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Planted gets $72M to put whole cuts of vegan chicken on Europe’s menu

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Planted, a Swiss startup that’s cooking up alternative proteins using biostructuring and fermentation to serve “clean” cuts of vegan meat — such as the plant-based chicken breast plated up above — has raised again, nabbing CHF 70 million (~$72M) in Series B funding after a $21M pre-B round a year ago.

The Series B was led by consumer-focused private equity firm, L Catterton, the private equity arm of LVMH — the Paris, France based multinational corp and conglomerate with a focus on luxury consumer goods. So it’s presumably bought into a vision of the well-heeled being persuaded to abandon bloody filets mignons to bite down on guilt-free vegan cutlets.

The 2019-founded Zurich-based foodtech startup says the new funding will be used to launch its new whole-cut line of products, such as the above chicken breast (or ‘chicken’t’ as one colleague wittily dubbed it) — expanding out from its current range of smaller faux chicken pieces, mock pulled pork and kebab meat, and breaded schnitzel, which can so far be found in some 4,200 retailers and 3,000+ restaurants across three regional markets.

Further international expansion (within Europe) is on the cards now. Planted tells TechCrunch it has the Benelux markets (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) in its sights, using the Series B funds to build on its early focus on German-speaking markets (Germany, Austria and Switzerland).

Funding will also go on boosting its production capacity as it works to optimize its processes to shrink the price gap between actual animal flesh and its pea-protein-based vegan chicken alternative. (It also uses oat and sunflower protein in other mock meats in its range.)

For its vegan chicken, its website lists just four ingredients: Pea protein, pea fiber, canola oil and water (it also adds vitamin B12) — hence the “clean” claim, with its marketing further emphasizing: “We do not use any flavouring or preservatives, chemical additives, soy, gluten, lactose or GMO ingredients.” (Some may quibble over the healthiness of canola oil, which has faced some popular controversy in recent years — although it’s less clear whether the concern is merited.)

Alternative proteins face several barriers to mass adoption — a major one being price, as they do not enjoy the same kind of subsidies typically ploughed into traditional food production, meaning it’s not a level playing field when it comes to competing with meat. Often buying actual meat is cheaper than a plant-based alternative, despite the vastly higher environmental costs attached to traditional meat production (not to mention the animal welfare harms). So the economics are a challenge.

Planted says its current product price vs actual chicken varies depending on the market — sitting between the price of free range and organic chicken as it stands. Though, as it scales production, it envisages being able to shrink this gap, pointing to a doubling of production volume it achieved in May which enabled it to reduce prices. (A set of three of its current faux meat products, each weighing 400g, can cost around €25 for the bundle.)

“One of the main challenges to be solved is the cutting of unsustainable subsidies to the animal industry that currently are the main reason for the low prices of animal protein (also depending on the market) that we have on the market today,” Planted argues. “Price matters when it comes to food — as with everything else. Subsidies into various sectors along the animal protein value chain are maintaining this unequal equilibrium — at our own cost. We must change that to get closer to the true cost of our protein consumption.”

There can also be concern among consumers about how much processing (and potentially preservatives) go into making mock meat. Hence Planted’s focus on minimizing the ingredients used to produce its products — and on transparency around its production methods. No ‘secret blend of herbs & spices’ here.

“What we do is structuring of plant-based protein but then we have a fermentation process run over it so essentially we’re combining the two approaches… What this allows us is to have a very clean formulation,” says co-founder, Christoph Jenny, in a phone call with TechCrunch. “So we don’t have any additives whatsoever — and that seems to be the key message that resonates with consumers. We only have proteins, fibers, water and vegetable oil.”

If you’re wondering what biostructuring is, Planted’s website details the “wet extrusion” production process it uses to convert extracted plant proteins, which are spherical in shape, into “the fibrous, elongated shape of animal muscle fibre proteins” — aka, to mimic meat.

“The ingredients in the extruder are heated and put under pressure by means of two rotating screws, while simultaneously under high shear similar to a pasta maker. This creates a dough that is pressed through a nozzle and cooled,” it explains. “In this way, we can convert plant material to the fibrous structure of meat by applying nothing more than heat, pressure and shear. The best raw materials and the right parameters are chosen for our unique setup in this innovative process without requiring chemical additives.”

