23 November 2020 – PingCap Stores £270m in Series D Funding

The Big Ones

Distributed database software provider PingCap has secured $270m in series D funding from backers including Bertelsmann Asia Investments that will support research and development as well as international expansion. Another corporate investor, Fosun, led PingCap’s last round, a $50m series C round two years ago. PingCap is the creator of an open-source distributed database platform called TiDB as well as a version called TiDB that has been tailored for use on cloud platforms such as Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud. The platform’s apparently been adopted by some 1,500 clients internationally, including well-known ones such as Square and Dailymotion.

Airbnb has filed for an initial public offering with an initial target of $1bn and will be relying on the markets to ignore its 30% drop in revenue and considerable losses in 2020 in favour of a projected recovery in the tourism industry next year when coronavirus vaccines hopefully begin to be distributed. Its investors include CapitalG, the growth equity subsidiary of Alphabet formerly known as Google Capital, and its valuation stood at $26bn prior to a $1bn debt and equity round in April. But there are a few notable things about Airbnb’s filing and the fact it acknowledges that it’s been unable “to grow new offerings and tiers, such as Airbnb Experiences” could yet prove to be the canary in the coal mine – particularly as Google steps up its own travel ads and hinders Airbnb’s organic growth. There’s also a question as to whether hosts will be able to stick out ongoing and returning lockdowns: they still have to pay mortgages on the properties and without guests to cover bills, that’s somewhat of a ticking time bomb. But the biggest threat to Airbnb is the fact that its growth was slowing long before covid-related shutdowns and travel restrictions: in fact, 2019 was the third consecutive year of slowing growth. The filing warns this slowing down is expected to continue, making it a difficult sell to potential investors on the public markets.

Form Energy, a US-based grid battery spinout of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has obtained more than $70m of series C funding from undisclosed investors, Reuters said citing CEO Mateo Jaramillio. Details are expected over the coming weeks. Founded in 2017, Form Energy is developing sulfur-based battery storage for renewable electricity sources such as wind and solar which fluctuate more than conventional power plants owing to changes in wind strength and solar radiation. Form Energy’s batteries are rumoured to discharge at slow speeds relative to their capacity but offer 150 hours of storage compared to four hours for lithium-ion grid storage products. The idea is to help replace oil and gas-based power plants that run during times of sparse customer demand to provide a minimum level of electricity, known in industry parlance as the baseload. The spinout last closed a $40m series B round in August 2019 led by Eni Next, the corporate venturing arm of energy supplier Eni, and backed by The Engine, the MIT-affiliated incubator and venture fund, in addition to Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Capricorn Investment Group, Prelude Ventures and Macquarie Capital.

Deals

DataRobot, a provider of enterprise artificial intelligence software, has more than doubled its valuation to $2.7bn in a $270m pre-IPO round featuring new and existing investors. The company has now raised a total of about $500m from an investor base that includes Intel Capital, New York Life, Recruit Strategic Partners, Cisco and Citi Ventures, though none were specifically named in the company’s latest round.

Precision medicine developer D3 Bio has emerged from stealth with $200m from a series A round featuring WuXi AppTec’s Corporate Venture Fund. The corporate was joined by Boyu Capital, Temasek, Matrix Partners China and Sequoia Capital China, and the cash will support development of the startup’s oncology and immunology product pipeline.

Online restaurant directory and food ordering service Zomato has raised $195m at a $3.6bn post-money valuation. Much of the company’s earlier funding came from online classifieds operator Info Edge, which still owns a stake above 20%. Its larger shareholders include Ant Group and Uber, while Delivery Hero is also an investor.

XAG, an agriculture-focused drone developer that is expanding into wider reaching farm management technology, has completed a $182m funding round co-led by Baidu Capital and SoftBank Vision Fund. The cash will support the bolstering of the company’s research and development, manufacturing and supply chain capabilities as its home country of China moves closer to an unmanned farm model of agriculture.

Cato Networks has entered the unicorn sphere, raising $130m from investors including Singtel Innov8 at a $1bn pre-money valuation. The networking security technology provider has now received more than $330m since 2015 and its last round – which also featured the Singtel subsidiary – was only seven months ago.

