Top VC deals: Apple buys Buddybuild, Google backs a Chinese Twitch competitor, and robotic manicures are coming

  • Apple acquired a Vancouver start-up called Buddybuild, which makes tools to help software developers avoid and fix bugs.
  • Google invested in Chushou, a Chinese e-sports platform that lets users livestream their mobile games and compete before spectators.
  • Wealthfront, a robo-advisor, raised $75 million in fresh funding to become an automated challenger to Fidelity or PNC.

Here's a roundup of the most important deals in venture capital from the past week.

Apple & Google moves

Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple Inc., waves after speaking during an event at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple Inc., waves after speaking during an event at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017.

Apple is acquiring Vancouver-based Buddybuild for an undisclosed sum, the start-up announced on Tuesday. Buddybuild makes tools that help programmers avoid and fix bugs in their software, and to generally keep each other apprised about changes made to code they're working on together. Prior to the acquisition, Buddybuild had raised $8.8 million in venture funding from investors including Amplify Partners, Bloomberg Beta, First Round Capital, Kleiner Perkins and others. Buddybuild's founders, Dennis Pilarinos and Christopher Stott, previously worked for Amazon.

Google is investing $120 million into Chushou, a Chinese competitor to Amazon-owned Twitch. Chushou's mobile TV platform allows gamers to livestream mobile games as they play to compete before spectators. Mobile games like Honor of Kings by Tencent and Onmyoji by Netase are wildly popular in China, a nation with more than 500 million mobile gamers, according to estimates from Research and Markets. Other investors in Chushou: GGV Capital, Shunwei Capital, Qiming Venture Partners, and Feidian Capital.

Start-ups

Wealthfront, a "robo-advisor" for financial advice, raised $75 million in a new round of venture funding led by Tiger Global Management and joined by the company's earlier backers: Benchmark Capital, Greylock Partners, Index Ventures, Ribbit Capital, Social Capital and Spark Capital Growth. Wealthfront CEO Andy Rachleff was a co-founder of Benchmark Capital. With lower fees than traditional wealth management firms, robo-advisors like Wealthfront, Betterment and Wealthsimple are thriving. Juniper Research predicts that automated wealth management will generate some $25 billion in revenue annually by 2022, up from $1.7 billion in 2017.

Aimotive is developing self-driving vehicle technology using off-the-shelf cameras, rather than lidar sensors.
Aimotive is developing self-driving vehicle technology using off-the-shelf cameras, rather than lidar sensors.

Cisco Investments, Samsung Catalyst Fund and Robert Bosch Venture Capital are among investors in Aimotive, a Budapest-based start-up developing self-driving car systems. The company announced Thursday it raised a $38 million series C round of venture funding led by B Capital Group and Prime Ventures. Like Tesla, Aimotive believes that radar and lidar sensors are not necessary to make cars safely autonomous. Instead, the start-up says it's using "off-the-shelf camera sensors and artificial intelligence-based vision processing." The company said it is testing vehicle fleets in Hungary, France and the U.S., and working with automotive manufacturers including Groupe PSA, SAIC, and Volvo.

Despite the failures of several start-ups making smart kitchen appliances — like Juicero, Teaforia and The Orange Chef — investors are still placing bets on companies in food tech. The latest to attract a venture round, Drop Kitchen, makes an internet-connect kitchen scale that works in conjunction with its recipe app. According to an SEC filing, Dublin-based Drop Kitchen raised $7.3 million from Alsop Louie Partners. Additional investors in Drop Kitchen include Frontline Ventures, WI Harper, Sinovation Ventures, PCH, and Irish star chef Ross Lewis. Founded in 2011, the company in more recent years has billed itself as a developer of an operating system for smart kitchen devices made by top manufacturers.

Coinify raised a $4.8 million bridge round from Nordic Eye for blockchain payment technology. Founded in 2014 in Copenhagen, Coinify makes it easy for retailers and other consumer-facing companies to accept payments in bitcoin or more than a dozen other cryptocurrencies. The start-up also operates a "coin-agnostic" trading platform, says CEO Mark Hojgaard.

Nordic Eye's general partner told CNBC his firm backed Coinify because it's a smart, enterprise tech company that is not tied to the success or regulatory approval of any digital currency. "We aren't putting our money into the currencies themselves. But there is tremendous potential for the blockchain to enable unbanked people, living in nations without a stable government or currency, to send and receive money safely."

Preemadonna is developing the Nailbot, a robotic manicurist.
Preemadonna is developing the Nailbot, a robotic manicurist.

Halogen Ventures is backing Preemadonna, a Menlo Park, California, start-up developing a robotic manicurist called the Nailbot. The Nailbot, which is not yet commercially available, "prints" lacquer and intricate designs onto the user's fingernails. Halogen Ventures focuses on tech companies built by women. The firm was founded by Jesse Draper, daughter of DFJ and Draper Associates founder Tim Draper.

Supermeat, an Israeli biotech start-up, has raised $3 million in seed funding, according to TechCrunch. The company aims to develop a lab-made alternative to poultry that feels and tastes exactly like the real thing. For years, venture capitalists have been investing in companies such as Impossible Burger, Memphis Meats and Hampton Creek trying to develop plant-based and "clean meat" alternatives to meat derived from livestock. Consumers and businesses spent more than $1 trillion on meat in 2016, according to estimates from the North American Meat Institute.

Funds and firms

The corporate venture arm of USAA reaped $100 million in returns from its prior investments in 2017, according to a report in the San Antonio Express-News. Corporate venture capital offices invested in 798 deals totaling $13.3 billion globally in the first half of last year, according to CB Insights data cited in the report.

A new incubator called MState has launched to invest in start-ups that will help corporations figure out how to use blockchain technology. The incubator is backed by IBM, a coding school and fund called Galvanize, and Comcast Ventures.

Disclosure: Comcast owns NBCUniversal, the parent company of CNBC.