eSports “total solutions provider” VSPN (Versus Programming Network) has closed a $60 million Series B+ funding round, joined by Prospect Avenue Capital (PAC), Guotai Junan International and Nan Fung Group.
VSPN facilitates esports competitions in China, which is a massive industry and has expanded into related areas such as esports venues. It is the principal tournament organizer and broadcaster for a number of top competitions, partnering with more than 70% of China’s eSports tournaments.
The “B+” funding round comes only three months after the company raised around $100 million in a Series B funding round, led by Tencent Holdings.
This funding round will, among other things, be used to branch out VSPN’s overseas esports services.
Dino Ying, Founder, and CEO of VSPN said in a statement: “The esports industry is through its nascent phase and is entering a new era. In this coming year, we at VSPN look forward to showcasing diversified esports products and content… and we are counting the days until the pandemic is over.”
Ming Liao, the co-founder of PAC, commented: “As a one-of-its-kind company in the capital market, VSPN is renowned for its financial management; these credentials will be strong foundations for VSPN’s future development.”
Xuan Zhao, Head of Private Equity at Guotai Junan International said: “We at Guotai Junan International are very optimistic of VSPN’s sharp market insight as well as their team’s exceptional business model.”
Meng Gao, Managing Director at Nan Fung Group’s CEO’s Office said: “Nan Fung is honored to be a part of this round of investment for VSPN in strengthening their current business model and promoting the rapid development of emerging services and the esports streaming ecosystem.”
Bolt Mobility, the Miami-based micromobility startup co-founded by Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt, is expanding to 48 new markets after acquiring the assets of Last Mile Holdings.
Bolt Mobility’s rise and Last Mile’s demise captures the uncertainty that plagued micromobility companies in the past year as the COVID-19 pandemic upended business models that were, in some cases, already on shaky ground.
Bolt Mobility and Last Mile were both negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Bolt Mobility, for instance, had to shut down in several markets in early 2020 due to the pandemic. The company rebounded after it tweaked its business model and began to partner with local operators, added GM’s former VP global design Ed Welburn as an adviser and came out with a new scooter equipped with dual brakes, 10-inch wheels, LED lights, swappable batteries with 25 miles of range and NanoSeptic surfaces on its handlebars and brake levers designed to rid these common contact points of germs and bacteria.
Last Mile Holdings didn’t fare as well.
If Last Mile Holdings doesn’t sound familiar, the brands it once owned might. Last Mile was a holding company that owned the OjO Electric scooters and Gotcha Mobility, which had a portfolio of electric trikes, scooters and bikes. The company acquired Gotcha in a $12 million cash and stock deal that closed in March 2020.
As Bolt Mobility grew, with its customer base hitting 300,000 users in 2020, Last Mile hit headwinds. Last Mile Holdings, which traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange under MILE, ended up selling its U.S. assets in an auction. Bolt Mobility acquired substantially all of the assets of the company for a credit bid of $3 million, according to a filing at the end of the year.
Those assets include 8,500 new devices, including e-scooters, e-bikes, pedal bikes and sit-down cruisers and licenses to operate in 48 new markets, the majority of which (more than 30) are exclusive contracts, according to Bolt CEO Ignacio Tzouma. The 48 new markets include 18 university campuses.
“The acquisition represents a significant expansion for Bolt on all fronts,” Tzoumas said, adding that the company brought on former Gotcha Chief Operating Officer Matt Tolan, who will now serve as Bolt’s chief commercial officer, as well as about 20 team members who were formerly a part of Gotcha’s tech and operations teams.
Riders in Bolt’s new markets will continue to be able to access and use the e-scooters, e-bikes and pedal bikes through the Gotcha Mobility and Ojo Electric iOS and Android mobile apps. Bolt is working with cities and universities to transition these markets to Bolt’s platform. The acquisition adds e-bikes to the Bolt platform for the first time. Although, the company was already developing its own line of e-bikes that it plans to launch later this year.
Bolt credits its new business model for helping it survive and even thrive in 2020. Instead of continuing to handle the complex and expensive task of fleet management and operations, Bolt decided to partner with local companies. These partners operate Bolt’s fleets on the ground in each individual market. This customizable approach allowed for a business partnership model in select markets where Bolt leased scooters to delivery workers, restaurants and other small businesses, the company said.
By July, Bolt and its partners were operating in five new or re-launched markets. Bolt also has a backlog of agreements with partners for an additional 20 markets that the acquisition is primed to fulfill, according to the company.
