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You might have just missed the best time to sell your startup

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Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s broadly based on the daily column that appears on Extra Crunch, but free, and made for your weekend reading. Want it in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here

Happy Saturday, everyone. I do hope that you are in good spirits and in good health. I am learning to nap, something that has become a requirement in my life after I realized that the news cycle is never going to slow down. And because my partner and I adopted a third dog who likes to get up early, please join me in making napping cool for adults, so that we can all rest up for Vaccine Summer. It’s nearly here.

On work topics, I have a few things for you today, all concerning data points that matter: Q1 2021 M&A data, March VC results from Africa, and some surprising (to me, at least) podcast numbers.

On the first, Dan Primack shared a few early first-quarter data points via Refinitiv that I wanted to pass along. Per the financial data firm, global M&A activity hit $1.3 trillion in Q1 2021, up 93% from Q1 2020. U.S. M&A activity reached an all-time high in the first quarter, as well. Why do we care? Because the data helps underscore just how hot the last three months have been.

I’m expecting venture capital data itself for the quarter to be similarly impressive. But as everyone is noting this week, there are some cracks appearing in the IPO market, as the second quarter begins that could make Q2 2021 a very different beast. Not that the venture capital world will slow, especially given that Tiger just reloaded to the tune of $6.7 billion.

On the venture capital topic, African-focused data firm Briter Bridges reports that “March alone saw over $280 million being deployed into tech companies operating across Africa,” driven in part by “Flutterwave’s whopping $170 million round at a $1 billion valuation.”

The data point matters as it marks the most active March that the African continent has seen in venture capital terms since at least 2017 — and I would guess ever. African startups tend to raise more capital in the second half of the year, so the March result is not an all-time record for a single month. But it’s bullish all the same, and helps feed our general sentiment that the first quarter’s venture capital results could be big.

And finally, Index Ventures’ Rex Woodbury tweeted some Edison data, namely that “80 million Americans (28% of the U.S. 12+ population) are weekly podcast listeners, +17% year-over-year.” The venture capitalist went on to add that “62% of the U.S. 12+ population (around 176 million people) are weekly online audio listeners.”

As we discussed on Equity this week, the non-music, streaming audio market is being bet on by a host of players in light of Clubhouse’s success as a breakout consumer social company in recent months. Undergirding the bets by Discord and Spotify and others are those data points. People love to listen to other humans talk. Far more than I would have imagined, as a music-first person.

How nice it is to be back in a time when consumer investing is neat. B2B is great but not everything can be enterprise SaaS. (Notably, however, it does appear that Clubhouse is struggling to hold onto its own hype.)

Look I can’t keep up with all the damn venture capital rounds

TechCrunch Early Stage was this week, which went rather well. But having an event to help put on did mean that I covered fewer rounds this week than I would have liked. So, here are two that I would have typed up if I had had the spare hours:

  • Striim’s $50 million Series C. Goldman led the transaction. Striim, pronounced stream I believe, is a software startup that helps other companies move data around their cloud and on-prem setups in real time. Given how active the data market is today, I presume that the TAM for Striim is deep? Quickly flowing? You can supply a better stream-centered word at your leisure.
  • Kudo’s $21 million Series A. I covered Kudo last July when it raised $6 million. The company provides video-chat and conferencing services with support for  real-time translation. It had a good COVID-era, as you can imagine. Felicis led the A after taking part in the seed round. I’ll see if I can extract some fresh growth metrics from the company next week. One to watch.

And two more rounds that you also might have missed that you should not. Holler raised $36 million in a Series B. Per our own Anthony Ha, “[y]ou may not know what conversational media is, but there’s a decent chance you’ve used Holler’s technology. For example, if you’ve added a sticker or a GIF to your Venmo payments, Holler actually manages the app’s search and suggestion experience around that media.”

I feel old.

And in case you are not paying enough attention to Latin American tech, this $150 million Uruguayan round should help set you straight.

Various and sundry

Finally this week, some good news. If you’ve read The Exchange for any length of time, you’ve been forced to read me prattling on about the Bessemer cloud index, a basket of public software companies that I treat with oracular respect. Now there’s a new index on the market.

Meet the Lux Health + Tech Index. Per Lux Capital, it’s an “index of 57 publicly traded companies that together best represent the rapidly emerging Health + Tech investment theme.” Sure, this is branded to the extent that, akin to the Bessemer collection, it is tied to a particular focus of the backing venture capital firm. But what the new Lux index will do, as with the Bessemer collection, is track how a particular venture firm is itself tracking the public comps for their portfolio.

