BrainQ raises $5.3M to treat neurological disorders with the help of AI

BrainQ, an Israel-based startup that aims to help stroke victims and those with spinal cord injuries treat their injuries with the help of a personalized electromagnetic treatment protocol, today announced that it has raised a $5.3 million funding round on top of the $3.5 million the company previously raised. The company’s investors include Qure Ventures, crowdfunding platform OurCrowd.com, Norma Investments, IT-Farm and a number of angel investors, including Valtech Cardio founder and CEO Amir Gross.

When we last talked to BrainQ earlier this year, the team was working on two human clinical trials for stroke patients in Israel. At that time, the company had closed its first funding round and had also recently started to work with Google’s Launchpad Accelerator, too.

The general idea behind BrainQ is to use the patient’s brainwaves to generate a tailored treatment protocol. No AI company would be complete without data — it’s what drives these algorithms, after all — and the company says it owns one the largest Brain Computer Interface-based EEG databases for motor tasks. It’s that database that allows it to interpret the patient’s brain waves and generate its treatment protocol.

BrainQ EEG reader device

“We are on the verge of a new era where AI- based precision medicine will be used to treat neurodisorders, which do not have a sufficient solution to date,” said BrainQ CEO Yotam Drechsler in today’s announcement. “At BrainQ, we are thrilled by the opportunity to bring this vision to life in the world of neuro-recovery. In a short time, we have already achieved significant results and are looking forward to the opportunity to push our technology and expand our operations, further positioning BrainQ as a leader in the world of BCI-based precision medicine.”

As is typical for Israeli startups, the team’s background is quite impressive and includes former members of the country’s elite intelligence units and academics with a background in AI and neuroscience.

Southeast Asia’s Carro raises $60M for its automotive classifieds and car financing service

Carro, an automotive classifieds service and car financing startup based in Singapore, has closed a $60 million Series B round to scale its business in Southeast Asia.

The deal was co-led by SoftBank Ventures Korea, Insignia Ventures — the firm from ex-Sequoia Asia partner Yinglan Tan — and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin’s B Capital Group. Other participants include IDG Ventures India founder Manik Arora (via his family fund) and existing Carro backers Venturra, Singtel Innov8, Golden Gate Ventures and Alpha JWC.

Carro raised a $12 million Series A round in March 2017. This latest capital takes it to $78 million from investors to date, according to Crunchbase.

The 2.5-year-old company said in an announcement that $250 million of vehicles were sold last year across its three markets: Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore. That’s more than double the $120 million it claimed in 2016. Last March, Carro introduced its Genie Finance underwriting business, and over its first year, it claims to have originated over $100 million in loans while amassing a loan book of nearly $40 million.

Carro CEO Aaron Tan previously spent time at Singtel Innov8 and is one of a trio of co-founders. Tan told TechCrunch that the capital will initially be spent growing Carro’s business in Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore, but further down the line, there’s a plan for expansion.

“The exact markets are still to be determined but it may be a small setup in Japan and other sources of cars,” he added.

Carro has already expanded in terms of services. Initially a vehicle marketplace, it launched Genie Finance and has also forayed into insurance brokerage and road-side assistance. It recently introduced a service that completes vehicle sales in 60 minutes — Carro Express — which it said is now available in 30 locations across Southeast Asia.

“We will double down on our online marketplaces and financing in emerging markets this year. Ultimately, we want to improve the experience of selling and buying a car, as well as provide access to capital to the next billion people, which will improve the quality of lives,” Tan said in a statement.

Carro is rivaled by a number of startups, including BeliMobilGue in Indonesia, Carsome, iCar Asia and Rocket Internet’s Carmudi, although with its new raise in the bank Carro is the best-funded by some margin.

iCar Asia, which is managed by Malaysian venture builder Catcha, raised $19 million last November. This year has seen Carsome — which covers Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand — raise a $19 million Series B, BeliMobilGue — Indonesia-only — raise $3.7 million and Carmudi land $10 million.

