Everyone loves pizza, including VCs

Sometimes a person (I’m not naming names here) tires of staring at startup funding data, and her hungry mind wanders to pizza.

But ordering a pizza in real life isn’t always the best choice for such people/reporters. So instead, we’ll pivot to the next best (not really) thing: Looking at what startup investors are doing vis-à-vis the pizza industry.

Turns out, VCs and growth investors are finding lots of ways to toss money at the space. A query of Crunchbase data rolled out more than 50 companies funded in the past couple of years that mention pizza in their business descriptions. In the chart below, we slice into 10 of the most heavily funded and intriguing pizza-preneurs.

Taken together, what does this assimilation of funding data portend about the future of pizza? We’re not experts in much but consuming the stuff, but nonetheless, a few trends stand out. We outline them below.

Convenience versus quality

Many top-funded startups appear to be tackling what’s long been the Achilles heel of the pizza-industrial complex: The inverse correlation between convenience and quality.

It is a persistent conundrum. You can have pizza right away that costs very little, but it tastes like microwaved cardboard. Or you can pay the going rate and wait for a fresh pie, but that involves…well, paying and waiting.

Of course, there are all manner of variations in-between: the upscale frozen pizza, the merely adequate chain pizza, the quick, greasy slice — the list goes on. Consumers seemingly have no shortage of options. And yet we long for more.

The most heavily funded pizza startups appear to target a similar consumer desire. We want a cheap, fast, custom, fresh pizza that tastes good. MOD Pizza and LeBron James-backed Blaze Pizza are two fast-growing chains with this approach. Both serve fast-cooking thin-crust pies with a wide choice of toppings for a flat price.

Meanwhile, Silicon Valley-based Zume has raised more than $400 million to scale up a model that relies on robot-equipped mobile kitchens to bake fresh pies and deliver them to hungry customers. By cutting the cost of a retail space and automating much of the baking process, Zume is betting it can provide a tasty, fresh pie more cheaply than the competition.

Healthier choices

Most of us do not consume pizza for its health benefits. Nonetheless, there are ways to make pies less fattening, more nutrient-dense or vegan-friendly.

Startups and their backers are on to this. Case in point: Caulipower, an Encino, Calif.-based startup that makes cauliflower-based pizzas and other snacks. The two-year-old company has raised just over $10 million in early-stage funding to date.

For the vegan crowd, there’s Mooliss Vegan Cheese, a startup that sells plant-based mozzarella exclusively to pizzerias and restaurants. The New York company raised $6 million in May to get more people hooked on its coconut oil- and cashew-based cheeses.

Boosting local pizzerias

For those who prefer to patronize a beloved local pizzeria, startups have tackled that angle as well, with tools aimed at making existing pie shops thrive in the digital, on-demand age.

On this front, MyPizza Technologies, best known as the developer of the app Slice, has raised around $16 million in funding to date. Its app helps local pizza shops and their customers submit and fulfill mobile orders and payments.

Another upstart, HotBox, is focused on the hot-delivery side. The Modena, Italy company has developed a delivery box that keeps pizza hot and crunchy for the journey from shop to customer.

Takeaway: we will eat more pizza

Throwing money at the pizza space could be seen as a source of disruption — displacing existing players and supply and delivery chains.

However, the disruption should be contained if something that seems both impossible and inevitable does come to pass: We all eat more pizza.

Personally, I see a strong likelihood for increased consumption, as pizza becomes something to fill more niches. In addition to serving as a greasy, cheesy treat, pizza now also works as a semi-healthy fast casual meal option, a decadent gourmet indulgence or even a vegan snack.

Most of this does not bode well for our waistlines. But it might work out profitably for pizza-preneurs and their backers.

Which public US universities graduate the most funded founders?

A lot of students attend public universities to lessen the financial burden of higher education. At last tally, tuition and fees at American public colleges and universities averaged around $6,800 a year, per the federal government. That’s far below the $32,600 mean price tag for private, nonprofit institutions.

Yet when it comes to public universities, the old adage “you get what you pay for” clearly does not apply. Leading public research universities in particular have a track record of turning out enviably knowledgeable and successful graduates. That includes a whole lot of funded startup founders.

And that leads us to our latest ranking. At Crunchbase News, we’ve been tracking the intersection of alumni affiliation and startup funding for the past few years. In a story published earlier this week, we looked at which U.S. universities graduated the most founders of startups that raised $1 million or more in roughly the past year.

For today’s follow-up, we’re focusing exclusively on public universities. Starting with a list of top-ranking research universities, we looked to see which have graduated the highest number of funded founders.

For the most part, we used the same criteria as the public-and-private list, focusing on startups that raised $1 million or more after May, 2018. The public list, however, does not separate out business school grads.

Without further ado, here’s the list:

Key findings

Looking at the list above, a few things stand out. First, our top ranker, University of California at Berkeley, is multiples above the rest of the field when it comes to graduating funded founders.

Berkeley is a school that’s generally hard to get into, prominent in STEM and located in the VC-rich San Francisco Bay Area. So seeing it top the list isn’t necessarily surprising. However, the magnitude of its lead — with nearly three times the funded founders of runner-up UCLA — does warrant attention.

