Startup Funding: February 2021

22 startups raise over $1.2B.


In February, several startups emerge from stealth, with one company working on AI inference architectures for the data center and another trying to make lenses thinner by patterning surfaces with tiny structures. Two new Chinese companies are trying to expand the country’s semiconductor design ecosystem with GPUs and interface IP. Plus, a maker of AI chips for ADAS draws another massive round this month as we take a look at 22 startups that collectively raised over $1.2B.

Semiconductors & design
GPU startup Moore Threads raised an undisclosed amount of pre-A Series funding (stated as billions RMB — 1.0B RMB is about $155M) led by Shenzhen Capital Group, Sequoia Capital China, and GGV Capital and joined by China Merchants Capital, ByteDance, Xiaoma Zhixing, Ronghui Capital, Haisong Capital, Famous Investment, No. 1 Venture, Wuyuan Capital, Heertai, Minghao, and others. The company is focused on GPU R&D, design, and manufacturing and hopes to form the base of a complete GPU ecosystem in China. In addition to graphics, the company is targeting AI and high-performance computing tasks. Founded in 2020, Moore Threads is based in Beijing and Shanghai, China.

Storage startup Pliops drew $65.0M in venture funding led by Koch Disruptive Technologies. All current investors, including NVIDIA, State of Mind Ventures, Viola Ventures, Intel Capital, SoftBank Ventures Asia, Expon Capital, Western Digital, Xilinx, and Sweetwood Capital joined the round. Pliops makes a storage processor available as a hardware-enabled storage engine deployed in a PCIe card form factor or as a cloud service. The company says the technology can improve the cost, performance, and endurance of SSD storage and accelerate the processing of data-intensive applications in data centers. Pliops plans to scale its technology into new use cases, expand its product line, and double the size of the company by the end of 2021. Founded in 2017, Pliops is based in Ramat Gan, Israel, and has raised $105M to date.

IP startup AkroStar (Xinyaohui) closed an angel and pre-A round with CN¥ 400M (~$61.8M) led by GL Ventures, Sequoia China Capital, V Fund Management, as well as Gaorong Capital. Green Pine Capital Partners, state-owned Da Heng Qin Group, 5Y Capital, and Panorama Capital all joined the latest round, along with angel round investors ZhenFund and DaShu Finance. AkroStar’s focus is high-speed interface IP for 14/12nm and smaller processes. It also provides IP integration and customization services. The former Deputy General Manager of Synopsys China, Zeng Keqiang, is heading up the new company as CEO and Chairman. Founded in 2020, AkroStar is based in Zhuhai, China.

Wireless IC startup SPARK Microsystems raised CDN$17.5M (~$13.9M) in private equity funding led by Cycle Capital and joined by new investors ND Capital and Export Development Canada, as well as existing investor Real Ventures and private investors including Sanjay K. Jha (former GlobalFoundries  CEO) and Paul Jacobs (former Qualcomm CEO). Recently, SPARK launched ultra-wide band (UWB) wireless transceiver ICs for short-range wireless connectivity applications such as gaming peripherals and AR/VR headsets, smart home devices, and battery-less IoT sensors. Proceeds will be used to fund high-volume manufacturing, sales ramp and expanded R&D for next generation products. Montreal, Canada and founded in 2016, SPARK has raised about $17.3M.

Signal conversion chipmaker Scalinx drew €10.5M (~$12.7M) in Series A funding led by NCI WaterStart Capital and Normandie Participations, joined by BNP Paribas Développement, CEN Innovation, and Unexo. Scalinx designs ASICs, ASSPs, and IP for wideband and low power signal conversion in applications such as wired and wireless communications, test and measurement equipment, and radar. Based in Paris, France, Scalinx was founded in 2015.

RF fabless startup Mobix Labs raised $10.0M in seed funding. The company focuses on making high frequency RF chips for mmWave 5G devices, including fully integrated, single-chip, single-die, mmWave beamformers, antenna solutions, and RF semiconductors. Based in Irvine, Calif., Mobix Labs was founded in 2020 and has total funding of $12.5M following another recent seed round.

Cambridge GaN Devices (CGD) raised $9.5M in a Series A round led by IQ Capital, Parkwalk Advisors, and BGF Ventures, and includes investment from Foresight Williams, Cambridge Enterprise, Martlet Capital, Cambridge Angels, and Cambridge Capital Group. The startup designs power transistors and ICs based on gallium nitride (GaN) to provide fast switching with low power loss. CGD is developing a range of GaN transistors that are customized for applications such as consumer and industrial Switch Mode Power Supply (SMPS), lighting, data centers, and automotive HEV/EV. Funds will be used to double staff and expand the product portfolio. A spin out from the power device group at Cambridge University founded in 2016, CGD is based in Cambridge, UK.

AI hardware startup NeuReality emerged from stealth with an $8.0M seed round with investment from Cardumen Capital, OurCrowd, and Varana Capital. The company is working on purpose-built AI platforms, particularly for inference in the data center. NeuReality says its solution reduces the dependency on CPUs, NICs and PCI-switches and moves simple but critical data path functions from software to hardware. Current prototypes are based on Xilinx FPGAs. Founded in 2019, the company is based in Caesarea, Israel.