Forter, a developer of e-commerce fraud prevention software, has joined the ranks of the unicorns, having bagged $125m at a valuation topping $1.3bn. The series E round didn’t include corporate backer Salesforce Ventures but it took the company’s total funding to $225m and was co-led by venture capital firms Bessemer Venture Partners and Felix Capital.

CreditEase-backed wealth management platform developer Addepar has raised almost as much, having closed its series E round at $117m. The public markets boom for tech companies in recent months, coupled with the ongoing issues for other businesses, has meant increased demand for wealth management services. It also highlights Addepar’s selling point: enhanced data capabilities that give investors greater insights into portfolio performance.

SoftBank Vision Fund 2 has also led a $100m round for MindTickle, a US-based provider of sales readiness technology that helps sales staff upgrade their skills and benefit from updated information. Qualcomm Ventures was among the other participants in the round, having backed MindTickle since its 2015 series A round. The latest funding was closed at a reported $500m valuation.

Funds

SR One is the latest corporate venturing unit to be spun off into an independent venture firm by its parent, in this case pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline. With some 35 years on the clock it’s one of the oldest corporate VC arms, but GSK isn’t cutting the cord fully – it’s the largest contributor to an oversubscribed $500m fund for the rebranded SR One Capital Management, which will continue to be run by CEO Simeon George.

Exits

Roblox, the creator of a social 3D game development platform, has filed for a $1bn IPO on the New York Stock Exchange that will notch up an exit for Tencent. The corporate was among the investors in a $150m series G round in February that valued Roblox at $4bn. Press reports have suggested the company would seek a valuation of $8bn in the offering, meaning Tencent could be looking at a rapid profit on paper.

Arrival is the latest highly valued company to take the reverse merger option, agreeing a deal with Nasdaq-listed CIIG Merger Corp that will value the combined business at $5.4bn. The electric commercial vehicle developer’s existing investors, which include Hyundai, Kia and UPS, will keep their stakes while the deal will be boosted by $400m in PIPE financing.

Supcon is part of the fast-growing field of robotic process automation technology and has priced an initial public offering in its home country of China that will net it $268m in proceeds. Corporate investors Chint, Sinopec Capital, Intel, China National Nuclear’s CNNC Industry Fund Management Corporation and Lenovo are all among its investors and will jointly own about 20% of its shares post-IPO.


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

19 October 2020 – SoftBank Backs Kahoot with $215m Investment

The Big Ones

Kahoot has been one of the biggest recent success stories in the startup space. The company, the developer of a gamified online learning platform, has secured $215m from SoftBank through a private placement that valued it above $2.2bn, a huge jump from the $100m valuation at which it raised money just over two and a half years ago. Its earlier backers include Microsoft’s M12 unit, which first invested even before the early 2018 round, and Walt Disney, which provided $15m later the same year at a $376m valuation.

Sella Venture Partners, Italy-headquartered financial services group Sella’s venture capital arm, has reached the €30m ($35.3m) first close for a fund of funds backed by multiple corporate limited partners. The group’s banking subsidiaries, Banca Sella and Banca Patrimoni Sella & C, contributed to the fund along with peers Banco BPM and Fenera Holding, insurance firms Aviva and HDI Assicurazioni, and unnamed individuals. Sella Venture Partners Fund of Funds I is seeking additional investors for a second close on its way to a €100m target. It is expected to conduct deals for four years in Europe and the United States.

Twilio has agreed to acquire Segment, developer of a customer data management platform, in a $3.2bn all-share transaction that will allow GV, an early-stage investment subsidiary of internet and technology group Alphabet, to exit. Segment had raised $284m in funding prior to the deal, its last round being a $175m series D that reportedly valued it at $1.5bn, 18 months ago.

Crossover: Oxford Nanopore, a UK-based genetic sequencing technology spinout of University of Oxford, obtained £84.4m ($108m) in funding from a consortium including pension fund manager RPMI Railpen. The company’s offering includes a rapid test for detecting Sars-Cov-2, the coronavirus that leads to covid-19. The capital brought Oxford Nanopore’s total funding to some $800m. Its existing backers also include IP Group, Illumina and Amgen, the latter of which injected $66m in early 2018.

