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Nikola, which went public via a SPAC, is accused of deception

September 11, 2020, 2:21 PM UTC

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Electric-truck maker Nikola led the wave of mergers with blank-check companies this year.

In March, it agreed to merge with VectoIQ Acquisition Corp., a SPAC created solely with the purpose of acquiring another business, with Fidelity and ValueAct supporting the deal with a $525 million private placement. And riding on Tesla’s soaring stock as well as a recent partnership with General Motors, Nikola’s valuation has exploded to $14 billion (compare that to its $3.3 billion price tag when its plan to go public was first announced).

On Thursday, Hindenburg Research, a short seller betting against the zero-emissions startup, accused Nikola of making a series of deceptive public statements and false representations regarding its technology and business in a scathing report.

Per my colleague David Z. Morris, it makes a claim that is somewhat…unintentionally comedic:

“The Hindenburg report’s most striking claim is that a January 2018 video purportedly showing a Nikola One hydrogen fuel-cell semi truck moving under its own power was staged. According to Hindenburg, the video in fact showed the truck rolling down a long, gentle slope. Hindenburg’s report includes a test confirming that the section of road shown in the video could accelerate a coasting vehicle to highway speeds, along with text messages from a former Nikola employee appearing to confirm the tactics.

Given these claims, it is notable that Nikola repeatedly described the video as showing the truck “in motion,” which would be technically true even if the truck were not moving under its own power.”

Nikola refuted the allegations, calling Hindenberg’s report a “hit job for short sale profit driven by greed.” The company made allusions to potential legal action and also said it plans to bring the report to the attention of the Securities of Exchange Commission.

Of course, short sellers are sometimes wrong and they do have financial incentive to tarnish a company’s image. But they’ve also been very, very right before.

And this brings me back to Nikola’s decision to go public via SPAC: Despite the financing method’s raging popularity in 2020, SPACs are still trying to shed their historical association with fraud. And while proponents emphasize the limited risk of investing in a SPAC before it finds an acquisition target (with funds going typically into, say, U.S. treasuries), it remains to be seen what comes after.

EVERLANE RAISES: Everlane, the sustainable fashion brand that has been accused of failing to live up to its ethical image, has raised $85 million in Series F funding led by L Catterton. 

The new funding comes after former employees accused the company of anti-Black behavior and of selling an image “to the world that did not reflect their damaging experiences inside the company,” per the New York Times in July. Everlane later announced that the Chief Creative Officer Alexandra Spunt, who took much of the criticism, would no longer lead the creative team. In response to the report, Everlane CEO Michael Preysman told the Times that the company would open up a seat for a Black board member, roll out anti-racism training, and add a Black person to the senior leadership team.

With the most recent funding round, Everlane added Jonathan Mildenhall, CEO of TwentyFirstCenturyBrand, and Matt Leeds, Partner at L Catterton, to its board of directors. Mildenhall is of a mixed-race background.

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

VENTURE DEALS

- Korro Bio, a Cambridge, Mass.-based provider of a platform for RNA editing,  raised $91.5 million in Series A funding. Wu Capital led the round and was joined by investors including Atlas Venture, New Enterprise Associates, Qiming Venture Partners USA, Surveyor Capital (a Citadel company), Cormorant Asset Management, MP Healthcare Venture Management, and Alexandria Venture Investments.

- OncoImmune, a Rockville, Md.-based clinical-stage biopharma firm, raised $56 million in Series B funding. HM Capital, 3E Bioventures Capital and Kaitai Capital led the round and were joined by GBA Fund and GF Xinde. Read more.

- EverC,  a New York-based company money laundering detection startup, raised $35 million in Series B funding. Red Dot Capital Partners led the round and was joined by investors including Maor Investments, Viola Ventures, Arbor Ventures, and American Express Ventures

- Casma Therapeutics, a Cambridge, Mass.-based biotech, raised $50 million in Series B funding. The Column Group led the round and was joined by investors including Eventide Asset Management, Schroder Adveq, and Third Rock Ventures.

- Orasis Pharmaceuticals, an Israel-based ophthalmic pharmaceutical company focused on treating presbyopia symptoms, raised $30 million in Series C funding. Bluestem Capital and Visionary Ventures led the round and were joined by investors including Sequoia Capital, SBI (Japan) Innovation Ventures, Maverick Ventures Israel, and LifeSci Venture Partners.

