26 April 2021 – UK National Grid Commits Further $150m to its Silicon Valley-based Corporate Venture and Innovation Group

The Big Ones

1

In November, this column said, if demotivated, “talented people will quickly cut the cord”.

This was in response to US-listed cable group Comcast’s decision to limit its successful corporate venturing unit, as GCV reported at the time.

Almost six months on and the team has broken up as feared. And the unit, which was founded in 1999 and which has more than 120 portfolio companies, has announced investments in just two companies since November when it co-led a $38m round for Zapata Computing.

Amy Banse, managing director and head of funds for Comcast Ventures, announced in September last year she would be retiring, while managing director David Zilberman left shortly afterwards to join venture capital firm Norwest Venture Partners.

Of the other managing directors, Sam Landman is now co-founder and general partner at venture capital fund Mastry while Dinesh Moorjani has left to return to angel investing and his portfolio of board seats, such as Zoox, and Rick Prostko has become managing director for North America at Ontario Teachers’​ Pension Plan’s innovation platform.

Others who appeared to have cut their ties with Comcast directly are Gil Beyda, whose LinkedIn page states he has stopped being a managing director at Comcast and returned to a managing partner position at Genacast Ventures, and Daniel Gulati, who became the founding partner at Forecast Fund in May 2020 and whose LinkedIn profile reveals he left Comcast last year. Comcast, however, effectively retained their talents, as a spokesperson said Forecast Fund was set up within Comcast Ventures while Genacast was established with Comcast support.

The upshot is that only Andrew Cleland is left directly as an MD at Comcast Ventures, though other experienced people within the group include Sam Schwartz, executive vice-president and chief business development officer for Comcast.

A similar but smaller exodus has occurred at the principal level. Chris Hill departed in December to become a strategic adviser at Retina AI, Andre Iguodala left his venture partner role at Comcast’s Catalyst fund and Morgan Polotan joined B Capital Group as a principal.

This has left Sheena Jindal, Min-Sik Jun and Adam Spivack as principals and the operations team, such as Arjun Kapur and Madura Wijewardena, under managing director and chief financial officer Kim Armor.

Comcast’s spokesman said by email: “Comcast Ventures was just repositioned to be within the strategic development group at Comcast Cable and continues to operate as a fund and as Comcast Ventures. It just went from one department to another. We issued a statement on this and here is what we said which has not changed: ‘Comcast Ventures has been a valuable innovation pipeline, providing insight into adjacent industries and investment opportunities.

‘We are aligning our approach to venture investing more closely with our business units and repositioning Comcast Ventures and its fund under the strategic business development team at Comcast Cable.

‘Our business development teams across the company continue to invest in new technology and businesses, which we believe will yield more strategic opportunities and benefits for Comcast and the companies in which we invest. We will continue to support our existing portfolio companies through investment and strategic partnership.’”

Comcast has aligned its corporate venturing activities – it also runs Sky Ventures in the UK under James McClurg and Mike Martin, and NBCUniversal’s growth team under Don Mathis – around its broader entrepreneurial activities, which include Danielle Cohn’s Lift Labs accelerator, now on its fourth cohort managed by Techstars.

Since its launch, 32 companies from around the world have completed the Lift Labs accelerator programme and 75% have secured pilots or agreements with a division or business unit of Comcast NBCUniversal.

Another insider left at one of the corporate venturing divisions of Comcast privately said they were also looking at their governance and compensation, and whether to leave.

Comcast had been a top quartile venture investor – the enterprise value of Gulati’s portfolio alone while at Comcast Ventures was more than $4bn, he said – but has to now rebuild just as the parent’s strategy has to.

Comcast had risen to the status of a Fortune 50 company in the past generation by riding the wave of pay television in the US. But this peaked in 2012 with 90% of people subscribing to one bundle or another.

Now, cable’s cords are being cut and the range of options people have to consume media has grown.

At a time when the cable and media industry is undergoing disruption, therefore, having fresh eyes and direction for Comcast Ventures might yet end up a blessing if it brings a growth mindset and new resources. The alternative is a narrow focus on trying to protect a cash cow slowly being undermined in the way print media has been by the internet.

2

UK-listed utility National Grid has committed a further $150m to its Silicon Valley-based corporate venture and innovation group.

It is smart timing beyond being so-called Earth week – a series of events around the world focused on climate and sustainability, including GCV’s Earth Day webinar on carbon capture and hydrogen on 22nd.

National Grid is sponsor of the United Nations’ COP26 climate conference – the biggest convening of global environmental policy and industry leaders since the 2015 Paris Agreement – expected in early November in the UK and will include the 10th GCV Symposium gala dinner at St Paul’s cathedral.

Since its launch less than three years ago, National Grid Partners (NGP) has put $227m into 29 startups at the intersection of energy and information technology.

Now, the rest of the world is catching up to the opportunities in the field, including tech company Apple’s $200m committed last week to the Restore Fund for carbon removal through forestry innovation, and so National Grid is committing more to its pace of investment.

Its most recent deals include $7.5m invested into seed-stage, US-based companies Pathr, a spatial intelligence platform to generate anonymous location data in real time as people work around buildings, and AccuKnox, a Stanford Research Institute spinout whose KubeArmor technology provides a kubernetes platform for security, compliance and governance in public and private clouds.

Lisa Lambert, chief technology and innovation officer of National Grid and the founder and president of NGP as well as chairwoman of the Global Energy Council, said: “Earth Week is a perfect time to announce this vote of confidence from our senior leadership.

“We are investing in and deploying technologies across National Grid’s networks to enhance resilience and reliability, while more easily integrating renewable energy.”

