Innowatts raises $18 million for its energy monitoring toolkit for utilities

Innowatts, an automated toolkit for energy monitoring and management targeting utilities, has raised $18.2 million in a new round of funding from investors led by Energy Impact Partners .

Previous investors Shell Ventures, Iberdrola and Energy and Environment Investment participated along with another new investor, Evergy Ventures.

As utilities respond to new, renewable power coming online and adapt to the challenges presented by natural disasters and intermittent energy sources stressing old power grid assets, they are increasingly turning to new software toolkits to adapt.

Innowatts and its software fit squarely into that category of offering.

“Competing in today’s complex and evolving marketplace requires utility companies use data and intelligence to drive business and customer value,” said Siddhartha Sachdeva, founder and chief executive of Innowatts, in a statement.

The company’s technology is used to analyze meter data from 21 million customers globally in 13 regional energy markets.

Innowatts boasts that it’s the largest body of customer intelligence data consumed by a software company. How that data will be used is an open question.

“We invest in companies driving the transformation of the energy sector towards an increasingly decarbonized, digitized, and electrified future – solutions that our utility partners can commercialize at scale and have the greatest impact,” said Michael Donnelly, partner and chief risk officer at EIP, in a statement. “Innowatts is poised to become a key building block in the software-driven, intelligent grid of the future, and we look forward to working closely with them alongside our utility partners.”

The company uses the data it collects to predict the potential for outages or problems created by surges in energy demand so that utilities can dispatch resources to meet that demand without sacrificing reliability for customers.

“Utilities have the opportunity to deliver more value to customers, at lower costs and with greater personalization than ever before, while helping streamline the complex energy marketplace,” said Geert van de Wouw, vice president of Shell Ventures.

Samsung’s upcoming Q1 earnings are going to be ugly

It’s that time again folks, Samsung has reported guidance for its upcoming Q1 quarter — and things don’t look good.

Samsung is forecasting that revenue for the quarter will reach 51-53 trillion KRW ($44.87-$46.63 billion), which would represent a drop of around 15 percent on one year previous. The Korean tech giant reported a record operating profit in Q1 2018 — $13.76 billion — but this time around that is forecast to fall by a whopping 60 percent for the current quarter of business. According to Bloomberg, that would be the company’s worst slump for four years.

Following a record year is never going to be easy, but the forecast Q1 2019 operating profit of 6.1-6.3 billion KRW — around $5.5 billion — represents a pretty steep 43 percent drop on the previous quarter. That’ll give Samsung shareholders plenty to worry about.

The company’s pre-earnings guidance doesn’t go into details on the predictions, but last year’s record profits were largely down to the success of its consumer handset business and also a strong market for memory chips. There have been plenty of warning signs that those good times might not last.

Samsung itself played down those impressive Q1 2018 results multiple warnings on the future — my colleague Brian Heater pointed out that the words “slowing growth” appeared seven times in Samsung’s announcement at the time — due to concerns around the company’s display panel business and a slowing growth within the general smartphone industry.

As we well know, analyst reports show that people are buying fewer phones for a range of reasons. That’s one explanation for Apple’s multi-device approach which pushes its top-of-the-range model to well beyond the $1,000-mark. Slowing growth means a need to extract more revenue from the most loyal users, to thus increase the overall average selling price (ASP).

Samsung has long played in the mid-tiers — where it is up against tough competition from the likes of Xiaomi, Oppo, Huawei and others from China — but it’ll be interesting to see if it shifts its top-end approach.

We’ll know more when the company releases its full Q1 earnings report later this month so stayed tuned.

Airbnb confirms $150M-$200M investment in India’s OYO

Airbnb is continuing to widen its focus beyond ‘unconventional’ hotels as it gets ready for a much-anticipated IPO. Following its acquisition of HotelTonight last month, the company has picked today (April Fool’s Day) to confirm that it invested in India’s OYO — a startup that manages budget hotels and other stays.

The deal has been rumored for a couple of months and it is additional to OYO’s (then) $1 billion Series E round which was led by SoftBank’s Vision and included participation from ride-hailing duo Grab of Southeast Asia and China’s Didi Chuxing. The deal, announced last September, also included Lightspeed, Sequoia and Greenoaks Capital and it valued OYO at around $5 billion.

Neither party confirmed the size of the deal announced today, but an industry source told TechCrunch that it is between $150 million and $200 million. An OYO spokesperson declined to comment in response.

The company has now raised over $1.5 billion from investors to date including this new capital.

More than money, though, the deal is highly strategic for both sides.

OYO and Airbnb had previously been rivals of sorts, but OYO has pivoted towards hospitality services — including logistics and management — rather than simply aggregating budget hotels. Airbnb, with its HotelTonight acquisition, has shown it wants to be a booking destination across different types of verticals.

