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

27 April 2020 – AvidXchange Raises $128m Bringing Total Round to $388m Plus Audio from our Second COVID19 Webinar

The Big ones

AvidXchange, a developer of accounts payable automation software, has raised $128m to hike its latest round to $388m. Mastercard was among the investors, having contributed to the company’s last round, when it secured $300m in 2017 at a $1.4bn valuation. Reports in December stated AvidXchange was chasing a $2bn valuation for this round but the company is yet to confirm those details.

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to affect startups, the UK government has pledged up to $1.25bn in financing, a quarter of which will be channelled into the Future Fund, a vehicle that will provide convertible debt financing to match private investment. The rest will support loans and grants made through the state-owned Innovate UK vehicle. Everyone seems to have an opinion on how useful the measures will be, but the way things are going it feels impossible to make any kind of definitive judgement on that, especially seeing as the Future Fund isn’t set to launch for another month or so.

Several corporate-backed companies in China’s travel and consumer startup space have shut down due to the lockdown related to the coronavirus. Founded in 2019, Wujiang Hotels operated five hotel brands that spanned eight Chinese cities. It had $30m in registered capital after raising money from online travel agency Trip.com, but chairman Ma Xiaodong said in an internal announcement that it is unable to continue operating. Online travel booking platform Baicheng had been founded in 2000 and had received $20m in a 2014 series B round featuring e-commerce group Alibaba according to KrAsia, which cited information from deals database Tianyancha. The company floated two years later but declared bankruptcy in late February this year after its income completely dried up. Meili Jinrong, the automotive-focused spinoff of consumer loans provider Meiliche also shut down operations last month and has laid off all its employees. The Covid-19 restrictions all but eliminated sales which, combined with an immediate cash shortage, meant it had no choice but to close. The move came after the company had raised more than $200m as of 2018, from investors including conglomerate New Hope Group, personal finance app developer Wacai, e-commerce firm JD.com’s JD Finance affiliate and Bertelsmann Asia Investments, representing media group Bertelsmann.

SwanBio Therapeutics, a US-based neurological gene therapy developer based on Harvard University research, is set to increase its series A funding to $77m with a $52m extension led by founding investor and life sciences investment trust Syncona. Syncona has provided an initial $19.6m tranche, a spokesperson revealed to GUV, while Partners Innovation Fund – a vehicle for health system Partners Healthcare that includes Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) – also contributed to bring the extension to $20m so far. The remainder of Syncona’s commitment – amounting to a total of $51m – is dependent on milestones. Syncona had invested $23m to lead SwanBio’s initial $25m series A tranche in June 2018 with participation from Partners Innovation Fund. SwanBio Therapeutics is working on drugs for treating serious neurological diseases. Its lead candidate targets adrenomyeloneuropathy, a rare inheritable neurological disorder that can cause impaired mobility, eyesight and hearing. No approved treatments currently exist for the disease.

Deals

Epic Games is best known for massively successful online shooting game Fortnite but its acquisition of social gaming and video platform Houseparty last year now looks like a stroke of genius, with some 50 million new users signing up in a month amidst the Covid-19 lockdown. And Epic is striking while the iron is hot, reportedly holding talks with potential investors to raise $500m to $1bn at a valuation ‘significantly’ higher than the $15bn valuation at which it last received funding, in 2018. That round included Axiomatic, and the company’s other corporate investors include Tencent, Endeavor Group and Walt Disney.

Network event streaming platform Confluent has also had a good year, and the company has capped it with $250m in series E funding. The round was led by Coatue Management and valued Confluent, whose early backers include LinkedIn, at $4.5bn. LinkedIn was not much of a corporate venturer prior to its 2016 acquisition by Microsoft, but its 2014 investment in Confluent’s series A round now looks inspired.

China-based Didi Chuxing may have had difficulties with its core ride hailing business in the face of Covid-19, but it has an ambitious growth plan to increase its customer base to 800 million monthly active users by 2022. That will involve beefing up adjacent services such as that of its bicycle rental service Qingju, which just received $150m from SoftBank and Legend Capital. The round is the first external funding to be raised by Qingju and will be added to an $850m cash injection by parent company Didi.

Medical device manufacturer MicroPort Scientific formed subsidiary MicroPort CardioFlow Medtech in 2015 to focus on valvular heart disease, and the offshoot has disclosed $130m in funding secured at a $1.1bn pre-money valuation. The round did not include any additional corporates but the capital will be used for research and development, marketing and market expansion.

