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Christie’s tries its hand at venture capital

July 19, 2022, 11:51 AM UTC
A gallery assistant holds an artwork entitled "Souvenir de voyage" (Remembrance of a Voyage) by Belgian artist Rene Magritte during a photocall at Christie's auction house in London on June 22, 2022.
Justin Tallis—Getty Images

It all started with the Picasso of pixels. Yes, I’m talking about Beeple.

As you may recall, the digital artist from South Carolina sold a collage of his daily sketchbook as an NFT for $69.3 million at Christie’s auction house last spring—shaking both the digital and physical art worlds at both the staggering sum of cash (or Ether, that is) and the idea that individuals would flock to the auction house for such a purchase.

Needless to say, Christie’s subsequently went all-in. I mean—who would blame them after the commission on that purchase? Christie’s said in its last annual report that it had sold nearly $150 million in NFTs in 2021. It’s a private company, so it’s hard to say exactly how much revenue this pivot has generated, but it’s safe to assume it’s a lot, as the company later dedicated a Summit to NFTs and started nosing around on TikTok and Discord. Christie’s head of marketing has called the newfound focus on NFTs to be Christie’s “biggest change to date.”

So maybe it’s not altogether surprising that Christie’s is launching a venture arm—nor that its first investment was in crypto. 

Yesterday, Christie’s said it had set aside some undisclosed sum to invest in emerging tech and fintech related to the art market. The venture arm will focus its attention particularly on Web3 as well as financial products that make it easier to consume art.

Christie’s Ventures’ first investment is in LayerZero Labs, a Canadian startup that moves assets between blockchains that is backed by Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, and FTX Ventures. The crypto startup was valued at $1 billion in a Series A extension round that was announced in March, per PitchBook.

Chrstie’s venture committee is comprised of a group of executives, including Christie’s CEO Guillaume Cerutti and COO Ben Gore. Interestingly, Christie’s has also recruited Devang Thakkar, a former Microsoft and Artsy executive and digital mortgage unicorn Better’s former Chief Product Officer, to lead the venture arm. Thakkar told the Journal yesterday that he intends to invest in companies that address authenticity disputes as well as tracking and cataloging art ownership efficiently. A Christie’s spokeswoman declined to comment on how much capital the company had set aside for the venture arm and its first investment.

With two top executives at the helm, Christie’s may struggle with a problem that plagues many corporate VCs: Moving too slowly. However, in today’s market, maybe that won’t be as much of an issue.

Whatever way you look at it, it’s an interesting time to launch a new venture initiative—with crypto lending companies falling apart and venture capitalists pulling back their pace across the industry.

See you tomorrow, 

Jessica Mathews
Twitter: @jessicakmathews
Email: jessica.mathews@fortune.com
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Jackson Fordyce curated the deals section of today’s newsletter.

VENTURE DEALS

- Epic Bio, a San Francisco-based biotech company developing ultracompact therapies for gene expression in vivo, raised $55 million in Series A funding from Horizon Ventures.

- Spruce, an Austin-based lifestyle service provider, raised $26 million in Series B funding. Sweat Equity Partners led the round and was joined by investors including SoftBank, Mercury Fund, Fitz Gate Ventures, Seamless Capital, Raven One Ventures, and New Age Ventures

- Phaidra, a Seattle-based A.I. control system company for industrial projects, raised $25 million in Series A funding. Starshot Capital led the round and was joined by investors including Helena, Ahren Innovation Capital, Mustafa Suleyman, Flying Fish, Section 32, and Character

- Fulcrum BioEnergy, a Pleasanton, Calif.-based clean energy company, raised $20 million in funding from SK Innovation

- XSET, a Boston-based gaming and lifestyle organization, raised $15 million in Series A funding led by LightWork Worldwide.

- WeMoney, a Perth, Australia-based debt tracking and payment platform, raised $7 million in funding co-led by Full Circle VC and Betterlabs. 

