The Big Ones
Bonny Simi, pilot and founder of US airline JetBlue’s corporate venturing unit, read the runes correctly in December when she left to join portfolio company Joby Aviation as head of air operations and people.
This week, Joby, which is in prototype phase of developing an all-electric, vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) passenger aircraft, has agreed a $6.6bn reverse acquisition with New York-listed special purpose acquisition vehicle Reinvent Technology Partners.
Simi, who remains an adviser to JetBlue Technology Ventures (JTV), said: “The regional transportation ecosystem is ripe for disruption, and startups like Joby Aviation will revolutionize how people move across urban areas. Joby’s vehicle platform will be the standard to beat. Nearly four years ago, we saw that Joby already was the emerging leader in the eVTOL space, and [the developments with Reinvent] validate our early investment.”
Simi had uncovered the Joby soon after setting up JTV in 2016 – it was the GCV award winner as new entrant of the year – through her network in Silicon Valley (she studied under legendary finance professor Ilya Strebulaev at Stanford) and was a big proponent on the power of eVTOL to disrupt airlines even a few years ago.
Joby is expected to operate for commercial use in the US beginning in 2024 after becoming the first company to receive an eVTOL certification basis plan with the Federal Aviation Administration and receiving the US Air Force’s first ever airworthiness approval for an eVTOL aircraft. The piloted, four-passenger aircraft is faster than existing rotorcraft, flies 150 miles on a single charge, and will be 100 times quieter than existing rotorcraft or small planes during takeoff and landing, JetBlue said.
Raj Singh, managing director of investments at JTV and co-winner of the GCV Powerlist award with Simi in September, said: “As with all of our investments, JetBlue Technology Ventures’ goal is to better position JetBlue with startup-led innovation that could radically change the travel industry. Travelers today are more conscious of their carbon footprint than ever before, so the reduction of pollution that comes with electrification is highly appealing.”
The deal is also noteworthy for bringing together the digital with physical ways of connecting people.
Long- and short-haul travel is being disrupted through the covid-19 disease, accelerating shifts to cheaper or more sustainable modes and reflecting changing communication and work patterns caused by technology more broadly.
Reid Hoffman and Mark Pincus, the two directors of Reinvent alongside Michael Thompson as CEO, were among the first three investors in social network Facebook and early investors in Twitter and Airbnb. As Pincus was in the early phases of founding gaming group Zynga in 2007, Hoffman was among his earliest investors having earlier set up business network LinkedIn.
Pincus and Hoffman acquired the six degrees patent that enabled the social media and network effects model to flourish based on Metcalfe’s law, which states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system (n2).
These network effects, as well as undermining the need to travel so frequently given online ties, also are starting to disrupt finance.
Pincus and Thompson began investing together in 2017 after the latter reportedly returned investors’ money from BHR Capital, a successor to hedge fund Bay Harbour Management, according to Hedge Fund Alert at the time.
Alongside Hoffman, they established Reinvent Capital in 2018 with an eye to tapping into the late-stage venture deals being agreed.
In its regulatory filing for the Reinvent Spac, they said: “A substantial market opportunity exists for a potential business combination in the private technology sector. As of August 2020, per PitchBook Data, there were 417 private technology companies valued over $1bn globally, accounting for over $1.65 trillion of cumulative valuation, up from 18 private technology companies valued over $1bn in 2010.
“More than half of these companies are headquartered within the US, and most are focused on our key investment sectors, including consumer internet, games, marketplaces, ecommerce, and other technology subsectors.
“While the quantity and scale of private technology companies have grown, the number of technology initial public offerings (IPOs) has remained constant at approximately 40 technology companies per year. Per studies from Jay Ritter, the average age of a technology company going public has increased from four years in the first dot-com boom to 11 years in the last decade.
“Based on Dealogic data, the average market capitalisation of technology company IPOs has increased from approximately $400m to approximately $2.8bn in this time. We believe this disconnect between the quantity of scaled technology companies and the number of those companies that actually go public each year h
as created an attractive backlog of potential targets for our blank-check company.”
It is an opportunity set to make the three even richer as the initial shareholders in Reinvent collectively own 20% of the Spac. In the S-1 regulatory filing: “In August 2020, our sponsor paid an aggregate of $25,000 to cover for certain expenses on behalf of us in exchange for issuance of 14,375,000 Class B ordinary shares, par value $0.0001 per share, or approximately $0.002 per share.”