Wafer maker NexWafe raised €10.0M (~$12.2M) in Series B funding from Fraunhofer Venture, Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, GAP Technology Holding, Lynwood Schweiz AG, and Bantina Invest Limited. NexWafe produces high-efficiency monocrystalline silicon wafers using in-line epitaxy. The wafers are designed as a drop-in replacement for Cz-Si wafers in solar cell production and the company says they provide higher efficiency and yield at a lower cost. The funding will allow NexWafe to begin pilot manufacturing activities. Spun out from Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE in 2015, it is based in Freiburg, Germany.

Adapdix received an undisclosed amount of venture funding from SoftBank’s Opportunity Fund. The company specializes in edge AI automation and control software for industrial equipment, with an initial focus on manufacturing customers in the semiconductor, electronics, and automotive industries. Adapdix is based in Pleasanton, Calif., and was founded in 2014. It has raised $10M to date.

Optics startup Metalenz launched from stealth with a $10.0M Series A round from 3M Ventures, Applied Ventures, Intel Capital, M Ventures, TDK Ventures, Tsingyuan Ventures, and Braemar Energy Ventures. Acting as a fabless company, Metalenz designs optical metasurfaces, or meta-optics, that use patterned sub-wavelength structures to combine the functions of several refractive lenses into a single, thin, and flat surface. Able to be fabricated using standard semiconductor processes, the company is currently applying the technology to pattern generators, 3D imaging lenses, and diffusers. The funds will be used to scale production and accelerate development. It plans to enter the end-user device market later this year. A spin out from Harvard Labs founded in 2017, Metalenz is based in Boston, Mass., and has raised $17.4M to date.

Autonomy & ADAS
AI chipmaker Horizon Robotics continued its Series C round with a $350.0M investment led by Great Wall Motors and joined by BYD Company, Changjiang Automobile Electronic, Dongfeng Motor Group, Sunny Optical Technology, Changzhou Xingyu Automotive Lighting Systems Company, CMC-SDIC Capital, CICC Capital, and Shougang Fund. The company focuses on AI chips for ADAS and autonomous driving applications and currently provides L2 and L3 solutions, with plans to release an inference chip focused on L3/L4 driving in the first half of the year. Horizon Robotics is working on development and commercialization of L4/L5 chips. Based in Beijing, China and founded in 2015, the company has raised over $1.5B.

Autonomous trucking startup Plus drew $200.0M in a Series B round led by new investors Guotai Junan International, CPE Capital, and Wanxiang International Investment and joined by existing investors including Full Truck Alliance, SAIC Capital, GSR Ventures, Sequoia Capital, China Growth Capital, Lightspeed, and Mayfield Fund. The company’s autonomy system can be installed on an existing truck or as an upfit option on new trucks by truck manufacturers. It is also partnering with heavy truck maker FAW on the J7+, beginning mass production this year for the Chinese market. Based in Cupertino, Calif., and founded in 2016, Plus has raised $300M to date.

Connected vehicle company ECARX raised $200.0M in a Series A+ round led by China Venture Capital Fund. ECARX provides a smart cockpit product with 4G/5G connectivity, infotainment, and voice assistance. It will also be working with auto electronics company Visteon on an intelligent automotive based on Qualcomm’s platform. The company is planning an expansion into the international market and recently set up an R&D center in Sweden. Based in Hangzhou, China, ECARX was founded in 2016 by automaker Geely as an independently operating firm.

Self-driving company drew $100.0M in extended Series C funding led by Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and joined by 5Y Capital, Brunei Investment Agency, ClearVue Partners, CPE, Eight Roads Ventures, and Fidelity China Special Situations. The company uses a combination of lidar, radar, and cameras and has a fleet of over 100 L4 robo-taxis currently being testing in Guangzhou, Shanghai, and California, and is testing autonomous freight delivery. Founded in 2016 and based in Fremont, Calif., and Guangzhou, China, has raised over $1.1B in total, over $700M of that raised last year.

Automotive positioning startup Swift Navigation raised $50.0M in Series C funding led by existing investors Forest Baskett and Greg Papadopoulos of New Enterprise Associates, existing investor Eclipse Ventures and new investors, including EPIQ Capital Group and KDDI Open Innovation Fund. The company’s Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) platform that includes a software positioning engine that integrates with the automotive sensor suite and pulls centimeter-accurate location corrections from the company’s GNSS service. Founded in 2012 and based in San Francisco, Calif., Swift Navigation has raised $97.6M in total.

Autonomy company Perrone Robotics raised $10.0M in Series A funding from CapStone Holdings. The company offers a general-purpose robotics operating system and autonomous vehicle retrofit kit for transit vans and tractor-trailers operating in geo-fenced areas for commercial, municipal, and governmental applications. A portion of the investment will be used to establish an advanced autonomous vehicle testing facility at the American Center for Mobility in Southeast Michigan. Based in Crozet, Va., Perrone Robotics was founded in 2001.