Deals

E-commerce logistics may not be the flashiest part of the venture capital space but it has given rise to some sizeable players. Flash Express is Thailand’s biggest pure-play participant in the sector and has secured $200m in a series D round led by PTT Oil and Retail Business Public Company. The round included at least two more corporate investors – Durbell and Krungsri Finnovate – and its earlier backers reportedly include Alibaba’s eWTP fund.

Electric bus producer Proterra has been around for nearly 17 years, but is still successfully raising money. It’s brought in $200m through a round led by $150m from investment bank Cowen’s Sustainable Advisors subsidiary, adding to at least $565m in earlier financing from an investor pool that includes Daimler, GM Ventures, Mitsui, Edison Energy, Constellation Technology Ventures, BMW i Ventures and the Panasonic-sponsored Conductive Ventures.

Car sharing has long since fallen behind ride hailing when it comes to funding numbers, but Getaround has nevertheless pulled in $140m in a series E round that included SoftBank Vision Fund. SoftBank led the company’s last round, a $300m series D in 2018, and it has now secured almost $600m altogether. Its earlier backers include Cox Automotive, SAIC Capital and Toyota.

Although it isn’t one of the flashier parts of the startup space, agritech is still plugging along. Farmer’s Business Network and Infarm have both closed nine-figure rounds in recent months and now indoor farming unicorn Plenty has done the same. It secured $140m in a series D round led by SoftBank Vision Fund that included Driscoll’s, the berry provider that formed a commercial agreement with Plenty earlier this year. The round boosted its overall funding to roughly $540m, Vision Fund having come onboard in its 2017 series B round.

Livekindly Collective is the newest big player in the plant-based food space, having raised $135m from investors including food ingredient developer Griffith Foods. The company had received $200m just over six months ago when it was launched as a group including vegan media brand Livekindly and plant-based food brands Fry Family, Oumph and Like Meat.

Electric bus and van developer Arrival has received $118m in funding from funds managed by BlackRock, following on from $112m provided by carmaker Hyundai and subsidiary Kia in January. UPS invested in Arrival the same month alongside an agreement to purchase 100,000 vans from the company. The latest capital influx will support the establishment of scalable microfactories designed to produce its vehicles rapidly and efficiently.

Funds

Industrial and fruit acid product manufacturer Fuso Chemical has made a limited partner commitment to Future Food Fund, a corporate venture capital (CVC) vehicle for Japan-based online supermarket Oisix Ra Daichi. Formed in October 2019, Future Food Fund is managed by the CVC unit of the same name set up two months earlier. The vehicle will target startups focusing on food, agriculture and healthcare innovation. The fund’s LPs already include corporates such as fast food restaurant chain Mos Burger, broadcaster TV Tokyo Direct and Toyota Tsusho, the trading subsidiary of carmaker Toyota.

Exits

Affordable lifestyle goods retailer Miniso is headquartered in China and takes its inspiration from Japanese retail, but it’s chosen the US for its IPO, floating above its range to secure $608m. The company is only seven years old but oversees a network of some 4,200 stores worldwide run through a franchise model. Its investors include Tencent, which took part in a $146m round two years ago before providing an additional $50m in February this year.

GV is on a tear right now and has also scored an exit from MIT spinout Kronos Bio, which floated above its range in an upsized initial public offering that raised $250m. The oncology therapeutics developer’s investors include GV, which took part in its $105m series A round last year, and its shares have soared to $32.90 as of Friday evening.

Roblox has confirmed it has confidentially filed for an initial public offering, days after media reports suggested it was prepping an IPO expected to double its valuation to $8bn. The online gaming platform has some 120 million monthly active users and is looking to expand its offering into virtual concerts, suddenly an attractive option due to the real thing being prevented by coronavirus-related social distancing measures.

