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UK’s PrimaryBid raises $50M as its retail investing platform sees a Covid-19 surge of activity

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One of the biggest trends in the world of fintech in the last several years has been the emergence (and surging popularity) of startups building platforms that help more people take a more proactive role in the world of financial services. Today, one of the more promising hopefuls building an investing service in the UK is announcing a significant growth round after seeing a surge of attention this year in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

PrimaryBid, which allows retail investors (that is, ordinary and not professional investors) the ability to invest in new shares issued by public companies, has raised $50 million in new funding of its own. The funding comes on the heels of the startup working alongside larger investment banks to get retail investors in on 41 capital raising efforts for UK publicly-listed companies and trusts since April 2020.

“The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the effectiveness of the public markets, with companies recapitalising quickly and efficiently,” said Anand Sambasivan, CEO of PrimaryBid, in a statement. “Our technology has allowed thousands of retail investors to participate on equal terms with institutional investors, unlocking a large and important source of liquidity and long-term share ownership for corporate issuers. The response from Boards and their advisers to our solution has been excellent: they recognise our digital solution for retail inclusion brings together both good governance and best execution.”

PrimaryBid plans to use the funds to hire more talent, invest in its tech platform, build out more partnerships and expand internationally.

Unlike the investors on its platform, this Series B is coming from a list of big-name strategic players and VCs. They include the London Stock Exchange Group, Draper Esprit, OMERS Ventures, Fidelity International Strategic Ventures and ABN AMRO Ventures, as well as previous backers Pentech and Outward Ventures.

The LSE Group might provide a clue to which geographies might be future targets for PrimaryBid: the Borsa Italiana exchange in Italy, as well as the Turquoise pan-European equities market are also part of the group’s footprint.

“This investment builds on our collaboration with PrimaryBid and is part of London Stock Exchange Group’s commitment to broadening retail investor access to public equity markets,” said Charlie Walker, Head of Equity and Fixed Income, Primary Markets at London Stock Exchange plc, in a statement. “Through PrimaryBid’s innovative offering, retail investors have been able to access capital raisings on the same terms as institutional investors, supporting the U.K.’s public companies by providing additional capital and liquidity. PrimaryBid has become an important part of the U.K.’s capital raising ecosystem and we look forward to working with them to further enhance retail investor access to capital markets within the U.K. and globally.”

The startup is not disclosing its valuation with this round, which follows a Series A in September 2019 of $8.6 million. This latest Series B has been the subject of rumors since this summer (and most recently a report last night that the round had finally closed),

PrimaryBid’s growth comes at a time when a number of startups have been building investment services targeting niche opportunities, and services for those who are underserved. Rally last month demonstrated that there is definitely money and opportunity in providing a way to invest in (not buy) collectibles; Yieldstreet has built a platform to introduce investors to new investment classes too like shipping; and companies like Stash, Revolut and Robinhood are also bringing trading and investing to a new class of consumers.

That doesn’t mean that new entrants focusing on smaller investors and niche opportunities in the investment market are without their own challenges. Revolut has faced controversies around the conduct of executives (however, these appear to have been resolved: it’s still raising hundreds of millions of dollars). YieldStreet recently sued (and won) a case against a ship recycling company, but at the same time it appears to be under investigation for some of its practices. And Robinhood indefinitely postponed its plans to launch in the UK after putting its expansion plans on hold earlier this year.

PrimaryBid’s recent growth has come on the back of a choppy year in the public markets and the world of investment.

Just as Covid-19 disrupted other aspects of our life, the early months of the pandemic saw a major freeze descend on the world of trading. With many unsure of how future months might play out in terms of local and global economics, the IPO market all but dried up and trading slowed down.

Then, things began to thaw, with activity picking up gradually and effectively under new terms: for now, everything is remote. And what’s more, the new playing field means a new opportunity for new players.

This is where PrimaryBid has been stepping in. The startup has built a platform that makes it easier for retail investors to participate in new share issues, and it has been around since 2016, but it has found its groove at a time when companies raising money might be looking to cast their nets a bit wider than usual.

The startup led a big campaign in April to highlight the role that retail investors can play in helping getting the stock market back to active levels. And the companies that have provided access to their new share issuances since the start of the pandemic have included the Compass Group, Ocado, Taylor Wimpey and Segro.

Retail investors are, in essence, a long-tail play. While individually they will invest considerably less than high net-worth individuals or institutional investors, collectively they account for a substantial amount of activity. The latest figures from the UK’s office of national statistics, from 2018, estimate that retail investors account for some 13.5% of the UK’s share capital, although within the FTSE 250 that is closer to 20% and in some AIM companies it can be as high as 30% or more, according to PrimaryBid.

