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We're back!

Hope everyone is having a great Labor Day Weekend! It was great taking a moment to unplug with friends and family, and we're excited to be back and doing what we love -- working with amazing founders and fund managers as they help reshape the future of technology.

Since sending out our last issue of the 2-Minute Drill, our friends at the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) also released the video recap of Tech Day in LA that we organized and led for the players. Give it a look here:

Welcome to the 2-Minute Drill -- a curated selection of the week's hottest stories from the world of tech, all in 2 minutes.

As always, shoot me a note to learn more or if you just want to say 👋.


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On my whistle...

Venue Lands $4M for its Zoom for Large Groups
In spite of increasing efforts to return to traditional in-office work, use of video conferencing software remains a core part of the workforce software stack. While Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet continue to lead the charge, a wave of startups have emerged to either build on top of these platforms to try and spruce up the user experience or carve out their own niche entirely. In this vein, we've covered startups like Mmhmm (here) who are building on top of existing platforms, as well as virtual meeting platforms like Hopin (here).

The latest startup to raise funding to tackle the team meeting sector is Toronto-based Venue, which recently raised $4 million in venture funding to help spruce up team meetings and other large remote meetings. This is the first reported round of funding for the 2020-founded company that also was part of the Y Combinator accelerator's Winter 2022 cohort.

Venue is not setting out to out-Zoom Zoom. Instead, it is planting its flag squarely in the niche of meetings and presentations for large audiences, be it 50 or 50,000 attendees. The idea is that Zoom works great for 1-1 conversations, but for bigger meetings, it fails to live up to feature expectations. Venue's thesis is that for larger audiences, you need to make the experience more personalized and engaging. The company does this with features like emoji bursts, use of background music and custom graphics, and a focus on making sharing of media, GIFs and videos as easy and visually appealing as seen in consumer-streaming platforms like Twitch. 

To-date it's picked up some notable corporate users, including Yelp, Shopify and PwC. It also tracks some interesting KPIs, such as having a reported 2 million emoji reactions “blasted to presenters" (no word yet for when Wall Street starts looking for this stat in quarterly earning reports). With Zoom and others struggling as the pandemic wanes and workers return to the office, it will be interesting to see if startups like Venue will be able to capture traction and scale this niche focus into a much bigger enterprise. 

(more here)

Need Proof? Proof Mints $50M for NFT Collective
In spite of a macro slowdown across the NFT ecosystem, VC check-writing remains active. Look no further than Proof, a private members only collective of 1,000 dedicated NFT collectors and artists that this week announced a whopping $50 million Series A round of funding.

Proof is the collective behind both the Moonbirds and Oddities projects, with Moonbirds alone reaching 200,000 ETH in trading volume (~$300M+ at current price). It was founded by serial entrepreneur and investor Kevin Rose, a parter at True Ventures and founder of startups such as Digg and Zero and angel investor in Twitter, Facebook, and Square. 

One of the core use cases of NFTs touted by proponents is the ability use the tokens for creating gated communities. Proof's vision is to build a future where NFT collections unlock utility and collaboration across communities, while at the same time helping diversify and connect artists, collectors, and enthusiasts across the NFT space. Other projects taking a related approach include FWB and Afterparty while "blue chip" NFT collections like Bored Apes have their own gated events and Discord servers.

Joining Proof won't be cheap. Currently the least expensive token on Open Sea is around 58 ETH (or ~$90,000 USD depending on current conversion rates). There's a lot more on the roadmap, so you can read the press release here if you want to learn more on plans regarding on-chain transition, copyright/usage, and more.

(more here)

Power Move: Power Charges Up $7M for Clinical Trials
This week San Francisco-based clinical trial platform Power announced a $7 million Seed round of funding to help more patients access clinical trials and to help researchers pull from a more diverse pool of participants. This is the first reported round of financing for the young company. 

Central to the development of new therapeutics are clinical trials. In fact, the rapid development of the life-saving Covid-19 vaccines was thanks in part to the availability of willing participants in clinical trials. The problem is that many studies are cancelled or delayed due to a lack of patients willing to participate in the research. In fact, according to studies, as many as one in four cancer trials alone fail to recruit enough participants.

