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5 Interesting Startup Deals You May Have Missed In January: Genetically Engineered Trees And Securing Space 

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 year’s end-of-year entry here.

A new year brings new funding rounds to a variety of startups, including some that are doing quite unique things with innovative tech.

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Let’s take a look at five noteworthy rounds from the start of the year, with funding going to startups ranging from genetically modified trees to take more carbon out of the atmosphere to a brain-computer interface developer to help those with neurological issues.

Building a better tree

Climate biotech firm Living Carbon made headlines last month 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.

Not brain surgery

Startups looking to solve health issues through tech is nothing new. However, every once in a while one pops into the newsfeed that is hard to ignore.

Brain-computer interface company Precision Neuroscience is just that. The New York-based startup raised a $41 million Series B led by Forepont Capital Partners last month. The news isn’t the money, but what its implant is trying to do.

The startup’s device is designed to help patients with degenerative diseases communicate using neural signals. In essence, patients would be able to type or move a cursor using just their brain.

On top of that, the interface is thinner than a human hair and would be inserted through a non-invasive process by just cutting a small slit into the patient’s head.

It almost sounds like sci-fi, but even more amazing.

Space, the final security frontier

If you’re a startup and you combine spacetech with cybersecurity, you likely will find yourself on this list.

SpiderOak has done that, after raising a $16.4 million Series C round led by Empyrean Technology Solutions. The zero-trust cybersecurity software company is looking to secure civil, military and commercial space mission systems.

The startup will use the cash to  complete on-orbit testing of its OrbitSecure 2.0 security software. Just last year, the company announced a contract with the U.S. Defense Innovation Unit to demonstrate its zero-trust protocol.

Every new frontier needs security — space is no different.

Big data meets land-based aquaculture

More than 3 billion people in the world currently rely on seafood as a significant source of protein, and with that land-based aquaculture may become even more important. However, as those facilities grow, they will need more accurate, real-time data to make the right decisions about their operations.

That’s where Nova Scotia-based ReelData AI comes in. The startup closed an $8 million Series A led by Buoyant Ventures last month.

The company offers solutions that identify real-time aquatic life population appetite and adjusts feed levels, as well as technology that can monitor the size, weight and distribution of fish populations.

With the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization reporting aquaculture production is projected to reach 109 million tons in 2030 — an increase of 32% from 2018 — having the right data to make the most accurate decisions is critical.

VR-powered learning

Getting through to students can always be hard in the classroom. However, involve some virtual reality and cinematic storytelling, and it may become a little easier.

Startup Dreamscape Learn locked up a $20 million Series A in investment from backers including GSV Ventures and Verizon Ventures to do just that.

The Los Angeles-based company, built in collaboration with Arizona State University, is developing both VR-enabled biology courseware and a platform for instructor-led experiences that allow the class to be conducted in any location relevant to the its area of study.

Dreamscape Learn thus far has focused on the STEM fields with the highest failure rates — likely due to the fact many high school graduates are not prepared for college-level STEM coursework.

More companies are using VR to train employees — extending that to the classroom is the next logical move.

Illustration: Dom Guzman


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