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China’s JD.com tests drone delivery in Indonesia in first overseas pilot

We hear a lot about drones having the potential to revolutionize delivery and logistics. It’s easy to be dismissive — in many cases, a robot may take what would be a human’s job — but there are some examples where drone technology could genuinely be transformative.
One such case is Indonesia, the world’s fourth largest country that houses a population of more than 260 million people across some 17,000 islands. The country, which is the world’s largest archipelago, is the location for e-commerce giant JD.com’s first drone trial outside of its native China.
JD, which is Alibaba’s biggest rival, has been piloting drones for the past couple of years in China. It recently gained a regional-level operating license, and its other human-less tech includes self-operating trucks, automated warehouses and unmanned stores. The company is a big believer in Indonesia, having launched its local JD.ID service back in 2015 and since backed local ride-hailing giant Go-Jek; now it is sampling its advanced tech in the country.
JD said today that it completed its first “government approved” drone delivery in the country earlier this month, on January 8.
Rather than ferrying customer orders, the company used the tech to transport books and backpacks over 250km to students at a school in a village near Bandung, the country’s fourth-largest city. This drone-based shipment was a trial that was part of a large donation that was delivered by conventional methods. But still, JD sees the potential to build on this pilot and develop a drone-based delivery system that can help service out-of-reach areas and generally expedite its dispatches.

JD.ID claims more than 20 million registered users in Indonesia and a catalog of more than one million products, although it didn’t disclose revenue, active user or merchant figures. The company said its goal is to deliver 85 percent of orders to customers on the same or next day as their order.
But, to give an idea of the challenge, its logistics effort is spread across 10 warehouses that span seven islands, which cover 483 cities and 6,500 counties. Clearly, nimble airborne solutions could have a huge impact if JD can make it reliable and gain the necessary government approvals.
“We have been using drones for real deliveries in China for over two years now, and have seen the profound impact that the technology can have on people’s lives around the country,” Jon Liao, chief strategy officer at JD.com, said in a statement.
JD launched unmanned convenience stores, a hallmark of its Chinese business, in Indonesia last year, marking its first overseas effort with the technology. The same is also true of this drone deployment.

Alibaba and Amazon move over, we visited JD’s connected grocery store in China

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Citizens Reserve is building a supply chain platform on the blockchain

Citizens Reserve, a Bay Area startup, has a broad goal of digitizing the supply chain. Last fall, the company launched the Alpha version of Suku, a Supply Chain as a Service platform built on the blockchain. Today, it announced a partnership with Smartrac, an RFID tag manufacturer, based in Amsterdam, as a key identity piece for the platform.
Companies use RFID to track products from field or factory to market. Eric Piscini, CEO at Citizens, says this partnership helps solve a crucial piece of digitizing the supply chain. It provides a way to trace products on their journey to market, and ensure their provenance, whether that is to be sure no labor was exploited in production, environmental standards were maintained or that the products were stored under the proper conditions to ensure freshness.
One of the big issues in track and trace on the supply chain is simply identifying the universe of items in motion across the world at any given moment. RFID tagging provides a way to give each of these items a digital identity, which can be placed on the blockchain to help prevent fraud. Once you have an irrefutable digital identity, it solves a big problem around digitizing the supply chain.
He said this is all part of a broader effort to move the supply chain to the digital realm by building a platform on the blockchain. This not only provides an irrefutable, traceable digital record, it can have all kinds of additional benefits, like reducing theft and fraud and ensuring provenance.
There are so many parties involved in this process, from farmers and manufacturers to customs authorities to shipping and container companies to logistics companies moving the products to market to the stores that sell the goods. Getting all of the various parties involved in the supply chain to move to a blockchain solution remains a huge challenge.
Today’s partnership offers one way to help build an identity mechanism for the Citizens Reserve solution. The company is also working on other partnerships to help solve other problems, like warehouse management and logistics.
The company currently has 11 employees based in Los Gatos, Calif. It has raised $11 million, according to Piscini.