“Currently pretty much everything you see in the market has additives in one way or the other. And we feel that is one of the key things — besides the price equation — that holds consumers back. And I do understand it,” Jenny adds. “That’s why we founded the company as we wanted to be able to eat something clean, that’s good for you health. That becomes more and more important — and that’s the angle or the differentiation we focus on.”

Planted also produces all its products under a glass-house production facility in Kemptthal, Switzerland — which it bills as “the first transparent meat production open to the public”. (And you certainly won’t find open-door slaughter houses — but, hey, maybe that should be a policy mandate as a ‘hard truths’ tool to educate consumers on what actual meat is made of to help speed up the transition to less harmful protein production methods…)

Planted production facility for its plant-based protein products

A Planted production facility (Image credits: Planted)

It’s also worth noting that (actual) meat can be adulterated with plenty of substances the average person may not want near their food, from the antibiotics fed to animals to increase yields, to the (‘antimicrobial’) chlorine routinely used to wash chicken carcasses in US meat production facilities (although that particular process is banned in the EU) — so there can be a double (i.e. higher) standard applied to meat alternatives, even as long accepted (i.e. tolerated) factory farming methods leave plenty to be desired.

But the vested interests in sustaining traditional animal husbandry and the jobs it creates are undeniable.

The upshot is that alternative protein makers have to work doubly hard to get their products to market and into people’s stomachs. So the growth challenge is real — even as the potential for scaling looks massive as policymakers everywhere look for ways to shrink carbon emissions. (A 2021 study reported by the Guardian found that meat production accounted for nearly 60% of the greenhouse gases associated with global food production — which itself is responsible for a third of all planet-heating gases generated by human activity — which means that greening how we eat generally, and meat specifically, is essential if we’re to avoid climate catastrophe; no ifs, no buts.)

Investors backing alternative proteins are calculating that humanity will, over the long haul, make the switch to alternative protein sources, whether gradually then suddenly or slowly and steadily — as food production systems and policy incentives are reconfigured and reformed.

“It is an honor to partner with Planted in its mission to revolutionise the way meat and protein-rich foods are consumed globally,” said Liz Gordon of L Catterton in a statement supporting Planted’s Series B. “Not only are their products inspired by nature but they are also free of unnatural ingredients, scalable, and able to be easily incorporated into consumers’ daily lives as well as traditional meat supply chains. With food as a strong lever to promote human health and environmental stability, Planted directly contributes to creating a healthier and more sustainable food system. We have strong conviction in the company’s continued growth, as more people across the globe continue to adopt alternative proteins into their lives.”

The European Commission has a flagship ‘green deal’ policy with the goal of shrinking the bloc’s carbon emissions to net neutral by 2050 — which includes attention to agricultural reform, under a so-called “farm to fork strategy” (to transition to “a fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly food system”, as the EU’s PR puts it). Although oxymoronical talk of “sustainable livestock” at the EU level suggests the thinking may not be nearly bold nor ambitious enough to deliver the slated eco transformation.

In the meanwhile, the reality is current EU agricultural subsidies are among those skewing the global food production playing field by propping up an environmentally unsound status quo. (A reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, adopted at the end of last year for the 2023-2027 period, was billed by lawmakers as combininghigher environmental, climate and animal welfare ambitions with a fairer distribution of payments, especially to small and medium-sized family farms as well as young farmers” — with no high level message about the need for farmers to transition beyond animal protein production as yet, as commissioners shy away from a message that many traditional farmers may find hard to swallow.)

A Commission proposal for a “legislative framework for sustainable food systems” (aka, FSFS) — slated to be a flagship component of the F2F strategy — is due to be adopted by the EU’s executive body by the end of 2023 so, it remains to be seen what else is coming down the pipe, in terms of harder food system reforms, but the pace of the EU’s creeping policy change is already lagging the protein disruptors.

