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Startup Funding: January 2021

$5.4B for 29 companies; autonomous and electric vehicles start the year strong.

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Over $800M in funding went to companies developing autonomous driving technology, from self-driving-focused AI chips to full vehicles and aftermarket solutions. A couple electric vehicle manufacturers stood out this month, with investors putting large backing behind US-based Rivian and China-based Leapmotor. And with EVs come lots of batteries: funding went to a few startups trying out new battery chemistries and some others trying to reuse or recycle batteries no longer suitable for in-car use. Plus, more investment in quantum software, photonics, and 5G/6G as we profile 29 companies that collectively raised over $5.4B.

Semiconductors & design
MEMSIC raised over CN¥1B (~$154.0M) in Series A funding led by Feng Hua Capital Management and joined by Yunfeng Capital, Olympus Capital, Guo Fang Capital, and others. The MEMS maker has a range of products that include magnetometers, thermal accelerometers, capacitive accelerometers, and Hall switches. Having been founded in 1999, the company isn’t exactly a startup. It went public on NASDAQ in 2007 before being taken private in an acquisition by IDG Capital in 2013. It was acquired by HC SemiTek in 2017 and spun back out in 2019. MEMSIC is based in Tianjin, China.

Rockley Photonics drew $65.0M in venture funding from Morningside Ventures and private funds. The company provides integrated optical/electronic chips and modules built on a multi-micron waveguide platform which it says provides higher density waveguides, improved manufacturing tolerances, and an efficient photonic IC interface. Rockley will use the funding to accelerate its product offerings, particularly integrated optical sensor products. Based in Pasadena, Calif., and founded in 2013, it has raised over $290M.

Amber Solutions raised $8.5M in Series B funding. The company makes a programmable solid-state power system that controls the flow of electricity digitally and is working on developing a smaller silicon chip version. The company recently received patents related to a digital AC/DC Enabler, an AC switch, a digital method to sense ground faults, and efficient LED light fixtures. Based in Dublin, Calif., and founded in 2017, Amber Solutions has raised $14.2M.

Cardea Bio drew $6.5M in a Series A extension led by 3E Bioventures Capital and joined by existing investors. The company makes graphene-based ‘Biology-gated Transistors’ (which it calls Cardean Transistors) that combine molecular biology with electronics. Based in San Diego, Calif., and founded in 2013, the company has raised over $20M.

RF fabless startup Mobix Labs raised $2.5M in venture funding. The company focuses on making high frequency RF chips for mmWave 5G devices. Based in Irvine, Calif., Mobix Labs was founded in 2020.

LZMicro received a $2.0M grant from Findora. The startup has a ‘Privacy-Preserved Processing Unit’ (PPU) for cloud, edge, and IoT applications. Findora plans to incorporate it into its ledger products. LZMicro was founded in 2020.

Comptek Solutions received an undisclosed investment from Hamamatsu Photonics. Comptek uses passivation technology to address the issue of oxidation in III-V compound semiconductor materials by promoting controlled surface crystalline oxidation and make the resulting surface more resistant. The two companies will be working together to implement the passivation technology into edge-emitting laser diodes for higher power output. Comptek is based in Turku, Finland, and was founded in 2017.

TeraView won undisclosed development funding from the Sustainable Innovation Fund with Innovate UK specifically targeted for developing the company’s terahertz frequency technology for use in 6G network applications. TeraView’s test and measurement system for 6G characterizes the propagation properties of 6G signals and the dielectric properties of a range of materials using time domain measurements that continuously and simultaneously cover frequencies in the ~30 GHz-3 THz band with high dynamic range. Founded in 2001 as a spin out from the Toshiba Corporation and Cambridge University, TeraView is based in Cambridge, UK, and specializes in terahertz inspection systems including for advanced packaging.

AI hardware
Enflame raised CN¥1.8B (~$279.0M) in Series C funding led by CICC Alpha, CITIC Private Equity Funds Management, and Primavera Capital Group and joined by Tencent Holdings, Redpoint Ventures China, and Summitview Capital. The startup focuses on AI accelerators for the data center. It has a line of several products, including an AI chip and cards specialized for either training or inference along with supporting software. Based in Shanghai, China, Enflame was founded in 2018 and has raised $472 in total.

AI chipmaker AlphaICs drew $8.0M in Series B funding led by Emerald Technology Ventures and Endiya Partners and joined by 3one4 Capital, Rebright Partners, Aaruha Technology Fund, Canal Partners, CBC Co, IREON Ventures, KARSEMVEN Fund, JSR Corp, and Whiteboard Capital. Focusing on edge AI chips, the company uses a proprietary, modular architecture and ISA tuned for AI acceleration. Funding will be used for the tape-out of its first chip and development of its software stack. Based in Milpitas, Calif., and Bengaluru, India, and founded in 2016, AlphaICs has raised at least $10.5M.

