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Radical Ethereum entrepreneurs are redefining what ‘rape kit’ means



Their investors call them disruptive innovators. Detractors like North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein call them “dirty scammers.” But Leda Health co-founders Madison Campbell and Liesel Vaidya think of themselves as advocates for sexual assault survivors. 

Among the feminists leveraging Ethereum for subversive use cases, Leda Health’s do-it-yourself evidence-collecting kit for sexual assault survivors is among the most ambitious projects. So far, 16 members of Congress condemned Leda Health’s upcoming kits, which Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel described as “shamelessly trying to take financial advantage of the #MeToo movement.” Leda Health’s DIY kit was nearly banned in New Hampshire and Utah before it even launched. But that hasn’t deterred Campbell and Vaidya. 

Campbell is a survivor herself, so she knows the reasons people don’t immediately go to police after an assault. In her case, by the time she’d grappled with the trauma and was ready to come forward, it would have just been her word against his.  

“There are also rape kits in every state that have been lost,” Campbell said. “The sheer amount of sexual assault survivors that reach out to me and tell me this product could change their lives, that’s what keeps me going.” 

As such, Campbell said her startup plans to launch these kits in fall 2021, partnering with several universities for a beta rollout. Support services, to complement the take-home kits, include therapy and transformative justice groups run by licensed facilitators.  

“We plan on being a business-to-business company, for universities and corporations and the military, partners like that,” Campbell said. “Our goal is for institutions to eventually pay for products and services to help these students. We know it will be difficult, that we’ll need a lot of case studies showing whether this helps… including healing work with people who committed harm about accountability and boundaries, to end that cycle of harm.” 

Starting by offering institutions free therapy services and resources should seem like a no-brainer. Yet critics argue these kits give survivors false hope, because they are less effective in court than rape kits managed by law enforcement and related clinics. On the other hand, every year tens of thousands of rape kits aren’t tested by police. 

Vaidya said Leda Health’s Ethereum-powered mobile app gives survivors the choice to document their own accounts, using blockchain technology for time-stamping evidence collected in the kit, which puts power back in survivors’ hands. 

“We’re not in the business of proving consent. We’re just in the business of providing resources,” Vaidya said.  

According to Chief Deputy District Attorney John Henry, in California’s Riverside County, this commercial product will be the first of its kind. He said it’s too soon to tell whether this could help survivors who are, for whatever reason, reluctant to immediately turn to law enforcement. Timing is also a factor. If the survivor is unable to get to a clinic promptly after the assault, there won’t be any biological evidence left to collect. 

Love them or hate them, there’s no denying these blockchain-savvy entrepreneurs are challenging the status quo in a space where women are horrifically underserved.

Nurses and police have some degree of experience and training on what to ask, where to follow up, what information is important. That is information the general public doesn’t have. As a prosecutor, I’d rather have those statements, and the additional investigation that goes on, done by law enforcement and medical personnel,” Henry said. “If a kit is collected in a way that is inconsistent with regulations and best practices, it’s not inadmissible. But that is something the jury would need to take into account… I can see the benefit of some type of evidence, as opposed to none. I can’t give a definitive opinion yet about whether it [Leda Health] is a good idea or a bad idea.”

A rape kit alone, of any variety, cannot result in a conviction or expulsion. It is merely a tool used as part of a broader investigation. Even so, the idea of survivors managing their own data has sparked vehement backlash. 

“Back in 2019, our office was broken into,” Vaidya said. “We’ve also documented potential investors engaging with social media posts calling for us to be jailed.” 

Campbell added they are now both subjected to routine online harassment. 

“We also take Ubers home from meetings or offices ever since 2019, because our lawyers told us not to take the subway. We might be followed,” Campbell said. 

The way this controversial kit works is a nondescript box comes with plastic bags, swabs and instructions all labeled with QR codes. Users download Leda Health’s app and are prompted to type in information while they save evidence of the assault, such as ripped panties, in separate Ziploc bags. 

“The blockchain creates a sense of accountability, because these records can’t be changed,” Vaidya said. “There’s only myself and perhaps one more person in the company that has access to the data and it’s encrypted…there are access locks regarding when and how and we might access that data if compelled to by a legal authority.” 

Leda Health outsources most of the tricky Ethereum software support to the blockchain startup Deqode. Deqode engineer Shivam Bohare said Leda Health’s system relies on Ethereum infrastructure services from Blocknative, a company that attracted investment from Coinbase Ventures, and Infura, a startup partially owned by Ethereum co-founder Joe Lubin. The encrypted data and profile are attached to a specific user account, not any self-custodied token, so the blockchain aspects of this app all occur under the hood. Users don’t need to know anything about Ethereum. 

