lost steam. Many SPAC-led combinations are tanking. But while Coinbase and DoorDash are still richly valued at current levels and worth far more than they were as private companies, some startups that took SPAC money to float are not doing well, let alone as well.

As Bloomberg notes, five electric vehicle companies that SPAC’d their way to the public markets were worth $60 billion at one point. Now the collection of mostly revenue-free public EV companies have shed “more than $40 billion of market capitalization combined from their respective peaks.” Youch.

And SPAC hype-man and general investing bon vivant Chamath Palihapitiya is taking some stick for his deal’s returns as well. It’s all a bit messy. Which, to be fair, is pretty much what we’ve expected all along.

Not that there aren’t some SPAC-combinations that make sense. There are. But mostly it’s been more speculative hype than business substance. Perhaps that’s why Coinbase and DoorDash didn’t need to lean on crutches to get public. Sure, the market is still figuring out what they are actually worth, but that doesn’t mean that they are in any real trouble. But consider, for a moment, the companies that have agreed to go public via a SPAC before the correction and are still waiting for their deal to complete.

TFW ur forecast is conservative

The Exchange has been on the horn recently with a few public company CEOs after their earnings report. After those conversations, we have to talk a bit about guidance. Why? Because it’s a game that I find slightly annoying.

Some public companies simply don’t provide forecasts. Cool. Root doesn’t, for example, provide quarterly guidance. Fine. Other companies provide guidance, but only in a super-conservative format. This is in effect no guidance at all, in my view. Not that we’re being rude to companies per se, but they often wind up in a weird dance between telling the market something and telling it something useful.

Picking on Appian’s CEO as he’s someone I like, when discussing his own company’s forecasts Matt Calkins said that its guidance is “unfailingly conservative” — so much so that he said it was nearly frustrating. But he went on to argue that Appian is not short-run focused (good), and that if a company puts up big estimates it is more judged on the expectation of those results versus the realization of said results. That line of thinking immediately makes ultra-prudent guidance seem reasonable.

This is a philosophical argument more than anything, as Wall Street comes up with its own expectations. The financial rubber hits the road when companies guide under Wall Street’s own expectations or deliver results that don’t match those of external bettors. So guidance matters some, just not as much as people think.

BigCommerce’s CEO Brent Bellm helped provide some more guidance as to why public companies can guide a bit more conservatively than we might expect during our recent call. It helps them not overspend. He noted that if BigCommerce — which had a super solid quarter, by the by — is conservative in its planning (the font from which guidance flows, to some degree) it can’t deploy too much near-term capital.

In the case of BigCommerce, Bellm continued, he wants the company to overperform on revenue, but not adjusted profits. So, if revenue comes in ahead of expectations, it can spend more, but won’t work to maximize their near-term profitability. And he said that he’s told analysts just that. So keeping guidance low means that it won’t overspend and blast its adjusted profitability, while any upside allows for more aggressive spend?

Harumph, is my general take on all of the above. It’s very fine to have public company CEOs play the public game well, but what I’d greatly prefer is if they did something more akin to what startups do. High-growth tech companies often have a board-approved plan and an internal plan that is more aggressive. For public companies this would be akin to a base case and a stretch case. Let’s have both, please? I am tired of parsing sandbagged numbers for the truth.

Sure, by reporting a guidance range, public companies are doing some of that. But not nearly enough. I hate coyness for coyness’s sake!

That’s enough of a rant for today, more on BigCommerce earnings next week if we can fit it in. You can read more from The Exchange on Appian and the larger low-code movement here, if that’s your jam.

Never going back

We’re running a bit long today, so let me demount with some predictions.

Nearly every startup I’ve spoken to in the last year that had 20 or fewer staff at the time of the chat is a remote-first team. That’s due to their often being born during the pandemic, but also because many very early-stage startups are simply finding it easier to recruit globally because often the talent they need, can afford or can attract, is not in their immediate vicinity.

Startups are simply finding it critical to have relaxed work location rules to snag and, we presume, retain the talent that they need. And they are not alone. Big Tech is in similar straits. As The Information reported recently:

An internal Google employee message board lit up last Wednesday morning as news of what many staff perceived as a more relaxed policy for working remotely circulated. One meme shared on the board showed a person crying, labeled “Facebook recruiters.” Another showed a sad person labeled “San Francisco landlords.”

