StrictlyVC: November 8, 2013

110611_2084620_176987_imageIt’s Friday! Hope you have a terrific weekend.

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Top News in the A.M.

Good news: The U.S. economy may be stronger than many thought; it added more than 200,000 jobs last month.

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden may have tricked up to 25 colleagues into giving him their login credentials before he leaked classified material to the media, sources tell Reuters.

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The FAA Shows Drone Companies a Way Forward

Yesterday, the Federal Aviation Administration released its first “roadmap” for allowing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) access to U.S. national airspace beginning in 2015. The idea is to permit some drone activity while preserving enough flexibility for the FAA to adjust its rules and regulations if it needs to.

The step was a welcome one for entrepreneurs who are working on flying robots for the military (whose airspace isn’t regulated by the FAA) but who will soon be able to sell to a variety of commercial industries, including agriculture, construction, oil, gas, and mining.

“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel now,” says Bilal Zuberi, a Palo Alto-based partner at Lux Capital, who sees a whole new industry about to emerge, with droids as just the starting point. He likens the moment to “when the satellites first went into space and data became available. You could do so much more with it than people imagined.”

Think maps that update in real-time or sophisticated applications that notify farmers when crops have been afflicted with specific diseases.

“Right now, people are thinking about just the hardware,” notes Zuberi, “but the hardware will lead to huge software opportunities downstream.”

CyPhy Works is one example of a startup that is building UAV hardware but betting on a future in software. The Boston-based company —  which announced $7 million in fresh funding this week led by Lux Capital — makes a 3-pound flying robot and a larger, 12-pound model that are both tethered to portable command stations but can float up to 500 feet off the ground and hang there for hours while beaming down high-definition video.

The company’s primary customer right now is the U.S. military, which is using the drones at combat outposts to monitor compounds and facilities. (The drones can accept a variety of payloads, from three-dimensional scanners to sensors for chemical detection.)

CyPhy founder Helen Greiner —  who earlier cofounded iRobot, which remains best known for its Roomba vacuum cleaners – sees a huge software opportunity coming when UAVs are permitted to share the skies with civilian aircraft.

“It’s a good time to be developing commercial applications, which we view as any opportunity to help manage a project using a bird’s eye view, whether it’s monitoring a bridge being built, a pit being dug, or a facility to see what people are doing,” she says.

Part of that process will involve convincing customers that they need satellites of flying cameras to replace their stationary cameras. But Greiner wants to be able to provide them with automatic detection and imagery analysis, too.

I ask Greiner about the privacy concerns that have been holding up the FAA. What about people buying UAVs to spy on their neighbors? “I share that [privacy] concern,” she says. “I don’t want one outside my house. But that’s not what we’re building here.”

What of the competition? After all, according to the FAA, there could be at least 7,500 commercial drones in use within five years.

Greiner suggests she isn’t concerned with what others are doing. She tells me about the top engineers she has hired from iRobot and other UAV companies. Grenier also talks about her passion for her work. “I’ve wanted to build robots since I was 11…it’s exciting stuff to be doing.”

Most crucially, she notes, no one is leading the pack at this early date. “It’s still very early in the game.”

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New Fundings

Ecovative Design, a six-year-old, Green Island, N.Y.-based company, has raised over $14 million in equity financing from new and existing investors, including existing investors the DOEN Foundation and 3M Company. Terms were not disclosed. Ecovative’s technology is used to grow compostable composites intended to replace the plastic foams used in packaging, automotive components, and building and construction materials.

Espresso Logic, a new, Santa Clara, Calif.-based “reactive programming database service” that promises to reduce application development from months to days, has raised $1.6 million in seed funding led by Inventus Capital Partners. Individuals Anurag JainLee NackmanGokul Rajaram, and Raju Reddy were among the individual investors to join the round.

Granify, two-year-old, Edmonton, Canada-based company whose software is being used to improve e-commerce conversion rates, has raised $1.5 million in seed funding from Valar Ventures, iNovia Capital, Klass Capital, the Business Development Bank of Canada, Extreme Startups, Social Starts and numerous individual investors. The company had raised a separate, $1.5 million round in 2012, according to Crunchbase.

Jut, a new, San Francisco-based startup that’s operating in stealth mode but says it has “built an ambitious vision around the future of big data applications,” has closed $20 million in Series B financing. Accel Partners led the round, with participation from LightSpeed Venture Partners and Wing Ventures.

Nuvyyo, a three-year-old, Kanata, Ontario-based company whose technology helps stream TV programming to mobile devices, raised $4 million from Celtic House Venture Partners earlier this year, it has told Dow Jones.

Project Frog, a seven-year-old, San Francisco-based modular building developer, has closed $20 million in Series D funding from Convergent Capital Management and some members of the Cleantech Syndicate, a consortium of 11 family offices. The capital brings Project Frog’s total funding to date to roughly $50 million.

RadPad, an 18-month-old, L.A.-based iPhone app that renters can use to search for apartments, has raised $800,000 in seed funding from Deep Fork Capital, the first backers of Trulia. The WSJ has more on technologies transforming the real estate business here.

