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SoftBank’s ambitious internet-via-satellite investment falls to Earth

March 30, 2020, 1:36 PM UTC

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As SoftBank seeks to sell some $41 billion in assets to weather through doubters, yet another portfolio company is coming down to earth.

London-based OneWeb raised $3.4 billion from the likes of SoftBank, Airbus, and Qualcomm with an ambitious goal of delivering cheaper internet to the world through satellites. On Friday, it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

“Our current situation is a consequence of the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis,” Adrian Steckel, CEO of OneWeb said in a statement. OneWeb says it cut 90% of its workforce from 531 to 74 and halted all nonessential operations in filings.

That comes following reports that OneWeb had been in talks with SoftBank to raise as much as $2 billion in funding before the coronavirus outbreak, according to the Financial Times citing sources (which appear to match at least timing wise, in court papers)

According to court filings, OneWeb had been seeking funding as early as 2019. As the coronavirus continued to spread, existing investors told the company on March 12 that they would not commit to a “long-term solution” that could solve OneWeb’s cash crunch. Days later, an attempt to pull together bridge financing also fell through. 

According to documents, Softbank is its largest creditor and shareholder, owed $913 million and owning 37.4% of the company.

The spread of coronavirus has been unlucky timing for SoftBank, which is already under intense scrutiny from investors following the unravelling of some major bets last year. Even an activist investor has thrown itself into the fray.

And as many of SoftBank’s other bets suffer (Didi, Uber, WeWork, Oyo, Ola), they will come asking for cash. Which ones SoftBank chooses to back will be defining for its strategy to come.

A double OneWeb burn: CocaCola (yes, that giant soft drink maker) invested in OneWeb in 2015. 

At the time, CocaCola spun it as a sustainability play, helping the company reach customers in “some of the world’s remote areas.” 

But then roughly a year ago, OneWeb, which had also been touting itself as a way to beam cheap internet to small businesses and schools in developing regions, said it would largely defer that strategy in favor of providing internet access to those that could pay higher fees for such a costly system, at least in the near term: chief among them airlines and cruise operators, per the Wall Street Journal. And we all know how those businesses have fared in the coronavirus times.

Coca Cola’s equity in OneWeb comes up to roughly 1.29%, per the filing.

Strike three and you’re out: A network of thousands of Instacart workers say they plan to strike, frustrated that the company has not provided stronger protection against the outbreak. They say that management has repeatedly ignored their demands, which include company-provided personal safety gear, $5 hazard pay for each order, and access to sick pay for at-risk workers and those who have coronavirus symptoms. 

Meanwhile, Amazon employees at a New York fulfillment center plan to strike at noon.

Lucinda Shen
Twitter: @shenlucinda
Email: lucinda.shen@fortune.com

VENTURE DEALS

- Tiger Global has built a stake in ByteDance, the Chinese maker of viral video app TikTok, per the Financial Times. ByteDance backers include SoftBank and Sequoia Capital. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- DataGuard, a Munich, Germany-based privacy and compliance software company, raised $20 million in funding, from One Peak.

- Bright.md, a Portland, Oregon-based virtual conference healthcare company, raised $8 million in Series C funding. B Capital and Seven Peaks Ventures co-led the round.

- Air Doctor, a Tel Aviv-based outpatient network that connects travelers with local doctors, raised $7.8m Series A funding. Kamet Ventures led the round.

- IRIS, a London-based maker of headphones, raised £2.5 million ($3.5 million) in funding. Its first round of investors include Mansour Ojjeh, CEO of TAG Group, Roger Taylor, the drummer from band Queen, and Concord

- Nohbo, a Melbourne, Florida-based sustainable beauty and personal care technology company, raised $3 million in seed funding. Material Impact led the round and was joined by investors including Safer Made and existing investor Mark Cuban’s Radical Investments.

- Lanistar, a London-based fintech company offering debit cards, raised £2 million in seed funding.

PRIVATE EQUITY

- Genstar Capital partnered with insurance industry executives to form Obsidian Insurance Holdings, Inc., a fronting insurance holding company, with $100 million of capital.

- Calera Capital acquired Thayer Power & Communication, a Columbus, Oh.-based repair, maintenance, and upgrade services for the utility and telecommunications industries. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

Private equity firms including KKR and Apollo are showing interest in Germany's national soccer league, DFL, which is exploring options to avoid a liquidity crunch per Bloomberg. Read more.

OTHERS

- The Gauselmann Group, an Espelkamp, Germany-based gaming company, acquired a majority stake in Bede Gaming, a Newcastle upon Tyne, UK-based online gaming platform. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Tink, a Stockholm-based open banking platform, acquired Eurobits Technologies, a Madrid-based provider of account aggregation services, for €15.5 million ($19.2 million).

- Glen Eagle Resources Inc. (TSX.V: GER), a Montreal-based company, raised $25 million from GEM Global Yield.

- Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE), the biopharmaceutical giant, said it completed a $1.25 billion ten-year “sustainability” bond paying interest semi-annually of 2.625 percent and maturing April 1, 2030.

- Tegna (NYSE: TGNA), a Tysons, Va.-based station broadcasting  group, confirmed that two potential acquirers withdrew offers, citing coronavirus-related market volatility. Gray Television and Apollo Global were the parties that walked away, Reuters reports citing sources. Both offers would have valued the company at about $8.5 billion. Read more.

IPOs

- WeDoctor, one of China’s biggest online health-care startups, has reportedly selected JPMorgan Chase & Co., Credit Suisse Group AG and CMB International to lead its Hong Kong IPO, Bloomberg reports citing sources. The company reportedly hopes to raise $500 million and as much as $1 billion. Read more.

 

EXITS

- Thomson Reuters agreed to acquire Pondera Solutions, a Folsom, Calif.-based cloud-computing solution addressing fraud, waste, and abuse in government programs, from Serent Capital. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

F + FS

- Riverwood Capital Partners raised $1.2 billion for its Riverwood Capital Partners III fund. Read more.

- L Squared Capital raised $397 million of a $500 million target for its third PE fund. Read more.

- Vickers Venture Partners raised roughly $285.5 million (US$200 million) for its target $713.69m (US$500m) Fund VI. Read more.

- Acorn Bioventures raised $199.5 million for its fund. Read more.

- Founders Fund raised $101.5 million for its Growth Principals fund. Read more.

PEOPLE

- The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has hired Stas Sokolin as a Principal in the Ventures group.

- Mark Chou, an early employee at Away, left to launch an early stage startup advisory and investing practice, Bradhurst Ventures. Chou plans to invest with his own capital.