This year, many high-profile startups and private companies landed great gobs of cash to help expand or fund new products. E-commerce, cloud, and green energy companies were especially sexy to financiers.
Using data that PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association compiled, we took a look at the 15 largest funding rounds of the year to get a better sense of popular trends. While there is an overhyped “Series A crunch” supposedly happening right now, many of these mostly late-stage deals looked great. Note that this data consists of funding that was actually distributed to a company, so previously reported amounts that were committed by firms could differ from this data.
Because we know you can’t wait to see this exciting data, here’s the list:
1. Fisker Automotive: $277.3 million
Fisker Automotive, a green sports car company that attracts a lot of comparisons to Tesla Motors, raised an incredible amount of VC money in 2012, more than any other company as far as we can tell. After getting a commitment of $410.6 million in April, Fisker ended up raising $277.3 million from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and New Enterprise Associates across two quarters. It took in $129.7 million in Q1 and $147.6 million in Q2. While that was already substantial, the car company got another round in September worth about $103.6 million. While Fisker struggled this year gain traction, it is now looking for additional funding and a new carmaking partner.
2. SquareTrade: $238 million
The second largest VC deal this year was Bain Capital’s massive $238 million investment in gadget-warranty provider SquareTrade. It then proceeded to spend some of that money by purchasing gadgets like the the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S III — and destroying them. But hey, those videos did raise SquareTrade’s profile quite a bit.
3. Square: $200 million
Mobile payments business Square has seen no shortage of headlines this year thanks to its tremendous growth. One of its biggest events was raising more than $200 million from Citi Ventures, Rizvi Traverse Management, and Starbucks. Square has raised more than $341 million in funding to date. Square’s latest addition is letting users send and use gift cards without carrying around a piece of plastic.
4. Drilling Info: $166.2 million
Drilling Info might have the least interesting name on this list, but what it offers is certainly attractive — so much that it raised $166.2 million in a major Q1 funding round. It offers a SaaS-based oil and gas business-intelligence platform, and it claims to be the “most complete source of North American and offshore waters oil and gas information.” It’s easy to see how a company offering easy access to that kind of data could get some serious cash. The round was raised by Insight Venture Partners, Battery Ventures, and Eastern Advisors Private Fund, with Vaquero Capital advising the deal.
5. Sapphire Energy: $139 million
Sapphire Energy, one of the many energy-focused companies on this list, creates fuel by converting algae into a petroleum replacement. We reported that Sapphire had raised a whopping $144 million round of funding, but it appears that dropped slightly to a final total of $139 million from investors including from ARCH Venture Partners, Monsanto, and Venrock Associates. That’s still quite the round.
6. Box: $125 million
Cloud storage and collaboration startup Box had a huge year with lots of developments including its OneCloud syncing solution, the opening of an international headquarters in London, and more. But one of its biggest pieces of news was when it raised $125 million in fresh capital for aggressive growth around the world. This latest big round was led by General Atlantic, with participation from Bessemer Venture Partners, DFJ Growth, New Enterprise Associates, SAP Ventures, Scale Venture Partners, and new investor Social+Capital Partnership.
7. Fab: $117 million
Social shopping startup Fab had a big year, and it recently announced that it sold $6.5 million worth of goods between Nov. 23 and Nov. 29, which is a very good number to kick off the holiday season. With that kind of traction, we’re sure its many investors — Atomico, Pinnacle Ventures, re-Net Technology Partners, Mayfield Fund, DoCoMo Capital, Menlo Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, Baroda Ventures, and First Round Capital — were glad they put up more than $100 million back in July. Fab CEO Jason Goldberg also informed us that his startup raised another $16 million in October and November at the same terms as the July round, bringing the total to an impressive $117 million. Fab also recently said it plans a “pivot” in 2013, so we’ll see how that pans out.
8. Harvest Power: $112 million
Harvest Power produces a wide variety of soils, mulches, and organic fertilizers, and it attracted a stellar round of funding worth about $112 million in April. True North Venture Partners led the investment with American Refining and Biochemical, participating with existing investors including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, DAG Ventures, and Generation Investment Management.
Elevance Renewable Sciences' green technology transforms natural materials like soybean, canola, palm, and corn oils into specialty chemical and this helped raise $104 million in venture capital (Click Image To Enlarge)
9. Elevance Renewable Sciences: $104.3 million
Elevance Rewewable Sciences is yet another science-focused company that raised some serious cash this year. It transforms natural materials like soybean, canola, palm, and corn oils into specialty chemicals. Companies use these materials to produce things like wax, detergents, and biofuels. Its $104.3 million round was raised by Total Energy Ventures International and Lacustrine Limited, a Malaysian investor.
10. Donuts: $100 million
Sweetly named startup Donuts has a lofty goal of being a new registry for generic top-level domains that go beyond staples like .com, .net, and .org. Since it will be bidding on new — and most likely expensive — domains, it needs a lot of cash to buy and sell domains. So it raised a massive $100 million round of funding led by Austin Ventures, with participation by Adams Street Partners, Emergence Capital, TL Ventures, Generation Partners, Stahurricane, and others.
11. Bloom Energy: $100 million
Bloom Energy manufactures green fuel cells. These power generators convert natural gas to electricity, which is a much cleaner way to produce energy than, saying burning up huge piles of coal. It also claims its products can create a decentralized power source that is accessible when your main power source goes out. For example, Bloom’s home page touts Hurricane Sandy as a recent instance where electricity failed for some businesses but gas lines were unaffected. This practical approach to energy is perhaps why the company attracted $100 million of a potential $150 million from Apex Venture Partners and undisclosed firm.
