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AI-powered parking platform Metropolis raises $1.7B to acquire SP Plus

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AI-powered parking platform Metropolis today announced that it raised $1.7 billion to acquire SP Plus, a provider of parking facility management services, in a combination of equity and debt.

Eldridge Capital and 3L capital co-led the tranche with participation from BDT & MSD Partners’ affiliated credit funds, Vista Credit Partners, Temasek, Slow Ventures and Assembly Ventures. As a part of the financing, Metropolis will take on $650 million in loans and $1.05 billion in Series C preferred stock financing.

Metropolis will pay roughly $1.5 billion for SP Plus “while retaining significant capital on its balance sheet,” Metropolis co-founder and CEO Alex Israel said in a press release. Prior to the latest fundraise, Metropolis had raised $226 million in total.

“Today, we announced a transformational acquisition that represents both a new paradigm in how technology companies grow and a significant step forward in offering consumers a remarkable experience,” Israel continued. “SP Plus is a phenomenal business whose operational excellence, talented leadership team and high customer satisfaction levels have long made it a key partner to real estate owners across North America. The combined platform will seek to bring checkout-free payment experiences to consumers.”

Israel, a serial entrepreneur who sold his last company, ParkMe, to Intrix in 2015, founded Metropolis in 2017. The company equips existing parking structures with a computer vision system that enables customers to “drive in and drive out” without having to swipe a credit card or pay with cash.

To use a Metropolis parking facility, customers have to provide their name, license plate, phone number and payment method. From an app, they can review their visit and know the price in real time. Metropolis tracks cars and automatically charges the owners, emailing the receipt after they drive out.

In SP Plus, Metropolis gains an established, publicly traded business with a massive parking footprint across the U.S. and Canada. SP Plus owns more than two million parking spaces and manages over 3,300 parking facility locations, as well as parking and shuttle bus operations at 160 airports.

Metropolis

Metropolis’ mobile app for managing parking payments and more.

It’s another step toward vertical integration for Metropolis, whose infrastructure was powering around 600 parking facilities as of June 2022. Following its acquisition of Premier Parking last year, a Nashville-based company that operates parking garages and spaces around the U.S., and now SP Plus, Metropolis claims to have operations in more than 360 cities, millions of customers and over $4 billion in processed payments annually.

“While transforming the parking experience is our focus and priority today, as we deploy our proven technology we see opportunity to offer checkout-free transaction experiences at even more places people go,” Israel said in the press release. “From gas and electric vehicle-charging stations to drive-thrus and car washes, as well as retail stores, our computer vision platform enables people to transact in the physical world with even greater ease than we experience online.”

In recent years, Metropolis has stepped up investment on the analytics, sales and marketing side of the business, where it sees a large addressable market. For example, the startup — which recently announced a team-up with Uber to launch Uber Park — uses insights from its platform to inform staffing, pricing and maintenance at parking facilities, also partnering with local businesses like grocery stores, coffee shops and other merchants for in-app promotions.

“This transaction delivers immediate and certain value to our stockholders at a substantial premium to current and historical trading levels,” SP Plus chairman and chief executive Marc Baumann said in a statement. “We expect the transaction to offer an exciting path forward for our team members, partners, clients and consumers in the U.S. and abroad. While our technology offerings are successfully fulfilling client and market demand, with increased investment, we see the opportunity to accelerate the technology roadmap for the benefit of our clients and their customers.”

At $54 per share in cash, Metropolis’ acquisition — which will take SP Plus private — represents a 52% premium over SP Plus’ closing stock price on October 4. The transaction has been unanimously approved by Metropolis’ and SP Plus’ boards of directors and is expected to close in 2024, the companies say, subject customary closing conditions, regulatory approvals and the approval of SP Plus’ stockholders.

It’s unclear how many of SP Plus’ approximately 20,000 team members will join Los Angele-based Metropolis’ workforce, which totals around 2,000 employees, following the deal.

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Grifin’s new model can automatically invest your money as you shop

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Investing app Grifin today officially launched its anticipated investing model called “Adaptive Investing,” which enables you to automatically invest in your favorite brands that you frequently shop from.

Grifin was founded in 2017 with the hope of making investing less intimidating and normalizing it for people who aren’t that financially savvy. To date, Grifin has raised more than $11 million from a notable list of investors, including TTV Capital, Rise of the Rest, Gaingels, NevCaut Ventures, Mana Ventures, Sidecut Ventures, Miami Angels and Playtap Media Ventures, along with Witz Ventures co-founder Austin Hankwitz and GGV Capital managing partner Hans Tung. The company says it sees about 20,000 unique new app installs per month.

Grifin’s new patent-pending technology is an evolution of its original model, which follows the premise of “Stock Where You Shop,” giving you a chance to explore the intimidating world of investing by aligning your shopping habits with stock choices.

“Investing, and even having a healthy positive relationship with money, is an incredibly difficult thing to do and achieve,” co-founder Aaron Froug tells TechCrunch. “The current system simply isn’t geared towards the individual, even with mobile access and 0% commission apps claiming to ‘open up’ investing to all. It still requires a lot of emotional energy, confidence and an understanding of how investing works. Most people still don’t feel like they have enough money to get started and even the most financially adept people I know don’t know what is inside most ETFs [exchange traded funds]. All of it is cloudy and complicated. None of it is centered around the individual.”

