06 July 2020 – Zuoyebang Pulls In $750m in Series E Funding

The Big Ones

China’s online education sector is one of the areas where growth is currently moving fastest. Yuanfudao raised $1bn in a series G round in March, and now Zuoyebang, which was spun off by Baidu five years ago, has pulled in $750m in series E funding from investors including SoftBank Vision Fund. The round, co-led by FountainVest Partners and Tiger Global Management, follows reports earlier this month that Zuoyebang was in talks for a round set to value it at $6.5bn pre-money.

We’ll get to IPOs in a few minutes (and wow, have there been a lot of IPOs again) but the biggest exit by value was fitness apparel brand Lululemon agreeing to buy home fitness equipment producer Mirror in a $500m transaction as it looks to build a fitness product ecosystem with itself at the centre. Lululemon had already invested in Mirror as part of its $34m series B-1 round in November, but a bigger influence may be another home fitness brand, Peloton, whose share price has tripled since the early days of the coronavirus lockdowns.

B Capital Group, the US-based venture capital firm affiliated with consulting firm Boston Consulting Group (BCG), has closed its second fund at $820m. Founded in 2014, B Capital targets growth-stage deals and pursues a portfolio management strategy that involves connecting its companies to corporates which can help them scale, through a network provided by BCG. The firm invests between $10m and $60m per round, at series B to D stage, and its areas of interest include enterprise software as well as financial, healthcare, consumer, transportation and logistics technology. B Capital now has $1.44bn of assets under management. It had closed an oversubscribed first fund at $360m in early 2018.

In crossover news (one of many crossover news, including IPOs, because that is the world we live in now…), McMaster University spinout Fusion Pharma raised $213m in its upsized IPO, which allowed Johnson & Johnson, Varian Medical and Nan Fung to exit the cancer radiotherapy developer after helping to contribute $158m in funding. The listing also offered an exit to FACIT, a commercialisation unit backed by Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and the province of Ontario.

Deals

Online grocery delivery platform Xingsheng Youxuan has reportedly secured existing investor Tencent for a $300m series C round that looks likely to close this month. The round is set to triple Xingsheng Youxuan’s valuation to $3bn but it operates in a crowded sector dominated by some very big players, and once the smoke clears it’s going to be no surprise at all to see some serious consolidation take place.

Oscar has been one of the main players in online insurance for quite a while, and its latest round has involved it securing $225m from investors including Alphabet. The corporate has been an Oscar backer since 2015 and injected $375m at a reported valuation of $3.75bn in late 2018. There’s room for growth too, given the company’s offering still only spans 15 of the 50 US states. Its overall funding now stands at $1.53bn.

Coty already owns a string of famous beauty and fashion brands but it made some major waves late last year when it announced it was paying some $600m for a 51% stake in Kylie Jenner’s beauty brand. It must have regarded that as a good deal because it’s paying $200m for a 20% stake in KKW Beauty, the brand formed by another member of the Kardashian family, Kim Kardashian West. The deal will involve Coty helping KKW expand an offering that already includes make-up, skincare, shapewear and fragrance products.

Freeline, a UK-based gene therapy spinout from University College London (UCL) formed by commercialisation firm Syncona, has closed a $120m series C round featuring the latter investor as well as Novo, which co-led the round with Eventide Asset Management and Wellington Management Company. Syncona had supplied $40m in a first tranche in December 2019 and retains a majority stake of 60%, down from 80%.

Caffeine is the operator of a livestreaming entertainment service that has built part of its reputation by hosting live rap battles. The company is however looking to widen its offering to additional content having already broadcast sporting content from partner Fox Sports. The latter’s parent company, Fox Corporation, has just co-led Caffeine’s $113m series D round with fellow corporate Cox Enterprises and Saudi Arabia’s Sanabil Investments. The round values Caffeine at $600m and follows a $100m investment by 21st Century Fox two years ago.

There’s an intriguing deal coming from Poseida Therapeutics as well. You may remember last week we talked about the company filing to go public through a $115m IPO, but it’s now slotted in almost that same amount in a series D round, raising $110m from investors led by funds advised by investment and financial services group Fidelity. Novartis wasn’t part of the consortium this time, however.

