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One Way Ventures, a firm focused on immigrant founders, closes second fund

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One Way Ventures, a venture capital firm that backs immigrant founders, has closed its second fund at $57.5 million. The close comes three years after One Way announced its debut fund, a $28 million investment vehicle.

The new fund will allow One Way to grow their check size from $500,000 to $1 million, giving them the ability to lead institutional seed rounds as a faster clip, says founding partner Semyon Dukach. The bigger fund is par-for-course now that the debut fund has been invested out, but also indicates how the seed boom is flourishing, forcing investors to recapitalize to stay competitive.

One Way is one of the few venture capital firms with an explicit focus on backing immigrant founders. Another firm that backs immigrants and helps them stay in the country is Unshackled Ventures, which last closed a $20 million fund in 2019.

Dukach says that the firm’s immigrant focus is one of its biggest competitive advantages to get into deals. One Way says it brings together immigrant founders into one community, and speaks the same language (metaphorically) of adapting to a new country, culture, and environment. While COVID-19 has limited the opportunity to meet in person, the firm is experimenting with the concept of virtual HQs and events to bring together its portfolio companies.

Community and translation in a closed-door world such as venture capital is “the reason we will almost always get into the rounds,” Dukach said.

“We’ve been able to get into competitive rounds because we were treated like an angel who provides a lot of value, even when part of the value is just the feeling of being part of something really cool.”

OneWay’s investments include Brex, Classtag, and Chipper. Of its 48 portfolio companies, two companies don’t have an immigrant co-founder. The generalist firm has bets in machine learning, fintech, and edtech prominently.

The immigration environment during the Trump Administration, both from a rhetoric and policy perspective, has impacted One Way, albeit lightly, according to Dukach. The firm has a venture partner in Montreal, Philippe Kalaf, to hedge against potential policy moves.

As for closing a fund during a pandemic and election year, One Way closed nearly double the capital it initially planned to raise, adding to the parade of check-writing and cash in this year.

“We had a couple LPs hold off until after the election,” Dukach said. “They were more comfortable investing once Biden won.”

One Way is expectedly growing its team as it scores new capital. The firm expanded to San Francisco from Boston by adding Eugene Malobrodsky, the co-founder of a consumer privacy startup, as a partner.

The firm, similar to many venture capital firms, lags when it comes to the diversity of its decision-makers. Right now, all the partners at One Way are men. The firm plans to add Nadia Asoyan, former executive at Robinhood and Trusted Health, as a venture partner, which is different from a general partner. The venture partner role needs sign off from a GP in order to make a decision or write a check. Other female members of the team include Annie Patyk, a platform associate.

From a portfolio perspective, One Way has backed 10 female-founded or co-founded companies out of its 50 companies. Its portfolio also includes 19 companies with minority co-founders and 7 companies with Black or Latinx founders.

The ideal founder, according to Dukach, embodies the firm’s name in their strategy.

“Someone who went one way, bought the ticket without having a company or any certainty of where they’re going to end up, without having the language or the culture or the network,” Dukach said. “Someone who emerges through that? It’s just more predictive of future success. It’s more predictive of being able to disrupt a big industry.”

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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InSight’s heat probe has failed on Mars. Is the mission a failure?

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For two years now, NASA’s InSight probe has sat on the surface of Mars, attempting to dig 5 meters (16 feet) deep in order to install the lander’s heat probe. The instrument was going to effectively take the planet’s temperature and tell scientists more about the internal thermal activity and geology of Mars. 

InSight never even got close to realizing that goal. On January 14, NASA announced that it was ending all attempts to place the heat probe underground. Affectionately referred to as “the mole,” the probe is designed to dig underground with a hammering action. But after the first month of its mission, it  was unable to burrow more than 14 inches into the ground before getting stuck. NASA has been working since to come up with some kind of solution, including using InSight’s robotic arm to pin the mole down with added weight to help it loosen up some dirt and get back to burrowing.

It never really worked. The Martian dirt has proved to be unexpectedly prone to clumping up, diminishing the sort of friction the mole needs to spike its way deeper and deeper. Ground crews came up with a last-ditch effort recently to use InSight’s arm to scoop some soil onto the probe to tether it down and provide more friction. After attempting 500 hammer strokes on January 9, the team soon realized there was no progress to be had. 