Big Midwestern schools also did well, with University of Michigan and University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign nabbing the third and fourth spots.

More broadly, the list includes schools from all U.S. regions, including the East Coast, West Coast, South, Midwest and Southwest. So no particular region has a lock on graduating funded entrepreneurs. That’s also not surprising. But it’s good to have some more numbers to back up that notion.

Big revenues, huge valuations and major losses: charting the era of the unicorn IPO

We can make charts galore about the tech IPO market. Yet none of them diminish the profound sense that we are in uncharted territory.

Never before have so many companies with such high revenues gone public at such lofty valuations, all while sustaining such massive losses. If you’re a “growth matters most” investor, these are exciting times in IPO-land. If you’re the old-fashioned value type who prefers profits, it may be best to sit out this cycle.

Believers in putting market dominance before profits got their biggest IPO opportunity perhaps ever last week, with Uber’s much-awaited dud of a market debut. With a market cap hovering around $64 billion, Uber is far below the $120 billion it was initially rumored to target. Nonetheless, one could convincingly argue it’s still a rich valuation for a company that just posted a Q1 loss of around $1 billion on $3 billion in revenue.

So how do Uber’s revenues, losses and valuation stack up amidst the recent crop of unicorn IPOs? To put things in context, we assembled a list of 15 tech unicorns that went public over the past three quarters. We compared their valuations, along with revenues and losses for 2018 (in most cases the most recently available data), in the chart below:

 

Put these companies altogether in a pot, and they’d make one enormous, money-losing super-unicorn, with more than $25 billion in annual revenue coupled to more than $6 billion in losses. It’ll be interesting to revisit this list in a few quarters to see if that pattern changes, and profits become more commonplace.

History

It’s easy to draw comparisons to the decades-old dot-com bubble, but this time things are different. During the dot-com bubble, I remember penning this lead sentence:

“If the era of the Internet IPO had a theme song, it might be this: There’s no business like no business.”

That notion made sense for bubble-era companies, which commonly went public a few years after inception, before amassing meaningful revenues.

That tune won’t work this time around. If the era of the unicorn IPO had a theme song, it wouldn’t be nearly as catchy. Maybe something like: “There’s no business like lots of business and lots of losses too.”

I won’t be buying tickets to that musical. But when it comes to buying IPO shares, the unicorn proposition is a bit more appealing than the 2000 cycle. After all, it’s reasonably plausible for a company with dominant market share to tweak its margins over time. It’s a lot harder to grow revenues from nothing to hundreds of millions or billions, particularly if investors grow averse to funding continued losses.

Of course, the dot-com bubble and the unicorn IPO era do share a common theme: Investors are betting on an optimistic vision of future potential. If expectations don’t pan out, expect share prices to follow suit.

Some reassuring data for those worried unicorns are wrecking the Bay Area

The San Francisco Bay Area is a global powerhouse at launching startups that go on to dominate their industries. For locals, this has long been a blessing and a curse.

On the bright side, the tech startup machine produces well-paid tech jobs and dollars flowing into local economies. On the flip side, it also exacerbates housing scarcity and sky-high living costs.

These issues were top-of-mind long before the unicorn boom: After all, tech giants from Intel to Google to Facebook have been scaling up in Northern California for over four decades. Lately however, the question of how many tech giants the region can sustainably support is getting fresh attention, as Pinterest, Uber and other super-valuable local companies embark on the IPO path.

The worries of techie oversaturation led us at Crunchbase News to take a look at the question: To what extent do tech companies launched and based in the Bay Area continue to grow here? And what portion of employees work elsewhere?

For those agonizing about the inflationary impact of the local unicorn boom, the data offers a bit of reassurance. While companies founded in the Bay Area rarely move their headquarters, their workforces tend to become much more geographically dispersed as they grow.

Headquarters ≠ headcount

Just because a company is based in Northern California doesn’t mean most workers are there also. Headquarters, our survey shows, does not always translate into headcount.

“Headquarters location can often be the wrong benchmark to use to identify where employees are located,” said Steve Cadigan, founder of Cadigan Talent Ventures, a Silicon Valley-based talent consultancy. That’s particularly the case for large tech companies.

Among the largest technology employers in Northern California, Crunchbase News found most have fewer than 25 percent of their full-time employees working in the city where they’re headquartered. We lay out the details for 10 of the most valuable regional tech companies in the chart below.

With the exception of Intel, all of these companies have a double-digit percentage of employees at headquarters, so it’s not as if they’re leaving town. However, if you’re a new hire at Silicon Valley’s most valuable companies, it appears chances are greater that you’ll be based outside of headquarters.

Tesla, meanwhile, is somewhat of a unique case. The company is based in Palo Alto, but doesn’t crack the city’s list of top 10 employers. In nearby Fremont, Calif., however, Tesla is the largest city employer, with roughly 10,000 reportedly working at its auto plant there.(Tesla has about 49,000 employees globally.)

Unicorns flock to San Fran, workers less so

High-valuation private and recently public tech companies can also be pretty dispersed.

Although they tend to have a larger percentage of employees at headquarters than more-established technology giants, the unicorn crowd does like to spread its wings.

