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5 Interesting Startup Deals You May Have Missed In April: Grading NFTs, Creating Your Best Virtual Self And Electric Autonomous Airplanes

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.

Even if the pace of venture funding has dipped a bit, venture capital dollars continue to get thrown around and we thought it was worth doing a quick rundown of intriguing deals in April that may have been overlooked.

Here goes:

FungyProof: With the NFT market reaching $41 billion last year, it’s obvious non fungible tokens are a thing—at least for now. So if you are buying NFTs, how do you know you’re buying a good one?

That’s where Boulder, Colorado-based FungyProof comes in. The startup bills itself as the “Carfax for NFTs,” and offers quick quality assessments and grades of NFT collections. Last month, the platform raised $1 million in pre-seed funding from investors including Cadenza Ventures, Hypersphere Ventures, ZMT Capital, Red Beard Ventures and HanDAO.

With the market for NFTs—which are a type of blockchain asset that represents ownership of a virtual item—continuing to emerge, fraud is sure to be an issue. NFT marketplace OpenSea said in a tweet that more than 80 percent of the items created with its NFT creation tool were plagiarized works, fake collections and spam. Aside from fraud, some NFTs also can have flaws that make them susceptible to breaking.

Platforms that grade NFTs—similar to what Carfax does for cars or what a more crowd-sourced platform like Yelp does for restaurants—could be an interesting addition to the NFT ecosystem.

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Hour One: Let’s face it, our physical bodies soon won’t matter and you will want your virtual self to be as “real” as possible.

Hour One—with headquarters in both Israel and New York—last month raised a $20 million Series A led by Insight Partners to make your virtual you as life-like as possible. The company’s AI platform converts people into virtual human characters with “lifelike expressiveness” for a variety of commercial and professional use cases—think things like a virtual receptionist or salesperson.

The company starts by taking a short filming session with a person where their likeness is captured. Then Hour One’s AI technology generates a virtual twin that can be added to the virtual workforce.

So much for the theory that you can’t be in two places at once.

BabyQuip: Maybe this round is most interesting to us because it’s for a baby gear rental marketplace founded by the same person who co-founded—which may speak well of the dating site’s effectiveness.

Regardless, it is an interesting concept. New parents sometimes forgo traveling due to all the bulky gear needed for a newborn. Santa Fe, New Mexico-based BabyQuip has created an online marketplace where parents can buy and rent needed baby essentials when traveling.

Founded by Fran Maier, the six-year-old company in April closed a $3.4 million round it will use to expand into new international markets — including key travel markets in Mexico and the Caribbean— as well as add new hospitality partnerships.

Pyka: Everyone’s heard of electric autonomous cars, but how about airplanes? Founded five years ago, Oakland, California-based Pyka is developing just that. It actually already has developed what it says is the first and only commercially certified electric autonomous airplane. The Pelican crop spraying aircraft is fully autonomous and includes LIDAR-enabled collision and terrain avoidance systems.

The plane can spray up to 130 acres an hour at a fifth of the cost as a piloted craft, according to the company.

However, the company has its eyes on a larger prize. It will use its new $37 million Series A to further its research and development into the cargo market and even the passenger transit market, the company said. The round was led by Piva Capital and Prelude Ventures.

Pyka said it also will use the funding to start executing on the more than $320 million in MOUs and commercial agreements it has from customers.

Pictor: More than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic and questions still remain about the virus. One of those variables is how people build up—and keep—antibodies against it.

New Zealand-based vitro diagnostics company Pictor last month raised a $6.1 million round— led by Marko Bogievski and K1W1— and announced a partnership with Ohio-based Mobility Health to distribute Pictor’s COVID-19 antibody test. While testing around COVID is not unusual, Pictor’s test assesses whether a patient has antibodies, if the antibodies are from vaccination or from having contracting the disease and—perhaps most importantly— also tells whether at-risk patients have failed to mount a detectable antibody response despite vaccination or infection.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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