STX Entertainment has been responsible for 34 feature films since being founded in 2014 in addition to TV shows and burgeoning digital content, but the US-based studio has bigger plans and has agreed to merge with Bollywood counterpart Eros International in a deal that will be sweetened by $125m from investors including STX backer Liberty Global. Other investors in STX include Tencent, PCCW and Madison Wells, and they’re going to get an exit of sorts when the merged company, Eros STX Global Corporation, inherits Eros’s NYSE spot.

Healthcare services platform developer Aledade has closed a $64m series C round featuring both GV and Echo Health Ventures to take its overall funding to about $175m. Both corporate VC units participated in the round as existing investors, and the funding will support the growth of both Aledade and its care provider members. Aledade’s earlier investors reportedly also include Utimco, the investment management arm of University of Texas.

Accent Therapeutics has completed a $63m series B round that saw it welcome aboard corporate venturing units GV and AbbVie Ventures as new investors. The company launched two years ago with $40m in series A cash and will put the series B proceeds toward advance development of drug candidates that target RNA-modifying proteins to treat cancer.

Immunomic Therapeutics has created a vaccine development platform focused on diseases including – surprise, surprise – Covid-19, and has closed $61.3m in financing led by oncology-focused pharmaceutical company and partner HLB. The company is also partnering HLB on the launch of a research hub called the Asian Brain Cancer Research Center in the latter’s home country of South Korea.

Paige, a US-based cancer pathology software provider based on Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center research, increased its series B round to $50m today following a $5m extension supplied by investment bank Goldman Sachs’s merchant banking division. Paige did not reveal the size of the extension in its release, but a spokesperson confirmed the amount to GUV. The company raised an initial $45m in December 2019 from a consortium led by Healthcare Venture Partners that included Brey Capital, private investor Kenan Turnacioglu and undisclosed funds.

Guru is the developer of a software product that helps employees share knowledge with each other, and which utilises AI technology to bring crucial insights to the surface. It just completed a $30m series C round that included Slack Fund, to increase its overall funding to $68m. Slack Fund had already participated in Guru’s late 2018 series B round, and its early backers include Salesforce Ventures, which invested at seed stage.

Adverity is located in a similar spot, having created a software platform enabling marketing staff to generate usable information from siloed data, and it has raised $30m in its own series C round. SAP subsidiary SAP.io was among the investors in the transaction, which was led by Sapphire Ventures nine years after it was spun off by the enterprise software provider under the moniker of SAP Ventures. It’s good to see the two working together.

Exits

Enterprise software producer Kingsoft formed cloud services provider Kingsoft Cloud in 2012 and has since grown it into China’s third largest player in the sector. Kingsoft Cloud has raised about $700m from investors including its parent company and electronics provider Xiaomi, and has now filed to go public in the US. It’s curious timing considering the ongoing coronavirus disruption, but perhaps Kingsoft sees the sector as relatively immune.


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

23 March 2020 – Fox Agrees to Buy Tubi for $440m in Cash

The Big Ones

When SoftBank emerged with a $9.5bn rescue package for beleaguered workspace provider WeWork in October, $3bn of the amount had been earmarked for a tender that would have involved it buying shares from existing investors and shareholders – likely including hotel chain Jin Jiang International and Legend Capital. However, the company has sent a letter to the shareholders stating that it believes regulatory probes into the WeWork business frees it from that obligation. It’s an interesting approach, but considering SoftBank’s influence at the company even before its IPO attempt, one that may be hard to follow through with.

Speaking of everyone’s favourite corporate. SoftBank’s efforts to raise capital for a second Vision Fund have been largely unsuccessful so far, but it is reportedly seeking $10bn, including $5bn from external backers, to shore up portfolio companies in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, and maybe acquire rivals struggling with the same issues. Some of the portfolio companies set to be affected include Uber, WeWork, Didi Chuxing and Oyo, though others such as Slack, Paytm and DoorDash could find their business models strengthened by the virus and related social distancing.

Fox has agreed to buy online streaming service Tubi for $440m in cash, allowing MGM and Lionsgate to exit. Both contributed to Tubi’s $6m series A round, part of the $31m in funding it had disclosed prior to the acquisition. Fox should still have a big chunk of the Disney money it got from the 21st Century Fox purchase so it won’t be a surprise to see some more big acquisitions from it coming up soon.

