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Japan’s Grooves raises $920K from Halal fund to expand recruiting business in Malaysia

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Grooves, the company best known for its engineer recruiting platform called Forkwell, announced today that it has fundraised $920,000 from Inspire PNB Partners. Inspire PNB is the joint venture between Japanese investment firm Inspire and Malaysia’s state-run firm Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB), managing a Sharia-compliant private equity fund called PNB-INSPiRE Ethical Fund 1 (formed in April of 2014, valued around 6 billion yen = $54.8 million US). The fund has invested in Japanese private cloud platform developer Keepdata and deep learning solution startup Abeja. For Grooves, the funding at this time is seen making the amount raised to date total at more than 1 billion yen (about $9 million US). The company has raised from Inspire, the parent company of Inspire PNB, in the 200 million yen funding round back in March of 2017. Grooves established its Malay subsidiary called Grooves Asia Sdn.Bhd. last year when their CEO Hiro Ikemi moved to Kuala Lumpur to more closely working with businesses in Malaysia. It’s their Japanese business entity who secured funding at this time but the local subsidiary will be more focused on business expansion in Malaysia in partnership with PNB Group. Since the…

From the left: Hiro Ikemi (CEO, Grooves), Datin Paduka Kartini (Deputy President, Strategic Investment, Permodalan Nasional Berhad)
Image credit: Grooves

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Grooves, the company best known for its engineer recruiting platform called Forkwell, announced today that it has fundraised $920,000 from Inspire PNB Partners. Inspire PNB is the joint venture between Japanese investment firm Inspire and Malaysia’s state-run firm Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB), managing a Sharia-compliant private equity fund called PNB-INSPiRE Ethical Fund 1 (formed in April of 2014, valued around 6 billion yen = $54.8 million US). The fund has invested in Japanese private cloud platform developer Keepdata and deep learning solution startup Abeja.

For Grooves, the funding at this time is seen making the amount raised to date total at more than 1 billion yen (about $9 million US). The company has raised from Inspire, the parent company of Inspire PNB, in the 200 million yen funding round back in March of 2017. Grooves established its Malay subsidiary called Grooves Asia Sdn.Bhd. last year when their CEO Hiro Ikemi moved to Kuala Lumpur to more closely working with businesses in Malaysia. It’s their Japanese business entity who secured funding at this time but the local subsidiary will be more focused on business expansion in Malaysia in partnership with PNB Group.

Grooves’ Malay subsidiary / office is located in WORQ, a co-working space in Kuala Lumpur.
Image credit: Grooves

Since the launch of the Malay subsidiary, Grooves has been focused on international business not only in Malaysia but also in other Asian markets. The firm got approval from Tokyo Labor Bureau to launch a recruiting agency business for so-called “highly-skilled professionals” from Korea and Taiwan. The geographical coverage is expected to expand in the future.

In Islamic countries, since Sharia (Islamic law) prohibits acceptance of specific interest or fees for loaning money, hedge funds or other financing schemes common in Western countries are unlikely to be accepted. Meanwhile, Malaysia has now become an Islamic finance hub offering Sharia-compliant financing schemes. Startups receiving funds from such schemes can expand their services into Islamic markets more smoothly, just as Halal-approved restaurants can.

Tokyo Office Tour: Grooves wants to create new startup hub in Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées

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See the original story in Japanese. This is part of our ‘Tokyo Office Tour’ series (RSS), a modest attempt to better understand how folks in the local startup scene are working every day. Startups in the growth stage are often forced to relocate their office due to the rapid increase of their employees. As I wrote in this story before, since every district in Tokyo has its own characteristics in terms of property size or public transit access, it is common for startups to move to other district as they grow. However, Grooves, a Japanese startup providing human resources technology (HR tech) solutions, has been relocating its office only in the Omotesando district, sometimes referred to as Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées or Rodeo Drive, for over ten years. We recently visited Groove’s newest office facing a main road in the area to speak with their founder and CEO Yuhikiro Ikemi. He said that the this area’s presence as a startup hub has been gradually growing amongst Tokyo’s other major startup hubs like Shibuya and Roppongi. Our readers may recall that MerryBiz, Japanese crowdsourced bookkeeping startup, established its office last year in this area which we also called a fintech startup hub in Tokyo….