The deal with Joby now prices each share at $10 each, according to the 8-K filing this week.
Whether in business, finance or life, the power of relationships and networks holds true.
But if things are bubbling away for many startups but even more so for the big, listed tech companies.
The K-shaped covid economy, where some companies and individuals do well even if the majority struggle, is evidenced in a number of ways.
In his latest blog post, Ray Dalio, co-chief investment officer and co-chairman of hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, states about 5% of the top 1,000 companies in the US are in a bubble, according to his analysis and classification. This works out at about 3% of the S&P 500 index, and these relative handful of companies have seen stellar share price increases of about 350% on average over the past year or so (chart below from Dalio).
Naturally, this sort of bifurcated market attracts investors to find the next big thing, and speed is of the essence. This creates the demand for faster flotations, particularly if they can include egregious remuneration for insiders bringing these deals to market – otherwise known as special purpose acquisition companies (Spacs).
Matt Taibbi and Eric Salzman recently added Spacs to their Financial Devil’s Dictionary in their podcast.
As they note: “America still leads the world in one thing: inflating speculative bubbles using gibberish finance acronyms. Meet the latest ‘Get-Super-Rich-Quick’ scheme, the Special Purpose Acquisition Company.”
The temptation to leap on these Spacs is certainly high. As the Economist notes in its latest issue: “Last year in America, underpricing led to $30bn of unrealised gains for newly public companies (and their employees). With Spacs and direct listings, another route to going public, there is no pressure for a price to pop.”
In its earlier article, the Economist quoted academics Michael Klausner and Emily Ruan of Stanford University and Michael Ohlrogge of New York University, who looked at blank-cheque firms that made acquisitions between January 2019 and June 2020. They found that while companies that went public through the Spac route fell in value by an average of 3% after three months, 12% after six months and by a third after 12 months, about half the sample were “high-quality” – defined as those run by former Fortune 500 bosses or set up by large private equity firms – and these performed much better.
Whether quality will remain high is unclear. As Taibbi and Salzman said: “In 2021 already, 160 Spacs have raised over $50bn, nearly matching last year’s record of $83.4bn.”
Given Spacs tend to raise more cash once they find an acquisition target (about five times that in the initially listed pot, the Economist reckons) this could bring $600bn of deals in the next one to two years, which is about double the entire global VC market, based on Pitchbook’s data for 2020 deal values.
A bit more speed and a chance to replace venture capital or private equity in some businesses makes it a development that could outlast these bubble conditions. If not, it will return to the dusty archives already storing investment trusts, payment-in-kind notes and collateralised debt obligations used in prior bubble eras to soak up excess liquidity and irrational exuberance.
Could India as the sleeping giant of corporate venturing finally be waking up?
Economic Times of India’s (ET) scoop that conglomerate Reliance Industries’ Jio Platforms is finalising a potential $200m commitment to domestic venture capital fund Kalaari Capital could be the signal for a wider local commitment and corporate venturing efforts.
The Mukesh Ambani-led conglomerate has reportedly closed a $100m first commitment, with an additional commitment of $100m planned for later as part the group’s plans to deepen its footprint in India’s tech scene, ET said.
Kalaari’s portfolio companies, such as furniture retailer Urban Ladder and lingerie retailer Zivame, were acquired by units of Reliance Industries, ET said, with a source adding: “Reliance’s investment in Kalaari will give the company an early line of sight into startups and upcoming sectors.
“RIL won’t necessarily acquire all the companies in which Kalaari invests, but it will certainly act as a discovery pipeline.”
In November, Reliance committed $50m to Breakthrough Energy Ventures primarily for international deals.
It is a scale-up from earlier commitments. In 2018, for example, a Reliance Industries subsidiary contributed to Indian venture firm 3one4 Capital $39.3m Fund II.
But there have been false dawns before. Back in 2016, Ambani said Reliance Industries would set up a Rs 50bn ($750m) corporate venturing fund to invest in digital technology developers.
At the time Ambani said: “We also have plans to partner with thousands of Indian entrepreneurs, whose digital ventures can bloom in the ground that Jio is preparing.”
Back in 2010, its Reliance Capital aimed for $500m fund and it made investments through two subsidiaries, Network18 and GenNext Ventures.
The difference potentially now is Reliance has itself raised tens of billions of dollars in the past year to fund Jio and transform itself from primarily an energy-focused conglomerate to a telecom and tech one.