In the case of Carmudi, the business has retrenched itself. At its peak it covered over 20 markets worldwide across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, but today its focus is on Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

Carro’s monster raise follows another notable deal in Southeast Asia today which saw Carousell close a Series C round worth $85 million. The firm added backing from new investors DBS, Southeast Asia’s largest bank, and EDBI, the corporate investment arm of Singapore’s Economic Development Board.

Southeast Asia-based mobile listings startup Carousell raises $85M

Capital One acquires digital identity and fraud alert startup Confyrm

Capital One has acquired the San Francisco-based digital identity and fraud alert startup Confyrm, the company announced through a blog post on Thursday. The deal will bring Confyrm’s technology to the bank in order to help speed its development and implementation of consumer identity services at scale.

CEO Andrew Nash founded Confyrm in 2013, along with Dale Olds and Emma Lindley, with a vision of restoring trust in digital identities, he says.

“We recognized that despite an increasing reliance on digital identities, consumer trust in those identities continued to erode,” explains Nash. “We wanted to make a real difference to reducing online fraud and to make the internet a safer place for everyone engaged in it, but critically to do this without abusing customer privacy and storing personal data.”

The company created a system to offer early notifications of suspicious account activity, in order to mitigate the impact of fraud or account theft for identity providers and consumers alike. The system also uses privacy-enhancing mechanisms to protect the identities of the individual consumers and the event publishers.

For example, if a financial service was processing a password reset request but detected that the consumer’s email account had been taken over by a fraudster, it could stop the attack on the consumer’s account immediately. Meanwhile, the consumer could be alerted at the same time to take additional steps to secure their account.

Before starting Confyrm, Nash had previously served as Director of Identity Services at Google, one of the largest providers of consumer identity services in the world, with over a billion consumer and enterprise accounts. He also served as Senior Director of Consumer Identity at PayPal, managing over 350 million identities validated for use in the financial services space, and was Director of Technologies at RSA Security.

So for Capital One, the acquisition of Confyrm isn’t just about the technology itself – it’s about bringing Nash on board.

Following the deal’s close, Nash will become Managing Vice President of Consumer Identity Services.

He says working at Capital One will help the team reach more consumers than a startup could on its own, allowing them to “massively increase the set of consumers that we can help to protect.”

It’s unclear how far along Confyrm was on actually bringing its product to consumers – its website touted a few pilot programs several years ago, but hadn’t been updated in some time. Some of the site’s text is still “Lorem Ipsum” filler text, in fact, and there’s been little coverage by press in the years since its founding. The company hadn’t talked much about its pilot partners, but the list was reported to include an internet email provider, mobile operator, financial services company, and multiple e-commerce sites. Likely, Capital One was the early partner, which is what later led to this acquisition.

On the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) website, one of Confyrm’s pilot programs was listed, noting pilot partners included InCommon, Google, AOL, LinkedIn, and Microsoft. (AOL merged with Yahoo to form Oath, which also now owns TechCrunch.)

Deal terms regarding the Capital One acquisition were not being shared, but Confyrm had raised $1.2 million, according to Crunchbase, which attributes the funding to a grant. (Another source states the grant was for $2.4 million, however).

Acquiring an early stage startup isn’t rare for Capital One, which regularly picks up young companies to fuel its company with fresh talent and unique IP. Over the past several years, it’s acquired mobile savings startup BankOns, local business directory Bundle, budgeting app Level Money, design and development firm Monsoon, design firm Adaptive Path, price tracker Paribus (which launched at TechCrunch Disrupt), and secure container orchestration platform Critical Stack. 

There’s a video of Nash explaining how Confyrm works, here.

Free stock trading app Robinhood rockets to a $5.6B valuation with new funding round

Robinhood started off as a dead-simple stock trading application that had no transaction fees — but since it’s continued to grow, and especially as it starts to dive into cryptocurrency, investors are getting pretty excited about its prospects and are pouring a ton of new funding into it.