Image Credits: Grifin

The Adaptive Investing model aims to give users more flexibility by integrating new functionality into the app, including the ability to pause automatic payments, increase/decrease how much you want to spend and manually invest more money in a company. It also introduces a “Secret Cash” function, allowing for non-public purchases and putting more money away as cash for their future.

“This patent-pending technology builds on the original premise by integrating new functionality to allow for a more intuitive and adaptive approach to investing, centered not just around people’s daily spending habits, but how much they want to invest,” Froug adds.

By default, Grifin automatically invests $1 per transaction. For instance, when you buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks, the app withdraws $1 from your bank account, and you get $1 of SBUX stock. You can also manually increase the investment amount to a maximum of $99.

Image Credits: Grifin

However, just because you enjoy a certain brand, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a smart investment. Grifin now added a new “Disable Company” feature, allowing you to stop or avoid investing in certain companies. There’s also an option to pause your investments for a week.

“We are also keenly aware that just because a person spends at a specific place, they might not want to invest there… By investing in small amounts, as low as $1 at a time, the aim is to help people to learn to navigate the world of investing without incurring too many negative consequences if they don’t get it right,” Froug says.

Plus, Froug argues that Adaptive Investing reduces the impact of single-stock exposure since it encourages a diverse profile as consumers usually spend money across a wide range of companies — phone/internet bills, gas, monthly subscription services and so forth.

“I’ve been personally using our app for a little over two years and I’ve invested in 115 unique companies,” he notes.

Additionally, Grifin is planning a redesign of its app, which will include a premium version as well as an AI chatbot to help people learn how to invest.



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Google Pay takes its QR soundbox to small merchants in India after trial run

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Google said Thursday it plans to roll out the SoundPod, its portable speaker designed to instantly validate and announce successful payments, to small merchants across India over the coming months. The Google Pay expansion in India, where the company is among the mobile payment market leaders, comes even as the firm winds down some of its payments apps in the U.S.

The company, which began a limited trial of SoundPod last year, received positive feedback during the testing and helped merchants reduce the checkout time, Ambarish Kenghe, VP of Products for Google Pay, wrote in a blog post.

The miniature jukeboxes, colloquially dubbed “soundboxes” domestically, have witnessed wide adoption in India, enabling merchants to find respite upon receipt of remuneration and contest any illegitimate claims.

Financial services firm Paytm currently leads the soundbox market and PhonePe is also increasingly expanding its device. More than 20 million merchants in the country already use one of these boxes, which industry insiders estimate costs about $18 to $20 to make. (Incidentally, Paytm is currently “fighting for its survival” as it navigates regulatory clampdown.)

The soundbox was invented to serve small Indian merchants unable to afford regular point-of-sale devices but accepting of UPI payments. (UPI, a payments network built by a coalition of retail banks in India, has become the most popular way for Indians to transact.) Now more popular than Visa, Mastercard and Amex combined, the devices last year prompted the payment giants to look at ways to take advantage of their reach.

It has also evolved into a lucrative subscription model over time as various players impose subscription charges on merchants. The real allure of the soundbox, according to one industry insider, extends beyond its auditory alerts — it provides invaluable insights into merchant behaviors, facilitating the offering of loans based on this data.

Google Pay is offering the SoundPod at a minimal cost — levying a one-time fee of $18 for one year, or a one-time fee of $6.06 per day for 25 days in a month. The company said merchants who use SoundPod to process 400 payments in a month will get $1.5 in cash back.

“To be able to play a role in India’s digital payments story is a matter of deep pride for us, providing invaluable lessons on how digital transformation happens in tech-forward societies, and we continue to stay deeply invested in this journey for the long term,” added Google’s Kenghe.

Reliance, India’s largest firm by market cap, also began testing a similar device at its campus last year, TechCrunch earlier reported. The company confirmed the device in a subsequent earnings call and said it plans to soon launch it to the market.



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NASA Opens Applications For Yearlong Simulated Mars Mission; Here’s How You Can Apply

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NASA has announced an extraordinary opportunity for those seeking extreme challenges: the chance to participate in its second yearlong simulated Mars mission, the Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog (CHAPEA 2). Scheduled to commence in spring 2025, the mission will immerse four selected crew members in a 1,700-square-foot 3D-printed habitat located in Houston. Interested individuals can apply on the CHAPEA website until April 2.

Although it’s a paid position, NASA has not disclosed the compensation details.

The Mars Dune Alpha habitat at NASA’s Johnson Space Center mirrors the harsh conditions and limited resources future explorers may encounter on the red planet. Volunteers for CHAPEA 2 will engage in habitat maintenance, crop cultivation, and various other tasks during their tenure.

Additionally, the habitat includes a 1,200-square-foot sandbox for simulated spacewalks.

Applicants must meet specific criteria, including being US citizens aged 30-55, proficient in English, holding a master’s degree in a STEM field, possessing at least two years of professional experience, and having either a thousand hours of piloting an aircraft or two years of work toward a STEM doctoral program.

Certain types of professional experience may also qualify applicants without a master’s degree. CHAPEA 2 marks the second of three planned missions in the program, with the first launched on June 25, 2023.

SEE ALSO: Early Look At iOS 17.4: Easier Battery Monitoring, CarPlay Gets An Upgrade And More



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