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Wingcopter raises $22 million to expand to the U.S. and launch a next-generation drone –

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Wingcopter raises $22 million to expand to the U.S. and launch a next-generation drone – TechCrunch

German drone technology startup Wingcopter has raised a $22 million Series A – its first significant venture capital raise after mostly bootstrapping. The company, which focuses on drone delivery, has come a long way since its founding in 2017, having developed, built and flown its Wingcopter 178 heavy-lift cargo delivery drone using its proprietary and patented tilt-rotor propellant mechanism, which combines all the benefits of vertical take-off and landing with the advantages of fixed-wing aircraft for longer distance horizontal flight.

This new Series A round was led by Silicon Valley VC Xplorer Capital, as well as German growth fund Futury Regio Growth. Wingcopter CEO and founder Tom Plümmer explained to the in an interview that the addition of an SV-based investor is particularly important to the startup, since it’s in the process of preparing its entry into the U.S., with plans for an American facility, both for flight testing to satisfy FAA requirements for operational certification, as well as eventually for U.S.-based drone production.

Wingcopter has already been operating commercially in a few different markets globally, including in Vanuatu in partnership with Unicef for vaccine delivery to remote areas, in Tanzania for two-way medical supply delivery working with Tanzania, and in Ireland where it completed the world’s first delivery of insulin by drone beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS, the industry’s technical term for when a drone flies beyond the visual range of a human operator who has the ability to take control in case of emergencies).

Wingcopter CEO and co-founder Tom Plümmer

While Wingcopter has so far pursued a business as an OEM manufacturer of drones, and has had paying customers eager to purchase its hardware effectively since day one (Plümmer told me that they had at least one customer wiring them money before they even had a bank account set up for the business), but it’s also now getting into the business of offering drone delivery-as-a-service. After doing the hard work of building its technology from the ground up, and seeking out the necessary regulatory approvals to operate in multiple markets around the world, Plümmer says that he and his co-founders realized that operating a service business not only meant a new source of revenue, but also better-served the needs of many of its potential customers.

“We learned during this process, through applying for permission, receiving these permissions and working now in five continents in multiple countries, flying BVLOS, that actually operating drones is something we are now very good at,” he said. This was actually becoming a really good source of income, and ended up actually making up more than half of our revenue at some point. Also looking at scalability of the business model of being an OEM, it’s kind of […] linear.”

Linear growth with solid revenue and steady demand was fine for Wingcopter as a bootstrapped startup founded by university students supported by a small initial investment from family and friends. But Plümmer says the company say so much potential in the technology it had developed, and the emerging drone delivery market, that the exponential growth curve of its drone delivery-as-a-service model helped make traditional VC backing make sense. In the early days, Plümmer says Wingcopter had been approached by VCs, but at the time it didn’t make sense for what they were trying to do; that’s changed.

“We were really lucky to bootstrap over the last four years,” Plümmer said. “Basically, just by selling drones and creating revenue, we could employ our first 30 employees. But at some point, you realize you want to really plan with that revenue, so you want to have monthly revenues, which generally repeat like a software business – like software as a service.”

Wingcopter 178 cargo drone performing a delivery for Merck.

Wingcopter has also established a useful hedge regarding its service business, not only by being its own hardware supplier, but also by having worked closely with many global flight regulators on their regulatory process through the early days of commercial drone flights. They’re working with the FAA on its certification process now, for instance, with Plümmer saying that they participate in weekly calls with the regulator on its upcoming certification process for BVLOS drone operators. Understanding the regulatory environment, and even helping architect it, is a major selling point for partners who don’t want to have to build out that kind of expertise and regulatory team in-house.

Meanwhile, the company will continue to act as an OEM as well, selling not only its Wingcopter 178 heavy-lift model, which can fly up to 75 miles, at speeds of up to 100 mph, and that can carry payloads up to around 13 lbs. Because of its unique tilt-rotor mechanism, it’s not only more efficient in flight, but it can also fly in much windier conditions – and take-off and land in harsher conditions than most drones, too.

Plümmer tells me that Wingcopter doesn’t intend to rest on its laurels in the hardware department, either; it’s going to be introducing a new model of drone soon, with different capabilities that expand the company’s addressable market, both as an OEM and in its drones-as-a-service business.

