Plenty has raised over $500 million to grow fruits and veggies indoors

Plenty‌ ‌Unlimited‌ has raised $140 million in new funding to build more vertical farms around the U.S.

The new funding, which brings the company’s total cash haul to an abundant $500 million, was led by existing investor SoftBank Vision Fund and included the berry farming giant Driscoll’s. It’s a move that will give Driscoll’s exposure to Plenty’s technology for growing and harvesting fruits and vegetables indoors.

The funding comes as Plenty has inked agreements with both its new berry-interested investor and the Albertsons grocery chain. The company also announced plans to build a new farm in Compton, California.

The financing provides plenty of cash for a company that’s seeing a cornucopia of competition in the tech-enabled cultivated crop market raising a plethora of private and public capital.

In the past month, AppHarvest has agreed to be taken public by a special purpose acquisition company in a deal that would value that greenhouse tomato-grower at a little under $1 billion. And another leafy green grower, Revol Greens, has raised $68 million for its own greenhouse-based bid to be part of the new green revolution.

Meanwhile, Plenty’s more direct competitor, Bowery Farming, is expanding its retail footprint to 650 stores, even as Plenty touts its deal with Albertsons to provide greens to 431 stores in California.

Discoll’s seemed convinced by Plenty’s technology, although the terms of the agreement with the company weren’t disclosed.

“We looked at other vertical farms, and Plenty’s technology was one of the most compelling systems we’d seen for growing berries,” said J. Miles Reiter, Driscoll’s chairman and CEO, in a statement. “We got to know Plenty while working on a joint development agreement to grow strawberries. We were so impressed with their technology, we decided to invest.”

Arm CEO Simon Segars discusses AI, data centers, getting acquired by Nvidia and more

Nvidia is in the process of acquiring chip designer Arm for $40 billion. Coincidentally, both companies are also holding their respective developer conferences this week. After he finished his keynote at the Arm DevSummit, I sat down with Arm CEO Simon Segars to talk about the acquisition and what it means for the company.

Segars noted that the two companies started talking in earnest around May 2020, though at first, only a small group of executives was involved. Nvidia, he said, was really the first suitor to make a real play for the company — with the exception of SoftBank, of course, which took Arm private back in 2016 — and combining the two companies, he believes, simply makes a lot of sense at this point in time.

“They’ve had a meteoric rise. They’ve been building up to that,” Segars said. “So it just made a lot of sense with where they are at, where we are at and thinking about the future of AI and how it’s going to go everywhere and how that necessitates much more sophisticated hardware — and a much more sophisticated software environment on which developers can build products. The combination of the two makes a lot of sense in this moment.”

The data center market, where Nvidia, too, is already a major player, is also an area where Arm has heavily focused in recent years. And while it goes up against the likes of Intel, Segars is optimistic. “We’re not in it to be a bit player,” he said. “Our goal is to get a material market share and I think the proof to the pudding is there.”

He also expects that in a few years, we’ll see Arm-powered servers available on all of the major clouds. Right now, AWS is ahead in this game with its custom-built Gravitron processors. Microsoft and Google do not currently offer Arm-based servers.

“With each passing day, more and more of the software infrastructure that’s required for the cloud is getting ported over and optimized for Arm. So it becomes a more and more compelling proposition for sure,” he said, and cited both performance and energy efficiency as reasons for cloud providers to use Arm chips.

Another interesting aspect of the deal is that we may just see Arm sell some of Nvidia’s IP as well. That would be a big change — and a first — for Nvidia, but Segars believes it makes a lot of sense to do so.

“It may be that there is something in the portfolio of Nvidia that they currently sell as a chip that we may look at and go, ‘you know, what if we package that up as an IP product, without modifying it? There’s a market for that.’ Or it may be that there’s a thing in here where if we take that and combine it with something else that we were doing, we can make a better product or expand the market for the technology. I think it’s going to be more of the latter than it is the former because we design all our products to be delivered as IP.”

And while he acknowledged that Nvidia and Arm still face some regulatory hurdles, he believes the deal will be pro-competitive in the end — and that the regulators will see it the same way.

He does not believe, by the way, that the company will face any issues with Chinese companies not being able to license Arm’s designs because of export restrictions, something a lot of people were worried about when the deal was first announced.

“Export control of a product is all about where was it designed and who designed it,” he said. “And of course, just because your parent company changes, doesn’t change those fundamental properties of the underlying product. So we analyze all our products and look at how much U.S. content is in there, to what extent are our products subject to U.S. export control, U.K. export control, other export control regimes? It’s a full-time piece of work to make sure we stay on top of that.”