Take Uber, the poster child for this trend. Although based in San Francisco, the ride-hailing giant has fewer than one-fourth of its employees there. Out of a global workforce of around 22,300, only about 5,000 are SF-based.

It’s unclear if that kind of breakdown is typical. We had trouble assembling similar geographic employee counts at other Bay Area unicorns, mainly because cities break out numbers only for their 10 largest employers. The lion’s share of regional unicorns are San Francisco-based, and of them only Uber made the Top 10.

That said, there is another, rougher methodology for assessing who works at headquarters: job postings. At a number of the most valuable Bay Area-based unicorns — including Airbnb, Juul, Lime, Instacart, Stripe and the now-public Lyft —  a high number of open positions are far from the home office. And as we wrote last year, private companies have been actively seeking out cities to set up secondary hubs.

Even for earlier-stage startups, it’s not uncommon to set up headquarters in the San Francisco area for access to financing and networking, while doing the bulk of hiring in another location, Cadigan said. The evolution of collaborative work tools has also enabled more companies to add staff working remotely or in secondary offices.

Plus, of course, unicorn startups tend to be national or global in focus, and that necessitates hiring where their customers are located.

Take our jobs, please

As we wrap up, it’s worth bringing up how unusual it once was for denizens of a metro area to oppose a big influx of high-skill jobs. In the past couple of years, however, these attitudes have become more common. Witness Queens residents’ mixed reactions to Amazon’s HQ2 plans. And in San Francisco, a potential surge of newly minted IPO millionaires is causing some consternation among locals, along with jubilation among the realtor crowd.

Just as college towns retain room for new students by graduating older ones, however, it seems reasonable that sustaining Northern California’s strength as a startup hub requires locating jobs out-of-area as companies scale. That could be good news for other cities, including Austin, Phoenix, Nashville, Portland and others, which have emerged as popular secondary locations for fast-growing unicorns.

That said, we’re not predicting near-term contraction in Bay Area tech employment, particularly of the startup variety. The region’s massive entrepreneurial and venture ecosystem keeps on producing valuable newcomers well-capitalized to keep hiring.

Methodology

We looked only at employment at company headquarters (except for Apple) . Companies on the list may have additional employees based in other Northern California cities. For Apple, we included all Silicon Valley employees, per estimates by the Silicon Valley Business Journal.

Numbers are rounded to the nearest hundred for the largest employers. Most of the data is for full-time employees only. Large tech employers hire predominantly full-time for staff positions, so part-time, whether included or not, is expected to reflect only a very small percentage of employment.

Cities list their 10 largest employers in annual reports. We used either the annual reports themselves or data excerpted in Wikipedia, using calendar year 2017 or 2018.

From lab-grown meat to fermented fungus, here’s what corporate food VCs are serving up

In a foodie’s ideal world, we’d all eat healthy, minimally processed cuisine sourced from artisanal farmers, bakers and chefs.

In the real world, however, most of us derive the lion’s share of calories from edibles supplied by a handful of giant food conglomerates. As such, the ingredients and processing techniques they favor have an outsized impact on our daily diets.

With this in mind, Crunchbase News decided to take a look at corporate food VCs and the startups they are backing to see what their dealmaking might say about our snacking future. We put together a list of venture funds operated by some of the larger food and beverage producers, covering literally everything from soup to nuts (plus lunch meat and soda, too!).

Like their corporate backers, startups funded by “Big Food” are a diverse bunch. Recent funding recipients are pursuing endeavors ranging from alternative protein to biospectral imaging to fermented fungus. But if one were to pinpoint an overarching trend, it might be a shift away from cost savings to consumer-friendliness.

“You think of food-tech and ag-tech 1.0, these were technologies that were primarily beneficial to the producers,” said Rob LeClerc, founding partner at AgFunder, an agrifood investor network. “This new generation of companies are really more focused on what does the consumer want.”

And what does the consumer want? This particular consumer would currently like a zero calorie hot fudge sundae. More broadly, however, the general trends LeClerc sees call for food that is healthier, tastier, nutrient-dense, satiating, ethically sourced and less environmentally impactful.

Below, we look at some of the trends in more detail, including funded companies, active investors and the up-and-coming edibles.

The new, new protein

Mass-market foods may get better but also weirder. This is particularly true for one of the more consistently hot areas of food-tech investment: alternative protein.

Demand for protein-rich foods, combined with ethical concerns about consuming animal products, has, for a number of years, led investors to startups offering meaty tasting tidbits sourced from the plant world.

But lately, corporate food giants have been looking farther beyond soy and peas. Lab-grown meat, once an oddball endeavor good for headlines about $1,000 meatballs, has been attracting serious cash. Since last year, at least two companies in the space have closed rounds backed by Tyson Ventures, the VC arm of the largest U.S. meat producer. They include pricey meatball maker Memphis Meats (actually based in California), which raised $20 million, and Israel-based Future Meat Technologies, a biotech startup working on animal-free meat, which secured $2 million.

Much of the early enthusiasm for new products stems from disillusionment with the existing ingredients we overeat.