With its U.S. expansion, Wingcopter will still look to focus specifically on the delivery market, but Plümmer points out that there’s no reason its unique technology couldn’t also work well to serve markets including observation and inspection, or to address needs in the communication space as well. The one market that Wingcopter doesn’t intend to pursue, however, is military and defense. While these are popular customers in the aerospace and drone industries, Plümmer says that Wingcopter has a mission “to create sustainable and efficient drone solutions for improving and saving lives,” and says the startup looks at every potential customer and ensures that it aligns with its vision – which defense customers do not.

While the company has just announced the close of its Series A round, Plümmer says they’re already in talks with some potential investors to join a Series B. It’s also going to be looking for U.S. based talent in embedded systems software and flight operations testing, to help with the testing process required its certification by the FAA.

Plümmer sees a long tail of value to be built from Wingcopter’s patented tilt-rotor design, with potential applications in a range of industries, and he says that Wingcopter won’t be looking around for any potential via M&A until it has fully realized that value. Meanwhile, the company is also starting to sow the seeds of its own potential future customers, with training programs in drone flights and operations it’s putting on in partnership with UNICEF’s African Drone and Data Academy. Wingcopter clearly envisions a bright future for drone delivery, and its work in focusing its efforts on building differentiating hardware, plus the role it’s playing in setting the regulatory agenda globally, could help position it at the center of that future.

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How many opinions does it take to hit the $100M ARR Club? – | #Tech

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How many opinions does it take to hit the $100M ARR Club? – TechCrunch

In a world of talking points and corporate jargon, opinions are refreshing — and Expensify CEO and founder David Barrett is full of them. One of his earliest lessons in life, for example, was that basically everyone is wrong about basically everything. If instilling that at a young age doesn’t force you to become an entrepreneur, I don’t know what does.

Barrett’s ethos has, as reporter Anna Heim puts, led to Expensify having “its own take on almost everything” from hiring without job titles and resumes, to going distributed before it was cool, to having an almost non-existent sales team.

And before you roll your eyes at the unconventional, here’s a factoid for you: Today, the 130-person expense management business has reached more than 10 million users and hit $100 million in annual revenue.

Heim has spent months working on the Expensify EC-1 to connect dots and give us a full picture into an anything-but-conventional company as it heads toward an IPO. The final installment published this week so you can read the whole series in one straight shot:

In the rest of this newsletter, I’ll walk you through a refresh of some new investment vehicles and two fintech mega-rounds to know. I also want to give a shout out to our mobility team, with transportation editor Kirsten Korosec and reporters Aria Alamalhodaei and Rebecca Bellan, who led efforts to put on a fantastic event at TC Sessions: Mobility this week.

Ok, into the news!

More money, more representation?

Image Credits: Black_Kira / Getty Images

As I discussed last month, venture capital is going through yet another unbundling process. But, for every savvy fintech syndicate out there, I don’t see the same level of explicitness when it comes to the tools that help the communityless, undernetworked and underestimated access opportunities.

Here’s what to know: Two new efforts this week give me hope. Ten venture capitalists teamed up to launch Screendoor, which Forbes reports is a $50 million fund-of-funds to back emerging fund managers from diverse backgrounds. The partners, which include Charles Hudson, Kirsten Green, Aileen Lee and Hunter Walk, will not take any fee or carry in the fund.

Speaking of cross-fund collaboration, Utah-based startup incubator Altitude Lab had similar news to share. The incubator, which spun out of Recursion and the University of Utah, has launched a 13-investor coalition to back underrepresented health tech founders. This week, it announced a $50 million commitment in funding and mentorship.

And if you want to have more fun(ds):

The Fintech twins

Handle of door to bank vault safe

Image Credits: Janet Kimber (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Three is a trend, but two means twins, and that matters too! Riddles aside, we saw two fintech giants raise massive tranches of capital within days of each other.

Here’s what to know: Klarna raised $639 million at a $45.6 billion valuation, and Nubank raised $750 million at a $30 billion valuation. Both fintech companies are based outside of the United States, but Klarna attests some of its rapid growth to a growing consumer base in the United States. More than 18 million American consumers are now using Klarna, which is up from 10 million at the end of last year’s third quarter. Meanwhile, Nubank is staying focused on its primary market of Brazil, with some expansion in Colombia and Mexico.