And it’s that tantalizing prospect of creating a next generation way of trading assets and cryptocurrency is now sending Robinhood to a $5.6 billion valuation in a new financing round that the company is announcing today. Robinhood says it’s closed a $363 million Series D financing round, with DST Global led this new round and Iconiq, Kleiner Perkins, Sequoia and Capital G participated. Robinhood had a $1.3 billion valuation last year when it had around 2 million users, and Robinhood says it now has 4 million users and has passed $150 billion in transaction volume.

“It’s the only place right now where you can trade crypto, stocks, and options all in one place,” CEO Vlad Tenev said. “For us to construct an experience that feels seamless and natural for customers, that for example want to sell an equity and use the proceeds to buy crypto, seamlessly, that’s been challenging not just from a product and design standpoint, but also infrastructure standpoint. There’s complexity under the hood, and our goal is to make it as seamless as possible in the process and make that complexity go away.”

Those 4 million users — and that valuation — indicates that Robinhood has clearly exposed a lot of demand for an easier way to users to dip their toes into financial services without having to work with firms that have trading fees like Scotttrade or E*Trade. And while there are a lot of services that offer robo-advisory services like Betterment and Wealthront, which make it easier to start investing small amounts of money, Robinhood offers users the opportunity to do these things at a more granular level.

And, of course, there’s the cryptocurrency aspect that is clearly spurring a lot of interest in the company. At the time, 1 million users waitlisted for access in just the five days after Robinhood Crypto was announced. Robinhood has premium services like Robinhood Gold, where the company can find additional ways to generate revenue that offset the requirements of running a system that allows users to trade stocks for free. Robinhood has raised $539 million to date, as diving into financial services can be an expensive prospect, as well as getting enough users on board to the point that it can scale to a level that the business starts to increasingly make sense.

Robinhood’s crypto trading service came out in February and by today, the company says it’s available in 10 states. The company also rolled out a web version and stock option trading, trying to become a more robust financial services company that’s still tuned to a younger generation that wants an easier way to get into investing without needing a big balance to invest. Most of Robinhood’s users, too, aren’t so-called “day traders” and are instead holding stocks for a while after they buy them.

“If you look at the data and the statistics, people that are active day traders are actually a very small percentage of our space,” Tenev said. “People that are actually transacting on that cadence are the minority of our customers. Most of our customers engage in more of these buy and hold accumulation strategies. We really see a lot of unique things because we don’t charge trading commissions. There are customers that deposit money regularly twice or once a month and then buy stocks as soon as those deposits come in. We don’t see a lot of customers that are doing rapid buying and selling.”

Still, as it tries to further expand — especially into products like crypto and new regions — it’s going to increasingly find itself trying to jump hurdles that financial services companies find when going abroad. And there’s always a chance that the trading platforms will try to become a little more competitive (and companies like Square are even getting into Bitcoin trading). That’s going to require a robust amount of funding to try to outmaneuver well-capitalized companies that might already have those relationships in place to more easily expand.

“The political climate is uncertain, it sort of affects everyone, it doesn’t affect us uniquely,” Tenev said. “We’re a crypto business now. Not a lot of people have a ton of clarity on what that’s gonna look like in the future, it’s a new space that’s evolving really rapidly. I think that we’re confident we can adapt and evolve, and we’re operating the business in a responsible way. There’s only so much you can do, but I feel like we’ve done a lot to address any concerns.”

Walmart says Flipkart is ‘a key center of learning’ for its entire global business

Walmart has opened up on the thinking behind its $15 billion majority investment in Flipkart, and perhaps the most interesting facet is that the retailer plans to export ideas from the Indian e-commerce firm to the rest of its global business, including the U.S..

Walmart’s decision to follow Amazon into India is a testament to huge potential growth in the market. Internet penetration is tipped to cross 500 million this year and a rising middle-class emerging, all of which led Walmart CEO Doug McMillon to describe the deal as “a unique opportunity in a market with significant long-term growth prospects” — but the aspirations run further.

“At Walmart, we’re learning how to build — and how to partner to build — retail ecosystems around the world. India will now become a key center of learning for our entire company,” he said on a call with analysts following the announcement of the deal.

McMillon credited Flipkart for more than just an e-commerce business.

