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

24 August 2020 – SpaceX Raises $1.9bn

The Big Ones

SpaceX has been one of the most fervent fundraisers among private companies in recent years and it shows no signs of stopping. A securities filing indicates the spacecraft manufacturer and launch services provider has secured $1.9bn from undisclosed investors, with recent media reports putting the valuation of the round at $46bn. Its earlier backers include Google, which invested $900m at a $12bn valuation five years ago, and that valuation looks set to keep on rising for now.

Consumer electronics manufacturer Konka Group has teamed up with the Chinese city of Yancheng to put together an industry fund that will begin investing from a base of about $435m. The fund will be sized at up to $1.45bn and Konka is providing 40% of the capital. Its areas of interest include AI, semiconductors, the internet-of-things, new machinery and advanced materials.

Airbnb has announced it has confidentially filed for its long-awaited initial public offering. People were talking about an Airbnb flotation before the last downturn in the IPO markets in 2018. The rebound last year wasn’t enough to tempt it, but now, while they’re rallying for tech stocks, seems to be the right time despite a coronavirus-related hit to Airbnb’s business that saw it lay off 25% of its staff in May. The CapitalG-backed company had been valued at $26bn, down from $31bn, when it raised $1bn in debt and equity the previous month.

We have finally hit that summer lull on GUV, but there were still a few big stories. Most notably, Mission Bio, a US-based DNA analysis technology spinout of University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), has raised $70m in a series C round led by pharmaceutical firm Novo’s Novo Growth unit. Agilent Ventures, the corporate venturing arm of laboratory equipment and diagnostics services provider Agilent Technologies, also took part in the round, as did Cota Capital, Mayfield Fund and Soleus Capital. The round took the company’s total funding to more than $120m, it said, and Robert Ghenchev, head of Novo Growth, has joined its board of directors. Founded in 2014, Mission Bio has created a system called Tapestri which enables researchers and medical professionals to analyse single-cell RNA sequencing data to help develop precision medicines. The spinout leverages genomics technology from UCSF’s Abate Lab.

Deals

E-commerce group JD.com”s pharmaceutical product and medical services spinoff JD Health raised $1bn at a $6.9bn valuation last year, and now it’s agreed to add series B funding from investment manager Hillhouse Capital. The deal is set to be finalised next month and JD Health expects to get upwards of $830m from Hillhouse, an investor in its parent company since its 2012 series C round.

Last week we talked about reports that Chinese online medical insurance and crowdfunding service Waterdrop had raised $200m at a $2bn valuation, but a subsequent announcement places the size of the round at $230m. Tencent and Swiss Re co-led the round, which sources told Reuters valued Waterdrop just short of $2bn. Swiss Re has been relatively quiet in the corporate venturing space in recent years but reportedly put up $100m of the capital in this round.

Online share trading has made a big jump as the stock markets rally, and RobinHood is getting a lot of business in the US market. It has accordingly increased its valuation from $8.3bn to $11.2bn in the space of just four weeks, its latest move being to raise $200m in series G financing from investment firm D1 Capital Partners. It has now secured a total of $1.7bn and its earlier investors include Roc Nation’s Arrive subsidiary as well as Alphabet units GV and CapitalG.

Palfish is one of several Chinese online education providers to have experienced growth during Covid-19 lockdowns, and it has raised $120m in a series C round that included quantitative trading firm Susquehanna International Group. The company specialises in English tutoring and claims to have some 40 million users. It will put the funding towards improving its big data technology.

BlockFi has been one of the more frequent fundraisers in the startup space having closed five rounds in just over two years as it expands its range of digital currency services. The latest is a $50m series C round that included subsidiaries of CM Group and Siam Commercial Bank. The company has now secured more than $160m and its earlier backers include Consensys, SIG, Recruit and SoFi.

There are several VC-backed companies operating under the moniker of Element but the latest to raise money is the Germany-based bespoke insurance software provider, which has added funding from investors including Sony Financial Ventures and SBI Investment to a series A round that now stands at $46.5m. The earlier tranches featured Signal Iduna and Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance.

Funds

MDI Ventures, the corporate venturing arm of Indonesian state-owned telecommunications firm Telkom, has closed a $500m fund entirely financed by the company. It will invest between $5m and $30m in domestic digital technology developers that will get access to a range of government-owned corporations, which in turn will be able to leverage the technology required to form a digital ecosystem in the country.

Russian conglomerate Sistema may not be the most active participant in the corporate venturing space but it does have one of the largest ranges of investment, having closed a series of funds focusing on different regions and sectors. Its Sistema Asia Capital subsidiary closed a $120m India fund in 2015 and is in the midst of raising the same amount for a vehicle concentrating on Southeast Asia. Areas of interest include cybersecurity, computer vision, smart cities, urban mobility and the internet-of-things.

Exits

Pharmaceutical companies Juno Therapeutics (itself a spinout of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre, Seattle Children’s Research Institute and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre) and WuXi AppTec founded cancer immunotherapy developer JW Therapeutics in 2016 and now it has filed for an initial public offering in Hong Kong. Recent reports suggested JW would target $250m to $300m in the IPO having already raised more than $200m in venture funding. Juno retains a 26% stake in the company while WuXi AppTec owns about 14% of its shares.

Biologic drug developer Inhibrx has gone public, raising $119m having floated at the midpoint of its range. Inhibrx had received some $135m in equity and debt financing from investors including Eli Lilly and WuXi Biologics, and its share price followed recent trends by rising post-IPO. It’s been a bumper time for newly public companies of late, the question is how much of a bubble this represents and whether latecomers to the party could end up missing out.

Nano-X Imaging is working on a medical imaging system intended to function as a more affordable alternative to X-ray machines, and the Israeli company has set terms for an initial public offering in the US that will raise almost $106m if it floats at the top of its range. A big impetus is that existing investors including corporates Foxconn, SK Telecom and iA Financial have expressed interest in buying up to $80m of shares in the offering, which is a more than decent vote of confidence.


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