 Demystifying mega-rounds:

The huge TAM of fake breaded chicken bits

Another week, another spicy Equity episode for you. And this week, we mean it literally: Simulate, the company behind those sometimes spicy fake chicken nuggets, raised a ton of money.

Here’s what to know: Beyond fake meat, topics in this week’s episode include worker empowerment, culture in startups, eldercare and a $900 million exit.

Around TC

Across the week

Seen on TC

read more about Apple's WWDC 2021 on TC

Seen on Extra Crunch

Talk next week,

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Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin auctions off seat on first human spaceflight for $28M – | #Tech

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Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin auctions off seat on first human spaceflight for $28M – TechCrunch

Blue Origin has its winning bidder for its first ever human spaceflight, and the winner will pay $28 million for the privilege of flying aboard the company’s debut private astronaut mission. The winning bid came in today during a live auction, which saw 7,600 registered bidders, from 159 countries compete for the spot.

This was the culmination of Blue Origin’s three part bidding process for the ticket, which included a blind auction first, followed by an open, asynchronous auction with the highest bid posted to the company’s website whenever it changed. This last live auction greatly ramped up the value of the winning bid, which was at just under $5 million prior to the event.

This first seat up for sale went for a lot more than what an actual, commercial spot is likely to cost on Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule, which flies to suborbital space and only spends a few minutes there before returning to Earth. Estimates put the cost of a typical launch at someone under $1 million, likely closer to $500,000 or so. But this is the first, which is obviously a special distinction, and it’s also a trip that will allow the winning bidder to pretty much literally rub elbows with Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, who is going to be on the flight as well, along with his brother Mark, and a fourth passenger that Blue Origin says it will be announcing sometime in the coming “weeks,” ahead of the July 20 target flight date.

As for who won the auction, we’ll also have to wait to find that out, since the winner’s identity is also going to be “released in the weeks following” the end of today’s live bidding. And in case you thought that $28 million might represent a big revenue windfall for Blue Origin, which has spent years developing its human spaceflight capability, think again: The company is donating it to its Club for the Future non-profit foundation, which is focused on encouraging kids to pursue careers in STEM in a long-term bid to help Bezos’ larger goals of making humanity a spacefaring civilization.

You can re-watch the entire live bidding portion of the auction via the stream below.

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UBS investment makes Byju’s the most valuable startup in India – | #Tech

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UBS investment makes Byju’s the most valuable startup in India – TechCrunch

Edtech giant Byju’s has become the most valuable startup in India after raising about $350 million in a new tranche of investment from UBS Group and Zoom founder Eric Yuan, Blackstone and others that valued the Bangalore-based firm at $16.5 billion (post-money).

In a new filing, Byju’s revealed that scores of investors including Abu Dhabi government fund ADQ and Phoenix Rising had together invested about $350 million in the startup. The new valuation helps Byju’s surpass Paytm, which was last valued at $16 billion, for the crown position in the Indian startup ecosystem. (Paytm is currently working on exploring the public markets and eyeing to raise as much as $3 billion and eyeing a valuation of up to $30 billion.)

The new tranche of investment is part of a larger round that Byju’s kickstarted earlier this year and is looking to secure over $1.5 billion. Some of its recent investors also include B Capital Group and hedge fund XN. The startup was valued at $11 billion late last year, and $5.75 billion in July 2019.

The startup plans to use the fresh capital, in part, to acquire more startups. Byju’s, which acquired Indian physical coaching institute Aakash for nearly $1 billion earlier this year, is conducting due diligence to buy and online learning startup Toppr and has also engaged with U.S.-based Epic, TC reported earlier this year.

Byju’s prepares students pursuing undergraduate and graduate-level courses, and in recent years it has also expanded its catalog to serve all school-going students. Tutors on the Byju’s app tackle complex subjects using real-life objects such as pizza and cake.

The pandemic, which prompted New Delhi to enforce a months-long nationwide lockdown and close schools, accelerated its growth, and those of several other online learning startups including Unacademy and Vedantu.

As of early this year, Byju’s said it had amassed over 80 million users, 5.5 million of whom are paying subscribers. Byju’s, which is profitable, generated revenue of over $100 million in the U.S. last year, Deborah Quazzo, managing partner of GSV Ventures (which has backed the Indian startup), said at a session in March held by Indian venture fund Blume Ventures.

