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Six big things: Kevin Durant, Will Smith link with a16z

A new fund with ties to the two mega-stars joins Coinbase’s latest move to diversify and a looming IPO for a Tesla rival among the headlines from the past week in VC.

Kevin Durant and business partner Rich Kleiman at last year's TechCrunch Disrupt. (Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch/CC BY 2.0)

When Kevin Durant shook up the basketball world two years ago by choosing to join the Golden State Warriors in free agency, at least part of the reason for his move to the Bay was widely believed to be a desire to branch even further into business. He’s confirmed that hypothesis in the months since, making a number of VC investments in tech startups.

Two venture veterans who Durant has previously cited as mentors in the industry are Chris Lyons and Ben Horowitz. Both Lyons and Horowitz, as you may be aware, work at Silicon Valley stalwart Andreessen Horowitz. And the connections between Durant and a16z don’t stop there.

In February, The Durant Company (Durant’s eponymous investment business) participated in a $70 million funding for Lime; a16z had already backed the bike- and scooter-rental startup since the previous March. Last year, Durant put some cash into Skydio, a developer of autonomous drones; a16z first invested in the company nearly three years prior. And last April, Durant and a16z were co-investors on a round for Propel, a startup focused on food stamps.

This week, with the launch of a new venture fund, the ties between basketballer and software investor became even deeper—one of the six big things to know from the past week in VC:

1. Focused funds

As the VC industry continues to grapple with its white-ness and male-ness, two major names in the space are launching funds aimed at fostering diversity. Andreessen Horowitz announced this week that it’s forming a $15 million vehicle for black athletes and celebrities that counts Kevin Durant and Will Smith among its initial LPs. Bumble, meanwhile—which operates a dating app that requires women to make the first move—launched a new effort for backing startups founded by women of color and other underrepresented groups.

2. A future beyond bitcoin

On Thursday, Coinbase announced the acquisition of Distributed Systems, a tech startup developing new ways to manage digital identities. The company hopes to use the blockchain to help citizens better maintain their privacy online: Rather than providing a social security number to websites, personal data could be confirmed once by the government or some other third party and verification could be managed on the blockchain via a private key. The idea seems like so many others related to the blockchain: Nobody is sure how it would actually work, but it sure sounds cool!

Maybe this robot knows how the blockchain works.

3. The letter “O”

Oscar Health is an insurance startup created as a response to changes in the US healthcare system that were caused by Obamacare. (Oscar co-founder Joshua Kushner and his brother, Jared, seem to have differing opinions on that topic.) Despite extreme shifts in the political climate, the company is still raking in funding: This week, it gathered $375 million from Alphabet at a reported valuation of $3.2 billion.

4. NIO on the NYSE

While Chinese cryptocurrency mining unicorn Bitmain is planning a major public offering in Hong Kong, another of the country’s trendiest startups plans to cross the Atlantic for its IPO. Electric vehicle developer NIO filed this week to go public on the NYSE, with plans to raise some $1.8 billion. As Tesla looks to go private, at least one of its rivals is moving in the opposite direction.

A dramatically lit promo shot of the ES8, NIO's newly released electric SUV.

5. Co-working competition

Not every business can be in a WeWork. So investors are gambling that lessees will opt for other co-working operators. MyDreamPlus raised $120 million this week from the likes of General Atlantic and Hillhouse Capital in an effort to build out its co-working offerings, while fellow Chinese startup Ucommune raked in $43.5 million. They’ve still got some catching up to do, though: The combined $163.5 million those two startups raised is still a mere 5% as large as WeWork’s latest funding, a $3 billion round that closed last August.

6. Apples

It worked for Steve Jobs. So why not name your company after one of America’s favorite fruits? Orchard Therapeutics brought in $150 million in Series C funding this week to continue developing gene therapies for patients with rare diseases. And Applecart, a data startup working with clients in marketing and politics, brought in $6 million from backers including Ari Emanuel—the brother of Rahm Emanuel and the inspiration for Jeremy Piven’s Ari Gold character on “Entourage.”

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    Written by Kevin Dowd

    Kevin Dowd wrote The Weekend Pitch newsletter for PitchBook, covering startups, buyouts and the rest of the private market.

    A native of the Pacific Northwest, he’s an alumnus of the University of Washington with a degree in creative writing and journalism. He enjoys books and basketball and, most especially, books about basketball. He feels uncomfortable writing about himself in the third person.

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