There are a number of other platforms for ordinary people to buy and trade shares, but what is different with PrimaryBid is its focus on new share issuances, not sells and trades in existing shares. In theory, a company could also allocate shares to be sold on via PrimaryBid for IPOs, but, as a spokesperson described it, “The real innovation is getting retail involved in ‘accelerated’ follow-on raises (which are around five times the size of IPOs in equity issuance terms), and which have never been open to retail (whereas some IPOs have historically).”

It’s a forumula that has resonated with investors and strategic partners.

Vinoth Jayakumar, Partner at Draper Espirit, said: “Our investment in PrimaryBid aligns with part of our wider investment thesis to democratise retail investors access to public markets as well as modernise market infrastructure software. For us, both our companies are anticipating the direction of travel of the future of finance.”

OMERS Ventures, the investment arm of the prolific pension fund out of Canada, said it’s part of the groups focus on fintech. “As fintech specialists it’s been impossible to ignore the rise of PrimaryBid in 2020 and its success championing retail investors in the capital markets,” said Tara Reeves, Partner at OMERS Ventures, in a statement. “PrimaryBid’s technology sits at the intersection of powerful trends in financial services – regulation, digitalisation and democratisation – and OMERS Ventures is delighted to support the team’s mission to put individual investors on equal terms with institutions. PrimaryBid is now well integrated at the highest levels of the U.K.’s capital raising ecosystem, and we look forward to helping the team realize their ambitions internationally.”

“We are excited to be partnering with PrimaryBid to enhance fairness, inclusivity, and transparency in capital markets,” said Michael Sim, Vice President, Fidelity International Strategic Ventures, in a statement. “Anand and the team have built unique technology infrastructure that is redefining the way issuers access capital markets; seamlessly connecting everyday retail investors with public companies. As the economy roils from the impact of coronavirus, it is imperative retail investors get a seat at the table as companies recapitalise and the process of economic recovery begins.”

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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GoSite snags $40M to help SMBs bring their businesses online

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There are 12 million small and medium businesses in the US, yet they have continued to be one of most underserved segments of the B2B universe: that volume underscores a lot of fragmentation, and alongside other issues like budget constraints, there are a number of barriers to building for them at scale. Today, however, a startup helping SMBs get online is announcing some significant funding — a sign of how things are changing at a moment when many businesses have realised that being online is no longer an option, but a necessity.

GoSite, a San Diego-based startup that helps small and medium enterprises build websites, and, with a minimum amount of technical know-how, run other functions of their businesses online — like payments, online marketing, appointment booking and accounting — has picked up $40 million in funding.

GoSite offers a one-stop shop for users to build and manage everything online, with the ability to feed in up to 80 different third-party services within that. “We want to help our customers be found everywhere,” said Alex Goode, the founder and CEO of GoSite. “We integrate with Facebook and other consumer platforms like Siri, Apple Maps, and search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing and more.” It also builds certain features like payments from the ground up.

The Series B comes on the back of a strong year for the company. Driven by Covid-19 circumstances, businesses have increasingly turned to the internet to interact with customers, and GoSite — which has “thousands” of SMB customers — said it doubled its customer base in 2020.

This latest round is being led by Left Lane Capital out of New York, with Longley Capital, Cove Fund, Stage 2, Ankona Capital and Serra Ventures also participating. GoSite is clearly striking while the iron is hot: Longley, also based out of San Diego, led the company’s previous round, which was only in August of this year. It has now raised $60 million to date.

GoSite is, in a sense, a play for more inclusivity in tech: its customers are not companies that it’s “winning” off other providers that provide website building and hosting and other services typically used by SMBs, such as Squarespace and Wix, or GoDaddy, or Shopify.

Rather, they are companies that may have never used any of these: local garages, local landscapers, local hair salons, local accountancy firms, local dentists and so on. Barring the accounting firm, these are not businesses that will ever go fully online, as a retailer might, not least because of the physical aspect of each of those professions. But they will need an online presence and the levers it gives them to communicate, in order to survive, especially in times when their old models are being put under strain.

Goode started GoSite after graduating from college in Michigan with a degree in computer science, having previously grown up around and working in small businesses — his parents, grandparents and others in his Michigan town all ran their own stores. (He moved to San Diego “for the weather” he joked.)

His belief is that while there are and always will be alternatives like Facebook or Yelp to plant a flag, there is nothing that can replace the value and longer term security and control of building something of your own — a sentiment small business owners would surely grasp.

That is perhaps the most interesting aspect of GoSite as it exists today: it precisely doesn’t see any of what already exists out there as “the competition.” Instead, Goode sees his purpose as building a dashboard that will help business owners manage all that — with up to 80 different services currently available — and more, from a single place, and with minimum need for technical skills and time spent learning the ropes.