“Access to the user data is guarded using strict authorization,” Bohare said. “Even the users don’t have access to their own data (without proper authorization from Leda Health administration) once it’s been uploaded to the cloud.”

Unlike a kit administered by police, survivors can physically hold the kit until they turn it over to lawyers or authorities, rather than hoping their case isn’t one of the thousands that gets lost in the system. Plus, the DIY kit, combined with the records stored through the app, can be used for mediation outside of court, like group therapy sessions. 

“People tend to forget that self-collected evidence is extremely common in the U.S. court system and analyzed for admissibility and other issues on a regular basis,” said attorney Jiadai Lin, who provides outside counsel to Leda Health. 

Indeed, rape kits donated by another private manufacturer were reportedly used in April 2020 in Monterey County, California, under a temporary process developed for the pandemic.

“I believe survivors should have the right to gather information about their own bodies on their own terms, and entrepreneurs should have the right to try their hand at innovation,” Lin said. “In my view, legislative efforts to ban the product have been excessively restrictive. And that makes me feel even more strongly about standing behind Leda Health.”

Critics cast the startup’s entrepreneurial approach as greedy opportunism. Leda Health investors like Romeen Sheth, a Harvard law school alum and former co-president of the Harvard Association for Law and Business, poured $2 million into the startup so far because they believe the for-profit strategy can complement nonprofit organizations already working in this space. 

“Disruptive innovation in any industry is never comfortable; it never starts out as something that the incumbents are pleased with,” Sheth said. “I’m bullish on products and services that keep users as the top priority… I’m interested in investing in forward progress, not in maintaining the status quo. Leda Health defines that ethos and I’m hopeful their efforts make sexual trauma and sexual harassment less embarrassing, painful and traumatic.” 

Now, as Campbell and Vaidya finish work on the prototype, Leda Health already started offering support groups for sexual assault survivors, led by licensed therapists. 

“We have two groups going right now and another five starting in May,” Vaidya said. 

Love them or hate them, there’s no denying these blockchain-savvy entrepreneurs are challenging the status quo in a space where women, in particular, are horrifically underserved by current resources. 

“For sexual assault victims, the cost of the status quo, which includes under-reporting, a massive kit processing backlog and general lack of support services, is very high. Leda is demonstrating there are innovative low-risk solutions available,” said investor Duriya Farooqui. “Second, among the reasons an assault victim may not immediately report is because the procedure for collecting evidence via a rape kit can feel invasive and in itself can add to trauma. Leda wants to provide options.” 





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

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Brazil’s Divibank raises millions to become the Clearbanc of LatAm



Divibank, a financing platform offering LatAm businesses access to growth capital, has closed on a $3.6 million round of seed funding led by San Francisco-based Better Tomorrow Ventures (BTV).

São Paulo-based Divibank was founded in March 2020, right as the COVID-pandemic was starting. The company has built a data-driven financing platform aimed at giving businesses access to non-dilutive capital to finance their growth via revenue-share financing.

“We are changing the way entrepreneurs scale their online businesses by providing quick and affordable capital to startups and SMEs in Latin America,” said co-founder and CEO Jaime Taboada. In particular, Divibank is targeting e-commerce and SaaS companies although it also counts edtechs, fintechs and marketplaces among its clients.

The company is now also offering marketing analytics software for its clients so they can “get more value out of the capital they receive.”

A slew of other investors participated in the round, including existing backer MAYA Capital and new investors such as Village Global, Clocktower Ventures, Magma Partners, Gilgamesh Ventures, Rally Cap Ventures and Alumni Ventures Group. A group of high-profile angel investors also put money in the round, including Rappi founder and president Sebastian Mejia, Tayo Oviosu (founder/CEO of Paga, who participated via Kairos Angels), Ramp founder and CTO Karim Atiyeh and Bread founders Josh Abramowitz and Daniel Simon.

In just over a year’s time, Divibank has seen some impressive growth (albeit from a small base). In the past six months alone, the company said it has signed on over 50 new clients; seen its total loan issuance volume increase by 7x; revenues climb by 5x; customer base increase by 11x and employee base by 4x. Customers include Dr. Jones, CapaCard and Foodz, among others.

“Traditional banks and financial institutions do not know how to evaluate internet businesses, so they generally do not offer loans to these companies. If they do, it is generally a long and tedious process at a very high cost,” Taboada said. “With our revenue-share offering, the entrepreneur does not have to pledge his home, drown in credit card debts or even give up his equity to invest in marketing and growth.”