Inorganic Intelligence drew $2.9M in a seed funding round. The startup is integrating photonics into accelerators for AI workloads and developing photonic neural network (PNN) systems. The company says that the architecture, technologies, and processes used for the integration of the PNN are proven in volume production devices used in other applications. Founded in 2020 and based in San Jose, Calif., it has raised $7.9M in total and is part of The Engine accelerator.

Quantum computing
Riverlane raised $20.0M in Series A funding led by Draper Esprit and joined by existing investors Cambridge Innovation Capital, Amadeus Capital Partners, and the University of Cambridge. The startup is building an operating system for quantum computers that is portable across different types of quantum hardware and allows operations to be targeted at CPUs, FPGAs, and qubits in the quantum stack. It is initially targeting chemical, pharmaceutical, and materials industries. Founded in 2017 and based in Cambridge, UK, Riverlane has raised $24M to date.

Classiq drew $10.5M in Series A funding led by Team8 Capital and Wing Capital and joined by Entrée Capital, OurCrowd, and IN Venture. The startup has automation and synthesis software to aid in the development of quantum algorithms, aiming to make knowledge of the underlying gate level details unnecessary. Based in Tel Aviv, Israel and founded in 2020, Classiq has raised $14.5M to date.

Qblox received €4.8M (~$5.8M) from the European Innovation Council’s Horizon 2020 program to develop its qubit control hardware. Qblox says its control stacks combine unleveled noise performance, a low-latency arbitrary control flow, and can be scaled up to 100s of qubits. They can be specialized for qubit control or for qubit readout. The company also offers smaller, portable control and readout monitors for up to ~8 qubits. Founded in 2019 and based in Delft, The Netherlands, the startup is a spinout from the QuTech research institute.

Quantum Computing Inc. (QCI) drew $3.2M in Series A for its software platform for developing applications to address complex optimization problems and that can run on either quantum computers or classical computers. Two areas of focus for the startup are financial asset allocation and data analytics for clinical trials. Based in Leesburg, Va., and founded in 2018, QCI has raised $7.5M in total. It also recently applied to list on Nasdaq.

Autonomous driving
Horizon Robotics raised $400.0M in Series C funding, one month after reporting a $150.0M investment. This latest funding was led by Baillie Gifford, YF Capital, CPE, and CATL and joined by Aspex Management, China Securities, CloudAlpha Tech Fund, Hermitage Asset Management, Neumann Advisors, Orix Capital Corporation, SDHS, and Yuantai Investment Partners. The funding will primarily be used for development and commercialization of L4/L5 automotive chips. The company currently provides L2 and L3 solutions and has plans to release an inference chip focused on L3/L4 driving in the first half of the year. Based in Beijing, China and founded in 2015, the company has raised over $1.2B and is looking to raise another $150M in its Series C.

Uisee drew $154.0M in a venture round from Guokai National Manufacturing Transformation and Upgrading Fund. The startup is developing L3 and L4 autonomous driving systems designed to be used by unmanned vehicles in situations like airports and industrial parks. It currently has autonomous electric baggage tractors deployed at Hong Kong International Airport. Founded in 2016, Uisee is based in Beijing, China.

Autonomous driving company WeRide raised $110.0M in Series B funding, following a $200 investment last month. This latest round was led by Yutong Group and joined by CMC Capital Partners, CDB Equipment Manufacturing Fund, Hengjian Emerging Industries Fund, Zhuhai Huajin Capital, Flower City Ventures, and Tryin Capital, as well as existing investors Qiming Venture Partners, Sinovation Ventures, and Kinzon Capital. The company provides L4 autonomous driving hardware and software, and the new investment will push its use in minibuses, city buses, and other commercial vehicles. WeRide will also begin offering a robotaxi service in Guangzhou, China, where it is based. Founded in 2017, the company has raised $513.6M in total.

Ghost Locomotion drew $100.1M in venture funding for its aftermarket hardware and software package that promises to add full self-driving capabilities to any car and remove the need for driver oversight. The system, which uses eight cameras, is still in development, but the startup plans to offer it directly to consumers on a subscription basis. Based in Mountain View, Calif., and founded in 2017, it has raised $163.8M so far.

Autonomous driving startup Oxbotica drew $47.0M in Series B funding led by BP Ventures and joined by BGF Ventures, Doxa Partners, Halma, HostPlus, IP Group, Tencent, and Venture Science. The company specializes in an autonomous driving platform for off-road, industrial vehicles in applications like mines and ports. The modular platform includes navigation, perception, user interfaces, and cloud fleet management. Based in Oxford, UK, Oxbotica was founded in 2014.

