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Venture capital moves pick up in June



June was a very active month for venture capital in photonics, with deals announced across multiple markets and company stages.


Photonics VC Update is a monthly series to brief scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and business leaders about the venture funding of emerging companies in various photonics technologies.


July 8, 2024


Laser-driven inertial fusion continues to attract large venture investments. Following Blue Laser Fusion's announcement in March, Xcimer announced $100 million Series A led by Hedosophia and included Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Lowercarbon Capital, Prelude Ventures, Emerson Collective, Gigascale Capital, and Starlight Ventures. Xcimer is building a new facility in Denver, CO for a prototype laser system and targets producing up to 10X higher laser energy at 10X higher efficiency, and over 30X lower cost per joule than the National Ignition Facility (NIF) laser system that achieved fusion scientific break-even in December 2022.


Semiconductor photonic circuits also continue to be a heavy focus of venture investment. One of the largest deals we tracked was Germany-based Black Semiconductor, which raised a $275 million Series A, including $247 million from Germany’s federal government and North Rhine-Westphalia and $28 million in a more classic equity round co-led by Porsche Ventures and Project A Ventures. The company's graphene-based photonic interconnects can enable faster, energy-efficient, and scalable chip fabrics. Wave Photonics, a UK-based startup developing a process design kit (PDK) with component designs for photonic circuits, raised a £4.5 million Seed round, led by the UK Innovation & Science Seed Fund and Cambridge Enterprise Ventures. Finally, Eindhoven-based MicroAlign raised €1 million in a Seed round led by DeepTechXL and PhotonVentures to advance its high-accuracy fiber arrays, a critical component of the integrated photonic circuit ecosystem.


Venture investors demonstrated interest in markets where optics can impact biology as well. Avava, a startup based in Massachusetts that uses laser technology to revitalize skin, raised a $35 million Series C round from a syndicate that included Jeisys Medical and Catalio Capital. California-based Prolific Machines raised $55 million in Series B funding led by Fonterra Co-operative Group and joined by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Mayfield, SOSV, Shorewind Capital, Darco Capital, Conti Ventures, and In-Q-Tel. The company is developing hardware and software that optimizes protein cell production using light and subsequent spectral analysis. Similarly, HyperSpectral, a Virginia-based company, raised a $8.5 million Series A led by RRE Ventures and Kibo Ventures to advance its AI-driven spectroscopy technology for agricultural and medical industries, detecting dangerous pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella.


Finally, in another spectroscopy deal for a different market, Mirico, a spin-out from the UK's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) specializing in mid-infrared spectroscopy for gas sensing, raised $2 million from Shell and New Climate Ventures.


About the Author

Eric Hall is a managing partner of Entrada Ventures, a seed-stage fund investing in innovative technologies. He has worked alongside multiple Nobel Prize winners in building successful startups across various photonics technologies, including Aurrion (silicon photonics), Soraa (GaN LEDs), Kaai (GaN lasers), and Agility Communications (InP photonics), leading to multiple acquisitions. Subsequently, Hall led several transactions as an investment banker at Golding Partners before moving into early-stage investing. He earned his Bachelor of Science in engineering physics at UC Berkeley, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Columbia Business School, and a PhD in materials at UC Santa Barbara.

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