Stanford University spinout Annexon is developing treatments for autoimmune and neurodegenerative disorders and has raised $100m in a round that increased its overall funding to more than $250m. Redmile Group led a round that included another dozen named investors, though Novartis Venture Fund – an investor since its 2014 series A-1 round – was not among them.

Goldfinch Bio, a US-based kidney disease medication developer co-founded by faculty from Harvard and Yale, has closed an oversubscribed $100m series B round featuring Gilead Sciences to pay for three clinical trials of its two lead candidates aimed at kidney diseases.

Another sector that’s been boosted by potential customers staying home is online education, and one of the biggest names in the sector is India-based Byju’s. Its latest funding intake may not be as big as Xingsheng Youxuan’s – it’s raised less than $100m from VC firm Bond – but the deal reportedly values it at $10.5bn. Its existing investors include Tencent, Times Internet and Naspers, and recent reports suggested it was after $400m for its next round.

Exits

Although there’s no doubt the economy as a whole will suffer considerably from Covid-19 and the attendant lockdowns, several parts of the VC and tech space have prospered. There’s a neat snapshot of the kinds of businesses that have done well of late today, starting with drug developer Genor Biopharma, which has filed for a $320m initial public offering in Hong Kong. Pharmaceutical companies have been rushing to float in the US, and the target set by Genor, an autoimmune disease and cancer therapy developer backed by Charoen Pokphand, indicates the trend is moving into East Asia.

Lemonade has also achieved a successful initial public offering, the digital property and casualty insurance provider floating above an already increased range to raise $319m. That’s relative in this case however, as the $1.9bn valuation achieved in the IPO is still below that of its last round, a $300m series D led by SoftBank and backed by GV and Allianz last year. The company’s investors also include XL Catlin’s corporate venturing arm, XL Catlin.

Accolade, the developer of a digital concierge for the healthcare benefits system, has gone public in yet another upsized IPO, the company floating above its range in a $220m initial public offering having also increased the number of shares. It priced them at $22 each and the shares closed their first day of trading yesterday within touching distance of $30. Its investors include Comcast Venture, McKesson Ventures, Humana and Independence Health Group.

Akouos was one of two life sciences companies (the other being Fusion Pharma we talked about earlier) to raise $213m in an initial public offering, both having increased the number of shares by 50% before floating above their ranges. Investors in Akouos, a developer of gene therapy treatments for hearing loss, include Novartis Venture Fund and Partners Innovation Fund, and it had raised more than $160m pre-IPO.

Online automotive retailer Shift Technologies has so far raised some $300m in financing from investors including BMW i Ventures, Lithia Motors and Alliance Ventures, but is eschewing a straightforward IPO in favour of a reverse merger deal. It will merge with special purpose acquisition company Insurance Acquisition in a transaction that will be buoyed by $185m from investors including Fidelity and ArrowMark Partners.

Lidar technology developer Velodyne Lidar has also eschewed an IPO in favour of a reverse merger, one that will involve it merging with NYSE-listed special purpose acquisition company Graf Industrial in a deal that will value the merged entity at $1.8bn. Velodyne raised $150m from Ford and Baidu in 2016, $25m from Nikon two years later and another $50m from Hyundai Mobis late last year.

It now seems ages since augmented reality was being touted as the next big thing. Magic Leap seems to have stalled after raising some $3bn in funding, and now North Wearables, the AR glasses developer formerly known as Thalmic Labs, has been bought by Google for a reported $180m. North had received about $170m from investors including Intel Capital and Amazon Alexa Fund, but the deal is perhaps more interesting because it indicates Google’s interest in the space is still alive some five years after it withdrew the consumer version of its Google Glass from sale.

QuantumCTek, a China-based quantum technology spinout of University of Science and Technology of China, is seeking $102m in an initial public offering on the Star Market. The company plans to issue 20 million shares at $5.12 each. It had originally anticipated to raise $42.8m when it first revealed plans to go public in November 2019. The IPO will also offer an exit to Legend Capital, which had supplied an undisclosed amount in 2016. The university’s USTC Holdings owns an 18% stake in the spinout, which will be diluted to 13.5%.