Dida Chuxing (not to be confused with fellow Chinese ride hailing service Didi Chuxing) has filed for its own IPO, in Hong Kong. Recent reports predicted it would target $500m in its flotation, and the offering would chalk up exits for Nio Capital, the venture firm backed by carmaker Nio, in addition to corporates BitAuto, JD.com and Ctrip which cumulatively hold 12% of Dida’s shares.

Digital payment technology provider Stripe led Nigeria-based counterpart Paystack’s $8m series A round two years ago and it obviously liked what it saw, having returned to agree an acquisition deal reportedly valuing Paystack at over $200m. The company had disclosed less than $10m in funding prior to the deal, and two other corporate investors – Comcast Ventures and Tencent – are set to record big multiple returns too.

Spruce Biosciences has closed its initial public offering after the underwriters took up the over-allotment option and bought nearly $14m of shares to add to the $90m it raised when it floated at the end of last week. Novo is the largest shareholder in Spruce Bio, which is developing treatments for endocrine disorders.

Codiak BioSciences has also floated, raising $82.5m in its initial public offering after floating in the middle of its range. The exosome drug developer– based on research at Gothenburg and MD Anderson Cancer Center – had received $168m in funding pre-IPO from investors including Alexandria Real Estate Equities’ Alexandria Venture Investments, and the IPO price values it just short of $280m.


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

02 March 2020 – Grab Raises $856m from Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group

The Big Ones

There may be fewer rounds being closed but ride hailing continues to be a money magnet, with Grab raising $856m from Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group – which invested $706m – and TIS, both investing through newly struck partnership deals that will centre on the joint development of payment and financial services technology. There may be a bigger deal in the pipeline too, with reports stating Grab has been in talks with key rival Gojek over a merger that could value the combined company at $23bn.

Southeast Asia has been one of the fastest growing areas of the world for corporate VC funds. One of the relatively early participants was state-owned telecommunications operator Telkom Indonesia, which launched unit MDI Ventures in 2016 with $100m, and which has rapidly expanded since. MDI Ventures is targeting $300m to $500m for its second fund, according to comments made by a government minister this week, and that amount would represent a big step forward in terms of capital. Probably justifiably, given the recent emergence of unicorns like Grab, Gojek and Tokopedia.

CapitalG, the growth equity subsidiary of Alphabet is in line for a healthy exit, as media reports suggest tax software provider Intuit is set to buy credit management platform Credit Karma in a $7bn cash-and-stock deal. CapitalG first invested in Credit Karma at a valuation of less than $1bn in 2014, and the company was valued at $3.5bn in its last funding round the following year.

And in crossover news (of which there was actually a lot last week and we’ll get to more of them in a minute), we have another exit. University of Pennsylvania-linked Passage Bio went public on Friday in a $216m IPO in which it is floating at the top of its range ($18 a pop), after increasing the number of shares by more than 60% (from 7.4 million to 12 million shares). The genetic medicine developer only officially launched a year ago (though it was incorporated in 2017) but had pulled in $226m across two rounds, from investors including corporate vehicles Access Biotechnology and Lilly Asia Ventures. It’s also allocated 1.8 million shares to a greenshoe option (also up from 1.5 million) and if stock goes the way everyone wants it to, it likely won’t be too long before underwriters jump on that chance.

Deals

One of the more interesting corporate investor/portfolio company combinations in recent times is the tendency for carmakers to invest nine-figure sums in autonomous driving software developers in order to get a foothold in an area of technology thought by many to be the future of the industry. The latest is Toyota, which has already backed several ride hailing companies and which just provided $400m for robotaxi system developer Pony.ai as part of a $462m round.

Graphcore, an artificial intelligence processor developer that traces its roots back to University of Bristol (it’s a spinout of Bristol spinout Xmos), has added $150m to a series D round that now stands at $350m, valuing the company at $1.95bn. The $200m first tranche included BMW i Ventures, Robert Bosch Venture Capital, Dell Technologies Capital, Microsoft and Samsung, though none were explicitly identified as being among the existing backers that joined Baillie Gifford, M&G Investments, Mayfair Equity Partners and Merian Chrysalis in the second close.