If you cringe at the notion of lab-grown cell meat, then there’s always the option of getting your protein through microbes in volcanic springs. That’s the general aim of Sustainable Bioproducts, a startup that raised $33 million in Series A funding from backers including ADM and Danone Manifesto Ventures. The Chicago company’s technology for making edible protein emerged out of research into extremophile organisms in Yellowstone National Park’s volcanic springs.

Meanwhile, if you hanker for real dairy milk but don’t want to trouble cows, another startup, Perfect Day, is working on a solution. Per the company website: “Instead of having cows do all the work, we use microflora and age-old fermentation techniques to make the very same dairy protein that cows make.” Toward that end, the Berkeley company closed a $35 million Series B in February, with backing from ADM.

Fermentation

Perfect Day isn’t the only fermentation play raising major funding.

Corporate food-tech investors have long been interested in the processing technologies that turn an obscure microbe or under-appreciated crop into a high-demand ingredient. And lately, LeClerc said, they’ve been particularly keen on startups finding new ways to apply the age-old technology known as fermentation.

Most of us know fermentation as the process that turns a yucky mix of grain, yeast and water into the popular beverage known as beer. More broadly, however, fermentation is a metabolic process that produces chemical changes in organic substrates through the action of enzymes. That is, take a substance, add something it reacts with and voilà, you have a new substance.

Several of the most heavily funded, buzz-generating companies in the food space are applying fermentation, LeClerc said. Besides Perfect Day, examples he points to include the unicorn Ginkgo BioworksGeltor (another alt-protein startup) and mushroom-focused MycoTechnology.

Colorado-based MycoTechnology has been a particularly attractive investor target of late. The company has raised $83 million from a mix of corporate and traditional VCs, including a $30 million Series C in January that included Tyson and Kellogg’s venture arm, Eighteen94 Capital . Founded six years ago, the company is pursuing a range of applications for its fermented fungi, including flavor enhancers, protein supplements and preservatives.

Supply chain

Besides adding strange new ingredients to our grocery shelves, corporate food-tech investors are also putting money into technologies and platforms aimed at boosting the security and efficiency of existing supply chains.

Just like new foods, much of the food safety tech sounds odd, too. Silicon Valley-based ImpactVision, a seed-funded startup backed by Campbell Soup VC arm Acre Venture Partners, wants to employ hyper-spectral imaging to perceive information about contamination, food quality and ripeness.

Boston-based Spoiler Alert, another Acre portfolio company, develops software and analytics for food companies to manage unsold inventory. And Pensa Systems, which uses AI-powered autonomous drones to track in-store inventory, raised a Series A round this year with backing from the venture arm of Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Is weirder better?

We highlighted a few trends in corporate food-tech investment, but there are others that merit attention, as well. Probiotics plays, including the maker of the GoodBelly drink line, are generating investor interest. New ingredients other than proteins are also attracting capital, such as UCAN, a startup developing energy snacks based on a novel, slow-digesting carbohydrate. And the list goes on.

Much of the early enthusiasm for new products stems from disillusionment with the existing ingredients we overeat. But LeClerc noted that new products aren’t always better in the long run — they just might seem so at first.

“The question in the back of our head is: Are we ever creating margarine 2.0,” he said. “Just because it’s a plant product doesn’t mean it’s actually better for you.”

A record $2.5B went to US insurance startup deals last year, and big insurers are in all the way

Insurance policies are confusing as hell, but the basic business proposition is pretty simple. For policyholders, it’s a way to get paid if something bad happens. And for insurers, it’s a way to make money charging people who avert disasters.

Given that many major insurance companies have stayed in business a century or more, it has clearly been a successful formula for those who write the policies. While other industries fall prey to the forces of creative disruption, giant insurers have largely managed to remain giant and profitable.

In the past few years, however, a surge of well-funded startups are scaling up insurance-focused offerings. Venture funding for insurance and insuretech companies hit all-time highs in 2018, according to Crunchbase data, with both global and U.S. totals reaching record levels. A space that once attracted a few hundred million in venture investment is now in the multiple billions.

Insuretech is seeing some massive rounds, too. And while traditional venture firms are active in the space, a surprisingly large portion of funding is coming from the corporate venture arms of the very same giant insurance companies startups are trying to disrupt.

“I think what it comes down to is insurance is viewed as a grand slam opportunity,” said Caribou Honig, chairman of the InsureTech Connect conference series and a former founding partner at venture firm QED Partners. “The venture community says prices are not cheap, but if we can find opportunities, this is a massive space.”

Below, we get up to speed on recent funding data, muse at the valuations, look at the active players and speculate about why we haven’t seen more exits.

A few more deals, but a lot more money

First, let’s talk about the rising cost of insurance deals.

People complain when their insurance payments go up a few bucks. That’s nothing compared to what insurance startup investors have to confront.

Valuations for sought-after startups are on a tear, and round sizes are ballooning as well. In all, U.S. insurance and insuretech startups raised just over $2.5 billion in 2018, more than double 2017 levels. Global investment, meanwhile, was just shy of $4 billion.

We lay out the funding spike in chart-form below, looking at round counts and investment totals in the U.S.

And here are the five-year totals for the global market (including the U.S.).