Funds

Zoom rushes to create $100m Apps Fund

CyberAgent spies third domestic fund

Exits

UiPath reaches public markets

Zymergen produces $500m initial public offering

NeuroPace nets $102m in IPO

Confluent chooses confidential IPO filing

Oatly to milk public markets for capital

Waterdrop runs down to $100m IPO plans

Gyroscope gees itself up for US IPO

SimilarWeb sets out IPO filing

Talaris tries out public markets

SmartRent houses $2.2bn reverse merger

Makesense agrees to PolicyBazaar merger

Affirm comes back to buy Returnly

Deals

Byju’s bolts down billion-dollar round

Adagio Therapeutics picks up pace with $336m

ActiveCampaign activates $240m series C round

Alan amasses $223m in series D funding

Razorpay cleaves $160m in series E round

Druva draws in $147m

SES seeks out corporates to raise $139m

NextData inputs $135m series D

MatHem shops for $131m

Digital Asset arranges $120m series D

TechMet takes in $120m

Classy clasps $118m

BlaBlaCar drives through $115m round

Tamara takes in $110m through series A round

Solegreen kicks in $104m for Kuubix

C2i Genomics detects $100m


“Funky Chunk” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

03 February 2020 – Corporate Venturing and Innovation Summit Roundup

The Big News

The US government’s effort to change the regulatory landscape for venture capital is coming to a head with this week’s sold-out Global Corporate Venturing and Innovation Summit in California.

Investment banks could face more relaxed restrictions concerning investments in venture capital funds from the Federal Reserve and other watchdogs under proposals expected to be announced by the end of the month.

But as the US tightens its inward investment rules, its largest companies are expanding their venturing units internationally with Microsoft – the second largest by market capitalisation – setting up a new UK office in London under Matthew Goldstein, a GCV Rising Stars 2018 winner. For this year’s winners check outwww.globalcorporateventuring.com at 8pm PST today.

The top 100 Global Corporate Venturing Rising Stars and Emerging Leaders celebrated their awards at a gala ceremony at the Monterey Aquarium in California the night before the GCVI Summit started.

The winners were selected from almost 20,000 industry professionals tracked by Global Corporate Venturing and nominated by the heads of units and their peers.

In a keynote at the Summit, delivered as he became the new chairman of the GCV Leadership Society and in front of a sold-out audience of 800, Young Sohn, chief strategy officer at conglomerate Samsung, laid out the challenges he had faced changing the 50-year strategy that had helped the company become market leader in multiple industries as a fast follower, but which was having to evolve to maintain that position, while allowing it to remain agile enough to capture mega trends and new opportunities through multiple venturing and innovation strategies.

The second day of the Summit began with Kaloyan Andonov from GCV Analytics sharing insights gleaned from the World of Corporate Venturing annual data review and survey covering how the blurring of public and private capital markets is creating the investment trends for the new decade.

For the first time in 60 years the start of a western decade is coinciding with the start of the Chinese lunar cycle and the Year of the Rat: Happy new year to all the venture and innovation leaders in greater China and their work to support the entrepreneurs, and in making the world a better place.

Crossover Deals

Downturn? What downturn? – GUV’s annual review shows the ecosystem is in outstanding shape despite all the doom and gloom in many financial papers.

EPFL spinouts raise $292m – The university formed 23 new spinouts in 2019, while a total of 33 companies secured a combined $292m: an amount only beaten by 2016’s record $408m.

Deals

Although ride hailing and bicycle rental services are a long way from profit, that hasn’t dissuaded investors from backing the electric scooter and bike rental sector. Bird has boosted its series D round to $350m, adding $75m in a second tranche co-led by Sequoia Capital and CDPQ.

SoftBank Vision Fund is putting up $250m to lead a series D round for online pharmacy Alto that will reportedly value it at more than $1bn. The funding is set to be formally disclosed next week, and although no precise size has been revealed for the round, it will include existing backers Greenoaks Capital and Jackson Square Ventures, sources told Reuters. Alto had previously raised at least $107m in funding.

AlphaCredit is another of SoftBank’s investments last week, having agreed to raise $125m in a series B round led by the corporate’s $5bn Latin America fund. The company runs an online lending platform that has issued $1bn in loans to customers in Mexico and Colombia, and it joins a stable that includes LatAm unicorns QuintoAndar and Rappi.

Commonwealth Bank comes back to Klarna with $200m – The payment and shopping app developer has launched in Australia with the help of Commonwealth Bank of Australia, which raised its stake to 5.5%.

Policygenius pops with $100m series D – Corporate units Axa Venture Partners, MassMutual Ventures and Transamerica Ventures all returned for a round that nearly trebled the insurance marketplace’s overall funding.

ActiveCampaign has raised $100m in a series B round led by Susquehanna Growth Equity that is only the second to be announced by the company in 17 years. By coincidence, the deal was announced on the same day as another customer experience automation platform, Directly, but in this case it seems ActiveCampaign’s own greater experience was likely a deciding point in that size differential.

Funds

Innovation Growth Ventures, the joint investment venture between Sony and brokerage Daiwa Securities, has raised $145m for its second close, on the way to a targeted final close of $185m. The vehicle was launched six months ago and has so far disclosed two deals.

Conglomerate JSW Group is targeting $49m for the final close of the second fund to be raised by its corporate venture capital arm, JSW Ventures. The unit is sponsored by JSW but is taking in capital from family offices and individual investors, and is preparing to reach a second close next month that is expected to be around the $21m mark.

OCBC NISP gets authorisation for $29m fund – The bank has received regulatory approval for a venture capital fund that can be sized at more than $29m but which will reportedly begin with $15m.

Info Edge ventures into $14m fund – The classified listings operator, whose earlier investments include Zomato and ETechAces, has formed its first dedicated corporate venture capital fund.


“Funky Chunk” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0