GV and Intel Capital have both contributed to a $250m series C round for SambaNova Systems, an AI computing platform developer co-founded by Stanford University faculty, that will fuel the enhancement of its technology. GV co-led SambaNova’s series A round while Intel Capital led its $150m series B last year, and the increasing ubiquity of AI combined with the move to more complex areas like edge computing mean we’re likely to see the company continue to move up the fundraising levels in the coming years.

SpaceX is gearing up for another funding round, having raised more than $1.2bn since December 2018 across three different rounds. No word on whether those rounds included existing investor Google, but the new round is reportedly set to be sized at about $250m at a valuation of roughly $36bn. Its overall funding so far stands at around $3.4bn.

Karius has developed a liquid biopsy test that draws blood in order to discover information on disease by crunching data on microbial cell-free DNA found in the samples. It has also secured $165m in a series B round led by SoftBank’s second Vision Fund, which seems to well and truly be up and running (albeit still only with cash from SoftBank itself).

Despite being around some 15 years and racking up 115 monthly active users, Roblox has kept a relatively low profile in the startup scene, though that may be changing with news of a $150m series G round featuring Tencent. The company has created an online platform that allows users to develop virtual worlds and MMO games that others can play, and is reportedly now valued at $4bn. It’s also launching a secondary offering for up to $350m of common and primary shares.

Another company focusing on creativity (of a sort) is Uncorq, developer of a no-code platform enabling users to create software applications without coding. It’s added $51m to a series D round now totalling $131m, and CapitalG, which co-led the first tranche in October, led the extension. The cash will be used for recruitment and expanding the company’s partnerships along with its live event schedule.

JD.id, the Indonesian spinoff of e-commerce group JD.com launched in 2015 with private equity firm Provident Capital, is also valued at more than $1bn, a source has told Indonesian tech news portal Daily Social. The company has yet to confirm the identity of any external investors but rumours suggest they could include another Indonesian unicorn, Gojek. To square the circle, both JD.com and Provident invested in a $1bn round for Gojek early last year.

Funds

Energy management and automation technology producer Schneider Electric has supplied $10m for Israel-based venture capital firm Grove Ventures’ $120m second fund. The oversubscribed fund, Grove II, was closed a week ago without the firm identifying any limited partners, though its described them as institutional and strategic investors as well as industry leaders.

US-based, real estate-focused venture capital firm Fifth Wall closed a $100m fund on Wednesday that includes several property developers as limited partners. Commercial real estate provider Cushman & Wakefield is an LP, as are real estate investment trusts Macerich, Acadia Realty Trust and Nuveen Real Estate, the latter a subsidiary of asset manager TIAA Investments.

Japan-based venture capital firm I-Nest Capital has closed its first fund at ¥6.6bn ($61m) having secured commitments from backers including corporates Power Solutions and NTT Docomo. IT services firm Power Solutions and mobile network operator NTT Docomo were joined by financial services firm Mizuho Bank and Fuji Startup Ventures, a corporate venturing vehicle for media company Fuji TV. The limited partners were filled out by Mizuho Securities Principal Investment, which represents investment bank Mizuho Securities, and the Japanese government’s Organization for Small & Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation.

Exits

Salesforce has agreed to acquire CRM app developer Vlocity, a portfolio company of its Salesforce Ventures unit, in a $1.33bn all-cash deal. Vlocity had raised $163m from an investor base that also included Accenture and New York Life, and the transaction marks the fifth M&A exit for Salesforce Ventures this year, following Simplus, Evariant, Quid and LevelEleven.

Food delivery has been one of the better funded portions of the mobile commerce market, perhaps second only to ride hailing, and DoorDash’s investors look like they may be in for a lucrative exit. The company has confidentially filed for an IPO, three months after closing its series G round at $700m, at a $13bn valuation.

It isn’t a conventional M&A corporate exit but Takeda is buying coeliac disease drug developer PvP Biologics three years after paying $35m for an option to fully acquire the University of Washington spinout once it had advanced its lead product candidate to a certain stage. The size of the deal could eventually reach $330m if PvP reaches every development and regulatory milestone and, its drug will join Takeda’s own celiac disease candidate in the corporate’s product pipeline.


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