See the original story in Japanese.

This is part of our ‘Tokyo Office Tour’ series (RSS), a modest attempt to better understand how folks in the local startup scene are working every day.

Startups in the growth stage are often forced to relocate their office due to the rapid increase of their employees. As I wrote in this story before, since every district in Tokyo has its own characteristics in terms of property size or public transit access, it is common for startups to move to other district as they grow. However, Grooves, a Japanese startup providing human resources technology (HR tech) solutions, has been relocating its office only in the Omotesando district, sometimes referred to as Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées or Rodeo Drive, for over ten years. We recently visited Groove’s newest office facing a main road in the area to speak with their founder and CEO Yuhikiro Ikemi.

grooves-office-tour-2

He said that the this area’s presence as a startup hub has been gradually growing amongst Tokyo’s other major startup hubs like Shibuya and Roppongi. Our readers may recall that MerryBiz, Japanese crowdsourced bookkeeping startup, established its office last year in this area which we also called a fintech startup hub in Tokyo.

Since a typical office floor is about 200 square meters wide at most in this area, medium-sized companies move to towering buildings in subcenters of Tokyo such as Otemachi or Shinjuku when their office is to small for the increased number of employees. Because these companies typically leave furnishings or amenities when they move, the next tenant startup can take them over when renting these office without additional renovation or furnishings. When moving to the next location, these tenant startups would not need to restore the venue interiors to its original condition if they can find the next renter which can be satisfied with using it without changing the environment. This merits an original tenant company, a new tenant startup as well as an office room owner in terms of cost saving and renovation construction unneeded.

Guiding me inside his new office, Ikemi told us in a modest way that the new venue was far beyond their means but he could luckily rented the one having brilliant interiors and furnishings thanks to a real estate agent that he has known long.

grooves-board-members
L to R: Yukihiro Ikemi (CEO and founder), Minoru Kuriyama (MD, management strategy), Yuka Ouka (programmer), Akira Matsuda (MD, R&D), Takafumi Ohata (MD and co-founder)

Earlier this year, the company appointed Dr. Kenji Hirata, who has been involved in HR-XML (Human Resources eXtensible Markup Language) and standardizing the competence model for human resources development, as principal for the new research unit. And this time around, the company announced that Minoru Kuriyama, former McKinsey consultant and MBA lecturer, and Akira Matsurda, Japan’s only committer on Ruby and Ruby on Rails committer, have joined the board. Going forward, the company will more focused on expanding Forkwell, a platform helping engineers find new jobs by registering their skills portfolio, and CrowdAgent as channels for connecting general job seekers with recruitment agencies, in addition to developing HR technology solutions in the research unit.

Ikemi started the Omotesando Start-up Hub Project this year, encouraging as many entrepreneurs and startups as possible to run their business here together through organizing meet-ups at Apple Store Omotesando which is located in the very heart of the district. We are looking forward to seeing the high rise of the new startup hub, slightly different from conventional startup hubs in chaotic townscape like Shibuya or Roppongi.

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Lovely array of books in the meeting space with clients.
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Staffers are aggressively working in cubicles.
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Engineers discussing in serious manner, surrounded by user voices on post-it notes.
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With a sheepish grin, Ikemi said “there’s even a room for me” and guided me inside it.

Translated by Taijiro Takeda

From Microsoft Innovation Award: How will data-driven approach change startup businesses?