Here are some excerpts from our 30-minute conversation:

TechCrunch: Walk me through how that deal came about? What was the timeline for you?

Simon Segars: I think probably around May, June time was when it really kicked off. We started having some early discussions. And then, as these things progress, you suddenly kind of hit the ‘Okay, now let’s go.’ We signed a sort of first agreement to actually go into due diligence and then it really took off. It went from a few meetings, a bit of negotiation, to suddenly heads down and a broader set of people — but still a relatively small number of people involved, answering questions. We started doing due diligence documents, just the mountain of stuff that you go through and you end up with a document. [Segars shows a print-out of the contract, which is about the size of two phone books.]

You must have had suitors before this. What made you decide to go ahead with this deal this time around?

Well, to be honest, in Arm’s history, there’s been a lot of rumors about people wanting to acquire Arm, but really until SoftBank in 2016, nobody ever got serious. I can’t think of a case where somebody actually said, ‘come on, we want to try and negotiate a deal here.’ And so it’s been four years under SoftBank’s ownership and that’s been really good because we’ve been able to do what we said we were going to do around investing much more aggressively in the technology. We’ve had a relationship with Nvidia for a long time. [Rene Haas, Arm’s president of its Intellectual Property Group, who previously worked at Nvidia] has had a relationship with [Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang] for a long time. They’ve had a meteoric rise. They’ve been building up to that. So it just made a lot of sense with where they are at, where we are at and thinking about the future of AI and how it’s going to go everywhere and how that necessitates much more sophisticated hardware — and a much more sophisticated software environment on which developers can build products. The combination of the two makes a lot of sense in this moment.

How does it change the trajectory you were on before for Arm?

Nvidia confirms $40B purchase of Arm, bringing together two chip giants

After weeks of on-and-off speculation, Nvidia this evening confirmed that it intends to buy chip design giant Arm Holdings for a total of up to $40 billion from existing owner SoftBank, which bought the company for $32 billion in 2016. The boards of all three parties have approved the outline of the deal.

The deal has a couple of intricacies. SoftBank will immediately receive $2 billion in cash for signing the deal. From there, it will receive another $10 billion in cash and $21.5 billion of stock in Nvidia at closing. That stake will be likely just a bit shy of 10% of the company. In addition, SoftBank is slated to earn $5 billion in a mix of cash and stock as a performance-based earn-out. Conditions or timing for that earn-out were not disclosed.

That $40 billion purchase price also includes $1.5 billion in equity compensation for existing Arm employees, which currently number more than 6,000 according to the company. All together then, SoftBank is looking at a $38.5 billion payout assuming its earn-out comes through.

Nvidia is buying all of Arm’s product groups except for its Internet of Things division, which was one of several areas where Arm has striven in recent years to expand as it attempts to grow outside of its core mobile chip design business.

Owing to the complex ownership structure and the multiple countries involved, closing is expect to take one and a half years, and will require regulatory and antitrust approvals in the U.S., the United Kingdom where Arm is headquartered, China, and the European Union.

Nvidia’s statement made clear that it intends to double down on the United Kingdom as a core part of its engineering efforts, a positioning that almost certainly is designed to placate concerns emanating from Downing Street about the competitiveness of the British economy in tech services following the country’s departure from the EU as it completes Brexit later this year.

Nvidia said that Arm’s offices in Cambridge will expand, and that the company intends to “[establish] a new global center of excellence in AI research at Arm’s Cambridge campus.”

The deal will provide some immediate cash relief to SoftBank, which has been working hard to clean up its balance sheet after a string of high-profile losses. The heavy Nvidia stock component of the deal will see SoftBank returning as a major investor in the company. The Japanese telco had previously held a 4.9% stake in Nvidia in its Vision Fund, which was disposed of in 2019 for a return of $3.3 billion.

India’s online learning platform Unacademy raises $150 million at $1.45 billion valuation

India has a new unicorn startup. On Wednesday, Bangalore-based online learning startup announced it has raised $150 million in a new financing round that valued the Facebook-backed firm at $1.45 billion (post-money).

SoftBank Group — through its Vision Fund 2 — led Unacademy’s Series F financing round while existing investors Facebook, Blume Ventures, Nexus Partners, General Atlantic and Sequoia Capital participated in it. The new deal pushes four-and-a-half-year old Unacademy’s to-date raise to about $350 million.

