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Who would take venture dollars from Facebook right now?

November 8, 2021, 4:43 PM UTC

If you’re a startup founder, there’s a laundry list of reasons why you don’t want social media company Facebook as an investor.

The recently renamed Meta holds a rather seedy reputation for hindering smaller rivals by outright copying their products—raising questions as to whether it is wise to take funding from such a company as a young-and-upcoming startup. Not to mention that the company is mired in a cloud of controversy: Beyond accusations of violating antitrust laws from the Federal Trade Commission, the social media company is also now facing serious allegations of putting profits ahead of safety unleashed by whistleblower Frances Haugen. With all that, it’s hard not to see Facebook’s recent attempt at rebranding itself as a pioneer of the metaverse, Meta, as a distraction.


But on Monday, a company in the artificial reality, gaming, and virtual reality space announced it had raised funding from investors including, yes Meta.

Inworld AI, a Mountain View, Calif.-based company building “the brains for virtual characters” so that they may respond dynamically to human users and digital environments, announced that it raised $7 million in seed funding from Kleiner Perkins, CRB, and Meta. Selling its tech directly to other businesses, Inworld envisions characters created through its platform used for everything from customer support in e-commerce to more interactive virtual figures in gaming.

So why did the company take capital from Meta at a time when the latter name is practically plutonium?

Inworld AI CEO Ilya Gelfenbeyn believes the controversies will not have a significant detrimental effect to Meta in the long-term. It’s a view that many public market investors seem to share, with the company’s stock still up 26% since the start of the year—roughly in-line with the broader S&P 500 Index.

“I don’t think it makes them a bad investor or anything,” says Gelfenbeyn. In fact, impressed by Meta’s reach and push into virtual reality, said he actively sought out the company as an investor over the summer. Pointing to Meta’s rebranding and its launching of virtual reality collaboration product, Horizon, he adds: “They seemed to be one of the biggest players out there.”

As for that issue of copying: Gelfenbeyn says he believes fears of the copy-and-kill strategy are overblown. The company has some experience with tech giants, with Inworld AI’s founding team previously selling a natural language processing company, API.AI., to Google in 2016.

Meta may be untouchable for many startup founders, but not all. And say what you’d like about Facebook’s rebranding about Meta as a distraction—it certainly feels like one—but don’t mistake distraction for something insignificant.

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

VENTURE DEALS

- Genki Forest, a Chinese beverage maker, is nearing a deal to raise $500 million valuing it at $15 billion, per Bloomberg. Investors include Temasek Holdings and Warburg Pincus. 

- Razor Group, a Berlin-based buyer of Amazon sellers, raised $125 million in Series B funding valuing it at $1 billion valuation. Investors include Fortress Investment Group, 468 Capital, Victory Park Capital, Presight Capital, Blackrock, Jebsen Capital, Redalpine, and GFC.

- Drata, a San Diego-based security and compliance automation company, raised $100 million in Series B funding. ICONIQ Growth led the round and was joined by investors including Alkeon Capital and Salesforce Ventures, valuing it at $1 billion.

- H2O.ai, a Mountain View, Calif.-based A.I. cloud company, raised $100 million in Series E funding valuing it at $1.7 billion. Commonwealth Bank of Australia led the round and was joined by investors including Pivot Investment Partners, Goldman Sachs Asset Management, and Crane Venture Partners

- Landing AI, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based maker of tools for deploying A.I. systems in manufacturing, raised $57 million in Series A funding. McRock Capital led the round.

- BrightChamps, an Indian edtech, raised $51 million valuing it at $500 million. Premji Invest led the round. It previously raised $63 million.

- Fyllo, a Chicago-based maker of software for highly regulated industries, raised $40 million in Series C funding. Eminence Capital led the round and was joined by investors including Longview Capital Advisors and ArrowMark Partners.

- DeepCure, a Boston-based A.I. drug discovery company, raised $40 million in Series A funding. Morningside Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including TLV Partners, Sapir Venture Partners, and Benon Group.

- Swimm, an Israel-based documentation collaboration company, raised $27.6 million in Series A funding. Insight Partners led the round and was joined by investors including Dawn Capital, Pitango First, and TAU Ventures. 

- TRED, a Seattle-based peer-to-peer car marketplace, raised $25 million in Series B funding. Investors include Vivek Raj at Geneses Investments, Nowlake Technologies, as well as Paul Kerwin and Mike Kraus at CUNA MG.

- AKUA, a New York City-based maker of kelp-based foods, raised $3.2 million in seed funding. Vibrant Ventures led the round.

PRIVATE EQUITY

- Sydney Airport Holdings, the Australian airport operator, agreed to a A$23.6 billion ($17.5 billion) takeover bid from investors including IFM Investors, QSuper, AustralianSuper, and Global Infrastructure Partners.

- Advent and Permira will take McAfee Corp., a Plano, Tx.-based cybersecurity company, private in a deal that values it over $14 billion.  Permira, Crosspoint Capital, CPP Investments, GIC, and a wholly owned subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.

- Blackstone Life Sciences will invest up to $250 million in Autolus Therapeutics, a therapeutics company backed by Sycona. 

- Bain Capital Insurance led a $150 million investment in Enhance Health, a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based medicare advantage insurance brokerage. 

- A group of investors led by Archimedes Health Investors invested $65 million in M2 Orthopedics, a Boulder-based practice management software maker.

- J.C. Flowers & Co. invested in TRICOR Insurance, a Lancaster, Wi.-based business insurance, employee benefits, personal insurance, and individual life and health independent insurance agency. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Gemspring Capital acquired a majority interest in AINS, a Gaithersburg, Md.-based provider of case management software and IT services to government customers. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Hg invested in Litera, a Chicago-based provider of legal technology solutions. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Fluitron, backed by Ara Partners, acquired Bethlehem Hydrogen, a manufacturer of integrated hydrogen compression, dispensing, and storage systems.  Financial terms weren't disclosed.

OTHER

- REIT Industrial Logistics Properties Trust will acquire Monmouth Real Estate Investment, a REIT, for $4 billion in cash.

- Bouygues agreed to acquire Equans, a French telecom and air conditioner servicing business, from Engie for €7.1 billion ($8.2 billion).

IPO

- Rivian, the Amazon and Ford-backed electric carmaker, is now seeking a valuation of up to $65 billion in its IPO. 

- Kindercare, a Portland, Or.-based daycare operator, now plans to raise about $503 million in an offering of 25.8 million shares priced between $18 to $21. Partners Group backs the firm.

- Cian.ru, a Russian real-estate platform, raised $291 million along with investors in an IPO in New York. Goldman Sachs and Elbrus Capital back the firm. 

- 5.11 ABR, an Irvine, Calif.-based maker of technical apparel and footwear, filed to raise $100 million. Compass Diversified backs the firm.

F+FS

- Solana Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and FTX launched a $100 million fund  initially focused on blockchain and gaming. 

PEOPLE

- BoxGroup promoted Adina Davis and Claire Smilow to principal.

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