“There are subsidies and also the way the regulations work — which work against us,” agrees Jenny, when asked about the policy picture. “We welcome that alternative proteins are mentioned as part of the green deal — but ‘sustainable livestock’ is also a cornerstone so… ”

Despite a patchy policy picture on home turf, he still sounds confident that traditional meat’s baked in competitive advantage is shrinking — and will shrink further in the coming years — as alt protein players scale up production, optimize their processes and tap into better economies of scale. And, also, as harsher economic conditions bite.

“As we scale up — and [remember] animal farming has been around for centuries and has been totally optimized — so as we’re scaling I think we’re also A) finding better technology, more efficient technology to produce but B) also have large scale obviously — so we can optimize costs quite a bit,” he predicts.

He also points to “adverse inflation” working against animal protein production as it gets more expensive to produce meat — given animals must be fed protein to produce the meat humans eat and that’s a far less efficient means of producing edible protein for humans than getting it direct from plants. “Overall we see meat prices rising as they’re way more prone to inflation given their lower conversion ratio of protein than alternative proteins — and I think that is one of the key measures [we’re] improving.”

“Last but not least, one of the tricky [issues] to overcome is that animal meat is typically used by retailers as a way to get customers in the door so typically they put lower margins on animal meat vs alternative proteins which typically are used as higher margin products by retailers,” he adds — hence that’s why Planted does direct distribution, b2c, to customers (and presumably also explains its early focus on building relationships with restaurants so they’re supporting the product in how they’re putting it on their menus).

Planted Exec Board - f.r.t.l - Pascal Bieri Judith Wemmer Christoph Jenny Lukas Böni

Planted executive board, from right to left: Pascal Bieri, Judith Wemmer, Christoph Jenny and Lukas Böni (Image credits: Planted)

“Working on these three things we see the gap shrink quite quick over the next couple of years,” he continues, emphasizing that the team is certainly not hanging around waiting for policymakers to roll out a red carpet for green foodtech but is strategizing hard to make growth happen despite all the ingrained challenges. “What we focus on is what we can impact day by day. We really focus on optimizing our production processes, and simplifying things and making sure that we don’t rely on any policymakers to make the changes — but rather we put ourselves in a position to get to prosperity.”

More problematic than policymakers being slow in serving up their fulsome support, Jenny suggests, is the role of meat industry lobbyists working actively against reform of the food system by trying to undermine adoption of alternative proteins. “The bigger issue is that lobbyists, very strong nationalist lobbyists — on the animal farming side — try to counteract us on a day to day basis, doing that on the European level or in local government,” he tells us. “A good example is the amendment 171 they wanted to pass to forbid plant-based milk.

“France for example is super aggressive that you cannot relate to any animal what we’re doing. So I think that’s the fundamental issue. Then the subsidies that come out of these policy struggles. So I think we find ourselves, on a day-to-day basis on the legislation side, rather in a back-and-forth — rather than moving forward and fixing the broken food system together. And we’re losing time day by day to really reduce our food’s carbon footprint on that side.

“That’s the daily struggle and the reality. So while the green new deal sounds promising the daily struggle with lobbyists and the economical power of the animal farming system is the reality.”

As well as competing with unreasonably cheap animal-derived meat — and fending off vicious attacks from the meat lobby — Planted is also of course competing with a growing number of alternative protein startups.

Plant-based rivals include the likes of Beyond Meat (mock chicken, burgers etc), Heura (mock chicken), Future Farm (fake mince, sausages, burgers), Impossible Burger (faux bloody burgers), and Juicy Marbles (vegan steaks), to name just a few meat-challenger startups in an increasingly-packed-like-sardines but branded-like-fancy-chocolate playing field (yes, plant-based fish is also a thing).

As if that wasn’t enough, there are also lab-grown meat plays trying to disrupt traditional animal farming by growing meat from cells to sell cruelty-free meat. (Aka, lab-grown meat or cultured meat). As well as liquid meal replacement purveyors, like Soylent, pushing the notion that there’s no need to even chew dinner… So the competition for disrupting traditional protein sources is colorful, plentiful and growing.

