Startups Venture

Last Week In Venture: Green-Thumb Gardening Bots, Garbage Gasification, And Synthetic Celebs

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

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Before we get to those, though, a brief highlight reel of our coverage from the week. The Crunchbase News team covered big new rounds raised by Grab, Nubank, Monday.com, Compass, Lightricks, and Wish. We looked at new funds raised to invest in plant-based nutrition, growing SaaS businesses, and early-stage healthcare startups in South America. CDN and anti-DDoS service provider Cloudflare is reportedly going public; Microsoft and The We Company (formerly WeWork) are on an M&A spree; and DoorDash bought some Caviar.

This is only part of what we covered, which is, in turn, a small subset of all the stuff that happened last week. All this said, there are plenty of companies operating outside the unicorn and public company spotlight, but in their stories we can find trends and context for the happenings elsewhere near the intersection of tech and financial capital.

Let’s dive into the week that was in venture-land!

From Garbage To Gas

Let’s talk trash about waste management for a moment. Landfills: hot garbage. Incinerators: almost literal dumpster fires. Open-water dumping: probably illegal and definitely morally reprehensible.

What can’t be reused or recycled is reduced to common trash, and how societies deal with it hasn’t really evolved for millennia. But that’s changing. Sierra Energy is in the business of converting garbage into energy and fuels. In conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy and the California Energy Commission it’s developed a process it calls ‘FastOx.’ By heating trash with steam and oxygen to a blistering 4,000ºF (2,200ºC) FastOx converts organic materials into a gas from which hydrogen, ammonia, diesel fuel, electricity, and other salable products can be extracted and synthesized. Its first facility is operating at Fort Hunter Liggett in Monterrey, California. It can process 20 tons of trash per day and produces electricity and diesel from biomass and municipal solid waste.

This week, Sierra Energy raised a $33 million Series A round led by Breakthrough Energy Partners. Participating investors include Twynam Agricultural Group, The March Fund, Formica Ventures, Cox Investment Holdings, and BNP Paribas Private Equity. The company plans to use its newfound financing to continue developing and commercializing its technology.

Tomato Bots

The tomato: Lycopersicum, literally translated to “wolf peach.” There are over 10,000 varieties cultivated worldwide. And although they thrive (and taste best) when grown outside, the plants also do well in controlled greenhouse environments, away from pesky pests and other threats.

Indoor agriculture is, if you’ll forgive the pun, a growing trend. And it’s an increasingly automated process. Enter Metomotion, an Israeli startup which builds a bot called GRoW (a Greenhouse Robotic Worker). First targeted at indoor tomato production, the GRoW bot “adapts to perform a range of greenhouse tasks, including harvesting of additional vegetables, pruning, monitoring, pollinating, and more,” according to Metomotion’s website. It uses computer vision and spatial modeling technology to identify, locate, and harvest ripe fruits. GRoW comes with an onboard boxing system, bypassing the need for human packagers. Metomotion asserts that its robotic system can reduce “up to 50 [percent] of harvest-related labor costs,” paying for itself in as little as three years.

This week, the company raised $1.5 million in new seed funding, bringing its total capital raised to roughly $2.7 million.

Digital Hype-sters For Clothes And Toys

Think about where you’d be most likely to find the headquarters of a toy startup with an edgy brand and its own synthetic Instagram celebrities. Burlington, VT might not be the first place that came to mind, but that’s where Superplastic is based. The company sells streetwear-styled apparel and vinyl figurines featuring the likenesses of JANKY and GUGGIMON, animated “celebrities” created by Superplastic to hype and adorn its wares.

These ersatz influencers have their own colorful backstories, and Instagram accounts each with tens of thousands of followers. From “his” insta, Janky the cat appears to be fond of pouring Irish cream liqueur in his cereal, no doubt “in James Franco’s old trailer, parked behind the Warner Brothers lot in LA,” where the fictitious character is said to live. Guggimon, a rabbit, is “a fashion horror icon, toy artist, and mixtape producer based in Montreal, Quebec” is evidently an avid collector of axes and handbags. The 3-dimensional animated rabbit really has it out for Bugs Bunny.

Superplastic raised $10 million in a Series A round led by Craft Ventures. According to a Form D filing for the round, Craft GP Bill Lee joins Superplastic founder Paul Butnitz on the board. According to the filing, 33 investors bought into the offering. Institutional participants include Shrug Capital, Index Ventures, Global Village, Canaan Partners, Betaworks, and Founders Fund (represented by Cyan Banister). A number of individuals—including Scooter Braun, former Instagram product lead Kevin Weil (now directing product at Facebook crypto consortium Calibra), and Adobe product VP Scott Belsky—invested as well.

This is not the future I was expecting, but might be the one we deserve.

Image Credits: Last Week In Venture graphic created by JD Battles. Photo by Sole D. Alessandro, via Unsplash.

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