If you aren’t laughing, maybe you have a life. But I do this for a living, and I am dying at that quote.

Look, it’s clear that lots of people can do lots of work outside of an office, and even though labor purchasers (employers) want to run 1984-style operations on their employees (labor sellers) to ensure that they are Doing Precisely Enough, the actual denizens writing code are like, naw. And that’s just too much for Big Tech to handle as they are literally just cash flows held up by people who type for a living.

What this means is that tech is not going back to 100% in-office work or anything close to. At least not at companies that want to actually ensure that they have top-tier talent.

It’s a bit like when you see a company comprising only white men; you know that it doesn’t have nearly the best team that it could. Firms that enforce full-office policies are going to overindex on a particular demographic. And it won’t be to their benefit.

Alex

Catching us up, Coinbase met its forecasts that it had previously released (more here), and today its stock is flat. DoorDash, in contrast, beat market expectations and is currently up just over 25% as I write to you.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/05/15/2152389/

maybe-spacs-were-a-bad-idea-after-all-–-techcrunch

Continue Reading

Techcrunch

Leveling the playing field – TechCrunch

There is an atmosphere of collaboration, not competition, around the creation of hardware for gamers within the assistive technology community.

Published

on

Williesha Morris Contributor

Williesha Morris has been a journalist and freelancer off-and-on for over a decade. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, playing video games or chatting about the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

In 2011, a product developer named Fred Davison read an article about inventor Ken Yankelevitz and his QuadControl video game controller for quadriplegics. At the time, Yankelevitz was on the verge of retirement. Davison wasn’t a gamer, but he said his mother, who had the progressive neurodegenerative disease ALS, inspired him to pick up where Yankelevitz was about to leave off.

Launched in 2014, Davison’s QuadStick represents the latest iteration of the Yankelevitz controller — one that has garnered interest across a broad range of industries.

“The QuadStick’s been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever been involved in,” Davison told TechCrunch. “And I get a lot of feedback as to what it means for [disabled gamers] to be able to be involved in these games.”

Laying the groundwork

Erin Muston-Firsch, an occupational therapist at Craig Hospital in Denver, says adaptive gaming tools like the QuadStick have revolutionized the hospital’s therapy team.

Six years ago, she devised a rehabilitation solution for a college student who came in with a spinal cord injury. She says he liked playing video games, but as a result of his injury could no longer use his hands. So the rehab regimen incorporated Davison’s invention, which enabled the patient to play World of Warcraft and Destiny.

QuadStick

Jackson “Pitbull” Reece is a successful Facebook streamer who uses his mouth to operate the QuadStick, as well as the XAC, (the Xbox Adaptive Controller), a controller designed by Microsoft for use by people with disabilities to make user input for video games more accessible.

Reece lost the use of his legs in a motorcycle accident in 2007 and later, due to an infection, lost the use of his upper body. He says he remembers able-bodied life as one filled with mostly sports video games. He says being a part of the gaming community is an important part of his mental health.

Fortunately there is an atmosphere of collaboration, not competition, around the creation of hardware for gamers within the assistive technology community.

But while not every major tech company has been proactive about accessibility, after-market devices are available to create customized gaming experiences for disabled gamers.

Enter Microsoft

At its Hackathon in 2015, Microsoft’s Inclusive Lead Bryce Johnson met with disabled veterans’ advocacy group Warfighter Engaged.

“We were at the same time developing our views on inclusive design,” Johnson said. Indeed, eight generations of gaming consoles created barriers for disabled gamers.

“Controllers have been optimized around a primary use case that made assumptions,” Johnson said. Indeed, the buttons and triggers of a traditional controller are for able-bodied people with the endurance to operate them.

Besides Warfighter Engaged, Microsoft worked with AbleGamers (the most recognized charity for gamers with disabilities), Craig Hospital, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation and Special Effect, a U.K.-based charity for disabled young gamers.

Xbox Adaptive Controller

The finished XAC, released in 2018, is intended for a gamer with limited mobility to seamlessly play with other gamers. One of the details gamers commented on was that the XAC looks like a consumer device, not a medical device.

“We knew that we couldn’t design this product for this community,” Johnson told TechCrunch. “We had to design this product with this community. We believe in ‘nothing about us without us.’ Our principles of inclusive design urge us to include communities from the very beginning.”