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UPS and Latch are expanding in-building deliveries to 10 more cities

After launching apparently successful pilot runs in San Francisco and New York, UPS announced today plans to expand its in-building delivery service to 10 additional U.S. cities. In mid-2019, the parcel service will be adding Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Boston, Miami and Seattle.
UPS’s program was launched last summer, utilizing smart locks designed by New York-based startup, Latch. The Initial roll out was a clear attempt by UPS to take on Amazon’s own efforts in the space. Key by Amazon started as an in-house delivery service partnership with Kwikset, which has since expanded to included cars, businesses and garages.
UPS service is designed to let delivery people enter into common areas, rather than individual apartments, so they can leave packages in lobbies and foyers when residents are out. Latch currently has a sign up form on its site for those interested in taking part in the program. The move is another key win for Latch, which has been carving out a name for itself in the crowded smart lock space, through deals with retailers like Jet and a recent $70 million raise.

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Starship deploys autonomous delivery bots on a college campus

Starship, an autonomous delivery robot startup, is deploying its first batch of robots as part of a commercial service. Starting today, Starship will begin delivering food to the 40,000 students, faculty and staff at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. in partnership with Sodexo, a food and facilities management company.
Starship says the deliveries take 15 minutes or less, on average, depending on which items the customer ordered and where they’re located on campus. Each robot can carry up to 20 pounds of food.
“University dining programs are evolving their strategies to meet this generation’s elevated expectations, such as better quality, variety and service delivery,” said Sodexo CEO of Universities East Jim Jenkins in a press release. “George Mason University’s culture of innovation and early adoption makes it the perfect campus for Sodexo and Starship to introduce this cutting-edge technology and enhance the campus experience for the entire school community.”
At launch, there will be 25 bots roaming around campus delivering food from Blaze Pizza, Starbucks, Dunkin’ and other food retailers. Each on-demand delivery will cost $1.99.
To date, Starship’s robots have completed more than 25,000 deliveries. Back in October, Starship began delivering packages to residents in the U.K. town of Milton Keynes.
Starship has also previously partnered with on-demand food delivery companies like DoorDash and Postmates to test out its robot delivery service. Last January, Starship partnered with the companies mentioned above for a pilot program in Redwood City, Calif. and Washington, D.C. What makes this deployment at George Mason unique is that it’s Starship’s first truly commercial deployment of autonomous food delivery.
In June, Starship raised $25 million from Matrix Partners and Morpheus Ventures. New investors included Airbnb co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk, Skype founding engineer Jaan Tallinn and others. Starship has raised $42.2 million in total.

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Adjust expands its anti-ad fraud tech by acquiring Unbotify

Adjust, a Berlin-headquartered company focused on mobile ad measurement and fraud prevention, is acquiring bot detection startup Unbotify.
Founded in 2012, Adjust has become increasingly focused on ad fraud, and in fact created an industry group called the Coalition Against Ad Fraud a little over a year ago. Co-founder and CTO Paul Müller argued that although the industry has become increasingly concerned about fraud, Adjust has led the way in taking a more proactive approach: “Instead of just telling our clients, ‘Hey, you just spent money on fraud,’ we actively intervened and rejected attribution to a fraudulent source.”
In Müller’s view, Unbotify fits in with the company’s broader philosophy because the Israeli startup isn’t just trying to detect bots — it also “produces explainable results,” providing a clear explanation of why an impression couldn’t have come from a real human being.
“We strongly believe fraud isn’t a problem that can be solved with a magical black box or eight ball,” he said. “Fraud should not be an opinion. We believe in clear, transparent measurement of why something is fraud.”

The $8.2 Billion Adtech Fraud Problem That Everyone Is Ignoring

Adjust co-founder and CEO Christian Henschel said the entire 25-person Unbotify team will be joining the company, and will continue working as an independent office in Tel Aviv. In fact, Adjust plans to double the size of the team by the end of the year.
The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. Unbotify was founded in 2015 by Yaron Oliker and Alon Dayan. According to Crunchbase, it raised $2 million in funding from Maverick Ventures Israel.
Ultimately, Henschel said, “What we’d like to achieve is to end fraud for digital media.”
Not that they think that Adjust alone can put a stop to all fraud. Instead, they hope to simply make it too costly and difficult for fraudsters to target Adjust customers.
“If you have a lot of houses on the street, and some of the doors are heavily fortified, most of the time [the thieves] will go with the door leaning open,” Müller said. “For us, the goal is not to eliminate fraud on an idealistic level, but actually to make it financially unviable.”
The announcement comes just a month after Adjust announced it was buying data aggregation company Acquired.io.

