He ran Google’s advertising arm. Now he’s building a search engine that cuts out ads
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Consumers and employees alike have joined the great revolt against big tech companies that once prided themselves on an ethical culture, calling out everything from lacking privacy practices to tech’s role in politics.
Perhaps in the ultimate rebellion against his former employer, Sridhar Ramaswamy, once head of Google’s $115 billion advertising arm, has founded a new search engine that neither shows ads nor profits from user data, Ramaswamy told the New York Times.
Disillusioned by the company’s drive for growth (which at times prioritized ads above, say, the best possible search option, he says) and disturbed by news reports that Google had profited off of YouTube videos of children in scenarios that appealed to pedophiles, Ramaswamy said he decided the ad-model “had limitations.”
Neeva—his new search engine that looks through the web, personal files, and emails—aims to make money off of subscriptions instead. Notably, the company is not building a completely new piece of technology, and search will be powered by Microsoft’s Bing, with other information also coming from existing providers. On that pitch of a centralized, paid search platform, the company has raised some $37.5 million from Greylock and Sequoia Capital—yes that Sequoia, the one that once backed Google.
The road will be long and arduous, however. Even while consumers grouse and rail against the likes of Alphabet and Facebook for offering free services at the expense of personal information, those tech giants still remain dominant. Other search engine competitors have sought to enter the battle arena wielding the lance of privacy, but haven’t threatened Google: DuckDuckGo, which shows ads but does not track users, commands a 1.4% share of the U.S. search market while Google handles 88%.
There’s also another trend in this story: As tech employees grow disillusioned with their companies and the pandemic leaves thousands unemployed, it wouldn’t be surprising to see more former workers spin out to create their own companies—and perhaps mount their own challenges against their one-time employers.
- Checkout.com, a London-based payment solution provider, raised $150 million in Series B funding, valuing it at $5.5 billion. Coatue led the round and was joined by investors including Insight Partners, DST Global, Blossom Capital, and Singapore’s Sovereign Wealth Fund, GIC.
- Surrozen Inc., a South San Francisco, Calif.-based biotech seeking to develop antibodies targeting specific tissues, raised $50 million in funding. Investors included The Column Group, Hartford Healthcare Trust, Horizons Ventures, and Euclidian Capital.
- 3DBio, a New York-based bioprinting company, raised $20 million. Investors include BlueSeed Ventures, Alexandria Venture Investments, Western Technology Investment and Barer & Son Capital.
- Moneyfellows, an Egyptian fintech, raised $4 million in Series A funding. Partech and Sawari Ventures were the investors.
- Energicity Corp, a Freetown, Sierra Leone-based developer and operator of microgrid utilities in West Africa, raised $3.3 million in seed funding. Ecosystem Integrity Fund led the round.
- Agamon, a London-based health-care A.I. startup, raised $3 million in seed funding. MMC Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including InHealth Ventures, Seedcamp, and Bayer G4A.
- Afia, an Austin-based maker of frozen Mediterranean food, raised $1 million in funding from Unorthodox Ventures.
- AE Industrial Partners acquired a majority stake in NuWave Solutions, a Washington D.C.-based provider of data management and analytics to the federal government. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
- Epic Brokers and Consultants, a retail broker backed by Oak Hill Capital, and JenCap Holdings, a New York-based speciality insurance distribution platform backed by Carlyle, combined to form Galway insurance Holdings. JenCap also acquired Quaker Special Risk, an insurance wholesaler.
- NSC Technologies, a portfolio company of White Wolf Capital, acquired Anistar Technologies, a Tampa, Fla.-based national staffing company. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
- Private equity investors including Advent International, Rhone, SK Capital Partners, and Triton Partners, are showing interest in Altuglas International, the Colombes, France-based plexiglass business of Arkema SA, per Bloomberg. A deal could fetch 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion). Read more.
BREAKUPS, HANGUPS, AND BANKRUPTCIES
- CEC Entertainment, the company behind restaurant chain Chuck E. Cheese backed by Apollo Global Management, is in talks to secure $100 million in funding to keep it out of bankruptcy, per the Wall Street Journal. Potential buyers also include New York grocery magnate John Catsimatidis. Read more.
- AAC Holdings Inc., the parent of American Addiction Centers, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Read more.
Yum China Holdings, the New York-listed restaurant operator of brands including KFC and Taco Bell in China, has filed confidentially for a Hong Kong listing that could raise about $2 billion, per Bloomberg citing sources. Read more.
- Hyliion, an Austin, Texas-based electrified vehicle company, will go public via a merger with a SPAC, Tortoise Acquisition Corp. The company will remain on the NYSE as “HYLN.” The transaction includes a $325 million PIPE deal and values the company at $1.5 billion.
- Akouos, a Boston-based biotech developing gene therapies for inner ear disorders, plans to raise $125 million via an offering of 8.3 million shares priced between $14 to $16. 5AM Ventures (21.6% pre-offering), New Enterprise Associates (18.6%), and Pivotal bioVenture Partners (7.5%) back the firm. It plans to list on the Nasdaq as “AKUS.” Read more.
- Fusion Pharmaceuticals, a Canadian biotech developing medicines for solid tumors, plans to raise $125 million via an offering of 8.4 million shares priced between $14 to $16. HealthCap (12.6% pre-offering), Adams Street Partners (12.3%), and Varian Medical Systems (11.3%) back the firm. It plans to list on the Nasdaq as “FUSN.” Read more.
- Trean Insurance Group, a Wayzata, Minn.-based specialty insurer, filed to raise $100 million. The company posted revenue of $102.5 million in 2019 and income of $31.3 million. Altaris Funds and The Baker Family Trust back the firm. It plans to list on the Nasdaq as “TIG.” Read more.
- PolyPid, an Israel-based maker of drugs that prevent surgical site infections, plans to raise $50 million in an offering of 3.1 million shares priced between $15 to $17 apiece. Existing shareholders plan to buy some $27 million in shares in the offering. Morris Kahn (13.8% pre-offering) backs the firm. It plans to list on the Nasdaq as “PYPD.” Read more.
- Shift Technologies Inc., a San Francisco-based online retailer for used cars, is in talks to merge with Insurance Acquisition Corp., a blank-check company backed by Cohen and Company, per Bloomberg citing sources. Shift is aiming for a valuation of over $500 million per a source. Read more.
- Ares Management closed Ares Special Opportunities Fund with $3.5 billion of commitments.
- Epidarex Capital, an Edinburgh-based life science venture firm, closed Epidarex Capital III UK at £102.1 million (126.7 million).
- Volvo Group Venture Capital named Martin Witt as head of the group. Volvo Group also named him vice president.