That makes differentiation between disruptors another potential challenge. How to make your fake chicken or faux pork stand out from other vegan alternatives?

Albeit, the size of the global meat market is more than massive enough to accommodate many different brands and approaches, given every human has to eat (and people’s food tastes will differ). So this should be a case of a rising appetite for alt proteins growing the size of the pie rather than a winner takes all scenario. Just so long as consumers can be convinced, en masse, to chow down on proteins that haven’t demanded animals are reared for slaughter as the price of eating dinner.

“We focus on the message,” says Jenny, when asked how Planted is approaching differentiation amid the growing gaggle of alternative producers. “We just founded the company in 2019 and the reception we get market per market is very positive — because I think people do start to twist the pack around and look on the ingredients. So I think one of the most important communicators for us is the back of the pack and making sure that it’s clean.

“The second thing that comes out — if you do it clean and you do it proper — is that the taste profile is very, very good. So I think our repurchase rates are much higher than the industry standard. And that is very important when you get to sell the product because otherwise you’re just spending marketing money and you don’t get repeat purchases. So that’s a metric we focus on very strongly. And where I think we’re second to none.”

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Backed by Epic Games, distributed computing startup Hadean nabs $30M to power the metaverse

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Hadean, a U.K.-based distributed, spatial computing startup that’s setting out to build the infrastructure for the burgeoning metaverse, has closed a $30 million seres A round of funding from a high-profile cast of investors including Epic Games and Tencent.

Founded out of London in 2015, Hadean started out with a broad mission to put “supercomputer levels of processing power at the disposal of anyone,” TechCrunch wrote back in 2017 when the company was still operating in beta. In the intervening years, Hadean has iterated for different use-cases and has emerged as a major player in the gaming sphere in particular, where it powers major hits such as Minecraft.

At its core, Hadean is all about helping developers scale their codebase to support software that requires significant computing power, something that Minecraft demands particularly when it involves multiplayer engagement across the internet. Hadean’s spatial simulation library integrates with all the major gaming engines, and helps MMO (massively multiplayer online game) and other online game developers avoid having to put player limits in place, or use other forms of technical (but limited) trickery to circumvent the problems created by hundreds or more gamers participating at the same time. It’s all about keeping the dreaded “lag” at bay, while maintaining the depth, complexity, and realism of a single-player offline console game.

This is achieved through the magic of distributed computing, with Hadean’s platform eliminating “excessive middleware, orchestration, and overengineering,” as the company puts it, dynamically provisioning more or fewer resources as a game requires.

But the underlying technology can be used for just about any use-case, from resource-intensive enterprise applications through to web 3.0, blockchain, and the metaverse. Back in July, Hadean was awarded a contract with the British Army to build a simulated training environment for land warfare.

A virtual world as illustrated by Hadean Image Credits: Hadean

Epic investment

And it’s against that backdrop that Hadean has now secured a slew of illustrious backers eager to get in at an early stage, while the metaverse is still in its fledgling years.

As the Telegraph newspaper first reported last month [paywalled], Hadean initially secured around $18 million in funding from investors including Chinese technology titan Tencent and InQTel, a CIA-backed not-for-profit venture capital firm based in Virginia, U.S. As it transpired, this initial reveal came somewhat prematurely, as Hadean was still in the process of closing the round of funding, which is what it’s announcing today.

The full list of (known) backers include lead investor Molten Ventures (formerly Draper Esprit), Tencent, 2050 Capital, Alumni Ventures, Aster Capital, Entrepreneur First, InQtel, and the mighty Epic Games, which also happens to be a Hadean customer. In fact, Epic Games previously doled out funding to Hadean in the form of a MegaGrant, which are basically grants to support companies working on projects to help support its Unreal Engine.

In an email to TechCrunch, Hadean CEO Craig Beddis said Epic Games arrived late to the series A round and so had to invested via a convertible note, which basically means it’s a short-term debt that will convert into equity.

It’s also worth noting that Epic Games recently raised around $2 billion to build what it’s touting as a kid-friendly metaverse, and this gives a further clue as to why it’s now investing directly in Hadean.

