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Main article: Seedinvest

All topics: 5

These new data sources are creating high-impact tools for investors

22:39 | 4 December

David Teten Contributor
David Teten is an advisor to emerging investment managers and a Venture Partner with HOF Capital. He was previously a partner for 8 years with HOF Capital and ff Venture Capital. David writes regularly at teten.com and @dteten.

Venture capitalists tout themselves as frontier technology investors, but most of us are using the same infrastructure tools we’ve used for the past 20+ years — Excel and recent college grads searching Google .

We’ve seen some modest progress in people upgrading from Excel to Google Sheets, along with the use of CRM and cloud-based storage services, but according to Sebastian Soler, who oversees data science at Lux Capital, less than 5% of American VCs have a full-time team member who’s focused on technology.

“While the arguments for adopting the latest technology are now too compelling to ignore, finding the required budget for specialized tools can often prove to be a major challenge, especially for smaller managers,” said Tim Friedman, founder of PEStack. “Comprehensive market data can cost upwards of $25k for a leading service, portfolio monitoring can be double that, add in front office tools and you’re quickly into six-figure sums. My advice is: there are now more products than ever which focus on quick implementation and offer a lot of functionality at a fraction of the cost of some of the larger legacy providers.

TotemVC* is one example of a high-quality solution that offers a powerful platform with a transparent, affordable monthly rate. One piece of advice would be to use a service like [PEStack’s] free Vendor Profiles platform to identify viable providers and build up a shortlist. We also track sample clients so that our users can see what their peers are using. I would always advise managers to talk to other professionals to get the real inside scoop on which products work well, how painful the implementation was, and how good the ongoing support is.”

Jonathan Balkin, founder of Lionpoint Group, observed that the highest-impact technology initiative for a new PE/VC fund is typically to configure and enforce usage of a CRM system. The next most impactful initiative is usually to create an easy-to-use LP portal.

 


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HyperSciences raises an untraditional $9.6M for its hypersonic drilling vision

23:03 | 3 April

We profiled HyperSciences in February, when the team had just successfully completed a launch milestone for a small business grant with NASA. The last time we checked in, the hypersonic drilling company had raised about $5 million as part of an untraditional Reg A offering. By the end of March, HyperSciences rounded out its first major round with $9.6 million from 3,552 individual investors on SeedInvest in the equity crowdfunding platform’s second largest raise to date.

The heart of HyperSciences’ work is its hypersonic propulsion system that can fire a projectile at five times the speed of sound. At its most simplistic, HyperSciences’ hypersonic engine can fire upward to power suborbital space launches (HyperDrone) and point downward to penetrate deep pockets of geothermal energy, for example (HyperDrill).

Rather than going the normal venture capital route, HyperSciences decided to raise from normal people who believed in its vision. The way the company sees it, traditional VC would have likely forced HyperSciences to narrow its mission.

“Reg A lets everyone who cares about our planned hypersonic future vote with their checkbook,” HyperSciences founder and CEO Mark Russell told TechCrunch. “I think that’s important.” Russell comes from a family-run mining business and is no stranger to the challenges of a public company.

“I’ve learned a lot from running ops in the back offices,” Russell said. “Based on our public company experiences, we do like that the SEC Reg A process has a clear path to taking your company to the public markets as the next step in the process.”

With infusions of $125,000 from NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research grant and $1 million form Shell’s Global’s GameChanger program, HyperSciences is happy to bounce between research grants with a boost from the Reg A’s special form of “mini-IPO” in order to maintain its autonomy for the time being.

Russell explained that the Reg A’s intensive SEC process requires a fair level of maturity from a company — and enough capital to jump through all the hurdles. “You’re not typically a seller of t-shirts in Reg A crowd financing,” Russell said.

HyperSciences’ next milestone will come in May when the company will demo its drilling tech in a field test for Shell. The company plans to leverage its new funding for additional future field testing, pushing its existing business plan forward and moving toward sustainability.

“Our investors are more like smart ‘crowd VCs.’ They’re generally are pretty savvy and see that we went through a stringent process to get here,” Russell said. “We’ve provided them with enough information to make a great decision.”