Devcon raises $4.5M to beef up adtech security

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The Pill Club raises $51M as VCs find new opportunities in women’s health

Through telemedicine and direct-to-consumer sales platforms, startups are streamlining the historically arduous process of accessing contraception.
The latest effort to secure a significant financing round is The Pill Club, an online birth control prescription and delivery service. Consumer-focused investor VMG Partners has led its $51 million Series B, with participation from new investors GV and ACME Capital (formerly known as Sherpa Capital), and existing investors Base10 Partners and Shasta Ventures. The Pill Club declined to disclose its valuation.
Launched in 2016 in San Carlos, California, The Pill Club couples healthcare services with at-home delivery, reaching customers in all 50 states. With a team of doctors, nurses and patient care coordinators, the startup operates its own pharmacy and is licensed to prescribe medication in 35 states. With the new funding, which brings its total raised to $67 million, founder and chief executive officer Nick Chang said he plans to scale the business 50 percent and expand its prescription service across the entire U.S.
“At the end of the day, our company is about empowering women,” Chang told TechCrunch. “What does that mean? It means empowering our patients to make their own healthcare decisions and making reproductive healthcare more common — something to not be shy about or worried about.”
Chang, who has spent his career in medicine and holds an M.D. from Duke University, previously founded Ganogen. The business, which sought to facilitate patient’s access to organ donors, ultimately shut down but was a catalyst to The Pill Club’s formation, as were experiences from Chang’s youth.
“I [grew] up with an older sister who was on birth control since she was 14 for menstrual regulation,” Chang said. “She really felt embarrassed to pick up the medication and to talk to anyone about it and that was really insightful for me. There are so many hurdles in accessing birth control besides clinics being around.”
Some 67 million women between the ages of 13 to 44 live in the U.S.; 19 million of them live in contraceptive deserts, or areas that lack reasonable access to public clinics. The Pill Club wants to eliminate those deserts, as do other companies in the digital health arena.
Digital health has remained one of the hottest destinations for VC investment. In 2018, investors put about $4.5 billion into U.S. companies in the sector, a 17 percent increase year-over-year, according to PitchBook data. Telemedicine startups garnered a record $1.25 billion in funding in that timeframe thanks to large financings for industry leader Oscar, a health insurance startup that raised $540 million in 2018 alone; as well as an $88 million Series A for newcomer Roman, which offers a cloud pharmacy for erectile dysfunction.
Startups focused on women’s health, meanwhile, have continued to garner more attention from VCs. These companies, including The Pill Club and comepetitor Nurx, have not only benefited from the rapid rise of telehealth, but also from a societal shift sparked in part by President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers’ attempts to limit women’s access to birth control.
“People want to talk about this,” Chang said. “With so much happening from Hollywood to politics … it’s really got some people to say ‘ok, we really need to talk about what we are prioritizing as a society.'”
In addition to accelerating the expansion of its 260-person team, The Pill Club plans to use the investment to explore launching more services within women’s healthcare and to broaden the educational content it offers its customers.
“This is just the beginning of a much broader and bigger movement,” Chang said.

Nurx raises $36 million and adds Chelsea Clinton to its board of directors

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UK startup veteran and investor Wendy Tan White joins Alphabet’s X as Vice President

Wendy Tan White, a veteran of the U.K. startup scene — including founding SaaS website builder Moonfruit, which exited to Yell Group for $37 million — is joining Alphabet’s X (formerly Google X), TechCrunch has learned.
According to sources, Tan White was approached by Google late last year, as she weighed up a number of other options, including raising a VC fund of her own dedicated to “deep tech”. Ultimately, she’s decided to join X, where she’ll hold the position of Vice President and will be part of the leadership team.
I understand she’ll be reporting directly Astro Teller, the head of X (or “Captain of Moonshots”). “She will be managing, mentoring and supporting a range of teams across X,” a source tells me.
As well as founding and exiting Moonfruit with her husband Joe, Tan White has recently been a very active investor in the U.K., both in a personal capacity and as former Partner at BGF Ventures, the early-stage U.K. venture capital fund where she remains an advisor. She’ll also remain a Fellow at LocalGlobe, the seed-stage London VC form with whom she has 8 co-investments.
Tan White led the Open Cosmos Series A for BGF, amongst others. Her over 30 personal investments, along with her husband Joe Whoite, include Public.io, Whitehat, Cleo, CloudNC, OpenCosmos, Automata, Massless, Q-bot, Streetbees, and Xihelm.
Prior to BGF, she was a General Partner at Entrepreneur First, the London-headquartered deep tech company builder, which is backed by Greylock, and remains a popular figure amongst EF alumni.
(I’m told Joe White will remain in his current post as General Partner at Entrepreneur First, and, along with Wendy, will be based in the U.S., where he already spends much of his time.)
Wendy Tan White is also a Board Trustee of the Alan Turing Institute (the U.K.’s National AI Institute), a Member of the UK Digital Economy Council, on the Board of TechNation and Imperial College, DoC. She was awarded an MBE for services to business and technology in 2016 and Women in IT, Business Role Model of the Year 2017.