“Hadean’s computing power will provide the infrastructure that’s needed as we work to create a scalable metaverse,” said Marc Petit, who serves as VP of Epic’s Unreal Engine Ecosystem, in a statement. “The company’s technology complements Epic’s Unreal Engine by enabling massive amounts of concurrent users and unlocking new tools for creators and developers.”

Tencent’s involvement is also notable, given current geopolitical tensions between China and the U.S. Beddis explained that Hadean ended up taking less money than what was on offer from Tencent so that it could remain CFIUS (Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States) compliant, and avoid a national security review.

With another $30 million in the bank, in addition to its previously raised seed rounds amounting to around $16.5 million, Hadean is well-financed to double-down on its existing traction across the gaming, government, and enterprise realms, and power all manner of web 3.0 and metaverse applications.

“Hadean’s mission is to bridge physical and virtual worlds — to help us make better decisions and ultimately improve the quality of our lives in the physical world,” Beddis said. “Today’s virtual worlds are a limited experience – small scale, siloed, and insecure. Hence why these are the technical challenges we’re tackling today. But we believe the true success and mass adoption of the metaverse will rely on the ease by which creators will be able to build their own experiences at scale, leveraging open and robust metaverse-as-a-service technologies.”

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Interview with Ekke Uustalu, Co-Founder of Planyard

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Interview with Ekke Uustalu, Co-Founder of Planyard

Co-founder of Planyard with a background in B2B software and cyber security. Now tackling profitability forecasting in larger construction companies to make sure they don’t go out of business due to insufficient visibility.

He was born right when Estonia regained its independence from the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 90s. This experience has been invaluable as he saw the rapid development and life quality improvement this new way provided.

When growing up, everything in his life was digitalized – the communication, the school work, government and medical services. This meant that that was since childhood the normal. He couldn’t really expect less than excellent and user-friendliness from any service. This part is probably normal for 99% of Estonians though.

He studied computer systems in his university studies and found entrepreneurship interesting from early on. He worked in various startups during studies and attended various startup events and competitions. Some of these competitions were also where the first attempts (and failures) at personal startups took place.

He also tried Amazon FBA (Fulfilled by Amazon) product selling which failed quite miserably as the product was completely custom designed and was just a one-time thing. The product was also partially a safety device so Amazon deciding to now allowing to sell the product was a good learning point. Never give too much decision power to someone else. Also, don’t make safety products without having great suppliers. 🙂

After a short stint in a cyber security company, he was invited by acquaintances to work on Planyard. This has been the main focus for the past few years.

Where did the idea for Planyard come from?

The idea for Planyard came from our acquaintances working in the construction field. Many of them work as project managers and complained that they don’t have good tools that help them do financial tasks efficiently.

They often need to use multiple unlinked spreadsheets with duplicate data where the processing and data copying takes way too long. So when one of our founders had multiple discussions with these PMs, he was able to identify key issues that we started to work on once the mockups were confirmed.

So now we are providing a cloud-based software tool for construction companies to automate much of the annoying manual work they have to do anyway. This can save up to 5 days for each project manager per month. Additionally, colleagues and managers can also easily see what the status is if the company prefers to share the access inside the company.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Since we are a small bootstrapped team, the day consists of various tasks that have to be done – often some development work, marketing actions if we have some content planned, calls with customers and representatives from tools that we integrate with.

It is important to list and then prioritize all of the things that need to be done in the day to make sure that you can really focus on the important tasks. Depending on the task, we have different Trello boards to track them or for stuff only specific to me, I also use Gmail snoozing to not lose anything.

How do you bring ideas to life?

We often hear about problems that our customers are having. When we hear these brought out, we have to validate that many or most of our customers face similar issues. When we validate that indeed this is a relevant issue for many people, we then start work on solution proposals.

We then make very low-quality mockups that we can validate with all of the parties and often do multiple rounds of these discussions to tweak the solution before we start implementing it.