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See the original story in Japanese. The Microsoft Innovation Award 2015 (MIA2015) is an annual opportunity to showcase how startups have developed innovative software and services that bring progressive ideas to life. The presenting ceremony for the award was held at Microsoft Japan headquarters in Tokyo a couple of weeks ago where the MIA Award and Audience Choice’s Award winners were announced following the finalist pitches. In the event, The Bridge coordinated two panel discussions focused on data-driven startups. Panel 1: How will a data-driven approach factor into healthcare apps and platforms? The event’s second session kicked off with a panel about how healthcare startups are leveraging big data to improve their platforms and businesses. Moderated by The Bridge co-founder Masaru Ikeda, this session included: Francois Cadiou (CEO, Healint) – on screen via Skype Yoko Gibo (Managing Director, Noom Japan) Yuji Mizoguchi (CEO, FiNC) Shinichiro Isago (Technical Evangelist Manager, Emerging Technology Evangelism, Microsoft Japan) Healint has developed an app called Migraine Buddy which collects data recorded from sufferers of migraine headaches. By recording the symptoms of migraines from patients, doctors can more accurately report on those symptoms. Healint performs big data analysis based on accumulated user data and, by sharing…

artificial-intelligence
Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. Image by A Health Blog.

See the original story in Japanese.

The Microsoft Innovation Award 2015 (MIA2015) is an annual opportunity to showcase how startups have developed innovative software and services that bring progressive ideas to life. The presenting ceremony for the award was held at Microsoft Japan headquarters in Tokyo a couple of weeks ago where the MIA Award and Audience Choice’s Award winners were announced following the finalist pitches.

In the event, The Bridge coordinated two panel discussions focused on data-driven startups.

Panel 1: How will a data-driven approach factor into healthcare apps and platforms?

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From the right: Shinichiro Isago (Microsoft Japan), Francois Cadiou (Healint) on screen, Yoko Gibo (Noom Japan), and Yuji Mizoguchi (FiNC)

The event’s second session kicked off with a panel about how healthcare startups are leveraging big data to improve their platforms and businesses. Moderated by The Bridge co-founder Masaru Ikeda, this session included:

  • Francois Cadiou (CEO, Healint) – on screen via Skype
  • Yoko Gibo (Managing Director, Noom Japan)
  • Yuji Mizoguchi (CEO, FiNC)
  • Shinichiro Isago (Technical Evangelist Manager, Emerging Technology Evangelism, Microsoft Japan)

Healint has developed an app called Migraine Buddy which collects data recorded from sufferers of migraine headaches. By recording the symptoms of migraines from patients, doctors can more accurately report on those symptoms. Healint performs big data analysis based on accumulated user data and, by sharing and marketing that information to pharmaceutical companies and research institutions, new medicines are developed and healthcare quality is improved.

CEO Cadiou argued that the app attracts many Japanese people:

Things like one’s own nervous system can be quite difficult to grasp, so patients should record and manage their condition daily, gather the appropriate data, and then see a doctor in order to recieve the optimal method of treatment.

FiNC, a mobile health technology startup in Japan, employs full time personnel, physicians, pharmacists, and instructors in the preventive medicine field. Most recently, with the release of their healthcare news app Wellness Post, FiNC has been making the push to proliferate medical information relevant to their users. Additionally they are working on a new preventative medicine crowdsourcing platform for nutritionists, trainers, and other health specialists.

NYC-headquartered Noom has been offering preventative medicine solutions for consumer and commercial use since 2008. More recently they have been developing a smart AI (artificial intelligence)-based personal coach app called Noom Coach, as well as Noom Health, an app that family physicians and trainers can use to get an accurate picture of their patient’s health based on each patient’s recorded diet and exercise, making it possible to offer counseling to many patients remotely at low cost, and with a high degree of accuracy.

Now is the time to make healthcare data a real focus

To start the discussion, the speakers were asked to share what led them to start their businesses. Speaking from his own clinical development experience, Cadiou found himself focused on the various ways progress can be made in transitioning from paper to web apps and sensors, and so on. To approach these hurdles, Cadiou started working with data scientists and programmers, considerably progressing his research and development practices in Singapore.

In view of many healthcare startups born out in the world, FiNC CEO Mizoguchi shared his point of view on the state of the healthcare market. He said,

Healthcare is a concern everyone shares, which is why we are in such a good market to expand globally.