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UK startup veteran and investor Wendy Tan White joins Alphabet X as Vice President

Wendy Tan White, a veteran of the U.K. startup scene — including founding SaaS website builder Moonfruit, which exited to Yell Group for $37 million — is joining Alphabet X (formerly Google X), TechCrunch has learned.
According to sources, Tan White was approached by Google late last year, as she weighed up a number of other options, including raising a VC fund of her own dedicated to “deep tech”. Ultimately, she’s decided to join Google X, where she’ll hold the position of Vice President and will be part of the leadership team.
I understand she’ll be reporting directly Astro Teller, the head of X (or “Captain of Moonshots”). “She will be managing, mentoring and supporting a range of teams across X,” a source tells me.
As well as founding and exiting Moonfruit with her husband Joe, Tan White has recently been a very active investor in the U.K., both in a personal capacity and as former Partner at BGF Ventures, the early-stage U.K. venture capital fund where she remains an advisor.
She led the Open Cosmos Series A for BGF, amongst others. Tan White’s over 30 personal investments, along with her husband Joe, include Public.io, Whitehat, Cleo, CloudNC, OpenCosmos, Automata, Massless, Q-bot, Streetbees, and Xihelm.
Prior to BGF, she was a General Partner at Entrepreneur First, the London-headquartered deep tech company builder, which is backed by Greylock, and remains a popular figure amongst EF alumni.
(I’m told Joe White will remain in his current post as General Partner at Entrepreneur First, and, along with Wendy, will be based in the U.S., where he already spends much of his time.)
Wendy Tan White is also a Board Trustee of the Alan Turing Institute (the U.K.’s National AI Institute), a Member of the UK Digital Economy Council, on the Board of TechNation and Imperial College, DoC. She was awarded an MBE for services to business and technology in 2016 and Women in IT, Business Role Model of the Year 2017.

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UK startup veteran and investor Wendy Tan White joins Google X as Vice President

Wendy Tan White, a veteran of the U.K. startup scene — including founding SaaS website builder Moonfruit, which exited to Yell Group for $37 million — is joining Google X, TechCrunch has learned.
According to sources, Tan White was approached by Google late last year, as she weighed up a number of other options, including raising a VC fund of her own dedicated to “deep tech”. Ultimately, she’s decided to join Google X, where she’ll hold the position of Vice President and will be part of the leadership team.
I understand she’ll be reporting directly Astro Teller, the head of X. “She will be managing, mentoring and supporting a range of teams across X,” a source tells me.
As well as founding and exiting Moonfruit with her husband Joe, Tan White has recently been a very active investor in the U.K., both in a personal capacity and has an advisor and former Partner at BGF Ventures, the early-stage U.K. venture capital fund. She led led the Open Cosmos Series A for BGF, and is an investor in banking app Cleo, amongst others.
Prior to BGF, she was a General Partner at Entrepreneur First, the London-headquartered deep tech company builder, which is backed by Greylock, and remains a popular figure amongst EF alumni.
(Her husband, Joe Tan White, will remain in his current post as COO of Entrepreneur First, I’m told.)
Wendy Tan White is also a Board Trustee of the Alan Turing Institute (the U.K.’s National AI Institute), a Member of the UK Digital Economy Council, on the Board of TechNation and Imperial College, DoC. She was awarded an MBE for services to business and technology in 2016 and Women in IT, Business Role Model of the Year 2017.

