Two Bit Circus Scores $6.5 Million to Build Tech Entertainment Co.

With voice-controlled lasers, fire dunk tanks, and battling robot bands, Two Bit Circus is on a mission to re-invent live entertainment with technology that amazes as much as it educates.

Co-founded by entrepreneur Brent Bushnell and roboticist and inventor Eric Gradman, the Los Angeles-based group has grown slowly during the past decade. What began as an occasional contract to produce interactive tech exhibits at events hosted by Microsoft and Intel has evolved into a full-time occupation and in 2012 became a standalone startup.

Now, Techstars Ventures and Foundry Group have co-led a $6.5 million investment in Two Bit Circus with participation from Intel Capital, VentureWire has learned.

Two Bit Circus, which will produce its Steam carnival at San Francisco’s AT&T Park this November, will use the infusion to take the carnival to new locations, turn select exhibits into standalone products and continue inventing new ways to delight their audiences.

Continue reading “Two Bit Circus Scores $6.5 Million to Build Tech Entertainment Co.”

Playful Raises $25M for VR Games, Launches Game on Oculus

Science-fiction enthusiast Paul Bettner had been dreaming of virtual reality for decades before creating “Words With Friends” with his brother Dave in 2009.

After selling the popular mobile game to Zynga Inc. for just shy of $200 million in stock and cash the following year, he grew restless. So he began researching how the technologies he had first read about in William Gibson novels as a boy had evolved.

He discovered the founders of what would become Oculus in a virtual-reality discussion forum. At the time, Oculus was a crude headset prototype made of circuit boards and foam board and held together with black electrical tape. Impressed with the underlying software technology and happy that there was a new platform for developing games, Mr. Bettner immediately became one its largest backers when Oculus put the project on Kickstarter, where it raised $2.4 million. As the hardware evolved, Mr. Bettner Continue reading “Playful Raises $25M for VR Games, Launches Game on Oculus”

Deepak Chopra Talks About Wellness in Building and Design

Deepak Chopra
Jeremiah Sullivan

Deepak Chopra has done a lot of things.

Along with launching mobile health startup Body Mind Me Inc. earlier this year, the holistic health expert, best-selling author, professor and doctor has advised and invested in tech startups including fitness and sleep tracker Basis and handmade art marketplace GlobeIn.

Now Mr. Chopra is advising and joining with Delos Living LLC, which just raised $108 million, to promote human health by establishing a wellness rating for buildings. The philosophy behind the WELL Building Standard is that by addressing seven core human needs–air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind–manufactured environments can promote health among building occupants.

The Wall Street Journal spoke with Mr. Chopra about his involvement in the project in the context of his other pursuits. The following is edited for length and clarity.

How do the goals of Delos Living fit into your larger philosophy?

Continue reading “Deepak Chopra Talks About Wellness in Building and Design”

Bill Gates-held Firm Backs Delos Living and its Human Wellness Standard

 

Delos Living Founder Paul Scialla aims to create a new standard for healthy indoor environments
Evan Joseph Images

With air and water that has been specially filtered and lighting tuned to the body’s circadian rhythms, Delos Living LLC isn’t your typical real-estate company.

The New York-based company, which counts holistic health expert Deepak Chopra and environmental advocate and actor Leonardo DiCaprio among its advisers, has now secured $108 million from a few high-profile private investors, The Wall Street Journal has learned.

Bill Gates’s holding company Cascade Investment LLC. and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik co-led the round, with participation from China-based Sino Ocean Land.

The infusion is the first such institutional round for Delos, which aims to do with its WELL standard for human health what LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, certification is doing for the environment. Since 2000, LEED certification has functioned as an Continue reading “Bill Gates-held Firm Backs Delos Living and its Human Wellness Standard”

Seed Fund SignalFire Emerges With $53 Million

SignalFire Founder Chris Farmer
SignalFire

The startups were different, but the complaint from founders was always the same: hiring top engineers was the single most difficult and most critical task they faced.

Seeking to build a data-driven venture firm to help founders land top technical talent at the same time, then-General Catalyst partner Chris Farmer began recruiting nearly a dozen engineers to build a data platform.

Six years later that platform, called Beacon, tracks more than half a trillion data points and the firm, SignalFire, has lured early Andreessen Horowitz Partner Yujin Chung and other technology veterans to expand. Also, SignalFire has closed a $53 million first fund and invested in eight startups, VentureWire has learned.

