Proof of Capital is a new $50M blockchain fund that’s backed by HTC

It’s often said that the dramatic fall of crypto prices last year ushered in a new era for technology-focused startups in the blockchain space, and the same argument can be made for the venture capitalists who fund them. Proof of Capital is the latest fund to emerge after it officially announced a maiden $50 million fund today.

The fund is led by trio Phil Chen, who created HTC’s Vive VR headset and is currently developing its Exodus blockchain phone (he spent time as a VC with Horizons Ventures in between), Edith Yeung, who previously headed up mobile for 500 Startups, and Chris McCann, a Thiel Fellow whose last role was head of community for U.S. VC firm Greylock Partners.

The firm — and you have to give them credit for the name — has an LP base that is anchored by HTC — no big surprise there given the connections — alongside YouTube co-founder Steve Chen, Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics, Ripple’s former chief risk officer Greg Kidd (who is also a prolific crypto investor) and a number of undisclosed family offices.

“For HTC, it’s obvious, they already have a product to go with it,” Yeung told TechCrunch in an interview, referencing the fact that HTC is keen to invest in blockchain services and startups to build an ecosystem for its play.

The fund also includes a partnership with HTC which, slightly hazy on paper, will essentially open the possibility for Proof of Capital portfolio companies to work with HTC directly to develop services or products for Exodus and potentially other HTC blockchain ventures. But other LPs are also keen to dip their toes in the water in different ways.

“Some of these backers are curious at the possibilities of blockchain,” continued Yeung. “For example, they’re giving us some ideas on how tokenization and gamification could be applied on different platforms.”

Proof of Capital founding partners (left to right) Edith Yeung, Chris McCann and Phil Chen

The fund itself is broadly targeted at early stage blockchain companies in fintech, infrastructure, hardware and the “consumer layers of the blockchain ecosystem.” Its remit is worldwide. Although Chen and Yeung have strong networks in Asia, the fund’s first deal is an investment in Latin America-based blockchain fintech startup Ubanx.

Yeung clarified that the fund is held in fiat currency and that it is focused on regular VC deals, as opposed to token-based investments.

“It’s a VC fund so the setup is traditional,” she explained. “There’s been a lot of interesting movements in the last two years, [but] we come from a more traditional VC background and are excited about the technology.”

“It’s still really early [for blockchain] and a lot of the hype — the boom and bust — is down to the crypto market and ICOs, but the reality is that a lot of these technologies are really nascent. Now, projects are raising equity, even if they have a token,” Yeung added.

Indeed, last year we wrote about the rise of private sales and that even the biggest blockchain companies took on VC fundingcrypto didn’t kill VCs despite the hype — and Yeung said that blockchain startup founders in 2019 are “taking a more concerted approach” to raising money beyond simply issuing tokens.

“Many projects that raised ICO really smelt like equity,” said Yeung. “We are seeing companies today delaying token issuance as much as possible; the whole thing has gone a little more back to earth.”

HTC is an anchor LP in Proof of Capital, and it is working with the fund to help its portfolio companies develop services for its Exodus blockchain phone, pictured above

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Movo grabs $22.5M to get more cities in LatAm scooting

Madrid-based micromobility startup Movo has closed a €20 million (~$22.5M) Series A funding round to accelerate international expansion.

The 2017 founded Spanish startup targets cities in its home market and in markets across LatAm, offering last mile mobility via rentable electric scooters (e-mopeds and e-scooters) plotted on an app map. It’s a subsidiary of local ride-hailing firm, Cabify, which provided the seed funding for the startup.

Movo’s Series A round is led by two new investors: Insurance firm Mutua Madrileña, doubtless spying strategic investment potential in helping diversify its business by growing the market for humans to scoot around cities on two wheels — and VC fund Seaya Ventures, an early investor in Cabify.

Both Mutua Madrileña and Seaya Ventures are now taking a seat on Movo’s board.

Commenting on the Series A in a statement, Javier Mira, general director of Mutua Madrileña, said: “The equity investment in Movo reflects Mutua Madrileña’s aspiration to respond to the new mobility needs that are emerging, and to the economic and social changes that are occurring and that are transforming our life habits.”

Movo currently operates in six cities across five countries — Spain, México, Colombia, Perú and Chile.

It first launched an e-moped service in Madrid a year ago, according to a spokeswoman, and has since expanded domestic operations to the southern Spanish coastal city of Malaga, as well as riding into Latin America.

The new funding is mostly pegged for further international expansion, with a plan to expand into new markets in LatAm including Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. Movo is targeting operating in a total of 10 countries by the end of 2019.

The Series A will also be used to grow its vehicle fleet in existing markets, it said.