That’s a useful thing to have. More of this, please.

Alex

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

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Vietnamese electric motorbike startup Dat Bike raises $2.6M led by Jungle Ventures

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Son Nguyen, founder and chief executive officer of Dat Bike on one of the startup's motorbikes

Son Nguyen, founder and chief executive officer of Dat Bike

Dat Bike, a Vietnamese startup with ambitions to become the top electric motorbike company in Southeast Asia, has raised $2.6 million in pre-Series A funding led by Jungle Ventures. Made in Vietnam with mostly domestic parts, Dat Bike’s selling point is its ability to compete with gas motorbikes in terms of pricing and performance. Its new funding is the first time Jungle Ventures has invested in the mobility sector and included participation from Wavemaker Partners, Hustle Fund and iSeed Ventures.

Founder and chief executive officer Son Nguyen began learning how to build bikes from scrap parts while working as a software engineer in Silicon Valley. In 2018, he moved back to Vietnam and launched Dat Bike. More than 80% of households in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam own two-wheeled vehicles, but the majority are fueled by gas. Nguyen told TechCrunch that many people want to switch to electric motorbikes, but a major obstacle is performance.

Nguyen said that Dat Bike offers three times the performance (5 kW versus 1.5 kW) and 2 times the range (100 km versus 50 km) of most electric motorbikes in the market, at the same price point. The company’s flagship motorbike, called Weaver, was created to compete against gas motorbikes. It seats two people, which Nguyen noted is an important selling point in Southeast Asian countries, and has a 5000W motor that accelerates from 0 to 50 km per hour in three seconds. The Weaver can be fully charged at a standard electric outlet in about three hours, and reach up to 100 km on one charge (the motorbike’s next iteration will go up to 200 km on one charge).

Dat Bike’s opened its first physical store in Ho Chi Minh City last December. Nguyen said the company “has shipped a few hundred motorbikes so far and still have a backlog of orders.” He added that it saw a 35% month-over-month growth in new orders after the Ho Chi Minh City store opened.

At 39.9 million dong, or about $1,700 USD, Weaver’s pricing is also comparable to the median price of gas motorbikes. Dat Bike partners with banks and financial institutions to offer consumers twelve-month payment plans with no interest.

“These guys are competing with each other to put the emerging middle class of Vietnam on the digital financial market for the first time ever and as a result, we get a very favorable rate,” he said.

While Vietnam’s government hasn’t implemented subsidies for electric motorbikes yet, the Ministry of Transportation has proposed new regulations mandating electric infrastructure at parking lots and bike stations, which Nguyen said will increase the adoption of electric vehicles. Other Vietnamese companies making electric two-wheeled vehicles include VinFast and PEGA.

One of Dat Bike’s advantages is that its bikes are developed in house, with locally-sourced parts. Nguyen said the benefits of manufacturing in Vietnam, instead of sourcing from China and other countries, include streamlined logistics and a more efficient supply chain, since most of Dat Bike’s suppliers are also domestic.

“There are also huge tax advantages for being local, as import tax for bikes is 45% and for bike parts ranging from 15% to 30%,” said Nguyen. “Trade within Southeast Asia is tariff-free though, which means that we have a competitive advantage to expand to the region, compare to foreign imported bikes.”

Dat Bike plans to expand by building its supply chain in Southeast Asia over the next two to three years, with the help of investors like Jungle Ventures.

In a statement, Jungle Ventures founding partner Amit Anand said, “The $25 billion two-wheeler industry in Southeast Asia in particular is ripe for reaping benefits of new developments in electric vehicles and automation. We believe that Dat Bike will lead this charge and create a new benchmark not just in the region but potentially globally for what the next generation of two-wheeler electric vehicles will look and perform like.”

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Binance Labs leads $1.6M seed round in DeFi startup MOUND, the developer of Pancake Bunny

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Decentralized finance startup MOUND, known for its yield farming aggregator Pancake Bunny, has raised $1.6 million in seed funding led by Binance Labs. Other participants included IDEO CoLab, SparkLabs Korea and Handshake co-founder Andrew Lee.

Built on Binance Smart Chain, a blockchain for developing high-performance DeFi apps, MOUND says Pancake Bunny now has over 30,000 daily average users, and has accumulated more than $2.1 billion in total value locked (TVL) since its launch in December 2020.