In crossover news, Circle Pharma, a US-based oncology therapeutics spinout of UC San Francisco and UC Santa Cruz, has secured $45m in a series B round backed by UC Berkeley’s investment vehicle, Berkeley Catalyst Fund. Healthcare-focused venture capital fund Column Group led the round, which also included pharmaceutical firm ShangPharma, Nextech Invest and LifeForce Capital. Circle began operations when pharmaceutical firm Pfizer and Mission Bay Capital supplied an undisclosed amount of seed funding in 2014. ShangPharma added an undisclosed sum to the round in mid-2016.

Deals

Despite recent reports it was set to merge with key competitor Grab, ride hailing platform Gojek has raised $1.2bn in funding, reportedly bringing its series F round to nearly $3bn. The round already included Tencent, JD.com, Google, AIA, Mitsubishi, Visa, Siam Commercial Bank and Astra International, but no word yet on the identities of the new investors.

AI and imaging technology provider SenseTime has reportedly dropped plans for a Hong Kong IPO and is instead pursuing between $500m and $1bn in new funding. Its existing investors include Alibaba, Qualcomm, Suning and Dalian Wanda, and reports last year suggested its valuation could have reached $7.5bn. In any case, it’s possible a by-product of the coronavirus could be another push back in the IPO space leading to more late-stage rounds.

Plant-based meat product supplier Impossible Foods has raised $500m in series F funding and, in a sign of things to come, told Forbes it will use the money to offset expected difficulties caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The GV-backed company has reportedly now secured about $1.25bn in funding altogether, and the latest round was led by Mirae Asset Global Investments.

Digital currency technology developer Bakkt has secured $300m as it prepares to expand its crypto wallet to a more diversified crypto services app. The series B funding came from Microsoft unit M12, Naspers subsidiary PayU, Boston Consulting Group, CMT Digital and Intercontinental Exchange, the exchange operator that had spun off Bakkt in the first place.

Data streaming software provider Confluent is reportedly seeking $200m to $300m in a round that could double its valuation to $5bn. Its early investors include LinkedIn, which developed the open source Apache Kafka software on which the company relies. The funding would hypothetically be raised prior to an IPO taking place. Enterprise software has been one of the more resilient sectors of late, especially post-IPO, so that wouldn’t be a huge shock.

StackPath has secured $216m in a series B round co-led by corporates Juniper Networks and Cox Communications, following a $180m series A round revealed when it came out of stealth in 2016. Both leads took board seats at the edge computing technology developer, which plans to put the funding toward enhancing engineering and product development while commercialising its system.

Airwallex is meanwhile looking to raise $200m in a series D round set to be led by an as-yet unnamed financial services provider. The cross-border remittance service has so far secured just over $200m, with approximately half coming in a Tencent-led series C round a year ago that valued it at $1bn. The prospective round would be raised at a $1.5bn pre-money valuation.

Novo has participated in a $100m series G round for drug development software provider Tempus that valued it at $5bn post-money. The participants in the round had all previously contributed to the company’s last round, a $200m series F that closed in May 2019, the funding being raised at a $3.1bn valuation. It will use the series G proceeds to expand the range of conditions its technology serves.

Sigilon Therapeutics is developing bio-engineered cells to treat chronic illnesses without a patient’s immune system rejecting the treatment, and has completed an $80.3m series B round that lifted its overall funding to more than $195m. The round’s participants included Eli Lilly, already an equity investor as of a 2018 collaboration agreement that could potentially top $470m should all milestones be reached.

Engineered T cell therapy developer Eureka Therapeutics has bagged $45m in a series E round led by Lyell Immunopharma, which invested through a strategic partnership deal. Eureka has now raised approximately $134m altogether and will work with Lyell on solid tumour treatments, its own liver cancer candidate having entered phase 1/2 clinical trials.

Funds

Cryptocurrency exchange operator Binance has joined forces with its India-based subsidiary WazirX to launch a $50m fund that will invest in blockchain technology developers located in India. The Blockchain for India fund follows a decision by the country’s supreme court to allow financial services firms to take on blockchain companies as clients. As a result, cryptocurrency exchanges in the country are now also able to offer bank account transfers. Apart from providing funding, the vehicle will also look to incubate startups and support blockchain initiatives within universities.

Congruent Ventures, the venture capital firm anchored by University of California, is aiming to raise $125m for its second, sustainability-focused fund, according to a regulatory filing. The filing states Congruent Ventures II is still to raise capital. None of its potential limited partners have been identified. Founded in 2017, Congruent backs early-stage startups that advance sustainability objectives in areas such as urbanisation and mobility, clean energy, food and agriculture and industrial and supply chains. The first Congruent fund closed at $92m in 2018 with a $50m contribution from University of California’s Office of the Chief Investment Officer in addition to Prelude Ventures and undisclosed additional investors.