Social pinning site Pinterest is now the third most popular social network in the U.S. after Facebook, it has few revenues, and users are 90% female, but it raised $100 million in venture capital in 2012 (Click Image To Enlarge)
12. Pinterest: $100 million
Pinterest, now the third most popular social network in the U.S. after Facebook and Twitter, had a hard time getting VCs’ attention when it first started out. But it didn’t appear to have much trouble raising a new $100 million round in May. The round was led by Japanese web retailer Rakuten, with participation from Andreessen Horowitz, Bessemer Venture Partners, FirstMark Capital, Glencoe Capital, and other angel investors. As 2012 has continued, Pinterest has gained more traction. Recently, it added pin previews inside Twitter and opened its doors to business accounts.
13. Castlight Health: $99.9 million
Castlight Health, one of two health care companies to make this list, dubs itself as “the leader in health care transparency.” It offers consumers and companies comprehensive data about the price and quality of health care, ideally to help them save money while also improving their care. The company attracted a stellar $99.9 million investment in May from T. Rowe Price, Redmile Group, Allen & Company, Maverick Capital, Oak Investment Partners, U.S. Venture Partners, and Venrock Associates.
14. GitHub: $99.5 million
GitHub, easily one of the most exciting startups of the year, caught a lot of attention in July for raising nearly $100 million for a Series A round. (It could be the biggest Series A ever.) Investors Andreessen Horowitz and SV Angel clearly believe in GitHub’s mission of supplying social coding tools to developers. The company has grown quite popular since its launch in 2008, and it has more than 1.7 million members who have shared more than 3 million code repositories. It recently hired Vlado Herman, the former CFO of Yelp, to help it manage its huge round of funds.
15. ConforMIS: $89 million
While developing medical devices for osteoarthritis treatment and joint damage isn’t terribly sexy, it’s incredibly smart considering the growing population of old folks in the United States. ConforMIS, a leading maker of such devices, raised a whopping $89 million in January from AGC Equity Partners, Axel Johnson, and other investors. Since its founding in 2004, ConforMIS claims to have accumulated “more than 350 patents and patent applications in the areas of imaging software, image processing, implant design, surgical techniques, instrumentation, and manufacturing, spanning knee, hip, shoulder, spine, and small joints.” Recently, the company appointed a new CFO to help it better manage its fat stacks.
Photos Courtesy of: Bundle of U.S. 100 dollar bills via HamsterMan/Shutterstock, Plants growing in lab via FikMik/Shutterstock, Green computer code via Soulart/Shutterstock. Other images courtesy Fisker Automotive, SquareTrade, Square, Sapphire Energy, Box, Drilling Info, Harvest Power, Fab, Donuts, Pinterest, Castlight Health, and ConfirMIS.
COMMENTARY: If I were a betting man, I would bet that out of the above fifteen companies, the following will not amount to much. They are either competing in small niche markets, offering very expensive technologies to solve a need in the marketplace or maybe just a fad and not real sustainable businesses.
- Fisker Automotive - I can't believe how this company was able to raise $277 million in venture capital when it has never generated a profit, has had problems meeting production deadlines and operating well below breakeven volumes. Fisker offers very high-end hybrid automobiles and will be facing heady competition from the big automobile manufacturers and Tesla Motors (all-electric cars).
- SquareTrade - In an era of rapid obsolescence and throwaway mobile devices, I don't know if SquareTrade will be able to sell a lot of warranty contracts. It is also competing against dozens of extended warranty companies. Raising $238 million in venture capital is impressive, but I dare ask, "What were those VC's thinking?"
- Sapphire Energy - Creating oil from algae is sloppy, expensive and its definitely not very green. The volume of oil actually produced from these algae ponds is miniscule compared to drilling or shale. Algal oil "has the potential to change the world," says Cynthia Warner, Sapphire's chief executive, but I beg to difer. Again, I dare ask, "What were those VC's thinking?" to invest $139 million in to this company.
- Fab - If you've been following my posts you know that I am not very high on social commerce or S-commerce simply because consumers don't buy things through social networks. Facebook has already been down this road, and F-commerce has proven to be a total failuare with several large retailers opening Facebook stores then closing them down only months later. I truly question just why VC's would plank down $117 million for a startup with only $6.5 million in sales.
- Donuts - I don't know what is so exciting about buying and re-selling generic top-level domains. Again, I just don't understand the logic that VC's used to invest $100 million into a company that doesn't make anything. Are we suddently running out of innovation and great ideas?
- Bloom Energy - If you've followed my posts, you know that I am not very high on Bloom's energy cell technology. It is too expensive for the average homeowner, and the only customers are big corporations that consume a lot of energy and are trying to become more green. VC's have plowed over $1 billion into Bloom Energy, and the company has yet to generate a profit. I dare ask, "When is the payoff?"
- Pinterest - I am still not convinced that Pinterest is the next big thing in social networking. I think it's more a fad and only of interest to women, which makeup 85% of it users. As far as I know, they are a long way from monetization, and if you read my blog post dated December 5, 2012 about Pinterest, its phenomenal growth has hit a brick wall, and may have peaked. Again, who in his right mind would invest $100 million into another social network given the Facebook, Groupon and Zynga IPO debacles. That's a warning that VC's need to head, but when?
- Donut - We recently ran out of IP addresses to support the humongous number of internet domain names in existence, so the people who run the interest came up with the idea for generic top level domains like .APPS,.BOOKS, .MUSIC, .CLOUD, .BURGERS, .CARS, .SEX, etc. Donut VC's invested $100 million into a company that buys and resells generic top-level domain names. This is such a seedy business, have VC's totally ran out of ideas where to invest their money? There are also legal ramnifications. For instance, can a young college student own the general top level domain .APPS? Can this youngster corral everything related to .apps? Any company with any smarts, probably already acquired generic domain names, so just how lucrative can this company be?
Courtesy of an article dated December 28, 2012 appearing in VentureBeat