Tzoumas said Bolt was able to execute the deal without taking on any additional debt, and “under terms that will allow us to continue devoting our resources to expanding and improving our services in all of the markets where we operate.” The acquisition was funded in part by Fuel Venture Capital, an existing Bolt investor. Bolt is also backed by Sofreh Capital and The Yucaipa Companies.
“We founded Bolt because we believe in micromobility as a movement that can transform the way people live and move within their communities,” Usain Bolt said in a statement. “This expansion proves that anything is possible for micromobility when you support it with talented people, innovative technology, and the incredible work ethic of the Bolt team.”
The United States has, over the past few decades, been extremely lenient on antitrust enforcement, rarely blocking deals, even with overseas competitors. Yet, there have been inklings that things are changing. Yesterday, we learned that Visa and Plaid called off their combination after the Department of Justice sued to block it in early November. We also learned a week ago that shaving startup Billie would end its proposed acquisition by consumer product goods giant P&G after the Federal Trade Commission sued to block it in December.
Many, many, many other deals of course get through the gauntlet of regulations, but even a few smoke signals is enough to start raising concerns. That new calculus is even before we start to look at the morass of reforms being proposed around antitrust in Washington DC these days, nearly all of which — on a bipartisan basis — would create stricter controls for antitrust, particularly in critical technology industries and information services.
So, what’s the valuation prognosis for startups these days given that one of the most important exit options available is increasingly looking fraught?
The UK’s competition and markets regulator is seeking views on Nvidia’s takeover of Arm Holdings as it prepares to kick off formal oversight of potential competitive impacts of the deal.
The US-based chipmaker’s $40BN purchase of the UK-based chip designer, announced last September, has triggered a range of domestic concerns — over the impact on UK jobs, industrial strategy/economic sovereignty and even national security — although the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA)’s probe will focus solely on possible competition-related impacts.
It said today that the probe will likely to consider whether, post-acquisition, Arm would have an incentive to “withdraw, raise prices or reduce the quality of its IP licensing services to Nvidia’s rivals”, per a press release.
The CMA is inviting interested third parties to comment on the acquisition before January 27 — ahead of the launch of its formal probe. That phase 1 investigation will include additional opportunities for external comment, according to the regulator, which has not yet provided a date for when it will take a decision on the acquisition.
Further details can be found on its case page — here.
Commenting in a statement, Andrea Coscelli, the CMA’s chief executive, said: “The chip technology industry is worth billions and critical to many of the products that we use most in our everyday lives. We will work closely with other competition authorities around the world to carefully consider the impact of the deal and ensure that it doesn’t ultimately result in consumers facing more expensive or lower quality products.”
Among those sounding the alarm about the impact on the UK of an Nvidia-Arm takeover is the original founder of the company, Hermann Hauser.
In September he wrote to the prime minister saying he’s “extremely concerned” about the impact on UK jobs, Arm’s business model and the future of the country’s economic sovereignty.
A website Hauser set up to gather signatures of objection — called savearm.co.uk — states that more than 2,000 signatures had been collected as of October 12.
As well as the CMA, a number of other international regulators will be scrutinizing the deal, with Nvidia saying in September that it expected the clearance process to take 1.5 years.
It has sought to preempt UK concerns, saying it will double down on the country as a core part of its engineering efforts by expanding Arm’s offices in Cambridge — where it said it would establish “a new global center of excellence in AI research”.
On wider national security concerns that are being attached to the Nvidia-Arm deal from some quarters, the CMA noted that the UK government could choose to issue a public interest intervention notice “if appropriate”.
Arm was bought by Japan’s SoftBank in 2016 for around $31BN.
Its subsequent deal to offload the chip designer to Nvidia is a mixture of cash and stock — including an immediate $2BN cash payment to SoftBank. The majority of the transaction’s value is due to be paid in Nvidia stock at close of the deal, pending regulatory clearances.
Voyager Space Holdings continues to build up its portfolio of strategic space service offerings with the acquisition of a majority stake in X.O. Markets, the parent company of Nanoracks. Nanoracks has provided commercial space services for years now, and most recently provided the Bishop Airlock that was installed on the International Space Station. Bishop is the first dedicated commercial permanent airlock on the ISS, and will provide a major increase in capabilities in terms of providing access to the orbital platform for private small satellites and research.
