Every so often at Crunchbase News, we read through all the most recent seed funding rounds in an effort to identify trends. And each time, we’re reminded how quickly founders find ways to turn emerging technologies and business concepts into new startups.
This most recent data foray was unusual in that for the first time in years, seed startups were raising capital during a known downturn. To underscore that point, we limited our sample 1 to companies funded in the past four months, when investment across all stages really took a downward turn.
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Still, seed company formation and investment tends to be somewhat resilient to market cycles. And this time around we saw clusters of startups around themes that seem to have really gained traction in recent months.
So where is the activity on the rise? Out of numerous potential options, we narrowed our take down to four emerging themes: carbon capture, AI productivity tools, women’s health and hybrid work.
Without further ado, here’s what we’re seeing in each of these spaces:
No. 1: Carbon capture
Entrepreneurial minds have long been focused on reducing carbon emissions. In recent months, their efforts manifested in funding seed-stage companies focused on better ways to capture, store and even create useful products from this all-too-abundant element.
Along these lines, we identified at least seven companies that collectively raised over $25 million in seed funding in the past four months. Below is the list:
The largest funding round — $8.7 million — went to Paebbl, a Scandinavian startup that combines captured carbon with abundantly available minerals to create a carbon-negative raw material.
Lithos Carbon, a Seattle startup developing carbon capture technology for farms, landed $6.3 million, while Carbon Re, a British company whose platform aims to reduce emissions from the cement industry, secured just over $5 million.
No. 2: AI productivity tools
We talk about artificial intelligence taking over jobs, but the unfolding reality looks a bit more mundane. In the foreseeable future, AI will likely save time and effort on workplace tasks, rather than eliminate entire positions, with the hoped-for result being higher productivity.
In furtherance of this vision, a bevy of newly seed-funded startups are jumping on the AI productivity tools bandwagon. We put together a list of seven that appear to fit this profile:
Tel Aviv-based Ask AI, the largest recent funding recipient, bagged $9 million in October for technology that aggregates company data from scattered sources and uses AI to synthesize concise, readable answers to questions.
Meanwhile Tymely, another Israeli company that raised $7 million, offers AI technology for e-commerce customer support emails. And SellScale, of Silicon Valley, which snagged $3.4 million in seed funding, uses AI to personalize email outreach efforts at scale for sales teams.
No. 3: Fertility and women’s health
Demand for women’s health care services continues to exceed supply, and the imbalance is only projected to grow.
In the U.S., the number of OB-GYNs is expected to decrease 7% by 2030, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration, with demand on track to increase 4%. Shortages vary widely by region, with the South and Midwest expected to see steeper shortages.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like startups can do much to expand the supply of specialists. However, they can make it easier to access women’s health and fertility-related care regardless of geography as well as connect people to specialized providers.
On both these fronts, we’ve seen a number of good-sized seed funding rounds in recent months. Using Crunchbase, we aggregated a list of five:
Minnesota-based Herself Health, a primary care practice for women 65 and up, was one of two companies that closed a $7 million seed round. The other was Los Angeles-based Almond, a mobile health and telehealth platform for obstetrics and gynecology.
No. 4: Hybrid work
To go into the office or to stay home? That is the question still vexing employers nearly three years after the pandemic shifted millions to work-at-home status.
In the attempt to create a happy medium, droves of employers have adopted hybrid models in which workers come into the office, but not every workday. That’s driven a mini boom in startups crafting tools to meet the needs of this hybrid workforce.
We put together a list of five companies in the hybrid work tools space that have raised seed funding in the past four months:
Kadence, a provider of desk-booking software for hybrid offices, led in funding with a $10 million December financing. Founders initially launched as a wireless charging startup called Chargify, but changed the business model and brand following the pandemic-driven shift in workplace culture.
Deskbird, another startup offering desk- and space-booking tools for hybrid workplaces, pulled in $6.5 million in a late September round.
An overarching theme: Progress behind the scenes
Having written these seed funding trend pieces over many years, I’ve noticed some overarching themes crop up repeatedly. In particular, seed-funded startups commonly want to lead consumers toward an increasingly digital life, where screens rather than physical location dictate what we can do.
That hasn’t gone away. This time around, however, I’d describe the broad theme differently. The seed-funded areas emerging lately, to grossly over-generalize, seem more involved with what I’d call progress behind the scenes.
What does that mean? Essentially, they’re not making products that a consumer will have to consciously decide to consume, like say a new device, food or eco-friendly home good. Rather, they’re working on the kinds of innovations that get quietly incorporated into existing products, services and industrial processes, without the end consumer having to do much.
By way of analogy, it’s kind of like airbags and seatbelts. While you have to decide to buy a car, airbags just got included in the package over time, making an existing product better and safer. This is kind of how the carbon capture idea works. Consumers won’t necessarily know, say, that the concrete used to pour their driveway was more sustainably produced. It’ll just be that way. Same goes for AI productivity. You won’t notice that the help desk is providing clearer advice or responding more quickly. It’ll just kind of happen.
If all goes according to plan, we might wind up in that best of all worlds place for innovation: Technological progress that provides benefits, without requiring end users to spend a lot more or learn a new system. Ideally, like airbags, these innovations will work when you need them but can be taken for granted the rest of time.
Illustration: Dom Guzman
The Crunchbase sample was limited to startups that raised pre-seed, seed or angel funding in the four months preceding Jan. 12, 2023. The startup sample only included companies founded or rebranded in the prior three years that had raised $500,000 or more in total equity funding.↩
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