Noom, on the other hand, broke into the market through a NYC-based startup accelerator specializing in healthcare. Gibo expressed,

The healthcare business world as a whole has a high barrier of entry and is a difficult place to grow as a business. That’s why the existence of an accelerator that combines big business with healthcare technology is so crucial, and also why Noom has also been able to work together with a variety of medical institutions.

Adding that through beginning to offer enterprise targeted services they have seen considerable growth. The healthcare field itself appears to be experiencing a movement of innovation right now that is justifiably garnering global attention.

The three companies are each engaged in analyzing data connected to their users’ healthcare and putting that into use in developing services, so the question of how is this kind of big data to be effectively used is becoming of interest. Gibo pointed out that as far as health care data goes, the data that has been collected so far is small, and supplying data to insurance companies and patients has only recently started. However, it can be said that a data-based business model incorporating feedback regarding insurance companies is on the verge.

Mizoguchi shared,

There have been a lot of offers for the trial deployment of our services, and we’ve begun dealing with the local government. […]

This has all just recently started in Japan so data and evidence are still scarce. With consent from users, we’d like to make that data open to use and build a structure for use and application. By recording physical, location, and movement behavior data, the time when we can provide individualized health care services based on users’ individual data may be soon. Our aim is to continue searching for the best ways to utilize data to make as many people happy as we can.

In response to this, Microsoft’s Isago said,

Up until now Microsoft has largely been involved in the game and entertainment industries, but the requests from people in other industries such as healthcare increased when the Kinect was introduced. […]

Basically I think you could say that more and more people are realizing the possibilities technology holds. Currently we’re focusing our efforts on the medical and security fields. We’re always on the look out for startups that are interested in working together with Microsoft to develop new services that utilize various different kinds of cloud data.

Gibo also expressed that the healthcare market itself is still in an early stage, and that through collaboration with businesses such as Microsoft to open up commercial channels, new paths are created.

Commenting on the future of healthcare Gibo had this to say,

In regard to health, we’re aiming for a worry-free society. Progressing to a society where people can understand their own bodies and have the appropriate control is the objective of healthcare.

Panel 2: How will data-driven startups change how to find the right job opportunities?

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From the right: Shinichiro Isago (Microsoft Japan), Yukihiro Ikemi (Grooves), and Toshiyuki Oka (Atrae)

The second panel, regarding data-driven hiring platforms that turn skills and careers into data to meet with the needs of employers and suggest potential employers to users, featured the following people:

  • Yukihiro Ikemi (CEO, Grooves)
  • Toshiyuki Oka (Board member / Developer, Atrae)
  • Shinichiro Isago (Technical Evangelist Manager, Emerging Technology Evangelism, Microsoft Japan)

Up until now Atrae has been running Green and other recruitment sites, but recently, in cooperation with big data analysis company Brain Pad (TSE:3655), they have launched a personnel mining service called TalentBase, which utilizes big data analysis AI. Unlike the typical resume based on your previous business experience, this new service creates reference data based on human relations using data analysis. The aim is to create better person to company matches based on connections and shared evaluations.

Grooves is currently running Forkwell, a portfolio site for engineers, as well as CrowdAgent, which generates recruitment matches from its 3,500 registered companies. It aims to be a national recruitment information portal with a network of more than 16,000 business people. Additionally, Grooves recenty established a HR tech R&D unit, aiming to conduct research on applications of artificial intelligence and big data analysis within the personnel recruitment field. Kenji Hirata, the first person to become engaged in international standardization of personnel training and competency was appointed as head on the research institute.

The HR market itself is calling for a major change

It could be said that one of the essential dilemmas among companies is how to effectively match potential employees with open positions. As the field of matching through the use of data and AI experiences a swell of interest, these problems are addressed. The discussion participants were asked what reasons led to the development of their services.

Ikemi explained that despite the fact that the recruitment business in Japan alone is a 7 trillion yen ($57.2 billion) market, 44 billion yen ($360 million) globally, these business practice haven’t changed since pre-war times. He said that as a tech enterprise, they started with the idea of wanting to create a service that will shake up the HR field in Japan. Even at that, he clarified by saying that the large amount of matching of people and businesses was “unexpected”. He supposed that similarly to dating and marriage matching sites randomness is a considerable aspect.

