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.
It’s the last full month of summer, and between vacations and other news (the IPO market has apparently opened), it’s easy to miss some intriguing funding rounds.
August certainly had a bunch of them — from a couple of robotics startups to a company that helps filter out microplastics, to another to analyze pitch decks faster — so let’s dive in.
Watching someone dangling 70 floors from the sidewalk on scaffolding while cleaning the windows of a tall skyscraper is not an unusual sight — at least it wasn’t back when many of us worked in a downtown office.
Nevertheless, it always looked a little harrowing, even for those of us who aren’t afraid of heights. Now comes a startup trying to eliminate any danger, while virtually eliminating the labor-intensive activity.
Israel-based Skyline Robotics raised a $3.4 million seed round in August through a SAFE (simple agreement for future equity) to expand the deployment of its “Ozmo” robots, which can clean windows and the outside of buildings.
Its robots — imagine a big robotic arm — are already used in New York City. The startup aims to expand its cleaning robots to other big cities.
It’s not surprising that robots can clean windows — they work in warehouses and factories, after all — but it would still be a sight to see a robot arm cleaning a building’s window on Market Street in San Francisco one day.
Filtering out the noise
Venture capitalists get a lot of pitches. Founders and entrepreneurs spend countless hours trying to make the perfect pitch deck to secure the funding they hope will one day help turn their startup into a unicorn.
But how is an investor expected to sort through all those decks? Norway-based Deckmatch is here to help VC firms with that. The company — which locked up a seed round worth about $1.1 million led by Alliance Ventures and Skyfall Ventures — has created a platform that takes unstructured data from a pitch deck and parses it out into more digestible insights.
The idea is to allow investors to cut the wheat from the chaff a little quicker, leading to better deal flow.
The startup plans to grow its AI-enhanced platform, ingesting other information and data, and making informed guesses about market fit and size.
VCs are busy, even in these slower days. Deckmatch wants to give them some of that time back.
Creating a better character
We tend to focus on smaller rounds that people may have missed during the month. But every once in a while, a bigger round just can’t be ignored.
Such is the case with Inworld AI.
In August, the generative AI startup raised a round of funding at a $500 million valuation. While the round has not completely closed, the company said it will total $50 million-plus. The round included some big investor names — Lightspeed Venture Partners, Stanford University, First Spark Ventures, Samsung Next, LG Technology Ventures and other existing investors.
However, it is not the impressive list of investors that makes the deal noteworthy. Rather, it’s the fact that Inworld AI uses its platform to help developers create smart characters designed to learn and perform their actions.
Yes, you read that right. The Mountain View, California-based startup has developed an AI-driven “Character Engine” to create non-playable characters for gaming and other interactive experiences using multiple machine-learning models. Developers can use the platform to create characters that can learn and adapt, have memories and motivations, and even navigate relationships.
That seems both cool and creepy — being able to build a character that one day could be smarter than you. Like we said, cool and creepy.
Of course, not every interesting round in August involved AI.
England-based Matter, a microplastic harvesting startup, raised a $10 million Series A led by S2G Ventures and SoundWaves, the sustainability-focused investment fund backed by Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary.
The company is battling the microplastic pandemic we have created in our world. Microplastics are tiny plastic particles. These tiny particles are in our clothing and when we wash them they fall off. In fact, according to Matter, each laundry cycle can release up to 700,000 microplastic fibers into waterways. An estimated 171 trillion microplastic particles currently float in the oceans.
The company created the “Gulp,” a microplastics filter that consumers can attach to their washers to capture microplastics before they are pushed into our water.
However, the company has bigger dreams than just a direct-to-consumer model. It hopes to use the new cash to partner with domestic and commercial laundry appliance manufacturers to integrate its tech into their washers. There will be a market — there is incoming French legislation requiring new domestic and commercial washing machines to be fitted with microfibre filters by 2025.
Matter is not stopping there. The company also will accept your captured microplastics so they can be recycled.
That’s full service.
We’ll end the list with how we started it — with robotics — and of course, more AI.
Obviously a robotics firm raising $25 million is not unusual, but what Intuition is building its product for is intriguing.
The company has created an “AI care companion” — called ElliQ — that is designed to support older, aging adults to reduce loneliness and isolation as they continue to live independently.
ElliQ — which the company calls the “sidekick for healthier, happier aging” — provides companionship, support and conversation for older adults and can offer help with daily health check-ins and other reminders.
The ElliQ setup looks like a virtual assistant — like an Alexa — with an iPad all on one platform, so don’t expect a creepy robot sitting on a couch.
With the U.S. population getting older and so many looking at caring for aging loved ones, robotics may not be the answer — but it could be part of it.
Illustration: Dom Guzman
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