This means that we can be very sure of the technical solution before we do anything. We might make small adjustments to the design or the process later on, but the fundamental assumptions are correct, thus reducing the amount of rework we have to do.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Young and/or tech-savvy people who are becoming decision makers in (construction) companies. They have grown up with productivity tools and user-friendly tools and expect that when they try to find a solution. Also, a more bottom-up management style is nice since everyone’s’ opinion matters and the boss doesn’t decide alone.

This means that our potential customers are more open to embracing technical solutions that will make their life easier. Additionally, when looking for solutions, they are very selfishly trying to find a great experience. That differs from the “old school“ enterprise sales where the management would just decide for something and the end users would not really benefit from it.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

If you don’t get it 100% clearly, just ask again. I think I need to fully understand the problem and why it is a problem to be able to solve it for the customer.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Ask more questions before rushing to propose solutions. You probably didn’t fully get it yet.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Probably not that unpopular, but raising money is not everything. Raising money too soon can hurt or end your business.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Blocking out time for deep focus time. This is probably more a techy thing to do, but having the freedom of no distractions for some part of your day really lets you achieve a lot.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

We still need to do a lot of work on our online presence and messaging, but we for sure are already seeing successes from our SEO efforts however limited the time is that we put in there.

In short, it’s better to be where the customers are searching for you instead of cold calling and reaching out to them yourself.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

A few years ago, I tried doing Amazon FBA (fulfillment by Amazon) as a business. We developed our own product from scratch for just a one-time event.

The production delays and strict Amazon restrictions meant that we actually could almost not sell any products to our customers before the date. We lost a lot of time and money doing this, but I learned to value my own control over the process more. In that case, we did make a lot of mistakes on our own as well. But giving so much power to someone else can be risky as they can just shut you down when they decide to do so.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I recently heard of an idea for an app to order food in the restaurant. So basically Uber Eats to eat in – no waiting for the waiter, no payment struggles, and the possibility for the company to do dynamic pricing.

I’m not sure if it is a great idea, but it’s an idea.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Trello. Keeping track of what you need to do, what you did, and to prioritize what needs to be done. Without structure, you just do whatever you want to in the morning and that probably won’t take you too far.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Predictable Revenue by Aaron Ross and Marylou Tyler
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

What is your favorite quote?

Change in all things is sweet – Aristotle

Originally published on IdeaMensch.
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Berlin’s Visionaries Club VC boosts its funds with €350M worth of fresh capital for B2B investments

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It was back in 2019 that we reported on Visionaries Club, a new, Berlin-based, European VC focusing on B2B, founded by Sebastian Pollok and Robert Lacher. At the time, Visionaries Club had launched two new €40M micro funds for seed and growth-stage B2B.

Pollok was previously a VC at e.ventures in San Francisco and also founded Amorelie, which exited to Pro7Sat.1 Media Group. Lacher was previously a founding partner of La Famiglia, an early investor in FreightHub, Coya, Asana Rebel, OnTruck and Personio.

Visionaries Club has now announced a second B2B-focused fund, with a new €150m Seed Fund and €200m ‘Early Growth Fund. It’s so far invested in companies such as Personio, Miro, Choco, Xentral, Truelayer, Vay, Taxdoo, Yokoy, Pigment, Leapsome and Gtmhub, alongside VCs such as Sequoia, Accel, Index, Lightspeed or Bessemer.  

In a statement, Lacher said: “We are extremely proud and humbled that more than 20 of our founder LPs are founders we have backed in the past, that now reinvest their private money into our funds such as Hanno Renner (Personio), Jenny Podewills (Leapsome), Daniel Khachab (Choco), Christian Reber (Pitch / Superlist) or the founders of Taxdoo and Insify.”

The fund essentially operates as a micro-VC fund, which means it can lead, and co-lead Seed investment deals, co-investing alongside larger, multistage VC funds in Early Growth stage (Series B) deals.

It’s also launching the Visionaries Club science-driven ‘Tomorrow Fund’ to back science-driven startups at the Pre-Seed and Seed stage.

Additionally, Sahar Meghani and Marton Sarkadi Nagy have been promoted to Partners.

London-based Meghani will take a lead role in managing the new Growth Fund, while Sarkadi Nagy will take a lead on the seed fund activities.

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