Unacademy helps students prepare for competitive exams to get into a college and also those who are pursuing graduation-level courses. On its app, students watch live classes from educators and later engage in sessions to review topics in more detail. In recent months, the startup has held several online interviews of high-profile individuals such as Indian politician Shashi Tharoor on a range of topics, which has expanded its appeal beyond its student-base.

Last year, the startup launched a subscription service that offers students access to all live classes. The platform, which has 30 million registered users, has amassed over 350,000 paying subscribers already.

“Our goal always has been to democratise knowledge and make it more affordable and accessible by getting the best experts of the world help everyone achieve their goals. We are just getting started,” said Gaurav Munjal, co-founder and chief executive of Unacademy, in a tweet.

The growing valuation of Unacademy — which was valued at over $400 million in February this year when it closed its Series E financing round — comes as education startups report massive growth in their usage.

Unacademy’s rival, Byju’s — also backed by Sequoia Capital India — was valued at $10.5 billion in its recent financing round from Mary Meeker’s Bond, TechCrunch reported earlier. Byju is now the most valued edtech startup in the world.

As coronavirus outbreak began to spread in India earlier this year, New Delhi enforced a nationwide lockdown that saw schools close across the nation. This has led many parents to explore digital learning services alternatives for their kids.

Even as most Indians tend not to pay for online services — just ask Facebook, which has amassed over 400 million users in India and makes little in the country — the education category has become an outlier. Indian families continue to spend heavily on their children’s education in hopes of paving way for a better future.

Online learning platforms have dominated the deal flows in recent months. Earlier this week, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative backed Mumbai-headquartered Eruditus in a $113 million fundraise. Toppr, which offers four products and services that are aimed at K-12 students, raised $46 million; while Bangalore-based Vedantu raised $100 million.

There has also been some consolidation. Unacademy acquired PrepLadder, which offers courses aimed at medical students, for $50 million in July. It also led an investment round of $5 million to acquire a majority stake in Mastree. Byju’s acquired 18-month-old WhiteHat Jr. that teaches coding to kids for $300 million.

After Shopify’s huge quarter, BigCommerce raises its IPO price range

When BigCommerce, the Texas-based Shopify competitor, first announced an IPO price range, the numbers looked a little light.

With a range of just $18 to $20 per share, it appeared that the firm was targeting a valuation of around $1.18 billion to $1.31 billion. Given that BigCommerce had revenue of “between $35.5 million and $35.8 million” in Q2 2020, up a little over 30% from the year-ago period (and better margins than Shopify) its implied revenue multiple that its IPO price range indicated felt low.

At the time, TechCrunch wrote that “BigCommerce feels cheap at its current multiple,” and that if you added “recent market exuberance for cloud shares that we’ve see in other IPOs … it feels even more underpriced.”

Those feelings have been borne out. Today, BigCommerce announced a new, higher IPO price range. The firm now intends to price its IPO between $21 and $23 per share. Let’s calculate its new valuation, compare that to its preliminary Q2 results to get new multiples for the impending e-commerce software IPO, and figure how its most recent investors are set to fare in its impending debut.

Pricing

By moving its pricing up from $18 to $20 to $21 to $23, BigCommerce boosted its IPO range by 16.7% at its lower end and 15% at the upper end. At its new prices BigCommerce is worth between $1.38 billion and $1.51 billion.

BigCommerce files to go public

As expected, BigCommerce has filed to go public. The Austin, Texas, based e-commerce company raised over $200 million while private. The company’s IPO filing lists a $100 million placeholder figure for its IPO raise, giving us directional indication that this IPO will be in the lower, and not upper, nine-figure range.

BigCommerce, similar to public market darling Shopify, provides e-commerce services to merchants. Given how enamored public investors are with its Canadian rival, the timing of BigCommerce’s debut is utterly unsurprising and is prima facie intelligent.

Of course, we’ll know more when it prices. Today, however, the timing appears fortuitous.

The numbers

BigCommerce is a SaaS business, meaning that it sells a digital service for a recurring payment. For more on how it derives revenue from customers, head here. For our purposes what matters is that public investors will classify it along with a very popular — today’s trading notwithstanding — market segment.

Starting with broad strokes, here’s how the company performed in 2019 compared to 2018, and Q1 2020 in contrast to Q1 2019:

  • In 2019, BigCommerce’s revenue grew to $112.1 million, a gain of around 22% from its 2018 result of $91.9 million.
  • In Q1 2020, BigCommerce’s revenue grew to $33.2 million, up around 30% from its Q1 2019 result of $25.6 million.