- Chairish, a San Francisco-based marketplace for home furnishings, raised $33 million in Series B funding. Tritium Partners led the round and was joined by investors including Altos Ventures Ltd, Azure Capital, and O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures.

- Capitolis, a New York-based capital markets platform, raised $11 million. Citi, J.P. Morgan and State Street were the investors.

- Curio, a London-based curated audio platform of journalism, raised $9 million in Series A funding. Earlybird VC led the round and was joined by investors including Draper Esprit, Cherry Ventures, and Horizons Ventures. Read more.

- Agragene, a San Diego, Calif.-based company developing eco-friendly alternatives to chemical pesticides, raised $4 million in Series A funding. Ospraie Ag Science led the round.

- Britive, a Los Angeles-based provider of cloud-native security solutions, raised $5.4 million in seed funding. Upfront Ventures led the round.

- StatHero, an Arizona-based fantasy sports platform, raised a “multi-million round” of seed funding from Breslow Forsythe Group.

PRIVATE EQUITY

- Colibri Group, backed by Gridiron Capital, acquired HomeCEU, a Plano, Texas-based continuing education for healthcare professionals platform with a focus in therapy professions. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Dynamo Software, backed by Francisco Partners, acquired Imagineer Technology Group, a New York City-based cloud software solution to the alternative investment industry. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Eze Castle Integration, backed by H.I.G. Capital, acquired Alphaserve Technologies, a New York City-based provider of digital IT services for the financial services. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Baring Private Equity Asia agreed to acquire Virtusa Corporation (NASDAQ: VRTU), a Southborough, Mass.-based provider of IT services and solutions, in an all-cash transaction valued at about $2.0 billion.

OTHERS

- Reliance Industries is offering to sell a roughly $20 billion stake in its retail business to Amazon, per Bloomberg citing sources. Read more.

- Traton SE, Volkswagen AG’s heavy-truck business, boosted its offer to buy the rest of Navistar International, a U.S. manufacturer, for $3.6 billion. Read more.

- Euronext NV plans to submit a bid along with an Italian state-owned lender for Borsa Italiana SpA, the Italian bourse owned by the London Stock Exchange, valuing it at about 3.5 billion euros ($4.1 billion) to 4 billion euros. Read more.

- Evolution Gaming Group AB (ST: EVO) offered to acquire NetEnt AB (ST:NET-B), a Swedish gaming systems provider, valuing the latter at about €1.9 billion (USD2.1 billion).

EXITS

- American Bath Group, a Savannah, Tenn-based maker of bathtubs that is backed by Lone Star, is exploring strategic options including a sale. Read more.

- TPG is exploring the sale of Strive Communities, an operator of mobile-home parks. The deal could raise $750 million. Read more.

- Atar Capital has acquired WinCup, a Georgia-based food packaging manufacturer, from BlackRock. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- EQT agreed to acquire Idealista, a Spanish property site, from Apax Partners for about $1.5 billion.

IPOs

- C4 Therapeutics, a preclinical biotech developing protein degraders for oncology and immunology, filed to raise $100 million in an IPO. Cobro Ventures, Perceptive Advisors, and Cormorant Funds back the firm. Read more.

SPACs

- Opendoor, a property technology startup, is in advanced talks to go public through a merger with Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings Corp. II, a blank check company. The company would be valued at $5 billion in the deal. Firms including SoftBank and GV back the firm. Read more.

- Vesper Healthcare Acquisition, a blank check company targeting the healthcare sector, filed to raise up to $400 million in an IPO. Former Allergan CEO Brenton Saunders leads the firm. Read more.

- Climate Change Crisis Real Impact I Acquisition, a blank check company targeting sectors fighting climate change, filed for a $200 million IPO. PIMCO backs the firm. Read more.

F+FS

- Bonfire Ventures, a seed-stage VC firm that invests in B2B software, raised $100 million for its second core fund.

- Banco Santander launched Mouro Capital, a venture capital fund focused on fintechs, with $400 million in allocated funds.

PEOPLE

- Battery Ventures hired Paul Morrissey as its first partner in London and promoted Zak Ewen to principal.