Berkeley Lights, a US-based digital cell biology developer based on research at University of California, Berkeley, has filed to raise up to $100m in an initial public offering that would enable corporates Nikon and Varian Medical Systems to exit. Berkeley Lights has created technology that captures single-cell specific information to support the development of cell-based products including antibody therapeutics or cell therapies.

Funds

Seeds Capital, a venture capital arm of government agency Enterprise Singapore, has agreed to partner with institutions including three corporate venturing units to co-invest S$50m ($36m). The initiative is backed by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore and will involve Seeds Capital and the consortium investing the money in some 50 maritime technology startups in order to improve efficiency and safety in the industry. Innoport, the investment vehicle for ship operator Schulte Group, is one of the six partners, as are KSL Maritime Ventures, a subsidiary of conglomerate Kuok Group, and PSA Unboxed, which represents port manager PSA International. The partners also include incubator operator Rainmaking, marine technology venture builder TecPier and ShipsFocus-Quest Ventures, which was formed by shipping intelligence provider ShipsFocus and VC firm Quest Ventures.


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

29 June 2020 – Sana Biotechnology Raises $700m in First Round

The Big Ones

There is a true IPO bonanza going on at the moment and we’ll get to that in a moment, but there’s still a good deal of money sloshing around the sector for early-stage deals too. Sana Biotechnology is working on a string of drug candidates utilising stem cell technology and has raised a huge $700m for its first funding round. The participants include GV, whose diversification into life sciences has so far been very successful, the unit’s exits including Ipierian, Editas Medicine and Flatiron Health. Sana’s technology was developed by researchers at Harvard Medical School, University of Washington’s School of Medicine and UC San Francisco, in partnership with a team at incubator Flagship Pioneering.

Amazon formed its Alexa Fund five years ago but in recent times has made some hefty investments off its own balance sheet, not least in the transport sector where it has backed huge rounds for the likes of Rivian and Aurora Innovation. The corporate has now followed that by committing $2bn to a vehicle called the Climate Pledge Fund, which will invest in developers of products or services that can accelerate carbon reduction. Sectors in its eyeline include renewable energy, transport, logistics, manufacturing and materials, food and agriculture.

The IPO market – particularly in the life sciences sector – may explain why Invitae has splashed out to purchase precision oncology technology provider ArcherDX. Founded by Qiagen in 2015, ArcherDX had actually filed to go public earlier this month but Invitae has stepped in to agree a cash-and-shares acquisition valued at $1.4bn. That’s past tense, as the 30 million Inivtae shares included in the deal subsequently shot up by more than 40% in price on the public markets.

Deals

Sonder should in theory be one of the companies most affected by the coronavirus and indeed, the short-term apartment rental service reportedly fired or furloughed a third of its staff while selling off some 2,000 properties. But it claims it is back at 80% capacity right now and has secured $170m in series E funding from investors including property developer Lennar. The cash was raised at a $1.3bn valuation and Sonder aims to add another $30m before it’s closed.

Agricultural product and services provider Indigo has reportedly added $100m to a series F round featuring FedEx that now stands at $300m. FedEx backed the first tranche in January and Indigo, which is valued at $3.5bn, is said to be targeting $500m for a final close. The round’s other participants include Riverstone Holdings and existing backers Flagship Pioneering and Alaska Permanent Fund.

Pionyr Immunotherapies, a US-based immuno-oncology developer commercialising research from University of Toronto (UofT) and University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) has secured a $275m commitment from biopharmaceutical firm Gilead Sciences, which will acquire a 49.9% in Pionyr through the deal. The transaction forms part of a larger agreement worth up to $1.47bn that gives the corporate an exclusive option to purchase the remaining shares for another $315m and make potential milestone payments totalling up to $1.15bn.

Synchrony Financial and corporate venturing units MassMutual Ventures and Blue Venture Fund all contributed to a $100m round for Payfone, a provider of user authentication technology for phone-based customer services. The round nearly doubled Payfone’s overall funding, which makes sense considering its technology would feasibly be in greater demand in the wake of increased remote buying during coronavirus-related lockdowns.

Synqa, the Southeast Asian fintech provider formerly known as Omise, has bagged $80m in a series C round co-led by Siam Commercial Bank’s SCB 10X subsidiary. The round included insurer Aioi Nissay Dowa, Toyota Financial Services Corporation, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation and its SMBC Venture Capital unit. Synqa, whose earlier backers also include Sinar Mas, has built a mobile wallet and a crypto token trading network, and will use the series C cash to widen the range of products it offers.

