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Last Week In Venture: A Full Stack Of Decentralized Tech

Hello and welcome back to Last Week In Venture, the weekly rundown of venture deals that may have flown under your radar.

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But before we get to those, a quick highlight reel of the Crunchbase News crew’s work from the week. We covered the initial reference pricing and opening trades of work chat giant Slack’s direct listing on public markets. We charted the most active investors in early and late-stage venture rounds, examined the esports sector, hooked some recently-funded anti-phishing startups, looked at the Lidar market, and covered big new rounds raised by the likes of Collective Health, Meero, Druva, Optimizely, and others.

This week for LWIV, we’re doing something a little different: rather than selecting from a hodgepodge of industries, we’re focusing on one theme: decentralized tech.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Decentralized Tech Funding & Trends

Recent history shows the risks introduced by centralized communication and data infrastructure. Hostile state actors, technical glitches, and large platform outages can bring services down when it’s most crucial for people to communicate: during times of civil unrest, natural disasters, and the like. Decentralized infrastructure provides a degree of resilience and independence to some communications and location services, and depending on the tech and its implementation it can extend the edge of a network beyond the boundaries of the typical stationary tower and antenna setup.

Over the past week(-ish) we noticed a number of rounds raised by companies in the decentralized infrastructure space, a selection of which we’ll highlight here:

  • Founded and led by Daniela Perdomo, goTenna is a Brooklyn-based venture building mobile mesh networking hardware and software. It aims to serve a range of use cases, from defense and corporate customers to consumers who need to spin up ad-hoc networks when they’re either out of range of regular wireless networks, or when wireless network service has been compromised. This week, the company raised $24 million in a Series C round led by Founders Fund. In her blog, Industrial Felt, Perdomo highlights funding disparities in women-led deep-tech companies. Citing Crunchbase data, Perdomo found that female-only led teams in wireless, robotics, AI, and infrastructure companies only net between 25 and 55 cents for every dollar raised by male-only teams in the same category. Mixed-gender leadership teams raise slightly more, on average, but still far less than their male-only counterparts. In other words, there’s a lot of work to be done to bring the funding split closer to gender parity (including more funding for the current crop of technical female founders, as well as cultivating the next generation of women entrepreneurs in this incredibly important field.) Perdomo wrote that “If investors truly seek to close the gender chasm in funding, they need to not only invest in more women-led companies overall, but invest more money when they do.”
  • Also on the wireless networking front, but from last week, was the $15 million Series C round raised by blockchain-enabled peer-to-peer wireless network provider Helium. Union Square Ventures, Khosla Ventures, and Multicoin Capital co-led the deal, which aims to help Helium commercialize its recently-released $495 “LongFi” wireless network router, which according to TechCrunch provides “200x the range of Wi-Fi at 1/1000th of the cost of a cellular modem.” To incentivize uptake of its networking technology, the company’s hardware metes out custom cryptocurrency tokens to Helium router operators. The crypto incentive is a new facet of the company’s business model, added just last year, according to CoinDesk.
  • Moving away from mesh nets but staying in the realm of the decentralized, networked sensor startups raised recently too. Founded in 2012, Santa Clara, CA-based Everactive just raised $30.6 million in a venture funding round led by Australian government-backed Future Fund. The company’s self-powered sensors are tailored to track petrochemical refinery flare systems, steam traps, and other machinery used in industrial settings where wired power and network connectivity prove impractical. Its ultra-low-power sensors operate without batteries and harvest energy from light, temperature differentials, and vibration, according to a press release from the company.
  • Trust is something users of centralized networks typically vest in their operators. You might not like your wireless carrier, but you can be reasonably sure that when your phone says it’s connected to AT&T or Verizon, there’s a high probability it’s actually connected to one of those carriers. In decentralized IoT networks, on the other hand, trust is nothing to trifle with. Ockam is a Bay Area startup building an SDK to provide developers of IoT tech an out-of-the-box trust solution. By their metaphor, in IoT applications, the medium is messaging, whether that’s actual end-to-end encrypted text chat or data transmissions over the network. Ockam’s serverless tech uses a new type of decentralized identifier (DID), ID registry, and key exchange system to facilitate “trustful communication” between devices, their networking layer, and the applications built atop it all. The company raised $3.2 million in seed funding from enterprise identity management service Okta’s venture arm, Steve Jurvetson‘s Future Ventures, SGH Capital, and Core Ventures Group.

And with that we’re done for the week! Hope you have a great weekend. And happy summer solstice to you all!

Image Credits: Last Week In Venture graphic created by JD Battles. Photo by Sander Weeteling, via Unsplash.

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