Startups Venture

Last Week In Venture: Speech Shifters, Sick Tree Spotters, And Distributed Decision Platforms

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

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Before getting to those, a quick re-cap of the week. The Crunchbase News team covered, most notably, Lyft’s S-1 filing and some of the business numbers disclosed in that paperwork. We looked at the new crop of VC funds announced so far in 2019 and new funds raised by Scaleworks, Sorenson Ventures, and Austin, TX-based firms ATX Seed and Quake Capital. We also covered supergiant deals announced by Horizon Robotics, Chehaoduo, and the untapped opportunity to invest in minority founders who’ve historically been overlooked by the VC industry.

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of companies around the world outside the unicorn spotlight, and their stories are worth sharing too.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into the week that was in venture-land.


New techniques in machine learning and AI are beginning to blur the lines of reality. So-called “deep fakes” transpose the face of one person onto the body of another person, either in video or still images. (A recent, safe-for-work example is the video of Jennifer Lawrence accepting a Golden Globe, except software has mapped actor Steve Buscemi’s face onto Lawrence’s. It’s a surreal watch if you haven’t seen it yet.)

Modulate is doing something similar, but for voice. The company raised $2 million in seed funding co-led by Hyperplane Venture Capital and 2enable Partners.

There are other companies, like Lyrebird, operating in the speech-shifting space, but Modulate is focused on a specific vertical: video game voice chat. The Cambridge, MA-based company says on its website that it gives people “the freedom to sound however [they] want, wherever [they] want, online.” Modulate highlights a couple of use-cases, ranging from the superfluous (transforming your voice to sound kinda-sorta like Barack Obama) to the serious (“Join a conversation without worry of discrimination or harassment.”)

The tech is still a little rough around the edges (i.e. it’s pretty easy to tell there is a filter being applied), but that’s seemingly by design. In an ethics disclosure, the company acknowledges that “some users will attempt to misuse this technology, and believe it’s our responsibility to make this as difficult as possible.” The company is limiting the voice “skins” it creates and includes a digital audio watermark in all its transformed speech output to ensure content created through Modulate can be readily identified as synthetic.


Based in Cape Town, South Africa, Aerobotics is a company which aggregates and analyzes aerial imagery using machine learning models to detect crop disease and pest infestations early. Using regularly updated satellite imagery and drone flyovers of orchards, the company is able to pinpoint problems down to individual trees and show how surrounding trees may be affected.

This week, Aerobotics announced a ZAR 29 million (approximately $2.04 million USD) extension to its Series A round, with the capital coming from Johannesburg-based Paper Plane Ventures. This deal follows the first $2 million, USD-denominated Series A tranche, announced in mid-July 2018. To date, the company has raised approximately $4.8 million in total funding, which includes $50,000 in non-equity assistance from the Google Launchpad Accelerator.

In January, the company announced a partnership with a major South African farming co-op which will make “Aerobotics’ leading tree crop analytics technology and software available to 1,300 farms in the Eastern Cape,” according to the company. Aerobotics recently opened a U.S. office in Los Angeles, which according to South African startup news site VentureBurn will “serve largely as a sales office targeting among others fruit and wine farmers.”

Other Interesting Rounds

  • In this economic cycle, a company is worth its weight in data. New York-based Narrative aims to build the marketplace where that data is traded between companies which have specific data needs and, well, the data they need. Beyond acting as a broker for these transactions, though, the company has expanded its offerings to include tools for companies which sell or licence data to manage those customer relationships and resulting transactions. Narrative announced that it has raised an additional $3 million “to help build out its product team.” Glasswing Ventures, XSeed Capital, Tuhaye Venture Partners, and Revel Partners invested in the deal, which brought Narrative’s total funding to $5.5 million, according to the company.
  • The future of work is collaborative, and, increasingly, distributed. There’s workplace chat apps, shared to-do’s, and task management. Threads is a San Francisco-based startup building a different kind of platform, one focused on collaborative decision-making for teams of all sizes and setups. This week, the company emerged from stealth mode and announced it’s raised $10.5 million in Series A funding led by Sequoia Capital.
  • Obsidian Security, an intelligent identity protection company based in Newport Beach, CA, raised $20 million in a Series B round led by Wing VC. GV (formerly known as Google Ventures) participated in the round as a new investor. Greylock Partners, which led the company’s $9.5 million Series A round, also joined in the round. “Even companies that have successfully adopted single sign-on and multi-factor authentication technologies are scrambling to understand and secure what employees do after they log in,” Obsidian Security co-founder and CEO Glenn Chisholm told Reuters. He added that the company offers “powerful centralized visibility and monitoring of user identities across enterprise applications.”

And with that, we’re done for the week! We hope your weekend is full of quality time with friends, family, or just yourself. Regardless of how you spend it, here’s to hoping it’s enjoyable. See you again on Monday!

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

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