For now, Divibank is focused on Brazil, considering the country is huge and has more than 11 million SMEs “with many growth opportunities to explore,” according to Taboada. It’s looking to expand to the rest of LatAm and other emerging markets in the future, but no timeline has yet been set.

As in many other sectors, the COVID-19 pandemic served as a tailwind to Divibank’s business, considering it accelerated the digitalization of everything globally.

“We founded Divibank the same week as the lockdown started in Brazil, and we saw many industries that didn’t traditionally advertise online migrate to Google and Facebook Ads rapidly,” Taboada told TechCrunch. “This obviously helped our thesis a lot, as many of our clients had actually recently went from only selling offline to selling mostly online. And there’s no better way to attract new clients online than with digital ads.”

Divibank will use its new capital to accelerate its product roadmap, scale its go-to-market strategy and ramp up hiring. Specifically, it will invest more aggressively in engineering/tech, sales, marketing, credit risk and operations. Today the team consists of eight employees in Brazil, and that number will likely grow to more than 25 or 30 in the coming 12 months, according to Taboada.

The startup is also developing what it describes as “value additive” software, aimed at helping clients better manage their digital ads campaigns and “optimize their investment returns.”

Looking ahead, Divibank is working on a few additional financial products for its clients, targeting the more than $205 billion e-commerce and SaaS markets in Latin America with offerings such as inventory financing and recurring revenue securitizations. Specifically, it plans to continue developing its banking tech platform by “automating the whole credit process,” developing its analytics platform and building its data science/ML capabilities to improve its credit model.

Jake Gibson, general partner at Better Tomorrow Ventures, noted that his firm is also an investor in Clearbanc, which also provided non-dilutive financing for founders. The company’s “20-minute term sheet” product, perhaps its most well-known in tech, allowed e-commerce companies to raise non-dilutive marketing growth capital between $10,000 to $10 million based on its revenue and ad spend.

“We are very bullish on the idea that not every company should be funded with venture dollars, and that lack of funding options can keep too many would-be entrepreneurs out of the market,” he said. “Combine that with the growth of e-commerce in Brazil and LatAm, and expected acceleration fueled by COVID, and the opportunity to build something meaningful seemed obvious.”

Also, since there aren’t a lot of similar offerings in the region, Better Tomorrow views the space that Divibank is addressing as a “massive untapped market.”

Besides Clearbanc, Divibank is also similar to another U.S.-based fintech, Pipe, in that both companies aim to help clients with SaaS, subscription and other recurring revenue models with new types of financings that can help them grow without dilution.

“Like the e-commerce market, we see the SaaS, and the recurring revenues markets in general, growing rapidly,” Taboada said.

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Orbite offers a five-star ‘space camp’ for would-be space travelers



As private companies like Axiom Space, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and SpaceX prepare to ferry private customers to the stars, a whole new market is opening up to train affluent would-be travelers for their future missions. Case in point: space training company Orbite, whose goal is to combine aeronautics and five-star hospitality in its inaugural astronaut training program.

“We’re going to have hundreds, if not thousands of people this decade of the 2020s, who will go to space, but you just don’t get off the couch and strap into a rocket […] you actually have to get mentally prepared, physically prepared, and also spiritually prepared for this out of out of this world journey,” co-founder Jason Andrews told TechCrunch. “And that’s really our role.”

Orbite (the French word for ‘orbit,’ pronounced or-beet) was founded by space and hospitality industry veterans Andrews and Nicolas Gaume. Andrews is an aerospace entrepreneur that founded Spaceflight and BlackSky, while Gaume, a software and game development entrepreneur, sits on the board of his family’s resort and hotel business Groupe Gaume. Last year, Gaume’s business Space Cargo Unlimited shipped a dozen bottles of wine to the International Space Station. They were later retrieved. (When asked how the wine tasted, Gaume told TechCrunch, “It’s a unique product.”)

The program will be led by Brienna Rommes, who previously worked as the director of space training and research at the National Aerospace Training and Research Center. Rommes has trained over 600 people to prepare for spaceflight, including Sir Richard Branson, Orbite said.

Led by Rommes, the program aim to prepare travelers that are determined to reach space, but Andrews also said Orbite can help customers “try before they buy” – give people a taste of spaceflight for those who are unsure whether they’d actually want to board a launch vehicle. This seems to be their main value proposition, by providing a general overview to space travel across different companies, because they’ll also be competing to a degree with the native (and mandatory) training programs of individual private launch companies that are purpose-built to prepare customers for their flight.