The company’s verticals span electronics, fashion and more, but Flipkart’s management team consistently returned to other services including its mobile payment arm, supply chain business than does 500,000 deliveries daily and more. They also dropped a hint at the potential to do groceries in the future, for one.

That “ecosystem” play is something that is quite unique to Asia, particularly in China, and it is an area where Walmart believes it can glean operational intelligence and potential strategy for other markets, including the U.S..

“Not only is [Flipkart] innovative [with the] problem-solving culture that they have, but they are doing some great work both in the AI space, how they are using data across their platforms but particularly in terms of the payment platform that they’ve created through PhonePe,” Judith McKenna, Walmart COO, said on the call.

“All of those things we can learn from for the future and see how we can leverage those around the international markets and potentially into the US as well,” McKenna added.

That admission is notable, and it stands to reason that Walmart — a traditional offline retailer — might seek to lean on Flipkart’s technical expertise to build out its online or tech-enabled businesses elsewhere in the world, particularly with Amazon entering offline via its Whole Foods deal. That helps bring more immediate returns since, as Walmart’s executives admitted, Flipkart isn’t likely to turn a profit any time soon since it is focused on chasing scale in India.

There’s also some synergy with Walmart’s other recent star acquisition.

McKenna added that Marc Lore, the founder of Jet.com which Walmart acquired last year for $3 billion, had been involved in scouting out Walmart during due diligence. She added that, for now, he wouldn’t be a part of the Flipkart business.

“Maybe someday we might involve him, but right now there’s plenty to do in the U.S. business and that’s what he’s focused on,” McKenna concluded.

Walmart already has an international business — which includes a physical retail footprint in India — but McKenna said the management team is “very interested” in the potential to expand Flipkart outside of India to growth that global presence, presumably using many of the aforementioned learnings taken from the Indian market.

“[International expansion] aligns with the [Flipkart] management team’s ambitions, it aligns with an operating model that we [at Walmart] are comfortable with working with. There’s no timeframe on that but it’s something that for the future we are considering,” she added.

The expansion makes sense since Walmart has spent the last couple of years regrouping its global efforts. It exited China in 2016 — instead opting for a partnership with e-commerce giant JD.com — and this month it retreated from the UK after selling its Asda business to rival high-street retailer Sainsbury’s. Perhaps its time to examine upcoming markets worldwide? In which case the $16 billion Flipkart deal begins to seem a lot more strategic.

Dreamlines, the online travel agency for cruise holidays, scores €45M Series E

Dreamlines, which claims to be Europe’s largest online travel agency specialising in cruise-related travel, is disclosing that it has raised €45 million in Series E funding. The round is led by Princeville Global, with participation from existing investors that include Holtzbrinck Ventures, Target Global, Dimaventures, Hasso Plattner Ventures, TruVenturo, and Rocket Internet’s Global Founders Capital.

Founded by Felix Schneider in 2012, Hamburg-based Dreamlines can be thought of as a Booking.com or Expedia but for cruise holidays and other cruise line type travel. The OTA connects customers to what it says is the largest portfolio of cruises around the world, including holiday packages exclusive to Dreamlines.

Meanwhile, unlike other forms of holiday and travel, the cruise industry is only more recently being digitised, a sentiment echoed by Emmanuel DeSousa, Managing Partner of Princeville Global, who joins the Dreamlines board.

“The cruise industry is the last sizable, global travel segment to be disrupted by a tech-focused online booking platform,” he says. “Under the leadership of its visionary founders, Dreamlines is uniquely positioned to continue transforming the cruise industry to an online model, leading in Europe and expanding around the world”.

To that end, Dreamlines says the investment will support its continued growth and international expansion. The company currently operates in 10 countries, partnering with over 100 cruise operators, and has raised around €110 million to date.

Adds Christian Saller, General Partner at HV Holtzbrinck Ventures and the Dreamlines chairman: “As an early investor, HV Holtzbrinck Ventures has seen Dreamlines grow by a factor ten since its initial investment into the European market leader. The new investment will allow Dreamlines to continue this success story”.