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Just Eat acquires restaurant software platform Flyt for £22M

Just Eat, the takeout marketplace and food delivery service, has acquired Flyt, a startup that offers software for restaurants and restaurant suppliers. The acquisition price is £22 million, which Just Eat says it has financed from cash reserves.
“A further cash consideration may also be payable subject to certain operational and financial criteria being met over the next three years,” discloses the company.
Notably, Just Eat was already one of Flyt’s investors, but this deal sees the takeout behemoth become a majority owner. Existing investors, including Time Out and Entree Capital, have exited. The company is thought to have raised close to £12 million since being founded in 2013.
Described as a leading software platform that helps restaurant groups and restaurant suppliers integrate their point of sale (POS) systems with third-party services, Flyt has obvious synergies with Just Eat, providing technology that helps improve the experience of ordering online.
Better POS integration with various third-party services can help improve a restaurant’s customer experience and its operational efficiency. Specifically, Flyt says its technology platform removes the need for manual restaurant processes, reduces driver wait times in restaurants, and eliminates human error in order processing.
To that end, Flyt currently works with over 3,000 quick service and branded restaurants, including some of the U.K. and world’s largest brands such as KFC, Tim Hortons, Mitchells and Butlers, Pizza Express and Nando’s.
Despite now being owned by Just Eat, the company says it will continue to operate as a standalone platform and brand. Founders Tom Weaver and Chris Evans will continue to lead the business.
As a footnote, prior to the acquisition, Just Eat owned an 8 percent stake. The takeout marketplace says the acquisition will enable it to accelerate the development of Flyt’s technology and offer Flyt’s services to more of its restaurant partners globally.
Peter Duffy, Interim CEO of Just Eat comments: “Bringing Flyt into our Group will accelerate the take-up of these services around the world and allow the Flyt team to innovate with new and exciting technology solutions for the industry. We’ve admired Flyt for some time and are hugely impressed by their technology – integration between Just Eat and our restaurant partners is a critical component to providing world-class food delivery services”.

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TaxScouts, the UK startup that helps prepare your taxes, picks up £1.2M led by SpeedInvest

TaxScouts, the U.K. “tax preparation” startup founded by TransferWise and Marketinvoice alumni, has created some new paperwork of its own. The London-based company has raised £1.2 million in seed funding.
Leading the new round is SpeedInvest, with participation from Finch Capital and SeedCamp. It adds to £300,000 in pre-seed investment that TaxScouts announced six months ago.
Combining “automation” with a network of human accountants, TaxScouts’ service is designed to support you through your annual tax filing preparation and submission. However, the headline draw is that the company charges a flat fee of £99 if you pay in advance, and promises a turn-around of 1-2 days.
To achieve this, the web app walks you through your tax status, income and expenses without assuming too much prior knowledge. This includes asking you to upload or take a photo of any required documents, such as invoices or dividend certificates. The idea is that all of the admin is captured digitally and packaged up ready for an assigned accountant to check.
Last year, I took the service for a spin, the first time in years that I haven’t left my tax return to the last minute. The accountant assigned to me was helpful and his advice seemed quite good. Most importantly, the communication was speedy, both over text and in a call we needed to have to talk through the pros and cons of two alternative ways to expense a car for work.
Meanwhile, I’m told accountants like the service, too, as it potentially enables small practices to scale and therefore take on more clients. Powering this is TaxScouts’ client management system for accountants, which the startup claims is saving 3-5 days of work per month for its accounting partners.
To that end, TaxScouts says it hopes to quadruple its network of accountant partners by the end of 2019. Its longer term aim is reduce the workload of accountants by 80 percent through further “process automation and digital data processing”.
“With an ever increasing amount of people in the UK experiencing non-standard income and with late fines amounting to billions last tax season alone, the time is better than ever to fundamentally redefine the experience,” says Anthony Danon, Principal at SpeedInvest.
“TaxScouts has built automation that brings simplicity, speed and convenience through a unique approach that creates shared value across taxpayers and accountants. We are excited to be backing such a product-minded team that has led product and engineering in some of U.K.’s best fintech startup stories”.

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Axa Venture Partners raises $150 million early-stage fund

Axa Venture Partners, the venture capital arm of insurance company Axa, is raising an early-stage fund. Today’s new $150 million fund (€130 million) is called AVP Early Stage II.
Previously, Axa Venture Partners had raised a $110 million early-stage fund back in 2015. So far, it has invested in 40 companies, such as Hackajob, K4Connect, Futurae or Zenjob and Happytal.
When it comes to investment strategy, Axa Venture Partners plans to invest in early startups based in Europe, North America and Israel with this new fund. The firm will invest as much as $6 million per company.
Axa Venture Partners also operates a growth fund and invests in other funds through a fund of funds. And the firm has offices in Paris, London, San Francisco and New York.

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