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Overwolf raises $52.5M for its platform to build, distribute and monetize in-game user-generated content

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Roblox, the gaming company that went public this month with a strong debut, changed the game (so to speak) for the role that creative input can play in making a game more loved, more engaging, and even more enterprising. Today, a startup that is taking a version of that model — focused on in-game apps and modifications — is announcing some funding and the launch of a new toolkit to double down on that opportunity.

Today, a startup called Overwolf, which has built a popular platform for gaming fans to build modifications (mods) and additional tools for all kinds of PC games, is announcing $52.5 million in growth funding and the launch of a new content creation SDK — underscoring its growth and more specifically the demand in the market to bring more user-generated content variations into the gaming universe.

The company’s platform has some 30,000 creators, 90,000 mods and add-ons, and 18 million monthly users across thousands of games, including Fortnite, World of Warcraft and Minecraft. In the last year, which has seen a surge of gaming activity as more people stay home throughout the pandemic, Overwolf’s revenue has grown by 300%, it said.

“We want to be what YouTube is for YouTubers,” said Uri Marchand, the CEO and co-founder of Tel Aviv-based Overwolf, in an interview with TechCrunch. “Just as YouTube is a one-stop shop for video, we want to be a one-stop shop for creating apps and mods.”

The Series C is being co-led by Insight Partners and Griffin Gaming Partners, a VC that specialists in gaming content. Other investors in the round include Ubisoft, Warner Music Group, Meg Whitman, and Gen.G Co-Founder, Kevin Chou. Valuation is not being disclosed.

Importantly, alongside the funding, Overwolf is introducing a new service called CurseForge Core, an SDK that can be integrated directly into a game itself to make it easier for gaming enthusiasts and developers to build user-generated content for it. CurseForge Core is essentially the next iteration of CurseForge, the mods platform that Overwolf acquired from Amazon’s Twitch last year for an undisclosed sum.

The buyer and acquirer here continue to have a close relationship, even as Overwolf also looks to work more closely with others like Discord, which says something about what makes up the bigger ecosystem of communication and activity among gamers outside of the core experience of a game itself.

Prior to launching this SDK, Overwolf already had built out a large community of users — both on its own steam and by way of its acquisition of CurseForge. While that is entirely focused on PC games at the moment, the plan will be to expand its reach to other platforms, including Macs, console games and mobile gaming, in the next year.

The gap in the market that Overwolf has identified and built for is the demand from avid gamers for more tools to improve their experience of the game, sometimes very specific ones that might not be core to everyone’s experience but definitely wanted by enough people to merit their creation.

These can be, for example, maps to navigate your way around a game, or dashboards or leaderboards to keep better track of various statistics of characters and other players, tools to modify characters, or apps to communicate with other players when you’re inside a game. Marchand points out that he first got into this world as a mod maker himself, years ago creating a Skype app for World of Warcraft years ago.

“We pivoted from making mods to making a platform for others to make mods and additions,” he said. “When you think about all the aspects that need to be addressed — they include telemetry, the interactive UI, analytics, installers — they can be very complicated. So we provided platform essentials to help developers figure it all out.”

While games developers might have a very specific vision of how they would like their games to look at play, as Marchand described it to me, it’s also a big part of PC gaming culture to be able to play around with those experiences to make them unique to each player. But handling the work of third-party ecosystems is not typically in their core competencies.

“The scale and diversity of that content makes it impossible for a game maker to capture and do it all,” said Marchand. “History has proven that while game makers would like to encourage UGC they can’t and that is why we exist.”

Even if building an SDK that sits inside games themselves is a logical next step, it also represents a kind of increased trust between Overwolf and games publishers.

“Overwolf is developing the holy grail of frameworks for UGC for both publishers and in-game creators. Enabling all major publishers like us, to allow the creation of mods in a safe, secure, authorized, and profitable manner; is a game changer for all creators and IP holders,” said Oscar Navarro, Head of Corporate Development for Ubisoft, in a statement.

Indeed, the tradeoff for games publishers are more tools that will potentially keep users further engaged. The SDK will cover tools such as cross-platform modding, to let players discover and install mods in-game, across all platforms and storefronts; an analytics dashboard to have better visibility on how well various mods are performing; moderation tools to better vet what third-party content gets submitted; and monetization tools to bring in more creators. As with other platforms that incentivize creators, these include an Author Rewards Program, fund investments, developer contests, and hackathons.

“We’ve been following UGC in gaming for many years and believe Overwolf has established itself as a leader in this category,” said Teddie Wardi, MD at Insight Partners, in a statement. “AAA game studios will want to allow creators to build and express themselves, and Overwolf is positioned as the platform to make this possible by ensuring that creators are recognized for their contributions, and easily integrating creations into games. Overwolf has proved themselves to be strong champions of the creator community and we look forward to helping them scale up in 2021.”