Lyra Health raises $45M to create a smart network for treating mental health problems

Treating issues with mental health can be a daunting and very sensitive task for anyone that is suffering from any kind of mental illness — but the problem for many is that a lot of patients just don’t know where to start, according to David Ebersman.

That’s where Lyra Health hopes to help. The service works with employers to offer a tool to their employees that helps them securely and confidentially begin to understand what kind of treatment they need to seek if they feel like they are suffering from any mental health problems. Employers naturally have a stake in this as they want their employees to stay health, but the goal is to offer a sort of safe space where users can benefit from years of growth in pattern matching and data to help them figure out where to start. The company said it has raised $45 million in a new financing round including Tenaya Capital, Glynn Capital Partners, Crown Ventures, and Casdin Capital. Existing investors that include Greylock Partners, Venrock, and Providence Ventures also participated in the funding round.

“We felt it was important to build an offering that would be helpful to all of the people who work at these companies and are suffering from a mental health condition like depression, or anxiety, or substance abuse,” Ebersman said. “A lot of the people we want to help don’t know where they’re starting. Trying to build and market something narrowly to a subset of the audience requires the audience to know they’re in that subset. Trying to build something more welcoming and engaging for a broader set of conditions felt to us to be a realistic response to the fact that not everyone can self identify. Fortunately technology really helps us with this — we can build a secure and confidential place where an employee can go and answer some questions that relate to their symptoms, severity, treatment preferences and use technology to match them for the right care.”

Lyra Health first starts off working with employers to figure out a plan to communicate to employees that the tool actually exists. But that’s one of the biggest challenges, as mental health issues — like anxiety or depression — can be very sensitive subjects for employees. Lyra Health has to work with employers to convince to give them confidence to explore it as a safe and confidential place, where they can put in information about some of their symptoms while feeling like that information is going to be locked down.

From there, Lyra takes a close look at that data and then build a set of recommendations for the patients based on what they think some of their symptoms correlate to. Lyra Health has a network of around 2,500 therapists, most of which don’t participate in traditional health plans, Ebersman said. Lyra Health then connects patients with those therapists, and they can schedule the appointment online and get started right away. Lyra Health then periodically checks in with the patients to see how they are doing and ensuring they feel like they are getting better — another data point that helps the company figure out if its recommendations are working.

“We really believed that the experience that we give to patients today could be dramatically improved,” Ebersman said. “This is part of the healthcare system that’s really hard to understand, it’s hard to navigate, and there are a bunch of different types of solutions for a variety of different conditions. We felt that trying to build a comprehensive solution that would make it easy for clients to find the care that was matched correctly to their needs and preferences was a tech problem we could start grappling right away.”

Ebersman previously oversaw the initial public offering of Facebook as its CFO, but the challenge Lyra Health entails is one that may be just as complex. Not only does the company have to establish and maintain that network of high-quality doctors and therapists, it also has to ensure that it builds and maintains a robust data set that ensures that its recommendations are actually on point — and get better over time. If it ends up as a bad product, employees won’t use it, and the recommendations can’t improve at any point. And amid all of this, the experience has to feel like a good and approachable one, even though it’s partially tackled through machine learning.

“I think we are able to successfully communicate to employees what Lyra does in a way that doesn’t seem intimidating or stigmatized,” Ebersman said. “I think the experience of exploring what your care options are using technology is a little easier for people. I think there are places where technology plays a critical role in this journey. One is creating a safe environment where you can dip your toe in the water. I also think a technology based experience can give you confidence that the best care for what you need is out there. I do believe that for most people in the care journey, interacting with a human who is warm and who you can relate to, and who has skills to help you, improve is an important piece. But if you think comprehensively from the beginning to the end of someone’s care journey, there’s a critical set of roles technology can play to ensure that more people engage and have a better experience.”

