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A Loon comes down to earth

January 22, 2021, 3:25 PM UTC

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It was an admittedly loony project in the first place: Loon, a much-hyped project aiming to deliver internet via helium balloons, will be shuttered, Google’s parent company Alphabet said late Thursday.

Formed nearly ten years ago within the tech giant’s “moonshot”-focused research lab, X, the hope was to use the balloons to send internet service into areas that have limited to no internet access. While the numbers are hard to come by, an estimated 3 billion to 4 billion people in the world today still can’t shop online (or read this newsletter).

So it makes sense that many tech giants and flashy billionaires view the practice as a major business opportunity: Elon Musk has Starlink; Richard Branson and SoftBank have OneWeb; Jeff Bezos’ Amazon has Project Kuiper. While the aforementioned projects have focused around sending satellites into space, Loon focused on high-altitude balloons. 

But as with moonshot bets, it doesn’t always work.

“While we’ve found a number of willing partners along the way, we haven’t found a way to get the costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business,” wrote Alastair Westgarth, CEO of Loon in a blog post. “Today, I’m sad to share that Loon will be winding down.”

Here’s a good Wired breakdown of the dynamics: Yes, there are many who lack internet connection in the world. But many of these underserved populations can’t afford Loon’s services or are simply uninterested in the internet. Meaning no financial merits for Alphabet—and so went the project.

But Loon’s creators were aware of this possible future. “The idea may sound a bit crazy—and that’s part of the reason we’re calling it Project Loon—but there’s solid science behind it,” wrote Mike Cassidy in 2013 of the project’s launch. Cassidy led the venture back then.

I can’t help but also wonder—what happened to the capital from its external investors? SoftBank-backed HAPSMobile injected $125 million into the business in 2019 as the duo worked on airborne internet connectivity equipment. I personally have no answers there.

Finances aside, Loon has not been without its successes. It ran a pilot project in Kenya. It also managed to create a navigation system run by A.I.

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VENTURE DEALS

- Aichi Automobile Co., a Chinese electric vehicle startup, is seeking to raise at a $2 billion plus valuation, per Bloomberg. Read more.

- Imperfect Foods, a San Francisco-based grocery delivery company based on reject produce, raised $95 million in Series D funding. Insight Partners led the round and was joined by investors including Norwest Venture Partners. 

- SOCi, a San Diego, Calif.-based platform for multi-location marketers, raised $80 million in Series D funding. JMI Equity led the round.

- Georges.tech, a French accounting automation startup, raised $42.4 million (€35 million). Singular led the round. Read more.

- Aerobotics, a South African agriculture analysis startup, raised $17 million in Series B funding. Naspers led the round and was joined by investors including Cathay AfricInvest Innovation, FMO: Entrepreneurial Development Bank, and Platform Investment Partners. Read more.

- Omnipresent, a London-based remote workforce startup, raised $15.8 million in Series A funding. Investors included Episode 1, Playfair Capital, and Truesight Ventures. Read more.

- MotoRefi, an Arlington, Va.-based auto refinancing startup, raised $10 million in Series A1 funding. Moderne Ventures led the round.

- Swapp, an Israel-based construction planning company, raised $7 million in seed funding. Point72 Ventures and Entrée Capital led the round. 

- BlueNalu, a San Diego, Calif.-based maker of  seafood-based products, raised $5 million. Lewis & Clark AgriFood led the round.

- CloudNatix, a startup focused on businesses with multiple clouds, raised $4.5 million in seed funding. DNX Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including Cota Capital, Incubate Fund, Vela Partners, and 468 Capital. Read more.

- CANOA, a New York-based design and construction startup focused on commercial real estate, raised $1.5 million in seed funding. TMV (formerly Trailmix Ventures) led the round and was joined by investors including Building Ventures and Gemini Ventures.

PRIVATE EQUITY

- Tene Investment Fund invested $45 million in GlassesUSA.com, a New York-based subsidiary of Optimax Eyewear. 

- Investors including Gravitas Securities invested $40 million in Above Food Corp., a Canadian distributor of plant-based alternatives to animal products. 

- Ardian invested in Elée, a Paris software asset management and cloud computing company. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Boyne Capital acquired a majority stake in CarCovers, a Pittsburgh-based retailer for  vehicle covers. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Bright International, a portfolio company of Aterian Investment Partners, acquired Bocchi Laboratories, a Santa Clarita, Calif. and New Albany, Oh.-based beauty and personal care manufacturer. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Communication Technology Services, a portfolio company of Astra Capital Management, acquired ClearSky Technologies, an Orlando, Fla.-based wireless communications company. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- HCAP Partners, invested in 83bar, an Austin-based leader in patient management software maker. Fintemr.