Geographically, the deal makes even more sense. Airbnb has been keen to take a larger bite out of India for some time. It has begun to see progress, with co-founder and CSO Nathan Blecharczyk recently revealing that the country is one of its five fastest growing markets worldwide. In that light, the companies are exploring opportunities to collaborate which could see OYO properties — in this case more likely villas and Airbnb-like properties — listed on Airbnb’s service.

That exposure could help OYO — which stands for ‘On Your Own’ — as it looks to break into the overseas traveler market, having previously been more popular with local or regional travelers. It may also look to break the U.S. market having entered the U.K. at the end of last year.

Finally, OYO is all the more appealing to Airbnb because it has seen signs of promise in China, which represented a key part of its focus following the Series E round. Overall, OYO claims to cover close to 500,000 rooms across 13,000 hotels and 6,000 homes in eight countries: India, China, Malaysia, Nepal, the U.K, UAE, Indonesia and the Philippines.

OYO is also gunning for Southeast Asia, where it hopes an alliance with Grab can help it break into the region.

Airbnb recently checked in its 500 millionth guest and the company claims it has been profitable for the last two years. While it doesn’t give out precise financial details — that’ll change with an IPO — Airbnb claimed that Q3 2018 was its strongest quarter of business ever with “substantially more” than $1 billion in revenue during the three-month period.

It’s been a long journey for OYO, which TechCrunch first covered in 2015 when it raised $25 million. CEO and founder Ritesh Agarwal is Thiel fellow who started the company in 2012 when he was just 18. His original business, called Oravel, was an Airbnb clone that later pivoted to become OYO — it’s funny what can happen over time.

Techstars and Starburst Aerospace are launching a space industry accelerator in Los Angeles

With the help of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, the U.S. Air Force, Lockheed Martin, Maxar Technologies, SAIC and the Israel Aerospace Industries company, Techstars and Starburst Aerospace are launching an accelerator focused on the space industry in Los Angeles.

Already a major hub for the space and aerospace startup industry, with companies like SpaceX, Relativity Space, Virgin Orbit, Rocket Lab, Phase Four, and others calling Los Angeles home, the new accelerator will provide another booster for LA’s growing startup scene.

The new aerospace program, called the Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator, will be managed by longtime Techstars managing director, Matt Kozlov, who previously helmed Techstars’ efforts at its health-focused accelerator done in partnership with Cedars Sinai.

Van Espahbodi, the co-founder and managing director of Starburst Aerospace, a multinational aerospace investor and consultant, will be advising Kozlov on the program and bringing his firm’s expertise with government partners to the table.

Corporate sponsors for this program include, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Lockheed Martin, Maxar Technologies, SAIC and Israel Aerospace Industries, and the U.S. Air Force.

Investments in space and aerospace technologies are picking up, thanks in part to estimates like the one from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, which put the size of the space economy at roughly $3 trillion by 2045.

Even if those estimates are overblown, investor have already backed companies developing reusable rockets, 3D printing technologies, advanced materials, miniature satellites and other space-related technologies to the tune of at least $2.3 billion over the last year.

“The space industry is both massively exciting but also quite complex,” said Matt Kozlov, managing director of the Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator program, in a statement. “We are bringing together vital industry leaders, both public and private, who will help entrepreneurs navigate the industry and provide unprecedented commercial support and mentorship. We will help founders achieve two years of commercial traction in three months. Given the pedigree of our sponsors, I expect this program will very quickly become a vital resource for entrepreneurs building frontier tech.”

Applications for the accelerator are open today and the program will begin in July. And startup companies looking to connect with program staff prior to applying, or get feedback on their companies – are welcome to request Office Hours.

“The list of incredible companies just keeps growing,” said Espahbodi, the co-founder and managing director of Starburst, in a statement. “The broader aerospace industry has finally embraced the notion of ‘open innovation’ by partnering with entrepreneurs to co-develop products, with a compelling business plan to match. Starburst is excited to advise the program to ensure early-stage businesses have the appropriate tools to compete in this emerging marketplace.”

BeliMobilGue raises $10M for its used-car sales platform in Indonesia

BeliMobilGue, a used car sales platform in Indonesia, has fueled up with a $10 million Series round for the race to dominate the automotive market in Southeast Asia’s largest economy.

The company was started in 2017 as a joint venture between Europe’s Frontier Car Group (FCG) and Intudo Ventures, a VC firm focused on Indonesia. BeliMobilGue said today that the capital came from FCG and new investors, which include Tunas Toyota — the authorized dealership for Toyota cars in Indonesia.

It’s worth noting that FCG itself is a venture which, as the name sounds, develops on automotive ventures in emerging (frontier) markets in Latin America, Asia and Africa. Its investors include Naspers/OLX, Balderton Capital, TPG Growth and Partech Ventures.

This Series A round follows a $3.7 million round last year for BeliMobilGue — which means ‘buy my car’ in Indonesia’s Bahasa language.

BeliMobilGue is aimed at making it easy for car owners to sell their vehicle.