Ebersman hopes Lyra Health is riding a wave of increased awareness and attention for mental health. That could encompass anything from apps like Lyra Health to companies that are focusing on wellness like meditation apps like Calm (which is reportedly valued over $250 million). All of these companies have been able to raise pretty significant rounds of financing, but it also means that there will be a lot of activity — and a bit of a race to get adoption and build up the kind of robust data sets you need to have a formal defensibility in the marketplace. There are other approaches to mental health like Huddle, but the trick will be figuring out how to get people on board and spin up that flywheel that will make the experience better and better.

” Many people with mental health conditions don’t ever engage with the system, or if they do, are quickly intimidated with how confusing and frustrating it can be,” he said. “We believe if we build a simple and warm tech-based experience that’s confidential and secure, we can get more people engaged with the mental health system. Our engagements are about seven times higher than the companies were seeing with the solutions they had before they launched Lyra.”

SoundHound has raised a big $100M round to take on Alexa and Google Assistant

As SoundHound looks to leverage its ten-plus years of experience and data to create a voice recognition tool that companies can bake into any platform, it’s raising another big $100 million round of funding to try to make its Houndify platform a third neutral option compared to Alexa and Google Assistant.

While Amazon works to get developers to adopt Alexa, SoundHound has been collecting data since it started as an early mobile app for the iPhone and Android devices. That’s given it more than a decade of data to work with as it tries to build a robust audio recognition engine and tie it into a system with dozens of different queries and options that it can tie to those sounds. The result was always a better SoundHound app, but it’s increasingly started to try to open up that technology to developers and show it’s more powerful (and accurate) than the rest of the voice assistants on the market — and get them to use it in their services.

“We launched [Houndify] before Google and Amazon,” CEO Keyvan Mohajer said. “Obviously, good ideas get copied, and Google and Amazon have copied us. Amazon has the Alexa fund to invest in smaller companies and bribe them to adopt the Alexa Platform. Our reaction to that was, we can’t give $100 million away, so we came up with a strategy which was the reverse. Instead of us investing in smaller companies, let’s go after big successful companies that will invest in us to accelerate Houndify. We think it’s a good strategy. Amazon would be betting on companies that are not yet successful, we would bet on companies that are already successful.”

This round is all coming in from strategic investors. Part of the reason is that taking on these strategic investments allows SoundHound to capture important partnerships that it can leverage to get wider adoption for its technology. The companies investing, too, have a stake in SoundHound’s success and will want to get it wherever possible. The strategic investors include Tencent Holdings Limited, Daimler AG, Hyundai Motor Company, Midea Group, and Orange S.A. SoundHound already has a number of strategic investors that include Samsung, NVIDIA, KT Corporation, HTC, Naver, LINE, Nomura, Sompo, and Recruit. It’s a ridiculously long list, but again, the company is trying to get that technology baked in wherever it can.

So it’s pretty easy to see what SoundHound is going to get out of this: access to China through partners, deeper integration into cars, as well as increased expansion to other avenues through all of its investors. Mohajer said the company could try to get into China on its own (or ignore it altogether), but there has been a very limited number of companies that have had any success there whatsoever. Google and Facebook, two of the largest technology companies in the world, are not on that list of successes.

“China is a very important market, it’s very big and has a lot of potential, and it’s growing,” Mohajer said. “You can go to Canada without having to rethink a big strategy, but China is so different. We saw even companies like Google and Facebook tried to do that and didn’t succeed. When those bigger companies didn’t succeed, it was a signal to us that strategy wouldn’t work. [Tencent] was looking at the space and they saw we have the best technology in the world. They appreciated it and were respectful, they helped us get there. We looked at so many partners and [Tencent and Midea Group] were the ones that worked out.”

The idea here is that developers in all sorts of different markets — whether that’s cars or apps — will want to have some element of voice interaction. SoundHound is betting that companies like Daimler will want to control the experience in their cars, and not be saying “Alexa” whenever they want to make a request while driving. Instead, it may come down to something as simple as a wake word that could change the entire user experience, and that’s why SoundHound is pitching Houndify as a flexible and customizable option that isn’t demanding a brand on top of it.