Ikemi explained,

Optimizing matching using big data is good, but we want to suggest matches that feel like stories.

Additionally, Ikemi explained that Japan not adopting HR-XML (Human Resources – eXtended Markup Language) had a major influence on the job hunting market. In the US, more so that recruitment platforms, crawler-type recruitment services are widely recognized, for the reason that HR-XML, which aims for the collaboration of recruit information, is continuing to become more familiarized. Through HR-XML, unification of topics like “Job Description” found on recruitment media and corporate sites has made possible automation and data-based matching, as well as personalized recruitment recommendations. However, Japan took a different path while not adopting such collaboration, which is why we have seen the spread of recruitment matching that utilizes individuals’ resources. From this, an opportunity is being missed to gather superior foreign personnel in Japan and inversely to send Japan’s superior personnel out into the world.

He continued,

We want to realize a new ‘Job Description’ in Japan.

When asked if things that were before done by humans be replaced by machines, Oka said he doesn’t think career consultation can be done with AI. He also said that more so than matching a person with a company through TalentBase, the aim is to create a place where a person can connect to another person within that company, and by focusing on building human relationships, new methods for choosing a place of work can be found that don’t necessarily rely on factors like one’s previous income and company position. Because we have to consider not just data but also human relationships, which can be seen as a sort of irrationality in society, said Oka.

Isago also commented that while working at Microsoft,

When doing recruiting through the same vendor, we can only gather one type of people. If the business itself wants to experience growth, how to create a place where recruitment matching for other types of people than those that have brought the company this far, this is the time to for businesses to meet this challenge.

Similar to healthcare, this is a task carried by the world’s businesses, which is why the successes of international enterprises set a global precedents, and why the potential for services themselves to expand globally is yet to be realized.

Translated by Connor Kirk
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

Japan’s Grooves sets up HR tech R&D unit, aiming to bring data analytics to recruitment business

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Grooves provides an online outplacement platform as well as recruiting consultation services. The company recently announced that it has established an R&D unit called Grooves HR Tech Lab, to study and develop technologies bringing artificial intelligence and big data analytics to the recruitment industry. Dr. Kenji Hirata, who has been involved in HR-XML (Human Resources eXtensible Markup Language) and standardizing the competence model for human resources development, was appointed as principal for the new research unit. Grooves has been providing Forkwell Jobs, a platform allowing engineers to find new jobs, in addition to CrowdAgent, as channels for connecting general job seekers with recruitment agencies. Founder and CEO Yukihiro Ikemi told us what they found upon operating these services: If our career advisor helps job seekers, about 60% of these applicants can receive an offer to hire. However, if they rely only on the online platform, the possibility is not more than 10% regardless of how well the matching process is carried out. So the question came up, what makes the difference between having and not having professional support? We have thoroughly monitored how our top consultants communicate with job seekers. Dr. Hirata could  visualize an ideal format by analyzing a number of interview cases. If we can carry put this procedure systematically,…

grooves-ikemi-hirata
L to R: Grooves CEO Yukihiro Ikemi, Grooves HR Tech Lab’s principal Dr. Kenji Hirata.

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Grooves provides an online outplacement platform as well as recruiting consultation services. The company recently announced that it has established an R&D unit called Grooves HR Tech Lab, to study and develop technologies bringing artificial intelligence and big data analytics to the recruitment industry. Dr. Kenji Hirata, who has been involved in HR-XML (Human Resources eXtensible Markup Language) and standardizing the competence model for human resources development, was appointed as principal for the new research unit.

Grooves has been providing Forkwell Jobs, a platform allowing engineers to find new jobs, in addition to CrowdAgent, as channels for connecting general job seekers with recruitment agencies. Founder and CEO Yukihiro Ikemi told us what they found upon operating these services:

If our career advisor helps job seekers, about 60% of these applicants can receive an offer to hire. However, if they rely only on the online platform, the possibility is not more than 10% regardless of how well the matching process is carried out. So the question came up, what makes the difference between having and not having professional support?