- Oak Hill Capital invested in NetSpeed, a Stamford, Conn.-based fiber network company. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Ridgemont Equity Partners invested in Softdocs, a Columbia, S.C.-based content management software provider for the higher education and K-12 markets. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Seaway Plastics Engineering, a portfolio company of Tonka Bay Equity Partners, acquired Wright Engineered Plastics, a Santa Rosa, Calif.-based provider of molding for precision components. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

EXITS

- Boston Scientific will pay as much as $1.1 billion to acquire Preventice Solutions, a Houston-based medical device maker focused on issues related to the heart. Vivo Capital backed Preventice. 

- IG Group Holdings acquired tastytrade, a Chicago-based online financial network, for $1 billion excluding tastytrade’s cash. TCV backs tastytrade.

- Triton is preparing a sale of Polygon, a Swedish damage restoration services firm, for about €1 billion ($1.2 billion), per Reuters. Read more.

- H.I.G. acquired Continental Batteries, a Dallas-based secondary market for electric vehicle batteries, from Incline Equity Partners. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Bridgepoint Development Capital acquired Prescient Healthcare Group, a London-based pharmaceutical analytics company. Baird Capital was the seller. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- The Vistria Group and Excellere Capital Management acquired SCA Pharmaceuticals, a Little Rock, Ar.-based provider of pre-filled syringes and sterile admixtures, from Enhanced Healthcare Partners. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- TIG Advisors acquired a minority revenue share interest in Arkkan Capital, a Hong Kong-based alternative asset manager, from Blackstone. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

OTHER

- MultiPlan Corporation (NYSE: MPLN) agreed to acquire Discovery Health Partners,  an Itasca, Ill.-based healthcare payments company,  for $155 million in cash.

- PlayVS acquired GameSeta, a Vancouver-based esports startup. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

IPOs

- InPost, a Polish locker operator, plans to raise as much as €3.2 billion ($3.9 billion) in an Amsterdam IPO. Advent International, Templeton Strategic Emerging Markets Fund and PZU Fundusz back the company. Read more.

- Huohua Siwei, a China-based education startup, is preparing for an IPO to raise $500 million in the U.S. backed by Tencent and Kuaishou Technology back the firm, per Bloomberg. Read more.

- RLX Technology, a Chinese e-cigarette company, raised $1.4 billion in an IPO of 116.5 million shares priced at $12 apiece. Read more.

- Southeastern Grocers, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based chain of supermarket chains including Winn-Dixie, plans to raise $134 million in an offering 8.9 million existing shares priced between $14 to $16 apiece.  Read more.

Dream Finders Homes, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based homebuilder, raised $125 million in an offering of 9.6 million shares priced at $13. Boston Omaha backs the firm. Read more.

 

SPACS

- Joby Aero, an electric flying taxi maker, is weighing a deal to go public through a merger with a SPAC, per Reuters. A deal could value the firm at about $5 billion. Read more.

- EVgo, a Los Angeles-based fast charging company for electric vehicles, will go public via merger with Climate Change Crisis Real Impact I Acquisition, a SPAC. Investors include PIMCO, BlackRock, Wellington Management, Neuberger Berman Funds, and Van Eck Associates are expected to invest $400 million via PIPE. The planned merger values EVgo at approximately $2.6 billion.

- Gores Holdings VII, a SPAC formed by The Gores Group, filed to raise $400 million.

- Primavera Capital Acquisition, a SPAC seeking a consumer business with a presence in China, raised $360 million. Primavera Capital backs the firm.

- Fifth Wall Acquisition I, a SPAC from Fifth Wall Ventures targeting a real estate technology business, filed to raise $250 million.

- Dennis Muilenburg, the former Boeing CEO, is preparing to file for a $200 million SPAC, per Bloomberg. Read more.

F+FS

- Crosslink Capital, a San Francisco-based early-stage venture capital firm, raised $350 million for its Crosslink Ventures IX fund.

- Rotunda Capital Partners, a Bethesda, Md.-based middle-market private equity firm, raised $195 million for its debut fund.

PEOPLE

- ATL Partners, a private equity firm focused on investing in aerospace, transportation and logistics, promoted Kirby Fine to partner. It also promoted Michael Kramer has been promoted to principal and Andrew Blay to vice president.

- Canaan Partners, a New York-based venture capital firm, promoted Laura Chau and Rayfe Gaspar-Asaoka to partner.

- Pantheon Ventures, a U.K.-based investment firm, promoted Petra Bukovec, Jérôme Duthu-Bengtzon, and Dinesh Ramasamy to partner.