SoundHound still does have its stable of apps. The original SoundHound app is around, though those features are also baked into Hound, its main consumer app. That is more of a personal assistant-style voice recognition service where you can string together a sentence of as many as a dozen parameters and get a decent search result back. It’s more of a party trick than anything else, but it is a good demonstration of the technical capabilities SoundHound has as it looks to embed that software into lots of different pieces of hardware and software.

SoundHound may have raised a big round with a fresh set of strategic partners, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s a surefire bet. Amazon is, after all, one of the most valuable companies in the world and Alexa has proven to be a very popular platform, even if it’s mostly for nominal requests and listening to music (and party tricks) at this point. SoundHound is going to have to convince companies — small and large — to bake in its tools, rather than go with massive competitors like Amazon with pockets deep enough to buy a whole grocery chain.

“We think every company is going to need to have a strategy in voice AI, jus like ten years ago everyone needed a mobile strategy,” Mohajer said. “Everyone should think about it. There aren’t many providers, mainly because it takes a long time to build the core technology. It took us 12 years. To Houndify everything we need to be global, we need to support all the main languages and regions in the world. We built the technology to be language independent, but there’s a lot of resources and execution involved.”

Homecare services startup Cera announces $17M Series A

Startup life is nothing if not full of ups and downs. On the up this week is Cera, the London-based homecare startup advised by former Deputy Prime Minister Sir Nick Clegg, which today is announcing $17 million in Series A funding. Investing in the round is Guinness Asset Management (via its EIS fund), Yabeo (which is also the lead investor in Germany’s biggest care supply company Pflegebox), and Kairos. In addition, a number of Cera’s seed backers have followed on.

Contrast that with last week when a Bloomberg report alleged that fake reviews of Cera had been posted to third-party websites, such as TrustPilot — allegedly written by “Cera Care employees or people close to them” — and that at the time of its report some non-existent or expired NHS partnerships were incorrectly listed on Cera’s website.

The same report also revealed that Cera — which makes a virtue of its ability to collect and take actions on client data — wasn’t registered with the U.K. data regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), before February this year, although the company tells TechCrunch it began the process a year earlier. Either way, the startup launched as early as November 2016 and therefore was likely operating for a period without the proper data regulation.

Addressing the alleged fake reviews, and alleged misrepresentation of some NHS partnerships, Cera issued TechCrunch with the following statement:

“We have looked into this, and TrustPilot have removed unverified reviews. We pride ourselves on delivering outstanding, high-quality care, which is demonstrated through our platform’s automated customer feedback, which remains at a 95% satisfaction rate.

“Contrary to certain statements in recent press articles, we have partnered with several NHS organisations over the past year, successfully delivering NHS-funded and referred care services. In 2018 we have delivered NHS CCG funded care with the following CCGs: Lambeth, Tower Hamlets, Haringey, Enfield, and previously had partnered with CCGs including Brent, Harrow and Hillingdon, and East London Foundation Trust, in addition to marketing in NHS hospitals including: Central Middlesex, West Middlesex, Northwick Park, Royal Marsden, Whittington and Barnet & Chase Farm. We note that at the time the articles were written, our website was not fully up to date with these materials and have since rectified it – this was in part due to variable contractual expiry dates”.

Meanwhile, Cera says it will use its Series A funding — which is made up of both equity and debt — to expand its services further across the U.K., launching in an additional three cities beyond London, namely Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham, via what it is calling a “buy and build” strategy. This will see Cera buy struggling homecare agencies across the U.K. — many of which it says lack the technology to scale and grow independently — as a more rapid means of expanding.

“In a fragmented market of over 8,000 homecare providers, Cera has built the technology to quickly aggregate U.K. homecare businesses in a scalable manner, in what will be a U.K.-first from a startup in this space. This model will also be used to drive Cera’s expansion to Germany,” says the company.

The injection of capital will also support Cera’s continued investment in “AI”. It has been prototyping a chatbot-styled assistant it calls “Martha,” which it claims can successfully foresee deterioration in patient health, based on carer feedback, such as whether a patient hasn’t been eating, has a fever, or isn’t walking normally. The aim is to pre-empt more serious illnesses and avoid unnecessary admissions to hospital.

