The Big Ones
Chinese AI software provider SenseTime has expanded its visual surveillance technology to assess the internal temperature of individuals in order to more efficiently track coronavirus patients, and is considering seeking $1bn in funding. Reports in March suggested it was chasing $500m to $1bn in lieu of an IPO, but sources have told the Wall Street Journal it is now considering a $1bn fundraise at a post-money valuation of $9.5bn. No word on possible participants yet, but its existing backers include Qualcomm Ventures, Alibaba, Suning and Dalian Wanda.
ADC Therapeutics is the latest pharmaceutical company to buck the market downturn to successfully go public, and it certainly has proven to be a successful IPO. The cancer therapy developer – a spinoff from AstraZeneca – floated above its range in an upscaled offering and has now closed that IPO at almost $268m after its shares rose significantly on their first day of trading. Passage Bio, Zentalis, Keros Therapeutics and Oric Pharmaceuticals have had similarly profitable IPOs in the past two months.
Mauritius-based venture capital firm Novastar Ventures has raised $108m from limited partners including insurance firm Axa for its second Africa-focused fund. Axa’s Impact Fund joined the European Investment Bank (EIB), the state-owned Dutch Good Growth Fund and Proparco, Norfund, Sifem and CDC Group: development banks representing France, Norway, Switzerland and the UK respectively. Multiple unnamed family offices also participated alongside unspecified investors from Novastar’s first fund, which closed at $80m in 2015 with backing from Axa Investment Management, financial services firms Triodos Bank and JP Morgan, CDC, Proparco, Norfund, EIB, Fisea and FMO. Novastar targets startups located in East and West Africa and has built a 15-strong portfolio, investing from $250,000 for an early round, up to a total of $8m in each company. Its investments include off-grid solar system provider SolarNow and organic food supplier GreenPath.
In crossover news, SQZ Biotechnologies, a US-based cellular vaccine developer spun out of MIT, has closed a $65m series D round that included GV and Illumina Ventures, respective investment subsidiaries of internet technology conglomerate Alphabet and genomics technology producer Illumina. The round was led by Singaporean government-owned investment firm Temasek and also featured NanoDimension, Polaris Partners, an unnamed US-based fund and JDRF T1D Fund, which is managed by diabetes-focused charity JRDF. SQZ is working on cell therapies that exploit the body’s immune system to fight diseases. The series D proceeds will enable the company, which has so far focused on cancer and autoimmune diseases, to expand its cellular vaccine development platform into infectious diseases. It will also begin work on a point-of-care system that could allow treatments to be generated in clinics.
Messaging and social communication apps have seen user numbers and business boom in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, and Discord is no different. Although some companies (see Giphy and NextVR below) are facing acquisitions at reduced valuations, Discord is reportedly in talks with potential investors over a funding round set to value it between $3bn and $4bn. That’s a sizeable increase from the $2.05bn valuation at which it raised $150m from investors including Tencent in late 2018.
Augmented reality technology developer Magic Leap has had question marks over its business for years as it struggled to build a customer base despite raising over $2.6bn in funding and hitting a $6.3bn valuation. The company was reportedly set to cut around 1,000 staff members, but has managed to pull in $350m from undisclosed new and existing backers. It’s still going ahead with cuts, alongside a slight pivot to enterprise customers, but hopefully they won’t be as bad. Its earlier investors include Google, Alibaba, Qualcomm Ventures, Legendary Entertainment, Warner Bros, Grupo Globo and Axel Springer, but it’s unclear how many of them – if any – chipped in this time.
E-commerce group JD.com’s maintenance, research and operations subsidiary, JD MRO, has received $230m in series A financing from GGV Capital, Sequoia Capital China and Citic Group subsidiary CPE. JD MRO follows in the footsteps of other JD.com spinoffs such as JD Health, JD Logistics and JD Digits which have also achieved unicorn status.
SoftBank revealed that its first Vision Fund has closed for new investments, but it still has powder left over for portfolio companies, one of which is construction services provider Katerra. Vision Fund has invested $200m in Katerra having previously led a round that closed at $999m in late 2018. Reports early last year suggested it could lead a $700m round for Katerra at a valuation potentially topping $4bn, but the reduced size is probably a sign that valuation has also dropped.
Throughout the disruption over recent weeks, telehealth has been one of the standout areas of the tech space that has done very well. Amwell (formerly known as American Well) claims the sector has made two years of progress in two months, and it has closed $194m in series C funding from investors including Takeda and Allianz X. The latter took part as an existing backer, Amwell’s earlier investors also including Philips and Teva.
RallyBio is developing treatments for rare and serious diseases, and has secured $145m in a series B round led by Nan Fung’s Pivotal BioVenture Partners fund. Mitsui & Co Global Investment and Fidelity’s F-Prime Capital were also among the participants in the round, which will fund a phase 1/2 trial for RallyBio’s lead candidate that is expected to kick off later this year.
Digital banking has done well so far in 2020, and the latest neobank to close a nine-figure round is Aspiration, which has secured $135m in series C funding from investors including IUBS hedge fund manager UBS O’Connor. Aspiration targets a more ethical model of investment and cash management and its earlier investors include Renren, the social media platform that caused a stir when it began investing heavily in fintech earlier this decade. Apart from Aspiration and SoFi, those bets are yet to really pay off, but the strategy itself looks sounder than ever.
States Title operates in another part of the fintech space, having developed AI software that automates part of the title and escrow element of real estate transactions, but it’s raised $123m in a series C round featuring Assurant and corporate venture capital units Lennar Ventures and Scor Global P&C Ventures. The real estate industry has been affected by Covid-19 restrictions but investors clearly believe in the underlying potential of State Title’s technology, which could help fulfil tech’s promise of simplifying complex financial transactions.
Rapid Micro, a provider of automated microbial contamination detection systems, said this week it has also seen business pick up lately, and it has completed a $120m financing round featuring Asahi Kasei Medical. The round expanded the company’s overall funding to more than $255m and shows that while the greatest rewards may be reaped by whoever comes up with the first viable Covid-19 vaccine, it’s providing a boost to practically the entire healthcare sector.
Masterclass may not be a healthtech company but its remote learning service, which provides video tutorials hosted by well-known experts and celebrities such David Axelrod, Neil Gaiman and Gordon Ramsay, lies in an online services space that has benefitted from the coronavirus lockdown. It has raised $100m in a series E round led by Fidelity at a reported valuation of more than $800m, boosting its total funding to more than $263m. Bloomberg Beta, WME Ventures, Novel TMT and Evolution Media are all earlier investors.
Digital bank Monzo is also looking for new funding and is reportedly after approximately $85m to $98m, though it looks likely to be at a reduced valuation. The company raised $144m last June from investors including Orange Digital Ventures and Stripe at $2.55bn valuation but sources informed the Financial Times that the new round will probably cut that to about $1.5bn. Some fintech developers have been relatively unaffected by the Covid-19 downturn but online banking does not seem to be among them.
Chinese online fitness community and technology provider Keep has raised $80m in a series E round featuring Tencent and Bertelsmann Asia Investments that increased its valuation to more than $1bn. Both corporate backers were existing investors in Keep – which has now received more than $260m altogether – going back to at least 2016.
Healthcare companies have been doing well, not least the ones brave enough to opt for an initial public offering. ADC Therapeutics, a cancer therapy developer spun off by AstraZeneca’s Spirogen subsidiary, withdrew its initial attempt to go public last year, but refiled late last month and has now raised nearly $233m in its IPO. That’s an upsized offering that involved ADC floating at $19 per share, above the IPO’s $16 to $18 range. Its shares closed at almost $30 after its first day of trading.