The startup executives said at a UBS event earlier this year that Byju’s current revenue run rate is $800 million, a figure they expect will reach $1 billion in the next 12-15 months. It has also accelerated its international expansion plans in recent months.

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The air taxi market prepares to take flight – | #Tech

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The air taxi market prepares to take flight – TechCrunch

Twelve years ago, Joby Aviation consisted of a team of seven engineers working out of founder JoeBen Bevirt’s ranch in the Santa Cruz mountains. Today, the startup has swelled to 800 people and a $6.6 billion valuation, ranking itself as the highest-valued electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) company in the industry.

As in any disruptive industry, the forecast may be cloudier than the rosy picture painted by passionate founders and investors.

It’s not the only air taxi company to reach unicorn status. The field is now dotted with new or soon-to-be publicly traded companies courtesy of mergers and special purpose acquisition companies. Partnerships with major automakers and airlines are on the rise, and CEOs have promised commercialization as early as 2024.

As in any disruptive industry, the forecast may be cloudier than the rosy picture painted by passionate founders and investors. A quick peek at comments and posts on LinkedIn reveals squabbles among industry insiders and analysts about when this emerging technology will truly take off and which companies will come out ahead.

Other disagreements have higher stakes. Wisk Aero filed a lawsuit against Archer Aviation alleging trade secret misappropriation. Meanwhile, valuations for companies that have no revenue yet to speak of — and may not for the foreseeable future — are skyrocketing.

Electric air mobility is gaining elevation. But there’s going to be some turbulence ahead.

Big goals and bigger expenses

Taking an eVTOL from design through to manufacturing and certification will likely cost about $1 billion, Mark Moore, then-head of Uber Elevate, estimated in April 2020 during a conference held by the Air Force’s Agility Prime program.

That means in some sense, the companies that will come out on top will likely be the ones that have managed to raise enough money to pay for all the expenses associated with engineering, certification, manufacturing and infrastructure.

“The startups that have successfully raised or that will be able to raise significant amounts of capital to get them through the certification process … that’s the number one thing that’s going to separate the strong from the weak,” Asad Hussain, a senior analyst in mobility technology at PitchBook, told TC. “There’s over 100 startups in the space. Not all of them are going to be able to do that.”

Just consider some of the expenses accrued by the biggest eVTOLs last year: Joby Aviation spent a whopping $108 million on research and development, a $30 million increase from 2019. Archer spent $21 million in R&D in 2020, according to regulatory filings. Meanwhile, Joby’s net loss last year was $114.2 million and Archer’s was $24.8 million, though, of course, neither company has brought a product to market yet. Operating expenses will likely only continue to grow into the future as companies enter into manufacturing and deployment phases.

What that means for the future of the industry is likely two things: more SPAC deals and more acquisitions.

Mobility companies, including those working on electrified transport, are often pre-revenue and have capitally intensive business models — a combination that can make it difficult to find buyers in a traditional IPO. SPACs have become increasingly popular as a shorter, less expensive path to becoming a public company. SPACs have also historically received less scrutiny than IPOs. Should the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission start to take a closer look at SPAC mergers in the future, it may impair the ability of other air taxi companies to go public this way, Hussain said.

That means market consolidation is nearly guaranteed, as smaller companies may find it more advantageous to sell than continue to raise more capital. It’s already begun: At the end of April, eVTOL developer Astro Aerospace announced the acquisition of Horizon Aircraft.

Horizon cited “greater access to capital” as one of the many benefits of the transaction, and other companies will likely find the buy or sell route to be the most beneficial on the road to commercialization. And just last week, British eVTOL Vertical Aerospace, which has an order for 150 aircraft from Virgin Atlantic, said it would go public via a merger with Broadstone Acquisition Corp. at an equity value of around $2.2 billion.

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SOSV, the global venture firm, just closed a $100 million fund to back its maturing startups – | #Tech

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SOSV, the global venture firm, just closed a $100 million fund to back its maturing startups – TechCrunch

Sean O’Sullivan, the founder of the global venture outfit SOSV, has slowly but steadily built up a sizable operation over the years.

