Top startup news for Monday, March 13, 2023: Amazon, Connectd, Meta, Pfizer, Rivian, Qualtrics, and SaasGuru
Good evening! Below are some of the top tech startup news stories for Monday, March 13, 2023.
Meta winds down NFTs on its platforms amid the crypto bust
As the crypto market continues on its downward spiral, Facebook parent company Meta announced on Monday it is winding down non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and other digital collectibles on its platforms less than a year after rolling them out.
“We’re winding down digital collectibles (NFTs) for now to focus on other ways to support creators, people, and businesses,” the social media firm’s fintech head, Stephane Kasriel, tweeted on Monday.
Some product news: across the company, we're looking closely at what we prioritize to increase our focus. We’re winding down digital collectibles (NFTs) for now to focus on other ways to support creators, people, and businesses. 🧵[1/5]
— Stephane Kasriel (@skasriel) March 13, 2023
“We’ll continue investing in fintech tools that people and businesses will need for the future. We’re streamlining payments w/ Meta Pay, making checkout and payouts easier, and investing in messaging payments across Meta,” Kasriel added.
Last year, Meta rolled out support for creators to share NFTs on Instagram and Facebook as the speculative crypto asset exploded in popularity, with sales of cartoon apes to video clips reaching billions of dollars. However, the crypto market has taken a beating lately as bitcoin and other tokens now trading at about 30 percent from record highs.
SaasGuru, an EdTech startup founded to solve the cloud skills crisis by creating the bridge between learning and certifications, announced today it has closed $2.7 million (A$4 Million) in funding to transform the industry and redefine the way people approach cloud computing. The seed round was led by Square Peg Capital, with participation from returning investors Black Nova and Antler.
To address the growing skills gap in the cloud industry, the Sydney, Australia-based startup has taken a proactive approach, particularly in Salesforce, with their explicit Job Guarantee Salesforce Training Bootcamp to empower individuals with the essential tools required to thrive in the workforce by enhancing their technical and soft skills.
Unlike the current solutions on the market, Saasguru provides a unique and advanced synchronous learning experience by combining state-of-the-art technology with tailored one-on-one mentoring. The aim is to enable millions of professionals worldwide to achieve successful Salesforce careers through Salesforce Online Bootcamp Programs while helping companies swiftly and effectively develop cloud talent to make a global impact.
Having already served more than 50,000 learners from 56 different countries, SaasFuru has formed partnerships with over 20 cloud consulting companies to expedite the cloud upskilling of new hires and upskilling and re-skilling of existing teams.
In an interview, CEO and Founder Amit Choudhary stated, “While we are for profit, we are also a for-impact company. We provide pro bono cloud skilling and certification for people from a situation of disadvantage to change their life with future-ready skills.”
Rivian in talks to end exclusivity deal with Amazon for its EV delivery trucks and court new customers
Electric vehicle (EV) maker Rivian Automotive is in talks with its largest shareholder Amazon to end the exclusivity part of their electric van deal, CNBC reported, citing the company spokeswoman.
As we reported back in 2019, Amazon had placed an order for 100,000 electric delivery vans (EDVs) from Rivian as part of the company’s plans to cut carbon emissions. Since then, the retail giant has taken deliveries and inducted the EDVs into its fleet, with over 10 million packages delivered using the vans.
In a statement, Rivian spokeswoman Marina Norville said the company’s relationship with Amazon has been and continues to be a positive one.
“We continue to work closely together, and are navigating a changing economic climate, similar to many companies,” she said.
By removing the exclusivity clause from the agreement, Rivian could expand its customer base while simultaneously scaling up production of its vans, R1 series pickup, and SUV. Additionally, Rivian is currently developing the R2 model and requires funding. To this end, the company recently revealed its intention to generate $1.3 billion through the sale of convertible notes to support the development and launch of the R2 model.
We first covered Rivian in 2019 after the once secretive and high-flying electric truck startup raised $700 million in funding led by e-commerce giant Amazon. Rivian emerged from stealth a year earlier with half a billion dollars in funding. With millions of gas guzzlers on the roads, Rivian believes it can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, lower the carbon footprint, and also make money doing good.
Founded in 2009 by Robert J. Scaringe, Rivian is the world’s first electric adventure vehicle. The company is developing vehicles, technology, and services that inspire people to get out and explore the world. Rivian is an automotive technology company that develops products and services to advance the shift to sustainable mobility.