A huge wave of seed-stage insurance startups launched three or four years ago, Honig said, and that’s one of the reasons average round sizes are rising so much. Hot companies in that cohort are rapidly maturing, and they’re seeking ever-larger later-stage rounds.

In the U.S., nearly 50 insurance or insuretech companies raised rounds of more than $10 million, including some supergiant financings. We look at some of the largest global funding recipients below:

Corporate cash

The trend of incumbent insurance companies launching or scaling up venture arms started a few years ago, and it’s been accelerating.

Using Crunchbase data, we put together a list of 13 insurance companies active in startup investment, mostly through dedicated corporate venture arms.

Overall, the investors on the list are getting more active. In 2018, they participated in 42 known funding rounds, with an aggregate value around $630 million. In 2017, by comparison, they backed 34 rounds with around $400 million in aggregate value.

And there’s more dry powder to put to work. Last month, for instance, German insurance giant Allianz increased the size of its corporate venture capital arm, Allianz X, to around $1.1 billion, more than double its initial size.

So, are there enough insurance startups to go around? It’s not necessarily an issue, said Joel Albarella, who heads up New York Life Ventures. That’s because many of the deals New York Life and other corporate VCs back aren’t pure-play insurance startups.

Some of New York Life’s most recent deals, for instance, include Carrot, developer of a smoking-cessation platform, and Trifacta, a data analysis software startup. The corporate venture fund also had a profitable exit two years ago with the sale of Skycure, a mobile security provider, to Symantec. These, Albarella said, are all examples of companies with technologies of interest to insurers that have applications in other sectors as well.

That said, Albarella also has concerns about rising valuations now that insuretech has become a certifiably hot space, particularly for corporate venture capital (CVC) investors.

“There’s clearly a price premium on deals in which a CVC is involved,” he said. And there’s no shortage of capital.

Exits

With all the money going into insurance startups, one might think we’d see money coming out. However, that hasn’t really been the case, at least for U.S. startups.

A few companies with technologies applicable in the insurance industry have secured solid exits. But so far, none of the really heavily funded pure-plays (think Oscar Health or Metromile) have gone the M&A or IPO route.

If poetic justice applied in the real world, we’d see insurance startup investors reaping gains on their investments only after something really bad happened. Even then, only after they filed reams of paperwork and spent hours on hold.

A more realistic scenario, at least in Honig’s view, is that we will see a few really, really big exits, but probably not in the next few quarters. For now, fast-growing insurance-focused startups can easily raise capital in the private markets. In most cases, companies would prefer more time to build their brands, raise revenues and get their books in order before attempting an IPO.

As for M&A, we haven’t seen a lot of big insurance startup acquisitions. Again, Honig speculates that insurers are mostly still in watch-and-wait mode, as the current crop of startups matures.

That said, we have seen some big deals involving startups that don’t seem like obvious insurance deals. One Honig pointed to is Ring, the smart doorbell maker acquired by Amazon last year for $1 billion. The company’s IoT technology has applications for homeowners insurance, Honig said, and Ring counted insurer American Family among its backers.

Exceeding the deductible

For now, insuretech venture investors are largely holding on, hoping valuations will continue to rise.

We can’t say, of course. However, we do note the oft-true Murphy’s Law of Insurance, which states that the damage rarely exceeds the deductible. A corollary for the insurance exit might be that the return rarely exceeds the capital invested.

Of course, pessimists usually just stay away from venture capital deals.

Space tech rockets higher

Venture investment in space technology is hitting stratospheric heights in recent quarters. But investors in the sector are betting it will rocket higher still.

The latest example of high-velocity funding is satellite internet startup OneWeb, which recently announced a galactic-sized $1.25 billion venture funding round in the wake of a successful launch. The financing, which included a long investor list featuring the ever spendy SoftBank, brought total funding for the Arlington, Va. company to a whopping $3.4 billion.

But OneWeb is far from the only space tech company to secure a big round recently. A Crunchbase News roundup of large investments in the sector unearthed a sizable list of companies attracting attention and big checks from venture capitalists, with at least a half dozen securing rounds of $50 million or more since 2018.

What’s the draw? Largely, it’s the oft-repeated tale of a startup sector seeing valuations rise as early-stage companies mature, said Chad Anderson, CEO of investor group Space Angels.

“The barriers to entry came down in 2009, when SpaceX provided increased access to space through low-cost launch and transparent pricing,” Anderson said. “We saw the first pioneering companies, like Planet [former Planet Labs]*, take advantage of that new access starting in 2013.”

Now, the crop of space tech companies that launched five or six years ago is middle-aged by startup standards and ripe for larger, later-stage rounds.

Economics of satellite design and launch have also become a lot more compelling for investors in recent years. Whereas satellites previously cost hundreds of millions (or even billions) to design, manufacture, and launch, today a small satellite can be built for tens of thousands of dollars and launched for a few hundred thousand dollars, Anderson said.

Venture capitalists seem to like that math. Over the past 10 calendar years, Space Angels estimates that venture capital funds have invested nearly $4.2 billion into space companies. Of that total, 70 percent was deployed in the last three calendar years.

More firms are getting into the space, as well. Currently, Anderson calculates that just over 40 percent of the Top 100 venture capital firms now have at least one space investment. Their investments are concentrated in two areas: satellites and launch technology, particularly for the small satellite space.

