NewRoad Capital’s Black, Foundry’s Freeman Hester and Renegade’s Wincek among those guiding their firms into investments this week

From our Women's PE Briefs - week commencing March 29, 2021

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Wright and Larizadeh Duggan invest in Schafer’s Clearbrief

Angel investors Kelly Wright and Avid Larizadeh Duggan are among those investing in a company founded by Jacqueline Schafer that has developed AI writing technology for the legal industry. Kelly and Avid took part in Clearbrief’s $1.2 million round that also included Sequoia Capital and Madrona Venture Group, according to GeekWire.

Based in Seattle, Clearbrief has developed software that assesses how a sentence is supported by evidence. It can be used by lawyers and judges and replaces a process now done by humans. Prior to founding Clearbrief, Jacqueline served as an assistant attorney general in the states of Washington and Alaska.

Quazzo leads GSV Ventures into Disco’s $4.75M round

GSV Ventures, which is led by Deborah Quazzo, spins into Disco, a live learning “business in a box” platform for creators co-founded by Candice Faktor. GSV co-led Disco’s $4.75 million round along with Quiet Capital, Golden Ventures and Inovia Capital.

Disco, which is Latin for learn, was developed to help creators effortlessly deliver a cohort-based live learning experience. The company offers seamless branding, live video, group chat and the ability to scale beyond a course into an ongoing learning community.

Candice, a former executive with Wattpad, is a venture partner with Lobby Capital. She founded Disco with Chris Sukornyk.

In a statement, Deborah said that Disco “realizes that edtech and all innovation happens at the edge, where creators live. We are excited to back this all-star team pioneering the future of creator-led live learning experiences.”

GSV, an education-focused firm, recently closed its second fund at $180 million.

Playground Global and M12 lead 1910 Genetics’ $22M Series A round

Phyllis Whiteley, a venture partner with Playground Global, is an observer on the board of a just-launched company founded and led by Jen Nwankwo that is integrating artificial intelligence, computation and biological automation to improve drug development. Playground Global and M12 led 1910 Genetics’ $22 million Series A round.

Based in Cambridge, Mass., 1910 has two drug discovery engines that enable the design of both small molecule and protein therapeutics – a capability that the company says is “unmatched” in the AI drug discovery space. The company’s name pays homage to the year that Sickle Cell Disease was first discovered in the United States by James B. Herrick. For each drug design campaign, the 1910 genetic team begins by understanding the molecular basis of the disease to the granularity at which the world understands SCD.

Jen’s background includes serving as a management consultant at Bain & Company, director of business development at a health-tech startup and drug discovery roles at Novartis and Eli Lilly.

In 2020, Phyllis joined the board of another company backed by Playground Global, Lassogen, a developer of novel therapeutics co-founded by Tracy Handel. Phyllis, a life science consultant, previously spent more than a decade at Wildcat Venture Partners and Mohr Davidow Venture.

Sapir, Karetsos and Peraza Godoy’s Amboy Street Ventures makes its first two investments

Amboy Street Ventures, which is led by Carli Sapir, Dominnique Karetsos, and Dr. Maria Peraza Godoy, makes its first two investments, backing Dame Products, co-founded and led by Alexandra Fine, and Gennev, whose founder and CEO is Jill Angelo. The amount invested by Amboy Street in the two companies was not disclosed.

Dame is a female-focused sexual wellness brand, while Gennev has created the first-ever online clinic for women in menopause. Amboy Street is focused on sexual health and women’s health technology startups. It is named after the first-ever U.S. birth control clinic at 46 Amboy St. in New York City and was launched by Healthy Pleasure Group, which is dedicated solely to sexual health and technology. Dominnique and Maria founded Healthy Pleasure Group.

Black drives NewRoad Capital Partners into PICKUP’s $15M Series B round

NewRoad Capital Partners Tracy Black drives the firm into a last-mile delivery solution provider founded and led by Brenda Stoner. NewRoad led PICKUP’s $15 million Series B round, which also included Autotech Ventures, New York Angels and existing investors TDF Ventures, Noro-Moseley Partners and Florida Funders.