Costs remain prohibitively high for the average spacefarer: it’s been reported that a ticket on Axiom’s inaugural commercial launch to the International Space Station costs upwards of $55 million. Orbite’s premium training program comes in at $29,500 per person for the three-day, four-night stay.

In acknowledgement on the premium price tag, the four training program sessions scheduled through the remainder of 2021 will be held at luxury resorts: the Four Seasons Resort in Orlando, Florida, and Hôtel La Co(o)rniche in Pyla-sur-Mer, France. The latter hotel is owned by Groupe Gaume.

Would-be space travelers will be able to experience up to 5 Gs by taking a ride on a high-performance aircraft as well as simulated zero-gravity. To prepare customers mentally and even spiritually, the training program itinerary includes meditation training, a workshop on stress and anxiety management, and individual coaching with staff “to explore personal goals for space, thoughts and asses possible flight options,” the company said. The itinerary also includes virtual reality mission experiences and a ‘Michelin star’ space food tasting.

“We really want to make sure we bridge the gap with more of a sensorial, psychological, even spiritual preparation for the trip,” Gaume said.

The company’s long-term vision is building and operating many training facilities around the world. The first facility will open in 2023 or 2024, though Andrews and Gaume are not yet sharing where it will be located. They did say that the dedicated training facility will offer a range of packages, with some as short as single-day experiences. They will also offer accommodation and hospitality, potentially for the long term – weeks or even months, depending on if we reach a stage in human space travel where we’re sending private citizens to the Moon or even Mars.

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Treasury Prime raises $20M to scale its banking-as-a-service biz



This morning Treasury Prime, a banking-as-a-service startup that delivers its product via APIs, announced that it has closed a $20 million Series B. The capital comes around a year since the startup announced its Series A, and around 1.5 years since it raised its preceding round.

For Treasury Prime, the new capital was an internal affair, with prior investors stepping up to lead its new round of funding. Deciens Capital and QED Investors co-led the round, with Susa Ventures and SaaStr Fund also putting cash into the transaction.

As is increasingly common among insider-led fundraises in recent years, the startup in question was not in dire need of new funding before the new investment came together. In fact, Treasury Prime CEO Chris Dean told TechCrunch that his firm is “super capital efficient” in an interview, adding that it had not tucked into its Series A capital until January of this year.

So, why raise more funds now? To invest aggressively in its business. That plan is cliche for a startup raising new funding, but in the case of Treasury Prime the move isn’t in anticipation of future demand. Dean told TechCrunch that his startups had run into a bottleneck in which it could only take on so much new customer volume. That’s no good for a startup in a competitive sector, so picking up its spend in early 2021 and raising new capital in mid-2021 makes sense as it could help it hire, and absorb more demand, more quickly.

And for Treasury Prime’s preceding backers, the chance to put more capital into a startup that was dealing with more demand than capacity likely wasn’t too hard a choice.  Dean added that to make sure the round’s price was market-reasonable, he pitched around 10 venture capital firms, got three term sheets, and then went with his preceding investor group; if any VC reading this is irked by the move, this is the founder equivalent of private-market investors asking founders to come back to them after they find a lead.

But with the banking-as-a-service market growing, thanks to entrants like Stripe showing up in recent quarters, how does Treasury Prime expect to stay towards the front of its fintech niche? Per Dean, by bringing together banks that want fintech deal volume, and fintechs who need both technology and eventual banking partners. By courting both sides of its market, Treasury Prime hopes to be well-situated for long-term growth.

And its CEO is bullish on the scale of his market.

If you imagine the banking-as-a-service market as merely neobanks, he explained, it’s not that big. But his startup expects the number of companies that want to offer their customers the sort banking capabilities that Treasury Prime and some competitors can offer will be broad. How broad? The best way I can summarize the company’s argument is that, a bit like how vertical SaaS has proven that building software for particular industries can be big business, Treasury Prime expects that banking tools will also be built for similar business categories. Vertical banking, perhaps, integrated into other services.

And it wants to be there, offering the back-end tech, and access to banks that the companies building those services will need.

Fintech is a big and expensive market, and Treasury Prime isn’t busy raising nine-figure rounds — yet, at least. According to PitchBook data, Treasury Prime was valued at just over $40 million at the time of its Series A; the company’s new valuation was presumably higher, though how much is not yet clear.

Let’s see how far it can get with $20 million more as it sheds some of its frugal DNA and looks to burn a little faster.

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