In the first quarter of this year, VCs invested close to $27 billion in US-based startups across all industries, per the PitchBook Platform. Out of roughly 1,880 deals, four of the five largest ones went to companies that are working toward moving humans or goods from point A to point B. From a freight-forwarding business that operates through air, ocean rail and truck to a space rocket company, the deal sizes range from $500 million to $1 billion. (Only one other company, Clover Health, has hit the lower end of that range for a VC deal this quarter, raising half a billion dollars in January.)
SoftBank's Vision Fund has invested in the top two venture rounds of 2019 thus far. The Japanese conglomerate already played a big role in advancing the urban transportation industry in 2018, becoming the single largest shareholder in Uber and committing $2.25 billion to GM subsidiary Cruise Automation. This year, SoftBank has, so far, invested heavily in the transport of both things and people, and what the future of those industries could look like.
Here's a look at four of the largest VC deals of 1Q 2019 for companies based in the US.
1. FlexportSoftware-centric freight-forwarding startup Flexport took the top spot with a reported $1 billion round in February. Led by SoftBank and its Vision Fund, the funding boosted the company's valuation to an estimated $3.2 billion, per reports, and vaulted it into the unicorn class of 2019. Existing investors Founders Fund, DST Global, Cherubic Ventures, Susa Ventures and SF Express also participated. Flexport was launched in 2013 and has expanded its global footprint to almost 110 countries so far. The Bay Area business claims to be the 11th-largest freight forwarder by ocean volume on the world's largest shipping lane, the Transpacific Eastbound.
2. NuroNuro, a developer of robotic delivery vehicles, raised a $940 million round from SoftBank's Vision Fund in February. The funding reportedly valued the business at $2.7 billion and marks a tenfold increase for the Bay Area business when it raised a $92 million Series A at a valuation of $250 million in 2017. Nuro partnered with Kroger last June to test a driverless grocery delivery service in Arizona, and soon after the February fundraise, the company announced that it had expanded its partnership with the retail giant to launch in Houston. The company was founded in 2016 by former Waymo engineers Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu.
3. AuroraAutonomous vehicle business Aurora secured over $530 million in a Series B led by Sequoia and including participation from Amazon, Lightspeed, Shell and T. Rowe Price. The funding valued the Palo-Alto business at more than $2.5 billion, per Bloomberg. The Palo-Alto business plans to use the latest funds to accelerate the development of the Aurora Driver platform, which aims to encompass the hardware, software and data service needed to power self-driving tech. Aurora CEO Chris Urmson, a former CTO for self-driving cars at Alphabet and the leader of the company's Waymo project, shared in a Medium post that he expects the "first small-scale deployments of self-driving vehicles will occur in America within the next five years."
4. SpaceXElon Musk’s rocket company raised $500 million at a valuation of $30.5 billion in January, putting it in the No. 5 slot on the list of the most valuable VC-backed companies in the US. Existing backers and new investor Baillie Gifford, also a shareholder in Musk's electric car business Tesla, participated in the funding. SpaceX has raised close to $2.4 billion in VC financing to date. In its latest development, SpaceX successfully conducted a test of its Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time Friday, paving the way for a final launch currently planned for April 9.
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