It’s discouraging news, given that NASA just recently decided to extend InSight’s mission to December 2022. During that time, there won’t be much of a role for the heat probe. Bruce Banerdt, the InSight principal investigator, says that the planet’s temperature could still be measured at the surface and a few inches below the surface using some of the instruments on InSight that still work. “This will allow us to determine the thermal conductivity of the near surface, which might vary with season due to changing atmospheric pressure,” he says.

An illustration of how InSight’s mole was supposed to be deployed on Mars.
DLR

And while the mole was unable to accomplish what was expected, it’s not accurate to see this as a failure. “We have encountered new soil properties that have never before been encountered on Mars, with a thick, crusty surface layer that decreases its volume substantially when crushed,” says Banerdt. “We do not yet understand everything we have seen, but geologists will be poring over this data for years to come, using it to tease out clues to the history of the Martian environment at this location.”

InSight will continue on with some of its other investigations, especially the measurement of seismic activity on Mars. It turns out the Red Planet is rocked by quakes all the time.

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Fintech startups and unicorns had a stellar Q4 2020

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The fourth quarter of 2020 was as busy as you imagined, with super late-stage startups reaching new valuation thresholds at a record pace, and total venture capital funding in the United States recording its second-best result of all time.

That’s according to data released recently by CB Insights, which complements our look back at 2020’s venture capital year in America from yesterday.

At the time, we noted that American startups raised an average of $428 million each day last year, a sum that helps illustrate how rapid the private markets moved during the odd period.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


But a peek at aggregate results for the world’s largest VC market provides only part of the picture. We need to narrow our lens and peer more deeply into standout categories to understand how the U.S. venture capital market managed to post its biggest year ever in terms of dollars invested, despite seeing deal volume slip for a second consecutive year.

This morning, we’re scraping data together to better understand.

First, we want to how unicorns performed in Q4 2020. This column noted in late December that it felt like unicorn creation was rapid in the quarter; how did that hold up?

And then we’ll take a look dig into PitchBook data concerning the fintech sector, a huge recipient of venture capital time, attention and money.

Fintech’s 2020 is a good perspective to view both the year and its wild final quarter. So this morning, as America itself resets, let’s take a moment to understand last year just a little bit better as we get into this new one.

Unicorns

One of the most curious things about the unicorn era is the rising bet it represents. I’ve written about this before so I will be brief: Nearly every quarter, the number of unicorns — private companies worth $1 billion or more — goes up.

The private market is able to create more unicorns than it has been historically able to exit them.

Some of these companies exit, sometimes in group fashion. But, quarter after quarter, the number of unexited unicorns rises. This means that the bet on expected future liquidity from venture capitalists and other private investors keeps ratcheting higher.

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MIT develops method for lab-grown plants that eventually lead to alternatives to forestry and farming

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Researchers at MIT have developed a new method for growing plant tissues in a lab – sort of like how companies and researchers are approaching lab-grown meat. The process would be able to produce wood and fibre in a lab environment, and researchers have already demonstrated how it works in concept by growing simple structures using cells harvested from zinnia leaves.

This work is still in its very early stages, but the potential applications of lab-grown plant material are significant, and include possibilities in both agriculture and in ruction materials. While traditional agricultural is much less ecologically damaging when compared to animal farming, it can still have a significant impact and cost, and it takes a lot of resources to maintain. Not to mention that even small environmental changes can have a significant effect on crop yield.

Forestry, meanwhile, has much more obvious negative environmental impacts. If the work of these researchers can eventually be used to create a way to produce lab-grown wood for use in construction and fabrication, in a way that’s scalable and efficient, then there’s tremendous potential in terms of reducing the impact of forestry globally. Eventually, the team even theorizes you could coax the growth of plant-based materials into specific target shapes, so you could also do some of the manufacturing in the lab, by growing a wood table directly for instance.

There’s still a long way to go from what the researchers have achieved. They’ve only grown materials on a very small scale, and will look to figure out ways to grow plant-based materials with different final properties as one challenge. They’ll also need to overcome significant barriers when it comes to scaling efficiencies, but they are working on solutions that could address some of these difficulties.

Lab-grown meat is still in its infancy, and lab-grown plant material is even more nascent. But it has tremendous potential, even if it takes a long time to get there.

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