Based in Dallas, PICKUP enables national retailers and commercial businesses to offer same-day and scheduled delivery of their full assortment of goods, whether it was purchased online or in stores. The company now serves more than 75 cities within the United States and will use the capital to expand its geographic reach and scope of services. Brenda also founded Encenutical Corp and held roles with Drucker Labs and Texas Instruments.

In a statement, Tracy called PICKUP’s ability to support enterprise customers and e-commerce and omnichannel capabilities “a unique offering in today’s environment.” In conjunction with the financing, Tracy joined PICKUP’s board.

In 2020, Tracy led NewRoad into Emerge, a digital freight marketplace and joined the company’s board. Tracy is an operating partner with NewRoad, a Rogers, Ark.-based growth equity capital firm. She previously was a member of the executive team of J.B. Hunt Transport Services.

Foundry’s Freeman Hester & Renegade’s Wincek guide their firms into Spekit

Jaclyn Freeman Hester, a partner with Foundry Group, and Roseanne Wincek, co-founder and managing partner of Renegade Partners, guide their firms into a digital adoption and enablement platform founded by Melanie Fellay and Zari Zahra in a round that also includes Operator Collective, which is led by Leyla Seka and Mallun Yen. Foundry and Renegade led Spekit’s $12.2 million Series A round which in addition to Operator Collective also included Matchstick Ventures and Bonfire Ventures.

Based in Denver, Spekit tackles two of the biggest barriers in today’s remote work environment: the adoption of evolving technology and providing employees with the knowledge they need to be successful in their roles. The company solves these challenges by surfacing real-time, contextual training, processes and guidance directly within the applications that employees use every day. This, in turn, reduces the time it takes for companies to onboard, roll out changes and scale their teams. Spekit’s customers include Uber Freight, and Southwest Airlines. It saw revenue grow by 400 percent in 2020. Melanie, who is CEO, and Zari, who is head of product and technology, founded Spekit in 2018.

In a statement, Jaclyn said, “Spekit's disruptive technology addresses a clear gap in the market by providing a comprehensive solution designed to mirror how individuals actually learn, absorb and retain knowledge.”

Jaclyn joined Foundry in 2016 after practicing corporate law at Perkins Coie, LLP and Baker & Hostetler, LLP. Jaclyn helped launch Foundry’s partner fund strategy, which invests in select venture capital fund managers. She spoke at this year’s Virtual Women’s Alternative Investment Summit.

In conjunction with the financing, Jaclyn and Roseanne joined Spekit’s board. Roseanne formed Renegade with fellow managing director Renata Quintini. Roseanne was previously a partner at IVP.

Operator Collective’s investments include Cube, a financial planning and analysis platform founded and led by Christina Ross; DataGrail, which is striving to help brands build customer trust and transparency; SetSail, a sales performance management company; AgentSync, which was co-founded by Jenn Knight; and Guild Education, the education benefits company co-founded by Rachel Carlson and Brittany Stich.

Chadwell’s 1843 Capital takes part in Avanti’s $37M Series A round

1843 Capital, whose founding partner is Tracy Chadwell, backs a start-up digital asset bank founded and led by Caitlin Long. 1843 took part in Avanti Financial Group’s $37 million Series A round that also included AP Capital, Banca del Ceresio, Binance, Coinbase Ventures, ECMC Group, Equity Management Associates, Greybull Stewardship, Hard Yaka, Hashkey, Holon Global Investments, Lemniscap, Madison Paige Capital, Morgan Creek Digital, PJT Partners, Slow Ventures and Susquehanna Private Equity Investments.

Based in Cheyenne, Wyo., Avanti will use the capital to fund its required regulatory capital needed for launch, as well as to fund engineering build and other operating expenses. In a statement, Caitlin said the bank will offer API-based U.S. dollar payment services for wires, ACH and SWIFT, issuance of its tokenized, programmable U.S. dollar and custody and on-/off-ramp services for bitcoin and other digital assets.