BigCommerce didn’t grow too quickly in 2019, but its Q1 2020 expansion pace is much better. BigCommerce will file an S-1/A with more information in Q2 2020, we expect; it can’t go public without sharing more about its recent financial performance.

If the company’s revenue growth acceleration continues in the most recent period — bearing in mind that e-commerce as a segment has proven attractive to many businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic — BigCommerce’s IPO timing would appear even more intelligent than it did at first blush. Investors love growth acceleration.

Moving from revenue growth to revenue quality, BigCommerce’s Q1 2020 gross margins came in at 77.5%, a solid SaaS result. In Q1 2019 its gross margin was 76.8%, a slightly worse figure. Still, improving gross margins are popular as they indicate that future cash flows will grow at a faster clip than revenues, all else held equal.

In 2018 BigCommerce lost $38.9 million on a GAAP basis. Its net loss expanded modestly to $42.6 million in 2020, a larger dollar figure in gross terms, but a slimmer percent of its yearly top line. You can read those results however you’d like. In Q1 2020, however, things got better, as the company’s GAAP net loss fell to $4 million from its year-ago Q1 result of $10.5 million.

The BigCommerce big commerce business is growing more slowly than I had anticipated, but its overall operational health is better than I expected.

A few other notes, before we tear deeper into its S-1 filing tomorrow morning. BigCommerce’s adjusted EBITDA, a metric that gives a distorted, partial view of a company’s profitability, improved along similar lines to its net income, falling from -$9.2 million in Q1 2019 to -$5.7 million in Q1 2020.

The company’s cash flow is, akin to its adjusted EBITDA, worse than its net loss figures would have you guess. BigCommerce’s operating activities consumed $10 million in Q1 2020, an improvement from its Q1 2019 operating cash burn of $11.1 million.

The company is further in debt than many SaaS companies, but not so far as to be a problem. BigCommerce’s long-term debt, net of its current portion, was just over $69 million at the end of Q1 2020. It’s not a nice figure, per se, but it is one small enough that a good IPO haul could sharply reduce while still providing good amounts of working capital for the business.

Investors listed in its IPO document include Revolution, General Catalyst, GGV Capital, and SoftBank.

Arm plans to spin off IoT businesses under Softbank banner, as it focuses on core chip design business

Arm today announced plans to spinoff its two IoT business, a move that would effectively transfer the divisions under the broader umbrella of Softbank Group core, which purchased the chip designer back in 2016. The move comes as Arm seeks to focus its efforts exclusively on the semiconductor IP business that has made the company a ubiquitous presence in the mobile world.

The transfer is pending addition review from the company’s board, along with standard regulatory reviews — though Arm says it expects the move to be completed before the end of September of this year. While it would effectively remove the IoT Platform and Treasure Data businesses from its brand, the company says it plans to continue to collaborate with the ISG (IoT Services Group) businesses.

“Arm believes there are great opportunities in the symbiotic growth of data and compute,” ARM CEO Simon Segars said in a release tied to the news. “SoftBank’s experience in managing fast-growing, early-stage businesses would enable ISG to maximize its value in capturing the data opportunity. Arm would be in a stronger position to innovate in our core IP roadmap and provide our partners with greater support to capture the expanding opportunities for compute solutions across a range of markets.”

Arm’s IoT business has seen quite a bit of success, with its technologies shipping on billions of devices and the planned goal of one trillion expected next decade. These days, however, it seems content to focus on servers, desktops and edge computing, in addition to mobile products.

The UK government to acquire satellite company OneWeb in deal funded in part by India’s Bharti Global

Distressed satellite constellation operator OneWeb, which had entered bankruptcy protection proceedings at the end of March, has completed a sale process, with a consortium led by the UK Government as the winner. The group, which includes funding from India’s Bharti Global – part of business magnate Sunil Mittal’s Bharti Enterprises – plan to pursue OneWeb’s plans of building out a broadband internets satellite network, while the UK would also like to potentially use the constellation for Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) services in order to replace the EU’s sat-nav resource, which the UK lost access to in January as a result of Brexit.

The deal involves both Bharti Global and the UK government putting up around $500 million each, respectively, with the UK taking a 20 percent equity stake in OneWeb, and Bharti supplying the business management and commercial operations for the satellite firm.

OneWeb, which has launched a total of 74 of its planned 650 satellite constellation to date, suffered lay-offs and the subsequent bankruptcy filing after an attempt to raise additional funding to support continued launches and operations fell through. That was reportedly due in large part to majority private investor SoftBank backing out of commitments to invest additional funds.