The first step is an online price estimation for vehicle. If the owner is happy with the valuation, BeliMobilGue takes the vehicles in and, after a one hour check attended in person by its testers, it arranges a sale to its network of over 1,000 dealers and private buyers. The entire process is targeted at one hour and is free for consumers, BeliMobilGue CEO Rolf Monteiro told TechCrunch.

The company has 30 physical testing points across Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital city, and with this money in the bank it is targeting expansion to Java. By the end of this year, Monteiro forecasts that the number of physical stations will have passed 100.

Another target for this year is ancillary services. BeliMobilGue is focused on enabling dealers, many of whom are often small businesses rather than nationwide chains, to growth with its service so it is offering financial packages financed by a third-party bank.

“The difference between small and large dealerships is their access to capital,” Monteiro explained in an interview. “We are a little bit more comfortable [than a bank] to extend their finance because we’re not just using data, we’re sitting on that dealer relationship.

“Plus we are sitting on cars, so we are financing cars that come from our platform and [if necessary] we can help offload the car for the dealer,” he added.

BeliMobilGue aims to sell vehicles within an hour, that includes a comprehensive inspection that’s carried out by its staff and covers 300 points.

BeliMobilGue is far from alone in going after Indonesia, which is the world’s fourth most populous country and the cornerstone of most digital strategies for the region. An annual report from Google and Temasek forecasts that Indonesia’s online economy will grow to $100 billion by 2025 from $8 billion in 2015. Southeast Asia as a whole is predicted to reach $240 billion, which is telling of the significance of Indonesia.

With that in mind, regional rivals have doubled down on Indonesia.

Carro has raised $78 million to date — including a $60 million Series B last year — while Carsome has $27 million and iCar Asia, from venture builder Catcha, has pulled in $39 million to date.

Each of that trio serves multiple markets across the region, not Indonesia exclusively, which is where Monteiro believes he can find an advantage. While he admitted that BeliMobilGue could have raised more money — it stuck to finding ‘smart money’ over amassing pools of cash, he said — he sees the existance of competition as win-win for the industry.

“Indonesia is a massive market,” he said. “Whether it is us, Carro or Carsome, the competition helps educate the market and it will get us new business. But, as much as I welcome them, I want that dominant position.”

Adding strategic investors like Tunas Toyota is, Monteiro believes another key differentiator.

“An investor like Tunas has 25-30 years of experience, so, for us, this partnership is golden. We’re quite content with the round and how it played out,” he said.

Showing the power of startup women’s health brands, P&G buys This is L

The P&G acquisition of This is L., a startup retailer of period products and prophylactics, shows just how profitable investing in women’s healthcare brands and products can be.

A person with knowledge of the investment put the price tag at roughly $100 million — a healthy outcome for investors and company founder Talia Frankel. But just as important as the financial outcome is the deal’s implications for other mission-driven companies.

This is L launched from Y Combinator in August 2015 with a service distributing condoms in New York and San Francisco and steadily expanded into feminine hygiene products.

Frenkel, a former photojournalist who worked for the United Nations and Red Cross, started the company in 2013 — roughly three years after an assignment in Africa revealed the toll that HIV/AIDs was taking on women and girls on the continent.

“I didn’t realize the No. 1 killer of women was completely preventable and I think that really inspired me to action,” Frenkel told TechCrunch at the time of the company’s launch.

Now the company has distributed roughly 250 million products to customers around the world.

“Our strong growth has enabled us to stand in solidarity with women in more than 20 countries,” said Talia Frenkel, CEO of This Is L., in a statement following the acquisition .“Our support has ranged from partnering with organizations to send period products to Native communities in South Dakota, to supplying pad-making machines to a women-led business in Tamil Nadu. Pairing our purpose with P&G’s expertise, scale and resources provides an extraordinary opportunity to contribute to a more equitable world.”

The company is available in more than 5,000 stores across the U.S. and is working with women entrepreneurs in countries from Uganda to India and beyond.

“This acquisition is a perfect complement to our Always and Tampax portfolio, with its commitment to a shared mission to advocate for girls’ confidence and serve more women,” said Jennifer Davis, President, P&G Global Feminine Care. “We feel this is a strong union and together we can be a greater force for good.”

For investors with knowledge of the company, the P&G acquisition is a harbinger of things to come. The combination of a non-technical, female founder operating in the consumer packaged goods market with a mission-driven company was an anomaly in the Silicon Valley of four years ago, but Frenkel’s success shows what kind of opportunities exist in the market.

“With this acquisition investors need to update their patterns,” said one investor with knowledge of the company.

Arctic gas to ease winter shortage

China’s annual imports from the Yamal natural gas project in the resource-rich Arctic region will further secure China’s energy security with increasing supplies of the natural gas, which is currently experiencing a severe shortage especially in northern China, said an executive from China National Petroleum Corp.

China leads in shipbuilding

Orders for China’s rebounding shipbuilding industry reached the top place in the world in the past 11 months, surpassing its counterpart South Korea, according to an international industrial analysis agency.