We have thoroughly monitored how our top consultants communicate with job seekers. Dr. Hirata could  visualize an ideal format by analyzing a number of interview cases. If we can carry put this procedure systematically, I believe that it will result in something like an artificial intelligence-based engine.

For input and output interfaces for the engine, we can adopt IBM Watson or Softbank Pepper respectively. A core part can be developed by leveraging technologies from Google or other internet companies.  So what we must do is to focus on developing an engine that match people and jobs.

There’s a theory called Planned Happenstance in career formation, positing  that we don’t always need to plan a career but need to plan to act on happenstance. It is the view that you create opportunities by acting on your curiosity and chance events.

Nevertheless, there has been no attempt to systematize Planned Happenstance and serendipity in the Japanese recruitment industry thus far. Leading recruitment companies typically determine what jobs to introduce based on conditional matching of job descriptions and required skills.

“The environment shapes a person” is my favorite saying, meaning that given a proper  environment, people can outperform expected performance levels even if they are new to a field. Given that most cases of startup businesses usually explore unexplored areas, an effort to find a person who has experience in a certain field does not make any sense.

Ikemi added:

The Japanese human resources market didn’t employ HR-XML in the early 2000s, despite it being the industry’s global standard at that time. Because of this, no uniform standard is now uses in Japan and the formats of their job description  differ by company, which is an anomaly in the global market.

By having Dr. Hirata on our team, we want to standardize human resources data formats to further study big data and artificial intelligence technologies, aiming to develop new metrics for more accurate matchmaking and provide more efficient hiring solutions.

Looking forward, Grooves stated that it will invite other academic authorities from this sector to accelerate activities of the new R&D unit.

Artificial intelligence has grown enough to outperform humans in certain cases, such as in games of shogi or chess, as well as  quizzes and riddles. Some day in the future, artificial intelligence may come to provide relevant advise upon important occasions like career changes, better than that of a flesh-and-blood human consultant?

I’m sure I am not the person looking at this story who can imagine a humanoid robot like Pepper advising job seekers at public job placement offices throughout Japan.

Translated by Sumi Yo via Mother First
Edited by Masaru Ikeda and “Tex” Pomeroy

Japanese social recruiting company Grooves fundraises $1.9 million

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This is the abridged version of our original article in Japanese. Tokyo-based Grooves, the company best known for its engineer recruiting platform called Forkwell, announced today that it has fundraised 220 million yen (about $1.85 million) from Japan Finance Corporation, Nippon Venture Capital, and Mitsui Sumitomo Insuarance Venture Capital. Forkwell was launched as a service by Grooves, a Garbs subsidiary, fundraised an undisclosed sum from CyberAgent Ventures in November of 2011, and subsequently 60 million yen (about $600,000) from Nippon Venture Capital in April of 2012. See also: Japan’s Forkwell launches job search engine for coders, now ready to monetize While Garbs had been operating Crowd Agent, a platform that connects non-engineer job seekers with recruiting agents, Grooves had been operating engineer-focused recruiting site Forkwell. But the two companies thought that these two businesses can be operated under the same roof, and Garbs was merged into Grooves this April upon approvals from their existing investors.

forkwell_featuredimage

This is the abridged version of our original article in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Grooves, the company best known for its engineer recruiting platform called Forkwell, announced today that it has fundraised 220 million yen (about $1.85 million) from Japan Finance Corporation, Nippon Venture Capital, and Mitsui Sumitomo Insuarance Venture Capital.

Forkwell was launched as a service by Grooves, a Garbs subsidiary, fundraised an undisclosed sum from CyberAgent Ventures in November of 2011, and subsequently 60 million yen (about $600,000) from Nippon Venture Capital in April of 2012.

See also:

While Garbs had been operating Crowd Agent, a platform that connects non-engineer job seekers with recruiting agents, Grooves had been operating engineer-focused recruiting site Forkwell. But the two companies thought that these two businesses can be operated under the same roof, and Garbs was merged into Grooves this April upon approvals from their existing investors.

crowdagent-forkwell