The BBC reports that while OneWeb plans to essentially scale back up its existing operations, including reversing lay-offs, should the deal pass regulatory scrutiny, there’s a possibility that down the road it could relocate some of its existing manufacturing capacity to the UK. Currently, OneWeb does its spacecraft manufacturing out of Florida in a partnership with Airbus.

OneWeb is a London-based company already, and its constellation can provide access to low latency, high-speed broadband via low Earth orbit small satellites, which could potentially be a great resource for connecting UK citizens to affordable, quality connections. The PNT navigation services extension would be an extension of OneWeb’s existing mission, but theoretically, it’s a relatively inexpensive way to leverage planned in-space assets to serve a second purpose.

Also, while the UK currently lacks its own native launch capabilities, the country is working towards developing a number of spaceports for both vertical and horizontal take-off – which could enable companies like Virgin Orbit, and other newcomers like Skyrora, to establish small-sat launch capabilities from UK soil, which would make maintaining and extending in-space assets like OneWeb’s constellation much more accessible as a domestic resource.

Insurtech unicorn Lemonade raises IPO range ahead of debut

Ahead of its expected IPO pricing later today, SoftBank -backed insurtech startup Lemonade has raised its expected price range. After initially targeting $23 to $26 per share in its debut, Lemonade now intends to sell its equity for $26 to $28 per share.


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The new range boosts Lemonade’s expected value, a boon for insurtech startups like Root, Kin, MetroMile, Hippo and others. Had Lemonade been forced to reduce its pricing, the valuations of its contemporaries could have come under pressure when they went to raise more capital. But with Lemonade noting that the market will bear a higher price for its equity, it’s a good day for startups looking to rebuild insurance products in a digital-first manner.

This morning, let’s work out the Lemonade’s new valuation range, compare it to the company’s final private valuation and figure out if we can understand why the stock market may support the company at its new price. After that, we’ll share a few notes from folks about the IPO and how they think it might go, just for fun.

Upward

Lemonade intends on selling 11 million shares as before, so the company is not targeting a larger bloc of shares to disburse. At its new price range, Lemonade will sell shares worth between $286 million and $308 million, a few dozen million more at the top end of its new range than it had anticipated with its first IPO pricing interval ($253 million and $286 million).

The company has two valuation ranges: one without the 1.65 million shares its underwriters may purchase at its IPO price if they choose, and one including those shares. Without the extra equity, Lemonade is aiming at a $1.43 billion to $1.54 billion valuation; including the extra equity, Lemonade is worth $1.47 billion to $1.58 billion.

Chinese online learning app Zuoyebang raises $750M

Zuoyebang, a Beijing-headquartered startup that runs an online learning app, said on Monday it has raised $750 million in a new financing round as investors demonstrate their continued trust in — and focus on — Asia’s booming edtech market.

U.S. investment firm Tiger Global and Hong Kong-based private equity firm FountainVest Partners led the six-year-old startup’s Series E financing round. Existing investors including SoftBank’s Vision Fund, Sequoia Capital China, Xiang He Capital, Qatar Investment Authority also participated in the round, which brings the startup’s to-date raise to $1.33 billion.

As we have previously noted in our coverage, Zuoyebang’s app helps students — ranging from kindergarten to 12th-grade — solve problems and understand complex concepts.

The app, which offers online courses and runs live lessons, also allows students to take a picture of a problem, upload it to the app, and get its solution. The startup claims it uses artificial intelligence to identify the question and its answer.

Zuoyebang has amassed 170 million monthly active users, about 50 million of whom use the service each day, the startup said in a post (in Chinese). More than 12 million of these users are paid subscribers, it said.

The announcement today further illustrates the opportunities investors are seeing in the online education sector in Asia. Last week, Indian edtech giant Byju’s announced it had received fresh funds from Mary Meeker’s fund, Bond.

SoftBank counts Zuoyebang among its 88 portfolio startups that have demonstrated growth in recent quarters. Zuoyebang was founded by Baidu in 2015. A year later the Chinese search giant spun off Zuoyebang into an independent startup.

Zuoyebang competes with a handful of startups in China, including Yuanfudao, which offers a similar service. In March, Yuanfudao said it had secured $1 billion in a financing round led by Tencent and Hillhouse Capital. The startup was valued at $7.8 billion at the time. Reuters reported earlier this month that Zuoyebang could be valued at $6.5 billion in the new financing round.

According to research firm iResearch, the online education market in China could be worth $81 billion in two years.