Taking on the giants

There were others getting involved. Like many inventions, the creation of the Freedom Wing was a bit of serendipity.

At his booth at an assistive technology (AT) conference, ATMakers‘ Bill Binko showcased a doll named “Ella” using the ATMakers Joystick, a power-chair device. Also in attendance was Steven Spohn, who is part of the brain trust behind AbleGamers.

Spohn saw the Joystick and told Binko he wanted a similar device to work with the XAC. The Freedom Wing was ready within six weeks. It was a matter of manipulating the sensors to control a game controller instead of a chair. This device didn’t require months of R&D and testing because it had already been road tested as a power-chair device.

ATMakers Freedom Wing 2

Binko said mom-and-pop companies are leading the way in changing the face of accessible gaming technology. Companies like Microsoft and Logitech have only recently found their footing.

ATMakers, QuadStick and other smaller creators, meanwhile, have been busy disrupting the industry.

“Everybody gets [gaming] and it opens up the ability for people to engage with their community,” Binko said. “Gaming is something that people can wrap their heads around and they can join in.”

Barriers of entry

As the technology evolves, so do the obstacles to accessibility. These challenges include lack of support teams, security, licensing and VR.

Binko said managing support teams for these devices with the increase in demand is a new hurdle. More people with the technological skills are needed to join the AT industry to assist with the creation, installation and maintenance of devices.

Security and licensing is out of the hands of small creators like Davison because of financial and other resources needed to work with different hardware companies. For example, Sony’s licensing enforcement technology has become increasingly complex with each new console generation.

With Davison’s background in tech, he understands the restrictions to protect proprietary information. “They spend huge amounts of money developing a product and they want to control every aspect of it,” Davison said. “Just makes it tough for the little guy to work with.”

And while PlayStation led the way in button mapping, according to Davison, the security process is stringent. He doesn’t understand how it benefits the console company to prevent people from using whichever controller they want.

“The cryptography for the PS5 and DualSense controller is uncrackable so far, so adapter devices like the ConsoleTuner Titan Two have to find other weaknesses, like the informal ‘man in the middle’ attack,” Davison said.

The technique allows devices to utilize older-gen PlayStation controllers as a go-between from the QuadStick to the latest-gen console, so disabled gamers can play the PS5. TechCrunch reached out to Sony’s accessibility division, whose representative said there are no immediate plans for an adaptable PlayStation or controller. However, they stated their department works with advocates and gaming devs to consider accessibility from day one.

In contrast, Microsoft’s licensing system is more forgiving, especially with the XAC and the ability to use older-generation controllers with newer systems.

“Compare the PC industry to the Mac,” Davison said. “You can put together a PC system from a dozen different manufacturers, but not for the Mac. One is an open standard and the other is closed.”

A more accessible future

In November, Japanese controller company HORI released an officially licensed accessibility controller for the Nintendo Switch. It’s not available for sale in the United States currently, but there are no region restrictions to purchase one online. This latest development points toward a more accessibility-friendly Nintendo, though the company has yet to fully embrace the technology.

Nintendo’s accessibility department declined a full interview but sent a statement to TechCrunch. “Nintendo endeavors to provide products and services that can be enjoyed by everyone. Our products offer a range of accessibility features, such as button-mapping, motion controls, a zoom feature, grayscale and inverted colors, haptic and audio feedback, and other innovative gameplay options. In addition, Nintendo’s software and hardware developers continue to evaluate different technologies to expand this accessibility in current and future products.”

The push for more accessible hardware for disabled gamers hasn’t been smooth. Many of these devices were created by small business owners with little capital. In a few cases corporations with a determination for inclusivity at the earliest stages of development became involved.

Slowly but surely, however, assistive technology is moving forward in ways that can make the experience much more accessible for gamers with disabilities.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/05/15/leveling-the-playing-field/

leveling-the-playing-field-–-techcrunch

Continue Reading

Techcrunch

The energy ecosystem should move to make the ‘energy internet’ a reality – TechCrunch

Global trends make it clear that the Next Big Thing isn’t any single thing at all. Instead, the future is about open innovation and integration of elements across the entire energy supply chain.

Published

on

Brian Ryan is vice president of Innovation at National Grid Partners, the innovation and investment arm of multinational energy company National Grid.

As vice president of Innovation at National Grid Partners, I’m responsible for developing initiatives that not only benefit National Grid’s current business but also have the potential to become stand-alone businesses. So I obviously have strong views about the future of the energy industry.

