August 5, 2019

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Top News

You may have noticed: the markets got clobbered today, after China allowed its currency to fall to its lowest level against the dollar in over a decade as part of its escalating trade war with the U.S. The development followed Donald Trump’s announcement last week that the U.S. will impose another 10 percent tariff on $300 billion of Chinese imports beginning next month as punishment for not making large-scale purchases of American farm products.  

If the U.S. continues to raise tariffs on Chinese goods in the coming months and China responds, expect a global recession in three quarters, Morgan Stanley now says

Tech stocks were particularly hard hit

To put a really fine point on things, the Trump administration late today designated China a “currency manipulator,” the first time the U.S. has made such a move since the early 1990s. As CNN notes, designating a country doesn’t “immediately trigger penalties, but it is seen by other governments as a provocation.”

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Massive Fundings  

Scale AI, a three-year-old, San Francisco-based startup whose software tools take a first pass at marking up pictures before they’re handed off to a network of roughly 30,000 contract workers to perform the finishing touches, has raised $100 million. Index Ventures led the round, which assigns the startup a post-money valuation of more than $1 billion, reports Bloomberg. The company’s other backers include Accel and Founders FundMore here

Big-But-Not-Crazy-Big Fundings  

Carwow, a six-year-old, London-based price comparison site that lets customers research and buy cars from dealers, has raised £25 million in funding led by Daimler, with participation from BaldertonAccel and Vitruvian. The Times has more here

Exo Imaging, a four-year-old, Redwood City, Ca.-based company at work on an ultrasound system intended to give physicians a single, handheld probe that can be used for the entire body, has raised $35 million in Series B funding. Intel Capital led the round, with participation from Applied VenturesBold CapitalCreative VenturesLongevity Vision FundMagnetar CapitalNautilus Venture PartnersOSF HealthcareRising Tide FundSony Innovation Fund and Wanxiang Healthcare Investments. The company has now raised roughly $50 million altogether. FierceBiotech has more here

Fever, a 5.5-year-old, Madrid- and London-based social event discovery platform, has raised $35 million in funding led by Rakuten Group, with participation from AtresmediaAccel and Michael Zeisser, who is the former chairman of U.S. investments for Alibaba Group. TechCrunch has more here

Hello Heart, a six-year-old, Bay Area-based startup behind a blood pressure lowering app, raised $12 million in Series B funding led by Khosla Ventures. FierceBiotech has more here

Human Interest, a four-year-old, San Francisco-based financial services startup that’s trying to make it easier for employers to offer retirement plans through an automated, paperless 401(k), has raised $15.4 million in Series B funding. U.S. Venture Partners led the round, joined by earlier backers Wing VCUncork Capital, and Slow Ventures, among others. Crunchbase News has more here

Indifi, a four-year-old, Gurgaon, India-based startup that offers loans to small and medium-sized businesses and also operates an online lending marketplace, has raised $20.4 million in Series C funding led by CDC Group,  a U.K.-government-owned venture fund. Earlier backers AccelElevar EquityOmidyar Networks, and Flourish Ventures also joined the round, which brings the company’s total funding to $34 million. TechCrunch has more here.

Lucira Health, a six-year-old, Emeryville, Ca.-based developer of non-instrument molecular infectious disease testing products, has raised $15 million in Series B funding led by Seraph Group, with participation from Eclipse VenturesDCVCY Combinator and Sunstone ManagementMore here

SmartNews, a seven-year-old, Tokyo-based, AI-powered news aggregation app, has raised $28 million in Series E funding at a post-money valuation of $1.1 billion. Japan Post Capital led the round, with participation from earlier backers, including the Development Bank of JapanSMBC Venture Capital, and Japan Co-Invest. The company has now raised $116 million altogether. TechCrunch has more here

Smaller Fundings  

NextStep Interactive, a 1.5-year-old, Seattle- and Bozeman, Mt.-based digital healthcare training platform, has raised $3 million in funding. Investors include SEI VenturesJAZZ Venture Partners, Learn CapitalSpringrock VenturesCity Light Capital and Frontier Angels. MobiHealth News has more here

Romeo Power, a four-year-old, Vernon, Ca.-based developer of power systems for electric vehicles, has raised $4 million from HG Ventures, the corporate venture arm of The Heritage Group, an engineering services firm. (Financially, this is a drop in the bucket for Romeo, which has raised more than $100 million in funding so far.) More here

Sheets & Giggles, a two-year-old, Denver-based bedding brand, has raised $1.3 million in seed funding led by Rockies Venture ClubMore here

Not-Saying-How-Much Fundings 

Henry’s Original, a four-year-old, Gardena, Ca.-based company that makes pre-rolled cannabis smokes among other things, has raised an undisclosed amount of Series B funding led by Merida Capital Partners, a private equity firm focused solely on the cannabis and hemp industries. Other investors in the round include Big Rock PartnersDelta Emerald Ventures, and funds managed by JW Asset ManagementMore here.