1843’s investments include Enveil, a data security company founded and led by Ellison Anne Williams. Tracy is a past speaker at the Women’s Alternative Investment Summit.

Han is tapped to lead a portfolio company of Francisco Partners’ Wang

Tricia Han is tapped to lead a portfolio company of Francisco Partners Christine Wang. Tricia is now CEO of MyFitnessPal, which Francisco acquired last fall from Under Armor, Inc. The mobile nutrition and fitness tracking application supports more than 200 million users and was valued at the time of Francisco’s purchase at $345 million.

Tricia’s background includes serving as CEO of Daily Burn, chief product officer and GM of US for and leading product management teams at WebMD and DailyCandy.

In a statement, Christine said, “We are excited for the next chapter ahead as Tricia leads the team in reimagining the MyFitnessPal experience to help millions of consumers realize their nutrition and fitness goals.”

Christine, a principal, is on MyFitnessPal’s board as well as on the boards of Quest Software, LegalZoom and LogMeIn.

Eurazeo Brands agrees to acquire pet food maker Ultra Premium Direct

Some four months after doing its first European deal, Eurazeo Brands – which is led by Jill Granoff – has done another – this time agreeing to acquire a French pet food maker co-founded by Sophie Wincker and her husband, Matthieu. Eurazeo Brands said it has signed an exclusivity agreement under which it will invest 68 million euros in Ultra Premium Direct as a majority shareholder. The Winckers will also invest in the transaction as will existing minority shareholder, Eutopia.

Founded in 2013, Ultra Premium Direct offers natural products that cater to pet needs at what it says is an attractive price point. It sells the products directly through its own website and subscription service.

Last fall, Eurazeo Brands became the majority shareholder in Axel Arigato, a Swedish sneaker and ready-to-wear and accessories brand. Eurazeo Brands is a unit of Eurazeo, a publicly traded global investment company whose CEO is Virginie Morgon. An $800 million investment division, Eurazeo Brands was launched by Jill in 2017 and is focused on identifying and partnering with differentiated consumer brands with global growth potential.

Eurazeo Brands’ investments include Dewey’s Bakery, a Winston-Salem, NC cookie and cracker manufacturer; Waterloo Sparkling Water, an Austin, Texas-based sparking water brand; Herschel Supply Co., a lifestyle brand; NEST Fragrances, which features a collection of more than 30 home and fine fragrances and whose founder is Laura Slatkin and whose CEO is Maria Dempsey; Q Mixers, a maker of premium carbonated mixers; Pat McGrath Labs, a makeup brand created by Pat McGrath; and Bandier, an activewear retailer co-founded by Jennifer Bandier which is led by retail veteran Adrienne Lazarus.

Wang’s Rain Capital re-invests in Living Security

Rain Capital, which was founded by Chenxi Wang, re-invests in Living Security, a developer of security awareness software co-founded and led by Ashley Rose. Rain took part in Living Security’s $14 million Series B round, which also included Updata Partners and existing investors Silverton Partners, SaaS Venture Partners and Active Capital. Rain invested a year ago in Living Security’s $5 million Series A round.

Launched in 2017, Living Security has developed an online cyber security training platform that leverages gamified learning with live action immersive storylines, role-based micro modules, and reporting including human risk scoring for the organization. The company now trains the global workforces of more than 100 large enterprises, including CVS Health, Mastercard, Verizon, JPMorgan, and Target, to protect sensitive data and secure their organizations.

