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5 Interesting Startup Deals You May Have Missed In June: Air Taxis, And Chicken Is The New Pizza

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

This is 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.

With summer vacations here, some interesting rounds from this month may have sailed by without notice. Here are some intriguing startup deals that happened in June:

Chicken is pizza

ZeroCarb LYFE: We’ve had cheese in crust, pepperoni in crust, cauliflower crust, cornmeal crust and any combination of all of those and more.

What is seemingly a little new is chicken as crust. But that’s what ZeroCarb LYFE does and what attracted a $1.5 million seed round from investors this month.

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The Evansville, Indiana-based company produces what it calls “guilt-free innovation for pizza lovers looking for a delicious grain-free, high-protein option,” creating a pizza crust made of only olive oil, spices, salt and, of course, chicken breast meat.

The crust reportedly has 37 grams of protein and zero carbohydrates—hence the company’s name.

ZeroCarb LYFE clearly sees a large and growing market, as it announced as part of closing the seed round it will soon begin a seed-plus round of funding to keep up with the pace of its expansion. The company’s crusts are already available for purchase in more than 150 restaurants and select supermarkets.

Flying taxis

Overair: Normally we shy away from large rounds here, assuming many people saw them already. However, the air taxi space is interesting, especially after Uber jettisoned its Uber Elevate project off its books in 2021 and combined it into startup Joby Aviation.

While Overair may not beat that project to market, it certainly is not staying grounded. The Santa Ana, California-based electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicle startup closed a $145 million round from Hanwha Systems and Hanwha Aerospace this month as it looks to fly its all-electric experimental prototype Butterfly in the second half of 2023.

Overair hopes the new cash will help lay the groundwork for commercializing its mobility technology as the company continues to work toward Federal Aviation Administration certification. The company also is working with NASA and Urban Movement Labs in Los Angeles to “develop urban air mobility (UAM) routing and infrastructure,” it said in a release.

Managing nature

Vibrant Planet: This software helps manage everything from sales to human resources to consumer bank accounts.

But can it help manage a forest?

That’s what Vibrant Planet’s Land Tender—which the startup calls an operating system for forest restoration—is trying to find out.

Just as we on the West Coast enter the official wildfire season, the Incline Village, Nevada-based startup raised a $17 million seed round led by Ecosystem Integrity Fund and the Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham Environmental Trust.

The company’s Land Tender offering gives organizations, state and federal agencies, and land managers a platform for forest treatment planning, monitoring and reporting, and investment prioritization—providing datasets and lidar mapping to help groups determine fire risk in real-time.

As wildfires have ravaged several West Coast states in recent years—in California alone, 6.5 million of its 33 million forested acres have burned through the last two fire seasons—any technology that can lessen the danger and increase forest sustainability will be welcomed by nearly all.

Accent bias

Sanas: Startups are always looking for ways to improve conversation and communication, be it through data, artificial intelligence or machine learning.

Speech AI firm Sanas is one of the latest—but it’s taking a unique twist. The Palo Alto, California-based startup has developed real-time accent “translation” software, where the user chooses the accent they want to use.

While Sanas says users have said there are a variety of reasons they may want to manipulate their accent—including it allowing them better fluency in a foreign language—the unfortunate issue of accent bias is also one of the driving forces.

The company announced a $32 million Series A—which it said was the largest Series A for any speech technology company—led by Insight Partners with participation from other investors such as GV and General Catalyst.

Sanas says their software “allows for deeper personal choice” when it comes to people’s voices and addresses communication challenges between global teams and customers. In announcing the round, the company also said Alorica—a large business process outsourcing firm—has signed a strategic partnership with Sanas to use its tech with its 100,000 employees.

Ghost kitchens

Saltalk: While DoorDash, Uber Eats and Grubhub are the normal go-tos for many in the U.S. when it comes to food delivery, there are other startups out there with their own distinctive take on the sector.

Saltalk is one of those, and now it will have more cash in its war chest after an $8 million funding round. The Santa Clara, California-based startup runs virtual kitchens—ghost kitchens—where chefs rent out space so they can turn out dishes.

While that is not an unusual business model—as the global virtual kitchen market has taken off in recent years—what is unique is that Saltalk also has an e-commerce platform that sells the food directly to consumers and companies.

The startup currently offers more than 200 dishes from different cuisines around the world and aims for authenticity.

The company has big plans for the cash. It will open two 15,000-square-foot virtual kitchens in the San Francisco Bay Area and expects to have a total of 15 virtual kitchens by the end of 2024.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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