This is Voyager’s third major acquisition this year, after it picked up a majority stake in The Launch Company, a launch support company that provides services and hardware to facilitate launches, and that works with companies including Relativity, Firefly Aerospace and Virgin Orbit. Voyager also picked up Pioneer Astronautics (an R&D company that works on propulsion, fuels, rapid prototyping and much more) in 2020, as well as Altius Space Machines in 2019. Altius is a startup that works on technology for on-orbit satellite servicing.
Nanoracks is probably its highest-profile acquisition, since the company has been involved in over 1,000 ISS projects, spanning on-station research and small satellite launch from the platform, as well as other orbital and deep space missions. Nanoracks created a commercial space testing platform outside o the ISS, and will be demonstrating a technology on a SpaceX mission next year that could eventually be used to convert spent upper stages from launch vehicles into orbital commercial mini space stations.
Voyager Space Holdings continues its strategic acquisition of new space companies, building out a portfolio that can offer clients significantly more ‘full-service’ solutions than any of these individual companies taken together. Commercial details of these arrangements aren’t shared, but they increasingly represent one path to exit for smaller companies addressing elements of the larger commercial space sector in fairly specialized ways.
Per the company’s own accounting, it will have 596,399,007 or 601,399,007 shares outstanding, depending on whether its underwriters exercise their option. That gives the company a valuation range of $26.2 billion to $30.1 billion at the extremes.
The company’s simple share count does not include a host of other shares that have vested but not yet been exercised. Including those shares, the company’s fully diluted valuation stretches to $35 billion, by CNBC’s arithmetic.
The top-end of Airbnb’s simple valuation places it near its Series F valuation set in 2017. Its fully-diluted valuation exceeds that $30.5 billion valuation and is far superior to the $18 billion, post-money valuation that it raised at during its troubled period early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
For those investors, Silver Lake and Sixth Street, the company’s initial IPO price range is a win. For the company’s preceding investors, to see the company appear ready to at least match its preceding private valuation is a win as well, given how much damage Airbnb’s business sustained early in the pandemic.
But how do those Airbnb valuation numbers match up against its revenues, and will public market investors value the company based on its current results, or expectations for a return-to-form once a vaccine comes to market? And if so, is Airbnb expensive or not?
Shares of Booking Holdings, which owns travel services like Kayak, Priceline, OpenTable and others, have almost doubled in value since its pandemic lows and is within spitting distance of its all-time highs. This despite its revenues falling 48% in its most recent quarter. There’s optimism in the market that travel companies are on the cusp of a return to form, buoyed — we presume — by good news regarding effective coronavirus vaccines.
My expectation is that Airbnb is enjoying a similar bump, as investors intend to buy its shares not to bask in awe of its Q4 2020 results, but instead to enjoy what happens in the back half of 2021 as vaccines roll out and the travel industry recovers.
But happens if we stack Airbnb’s revenues against its valuation today?
Voyager Space Holdings, one of the companies that has been on a bit of an acquisitive spree recently as it looks to put together a comprehensive and multi-vertical space technology offering, has announced that it intends to acquire The Launch Company, an Anchorage-based startup that is focused on “streamlining the launch process,” with the ultimate aim of building a launch site capable of playing host to multiple users for quick turnaround between launches from different providers.
Already, The Launch Company has worked with a number of companies in the new space sector, including Firefly, Relativity, and Virgin Orbit. It’s been involved in the DARPA launch challenge, which was designed to kickstart the development of mobile and responsive multi-vehicle launch capabilities. The company’s focus on flexible and responsive launch services is in high demand not only in the emerging commercial space industry, but also for deep-pocketed and consistent clients like the Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force.
Voyager has been focusing on assembling holdings that allow it to provide clients across the space industry with more vertical integration throughout the process of designing and launching a mission. They acquired Pioneer Technologies earlier this year, which is working with NASA on Artemis program elements, and also acquired Altius Space Machines, a satellite interface, servicing and design company last year.
Natalie Portman and John Legend are joining a group of venture capitalists and unnamed fashion brands backing MycoWorks, a company that just raised $45 million to commercialize its technology that makes a fungal-based biomaterial that can replace leather.
The goal is to get consumers to trade in their leather and lizard skin couture for some fungus fashion.
The company said it has inked some deals with big fashion brands as partners as it looks to bring its funky fungus to the masses in shoes, wallets, belts and other goods that traditionally use cowhide or other animal skins.
“We have been working with a few luxury brands and a major footwear manufacturer in very close collaboration,” said Matt Scullin, the chief executive officer at MycoWorks .
The unnamed fashion brands have already started producing products for stores in a range of items including shoes, ready to wear apparel and bags, according to Scullin.