Surefire Medical, a four-year-old, Westminster, Colo.-based medical device company that’s developing an infusion device for treating liver cancer, has raised $18.2 million in Series B funding from MCG PartnersPartisan Management Group and High Country Ventures. The round brings Surefire’s capital raised to date to at least $24.3 million.

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New Funds

Targeted Technology Fund —  a San Antonio-based venture capital fund that seeks out biomedical device investments in Texas, Alabama, Colorado and Georgia —  is raising its second fund, according to an SEC filing that shows the firm has garnered $20 million of a targeted $50 million in capital. You can find more background on the firm right here.

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IPOs

Twitter’s shares closed yesterday at $44.90, 73 percent above the company’s $26-per-share IPO price but slightly below its opening figure of $45.10. Dealbook tries to assess what it all means.

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Exits

Sincerely, a two-year-old, San Francisco-based mobile gifting startup that had been cofounded by Matt Brezina of Xobni fame, was acquired yesterday. The buyer: Provide Commerce, a privately held e-commerce company. Sincerely had raised at least $3 million from Charles River VenturesFirst Round CapitalSpark Capital, and SV Angel, among others. Brezina told TechCrunch yesterday that the all-cash deal “could not have been better” for everyone involved.

Sky Motion Research, a five-year-old, Montreal, Canada-based company whose app combines radar data and ground observations to provide hyperlocal forecasts, was acquired yesterday by AccuWeather, reports Mashable. Terms of the acquisition weren’t disclosed.

Ticket Monster, a Korean subsidiary of LivingSocial, has been acquired by Groupon for “at least $100 million in cash and up to $160 million in stock,” reports AllThingsD. LivingSocial acquired the business in 2011 for terms that were never disclosed publicly.

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People

Reggie Davis, who has served as Zynga’s general counsel for the last four years and led the company through its IPO, is stepping down, with plans to take a year off to spend time with his wife and four sons. Law.com has the story. Davis previously worked for Yahoo and Duane Morris.

Todd Papaioannou joins venture-backed Splunk as its chief technology officer. Papaioannou was most recently an EIR at Data Collective, the big data-focused venture capital firm. Papaioannou also co-founded a Battery Ventures’ portfolio company called Continuuity, which arose out of his tenure as an EIR at Battery, beginning in 2011.

As many as 52 people are being laid off at the e-commerce company ShoeDazzle.com. The Journal has the scoop. ShoeDazzle sold to a competing company, JustFab, earlier this year.

Matt Van Horn resigned yesterday from the social network Path, where he was head of business, reports TechCrunch. According to TechCrunch’s sources, Van Horn is teaming up with Path iOS developer Nikhil Bhogal to co-found a new company. For more on the story, click here.

Data

A preliminary study released on Wednesday by the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) and the Commonfund Study of Endowments, suggests that educational endowments have been goosed by the stock market’s strong performance in 2013. The study, based on responses from 206 endowments and foundations, shows that education endowments averaged 11.7 percent in fiscal 2013 (which ended in summer), compared to an anemic .03 percent in fiscal 2012. You can learn more about the study here.

Just as you suspected: It takes about seven years to exit a venture-backed company, says CB Insights in a new analysis of venture-backed companies that you can read about here.

Job Listings

The Palo Alto office of law firm Perkins Coie is looking for an associate to join its emerging companies and venture capital group. To be considered, you need two to five years of experience in either handling emerging companies or direct venture capital work. (General corporate experience will “not be sufficient,” says the firm.) Land the job, and you’ll be working alongside Adrian Fenty, who rose to national prominence at the mayor Washington D.C. between 2007 and 2011, and who joined Perkins Coie to expand its emerging companies practice in September.

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Essential Reads

The New York Stock Exchange was not-so-subtly talking trash about Nasdaq all of yesterday, observes Business Insider. (Among other things, the NYSE was noting that it now lands more tech deals than Nasdaq.)

Plenty of people still don’t understand how Twitter could possibly be worth its $24.4 billion market cap (at close yesterday) before ever turning a profit. This Newsweek piece might be one of the more effective explainers we’ve seen.

“If anybody has any real conviction, one way or another, with regard to whether Twitter’s stock is overvalued or undervalued, you can be pretty sure that they don’t really know what they’re talking about.”

AngelList cofounder Naval Ravikant firmly believes that bitcoin is the future of Internet money. Here’s why.

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Detours

Gizmodo takes stock of Hart Island, the largest mass grave site in the U.S. (It’s a grim but fascinating exploration.)

These famous black-and-white photos have been colorized to dramatic effect.

A family of anchorman: A post by Ron Burgundy.

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Retail Therapy

Food goddess Alice Waters has published a new book.

Someone has created Sriracha-flavored candy canes that look exactly like your standard peppermint-flavored variety. We’d advise against handing them out or hanging them on your Christmas tree unless you have something against young children.

This belt buckle carries a beer in your waistband, which sort of begs the question: Exactly how lazy do you have to be to buy this belt buckle?

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