“There is definitely huge demand from small businesses for help and something like GoSite can do that,” Goode said. “The space is very fragmented and noisy and they don’t even know where to start.”

This, combined with GoSite’s growth and relevance to the current market, is partly what attracted investors.

“The opportunity we are betting on here is the all-in-one solution,” said Vinny Pujji, partner at Left Lane. “If you are a carpet cleaner or house painter, you don’t have the capacity to understand or work with five or six different pieces of software. We spoke with thousands of SMBs when looking at this, and this was the answer we heard.” He said the other important thing is that GoSite has a customer service team and for SMBs that use it, they like that when they call, “GoSite picks up the phone.”

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Vivenu, a ticketing API for events, closes a $15M Series A round led by Balderton Capital

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vivenu, a ticketing platform that offers an API for venues and promoters to customize to their needs, has closed a $15 million (€12.6 million) in Series A funding led by Balderton Capital. Previous investor Redalpine also participated.

Historically-speaking, most ticketing platform startups took a direct to consumer approach, or have provided turnkey solutions to big event promoters. But in this day and age, most events require a great deal more flexibility, not least because of the pandemic. So, by offering an API and allowing promoters that flexibility, Vivenu managed to gain traction.

Venues and event owners get a full-featured ticketing, out-of-the-box platform with full real-time dynamic control over all aspects of selling tickets including configuring prices and seating plans, leveraging customer data and insights and mastering a branded look and feel across their sales channels. It has exposed APIs enabling many different custom use cases for large international ticket sellers. Since its Seed funding in March, the company says it has sold over 2 million tickets.

Simon Hennes, CEO and co-founder of vivenu said in a statement: “We created vivenu to address the need of ticket sellers for a user-centric ticketing platform. Event organizers were stuck with solutions that heavily depend on manual processes, causing high costs, dependencies, and frustration on various levels.”

Daniel Waterhouse, Partner at Balderton said: “Vivenu has built a sophisticated product and set of APIs that gives event organisers full control of their ticketing operations.”

vivenu is also the first European investment of Aurum Fund LLC, the fund associated with the San Francisco 49ers. Also investing in the round are Angels including Sascha Konietzke (Founder at Contentful), Chris Schagen (former CMO at Contentful), Sujay Tyle (Founder at Frontier Car Group) and Tiny VC.

In March 2020, vivenu secured €1.4 million in seed funding, bringing its total funding to €14 million. Previous investors include early-stage venture capital investor Redalpine, GE32 Capital and Hansel LLC (associated with the founders of Loft).

Speaking to TechCrunch Hennes said: “You have to send your seat map to Ticketmaster, and then the account manager comes back to you with a sitemap. This goes back and forth and takes ages. With us you have a seating chart designer basically integrated into the software which you can simply change yourself.”

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Nordigen introduces free European open banking API

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Latvian fintech startup Nordigen is switching to a freemium model thanks to a free open banking API. Open banking was supposed to democratize access to banking information, but the company believes banking aggregation APIs from Tink or Plaid are too expensive. Instead, Nordigen thinks it can provide a free API to access account information and paid services for analytics and insights services.

Open banking is a broad term and means different things, from account aggregation to verifying account ownership and payment initiation. The most basic layer of open banking is the ability to view data from third-party financial institutions. For instance, some banks let you connect to other bank accounts so that you can view all your bank accounts from a single interface.

There are two ways to connect to a bank. Some banks provide an application programming interface (API), which means that you can send requests to the bank’s servers and receive data in return.

While all financial institutions should have an open API due to the European PSD2 directive, many banks are still dragging their feet. That’s why open banking API companies usually rely on screen scraping. They mimic web browser interactions, which means that it’s slow, it requires a ton of server resources and it can break.

“If you’re wondering how we’d be able to afford it, our free banking data API was designed purely with PSD2 in mind, meaning it’s lightweight in strong contrast to that of incumbents. So it wouldn’t significantly increase our costs to scale free users,” Nordigen co-founder and CEO Rolands Mesters told me.

So you don’t get total coverage with Nordigen’s API. The startup currently supports 300 European banks, which covers 60 to 90% of the population in each country. But it’s hard to complain when it’s a free product anyway.

Some Nordigen customers will probably want more information. Nordigen provides financial data analytics. It can be particularly useful if you’re a lending company trying to calculate a credit score, if you’re a financial company with minimum income requirements and more.

For those additional services, you’ll have to pay. Nordigen currently has 50 clients and expects to attract more customers with its new freemium strategy.

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