Accessibility Tech is Awesome 👀
A few weeks ago, I downloaded a brilliant mobile application called Be My Eyes. It’s a platform for helping the visually impaired interact with the world around them. Whenever a blind person needs help seeing something, they open the app and it connects them via video chat with one of the 3.8M volunteers on standby (there are 220K+ blind users on the app).
I finally got a call last week and it was a fascinating experience. I helped someone read the cooking instructions for a microwavable Marie Callender’s meal. The learning curve for explaining how to flip and turn the box without touching it was harder than I anticipated and helped me empathize with the daily struggles of a blind person.
Technology is cool.
Stuff I’m Reading
VC Financing Deals:
Surfaced by BostInno, VentureBeat, and Forbes, AgTech company Enko has raised a $45M Series B led by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with participation from Anterra Capital, Rabo Food & Agri Innovation Fund, Finistere Ventures, Novalis LifeSciences, Germin8 Ventures, and TO Ventures Food. Gates has been a longtime proponent of genetically engineering crops to serve our planet’s growing population, previously backing companies like Cropin and AgBiome.
Founded in 2017, the company is building a platform to help drive the development of novel alternatives to current pesticides that are safer for ingestion and more efficient for crop growth. The platform works by using AI-driven drug development techniques commonly used in the pharmaceutical world.
By modeling potential new molecules from large datasets, they hope to help accurately predict which pesticides are worth developing further before putting excessive funding into R&D. It’s similar to Indigo Ag, which uses AI to predict which microbiomes will positively contribute to the growth of crop yields and recently secured another $400M in financing.
Armored Things is a four-year-old crowd intelligence platform that just raised $7M to help businesses safely and effectively reopen. The deal was led by Will Ventures and had participation from Splunk, Glasswing Venture Capital, iNovia Capital, and MassVentures. More from AmericanInno, AiThority, and VenuesNow.
The company has developed a suite of analytics products to help businesses understand the flow of people throughout a venue. This intelligence could be used to determine inefficiencies in space design, improve building security, maintain COVID-level building capacity, plan cleaning schedules, etc.
Their customer base is likely similar to that of Boston-based Evolv Technology’s, which focuses on touchless weapon screening for workplaces and large venues. Both are crowd intelligence companies, they’re just tracking different things. If Evolv can detect guns and explosives, would it be a stretch for them to detect higher-than-average temperatures with a new model?
I think all large companies will likely continue to invest in tech that helps them analyze and understand the physical space they work in, but do they have an appetite to purchase an analytics tool for space utilization, weapon security, thermal temperature monitoring, and more? Or will one company do it all? Interesting space to follow as we (hopefully) re-open in the coming months.
According to a Form D filing, Neurala is raising $12M, with about $4.9M raised so far. The deep learning company last raised a $14M Series A in 2017 from Pelion Venture Partners. Other previous backers include Tim Draper, Techstars, Sherpa Capital, and Right Side Capital Management.
Neurala uses computer vision to improve the accuracy and speed of visual inspections for manufacturing, drones, and robotics. This could include detecting defects in a manufacturing process or scanning a piece of land with a drone to find key characteristics. Neurala’s product is centered around its Lifelong-Deep Neural Network technology, which can re-train itself as it receives new data right on the device and was developed out of NASA.
Per a Form D filed this week, NODAR is raising $2.7M, of which $1.8M has been closed. The company creates 3D vision technology for self-driving vehicles using computer stereo vision, as opposed to the popular LIDAR system. The concept of using two cameras at different vantage points to create a 3D image has been around since the 1830s, but hasn’t been used for autonomous vehicles until recently.
The biggest hurdle has been the accurate placement of the cameras on the car. If the camera’s positions are off by 1/100th of a degree from each other, they can’t accurately generate spatial information and keep the car safe. NODAR’s innovation is its ability to keep these cameras positioned reliably without manual calibration using its LONGBOW technology.
Envel, a FinTech app founded out of Harvard, is raising $3M in debt according to a Form D. Founded by Steve Le Roux and Diederik Meeuwis, the company uses AI to automatically allocate your money into “envelopes” used for specific spending purposes. It also includes features like bill splitting, a gamified Money Management Score system, and physical debit cards. The product is currently in beta, but it looks like you can sign up at envel.ai to become a user when they launch this summer.
Intel Capital just led a $40M Series C into privacy and data governance startup Immuta. Other investors included Greycroft, 1011 VC, DFJ Growth, Dell Technologies Capital, Drive Capital, and Citi Ventures. The six-year-old company helps businesses catalog and share data without violating various privacy regulations or over-sharing data. Their last raise was a $20M Series B led by DFJ growth back in 2018. More from Forbes.
Framingham, MA and Ireland-based HRTech company Workhuman just achieved unicorn status after a minority investment from Intermediate Capital Group. In fact, it’s Ireland’s first unicorn. It’s a performance management and social recognition platform helping HR leaders commemorate and reward employee achievements.
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