Exits

These are a different kind of exit, but Vietnam-based conglomerate Vingroup has shut down its corporate venturing unit, Vingroup Ventures. Founded in Ukraine in 1993, Vingroup moved into Vietnam in 2000 and has concentrated its activities in the country since then. Its main areas of interest include technology, manufacturing and a range of services in sectors including education, health and real estate. Vingroup established its CVC unit in late 2018 and had targeted $100m of investments across the globe according to its LinkedIn page, though it has failed to disclose a single deal in which it had participated.

DuPont Ventures, the corporate venturing subsidiary of chemicals producer DuPont, is set to close at the end of this month, according to a person familiar with the matter. Formed by DuPont in 2003, its investments have included deals for biofuel feedstock supplier NexSteppe, taste modification molecule developer Linguagen and ethernet services provider Actelis Networks. However, the unit has been relatively quiet of late, its last disclosed investment being its participation in a $75m round for Indiana University’s drone management software spinout PrecisionHawk in early 2018. DuPont Ventures’ closure comes as part of a restructuring that will involve the company’s larger corporate innovation activities being cut as part of a cost-saving process. The firm has not revealed whether it plans to divest the existing equity stakes held by its subsidiary.


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

28 January 2019 – Stanford StartX Fund Comes to an End

The big 3

For all the talk about the big numbers of 2018 – Global Corporate Venturing tracked 2,775 deals worth an estimated total of $180bn, the details of which you can find in the January issue out and the World of Corporate Venturing annual review published at the GCVI Summit at the end of the month – the headline increase in CVC units masks continued evolution in units and structures.

GE Ventures has become one of the most prominent figures in the corporate venture capital space since being formed in 2013, but its parent company is reportedly looking to divest the unit as part of a large-scale restructuring effort that has already claimed its transportation subsidiary and could shortly include GE Healthcare.

Big deal: Stanford-StartX Fund reaches the end

Insurance group Axa formed its corporate venturing unit, then known as Axa Strategic Partners, in 2015 and it has now boosted its early-stage investing by putting $150m into a second early-stage fund that will provide up to $6m per deal.

And startups founded by women or minorities are still having a tough time getting capital. Enterprise software producer SAP is the latest corporate to try and change that, unveiling its No Boundaries initiative that will invest 40% of the existing SAP.io Fund in startups led by underrepresented entrepreneurs.

Other big news sees a sweep of large deals continuing. Go-Jek is one on the up. The ride hailing platform, Grab’s main rival in Southeast Asia, has raised $920m from existing investors that include Google, JD.com and Tencent for the first close of a round with a $2bn target.

Still, getting financial and hopefully strategic benefits remains the game. Reports earlier this week suggested Viacom was set to acquire online television streaming platform Pluto TV for up to $500m. The final price has proven to be a more realistic $340m, but it will still give a healthy exit to a round of investors including Sky, ProSiebenSat.1, UTA, Universal Music Group, Samsung Scripps and Windsor Media.

Funds

Menlo Ventures hires Qualcomm’s Haghighi

Deals

Genetic disease drug developer BridgeBio has received $299m in funding from investors including AIG that will be used to move a 15-strong pipeline of assets forward.

Desktop Metal has confirmed recent reports that it was raising new funding by confirming it has closed a $160m round led by Koch Disruptive Technologies, the then undisclosed large industrial company featured in those reports.

FirstCry was reported last week to be in the process of securing $400m from SoftBank, but now the company has revealed the round will be raised over two tranches – with a first $150m investment closed – and that the cash is actually coming from the Vision Fund rather than the corporate directly.

LinkedIn-backed data streaming platform developer Confluent has secured $125m in a series D round that valued it at $2.5bn. The round increased Confluent’s total funding to $206m and was led by Seqouia Capital, the venture firm that also led its series C two years ago.

AutoAI was unveiled by mapping technology provider Navinfo late last year to further develop smart in-car technology created by the firm’s subsidiaries.

Andela recruits GV for $100m series D

SoftBank Vision Fund has made a $100m investment in Globality, the operator of a platform where businesses can source service providers, that valued the company at nearly $1bn, a source told the WSJ.

Sunmi shines with Ant Financial investment

University

Minervax finds verve with $5m

Nexiot checks in series B funding

CIC makes cut in Imagen series B

Exits

Beleaguered Blippar finds a buyer

Avedro heads to public markets


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