Chen’s Cormorant and Vemuri’s Agent Capital take part in Pyxis’s $152M Series B round

Cormorant Asset Management, which is led by Bihua Chen, invests in Pyxis Oncology, which is led by Dr. Lara Sullivan in a round that also includes returning investor Agent Capital, whose founder and managing partner is Geeta Vemuri. Cormorant and Agent took part in Pyxis’s $152 million Series B round that also included Arix Bioscience, RTW Investments, Perceptive Advisors, RA Capital Management, Pfizer Ventures, BVF Partners, Janus Henderson Investors, HBM Healthcare Investments, Acuta Capital Partners, Ridgeback Capital Investments, Surveyor Capital, Laurion Capital Management, Logos Capital, LifeSci Venture Partners, Leaps by Bayer, Longwood Fund and Ipsen.

Based in Cambridge, Mass., Pyxis is focused on developing therapies aimed at defeating difficult-to-treat cancers. Specifically, the company is seeking to create a new family of antibody-based immunotherapies derived from novel insights into the biology of the tumor microenvironment. Pyxis will use the capital to advance its differentiated antibody-drug conjugate and immune-oncology programs to next value inflection point.

Lara joined Pyxis in December 2019. She previously was involved in spinning SpringWorks Therapeutics out of Pfizer, Inc. and raising $103 million in Series A financing. Lara had been a vice president at Pfizer.

Cormorant’s investments in 2021 include EpimAb Biotherapeutics, Inc., which specializes in bispecific antibody development; Graphite Bio, a next-generation gene editing company whose scientific co-founders include Dr. Maria Grazia Roncarolo; Neurelis, Inc., which has launched an epilepsy treatment; Ventyx Biosciences, Inc., which is advancing a pipeline of immune modulators to treat inflammatory diseases and autoimmune disorders; AgomAb Therapeutics, which is developing drug candidates to modulate regenerative pathways to induce functional organ recovery in acute and chronic diseases; BlossomHill Therapeutics, Inc., an oncology company founded by Jingrong Jean Cui; FogPharma, a precision medicine company co-founded by WeiQing Zhou; DTx Pharma, Inc., which is creating RNA-based therapeutics to treat the genetic drivers of disease; Artiva Biotherapeutics, Inc., an oncology company; Ensoma, which is developing an in vivo approach to delivering off-the-shelf genomic medicines; Verve Therapeutics, which is developing gene editing therapies to permanently reduce risk of coronary artery disease in adults; Affinivax, Inc., which is developing vaccines utilizing its Multiple Antigen Presenting System platform; and Immuneering Corp., which seeking to create better medicines through insights from bioinformatics.

Cormorant has also had at least four companies go public in 2021: Design Therapeutics; Edgewise Therapeutics; Pharvaris, which Anne Lesage co-founded; and Prometheus Biosciences, Inc., which just went public. It also has at least two other companies in registration to go public: VectivBio Holding and Biomea Fusion.

NEA’s Larco and Greylock Partners’ Guo re-invest in Cleo

New Enterprise Associates Vanessa Larco and Greylock Partners Sarah Guo re-invest in Cleo, which was co-founded by Shannon Spanhake and Dr. Chitra Akileswaran and which has developed a benefits platform for families. NEA and Greylock took part in Cleo’s $40 million Series C round, which also included fellow existing investor Felicis and new investors Transformation Capital, Glynn Capital, PruVen Capital and Gaingels.

Vanessa joined Cleo’s board in 2019 after leading the company’s $27.5 million Series B round. Sarah joined the board after leading the company’s $10.5 million Series A round in 2018.

Cleo’s mission to help women and men through what it describes as “one of life’s toughest journeys” becoming a parent, then being a new parent and then finding success as a working parent. Cleo’s app enables users to get prenatal and postpartum support from experts. Among the companies who are utilizing Cleo are Pinterest, Box, PepsiCo and The Learning Care Group. The company’s message is that by supporting parents, companies can positively impact employee recruiting, experience, productivity, retention and health. The company says its app reaches families in more than 55 countries.

Shannon, a tech veteran, and Chitra, a practicing OB/GYN, started the company because of a belief that women and their family are let down by federal and workplace policies that don’t’ go far enough to support a women’s health or workplace equality.

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