In an emailed response to ET, a Reliance spokesperson said, “Reliance remains committed to supporting the build-up of a thriving startup ecosystem in India, particularly in digital enablement space, and will continue to explore various avenues to do so.”
Reliance’s commitment could also come at an important time for India’s ecosystem more widely.
Martin Haemmig, adjunct professor at Cetim, in his keynote at the GCV Digital Forum in January, noted GCV Analytics data showed about a 20% drop in both domestic-only and foreign-only CVC investment last year in India.
This is different both from other Asia-Pacific countries and US/Europe. Gateway House’s report last year uncovered the importance of China to India corporate venture capital (CVC) deal activity. This was affected in the past year especially with the so-called techlash by politicians limiting Chinese tech companies in India.
That local CVCs reduced activity is unclear but would be a warning signal. You might expect a reduction in foreign-only deals in favour of hybrid deals as local CVCs become more active – this is generally seen as an important source of FDI (foreign-direct investment) and to help local entrepreneurs scale up globally.
That India has dropped from a relatively low base vis a vis China that has many more large deals would be concerning. The first generation of CVC champions in China – Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent – encouraged their portfolio companies, such as Didi Chuxing and Meituan Dianping, to scale up and start CVC quickly.
The tech incumbents in India, including Tata, Infosys and Reliance, have perhaps looked more internationally and to dominate local markets without local CVC in the main.
That Reliance is now supporting third-party VCs and acquiring portfolio companies will create a more dynamic ecosystem for startups alongside its own corporate venturing backers, such as search engine Google, giving it greater global heft.
There is a new breed of solutions for global challenges.
It is, therefore, exciting to see Victoria Slivkoff, global head of innovation and entrepreneurship at University of California (UC) System, has become executive managing director of the Extreme Tech Challenge (XTC).
Slivkoff joined Barrett Parkman, co-managing director, to develop the Tech for Good startups awards initiative co-founded by Young Sohn and Bill Tai in which Global Corporate Venturing is a partner.
While at UC, Slivkoff had run its entrepreneurs competition with the winners going forward to the XTC final on 15 July.
This year, the UC winners announced at the GCV Digital Forum on January 27 included the champion in the XTC Social Impact contest – Curies, which provides a system for enrolling patients in clinical trials, with a focus on minority groups that have historically been underrepresented, trash-to-cash recycling service Takachar and Sophie’s Bionutrients, a producer of sustainable food proteins using fermented feedstock that is headquartered in Singapore.
Takachar was selected for the early-stage track, while Sophie’s Bionutrients was best among the growth-stage businesses.
This year’s XTC awards are expected to see more than 2,500 applications by the deadline on April 25, with 80 companies selected for the finals on June 4 and then winners on July 15.
Chevron Technology Ventures has committed $300m to Future Energy Fund II, a newly formed vehicle that will invest in developers of technology that can reduce carbon emissions. It is a successor to the $100m Future Energy Fund launched by Chevron in 2018 that has since backed 10 companies, and is the eighth fund to be formed by the Chevron subsidiary since it was established in 1999.
Direct listings remain a relatively unpopular way to go public, but the recent issues in securing an accurate valuation at IPO stage may lead to more VC-backed companies taking that option. Cryptocurrency trading platform developer CoinBase is choosing the direct listing route, though a factor in that may be that it just generated a $322m profit over the course of 2020. Its shares are reportedly trading on private markets at a $100bn valuation – more than 200 times that at which BBVA, New York Stock Exchange, USAA and Docomo Capital invested in the company back in 2015.
Electric luxury sedan developer Lucid Motors has agreed a reverse merger with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Churchill Capital Corp IV at a combined equity value of nearly $11.8bn. The transaction will be boosted by a $2.5bn private investment in public equity financing, the largest PIPE investment ever for a SPAC deal. Lucid’s investors include Mitsui and it is gearing up to release its first vehicle later this year.