MycoWorks likes to differentiate itself from other brands that want to bring a fungus among us or plant new plant-based fabrics in fashion — companies like Bolt Threads (mushrooms), Ananas Anam (pineapple fibers), and Desserto (cactus leather) — with its emphasis on the durability of its fabric.
“We’ve had the product tested in a huge range of different applications of various leather-based apparel to upholstery to standard leather goods like handbags and wallets. The key difference between our material and mushroom leather is that the structural components is so high,” Scullin said. “We’re confident in the material’s ability to perform in a really wide range of applications so there’s a wide range of uses for that.”
To that end, MycoWorks is focused on the high-end of the market. “There’s a misconception that brands are willing to sacrifice performance for sustainability and that’s not true,” Scullin said. “The real adoption occurs in an industry like this when the performance is there.”
Scullin won’t say how much the MycoWorks material costs nor would he talk about which specific companies are working with the company’s product right now. He did say that the company hopes eventually to be price competitive with not just the traditional leather market, but the plastic market for leather replacements, which is worth $70 billion per-year alone.
With the company’s current capacity it can produce tens of thousands of square feet of fungal material per yar, according to Scullin. That means MycoWorks still has a long way to go to catch up to an industry that produces billions of square feet of leather.
The funding for MycoWorks is impressive, but it also has to contend with some competitors that are getting traction of their own in the fashion industry.
In October, Bolt Threads announced the creation of a consortium alongside longtime partners Adidas, Stella McCartney and the fashion house behind brands like Balenciaga to explore mushroom leather-based products.
For MycoWorks investors — including WTT Investment Ltd. (Taipei, Taiwan), DCVC Bio, Valor Equity Partners, Humboldt Fund, Gruss & Co., Novo Holdings, 8VC, SOSV, AgFunder, Wireframe Ventures and Tony Faddell — the competition is expected. But they believe that MycoWorks functionality makes it the king (oyster) of the leather substitute world.
“Fine mycelial leather is customizable to client needs,” said DCVC Bio investor Kiersten Stead. “[It’s] customizable in terms of shape, and application. And prices will vary depending on what the application and the criteria from customers is.”
In all, MycoWorks has raised $62 million and the company’s new financing announcement coincides with the opening of a new Emeryville, California production plant that takes its capacity up to its current tens-of-thousands of feet of fungal leather replacement capacity.
Behind all of this push to find replacements for animal skins is a growing awareness of the problems associated with traditional methods for manufacturing leather for clothes and shoes. It’s a terribly toxic and polluting process, both in the tanning and dyeing and in the waste and landfilling associated with both animal leather and its plastic replacements.
“The process of growing the mycelium is carbon negative. Customers will look at [our product] versus an animal hide and say why wouldn’t I choose [that],” said Sculin. “In addition you have the non-animal aspects and the plastic-free aspects that are driving so many decisions right now… what we really are to our brand partners is an advanced manufacturing company. We are motivated by sustainability. We represent a way for them to change their supply chains.”
McDonalds is developing what it calls a plant-based platform called the McPlant that will debut in markets around the world early next year, according to a report in USA Today.
In an investor meeting McDonald’s announced that it had worked to develop its McPlant formulation exclusively. “McPlant is crafted exclusively for McDonald’s, by McDonald’s,” Ian Borden, McDonald’s international president, said at an investor meeting, quoted by USA Today.
The company’s special formulation could extend across plant-based products including burgers, chicken-substitutes and breakfast sandwiches, according to Borden.
To date, McDonald’s has been a laggard in the corporate fight over plant-based burgers and chicken — at least in the U.S.
In McDonald’s around the world — including locations in Germany, the UK, Hong Kong, Israel, Canada, and Finland — diners under the golden arches can find a vegetarian sandwich option.
Indeed, in Canada, McDonald’s launched a pilot last year with Beyond Meat for the PLT sandwich (a play off of the company’s previous sandwich the McDLT, I’m assuming).
Compared to some other fast food chains in the US, McDonald’s has been something of a laggard. Burger King has worked with Impossible Foods to launch the Impossible Whopper and Beyond Meat has partnered with KFC on a plant-based nugget.
The two leading alternative protein makers have done a fairly good job of carving up the fast food market to date — but McDonald’s entry with its exclusive formulation must come as a blow to the companies (and the other startups that were hoping for a bite of McDonald’s food empire).
That includes startups like Chile’s the Not Company and Hong Kong’s Green Monday Holdings, which have both been vying for McDonald’s plant-based patty business.