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5 Interesting Startup Deals You May Have Missed In April: Organic Computers, Recycling Chopsticks And Separating Waste

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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.

After a bumpy first quarter for venture capital, the second quarter is in full swing.

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Let’s look at a handful of rounds that may have been overlooked but have tech that deserves a second read-through.

Upcycling chopsticks

We all snag the takeout chopsticks on our way out of our favorite Chinese or sushi place when getting takeout.

But after using them, how many of us toss them in the trash?

Canada-based ChopValue is here to help with some of our environmentally unfriendly eating habits. The startup raised $7.7 million in new funding to support its network of waste-to-resource microfactories.

ChopValue already has saved more than 100 million chopsticks from the landfill — turning what we usually use to shovel lo mein into our mouths into sustainably made decor, kitchen accessories and other products.

The company plans to use the new cash to get into new markets in Asia Pacific and Europe. It already is piloting its microfactories in U.S. cities such as Las Vegas and Boston.

While ChopValue has started with chopsticks, the company’s model can be used for other types of reuse.

A cyber brain

It kind of sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, but isn’t that where all great ideas come from?

Australia-based Cortical Labs, a “biological computing startup” combining lab-grown human brain cells with computer chips, just raised $10 million in a funding round led by Horizons Ventures.

Cortical Labs plans to use the money to commercialize its biological computer chips — referred to as DishBrain — which has already learned to play basic video games like Pong.

Some think such a development could be the next advancement of AI, since human neurons have some advantages over their digital counterparts.

If all that is not terrifying enough, In-Q-Tel — the venture capital arm of the Central Intelligence Agency, is an investor.

Think about that.

More AI

A list like this is legally mandated to include at least one startup using generative AI, so let’s look at legal AI startup Harvey.

The company raised an undisclosed round at a $150 million valuation this month led by Sequoia Capital, according to a report by Insider.

While not much has been reported about that round, Harvey did announce a $5 million seed round led by OpenAI Startup Fund last November — when AI was just starting to take off — so it did not take long to raise another round from a big-name investor, even in a down market.

Instead of using AI for sales or marketing purposes, the San Francisco-based startup is putting it to work for lawyers, giving them an interface to use AI in editing legal documents or performing legal research.

Now the only question is: What is Harvey’s hourly rate?

A new way to compost

Many of us shovel food scraps down our sink’s garbage disposal with most thinking it just disappears into the ether.

Well, the sad fact is that it doesn’t. Actually, food waste now tops more than 3 billion tons globally each year, and some cities in North America have imposed garbage disposal bans and made organic waste separation mandatory.

Canada-based Sepura Home raised a $3.7 million seed round led by sink-maker Blanco to help with the growing problem while not making your after-dinner cleanup any more difficult.

The startup has developed a “smart” composter that connects to the plumbing right under the sink and can effectively separate 99.9% of solid waste that goes down the drain, while allowing liquids to flow through. The waste is stored in a sealed and odorless container there until removed.

The unit will cost about $700 when it starts shipping in a few months.

Can’t you make it go faster?

While everyone wants to figure out ways to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, there are natural methods for storing it in places like the ocean.

However, once absorbed and stored, it takes millions of years to convert it into bicarbonate, so the process is a little slow.

San Carlos, California-based Ebb Carbon is trying to make that process a little faster. The  ocean-based carbon dioxide removal startup raised a $20 million Series A across two closings led by Prelude Ventures and Evok Innovations, respectively

Ebb’s proprietary solution speeds up the natural process of alkalinization, reducing acidity in the ocean and restoring its natural chemistry, and allowing it to once again draw down more carbon dioxide.

The new cash will allow Ebb to deploy its first systems — one with the capacity to remove 100 tons of CO2 later this year, and a 1,000-ton capacity system shortly after that.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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