Venture Capital Deals Of The Week: SoftBank Circles $1B AI Investment

by: VCDeals

Facial recognition: SoftBank (OTCPK:SFTBF, OTCPK:SFTBY) Vision Fund circled a $1B investment in Chinese AI startup SenseTime, according to Bloomberg. The terms aren’t finalized, and the deal could change. SenseTime has a valuation of over $4.5B and has raised $1.6B in total funding.

SenseTime creates AI-powered facial and image recognition systems for uses that include China’s extensive surveillance systems. SenseTime has previously received backing from Qualcomm and Alibaba.

Competition: Face++, which has $607M in total funding from backers including Foxconn and Alibaba’s Ant Financial.

Sports media: Alibaba (NYSE:BABA) and Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) led a $600M round in Suning Sports, the sports unit of retailer Suning Holdings Group. Other investors include Chinese property developer Evergrande Group, SenseTime, and Yunfeng Capital. The round gave Suning a $1.5B valuation.

The unit includes everything from club operation management to youth training to sports media and three football clubs including soccer giants Inter Milan. Alibaba joins as a strategic investor, deepening a relationship started in 2015 with an online-to-offline e-commerce platform alliance.

Competition: Sports media competition exists from Tencent (OTCPK:TCEHY, OTCPK:TCTZF) and Sina Sports.

Self-driving startup: Alphabet’s (GOOG, GOOGL) Waymo and GM’s (NYSE:GM) Cruise competitor Zoox raised $500M in new funding. Atlassian co-CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes led the round through his Grok Ventures fund and will join the board. Primavera Capital also participated. Zoox had a $2.7B valuation before the latest funding round.

Zoox stands apart by wanting to build its own autonomous system and electric vehicle. The company plans for a full commercial launch of its robo-taxi service as early as 2020. Zoox says the new funding will fuel development and testing until late next year. Vehicle testing is currently happening on the streets of San Francisco, on private tracks, and in virtual simulations.

Futuristic camera tech: SoftBank Vision Fund led a $121M Series D round in camera tech company Light. Consumer camera giant Leica Camera AG also participated in the round, which brought total funding up to around $186M.

Light produces futuristic camera tech like the small L16 camera, which has 16 lenses capturing 52-megapixel imagery and began shipping in 2017 with a $1,950 price tag. The company’s next stop is its first smartphone camera product. The company has licensed its mobile tech to an OEM that plans to launch a Light-powered smartphone before the end of the year. Details remain vague, but Light says the tech supports up to nine cameras on the rear of the phone.

Cross-border payments: PayPal (NASDAQ:PYPL) led and Citi (NYSE:C) Ventures and HPE Growth Capital participated in a $50M round in cross-border payment specialist PPRO. The startup had only raised about $10.6M since its 2006 founding.

London-based PPRO focuses on cross-border payments for merchants that allows the seller to accept customer payments using the most popular method from that region. The PPRO platform covers 140 payment methods, and the company plans to add more countries and payments in the future. The company recently launched the PayPal Checkout with Smart Payment Button, which also integrates Braintree.

Competition: Adyen (ADYEN), which went public with an over $8B valuation.

NLRP3 antagonists: Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY) participated in a $31M Series A round in new IFM Therapeutics subsidiary IFM Tre. Atlas Venture and Abingworth also participated. The three investors spent $2.3B last summer to acquire IFM Therapeutics and its immune-oncology pipeline.

The new unit carries the parent company’s NLRP3 antagonists for inflammatory diseases. NLRP3 inflammasomes are protein complexes formed as part of a body’s natural pathogen defenses. When the process doesn’t go as planned, conditions including metabolic, autoimmune, and neurodegenerative diseases can occur. Treatments targeting the NLRP3 pathway can treat symptoms without interfering in other immune pathways, according to the company. IFM Tre’s lead candidate is expected to start Phase 1 trials next year.

Competition: Nodthera raised $40M last month for its NLRP3 inhibitor, which is heading for proof of concept in humans.

AI health app: Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Ventures participated in a $12.5M round in AI-powered health app K Health. Bessemer Venture Partners and Mangrove Capital Partners also participated.

HIPAA-compliant K Health lets users input symptoms and answer a series of questions. The app uses AI to generate a list of possible diagnoses and suggests the next steps. Users can then share the data with their primary care doctor to determine further actions. K Health has now also partnered with primary care providers in New York to allow users to get same-day care from a doctor.

Editor's Note: This article discusses one or more securities that do not trade on a major U.S. exchange. Please be aware of the risks associated with these stocks.