Why? For many it's a communication breakdown. Trials can be bogged down by complex medical jargon that confuses prospective participants, can be hard to discover, and in some cases plagued by the perception that trials are only for very severe illnesses. Here's where Power steps in. The startup looks to (ahem) em-Power patients by enabling them to easily search all trials currently available in the USA, and then connect directly with the research teams conducting the trials. To date the platform reports logging more than 30,000 trials across 10,000 conditions, and is on pace to have more than 500,000 people using the platform this year

The Money Quote“Most people think of clinical trials as an option for very severe illness. The truth is that there are trials being researched on all unresolved conditions—from the severe stuff to chronic pain and gastrointestinal concerns.” -- Power Cofounder Brandon Li

If Power is successful in connecting more participants--and more diverse and representative participants--with researchers, hopefully it will have a net effect of improving treatments and outcomes for millions of people while helping the startup deliver strong financial returns.

(more here)


Planted Plants Its Flag in Alternative Meats
Regular readers of the 2-Minute Drill will be familiar with our coverage of innovations cutting across the FoodTech sector and how technology will play a key role in producing the 50-90% more food that will be needed to feed the expected 9 billion people living on earth by 2050 (unless Elon has colonized Mars by then and discovered bountiful new Martian crops). We've all gotta eat, and the past few years have seen a massive amount of innovation and funding directed toward what we eat (alternatives to traditional protein production), how we eat (delivery + virtual kitchens), how we streamline the food supply chain to reduce waste from what we are already producing and distributing, and more. 

Sticking with the "What We Eat" theme, this week Zurich, Switzerland-based alternative protein startup Planted announced a fresh $72 million Series C round of new financing to expand production of its line of meat alternatives. This brings the 2019-founded startup's total reported funding to $125 million.

The startup approaches the alternative protein market using biostructuring and fermentation to create “clean” cuts of vegan meat such as "chicken" breasts that are composed of pea protein, pea fiber, canola oil, water, and some added vitamin B12. According to Planted, the startup doesn't use any additives or preservatives, including GMO ingredients. Initially the startup launched with a line of smaller faux chicken, kebab meat, schnitzels, and more. With with the new funding is expanding into larger cuts of meat like the chicken breast.

Unlike cell-curated meats like Wildtype (2MD), New Age Meats (2MD), Aleph Farms (2MD), and many more that we have covered who grow real meats from cells in the lab, one advantage alternative protein startups like Planted have is that they face fewer regulatory hurdles in going to market. To-date planted reports that its products can be found in more than 4,200 retailers across Europe, and with the new funding, expect to see that expansion continue.

(more here)


Talent in Tech: Ready Player Me 
If we're really going to be spending more time in the metaverse, then we're all going to want to make sure our Avatars--digital representations of our selves--are looking good and can be used across games and other digital ecosystems. To help make this possible, this week Estonia-based startup Ready Player Me landed $56 million in new Series B funding. This brings the 2014-founded startup's total funding to a reported $85.5 million.

Ready Player Me is focused on developing a platform for creating dynamic, animated avatars that users can take with them across multiple virtual worlds built and operated by other companies. While gamers in particular are familiar with creating digital avatars and decking them out with custom skins such as in Fortnite, typically these remain walled gardens where the avatar can't be taken from one game and used elsewhere.

One of the big debates about the future of the metaverse is whether it will follow more of an "open source" approach or be dominated by a few of the big platforms similar to the internet today (Meta, Google, Apple, etc) that will make the rules. The hope for many investing in Web3 broadly is that the more open model will win out--one that benefits from an open ecosystem of developers creating and inter-operating without the platform risk that has increasingly plagued those at the mercy of the Web 2 shot-callers. Of course, Meta and its peers are investing heavily to try to ensure their corporate-driven versions are the digital universes we all will be playing in.

One interesting note is that in addition to the institutional venture investors in the round, Fractal co-founders Justin Kan (former Twitch founder) and Robin Chan are also investors. We have covered Fractal--a Crossover portfolio company--in past issues of the 2-Minute Drill, which seems to embrace a similar ethos as Ready Player Me. For Fractal it's about an NFT-driven open gaming ecosystem, while for Ready Player Me its about an open ecosystem for digital identity. This battle between open and closed will be a key area to keep an eye on in the coming years.

Athletes + Entertainers involved include: entertainer Kevin Hart and the social influencer D’Amelio family.

(more here)

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Disclaimer: The content in this newsletter is for informational purposes only and should NOT be taken as legal, business, tax, or investment advice. It also does NOT constitute an offer or solicitation to purchase any investment or a recommendation to buy or sell a security.

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