ReNew Power, the India-based renewable energy provider backed by Chubu Electric Power and Tokyo Electric Power, has set its sights on Nasdaq and will undertake a reverse merger with RMG Acquisition Corporation II to collect up $1.2bn in gross proceeds. ReNew’s post-money valuation is set to be $8bn and it has lined up an even bigger PIPE than Joby – a total of $855m. Of note here is that private investor Chamath Palihapitiya, founder and CEO of Social Capital, is throwing his weight behind the investment. Notable why? Well…
Palihapitiya is a busy man. He has also backed a $165m PIPE for Berkshire Grey, the US-based robotic fulfilment systems developer backed by telecommunications group SoftBank, which has agreed to a reverse merger with Revolution Acceleration Acquisition Corp. Berkshire Grey is looking at $507m in gross proceeds overall and a valuation of $2.7bn when the transaction completes in the second quarter. It has been a relatively quick exit for SoftBank, the telecoms giant having only led a $263m series B for Berkshire Grey in January 2020.
Markforged devises reverse merger plan
Xos carries itself to reverse merger
Advanced battery developer Enovix has agreed a reverse merger with special purpose acquisition company Rodgers Silicon Valley Acquisition Corp at an implied pro forma enterprise valuation of $1.13bn. Enovix had previously raised over $200m from investors including Intel Capital, Cypress Semiconductor and Qualcomm Ventures, and it comes after big rounds for fellow energy storage technology providers Sila Nanotechnologies, Powin and Highview Power in the past month.
Fintech has been among the largest growth areas in venture-stage tech over the past year but Marqeta, the operator of a payment card issuing platform, occupies its own specialised part of the sector. It has reportedly confidentially filed to go public, and is targeting a $10bn valuation. That’s more than double the $4.3bn valuation at which Marqeta last raised money, in April, and more than five times that at which it secured $260m from investors including CreditEase, Visa and CommerzVentures in mid-2019.
Smart projector manufacturer Xgimi has filed for a $185m initial public offering on the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s tech-focused Star Market that would provide exits for Baidu Ventures, Mango Media and Zhongnan Red Cultural Group. The company has raised at least $177m pre-IPO, and Baidu is currently its second largest shareholder, after founder, chairman and CEO Bo Zhong.
WingArc1st to fly to public markets
Qingju, the bicycle rental service spun off by on-demand ride provider Didi Chuxing in 2018, is reportedly set to announce $600m in series B funding from unnamed investors together with $400m in debt financing. Its parent company had pumped in $850m last year together with $150m from SoftBank and Legend Capital, and the new funding will support the expansion of its motorised bike offering.
SVolt Energy was formed by China-based automotive manufacturer Great Wall Motor in 2012 and spun off six years later, and now it has raised $541m in a series A round co-led by Bank of China Group Investment and CMG-SDIC Fund Management. No word on a valuation for the round, but the latter had previously invested at a $1.15bn valuation in April, and SVolt is now pushing ahead with its series B fundraising.
Plume Design, a developer of technology that helps increase the speed and security of home wifi, has pulled in $270m for its own series E round, at a valuation of $1.35bn. The capital was supplied by growth equity firm Insight Partners and brought Plume’s overall funding to $397m. Its earlier investors include Liberty Global, Charter Communications, Service Electric Cablevision, Shaw Communications, Belkin, Qualcomm, Comcast Cable, Samsung, Sumitomo and Foxconn.
Reddit revealed earlier this month it had raised $250m in series E funding at a $6bn valuation, and a regulatory filing yesterday revealed it has upped the round to $368m and set a $500m target for its close. The online community had been spun off in 2014 by Condé Nast – which still owns a stake – and its subsequent investors include Tencent, which put up $150m to lead its $300m series D round in 2019.
Zomato has received $250m in late-stage funding at a $5.4bn valuation, up from the $3.9bn valuation at which it last closed funding, two months ago. The food delivery and restaurant listings service has now raised about $1.45bn altogether from investors including Ant Group, Info Edge and Delivery Hero, and is reportedly preparing to launch an initial public offering set to take place later this year.
Moore Threads emerges with unicorn valuation
Clover discovers $230m in series C funding
ECarX drives through another $200m
Sales management platform developer Highspot has raised $200m in a series E roundfeaturing Bain & Company and existing investor Salesforce Ventures, probably the most successful corporate venturer in the enterprise software space. The round valued Highspot at $2.3bn and doubled its overall funding to $400m.
SPH stacks up $160m in series B
WuXi Diagnostics works out $150m series B
Pocket Outdoor packs in $150m
Vividion invites investors to $135m series C
JG Summit calls Tyme for $110m round
ScienceLogic scoops up $105m in series E
Innovaccer vacuums up $105m
Anuvia gets $103m series C allocation
Orna accumulates $100m
Infra.Market constructs $100m growth round
Foxtrot Market stores $42m in series B