To get an idea of where the money is going, we put together a chart below showing the space tech companies that have secured some of the largest funding rounds since last year:

While space tech is generating a lot of venture investment, however, not a lot of startups have yet made it to exit. That’s not entirely surprising, if we presume that typical venture startup-to-exit timelines apply. If the current crop of funded startups launched in the 2013 time frame, we’d expect to see exits pick up in a few years.

It is worth noting, however, that the one most famous and pioneering of the current crop of venture-backed space companies, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, has also stayed private. Certainly SpaceX has the name recognition and track record to support a blockbuster IPO.

Yet Anderson contends that’s unlikely to happen — at least not for a very long time. For one, Musk has laid out the company’s ultimate goal as colonizing Mars. That doesn’t jibe well with the typical public company duties, like meeting quarterly numbers. It doesn’t help that Musk has already gotten into hot water with regulators for his approach at Tesla.

Yet as SpaceX pursues its grand ambitions, the company has also served as a launchpad for a number of other space tech entrepreneurs — we put together a list of nine startups with a SpaceX alum as founder or core team member.

So while colonizing Mars remains a risky bet, the odds in favor of blockbuster space tech exits on Earth are getting a lot higher.

*Planet and SpaceX are Space Angels portfolio companies.

Corporate biotech venture funding rises again

Biotech venture funding has been on a tear for the past couple of years, and corporate investors in the space are doing their part to boost the totals.

Here at Crunchbase, we’ve put together an index of the largest pharma and biotech companies active in startup investment, along with their in-house venture arms. For the second year in a row, we’re tallying their venture investments by round count and dollar totals.

The broad finding? Corporate biotech investors sharply increased the sums put into startup rounds they led in 2018. Overall, they also participated in rounds that were valued at nearly twice year-ago levels.

These aren’t small sums either. In all of 2018, corporate venture investors participated in rounds valued at $8 billion. Rounds with a corporate bio VC as lead investor, meanwhile, totaled around $1.7 billion.

Below, we drill down into a bit more detail, looking at funding totals for the past five years, largest rounds and most active investors.

As bio deals balloon, corporate VCs get spendier

First, it’s worth noting that overall global biotech venture funding rose sharply last year and has been running at historically high levels for the past few years.

For 2018, biotech startups globally raised just shy of $29 billion in seed through late rounds from all investors, according to Crunchbase data. That’s up from $19 billion in 2017.1

 

Most biotech deals do not include a corporate backer, but a pretty substantial minority do. In 2018, investors in our corporate biotech index participated in 138 seed, venture or growth-stage funding rounds, up from 122 in 2017.

Round counts did not rise as much as investment totals, as the average biotech deal has been getting bigger. The sector has not been immune from the rise of supergiant funding rounds, and deals valued in the hundreds of millions have become far more common.

That’s reflected in the funding totals. Altogether, 2018 rounds with a corporate backer were valued at $8 billion, including contributions from all investors. That’s up from $4.2 billion in 2017.

They’re leading more rounds, too

We also look specifically at bio funding rounds in which a corporate backer was the lead investor. In these cases, it’s safe to assume that the corporate investor put up a large portion, or possibly even all, of the reported funding.

For 2018, we saw corporate bio investors leading a larger number of deals, with a much larger aggregate value than prior years.

There were a few supergiant rounds in the mix. The largest was a $300 million late-stage round for personal genetic testing provider 23andMe, led by GlaxoSmithKline.

Two others were led by Celgene. One was a $250 million early-stage round last February for Celularity, a startup it spun out to focus on cancer treatments using placental cells. The other was a $101 million round last March for Vividion, developer of a proteomic drug discovery platform.

In all, corporate bio investors led at least 30 funding rounds in 2018, with an aggregate value of $1.7 billion. That’s approximately triple 2017 levels.

Active players

Of course, not all corporate bio players are equally exposed to startups. Some are far more active than others.

One example is Novartis and its Novartis Venture Fund, which has participated in 15 deals with an aggregate value of nearly $730 million since 2018. Over the past three years, it has done 40 deals, with an aggregate value of $1.6 billion.

Celgene, which agreed to be acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb earlier this year (the deal hasn’t closed yet), is another really active venture player. The New Jersey company has participated in 30 deals valued at nearly $1.8 billion over the past three years, including 13 since the beginning of 2018.

Outsourcing innovation

The rise in corporate VC investment in pharma and biotech appears to reflect the continuation of a long-term trend toward supplementing and even supplanting in-house R&D with venture investment. Recent quarters, however, demonstrate that it’s becoming an increasingly expensive strategy, as round sizes grow and investors devote more dollars to funding hot startups.

  1. The numbers reported in this annual look at corporate biotech investment differ from a report on the same topic we put out a year ago. A few factors contributed to the differences, including some additions to the corporate investor list, changes in the Crunchbase data set around deal categorizations and adjustment to deal types.

2019 US VC funds take a more boutique approach

Over the past year, we’ve written a lot about the rise of supergiant venture capital funds. Ever since the rollout of the $100 billion SoftBank Vision Fund, established VCs have been outdoing each other to raise ever-bigger funds.