Financial incentives will continue to stand out for these creators, who today make most of their money not from paid mods and apps, but from in-mod or in-app advertising, a network that is run by Overwolf itself. Marchand said that the most successful developers can bring in revenues of $100,000 each month.

While Marchand likens Overwolf aims to YouTube, investors see a parallel in Unity, another key toolkit for the games developer community.

“Similar to how developers use Unity to build a game, we see Overwolf as the framework for everything UGC related to games. Overwolf allows for one of the only means of monetization for the thousands of creators, in turn, this translates to increased engagement for the publishers and more content for gamers.  Services like Overwolf set the stage for the industry to see a new generation of user-generated content and we are excited to invest in the leading company moving this space forward,” commented Nick Tuosto, Co-Founder of Griffin Gaming Partners and Managing Director at LionTree, in a statement.

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

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Vietnamese electric motorbike startup Dat Bike raises $2.6M led by Jungle Ventures

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Son Nguyen, founder and chief executive officer of Dat Bike on one of the startup's motorbikes

Son Nguyen, founder and chief executive officer of Dat Bike

Dat Bike, a Vietnamese startup with ambitions to become the top electric motorbike company in Southeast Asia, has raised $2.6 million in pre-Series A funding led by Jungle Ventures. Made in Vietnam with mostly domestic parts, Dat Bike’s selling point is its ability to compete with gas motorbikes in terms of pricing and performance. Its new funding is the first time Jungle Ventures has invested in the mobility sector and included participation from Wavemaker Partners, Hustle Fund and iSeed Ventures.

Founder and chief executive officer Son Nguyen began learning how to build bikes from scrap parts while working as a software engineer in Silicon Valley. In 2018, he moved back to Vietnam and launched Dat Bike. More than 80% of households in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam own two-wheeled vehicles, but the majority are fueled by gas. Nguyen told TechCrunch that many people want to switch to electric motorbikes, but a major obstacle is performance.

Nguyen said that Dat Bike offers three times the performance (5 kW versus 1.5 kW) and 2 times the range (100 km versus 50 km) of most electric motorbikes in the market, at the same price point. The company’s flagship motorbike, called Weaver, was created to compete against gas motorbikes. It seats two people, which Nguyen noted is an important selling point in Southeast Asian countries, and has a 5000W motor that accelerates from 0 to 50 km per hour in three seconds. The Weaver can be fully charged at a standard electric outlet in about three hours, and reach up to 100 km on one charge (the motorbike’s next iteration will go up to 200 km on one charge).

Dat Bike’s opened its first physical store in Ho Chi Minh City last December. Nguyen said the company “has shipped a few hundred motorbikes so far and still have a backlog of orders.” He added that it saw a 35% month-over-month growth in new orders after the Ho Chi Minh City store opened.

At 39.9 million dong, or about $1,700 USD, Weaver’s pricing is also comparable to the median price of gas motorbikes. Dat Bike partners with banks and financial institutions to offer consumers twelve-month payment plans with no interest.

“These guys are competing with each other to put the emerging middle class of Vietnam on the digital financial market for the first time ever and as a result, we get a very favorable rate,” he said.

While Vietnam’s government hasn’t implemented subsidies for electric motorbikes yet, the Ministry of Transportation has proposed new regulations mandating electric infrastructure at parking lots and bike stations, which Nguyen said will increase the adoption of electric vehicles. Other Vietnamese companies making electric two-wheeled vehicles include VinFast and PEGA.

One of Dat Bike’s advantages is that its bikes are developed in house, with locally-sourced parts. Nguyen said the benefits of manufacturing in Vietnam, instead of sourcing from China and other countries, include streamlined logistics and a more efficient supply chain, since most of Dat Bike’s suppliers are also domestic.

“There are also huge tax advantages for being local, as import tax for bikes is 45% and for bike parts ranging from 15% to 30%,” said Nguyen. “Trade within Southeast Asia is tariff-free though, which means that we have a competitive advantage to expand to the region, compare to foreign imported bikes.”

Dat Bike plans to expand by building its supply chain in Southeast Asia over the next two to three years, with the help of investors like Jungle Ventures.

In a statement, Jungle Ventures founding partner Amit Anand said, “The $25 billion two-wheeler industry in Southeast Asia in particular is ripe for reaping benefits of new developments in electric vehicles and automation. We believe that Dat Bike will lead this charge and create a new benchmark not just in the region but potentially globally for what the next generation of two-wheeler electric vehicles will look and perform like.”

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Binance Labs leads $1.6M seed round in DeFi startup MOUND, the developer of Pancake Bunny

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Decentralized finance startup MOUND, known for its yield farming aggregator Pancake Bunny, has raised $1.6 million in seed funding led by Binance Labs. Other participants included IDEO CoLab, SparkLabs Korea and Handshake co-founder Andrew Lee.

