Startups Venture

Last Week In Venture: Robo-Muscles, Mining Marketplaces, And Smart Darts For Fun

Hello and welcome to Last Week In Venture, Crunchbase News’s weekly roundup of venture deals that may have flown under your radar.

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Business-wise, we’ve kind of hit the lame duck period for 2018. Blame the Thanksgiving calories. But even tons of tryptophan-laden turkey weren’t enough to keep companies like Bright Health, Quip, CyberGRX, and others from announcing big venture rounds this week. We also zoomed in on Pittsburgh’s tech ecosystem, revisited the global scooter race, and, relatedly, explored why transportation startups need raise so quickly.

It’s easy to miss what companies outside the spotlight are contributing to the global startup ecosystem. But that doesn’t mean their stories aren’t worth sharing.

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

Let ‘Em Fly

Are you a Young Hip Millennial in London or Manchester, U.K. or Chicago, IL looking for a casual game of skill to play with some friends on a night out? If the idea of bowling gives you flashbacks to lasers and black lights and too-loud 90s pop music (or is that just me?), have you tried darts?

Yes, darts. No longer a back-corner game at the pub next door, London-based darts bar chain Flight Club puts the game front and center, almost like a bullseye. The company patented its own networked dartboard with automatic scoring technology and operates club-like restaurants featuring the game, which it calls Social Darts. A relative newcomer to the emerging “competitive socializing” sector, Flight Club raised £5 million in funding from Santander UK to continue its expansion in London and throughout the U.K. Its Chicago location is the only one in the U.S., so far. Be sure to call when someone starts up a chain of air hockey clubs.

A Little Help On The Slopes

On Thursday, San Francisco-based ROAM Robotics, which makes robotic exoskeletons that assist human muscle to reduce fatigue or enhance performance, made several major announcements. The company said it raised $12 million in Series A funding from the Silicon Valley investment arm of Yamaha Motor and others, and that it would launch its first commercial offering this winter. The pneumatic exoskeleton system, called ELEVATE, is designed to boost quad strength and joint stability for skiers on the slope, as demonstrated in a promotional video from the company.

Though niche, it’s further proof that assistive technologies can benefit us all, even people already athletic enough to ski. CEO Tim Swift said in a statement that “Whether you are an Olympian, an everyday athlete, or looking to regain lost mobility, we want to power you beyond what your body currently makes possible.” It’ll be available for demo rentals in Lake Tahoe, CA and Park City, UT this season.

A Rock-Solid Trade

Let’s say you’re a mine operator with a couple dozen tons of ore concentrate and you need to sell it to a smelter. We’ve all been there before, right? What’s a person to do? You’d have to call up one of those pesky middlemen, wheel and deal with an opaque negotiation process, and probably end up leaving money on the table in the process because that’s how brokers make theirs. If you’re an observer of marketplace startups, you’ve probably heard some version of this before.

Open Mineral, founded in 2017, builds marketplace infrastructure that bridges the gap between miners and smelters to facilitate the direct exchange of these important raw materials. Open Mineral raised €4.8 million in a Series B round announced Monday. Earlier this year, Open Mineral flirted with a crypto-token sale to fund a “blockchain consortium” for minerals trading. There was no mention of that token or the word “blockchain” in this week’s funding announcement.

Charging The Future

Typically, the rounds we cover here in Last Week In Venture are small and early-stage. That’s not the case with the supergiant $240 million Series H round closed by electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure-builder ChargePoint. Quantum Energy Partners led the round. Participants include Daimler Trucks, BMW’s i Ventures fund, Chevron’s tech venture arm, and Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC, among others.

Given growing awareness of climate change and other costs of burning fossil fuels like gas and diesel to get around, now could be propitious timing for the company. ChargePoint says it will use this new investment to expand its network of vehicle charging points. The company told EV industry blog Electrek it has “more than 57,000 independently owned public and semi-public charging spots,” but wants to up that to 2.5 million by 2025, an over forty-fold increase over the next six years.

Other Interesting Deals

For those who made it to the end, a little reminder and a lagniappe for you. We’re in the home stretch of 2018, and the interstitial work weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years will go by in a blur. Be sure to take some time to dig yourself out of all that work, bundle up, venture out of the cave, and do something festive. December comes just once a year. ☃️

Image Credits: Last Week In Venture graphic created by JD Battles. Ant Rozetsky on Unsplash.