Connectd announced today it has secured $2.6 million backed by institutional investors LiFE Ventures, Blue Lake, Mail Venture Partners, Arch Law, and Syndicate Room, as well as new angel investors including former McKinsey & Co’s head of financial services, Alan Morgan; Twyn founder, Tim Levy; Monster Energy Drink’s President of EMEA, Guy Carling; and UKAT founder, Daniel Gerrard.
This latest seed round, which brings Connectd’s total funding to $5.6 million, will be used to further support its expansions around data, corporate enterprise, customer support, and the development of new tools and features for the community to harness connections.
Founded in 2019 by serial entrepreneur Roei Samuel, Connectd is an online platform for managing and growing relationships between startups, investors, and advisors. Connectd helps organizations and individuals find each other through a data-driven approach that cuts out middlemen in the investment cycle. For investors and NEDs this means receiving relevant and strategic opportunities, and for startups, this means being partnered with the best people that will help you to achieve your growth aspirations.
Following a series of developments in 2022, including tools for legal and portfolio management, the Connectd platform has continued to attract founders, investors, and advisors at scale. In the last two consecutive years, this has led to four times year-on-year growth.
“Connectd has become a leading platform for the startup ecosystem to build meaningful connections, bringing together founders, investors, and advisors. We’ve continued to curate a carefully vetted, high-quality community who benefit from our tools and range of exclusive features which all help to scale startups,” Connectd CEO Samuel said in a statement.
Last week we wrote about Qualtrics after the survey software company received a $12.4 billion buyout offer from Silver Lake and Canada’s CPPIB. Today, Silver Lake and CPP Investments announced it plans to acquire Qualtrics for $12.5 billion, making it the second time the company has been bought in less than 5 years.
In a statement, the two companies said they will acquire 100% of Qualtrics’ outstanding shares. The acquisition includes the majority ownership interest of SAP, which acquired Qualtrics for $8 billion in 2018.
According to the transaction agreement, Qualtrics will become a privately held company and its common stock will no longer be listed on public markets once the transaction is complete. In addition, Qualtrics will continue to be led by Chief Executive Officer Zig Serafin, and the company will remain headquartered in Provo, Utah, and Seattle, Washington, the companies said in a statement released on Monday.
“I couldn’t be more excited for this step in our journey,” said Ryan Smith, Qualtrics Founder and Executive Chairman. “Silver Lake’s belief in our vision and their amazing track record of helping founders and management teams speaks for itself. We look forward to working together and driving category-defining growth to build the next great enterprise cloud platform.”
“Qualtrics is becoming central to how businesses make mission-critical customer and employee decisions that increase revenue and operational efficiency. With our AI-powered platform and automated actions, we help companies deliver exceptional experiences and build deep relationships with their customers and employees at scale,” said Zig Serafin, Chief Executive Officer at Qualtrics. “We are incredibly excited to partner with the team at Silver Lake, who deeply understand our business and will help us continue to build a high-performing company, invest in our innovation and expand our ecosystem to help our customers succeed.”
Pfizer has acquired Seattle-based cancer treatment biotech firm Seagen for $43 billion. In an announcement on Monday, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said the acquisition will enable the pharmaceutical giant to deliver Seagen’s cancer therapy to the world “at a scale that has not been seen before.”
The transaction is expected to complete later this year or in early 2024, the two companies said in a joint statement. “Pfizer is deploying its financial resources to advance the battle against cancer,” said Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla. “Oncology continues to be the largest growth driver in global medicine, and this acquisition will enhance Pfizer’s position in this important space,” Bourla added.
According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 3 people will develop cancer during their lifetime. That is why nothing is more personal, or more urgent than our goal to find cures for these deadly diseases, Pfizer wrote on its website
“Pfizer is deploying its financial resources to advance the battle against cancer, a leading cause of death worldwide with a significant impact on public health,” said Dr. Albert Bourla, Pfizer Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.
“Together, Pfizer and Seagen seek to accelerate the next generation of cancer breakthroughs and bring new solutions to patients by combining the power of Seagen’s antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) technology with the scale and strength of Pfizer’s capabilities and expertise. Oncology continues to be the largest growth driver in global medicine, and this acquisition will enhance Pfizer’s position in this important space and contribute meaningfully to the achievement of Pfizer’s near- and long-term financial goals.”