May 19, 2021 - Economy & Business

Upstream raises $3.25 million amid virtual networking boom

Illustration of a laptop with a sticker on the screen that reads "Hello my name is Jim"
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Upstream, a startup that facilitates professional online communities and virtual networking events, has raised $3.25 million in seed funding led by Ibex Investors.

Why it matters: The pandemic's constraints on in-person interactions created a big void, both for those seeking to network within their industries, and for those yearning to interact with colleagues.

  • Startups ranging from Gatheround (formerly called Icebreaker, focused on team and workplace video chats for bonding ) to Hopin (virtual event software tools) have also raised funding in recent months, underscoring the consumer demand.

Between the lines: Upstream's video chat virtual events were not initially the app's focus — rather, it's a feature the startup quickly built when the pandemic set in, says co-founder and CEO Alex Taub.

  • It's hosted events with notable names like Sen. Cory Booker and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez.
  • One increasingly popular use case for the chats that also emerged over the last year is helping coworkers mingle. General Electric used the service for a virtual gathering of employees across several offices around the world, for example.
  • Interest from corporate customers is also why Upstream is rolling out a web version of its service.

The big picture: Upstream ultimately aims to challenge LinkedIn — or at least provide a better alternative to some of its features.

  • It's starting with professional communities, but eventually wants to expand into areas like the "digital resume" and helping people follow up with new professional connections more effectively, says Taub.
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