SOSV started off as a family office, investing the capital of O’Sullivan after he cofounded two companies, including MapInfo, an outfit that went public in 1994 before Pitney Bowes it years later, in 2007. The seed-stage investing outfit went on to raise three more funds, including a $277 million early-stage fund that it closed in 2019 and is actively investing from right now.

Now, to complement those funds, the organization has raised $100 million for what it’s calling a Select Fund, a vehicle meant to help SOSV maintain its pro rata stake in some of its breakaway portfolio companies.

Because of other tools in the market, SOSV wasn’t completely hamstrung until now. Instead, SOSV has, on occasion, assembled a special purpose vehicle to re-invest in certain of the startups it has backed. But O’Sullivan says these were relatively small SPVs — think $2 million in size or less. The new fund, he says, is expected to write checks of between $2 million and $5 million and even up to $10 million — or 10% of the fund, per SOSV’s agreement with its investors.

Certainly, the new fund also gives startups even more reason to work with SOSV, which tends to write its seed checks to first-time founders, who O’Sullivan observes are often overlooked — wrongly —  by investors in favor of repeat founders.

He points to Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Alibaba, noting that landscape would look rather different without them. He says experienced the phenomenon himself when he cofounded a company (NetCentric) after MapInfo. “People were just lining up to invest,” he says. “It was so easy to raise the funds without anything other than a business plan, and these days, you don’t even need one of those.”

That doesn’t mean SOSV will get as big a bite as it might like in every deal. Though SOSV has enjoyed success by betting on new entrepreneurs — it was among the first investors in FormLabs, for example, a company now valued at $2 billion; it also backed JUMP, the bike-share startup that Uber acquired in 2018 — a $100 million fund is small by current standards. SOSV could well find itself competing against players that have billions of dollars to deploy and which are writing bigger checks to younger companies, faster than ever. 

It’s not an absurd concern, agrees O’Sullivan. He says he saw some sharp elbows just this week, in fact. Part of a $100 million-plus round was coming together, and a firm that O’Sullivan declined to mention didn’t want to make room for the startup’s Series B or A investors because it wanted to meet a certain equity threshold.

O’Sullivan says the earlier investors acquiesced. (“They’re giving us a multi-billion valuation” and also “trying to buy secondaries from existing investors,” he explains, while adding that SOSV would generally prefer to hold its shares through an IPO.)

Still, he suggests there’s no need to worry about SOSV. While the earlier investors went with the flow, O’Sullivan says that in “most cases, there’s enough to go around for the previous investors.” He also calls it “good protocol for the late-stage investors [to make room] if they want to continue to have us introducing deals to them.”

Put another way, smaller fund or not, SOSV has a kind of leverage, too.

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Facebook buys game studio BigBox VR – | #Tech

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Facebook buys game studio BigBox VR – TechCrunch

Facebook has bought several virtual reality game studios over the past couple years, and they added one more to their portfolio Friday with the acquisition of Seattle-based BigBox VR.

The studio’s major title, Population: One, was one of the big post-launch releases for Facebook’s Oculus Quest 2 headset and is a pretty direct Fortnite clone, copying a number of key gameplay techniques while adapting them for the movements unique to virtual reality and bringing in their own lore and art style.

As has been the case for most of these studio acquisitions, terms weren’t disclosed. BigBox raised $6.5 million according to Crunchbase, with funding from Shasta Ventures, Outpost Capital, Pioneer Square Labs and GSR Ventures.

“POP: ONE stormed onto the VR scene just nine months ago and has consistently ranked as one the top-performing titles on the Oculus platform, bringing together up to 24 people at a time to connect, play, and compete in a virtual world,” Facebook’s Mike Verdu wrote in a blog post.

It’s not unusual for a gaming hardware platform owner to build up their own web of studios building platform exclusives, but in the VR world things are a little different given that Facebook has few real competitors.

While many of the developers inside Oculus Studios continue to build titles for Valve’s Steam store which are accessible with third-party headsets, most non-Facebook VR platforms seem to be a shrinking piece of the overall VR pie, having been priced out of the market by Facebook’s aggressive pursuit of a mass market audience. Facebooks Oculus Quest 2 retails for $299 and the company has said that it outsold all of its previous devices combined in its first few months.

In April, Facebook acquired Downpour Interactive, maker of the VR shooter Onward.

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