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Bees, robots and rockets: 6 VC deals that help define 2021

If last year was defined by the pandemic, this year is defined by looking to the future and the potential for innovation across agtech, foodtech, space tech and more.

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If 2020 was defined by the pandemic, 2021 has perhaps been defined by looking to the future and the potential for innovation across a range of sectors that shape daily life.

Developments in agtech, foodtech and space tech have highlighted the potential in emerging technologies, while the challenges of modernizing emergency response capabilities and expanding automation have come to the forefront as the world deals with increasing extreme weather events and a tight labor market.

We’ve collected six deals from 2021 that illustrate key trends in VC—and what to watch for in 2022.

1. Planned pollination


Natural pollination methods have come under strain in the face of challenges like biodiversity loss, climate change and colony collapse disorder. In response, a new crop of startups is seeking to improve agricultural yields, such as restoring bee populations and increasing the insects’ efficiency.

Los Angeles-based Beeflow raises bees fed on processed organic molecule compounds that enhance their immune systems and teaches them to pollinate targeted flowers. The company raised an $8.3 million Series A in June led by Ospraie Ag Science.

2. Emergency calls


With both the frequency and intensity of severe weather events on the rise, startups are looking into a range of technologies, such as drones and AI, that can help firefighters, rescue personnel and other first responders to do their jobs more efficiently.

RapidSOS, the developer of an emergency response data platform that helps manage cases in real time, raised $85 million in a round led by Insight Partners in February. The company’s platform also launched a health data sharing option during the pandemic.

3. Construction robots


Robots have the potential to replace human workers in performing certain repetitive tasks, allowing companies to save on project costs by deploying fewer people and by more easily reallocating them as needed.

SafeAI offers autonomous technology for heavy equipment in the mining and construction industries. The company raised a $21 million Series A led by Builders VC this past June.

4. The sky’s the limit


A new crop of commercial launch startups is making a mark in the emerging sector alongside dominant players such as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin. Space-tech startups have had a banner year, with a record $6.6 billion in venture funding raised globally through Nov. 30, according to PitchBook data.

Firefly Aerospace is a developer of launch vehicles designed to provide convenient access to space. In May, the Texas-based company was valued at more than $1 billion when it raised $75 million in a round led by DADA Holdings Firefly Aerospace’s Blue Ghost lunar lander will carry 10 payloads to the moon for NASA in 2023.

5. Clean meat


Startups making both lab-grown and plant-based meat have seen their funding soar in the past few years, amid a growing interest in sustainability and rapid developments in foodtech and agtech. Cultivated protein is a nascent industry, and despite growth challenges ahead, the emerging industry has a bright future.

Aleph Farms, which grows beef steaks from non-genetically modified animal cells, raised one of the notable rounds in the alt-protein space this year. In July, the Israel-based company secured a $105 million Series B co-led by L Catterton and DisruptAD.

6. Sharing food


Modern industrialized food supply chains contribute to significant food waste, and innovation in the supply chain itself will be a long-term process. Alongside startups seeking to revamp how we produce our food, others are looking to tackle the immediate issue of food waste, which the UN has estimated at well over 1 billion tons.

OLIO, whose app connects neighbors to give away unwanted food and household items, secured $43 million in September led by VNV Global. The startup is one of many that raised funding this year with the goal of redistributing food before it becomes waste.

Featured image by Marina Avramenko/Getty Images

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    Written by Priyamvada Mathur
    Priyamvada Mathur writes about venture capital at PitchBook.

    She is an Indian chartered accountant and has studied economics and journalism.
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