But let’s not write the epitaph on smaller funds. U.S. venture fundraising data for 2019 reveals a lot of smaller, more focused funds closing on capital. Newcomers are rolling out fresh early-stage funds, and even established VCs are opting in many cases to keep fund size constant or even a bit smaller.

The influx of small and mid-sized funds serves as a reminder that supergiant funds are somewhat of an aberration for the venture capital industry. While VCs compete to back massively scalable startups, the common wisdom is the venture capital industry itself does not scale especially well. Adding more capital to the pot, the thinking goes, likely does more to inflate valuations than foster great companies.

Silicon Valley stalwart Kleiner Perkins is among the latest to hop on the smaller-is-better bandwagon. Three weeks ago, the 47-year-old firm closed on $600 million for its eighteenth flagship fund, touting a plan to go “back to the future” and focus on early-stage with the philosophy that “venture is a non-scalable, boutique craft.”

Of course, $600 million is by no means a tiny fund. And Kleiner’s most prominent growth-stage investment partner, Mary Meeker, did just leave to start her own firm. Nonetheless, it is a step down from Kleiner’s last major fundraise in 2016, which brought in $1.4 billion for a growth-stage vehicle and an early-stage fund.

Meanwhile, Crunchbase fundraising data shows plenty of U.S. funds of $200 million or less closing in 2019, as well as several more that are apparently still in fundraising mode. So far, billion-dollar-plus funds are pretty scarce.

Below, we take a look at the venture fund Class of 2019, including newcomers, as well as follow-on funds from established firms. We also focus on rising stars, newer firms that have raised larger new funds.

Newcomers

No matter how many existing venture firms are out chasing startups, there’s always a niche that some newcomer will identify as underserved. So far, 2019 has been no exception.

At least five U.S venture firms have announced closings on their inaugural funds this year.1

Probably the highest profile new entrant this year is from an already well-known Silicon Valley investor, Steve Jurvetson, founder and former managing partner of the 34-year-old VC firm DFJ. Jurvetson closed on $200 million this month for Future Ventures, which will focus on early-stage deals in areas including space exploration, quantum computing, AI and synthetic biology.

Another noteworthy newcomer is Motley Fool Ventures, which is an early-stage, tech-focused venture fund tied to The Motley Fool investment platform. In a twist on the typical VC model of raising capital from large institutional investors, contributors to the $146 million fund are primarily Motley Fool members.

 

Biggest funds

Established VCs have been raising fresh cash, too. So far this year, we haven’t seen a pure-play venture capital firm close a U.S. fund of a billion dollars or more.2 However, we have seen a number of pretty big funds from well-known VCs.

Last week, Menlo Ventures, a longstanding Valley firm that led one of Uber’s early-stage rounds, closed on $500 million for its first Inflection Fund, which will focus on early growth-stage startups.

And on the biotech front, California-based 5AM Ventures proved the early-stage bird can get the follow-on investment, raising $500 million across two new funds. And on the East Coast, Boston-based MPM Capital closed on $400 million for its seventh flagship fund.

Rising stars

So far this year, we’ve also seen a number of relatively new venture capital firms raise upsized follow-on funds. By relatively new, we generally mean firms that closed their first fund less than five years ago.

Typically, when we see a firm raising a larger or stable-sized follow-on fund, it indicates a rising star. It usually means that their existing portfolio has seen some successes, and investors are optimistic about future prospects.

Edtech investor Owl Ventures meets this criteria. The five-year-old firm closed on $316 million for its third flagship fund this year. To date, San Francisco-based Owl has invested in at least 24 companies, with a couple of exits and a number of up-rounds under its belt.

Enthusiasm for the cybersecurity space boosted the fortunes of another firm on our rising star list, TenEleven Ventures. The five-year-old, Silicon Valley-based venture firm closed on $200 million for its second early-stage fund this month.

Fundraising mode

Clearly, not everyone can raise a billion-dollar venture capital fund. And not everyone wants to. For early-stage in particular, the longstanding practice of raising smaller and mid-sized funds is alive and well.

That said, a couple months of fundraising data does not necessarily indicate a long-term trend. We could see a string of billion-dollar-plus funds closing in the next few weeks. Or not.

For now, however, it looks like pressure to become the next SoftBank has ebbed some, with unicorn-chasing giants carving out their niche and smaller funds eyeing other opportunities.

Methodology

We focused on U.S.-based firms raising funds that make investments in U.S. companies. This does not include, for instance, a Silicon Valley-headquartered firm raising a China-focused fund.

We also did not include Spark Capital, which has submitted securities filings laying out plans to raise a $400 million sixth flagship fund and an $800 million growth-stage fund. The New York and Boston-based firm, known for its early investments in Twitter, Slack, Coinbase and other unicorns, is widely expected to meet or exceed its fundraising goals, but it has not yet officially closed the funds.

  1. The data set includes firms that closed new funds this year, but many have already made a number of investments to date. There were more firms that submitted SEC filings indicating plans to raise new funds. We limited the list to firms that disclosed closing on capital.
  2. The data set did not include TCV, a firm that closed a $3.2 billion flagship in January. This is because although TCV does back some venture-stage deals, it is primarily a growth-stage investor and also buys stakes in public companies.

