StrictlyVC: July 19, 2017

Hi, everyone, happy Wednesday.:)

Top News in the A.M.

The U.S. Supreme Court dealt a setback to Donald Trump’s travel ban earlier today, forcing his administration to accept people with grandparents, cousins and other relatives in the U.S.

Four more smartphone makers have joined Apple‘s battle against Qualcomm, claiming it charges excessive patent licenses and violates antitrust laws.

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This Famous Roboticist Doesn’t Think Elon Musk Understands AI

Earlier this week, at the campus of MIT, we had the chance to sit down with famed roboticist Rodney Brooks, the founding director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, and the cofounder of both iRobot and Rethink Robotics.

Brooks had a lot to say about AI, including his overarching concern that many people — including renowned AI alarmist Elon Musk — get it very wrong, in his view.

Brooks also warned that despite investors’ fascination with robotics right now, many VCs may underestimate how long these companies will take to build —  a potential problem for founders down the road.

Our chat, edited for length, follows.

You started iRobot when there was no venture funding, back in 1990. You started Rethink in 2008, when there was funding but not a lot of interest in robotics. Now, there are both, which seemingly makes it a better time to start a robotics company. Is it?

A lot of Silicon Valley and Boston VCs sort of fall over themselves about how they’re funding robotics [now], so you [as a founder] can get heard.

Despite [investors who say there is plenty of later-stage funding for robotics] , I think it’s hard for VCs to understand how long these far-out robotics systems will really take to get to where they can get a return on their investment, and I think that’ll be crunch time for some founders.

There’s also more competition and more patents that have been awarded, and a handful of companies have most of the world’s data. Does that make them insurmountable?

Someone starting a robotics company today should be thinking that maybe at some point, in order to grow, they’re going to have to get bought by a large company that has the deep pockets to push it further. The ecosystem would still use the VC funding to prune out the good ideas from the bad ideas, but going all the way to an IPO may be hard.

Second thing: On this data, yes, machine learning is fantastic, it can do a lot, but there are a lot of things that need to be solved that are not just purely software; some of the big innovations [right now] have been new sorts of electric motors and controls systems and gear boxes.

You’re writing a book on AI, so I have to ask you: Elon Musk expressed again this past weekend that AI is an existential threat. Agree? Disagree?

There are quite a few people out there who’ve said that AI is an existential threat: Stephen Hawking, astronomer Royal Martin Rees, who has written a book about it, and they share a common thread, in that: they don’t work in AI themselves. For those who do work in AI, we know how hard it is to get anything to actually work through product level.

More here.

New Fundings

Brain Corp., an eight-year-old, San Diego, Ca.-based software company licensing artificial intelligence technology to multiple OEMs to convert their manual equipment into intelligent robots, has raised $114 million in Series C funding. SoftBank Vision Fund led the deal, with participation from Qualcomm Ventures. TechCrunch has more here.

Clara Labs, the three-year-old, San Francisco-based creator of the Clara AI assistant, has raised $7 million in Series A funding led by Basis Set VenturesSlack Fund also joined in the round, along with earlier investors Sequoia Capital and First Round. TechCrunch has more here.

DataRails, a two-year-old, Tel Aviv, Israel-based company that’s trying to transforming Excel into a more modern organizational tool, has raised $6 million in Series A funding led by Vertex Ventures, with participation from earlier backers Cyrus Angel FundOryzn Capital and Joey LowMore here.

Embark, a two-year-old, Austin, Tex.-based doggie DNA startup offering genetic kits to determine pups’ pedigrees, has raised $4.5 million in funding led by Founder Collective. Other participants in the round include Freestyle CapitalThirdKind, Bill Maris’s new Section 32 fund, 23andMe founder Anne Wojcicki, and SV Angel. The company has now raised $6.5 million altogether. TechCrunch has more here.

Gravity, a five-month-old, London-based startup at work on an Iron Man-like flight suit, has raised $650,000 in funding from longtime VC Tim Draper and his son Adam Draper. TechCrunch has more here.

Integrate, a seven-year-old, Phoenix, Az.-based enterprise software startup for marketers that was founded by former U.S. Olympian Jeremy Bloom, has raised $8 million in funding from Iron Gate Capital and earlier backers, including Foundry GroupComcast Ventures and Liberty Global. ExactTarget founder Scott Dorsey and DocuSign CEO Dan Springer also joined the round, which brings the company’s total funding to $35 million. TechCrunch has more here.

Karmic, a three-year-old, San Francisco-based startup at work on payments infrastructure and applications to enable the faster and more secure issuance of card accounts, has raised $17.2 million in Series B funding. Investors include Alsop Louie PartnersArbor VenturesGreycroft PartnersMarketplace FundsStartup Capital Ventures and others. More here.

