This is a monthly column that runs down five interesting deals every month that may have flown under the radar. Check out last month’s entry here.
September has come and gone and there’s a chill in the air as the days have gotten shorter.
Despite those shorter days, there were still plenty of interesting rounds that went to innovative startups this month, including faux pet food, more bug food and money for an AI-created virtual person.
A little creepy
There are a lot of real people in the world, but apparently some have moved on to virtual people now.
Montreal-based AI company Lia 27 closed a $5 million seed round led by the gaming company President as well as by “a prominent wealth adviser and by an international business magnate.” The startup has created Lia—a virtual person created by AI which has a 3D presence with integrated movement and voice technology. She even has her own social media handles.
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In the last year, the not-real Lia has garnered an audience of more than 300,000 and the company expects to use the new funding to grow that to more than 1 million by early 2023.
According to the company, Lia becomes increasingly smarter with every interaction she has with her fanbase, which can include discussing anything from math and philosophy to everyday chit-chat.
Although Lia27 points out she will “shy away from romantic conversations.”
Justice for all
There are few jobs as thankless as being a public defender (full disclosure, my father was a public defender for 30-plus years).
Most are overworked and underpaid, balancing several cases for those who have no other options and must face a justice system that can be daunting to even those familiar. The American Bar Association recently estimated that Oregon’s public defender workforce is sufficient to represent less than a third of those who require legal counsel.
JusticeText raised $2.2 million this month to ease some of the burden. The company—which the founders started as a school project while attending the University of Chicago—helps store, analyze and share video evidence, like police video. That includes transcribing video and making that text searchable, saving lawyers valuable time. The product is geared toward public defenders.
Irvine, California-based JusticeText, launched last year, now works with more than 50 public defender agencies.
The round included investment from the likes of Bloomberg Beta, True Ventures and even John Legend.
Better pet food
Two growing sectors right now are pet care and faux meat.
When you combine the two, you get Boulder, Colorado-based company Bond Pet Foods closing a $17.5 million Series A which included investment from ADM Ventures, Cavallo Ventures and others.
The startup, which creates meat proteins through fermentation, previously had focused on plant-based pet treats but will use the new funding to push further into all pet food applications trying to reproduce the likes of chicken, fish and beef.
Which is amazing since so many startups find it difficult to do just one of those right.
The company estimated the pet nutrition sales globally already top $100 billion and are growing at 4.5% a year, so it is not surprising the startup is looking to expand in the space.
The company will use the new cash to expand its meat protein portfolio and scale up production at a new 15,000-square-foot facility in Colorado.
Don’t smoke that
Let’s stay on plant-based meat for a minute.
Israel-based food tech startup BioBetter closed a $10 million Series A led by Jerusalem Venture Partners this month to further push its cell-cultured meat closer to broad-scale production.
While a lot of companies are making faux meat, it is what BioBetter is using that caught our eye. BioBetter uses tobacco plants as “bioreactors” for creating the growth factors needed for the cellular development of cultivated meat.
The startup said the princess could “significantly reduce the cost” of cultured meat, as well as help with its commercialization, as two of the biggest issues the industry faces are the steep costs and limited availability of growth factors.
With fewer people smoking than ever before, maybe this is good news for tobacco farmers?
Last month, we talked about India-based Loopworm, and the upcycling it does with insects, turning food waste into protein-rich animal feed.
This month, Paris-based InnovaFeed—which also raises insects for animal and plant nutrition—raised a $250 million Series D led by Qatar Investment Authority. The company has raised a whopping $450 million to date, per the company.
Who knew there was so much money in insect farming?
Innovafeed also said it has already secured commercial partnerships for “volumes representing more than €1 billion over the next 10 years,” and will use its tech to develop ingredients for not just plants and animal food, but also human food.
The company will use the new funds to push geographical expansion, which includes the construction of a new production plant in Decatur, Illinois.
Illustration: Dom Guzman
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