VCs aren’t falling in love with dating startups

Some 17 years ago, when internet dating was popular but still kind of embarrassing to talk about, I interviewed an author who was particularly bullish on the practice. Millions of people, he said, have found gratifying relationships online. Were it not for the internet, they would probably never have met.

A lot of years have passed since then. Yet thanks to Joe Schwartz, an author of a 20-year-old dating advice book, “gratifying relationship” is still the term that sticks in my mind when contemplating the end-goal of internet dating tools.

Gratifying is a vague term, yet also uniquely accurate. It encompasses everything from the forever love of a soul mate to the temporary fix of a one-night stand. Romantics can talk about true love. Yet when it comes to the algorithm-and-swipe-driven world of online dating, it’s all about gratification.

It is with this in mind, coincident with the arrival of Valentine’s Day, that Crunchbase News is taking a look at the state of that most awkward of pairings: startups and the pursuit of finding a mate.

Pairing money

Before we go further, be forewarned: This article will do nothing to help you navigate the features of new dating platforms, fine-tune your profile or find your soul mate. It is written by someone whose core expertise is staring at startup funding data and coming up with trends.

So, if you’re OK with that, let’s proceed. We’ll start with the initial observation that while online dating is a vast and often very profitable industry, it isn’t a huge magnet for venture funding.

In 2018, for instance, venture investors put $127 million globally into 27 startups categorized by Crunchbase as dating-focused. While that’s not chump change, it’s certainly tiny compared to the more than $300 billion in global venture investment across all sectors last year.

In the chart below, we look at global venture investment in dating-focused startups over the past five years. The general finding is that round counts fluctuate moderately year-to-year, while investment totals fluctuate heavily. The latter is due to a handful of giant funding rounds for China-based startups.

While the U.S. gets the most commitments, China gets the biggest ones

While the U.S. is home to the majority of funded startups in the Crunchbase dating category, the bulk of investment has gone to China.

In 2018, for instance, nearly 80 percent of dating-related investment went to a single company, China-based Blued, a Grindr-style hookup app for gay men. In 2017, the bulk of capital went to Chinese mobile dating app Tantan, and in 2014, Beijing-based matchmaking site Baihe raised a staggering $250 million.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., we are seeing an assortment of startups raising smaller rounds, but no big disclosed financings in the past three years. In the chart below, we look at a few of the largest funding recipients.

 

Dating app outcomes

Dating sites and apps have generated some solid exits in the past few years, as well as some less-stellar outcomes.

Mobile-focused matchmaking app Zoosk is one of the most heavily funded players in the space that has yet to generate an exit. The San Francisco company raised more than $60 million between 2008 and 2012, but had to withdraw a planned IPO in 2015 due to flagging market interest.

Startups without known venture funding, meanwhile, have managed to bring in some bigger outcomes. One standout in this category is Grindr, the geolocation-powered dating and hookup app for gay men. China-based tech firm Kunlun Group bought 60 percent of the West Hollywood-based company in 2016 for $93 million and reportedly paid around $150 million for the remaining stake a year ago. Another apparent success story is OkCupid, which sold to Match.com in 2011 for $50 million.

As for venture-backed companies, one of the earlier-funded startups in the online matchmaking space, eHarmony, did score an exit last fall with an acquisition by German media company ProSiebenSat.1 Media SE. But terms weren’t disclosed, making it difficult to gauge returns.

One startup VCs are assuredly happy they passed on is Ashley Madison, a site best known for targeting married people seeking affairs. A venture investor pitched by the company years ago told me its financials were quite impressive, but its focus area would not pass muster with firm investors or the VCs’ spouses.

The dating site eventually found itself engulfed in scandal in 2015 when hackers stole and released virtually all of its customer data. Notably, the site is still around, a unit of Canada-based dating network ruby. It has changed its motto, however, from “Life is short. Have an affair,” to “Find Your Moment.”

An algorithm-chosen match

With the spirit of Valentine’s Day in the air, it occurs that I should restate the obvious: Startup funding databases do not contain much about romantic love.

The Crunchbase data set produced no funded U.S. startups with “romantic” in their business descriptions. Just five used the word “romance” (of which one is a cold brew tea company).

We get it. Our cultural conceptions of romance are decidedly low-tech. We think of poetry, flowers, loaves of bread and jugs of wine. We do not think of algorithms and swipe-driven mobile platforms.

Dating sites, too, seem to prefer promoting themselves on practicality and effectiveness, rather than romance. Take how Match Group, the largest publicly traded player in the dating game, describes its business via that most swoon-inducing of epistles, the 10-K report: “Our strategy focuses on a brand portfolio approach, through which we attempt to offer dating products that collectively appeal to the broadest spectrum of consumers.”

That kind of writing might turn off romantics, but shareholders love it. Shares of Match Group, whose portfolio includes Tinder, have more than tripled since Valentine’s Day 2017. Its current market cap is around $16 billion.

So, complain about the company’s dating products all you like. But it’s clear investors are having a gratifying relationship with Match. When it comes to startups, however, it appears they’re still mostly swiping left.