SignalFire is different from average sector seed funds, said Lance Cottrill, a partner with Horsley Bridge Partners. The fund of funds, which is also an LP in venture firms, including Index Ventures, Benchmark and Continue reading “Seed Fund SignalFire Emerges With $53 Million”

Alternative-Lending Company Kabbage Valued at $1B in New Funding

Kabbage Founder and CEO Rob Frohwein
Gary Adams

 

Private investors are continuing to plow hundreds of millions of dollars into alternative-lending startups at valuations of more than $1 billion, despite the public shares of competitors in the same sector trading below IPO prices.

Kabbage Inc. is the latest to secure backing, raising $135 million at what a source familiar with the deal told The Wall Street Journal was a valuation of more than $1 billion.

Reverence Capital Partners, a private investment firm focused on financial services companies, led the Series E round.

“Kabbage has been able to triple the size of their business during the past few years while bringing down the cost of customer acquisition,” said Reverence Managing Partner Milton Berlinski, who has agreed to join the Kabbage board. He said Kabbage has been able to reduce loan origination fees to less than $1,000 and, thanks to some Continue reading “Alternative-Lending Company Kabbage Valued at $1B in New Funding”

Supercell Backer Seeds New Game Studio Gumbug

Mobile gaming veterans have formed new studio Gumbug Ltd., raised funding and will launch their first game “Dustland” later this year.
Gumbug4

The seed investors that supported gaming powerhouse Supercell Oy are backing Gumbug Ltd., a new mobile gaming studio headed by veterans from Space Ape Games Ltd. and Mind Candy Ltd., The Wall Street Journal has learned.

At $700,000, the infusion led by London Venture Partners isn’t huge, but it is enough for the London-based team to expand operations and is another sign that Europe’s gaming ecosystem continues to be strong.

Gumbug Chief Executive and founder Simon Hill told The Wall Street Journal that Gumbug’s first game, “Dustland,” will launch before the end of 2015. The free-to-play puzzle game, which he described as a team “experiment in finding our feet,” will be followed with what he said will be a more ambitious project to elevate the Continue reading “Supercell Backer Seeds New Game Studio Gumbug”

General Catalyst Managing Director Neil Sequeira Launching New Firm

Venture investor Neil Sequeira is launching his own firm.
General Catalyst

General Catalyst Partners Managing Director Neil Sequeira, an early investor in Jessica Alba’s Honest Co., is launching his own venture firm to focus on early-stage companies.

Mr. Sequeira told The Wall Street Journal he is in the process of selecting a firm name and will begin raising roughly $100 million for the maiden fund during early 2016. Mr. Sequeira will remain close with General Catalyst and retain board seats on the Honest Co., Highwinds Network Group, DECA/Kin Community and other portfolio companies, but no longer make new investments on behalf of the bi-coastal firm, which is still deploying the $675 million Fund VII raised in 2013.

Mr. Sequeira is the latest in a line of partners from firms including Accel Partners, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers to leave and launch smaller independent funds targeting Continue reading “General Catalyst Managing Director Neil Sequeira Launching New Firm”

Reese Witherspoon Talks About Her Southern Lifestyle Site Draper James

Actress Reese Witherspoon is getting into the startup game with her new lifestyle site Draper James.
Paul Costello

Reese Witherspoon may dazzle the general populace–People Magazine recently named her the Best Dressed Person of 2015–but venture investors weren’t star-struck when the actress first pitched them on her idea for Southern-lifestyle startup Draper James.

In fact, Forerunner Ventures founder Kirsten Green–an investor in Bonobos Inc., Birchbox Inc. and Dollar Shave Club Inc.–said she initially put Ms. Witherspoon’s celebrity status in the “con category.”

“Founding a company is the hardest thing you can possibly do. It takes an enormous amount of sheer will, and with celebrities who have so many things they could spend their time doing, you question whether you can count on them being there,” Ms. Green said.

After a series of meetings with the star of “Walk the Line” and the “Legally Blonde” movies and questioning Continue reading “Reese Witherspoon Talks About Her Southern Lifestyle Site Draper James”

Payments Company Adyen Valued at $2.3 Billion in New Funding

Adyen CEO Pieter van der Does
Adyen

Iconiq Capital, the low-key firm known for investing the fortunes of well-connected Silicon Valley billionaires, has plowed fresh capital into Adyen BV, valuing the payments startup at $2.3 billion.

The financing comes nine months after General Atlantic and other investors valued Adyen at $1.5 billion in the largest financial-technology venture deal of 2014, according to Dow Jones VentureSource.

Adyen co-founder and Chief Executive Pieter van der Does said Adyen didn’t need more funding. The profitable company did $185 million in revenue last year and expects to double that amount this year, he said. It still has the majority of the $250 million it raised last year in the bank, he added.

