Boston Tech Watch: Underscore VC, Piaggio, SoftBank & Sea Machines

A pair of massive Boston-area investments from the Japanese SoftBank Group’s $100 billion Vision Fund, a moonshot power storage spinout from Alphabet’s X labs, and some local robotics moves are found in this week’s Boston technology news.

—Underscore VC, a Boston-based venture capital firm focused on early-stage tech startups, is capping off its second fund at $140 million. The firm announced the fund in May when it had raised $117 million. It will make investments in software applications and infrastructure, the firm says. It also announced Richard Dulude, one of its founders, has been promoted to partner.

Investors in Underscore VC’s first fund were academic institutions, hospitals, and global foundations, the firm says, and many of the investors re-upped on the second fund.

—The mobility technology arm of Milan, Italy-based scooter and motorcycle company Piaggio says it will design and assemble all of its Gita mobile carrying robots in a new facility near its Boston headquarters in Charlestown. The tech unit known as Piaggio Fast Forward says it’ll need to hire 100 more employees for the facility. The Gita robot rolls along behind a person and has a compartment to carry up to 45 pounds. Gita is expected to be available for sale in mid-2019.

—New York growth equity firm General Atlantic says it is taking a majority stake in Braintree, MA-based invoice and e-bill payment business Invoice Cloud. General Atlantic will invest an undisclosed amount in Invoice Cloud alongside existing shareholders Summit Partners, Boston-based private equity firm, and members of the company’s management.

—Product management software company Akeneo says it raised an undisclosed amount of funds from Salesforce Ventures and serial entrepreneur Stephan Dietrich, who will join the company as an independent board member. Akeneo, a French company, opened its U.S. offices in Somerville, MA, in October. It raised a $13 million Series B funding round in March 2017, led by Partech Ventures and Alven Capital. Akeneo’s open-source product management software competes with Boston-based Salsify.

—Data privacy and compliance software startup Egress says it took in $40 million in a Series C funding led by San Francisco-based FTV Capital in order to grow faster in Europe and North America and accelerate product development. The artificial intelligence-powered platform helps companies meet data compliance requirements, including the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation and the recently passed California Consumer Privacy Act. Previous backer London-based AlbionVC also joined the funding round.

—Cryptocurrency data company Nomics says it raised $3 million in a funding round led by Arthur Ventures, which was joined in the investment by big players in the digital currency sector including Coinbase, BitGo co-founder Ben Davenport, CoVenture Crypto, and Digital Currency Group. The funding will help the Boston- and Minneapolis-based company develop new data products and invest in its engineering team, Nomics says in a press release. Last month, Coinbase and Digital Currency Group joined in a $3.4 million round for Boston-based digital currency analysis company Flipside Crypto.

—Boston-based Sea Machines Robotics says it raised a $10 million Series A funding round led by Accomplice and Eniac Ventures. The maritime company in October released its first line of autonomous command and remote-control systems for commercial, scientific, and government vessels. It plans to test its technology early next year aboard an A.P. Moller-Maersk ice-class container ship. Toyota AI Ventures, Brunswick Corp., NextGen Venture Partners, Geekdom Fund, LaunchCapital, LDV, and others contributed to the round.

—MassChallenge, the global startup accelerator organization based in Boston, announced its inaugural list of companies set to join its 2019 fintech program. (See the list here.) At the end of the program, MassChallenge FinTech will award $250,000 in cash prizes to the companies.

—Cambridge, MA-based lithium-ion battery tech startup 24M Technologies raised $22 million from a handful of industrial partners who are looking at producing the company’s technology at factory-scale. Japanese companies Kyocera Group and Itochu led the funding. 24M is optimistic that its advances in battery manufacturing will help with both cost and energy density.

—Logistics robotics startup RightHand Robotics raised $23 million led by Menlo Ventures, which was joined by GV, Alphabet’s venture arm formerly known as Google Ventures. The money will help the company scale up. Kiva Systems founder and former CEO Mick Mountz also joined the company’s board of directors as part of the round.

—Malta, an early power storage moonshot from X, Alphabet’s skunkworks labs, spun out into its own company based in Cambridge. The startup aims to bottle up renewable power in the form of molten salt and antifreeze until it’s needed. It raised a $26 million Series A funding round led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the climate change technology fund chaired by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

—SoftBank’s massive Vision Fund invested $500 million in Cambridge Mobile Telematics, a startup that collects and analyzes driving safety data from smartphones and connected devices for customers such as insurers and vehicle fleet operators. The cash will help the company, co-founded by MIT professor Hari Balakrishnan, get its technology into more of the 1.2 billion vehicles on roadways globally. (SoftBank’s Vision Fund also this week led a $400 million investment into Cambridge-based Relay Therapeutics.)

Brian Dowling is a Senior Editor at Xconomy, based in Boston. You can reach him at bdowling [at] xconomy.com. Follow @be_d

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