- Cornerstone AI, a San Francisco-based health care data company, raised $5 million in seed funding. Healthy Ventures led the round and was joined by Initiate Ventures

- Perelel, a Los Angeles-based women’s vitamin company, raised $4.7 million in seed funding. Unilever Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including Willow Growth Partners, M13 founder Courtney Reum, Bümo co-founder and CEO Joan Nyugen, Jenni Kayne CEO Julia Hunter, and other angels. 

- Resolve, a Hanover, N.H.-based medical bills payment platform, raised $3.3 million in seed funding. AlleyCorp led the round and was joined by investors including Funding Circle, Collective Health, Collective Medical, Nomi, Compass, Seamless, and more.

- CLUB, a London-based gaming studio, raised $3.1 million in seed funding. Zee Prime Capital led the round and was joined by investors including ATKA, Merit Circle, CitizenX, Moonlanding Ventures, Petrock Capital, and other angels. 

- Hearth Display, a Brooklyn, New York-based digital touchscreen board company, raised $3 million in funding. Girls Who Code’s Reshma Saujani, Rent The Runway’s Jenny Fleiss, Female Founders Fund, Stellation, and others invested in the round. 

- Nevermined, a Zug, Switzerland-based Web3 company that provides tools to read, write, and own digital assets, raised €3 million ($3.04 million) co-led by Signature Ventures and Polymorphic Capital

PRIVATE EQUITY

- Fenix Parts, backed by Stellex Capital Management, acquired the assets of A&P Auto Parts, a Cicero, N.Y. and Palmyra, N.Y.-based auto parts dealer, and U-Pull U-Save Auto Parts, an Easy Syracuse, N.Y.-based automotive recycler. Financial terms were not disclosed.  

- Isos Capital Management acquired 4Forces Group, a New Canaan, Conn.-based advisory firm. Financial terms were not disclosed.

- Mill Rock Packaging Partners, a Mill Rock Capital portfolio company, acquired Impressions Incorporated, a St. Paul, Minn.-based specialty packaging and printing company. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

EXITS

- Chase Corporation agreed to acquire NuCera Solutions, a Houston-based polymer technologies producer and developer, from SK Capital for $250 million.

- A&M Capital Partners acquired Genuent, a Houston-based technology staffing firm, from Achieve Partners. Financial terms were not disclosed.  

- Astorg acquired OPEN Health, a London-based scientific communications and market access services provider to the pharmaceutical industry, from Amulet Capital Partners. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

- Warburg Pincus acquired El Car Wash, a Miami-based car wash company, from affiliates of Wafra, Audrose Partners, and Fireside Investments. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

OTHER

- CommerceIQ acquired e.fundamentals, a London-based digital shelf analytics provider. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

- Flywire Corporation acquired Cohort Go, a Brisbane-based education payments provider. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

FUNDS + FUNDS OF FUNDS

- Banneker Partners, a San Francisco-based private equity firm, raised $550 million for a fund focused on software companies. 

- Systemiq Capital, a London-based venture capital fund, raised $70 million for its second fund focused on early-stage climate tech entrepreneurs. 

PEOPLE

- 500 Global, a Palo Alto-based venture capital firm, hired Saskia Howard as head of strategic relations. Formerly, she was with SoftBank Investment Advisers

- Juxtapose, a New York-based venture fund, promoted Benjamin West to partner of concept development.  

- SymBiosis, a Bentonville, Ark.-based investment firm, hired Jahan Ali as vice president of business development and Andrew Badley, Gene Kym, Jennifer Miller, Tony Khoury, and Wesley Winn as operating advisors. Formerly, Ali was with Weill Cornell Medicine.

- Warwick Capital Partners, a London-based investment firm, hired Leland Hart and Andrew Welty as partners. Formerly, Hart was with Alcentra

- ​​Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe, a New York-based private equity firm, hired Travis Cameron as an operating partner in its technology Group. Formerly, he was with Tealium.

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