“We are very excited to be able to offer a solution to the problems of mobility in cities, particularly for short distances in areas with high population density,” said CEO Pedro Rivas in a statement. “We are committed to working together with governments to complement mass public transport with these new micromobility alternatives, so that people can get around in a more sustainable and efficient way.”

Commenting on its investment in the Cabify subsidiary, Seaya Ventures’ Beatriz Gonzalez, founder and managing partner, said the fund is “committed to the evolution of mobility towards sustainable alternatives in the world’s major cities”.

“We want to be part of the transport revolution by promoting projects like Cabify and, of course, Movo,” she said in a statement which seeks to paint micromobility as a solution for urban congestion and poor air quality. “We are motivated to continue to promote companies with which we share this sense of responsibility towards the development and improvement of people’s quality of life.”

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On the heels of a $40 million round, TriNetX brings its services for drug trials to Europe

The market for technology and services for clinical drug trials is expected to reach $68.9 billion over the next seven years. The trials, which are necessary to bring new healthcare treatments to market, are by necessity prolonged, complicated affairs.

Several companies are vying for a piece of this multi-billion dollar pie with the offer of new digital services that can scour anonymized patient records from hospitals and university research to optimize how candidates for trials are selected, and how trials are monitored and managed.

A clinical trial is, on average, a journey of 12 years and $2 billion to $3 billion,” says Gadi Lachman, the chief executive of TriNetX — one company that’s working on making the clinical trial process more efficient. “In those twelve years more than half the trials get amended… We suggest tradeoffs to the researcher that maximizes the amount of patients that they can find.”

Part of the issue is scope. The pharmaceutical business is global, and demands global input, which is why TriNetX, recently raised $40 million to expand its operations in Asia, Europe, and Latin America. The first use of provceeds has been the acquisition of the European company Custodix, to integrate their candidate matching toolkits for research in the U.S. and Europe.

Belgian-based Custodix is active in 12 countries across Europe with a service that compliments TriNetX’s stateside offerings.

“The two companies have grown up in two separate geographies but are both committed to strong compliance, governance, and a global vision for clinical research,” said Lachman, in a statement. “We now offer the world’s largest platform for clinical research, providing a more powerful resource for pharma companies and healthcare organizations, and more hope for more patients. The expansion gives us local leadership, regional support, and increased resources in the European market.”

TriNetX installs its software in hospitals around the country (and increasingly around the globe) to hoover up information about patients who could be ideal candidates for clinical trials.

Through the Custodix acquisition, TriNetX now has a launchpad from which to start pitching services to geographies in Asia as well, according to the company.

As a result of the deal, the current Custodix chief executive, Brecht Claerhout, will become the managing director of TriNetX Europe — under the brand InSIte, a TriNetX company.

To date, TriNetX has raised $102 million from investors including Merck Global Health Innovation Fund (MGHIF) along with new investors Mitsui & Co, Ltd., ITOCHU Technology Ventures, ITOCHU Corporation, MPM Capital, F2 Ventures, and Deerfield Management.

“Real-world data is important when conducting clinical trials, drug research and discovery today,” said Joe Volpe, VP/Managing Director of Merck GHIF, in a statement. “TriNetX enables a global industry exchange and liberates data with the potential to rapidly provide answers to hard questions. With TriNetX, what previously took days or weeks to determine may often be done in minutes.”

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Google reshuffles its leadership in Asia Pacific

There’s a changing of the guard within Google’s Asia Pacific business. In recent weeks, personnel changes within two of its most important roles show the search giant is entering a new era of management for its fast-growing business across the continent.

Scott Beaumont, a British executive who previously ran Google in China and Korea, stepped into the role of Asia-Pacific president following an announcement made on March 18. Following that, Google revealed today that Rajan Anandan, the executive in charge of Google’s business in India and Southeast Asia, would leave the company. VC firm Sequoia India said that Anandan, who has made a number of angel investments, is joining its ranks to oversee Surge, the early stage accelerator program that it announced in January.

A former consultant with McKinsey in the U.S, Anandan worked for Microsoft and Dell before joining Google in 2011. Under his tenure, the company executed a range of initiatives for India under its ‘Next Billion Users’ initiative which included its Tez payments service (now called Google Pay), public WiFi, local apps and a range of more data-friendly versions of apps like Maps and YouTube. Under Anandan, Google’s revenues surpassed $1 billion annually with reports suggesting that India-based income grew some 30 percent year-on-year last year.

Anandan will stay on at Google until the end of April. Vikas Agnihotri, Google India’s head of sales, will step into his role until a replacement is found, Google said.