Leverton, a five-year-old, Berlin, Germany-based intelligent information extraction and document management platform for corporate documents at companies like Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs, has raised €10 million ($11 million) in funding from DAH Beteiligungs and Anyon HoldingMore here.

LiveStories, a four-year-old, Seattle-based company that works with governments, education institutions and other public entities to structure and visualize civic data, has raised $10 million in Series A funding. The round was led by Ignition Partners, and included participation from True Ventures and Founders Co-Op. TechCrunch has more here.

Nauto, a two-year-old, Palo Alto, Ca.-based autonomous vehicle technology company, just raised $159 million in Series B funding, led by a subsidiary of SoftBank Group and Greylock Partners. Other participants include previous strategic investors BMW iVenturesGeneral Motors VenturesToyota AI Ventures, the venture unit of global financial services and insurance provider Allianz GroupPlayground Global and Draper Nexus. TechCrunch has more here.

Plenty, a three-year-old, South San Francisco-based indoor farming company that says it has figured out how to efficiently grow crops indoors, has raised $200 million in Series B funding round led by the SoftBank Vision Fund, making it the largest agriculture technology investment in history. Note, this is the second humongous deal that Softbank Vision Fund announced today. (See Brain Corp, above.) Bloomberg has more here.

Rentomojo, a 2.5-year-old, Bengaluru, India-based company that invites consumers to rent appliances furniture, motorbikes and other urban living essentials, has raised $10 million in Series B funding. Bain Capital Venturesled the round, with participation from LendingClub founder Renaud Laplancheand earlier backers Accel Partners and IDG. TechCrunch has more here.

Shift, a four-year-old, San Francisco-based used car marketplace, has raised $38 million in Series C funding led by BMW iVentures, with participation from new investors DCM Ventures and G2VP, as well as continued participation from DFJHighland Capital, and Goldman Sachs Investment PartnersMore here.

StackRox, a three-year-old, Mountain View, Ca.-based cybersecurity startup that secures the contents of “containers,” or stacks of software that make it more efficient to run multiple applications atop a single operating system, has raised $14 million in funding. The round was led by Sequoia Capital. Reuters has more here.

Zego, a year-old, London-based startup offering pay-as-you-go insurance to on-demand workers, has raised a little more than £1 million in seed funding from investors, including LocalGlobe. TechCrunch has more here.

New Funds

Luxembourg-based Mangrove Capital Partners, one of Europe’s leading early-stage venture capital firms, has raised $170 million for its latest fund. Mangrove V will be used to invest across Europe and Israel. The amount matches that of its previous funds. TechCrunch has more here.

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Church & Dwight, a household goods manufacturer that owns the Arm & Hammer brand, is acquiring the water flosser maker Water Pik for about $1 billion in cash. The private equity firm MidOcean partners had acquired Water Pik in 2013 for undisclosed terms. USA Today has more here.

Sizmek, an ad tech company owned by the private-equity firm Vector Capital, has agreed to acquire ad tech peer Rocket Fuel for $125.5 million, or $2.60 per share. When Rocket Fuel went public in 2013, its shares traded as high as $66, giving it a market valuation of roughly $2 billion. The WSJ has more here.

McCormick and Co., the spice and flavorings giant, said it’s acquiring RB Foods, maker of Frank’s RedHot Hot Sauce, French’s Mustard and other brands, in a $4.2 billion deal. The Baltimore Sun has more here.


Apple just named its first managing director in China.

Elon Musk tried to manage expectations earlier today about SpaceX’s new rocket designed to carry private citizens into space, saying whoever chooses to be among the first passengers will need to be “brave.”

You think Uber was mismanaged; Silicon Valley’s first founderWilliam Shockley, was much, much worse, observes Wired.


Female, black and Latino student participation in Advanced Placement computer science exams has more than doubled in the past year, according to a new report. USA Today has more here.


Invesco, a fund-of-funds with stakes in more than 400 venture capital and buyout partnerships, is looking to hire an associate. The job is in San Francisco.

Polychain Capital, a young cryptocurrency hedge fund backed by Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Ventures, is looking to hire a cryptocurrency analyst. The job is in San Francisco.

Essential Reads

Google now has a Facebook News competitor, except rather than show users what interests their friends, it shows what users themselves are interested in.

NBC has lauched a daily news show on Snapchat.

Snap is now worth less than half its peak value.


Why Americans eat so much cheese.

Retail Therapy

Hazy Train pale ale: “smooth, velvety” and with “fruit-forward mouthfeel.” (They had us at “beer.”)

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