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5 Interesting Startup Deals You May Have Missed In 2022: Woolly Mammoths And Space Mining

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

This is a recap of the monthly column that runs down five interesting deals every month that may have flown under the radar. Check out November’s entry here.

Every month we take a look at a handful of rounds that maybe weren’t the biggest or spotlighted the most, but caught our attention for being a little different or unique.

We’ve covered everything from Katy Perry’s boozeless cocktails to bread robots.

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Now that the end of the year is fast approaching, let’s cull the list down even a little further and look at the five most interesting rounds of the year — at least in our eyes.

Pleistocene Park

Colossal Biosciences: The Dallas-based company closed a $60 million Series A led by Thomas Tull and At One Ventures in March. What caught our eye is that this isn’t just a normal bioscience firm battling disease — it’s trying to solve de-extinction. Yes, like resurrection biology. (Which Hollywood has shown always turns out poorly, i.e., the whole Jurassic Park franchise.)

The company, which launched in 2021, is using genome engineering technologies to find a practical working model of de-extinction that will focus on the goal of the “restoration and rewilding of functional woolly mammoths to the tundra.” Colossal said bringing back mammoths would allow for a better understanding of evolutionary change in other species, and that genetic engineering applications also will help enhance food production and reduce environmental impact.

The other thing that piqued our interest about this were the investors: Thomas Tull of Legendary Entertainment (speaking of movies) and investment firm Tulco fame; gaming company Animoca Brands; Paris Hilton; and several other names from a variety of areas. A pretty eclectic bunch — but then again, maybe that fits in with the mission.

Mining space

AstroForge: Asteroids are known to hold valuable minerals like platinum and gold. The only problem is they’re in space — obviously — so mining them can be an issue.

This is where Huntington Beach, California-based AstroForge comes in. The company locked up a $13 million seed round led by Initialized Capital in May to make such mining a reality.

The company has not shared much of its technology publicly, other than to say it enables in-space material refinement and that it has procured a rideshare launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 vehicle. AstroForge also said it’s already looking at potential mining targets as it prepares for a demonstration flight as early as January 2023.

While asteroid mining has been attempted before, the space economy as a whole really seems to be taking off, and space mining will get you on the list any day.

Fair’s fair

FairPlay: Doing what is fair sounds simple, but society has proven through history it’s difficult for many. Now just like most things, we can have it “as-a-service.”

Los Angeles-based FairPlay is a “fairness-as-a-service” provider solution for algorithmic decision making. The startup landed a $10 million Series A led by Nyca Partners in July.

The company uses AI to help reduce algorithmic bias for people of color, women and other historically disadvantaged groups. The company already has launched two APIs that analyze loan applications and lending.

FairPlay will use the new proceeds to move its services into the insurance coverage, advertising and fraud industries.

Chicken is the new 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 in June.

The Evansville, Indiana-based company produces what it calls “guilt-free innovation for pizza lovers looking for a delicious grain-free, high-protein option.” It creates 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.

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 in June, which it said was the largest Series A for any speech technology company. The round was 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.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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