Venture Capital

Asian VC Sequoia India selects two Australian startups for its accelerator after rebrand and split from US

- October 23, 2023 2 MIN READ
Mercu cofounders Elliott Gibb and Jascha Zittel
Mercu cofounders Elliott Gibb and Jascha Zittel back in 2021
AI-based workforce automation startup Relevance AI, and employee engagement platform Mercu are the Australian companies selected for Surge, the accelerator program run by the now rebranded Sequoia India.

The Surge cohort of 13 includes seven startups from India, four from Southeast Asia, and the two Australians, chosen from around 4,800 applications for the 16-week program, now in its 9th series. All up, more than three-quarters (10) of the startups selected are focused on AI and deep tech.

It’s not the first time Relevance AI, founded in Sydney in 2020, has caught the eye of international investors, having raised a $4 million Seed round in late 2021, led by US VC Insight Partners, when the machine learning platform was helping developers work with vectors, a specialised data type. Now the business is “on a mission to help companies build an AI workforce that automates workflows with no code”.

In Mercu they have a fellow traveller on the rebrand front. Originally called Sample when launched in 2021 by former Grab staffers Jascha Zittel and Elliott Gibb, the startup raised $920,000 in pre-Seed funding that year, led by Sequoia Capital India.

In May this year, they rebranded Mercu and changed the focus of the business, banking another $2.4 million Seed funding, backed by Sequoia India, and supported syndicate fund TEN13, 500 Global, Flying Fox Ventures, Archangel Ventures and XA Network. Mercu is now focused on “deskless” workers, helping companies to hire, train and engage with their frontline teams.

In June, after 17 years as Sequoia India & Southeast Asia (SEA), the VC split from its well-known US sibling, rebranding to Peak XV as a standalone business.

Peak XV (pronounced “Peak Fifteen”) is one of the early names British surveyors gave Chomolungma, aka Mount Everest, after initially calling it Gamma in the 1840s, then Peak B.

As Sequoia India & SEA the VC raised US$9.2 billion across 13 funds and invested in more than 400 startups including several in Australia, with US$4.5bn in exits. It kicked off under its new name with the same leadership team and US$2.5 billion in uninvested dry powder saying they “planned to double down on our startup programs like Surge and Spark”.

The Surge 09 program began last week and combines Surge is Peak XV Partners’ rapid-scale up program. It combines up to US$3 million in seed capital with company-building workshops, a global curriculum and support from a community of mentors and founders.

Peak XV’s old incarnation has had mixed success in Australia, most notably with the collapse of good delivery startup Voly, which collapsed in November 2022 after failing to attract additional capital. It had banked an eyewatering $18 million  Seed round in late 2020, led by Sequoia India.

Singapore-based data analytics startup Nugit, founded by Australian entrepreneur David Sanderson, raised US$5.2 million (A$6.8m) in 2016 from Sequoia India.

The VC had more luck in 2017 in leading a $26.7 million Series C for Perth healthtech HealthEngine, while codeless app-building platform Checkbox raised A$6.3 million in a pre-Series A last year with the Surge program as a backer.