Mr. Van der Does said he accepted the new cash because the connections that came with it were irresistible.

“When Iconiq comes knocking, you have to think twice before saying Continue reading “Payments Company Adyen Valued at $2.3 Billion in New Funding”

T. Rowe Price Leads $115M Round in Private Aviation Co. Wheels Up

Wheels Up founder and Chief Executive Kenny Dichter
Wheels Up

Where Scooter Deliveries Rule, Daraz Bags $55 Million for E-Commerce

 

Bloomberg News

 

Building a Southeast Asian e-commerce titan is tricky.

Along with immature infrastructure hurdles–a gap that can require founders to bake delivery and other logistics into startups–companies face a region where many consumers have never bought anything online and cash is king.

Still, a number of venture investors see speedy wireless networks and rising smartphone adoption as evidence the region will be a profitable bet for a company prepared to tackle those challenges.

Singapore-based Daraz aims to be that e-commerce company. Now, it has raised about $55 million to strengthen its foothold in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar as it considers expansion in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Cambodia and Laos.

“There are some smaller local players, but it is largely untapped. That is one reason why we find it so attractive,” said Hanno Stegmann, chief executive of the Asia Pacific Internet Group, which led the investment.

Mr. Hanno said Continue reading “Where Scooter Deliveries Rule, Daraz Bags $55 Million for E-Commerce”

Agora Lab Secures Funding, Emerges from Stealth with $100M Valuation

 

Agora Lab CEO Tony Zhao
Michael Soo

By enabling mobile app developers to bake Skype-like functions directly into their apps, Agora Lab Inc. impressed investors who have backed the startup at a $100 million valuation.

Agora, which emerged from stealth Tuesday with a $20 million round to begin selling its SDK, competes against Twilio, Plivo and others that enable developers for companies including Uber and WalMart to offer communication with end users within their mobile apps by using chunks of pre-configured code.

Unlike Twilio and Plivo, however, Agora doesn’t use global telecommunication networks to deliver voice, video or text services. Like Skype, it uses the Internet to transmit data, but unlike the VOIP pioneer, Agora has no interest in being a standalone consumer app and is focused exclusively on mobile.

Agora’s sole focus is on providing a white label solution to companies like language learning startup HelloTalk Inc. Continue reading “Agora Lab Secures Funding, Emerges from Stealth with $100M Valuation”

Gaming Analytics Company Whally Launches Index to ID ‘Whales’

As the fifth employee of mobile analytics juggernaut App Annie Inc., Fred Thuard saw customers hungry for data about app performance and a growing willingness to pay for competitive intelligence.

Although a stream of app analytic startups have emerged since then, ranging from Mixpanel Inc. to smaller startups like Priori Data GmbH., they don’t create a profile of gamers to determine whether they are worth acquiring. And with user acquisition costs continuing to climb, finding such “whales” who spend time and money on the game is increasingly important.

Publishers now spend an average of $1.43 for each iOS install, $2.73 for each Android install and more than double those sums for “loyal users” who open the app three times or more, according to a July report by mobile marketing firm Fiksu. Those dollar amounts have steadily increased in recent years as app stores have gotten more Continue reading “Gaming Analytics Company Whally Launches Index to ID ‘Whales’”

Goldman Sachs Leads $81M Round for Online Thrift Store ThredUp

ThredUp will hire 1,000 during by the next year to scale operations at its online thrift shop
ThredUp

Goldman Sachs has led an $81 million investment in online consignment store ThredUp Inc., a move that marks the financial firm’s growing appetite for startups and a record investment in one of nearly a dozen such companies building online thrift shops.

From streaming music service Spotify to database management platform MongoDB, Goldman Sachs has made more than two dozen investments in privately held tech companies so far this year, according to Dow Jones VentureSource.

Goldman Sachs, like T. Rowe Price, Fidelity and other traditional public investors, it has broadened its bets in recent years to include fast-growing startups the firm believes will continue to increase in valuation and ultimately go public. For startups like Uber Technologies, Airbnb and Pinterest that have raised large, late-stage rounds, cash from such deep-pocketed investors enables Continue reading “Goldman Sachs Leads $81M Round for Online Thrift Store ThredUp”

Discern Secures $20 Million to Find Signals for Investors in a Field of Noise

Discern CEO Harry Blount is building a service to deliver overlooked data signals for investment professionals
Ed Ritger

For investment professionals, the performance of one Texas oil well during a single day could be an easy item to overlook when it is buried among billions of other data points.