 


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HyperSciences wants to ‘gamechange’ spaceflight with hypersonic drilling tech

22:34 | 13 February

It’s no coincidence that Elon Musk wants to both tunnel down into and soar above the Earth. If you ask the team at HyperSciences, the best way to get to space is to flip drilling technology upside down and point it at the sky. In the process, that would mean ditching the large, expensive fuel stages that propel what we generally think of as a rocket — massive cylindrical thing, tiny payload at the tip — into space.

This month, the company hit a major milestone on its quest to get to suborbital space, capping off Phase I of a research grant with NASA with a pair of successful proof-of-concept launches demonstrating the company’s one-two punch of ram acceleration and chemical combustion.

HyperSciences put its vision to the test at Spaceport America, conducting a series of low altitude tests at the desolate launch site an hour outside of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. The company launched “a number of projectiles,” ranging from 1.5 ft long to over 9 ft long. HyperSciences sent up some off-the-shelf electronics in the process, in a partnership with an aerospace research group at the University of Texas.

“We targeted hitting 600 to 1000 G’s (multiples of Earth’s gravity) on the payloads and accomplished that,” HyperSciences Senior Adviser Raymond Kaminski said. “The payloads felt similar levels to what commercial off-the-shelf electronics (like a cell phone) would feel when getting dropped on the floor.” Kaminski returned to aerospace with HyperSciences after a turn in the startup world following an earlier career with NASA, where he worked as an engineer for the International Space Station.

While the 1.5 ft. system launch was enough to meet its goals for NASA’s purposes, the company was testing the waters with an admittedly more impressive 9 ft. 18” projectile. “We’re going to launch a nine foot section — you can’t deny this anymore,” Kaminski said.

Oddly enough, the whole thing started after HyperSciences founder and CEO Mark Russell drilled a bunch of really, really deep holes. Russell formerly led crew capsule development at Jeff Bezos space gambit Blue Origin before leaving to get involved in his family’s mining business. At Blue Origin, he was employee number ten. Russell’s experience with mining and drilling led him to the idea that by elongating the chemical-filled tubes that he’d use to drill in the past, the system he used to break up rock could go to space.

“You have a tube and you have a projectile. It’s got a sharp nose and you’ve pre filled your tube with natural gas and air,” Russell explained. “It rides on the shock wave like a surfer rides on the ocean”

The team believes that launching something into space can be faster, cheaper and far more efficient, but it requires a total reimagining of the process. If SpaceX’s reusable first stages were a sea change for spaceflight, the technology behind HyperSciences would be a revelation, but that’s assuming the vision — and the hypersonic tech that propels it — could be scaled up and adapted to the tricky, high-stakes business of sending things to space.

A hypersonic propulsion system can launch a projectile at at least five times the speed of sound, causing it to reach speeds of Mach 5 or higher — more than a mile a second. Most of of the buzz in hypersonic tech right now is around defense technology — missiles that travel fast enough to evade even sophisticated missile defense systems or strike targets so quickly they can’t be intercepted — but aerospace and geothermal energy are two other big areas of interest.

Last December, the Washington Post reported that moving from rocket-boosted weapons to hypersonic weapons is the “first, second, and third” priority for defense right now. The Pentagon’s 2019 budget currently has $2 billion earmarked for its hypersonics program and that funding grew by almost a third year-over-year.  “You never want to put out a tech when the government is asking for it,” Kaminski said. “At that point it’s too late and you’re playing catch up.”

In spite of the opportunity, HyperSciences isn’t keen to get into the world of weaponry. “We are a platform hypersonics company, we are not weapons designers,” the team told TechCrunch. “We do not plan on being a weapon provider. HyperSciences is focused on making the world a better place.”

To that end, HyperSciences is maneuvering to the fore of non-weaponry hypersonics applications. The company sponsors the University of Washington lab that’s pioneered applications for ram accelerator technology it uses and has sole right to the tech invented there. 

On the geothermal energy note, with $1 million from Shell, HyperSciences was able to develop what it calls a “common engine” — a hypersonic platform that call drill deep to reach geothermal energy stores or point upward to launch things toward the stars. “HyperSciences is about getting really good on earth first,” Russell said, pointing to one advantage of the cross-compatible system that lets the company apply lessons it learns from drilling to its plans for flight.

“Our HyperDrone technology can be used to test new air-breathing hypersonic engines for NASA or aircraft companies that want to build the next gen super- and hypersonic aircraft to go point-to-point around the world in an hour or two,” the team explained. “Right now, you need a rocket on a big aircraft, just to get experiments up to speed. We can do that at the end of our tube right from the ground.”