New Funds 

American Family Insurance Group, a Wisconsin-based company that sells home and auto coverage and other insurance products, runs a venture capital arm that’s focused on opportunities that benefit the company. And it has raised $162.5 million for a third venture fund that may close with as much as $200 million, shows an SEC filing that states that four investors have provided the committed capital thus far. More here

CAVU Venture Partners, a four-year-old, New York-based consumer-focused venture firm that’s especially keen on food and beverage startups, is in the process of raising up to $250 million for its third fund, shows an SEC filing. The outfit had closed its second fund with $209 million in 2017. As Forbes reported then, the firm got a running start thanks to cofounder Rohan Oza, who has been “closely tied to the multi-billion dollar success story of Vitaminwater,” and who has business and social ties to celebrities like Justin Timberlake. More here.


Airbnb is acquiring Urbandoor, a four-year-old, San Francisco-based platform that offers extended stays to corporate clients. Terms of the deal aren’t being disclosed and Urbandoor doesn’t seem to have announced outside funding (as far as we can tell). In addition to Urbandoor focusing more than Airbnb on business travelers and employees who are relocating, unlike Airbnb, it negotiates with property managers instead of with renters. TechCrunch has more here

Barneys New York, the luxury retailer,  is preparing to file for bankruptcy protection and nearing an agreement with lenders for a financing package that would give it time to find a buyer, says the WSJ. The restructuring plan reportedly under discussion calls for Barneys, which operates 13 department stores and nine warehouse stores, to immediately shut down most of its locations and look for a buyer for seven core stores. More here

Didi Chuxing, the Chinese ride-hail giant, just spun out its autonomous driving unit as an independent company. As notes the Financial Times, the move mirrors a similar one made by Uber earlier this year as Uber, under pressure from investors ahead of its IPO, spun out its own costly self-driving car business, Advanced Technologies Group. More here

Hewlett Packard Enterprise says it’s acquiring the “business assets” of MapR, a 10-year-old, artificial intelligence and analytics startup that had raised $280 million from investors from MayfieldLightspeed Venture PartnersNEA, and Redpoint, among others. According to Barron’s, the transaction price was less than $50 million. Business Insider had reported that the company was in serious trouble in May. More here

The two largest newspaper chains in the U.S. — GateHouse Media and Gannett Co. —  agreed today to combine their businesses in a roughly $1.4 billion deal, further consolidating an industry reeling from strong economic headwinds. More here has agreed to buy competing food delivery company Just Eat in an all-stock deal that values Just Eat at nearly £5 billion. The tie-up of the two publicly traded, European companies creates the largest food delivery business outside of China. TechCrunch has more here.


Endeavor Group, the company behind Hollywood’s largest talent agency, plans to delay its IPO until September at the earliest, says the WSJ. The reasons, it says: Endeavor is closing in on the purchase of premium-hospitality and live-events company On Location Experiences for as much as $700 million. Endeavor also wants to be able to tout its second-quarter results and renegotiated contracts for soccer events. More here

WeWork is close to naming JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group to lead its IPO, says Bloomberg. More here.


Adam Marchick, a serial entrepreneur whose last two companies include Alpine.AI and Kahuna, has joined L.A.-based Chernin Group as an executive in residence.  

Chris Downer, formerly an associate with the insurtech venture capital firm XL Innovate, has joined Sorenson Ventures as a principal. 

Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick lately has gone on a hiring spree to staff his latest startup, CloudKitchens—nabbing at least four senior engineers from Uber. That has Uber management irked, reports The Information. In fact, it reports that Uber’s chairman, Ron Sugar, two weeks ago reminded his fellow directors (including Kalanick) that they might remember their “fiduciary duty” to the company.


The $900 billion packaging industry is booming, suggests an alarming new report.

Essential Reads 

Online forum 8chan—used by the suspect in the El Paso, Texas, shooting Saturday that left 22 people dead—is working to restore service after being offline since late Sunday night, but the web-services company that host the site had its content blocked by its cloud-services provider Voxility, which cited its stand against hate speech. The site was earlier kicked off temporarily by Cloudflare, whose tools protect websites from cyberattacks and allows them to load more quickly. Though its CEO, Matthew Prince, expressed reluctance over playing enforcer, he said he views 8chan as a “lawless” platform that had willfully ignored warnings about violent extremism

The scramble to secure America’s voting machines.


The best songs of 2019 (so far). 

The math whiz who won the lottery . . . 14 times

What to expect if, by some stroke of bad luck, you fall into a pool of sharks.

Retail Therapy 

PhoneSoap for your smartphone.

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