Discern Group Inc., a San Francisco-based startup that specializes in finding what it calls “weak signals” that could affect financial markets, used public data to determine that a well drilled by an Oklahoma-based energy company one day last November performed better than 95% of the company’s wells in the region, was an outlier and therefore deserved a closer look.

“They were using a different method than they had in the past, and that data was filed with the state of Texas,” said Discern founder and Chief Executive Harry Blount. Discern, which sells such signals as a service to portfolio managers, Continue reading “Discern Secures $20 Million to Find Signals for Investors in a Field of Noise”

Amazon’s One-Hour Alcohol Delivery May Be a Headache for Startups

Like Minibar Delivery, DrinkFly, Thirstie, BrewDrop, Saucey, Swill and others that have emerged during the past few years, Drizly doesn’t sell alcohol and therefore doesn’t need a liquor license.
Getty Images

For on-demand alcohol startups, Amazon.com Inc .’s recent move into the one-hour booze-delivery business may be sobering.

As Amazon experiments in Washington–the only state in which it now holds a liquor license–and evaluates the complex patchwork of state and county regulations governing alcohol sales nationwide, more than a half-dozen alcohol delivery startups are working to differentiate themselves from one another and Amazon while wooing more physical retail stores to use their technology.

“We’re sitting up and taking note. Amazon is the biggest e-commerce company in the world and they have an almost infinite investment horizon and much more money than we do,” Drizly founder and Chief Executive Nick Rellas said.

Having raised $17.8 million from private investors, Continue reading “Amazon’s One-Hour Alcohol Delivery May Be a Headache for Startups”

Virtual-Reality Headset Maker Glyph Grabs $24 Million in Funding

Avegant/Glyph

The maker of Glyph, a media headset that supports 3-D and virtual reality content, has secured $24 million to increase manufacturing and begin shipping the headsets by the end of 2015, Venture Capital Dispatch has learned.

Chinese mobile Internet company Hangzhou Liaison Interactive Information Technology Co. Ltd. led the Series B round, marking continued investor enthusiasm for consumer electronics and the latest sign that the virtual reality market is maturing.

U.S.-based consumer electronics companies secured $545.9 million from investors during the first half of 2015, an amount set to eclipse the annual record of $924.5 million set in 2013 if the pace continues, according to Dow JonesVentureSource.

Successful IPOs by Fitbit and GoPro as well as acquisitions like Google’s $3.2 billion purchase of Nest have helped fuel investor bullishness in recent years. It is also gotten easier to launch a hardware startup, thanks Continue reading “Virtual-Reality Headset Maker Glyph Grabs $24 Million in Funding”

Andy Rubin’s Playground Global Backs Augmented Reality Gaming Co. CastAR

CastAR

Augmented reality gaming startup CastAR Inc. has raised $15 million in a round led by Playground Global, the hardware accelerator and fund launched earlier this year by Android co-founder Andy Rubin and backed by FoxConn, Google, Tencent and others.

CastAR marks the accelerator’s sixth startup and the latest in growing list of AR efforts seeking to remake the way people interact with the physical world. Like Microsoft’s HoloLens, ODG’s R-7 and Google Glass, CastAR makes a pair of glasses that projects a layer of digital images and data atop tangible objects.

While analysts say long-term prospects for the sector are huge with the possibility of transforming basic objects into “smart things” with data and actionable items,lack of uniform standards, power limitations and other obstacles remain.

“I’m very positive on this happening, but it’s a long road. We’re talking at least 5 to 10 years” before augmented reality is ready for Continue reading “Andy Rubin’s Playground Global Backs Augmented Reality Gaming Co. CastAR”

“Best Fiends” Creator Seriously Scores $18M to Build Mobile Game into Entertainment Brand

“Best Fiends” has been downloaded 15 million times world-wide and is adding a 35 new users every minute. The creator, Seriously Inc., has secured $18 million to build two more games, videos, and other content that could include a feature length film based on the IP.
Seriously

Betting a mutant slug apocalypse will form the basis for the next major entertainment franchise, top global investors are plowing $18 million into Seriously Inc.

More than 15 million players downloaded “Best Fiends” since Seriously launched the mobile game last year—a number that wowed new investors who believe Seriously has a fresh model for developing movies, videos and games that is better than what traditional Hollywood can offer.

“Our mobile creators can go straight to their audience. We don’t need to go through distribution and we haven’t licensed out our rights, so we can go directly,” Seriously co-founder and Chief Executive Andrew Continue reading ““Best Fiends” Creator Seriously Scores $18M to Build Mobile Game into Entertainment Brand”