Built on Binance Smart Chain, a blockchain for developing high-performance DeFi apps, MOUND says Pancake Bunny now has over 30,000 daily average users, and has accumulated more than $2.1 billion in total value locked (TVL) since its launch in December 2020.

The new funding will be used to expand Pancake Bunny and develop new products. MOUND recently launched Smart Vaults and plans to unveil Cross-Chain Collateralization in about a month, bringing the startup closer to its goal of covering a wide range of DeFi use cases, including farming, lending and swapping.

Smart Vaults are for farming single asset yields on leveraged lending products. It also automatically checks if the cost of leveraging may be more than anticipated returns and can actively lend assets for MOUND’s cross-chain farming.

Cross-Chain Collateralization is cross-chain yield farming that lets users keep original assets on their native blockchain instead of relying on a bridge token. The user’s original assets serve as collateral when the Bunny protocol borrows assets on the Binance Smart Chain for yield farming. This allows users to keep assets on native blockchains while giving them liquidity to generate returns on the Binance Smart Chain.

In statement, Wei Zhou, Binance chief financial officer, and head of Binance Labs and M&A’s, said “Pancake Bunny’s growth and MOUND’s commitent to execution are impressive. Team MOUND’s expertise in live product design and servie was a key factor in our decision to invest. We look forward to expanding the horizons of Defi together with MOUND.”

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Battery Resourcers raises $20M to commercialize its recycling-plus-manufacturing operations

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As a greater share of the transportation market becomes electrified, companies have started to grapple with how to dispose of the thousands of tons of used electric vehicle batteries that are expected to come off the roads by the end of the decade.

Battery Resourcers proposes a seemingly simple solution: recycle them. But the company doesn’t stop there. It’s engineered a “closed loop” process to turn that recycled material into nickel-manganese-cobalt cathodes to sell back to battery manufacturers. It is also developing a process to recover and purify graphite, a material used in anodes, to battery-grade.

Battery Resourcers’ business model has attracted another round of investor attention, this time with a $20 million Series B equity round led by Orbia Ventures, with injections from At One Ventures, TDK Ventures, TRUMPF Venture, Doral Energy-Tech Ventures and InMotion Ventures. Battery Resourcers CEO Mike O’Kronley declined to disclose the company’s new valuation.

The cathode and anode, along with the electrolyzer, are major components of battery architecture, and O’Kronley told TechCrunch it is this recycling-plus-manufacturing process that distinguishes the company from other recyclers.

“When we say that we’re on the verge of revolutionizing this industry, what we are doing is we are making the cathode active material — we’re not just recovering the metals that are in the battery, which a lot of other recyclers are doing,” he said. “We’re recovering those materials, and formulating brand new cathode active material, and also recovering and purifying the graphite active material. So those two active materials will be sold to a battery manufacturer and go right back into the new battery.”

“Other recycling companies, they’re focused on recovering just the metals that are in [batteries]: there’s copper, there’s aluminum, there’s nickel, there’s cobalt. They’re focused on recovering those metals and selling them back as commodities into whatever industry needs those metals,” he added. “And they may or may not go back into a battery.”

The company says its approach could reduce the battery industry’s reliance on mined metals — a reliance that’s only anticipated to grow in the coming decades. A study published last December found that demand for cobalt could increase by a factor of 17 and nickel by a factor of 28, depending on the size of EV uptake and advances in battery chemistries.

Thus far, the company’s been operating a demonstration-scale facility in Worcester, Massachusetts, and has expanded into a facility in Novi, Michigan, where it does analytical testing and material characterization. Between the two sites, the company can make around 15 tons of cathode materials a year. This latest funding round will help facilitate the development of a commercial-scale facility, which Battery Resourcers said in a statement will boost its capacity to process 10,000 tons of batteries per year, or batteries from around 20,000 EVs.

Another major piece of its proprietary recycling process is the ability to take in both old and new EV batteries, process them and formulate the newest kind of cathodes used in today’s batteries. “So they can take in 10-year-old batteries from a Chevy Volt and reformulate the metals to make the high-Ni cathode active materials in use today,” a company spokesman explained to TechCrunch.

Battery Resourcers is already receiving inquiries from automakers and consumer electronics companies, O’Kronley said, though he did not provide additional details. But InMotion Ventures, the venture capital arm of Jaguar Land Rover, said in a statement its participation in the round as a “significant investment.”

“[Battery Resourcers’] proprietary end-to-end recycling process supports Jaguar Land Rover’s journey to become a net zero carbon business by 2039,” InMotion managing director Sebastian Peck said.

Battery Resourcers was founded in 2015 after being spun out from Massachusetts’ Worcester Polytechnic Institute. The company has previously received support from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium, a collaboration between General Motors, Ford Motor Company and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

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