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5 Interesting Startup Deals You May Have Missed This Year

Illustration of a robot arm/wrench turning a nut in the middle of the number 5.

Editor’s note: This is the year-end version of a monthly column that runs down five interesting deals every month that may have flown under the radar. Check out last month’s entry here.

While startup funding may be down this year, 2023 certainly did not lack for interesting deals.

From a cyber brain to humanoid robots to an AI doctor, the year had its share of unique and intriguing startups that raised cash. Let’s take a look at those that caught our eye.

A cyber brain

It kind of sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, but isn’t that where all great ideas come from?

Australia-based Cortical Labs, a “biological computing startup” combining lab-grown human brain cells with computer chips, said in April it had raised $10 million in a funding round led by Horizons Ventures.

Cortical Labs plans to use the money to commercialize its biological computer chips — referred to as DishBrain — which has already learned to play basic video games like Pong.

Some think such a development could be the next advancement of AI, since human neurons have some advantages over their digital counterparts.

If all that is not terrifying enough, In-Q-Tel — the venture capital arm of the Central Intelligence Agency — is an investor.

Think about that.

You may now enter the doctor

This round came in late in the year and was well-publicized — for good reason.

As we reported last month, San Francisco-based health tech startup Forward raised $100 million in funding from the likes of Khosla Ventures and Founders Fund.

The company launched with a tech-enabled direct primary care business model, but has since developed its proprietary “CarePods,” a self-contained, AI-powered doctor’s office that will be located in malls and office buildings.

The CarePods — which have been compared to an airport lactation room in their design (an analogy that definitely works) — use sensors, vital-sign measurements and even “bloodless” blood collection to provide health evaluations and identify disease risks, including diabetes, hypertension and anxiety.

The idea is to be able to offer health care wherever and whenever it’s convenient and needed.

Membership starts at $99 a month.

The round included 25% of debt. Founded in 2016, the company has raised $325 million, per Crunchbase.

Rise of the robots

When you mix AI and robotics to create a humanoid, you make this list.

Germany-based emerging AI and robotics startup Neura Robotics locked down $16 million this month — less than three months after raising a $55 million round — from U.S. private equity firm InterAlpen Partners.

While there are a lot of robotics companies in the world, many build what are essentially robotic arms or other devices to help in a warehouse or industrial setting. However, Neura has created a humanoid robot that can interact with humans and is able to see, hear and perceive touch, which it can use for autonomous and predictive actions.

The startup already has unveiled a market-ready cognitive collaborative robot — or “cobot” as the company calls it — named MAiRA. Neura is developing the robot and others for a wide range of industries and already has partners in multiple sectors that include manufacturing, hospitality and elder care.

Neura plans to use the new money to bolster its growth and expansion into the U.S. market while offering a solution to the increasing shortage of skilled workers.

A robot enhanced with AI that can work with humans and learn — both scary and interesting.

Mining for big money

This was another big round that garnered big headlines back in June.

However, if a round is interesting enough it makes the list regardless, so just in case you missed it: KoBold Metals raised a big $195 million round from a number of big-name investors including Andreessen Horowitz, and Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos-backed Breakthrough Energy Ventures. The cash valued the climate-tech startup at $1.15 billion.

What makes the Berkeley, California-based startup intriguing?

KoBold Metals ties two hot trends together for investors — artificial intelligence and alternative energy sources. The company uses AI to mine for valuable metals such as cobalt, copper, nickel and lithium, which are used in the production of batteries for a variety of sectors, including electric vehicles.

The startup has built a database about the Earth’s layers and uses algorithms to make predictions about where mineral deposits are located around the world.

Pretty cool and timely, even if you may have seen it already — considering all the escalating concern about finding such material.

Building a better tree

Climate biotech firm Living Carbon also made some headlines way back in January when it raised a $21 million Series A led by Temasek.

The San Francisco-based startup’s “photosynthesis-enhanced hybrid” trees are genetically engineered to grow bigger and faster — therefore being able to take more carbon out of the air than unmodified plants. According to the company, its photosynthesis enhancement improves biomass accumulation in trees by up to 53% and has the potential to capture approximately 27% more carbon.

As part of the funding, Living Carbon will take its modified pine trees out of a lab and into the wild, planting them on private land in Georgia and Pennsylvania. The company said it is on track to supply 4 million to 5 million seedlings throughout the U.S. this year and next.

Everyone is looking for ways to cut down on carbon, after all — perhaps the path is through better plants.

Related reading:

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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