But I don’t have a crystal ball; no one does. To be a good steward of our innovation portfolio, my job isn’t to guess what the right “basket” is for our “eggs.” It’s to optimally allocate our finite eggs across multiple baskets with the greatest collective upside.

Put another way, global and regional trends make it clear that the Next Big Thing isn’t any single thing at all. Instead, the future is about open innovation and integration of elements across the entire energy supply chain. Only with such an open energy ecosystem can we adapt to the highly volatile — some might even say unpredictable — market conditions we face in the energy industry.

Just as the digital internet rewards innovation wherever it serves the market — whether you build a better app or design a cooler smartphone — so too will the energy internet offer greater opportunities across the energy supply chain.

I like to think of this open, innovation-enabling approach as the “energy internet,” and I believe it represents the most important opportunity in the energy sector today.

The internet analogy

Here’s why I find the concept of the energy internet helpful. Before the digital internet (a term I’m using here to encompass all the hardware, software and standards that comprise it), we had multiple silos of technology such as mainframes, PCs, databases, desktop applications and private networks.

As the digital internet evolved, however, the walls between these silos disappeared. You can now utilize any platform on the back end of your digital services, including mainframes, commodity server hardware and virtual machines in the cloud.

You can transport digital payloads across networks that connect to any customer, supplier or partner on the planet with whatever combination of speed, security, capacity and cost you deem most appropriate. That payload can be data, sound or video, and your endpoint can be a desktop browser, smartphone, IoT sensor, security camera or retail kiosk.

This mix-and-match internet created an open digital supply chain that has driven an epochal boom in online innovation. Entrepreneurs and inventors can focus on specific value propositions anywhere across that supply chain rather than having to continually reinvent the supply chain itself.

The energy sector must move in the same direction. We need to be able to treat our various generation modalities like server platforms. We need our transmission grids to be as accessible as our data networks, and we need to be able to deliver energy to any consumption endpoint just as flexibly. We need to encourage innovation at those endpoints, too — just as the tech sector did.

Just as the digital internet rewards innovation wherever it serves the market — whether you build a better app or design a cooler smartphone — so too will the energy internet offer greater opportunities across the energy supply chain.

The 5D future

So what is the energy internet? As a foundation, let’s start with a model that takes the existing industry talk of digitalization, decentralization and decarbonization a few steps further:

Digitalization: Innovation depends on information about demand, supply, efficiency, trends and events. That data must be accurate, complete, timely and sharable. Digitalization efforts such as IoE, open energy, and what many refer to as the “smart grid” are instrumental because they ensure innovators have the insights they need to continuously improve the physics, logistics and economics of energy delivery.

Decentralization: The internet changed the world in part because it took the power of computing out of a few centralized data centers and distributed it wherever it made sense. The energy internet will do likewise. Digitalization supports decentralization by letting assets be integrated into an open energy supply chain. But decentralization is much more than just the integration of existing assets — it’s the proliferation of new assets wherever they’re needed.

Decarbonization: Decarbonization is, of course, the whole point of the exercise. We must move to greener supply chains built on decentralized infrastructure that leverage energy supply everywhere to meet energy demand anywhere. The market is demanding it and regulators are requiring it. The energy internet is therefore more than just an investment opportunity — it’s an existential imperative.

Democratization: Much of the innovation associated with the internet arose from the fact that, in addition to decentralizing technology physically, it also democratized technology demographically. Democratization is about putting power (literally, in this case) into the hands of the people. Vastly increasing the number of minds and hands tackling the energy industry’s challenges will also accelerate innovation and enhance our ability to respond to market dynamics.

Diversity: As I asserted above, no one has a crystal ball. So anyone investing in innovation at scale should diversify — not just to mitigate risk and optimize returns, but as an enablement strategy. After all, if we truly believe the energy internet (or Grid 2.0, if you prefer that term) will require that all the elements of the energy supply chain work together, we must diversify our innovation initiatives across those elements to promote interoperability and integration.

That’s how the digital internet was built. Standards bodies played an important role, but those standards and their implementations were driven by industry players like Microsoft and Cisco — as well as top VCs — who ensured the ecosystem’s success by driving integration across the supply chain.

