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5 Interesting Startup Deals You May Have Missed In October: Pro Volleyball, Humanoids And Lego Buildings

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.

Sometimes it can be hard to find a handful of rounds every month that are somewhat odd, unique or eye-catching.

Other months they flow in like water.

October was good on the interesting and unusual front — there were a lot, so apologies if some were left out — with everything from an AI-fueled humanoid you may work with one day to constructing with Legos (kind of).

So, without further ado, here are October’s most eye-catching rounds.

A (volleyball) league of their own

Professional women’s sports have come a long way in recent years. We have professional women’s hockey, basketball and soccer, to name just a few. This month, League One Volleyball announced it has raised a $35 million Series B led by Left Lane Capital with participation from Ares Management Funds.

The league, which plans to start playing after the 2024 Paris Olympics (good timing!) is set to have six teams in cities including Omaha, Madison, Salt Lake City, Atlanta and Houston.

There are other pro volleyball leagues — Pro Volleyball Federation plans to start playing next year — which we’ll be honest and say we did not know.

However, what makes League One Volleyball attention-getting is its investors. The recent round included money from athletes and entertainers such as U.S. skier Lindsey Vonn, actress Amy Schumer and NBA stars Jayson Tatum and Kevin Durant, to name just a few.

Interest in volleyball, despite being already popular, does seem to be growing. In the summer, 92,000 fans attended an outdoor volleyball game involving the University of Nebraska women’s team.

League One’s total funding is nearly $60 million to date, per the league.

It may not be football, but volleyball has become big business.

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, including 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.

Legos for homes

Who didn’t love Legos as a kid?

Well, how about real-life Lego-like bricks to build things?

Miami-based Renco USA is making that happen and has attracted investors’ attention. The startup locked up $18 million in convertible notes — valuing the company at $318 million.

The company has created a patented mineral composite, fiber-reinforced block building system — replacing steel and concrete — that fit together like Lego bricks to build floors and roofs. Renco creates the construction materials out of a combination of recycled glass fibers, resin and calcium compounds.

The cash infusion will be used to build a new manufacturing facility in Florida.

Renco — which is short for “renewable composites” — said its building method is the first new and approved structural building system since reinforced concrete more than 125 years ago.

Building is more difficult than ever, with labor shortages and supply chain hiccups. Perhaps it’s time for a faster, easier and cheaper method.

Finding the right fit

College athletics is big business. Even before the pandemic hit and crushed attendance for a few years, the NCAA reported that Division I athletics generated nearly $16 billion.

That also means recruiting is big business — but it also is very imperfect when it comes to finding the right fit for both the student athlete and the school.

New startup Scorability is looking to change that. The Austin, Texas-based company raised $11 million in a seed round from the likes of Next Coast Ventures and Silverton Partners for its new recruiting platform designed for the school and recruit.

The platform uses matching and predictive analytics to both help the school find the right fit and ideally put recruits in a situation where they can be successful.

The idea is to let college coaches evaluate more talent with predictable outcomes — faster and cheaper — while avoiding unnecessary effort and expense for student athletes and their families.

The company expects to be on the market by early next year.

Clean your phone

Few things are as gross as your phone. Per square inch, it’s dirtier than your toilet.

While we all know UV light kills the germs on our phone — and some of us may even have UV devices in our homes — what about when we’re out?

Avon, Connecticut-based iCleanse has a solution.

The startup has developed Swift UV units for phone disinfection in public spaces. The units offer free, 15-second phone disinfection in places like museums and hotel lobbies, while serving up an advertisement for the user to watch in exchange.

The company just locked up a $1 million credit financing from Enhanced Capital that it will use for expansion and further R&D efforts.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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