The new funding will be used to expand Pancake Bunny and develop new products. MOUND recently launched Smart Vaults and plans to unveil Cross-Chain Collateralization in about a month, bringing the startup closer to its goal of covering a wide range of DeFi use cases, including farming, lending and swapping.

Smart Vaults are for farming single asset yields on leveraged lending products. It also automatically checks if the cost of leveraging may be more than anticipated returns and can actively lend assets for MOUND’s cross-chain farming.

Cross-Chain Collateralization is cross-chain yield farming that lets users keep original assets on their native blockchain instead of relying on a bridge token. The user’s original assets serve as collateral when the Bunny protocol borrows assets on the Binance Smart Chain for yield farming. This allows users to keep assets on native blockchains while giving them liquidity to generate returns on the Binance Smart Chain.

In statement, Wei Zhou, Binance chief financial officer, and head of Binance Labs and M&A’s, said “Pancake Bunny’s growth and MOUND’s commitent to execution are impressive. Team MOUND’s expertise in live product design and servie was a key factor in our decision to invest. We look forward to expanding the horizons of Defi together with MOUND.”

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Battery Resourcers raises $20M to commercialize its recycling-plus-manufacturing operations

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As a greater share of the transportation market becomes electrified, companies have started to grapple with how to dispose of the thousands of tons of used electric vehicle batteries that are expected to come off the roads by the end of the decade.

Battery Resourcers proposes a seemingly simple solution: recycle them. But the company doesn’t stop there. It’s engineered a “closed loop” process to turn that recycled material into nickel-manganese-cobalt cathodes to sell back to battery manufacturers. It is also developing a process to recover and purify graphite, a material used in anodes, to battery-grade.

Battery Resourcers’ business model has attracted another round of investor attention, this time with a $20 million Series B equity round led by Orbia Ventures, with injections from At One Ventures, TDK Ventures, TRUMPF Venture, Doral Energy-Tech Ventures and InMotion Ventures. Battery Resourcers CEO Mike O’Kronley declined to disclose the company’s new valuation.

The cathode and anode, along with the electrolyzer, are major components of battery architecture, and O’Kronley told TechCrunch it is this recycling-plus-manufacturing process that distinguishes the company from other recyclers.

“When we say that we’re on the verge of revolutionizing this industry, what we are doing is we are making the cathode active material — we’re not just recovering the metals that are in the battery, which a lot of other recyclers are doing,” he said. “We’re recovering those materials, and formulating brand new cathode active material, and also recovering and purifying the graphite active material. So those two active materials will be sold to a battery manufacturer and go right back into the new battery.”

“Other recycling companies, they’re focused on recovering just the metals that are in [batteries]: there’s copper, there’s aluminum, there’s nickel, there’s cobalt. They’re focused on recovering those metals and selling them back as commodities into whatever industry needs those metals,” he added. “And they may or may not go back into a battery.”

The company says its approach could reduce the battery industry’s reliance on mined metals — a reliance that’s only anticipated to grow in the coming decades. A study published last December found that demand for cobalt could increase by a factor of 17 and nickel by a factor of 28, depending on the size of EV uptake and advances in battery chemistries.

Thus far, the company’s been operating a demonstration-scale facility in Worcester, Massachusetts, and has expanded into a facility in Novi, Michigan, where it does analytical testing and material characterization. Between the two sites, the company can make around 15 tons of cathode materials a year. This latest funding round will help facilitate the development of a commercial-scale facility, which Battery Resourcers said in a statement will boost its capacity to process 10,000 tons of batteries per year, or batteries from around 20,000 EVs.

Another major piece of its proprietary recycling process is the ability to take in both old and new EV batteries, process them and formulate the newest kind of cathodes used in today’s batteries. “So they can take in 10-year-old batteries from a Chevy Volt and reformulate the metals to make the high-Ni cathode active materials in use today,” a company spokesman explained to TechCrunch.

Battery Resourcers is already receiving inquiries from automakers and consumer electronics companies, O’Kronley said, though he did not provide additional details. But InMotion Ventures, the venture capital arm of Jaguar Land Rover, said in a statement its participation in the round as a “significant investment.”

“[Battery Resourcers’] proprietary end-to-end recycling process supports Jaguar Land Rover’s journey to become a net zero carbon business by 2039,” InMotion managing director Sebastian Peck said.

Battery Resourcers was founded in 2015 after being spun out from Massachusetts’ Worcester Polytechnic Institute. The company has previously received support from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium, a collaboration between General Motors, Ford Motor Company and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

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