Zadar Labs received $5.6M in seed funding led by investor Tim Kentley Klay and joined by Leslie Ventures, Jeff Rothschild, Plug and Play, and Mentors Fund. The startup’s focus is solid-state imaging radar for automotive and autonomous applications. Zadar’s 250 meter mid-range sensor is currently under evaluation and it plans to launch a long-range 400 meter sensor this year, which the company claims has comparable resolution to lidar. Founded in 2019 and based in San Jose, Calif., Zadar has raised $11.2M.

Electric vehicles
EV automaker Rivian raised $2,650.0M in private equity funding led by T. Rowe Price and joined by Fidelity Management and Research Company, Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, Coatue, D1 Capital Partners, Abdul Latif Jameel, BlackRock, and Soros Fund Management. The company is preparing to launch its first two models, an electric SUV and truck, later this year in the U.S. The company is also working on electric last-mile delivery vehicles for Amazon. Based in Plymouth, Minn., and founded in 2009, Rivian has raised over $8B.

EV manufacturer Leapmotor raised CN¥4.3B (~$663.9M) in a Series B round from SDIC Fund Management, Yonghua Capital, and Zju Jiuzhi Investment Management. Leapmotor has three EV models, two small coupes and an SUV that just began presales. The company is considering going public on the STAR Market but anticipates another funding round before that happens. Founded in part by surveillance equipment maker Dahua Technology in 2015, it is based in Hangzhou, China, and has raised $1.1B.

Volta Charging raised $125.0M in Series D funding led by Energize Ventures for its network of ad-supported EV charging stations placed in front of businesses such as grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, and hospitals. It has a presence in 23 states. Based in San Francisco, Calif., and founded in 2010, it has raised over $275M in total.

Batteries
Sila Nanotechnologies raised $590.0M in a Series F round led by Coatue and T. Rowe Price and joined by existing investors 8VC, Bessemer Venture Partners, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and Sutter Hill Ventures. The company developed a new battery chemistry using a silicon-based anode that it says provides 20% improvement over state of the art traditional lithium-ion batteries. The silicon anode replaces graphite and can be added in existing production lines. Sila Nano will use the funds to begin development of a new North American 100 GWh plant to produce its silicon-based anode material and target smartphone and automotive customers. Based in Alameda, Calif., Sila Nano was founded in 2011 and has raised $875M.

Battery startup Lohum Cleantech drew $7.0M in venture funding led by Baring Private Equity Partners India and joined by Talbros Automotive Components, among other investors. Lohum manufactures lithium-ion batteries for two- and three-wheelers as well as for stationary solar and grid backup. It also recycles used Li-ion batteries, extracting lithium, cobalt, and graphite. With the funding, the company plans to open a second manufacturing facility. Based in Noida, India, Lohum was founded in 2017.

Battery maker Gegadyne Energy raised $5.0M in Series A funding from V-Guard Industries. The company specializes in quick charging, non-lithium batteries using proprietary nano-material composites. Gegadyne claims its battery technology provides a similar energy density to lithium-ion with improved cycle life. It plans to use the funding to expand operations and set up a battery research lab. The startup is based in Mumbai, India, and was founded in 2015.

e-Zinc raised CAD$2.3M (~$1.8M) in venture funding led by BDC Capital’s Cleantech Practice for its grid-scale energy storage system. The electrochemical storage system uses zinc metal to store energy for long periods of time while keeping costs lower than lithium-ion batteries. The company plans to deploy its first in-field system in May 2021. Founded in 2012 and based in Toronto, Canada, eZinc has raised $10M including grants.

Connected Energy drew £1.2M (~$1.6M) in venture and grant funding for its battery reuse scheme that uses electric vehicle batteries, at the end of their in-car first life, to create energy storage systems.  The funding was provided by Low Carbon Innovation Fund alongside existing investors ENGIE New Ventures, Sumitomo, Macquarie Group, and others. The funding was matched by an R&D grant from Innovate UK. The company’s E-STOR storage systems capacity ranges from less than 100 kilowatt hours up to 15 megawatt hours or more. Connected Energy says this can extend the life of EV batteries by 5-10 years. Based in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK, and founded in 2010, it has raised $13.2M so far.


Table: Selected companies that raised venture funding in January 2021. Source: Semiconductor Engineering

AI applications
Numerous companies using AI in their products received $100M+ rounds this month.

  • 4Paradigm raised $700.0M in Series D for its enterprise AI system that provides data analytics, model research, and AI application building for a range of industries.
  • Globality raised $138.3M in Series E for its platform to streamline services sourcing including automated supplier identification and proposal evaluation.
  • Dremio raised $135.0M in Series D for its data lake engine to speed up data analytics processes and make queries more efficient.
  • K Health raised $132.0M in Series E for its consumer-facing healthcare and telemedicine app.
  • News Break raised $115.0 in Series C for its AI-powered local news aggregator.
  • Paige raised $100.0M in Series C for its computational pathology products for disease diagnosis and treatment.

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