We must take the same approach with the energy internet. Those with the power and influence to do so must help ensure we aggressively advance integration across the energy supply chain as a whole, even as we improve the individual elements. To this end, National Grid last year kicked off a new industry group called the NextGrid Alliance, which includes senior executives from more than 60 utilities across the world.

Finally, we believe it’s essential to diversify thinking within the energy ecosystem as well. National Grid has sounded alarms about the serious underrepresentation of women in the energy industry and of female undergraduates in STEM programs. On the flip side, research by Deloitte has found diverse teams are 20% more innovative. More than 60% of my own team at NGP are women, and that breadth of perspective has helped National Grid capture powerful insights into companywide innovation efforts.

More winning, less predicting

The concept of the energy internet isn’t some abstract future ideal. We’re already seeing specific examples of how it will transform the market:

Green transnationalism: The energy internet is on its way to becoming as global as the digital internet. The U.K., for instance, is now receiving wind-generated power from Norway and Denmark. This ability to leverage decentralized energy supply across borders will have significant benefits for national economies and create new opportunities for energy arbitrage.

EV charging models: Pumping electricity isn’t like pumping gas, nor should it be. With the right combination of innovation in smart metering and fast-charging end-point design, the energy internet will create new opportunities at office buildings, residential complexes and other places where cars plus convenience can equal cash.

Disaster mitigation: Recent events in Texas have highlighted the negative consequences of not having an energy internet. Responsible utilities and government agencies must embrace digitization and interoperability to more effectively troubleshoot infrastructure and better safeguard communities.

These are just a few of the myriad ways in which an open, any-to-any energy internet will promote innovation, stimulate competition and generate big wins. No one can predict exactly what those big wins will be, but there will surely be many, and they will accrue to the benefit of all.

That’s why even without a crystal ball, we should all commit ourselves to digitalization, decentralization, decarbonization, democratization and diversity. In so doing, we’ll build the energy internet together, and enable a fair, affordable and clean energy future.

Here’s why I find the concept of the energy internet helpful. Before the digital internet (a term I’m using here to encompass all the hardware, software and standards that comprise it), we had multiple silos of technology such as mainframes, PCs, databases, desktop applications and private networks.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/05/11/the-energy-ecosystem-should-move-to-make-the-energy-internet-a-reality/

the-energy-ecosystem-should-move-to-make-the-‘energy-internet’-a-reality-–-techcrunch

Continue Reading

Title

CNBC6 hours ago

Target, CVS, Starbucks and other retailers ease mask mandates for fully vaccinated customers

Target, CVS and Starbucks joined a growing list of retailers and restaurants that will ease mask requirements for fully vaccinated...

Reuters9 hours ago

Disneyland Paris to re-open on June 17

Disneyland Paris (DIS.N) said on Monday that it would re-open on June 17, as French bars, restaurants and tourism sites...

ZDNET14 hours ago

How Crocs used robots to rule the comfort economy

Sweatpants and comfortable kicks have had a heck of a run during the pandemic. You can thank the robots.

CNBC17 hours ago

Airbnb says first-quarter revenue rose 5% as vacationers return to travel

Airbnb's net loss tripled, but the company expects its adjusted margin to improve in the second half of the year...

Business insider19 hours ago

SES Government Solutions Provides Medium Earth Orbit Satellite Services for Combatant Command

SES Government Solutions, a wholly-owned subsidiary of SES, in close partnership with a key U.S. Government customer, designed, developed and...

Cointelegraph22 hours ago

Here’s how Bitcoin’s intraday volatility complicates leverage trading

Derivatives exchanges offer up to 100x leverage, but traders must consider how Bitcoin's intraday volatility increases their liquidation risk.

Crunchbase1 day ago

Exclusive: Forager Chews On $4M To Digitize Local Food Access

Its platform digitizes and streamlines the discovery of new local food vendors, onboarding and management of those relationships.

Blockchain news1 day ago

Internet Computer (ICP): Everything You Need to Know

After Internet Computer ICP tokens were listed on a number of leading cryptocurrency exchanges, its price even exceeded the maximum...

Ventureburn2 days ago

AlphaCode awards R2-million and support to fintech startups

The 10 startups, which have just completed a three-month programme, competed for one of four places in an extended 6-month...

Entrepreneur2 days ago

7 Quick Ways to Make Money Investing $1,000

If you're shrewd, you can turn one thousand bucks into even more money. Here's how.

Review

    Select language

    Trending