Optum’s corporate venturing unit, Optum Ventures, has led or co-led four rounds in the past week, the latest being a $64m series C for Somatus. Kidney care provider Somatus has now secured $105m in total and will put the cash into geographical expansion and product development.

Ojo Labs, the developer of an AI chatbot for use in real estate deals, has completed a $62.5m round featuring Royal Bank of Canada and Northwestern Mutual Future Ventures. The company’s overall funding now stands at approximately $134m and it used part of the latest cash influx to buy online real estate portal Movoto in a deal that allowed another corporate, property developer Mitsui Fudosa, to exit.

Funds

Netherlands-based, healthcare-focused venture capital firm BioGeneration Ventures closed its fourth fund having raised €105m ($119m) from limited partners including pharmaceutical firm Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS). BMS and fellow existing backers Schroder Adveq and the European Investment Fund (EIF) joined newly minted LPs including Industriens Pension and KfW Capital in contributing to the oversubscribed BGV IV.

US-based talent agency Creative Artists Agency (CAA) formed an investment vehicle with venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates (NEA) that was launched with $100m in capital according to the Hollywood Reporter (not a publication we get to cite often on here!) Connect Ventures will leverage the existing relationships CAA has in the sports and entertainment industries, and the Hollywood Reporter stated that the companies plan to invest up to $400m through the venture.

Material Impact, a US-based venture capital firm with a keen interest in spinouts, has closed its second fund at $200m with limited partners including the endowments of Harvard and Princeton universities. Material Impact was founded in 2015 to invest in material science technologies and has backed more than half a dozen university spinouts to date through its first, $110m fund.

UK-based venture capital firm Epidarex Capital has closed a fund of more than £102m ($127m) to invest in life sciences companies, including spinouts, across the UK. The capital was supplied by the universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester, as well as government-owned British Business Bank, which made a $62m cornerstone investment through its Enterprise Capital Funds program, and pension scheme Strathclyde Pension Fund. A range of undisclosed, international backers have also invested in the fund.

Exits

One of the largest IPOs is set to be Agora, a Chinese provider of video engagement technology for app developers. The SIG-backed company will float later today in a $350m IPO that values it at $2bn, while three existing investors are pumping in a further $130m in the form of a private placement. The most interesting thing is that while Agora’s sales have jumped this year its Q1 revenue is still below $40m, which implies that while losses may not be a huge factor in a successful flotation, revenue may not be either.

Forma Therapeutics went public on the same day as Celgene Switzerland and BMS-backed precision cancer drug developer Repare Therapeutics in its $253m listing, and like Repare, Forma has closed an upsized IPO, having raised a total of $319m. The price of the Novartis and Eli Lilly-backed company’s shares have more than doubled since, indicating the current IPO gold rush is very far from over.

China-based Genetron Holdings, which is working on its own precision cancer treatments, has certainly shown the potential in that space. It has floated in the US in a $256m initial public offering that involved it adding on 3 million shares and then pricing them 19% above the IPO range. Vcanbio Cell & Gene Engineering has achieved an exit through the flotation, having invested in Genetron in 2016.

Relay Therapeutics – based on research from MIT, UC San Francisco and Brandeis University – has filed for its own IPO and has set an initial target of $200m. The precision cancer drug developer raised $400m in a 2018 series C round led by $300m from SoftBank Vision Fund and backed by GV and Alexandria Venture Investments. The trend of late has been for IPO candidates to price their offerings above the range, so this may turn out to be one of Vision Fund’s success stories. Right now it may be regretting not putting more money into life sciences deals.

Gene therapy developer Poseida Therapeutics has become the next biotech company to get in line to go public and has filed to raise up to $115m. Novartis provided half the capital in Poseida’s last round, a series C that closed at $150m nearly a year ago, and has a 14.9% stake. Its other backers include Transposagen Biopharmaceuticals, and the IPO proceeds will fund clinical development of prostate and bone marrow cancer treatments.

That isn’t – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – actually all the IPO stories from the past week so do head to GCV and GUV to read about the others, too.


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