Beaumont paid tribute in a statement:

We are grateful to Rajan for his huge contribution to Google over the past eight years. His entrepreneurial zeal and leadership has helped grow the overall internet ecosystem in India and Southeast Asia, and we wish him all the best in his new adventures.

Google certainly stands in a more competitive position in India today, but whoever replaces Anandan will need to deliver a strategy in response to Facebook’s phenomenal growth in India — where it is said to be close to $1 billion in annual revenue, with big plans for its hugely popular WhatsApp service — and continue to develop strategies for mobile.

Rajan Anandan, vice president of Google for South East Asia and India, is leaving the search giant to oversee Sequoia’s new early-stage accelerator program (Photo credit: Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images)

It isn’t clear if Anandan’s departure is related to Beaumont’s recent promotion — you’d imagine that the two were among the main candidates for the top job at Google Asia — but heading to Sequoia is no slack move, particularly given the company’s increased focus on early-stage investing and Surge.

Now some words on Beaumont, who TechCrunch understands from sources is widely-liked within Google. His tenure in China is linked with the development of DragonFly, the secretive project to develop a government-friendly search service in China, but internally his star is rising thanks to Google’s improved business position in China.

DragonFly may (may) have been shuttered, but Beaumont is credited with helping Google build revenue in China through advertising deals, with The Information reporting that China-based revenue surged by more than 60 percent to more than $3 billion last year.

Scott Beaumont, Google’s newly-appointed head of Asia Pacific is widely credited with developing Google’s business in China in recent years, but that also included the controversial work on a proposed censored search service for Mainland China (Photo credit: Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images)

Like Twitter and Facebook, that has included dealing with state-backed media and other organizations keen to lean on Western internet pillars to reach a global audience but, as an interesting report from The Information earlier this year showed, Google also set up robust on-the-ground systems to let SMEs and companies selling to the global market access Google services through third-party offices and resellers.

On the strategy side, Beaumont struck investments deals with e-commerce giant JD.com and HTC — which involved the acquisition of a smartphone division, in the case of the latter — inked a patent license with Tencent, put cash into some earlier stage startups and selectively launched some products in China.

It remains to be seen how Google’s China strategy will develop now that Beaumont has taken on more responsibility with a broader job and, indeed, what he will bring to Google’s overall strategy in Asia Pacific. The region accounts for around 15 percent of revenue behind the U.S. and Europe, according to Google parent Alphabet’s latest financials, with 33 percent annual growth second only to Latin America.

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Bringing affiliate marketing and outsourced customer acquisition to Brazil nets Escale $22.6 million

Despite not being Brazilian and having their first exposure to the country only a few years ago, the two co-founders of Escale have managed to raise $22.6 million for their company, which provides customer acquisition services to companies in telecommunications and healthcare across Brazil.

Their secret? A knowledge of search engine optimization technologies honed through side businesses the two ran back in the United States.

The state of online marketing and digital sales was so woefully bad in Brazil that co-founders Matthew Kligerman and Ken Diamond had a green field in front of them on which to build Brazil’s first true online customer acquisition service, according to Diamond.

“We fell in love with Brazil for its warm culture and natural beauty, but as consumers, we had terrible experiences acquiring the most fundamental products and services for our new lives: internet, cell phone plans, health insurance and basic banking needs,” Kligerman said in a statement.

The company’s largest customer, according to Diamond, is NET, the Brazilian cable and telecom operator. NET was the first company to sign on for Escale’s customer acquisition services, but the company’s roster of clients now includes some of Brazil’s largest companies including Bradesco, Sul America, Claro, GNDI, and Amil.

It’s that marquee client list that attracted QED Investors and Invus Opportunities to co-lead the $22.6 million round that Escale just closed. The company’s previous investors Kaszek Ventures, Rocket Internet’s GFC and Redpoint e.Ventures also participated in the funding.

Latin America is in the throes of a startup renaissance at the moment with Brazilian companies like Nubank and iFood and the Colombian company Rappi reaching billion dollar valuations. Meanwhile investors are committing more capital to the region. Softbank, for instance is Softbank committing $5 billion to a new Latin American-focused fund.

With the new funding, Escale intends to move deeper into the development of customer acquisition platforms across verticals like consumer finance, insurance, and education with comparison shopping sites and informational services (a la CreditKarma in the U.S.).

“With millions of web and cloud voice interactions every month, Escale can transform each of those interactions into data points, and continually improve its proprietary acquisition platform, ‘EscaleOS’, to create highly-intelligent, customized marketing and sales funnels, helping consumers at the right moment connect with the products and services they need,” says Nicolas Berman, a partner at Kaszek Ventures. “The more consumer interactions they have, the faster Escale’s data flywheel spins.”

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