Related to this, I understand from Cera’s latest investor email report that Cera has grown its data set to “over 1 million data points” — a 90 percent quarter-on-quarter increase — which it intends to feed into its machine learning-powered predictive analytics tool to help improve health outcomes and reduce preventable hospital admissions. “We are taking active steps to ensure GDPR compliance,” says the company, which is just as well.

The same email details a number of business development updates by Cera, including that it is working on a collaboration with NHS 111 that — if it goes ahead — would permit integration of data records between Cera and the NHS 111 service. The startup is also working on Amazon Alexa integration, and has formed an exclusive partnership with the Daily Mail Group, to offer home care to Daily Mail readers and users.

To that end, the U.K. homecare startup space is pretty crowded already and therefore media partnerships and other more direct ways to market could be quite important beyond simply becoming a partner provider to local health and social care authorities. Cera’s direct U.K. competitors include HomeTouch (backed by Rocket Internet’s GFC, Passion Capital, Bupa, and 500 Startups), and SuperCarers.

Groupon acquires UK’s Cloud Savings Company, parent of Vouchercloud, for $65M

Daily deals and local commerce site Groupon has announced an acquisition to ramp up its operations in discount offers and specifically those tied to loyalty programs. The company has acquired Bristol, UK-based Cloud Savings Company, the owner of Vouchercloud and Giftcloud, in a deal that Groupon said has an enterprise value of $65 million.

The deal will give Groupon a boost in two areas: via Giftcloud, building out loyalty programs for brands and retailers who are already using the Groupon platform; and via Vouchercloud, tapping into an extensive network of discount codes — and people who hunt for and use these — to complement and amplify the direct offers that Groupon already offers on its platform today.

Vouchercloud is active in 11 countries and Groupon says its biggest market is the UK, where it has over 5 million subscribers and 12,000 top retailers and brands using its platform. The mobile app is also popular and has clocked up 10 million downloads globally.

Cloud Savings Company was already profitable.

“We’re pleased to add two great, profitable brands and very talented teams to the Groupon family,” said Groupon CEO Rich Williams in a statement. “In Vouchercloud, we’re acquiring one of the most innovative brands in the online discount codes space, which we believe will accelerate our own efforts — particularly in International — and broaden our marketplace for consumers. In Giftcloud, we see interesting long-term potential in creating attractive customer loyalty programs with some of the biggest names in retail, as well as with great local merchants.”

Groupon has been somewhat quiet on the acquisition front lately after a spate of purchases several years ago to help the company move deeper into commerce solutions and working more directly with local merchants, and then a subsequent contraction of the business that saw Groupon move out of some of these newer areas (for example selling off its point-of-sale business) close and sell a number of international operations, and lay off staff.

This acquisition is notable because it’s a turn away from that strategy, focusing instead on offers that can apply irrespective of your specific city location. (Groupon’s core service and daily offers remain banked around a specific city or other location.)

On the side of Cloud Savings Company, the business has been in a transition of its own: gift cards have mainly been designed as physical objects, resembling credit or other payment cards, but as retailers work on ways of both bringing down those costs and better tracking who is buying what, in order to capitalize better on that purchasing history, “cards” are becoming virtual cards in mobile wallets. That is something that Giftcloud is also developing, and plans to continue with Groupon (which has built out its service in part by way of a popular mobile app).

“We’re very excited for Vouchercloud and Giftcloud to join the Groupon family. We recognize the potential in combining our expertise in the coupon sector to enhance our offerings for consumers in the UK and beyond,” said Greg Le Tocq, co-founder and director of Cloud Savings Company, in a statement. “In joining together, we can create even more — and more effective — ways for customers to save and businesses to grow. We equally look forward to working with Groupon to grow the Giftcloud business, as we continue to be at the forefront of innovation while the gift card industry moves from plastic to digital.”

Groupon will be bringing on Cloud Savings’ 100 employees and keeping them based out of their current offices in Bristol. It said that it expects the deal to contribute $5 million to $6 million in Adjusted EBITDA in 2018.