Electric vehicles
Next.e.GO Mobile raised a €30.0M (~$36.5M) Series B round with investment from Moore Strategic Ventures and individual investors John Snow, Alejandro Agag, and Edward Norton. The company is developing an electric four-seater passenger car that will begin production in June. Founded in 2015, Next.e.GO Mobile is based in Aachen, Germany.

Electric delivery startup OX received £1.2M (~$1.7M) in grants from Innovate UK and the Advanced Propulsion Centre. The company is developing a goods-transport-as-a-service ecosystem specifically targeted at emerging markets, which will utilize the company’s electric truck designed for rough and all-terrain environments. The truck can be shipped to location flat-pack to reduce transport costs. In April, Ox will begin pilot operations in Rwanda. Based in Warwick, UK, OX was founded as a spin out from the Norman Trust and Global Vehicle Trust nonprofits.

Enevate raised $81.0M in a Series E round for its fast-charging lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles that use a silicon-dominant anode. The company says its technology provides higher energy density than graphite anodes and complete charging in five minutes. Led by Fidelity Management and Research Company and joined by Mission Ventures and Infinite Potential Technologies, the funding will be used for hiring and to expand the company’s pre-production line designed to guide EV and other battery customers toward implementing larger-scale battery manufacturing utilizing the silicon anode-based batteries. Irvine, Calif., and founded in 2005, Enevate has raised $191M.

Automotive battery maker Nyobolt raised $10.0M in a Series A round led by IQ Capital and joined by Cambridge Enterprise. The startup is focused on high power, high energy density batteries that utilize niobium-based anode materials, which the company also says makes its batteries safer. Nyobolt will use the funds to expand globally, build new facilities, and hire. Formerly named CB2Tech, Nyobolt is based in Cambridge, UK, and was founded in 2020 from research at the University of Cambridge.

Battery startup E-magy raised €5.0M (~$6.1M) in venture funding led by SHIFT Invest and joined by existing investors including PDENH for its silicon anode for lithium-ion batteries. The anode is made up of 5 micron silicon particles with a nano-scale sponge structure, which replaces graphite as the active material. E-magy says its material is compatible with existing manufacturing processes and provides an energy density increase of 40% while increasing charging speed. Funds will be used to increase production at its fully operational pilot production line, accelerate qualification programs, hire, and being construction on a new manufacturing facility. Founded in 2014, E-magy is based in Broek op Langedijk, the Netherlands.

Table: Selected companies that received funding in February 2021.

Other startups received funding that will drive semiconductor design in the future, as well. The California Sustainable Energy Entrepreneur Development (CalSEED) program awarded $2.7M in grants to six clean energy startups. Each will receive $450,000:

    • Antora Energy is building a low-cost thermal battery for grid-scale energy storage that combines inexpensive thermal storage media with high-efficiency thermophotovoltaic energy conversion.
    • EnZinc is building a zinc micro-sponge anode technology that allows zinc to be used in high performance rechargeable batteries the company says are a safer, more cost effective alternative to lead-acid and lithium-based batteries. EnZinc recently completed a 500-cycle test on its prototype anode.
    • Icarus RT is developing a hybrid PV/Thermal solar plus storage system that converts stored thermal waste heat to usable power during peak demand evening hours and nighttime. The company says it increases PV panel efficiency up to 12%, extends panel lifetime, and reduces the return on investment to 3 years for a 100 kW system.
    • ReJoule has an EV battery diagnostics tool that measures critical health metrics, allowing users to quickly grade the health of large-format lithium-ion battery packs without the need for disassembly, reducing test time and labor costs. It will provide insight into how batteries degrade, helping to improve operational efficiency.
    • SiLi-ion will advance development of a “drop-in” additive for lithium ion battery manufacturers, that enables up to 40% increase in storage capacity compared to state-of-the-art devices.
    • Takachar is building small-scale, low-cost, portable equipment to convert crop and forest waste biomass in remote areas into higher-value products such as solid fuel, fertilizer, and other specialty chemicals.

AI applications
A number of companies using AI in their products also raised over $100M, with several aiming to streamline business processes.

    • UiPath raised $750.0M in Series F for its robotic process automation software, which aims to automate business processes and repetitive software tasks.
    • Plume Design raised $270.0M in Series E for its platform that helps communications service providers to deliver connected home services.
    • Highspot raised $200.0M in Series E for its sales platform that manages marketing content and guides sales reps.
    • Standard Cognition raised $150.0M in Series C for its cashier-less retail checkout system that uses computer vision to tell what a shopper is buying.
    • TigerGraph raised $105.0M in Series C for its graph database platform for data analytics and machine learning.
    • ScienceLogic raised $105.0M in Series E for its AI-powered IT, network, and cloud management software.


  • Related
    Find our prior startup funding reports here.
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    Cerfe Labs: Spin-On Memory
    Moov: Used Equipment Digital Marketplace Startup
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