Though there have been rumors of acquisition interest, for now HyperSciences is pursuing an offbeat crowdfunding model that’s certainly out of the ordinary in a literally nuts and bolts aerospace business. The company is currently running a SeedInvest campaign that allows small, unaccredited investors put as little as a thousand dollars toward the team’s vision. At the time of writing, the campaign was sitting at around five million dollars raised from nearly 2,000 relatively small-time investors. 

“SpaceX’s seed rounds were run by big VCs,” Russell said. “Where do you get access? These are big industries the public never usually gets to invest in.”

Russell prefers to keep HyperSciences flexible in its pursuits and believes that relying on venture capital would force the company to narrow the scope of its mission.  The team is quick to note that in spite of its relationship with Shell, the oil and energy giant doesn’t own any equity in the company. By hopping between industry-specific contracts with a boost from crowdfunding, HyperSciences hopes to continue pursuing its platform’s applications in parallel.

The next overall architecture for spaceflight will be using hypersonics,” Russell said. “We obviously started this with the idea that you could gamechange spaceflight. By removing the first and potentially the second stage of a rocket [and] putting all of that energy in the ground… you could gamechange spaceflight, no doubt.”

 


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Wolfprint 3D raises $500K to bring scanning pods to an airport near you

18:21 | 23 December

3D body scanning isn’t very exciting right now – you can’t really use your scan anywhere except maybe on Thingiverse where people can print you out and create a shrine to you (hint hint!). Wolfprint, however, wants to bring 3D body scanning to the masses by putting their pod-shaped scanners in airports and malls, allowing you to create 3D avatars of yourself for use in video games and VR.

According to 3DPrintingIndustry, the Estonian company raised $500,000 to do this job – not much, honestly, but enough to get a few more 3D scans into the hands of gamers and artists.

The company has already scanned 5,000 people and they hope to do more by putting their pods in public places. The scanners cost $8,000 and can bring in about $50,000 in yearly revenue.

Interestingly the Estonian company raised the cash using SeedInvest, an equity crowdfunding platform. This mode could be the de facto way for small companies like this one to grab some cash in early stages and, given that it’s far more popular in Europe where the VC scene is arguably truncated it looks like an interesting way to build and grow.

The company claims to have partnerships with Nike and Paramount in the works so we’ll see how soon you’ll be able to scan yourself at the local Niketown.

 


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8tracks is raising a $30 million crowdfunding round

22:43 | 22 March

Music startup 8tracks has always had a strong sense of community. But the startup is taking this one step further by raising $30 million from its own community. Instead of asking money from venture capitalists, the company has started an equity crowdfunding campaign on SeedInvest and it’s been working well.

Around 30,000 community members have committed to invest $1,000 each to get a fraction of the company. So if everything goes as planned and the investment is cleared by the SEC, 8tracks should raise a $30 million Series A round. Under the JOBS Act, anyone can invest in private companies, not just people who make more than $200,000 a year.

“As you can imagine, it’s a particularly good fit for 8tracks as our community is our chief asset,” founder and CEO David Porter told me. “It’s our users who make the programming and our users who promote that programming, so it’s only natural that they should also be able to finance that programming and literally own a piece of 8tracks.”

8tracks is a laid-back radio service like Pandora, but with human-generated playlists. When you create a playlist, you associate it with various tags. These tags can be a mood (happy, love, etc.), an activity (workout, study, sleep) and of course a music genre. As a listener, you can then combine these tags together to find the perfect playlist. For example, you could do a search for “study + indie + summer.”

The company had previously raised a $1.5 million seed round from Andreessen Horowitz, Index Ventures, SoftTech VC and Ben Drury, as well as $2.5 million in debt financing. It now has 6 million monthly active users, slightly down compared to two years ago.

This upcoming round is a huge step up compared to previous rounds, and it looks like the company is going to need it. The company has been signing direct deals with music labels in order to access their catalogs. It’s also pulling back on international streaming as the company doesn’t have proper licensing deals for countries outside of the U.S. and Canada.

Re-enabling international streaming as well as signing more music label deals are two cumbersome and expensive processes. But as the company will soon have enough money in the bank, it looks like 8tracks is going to do just that.

 


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All topics: 5

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