The Year’s 10 Biggest VC Funding Rounds: Cruise, Rivian And Lots Of Billion-Dollar Deals

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The Year’s 10 Biggest VC Funding Rounds: Cruise, Rivian And Lots Of Billion-Dollar Deals





In a year that shattered venture capital funding records, it should come as no surprise there were some hefty financing rounds to be had by startups. In fact, two companies that saw three of the top rounds of the year used the funding to ride them to the public market—electric car-maker Rivian and stock trading app Robinhood.

Just to make the top 10 list, a company needed to raise well over $1 billion in a round. Here are the top rounds of 2021:

1. Cruise, $2.75B, autonomous cars: San Francisco-based Cruise announced a $2 billion round in January, but upsized it with an investment from Walmart and others to $2.75 billion in April to take the top spot. The new money took the General Motors-backed self-driving car startup’s valuation to more than $30 billion. The company had previously partnered with Walmart for a self-driving delivery pilot in the Phoenix area.

2. Rivian, $2.65B, electric vehicles: The second-largest round of 2021 came only 19 days into the year, as Irvine, California-based Rivian closed a $2.65 billion private-equity round led by T. Rowe Price. When the company announced the round, it called 2021 a “critical year,” with the launching of a handful of electric vehicles. At the time, few probably knew that Rivian was only getting started for the year.

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3. Rivian, $2.5B, electric vehicles: Coming into the year, when people thought of the EV space, companies like Tesla and Nikola came to mind. That all changed in July, when Rivian closed its second huge funding of the year—and the third-largest round of the year. The company raised a $2.5 billion private funding round led by Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, D1 Capital Partners, Ford Motor Co. and funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price. The round helped set up Rivian’s IPO last month, where the company raised another $12 billion. That means Rivian raised a little more than $17 billion just this year alone. Definitely a year to remember.

4. Robinhood, $2.4B, fintech: Menlo Park, California-based Robinhood also had quite a year. The stock-trading app raised $2.4 billion in convertible notes in February from an investor group led by Ribbit Capital—just days after the company took some heat for allowing an extremely high volume of trading by retail investors that drove up shares of video game retailer GameStop and others. Undeterred by the criticism and buoyed by fresh cash, Robinhood went public in July and raised an additional $2.1 billion.

5. Generate Capital, $2B, cleantech: The year in venture investment will definitely be remembered as a good one for greentech and cleantech. Investors saw new opportunities as companies continued to try to cut their carbon footprint and the federal government passed a huge infrastructure bill to support such tech. San Francisco-based Generate Capital rode that interest in raising a $2 billion round led by AustralianSuper and QIC. The company builds, owns and operates infrastructure related to sustainability—such as battery storage and industrial solar.

6. Commonwealth Fusion Systems, $1.8B-plus, energy: Investors also caught fusion fever this year, as several companies took in huge rounds on the promise of carbon-free energy. No company took in more than Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Commonwealth Fusion Systems, which raised a huge Series B of more than $1.8 billion led by Tiger Global Management. The round marked the largest one for any nuclear fusion startup ever, as the company is seeking to build the world’s first “commercially relevant” net energy fusion machine and the first commercial fusion power plant.

7. Databricks, $1.6B, data: San Francisco-based Databricks hit a post-money valuation of $38 billion after raising a $1.6 billion Series H led by Morgan Stanley’s Counterpoint Global in August. That round came just seven months after the company raised $1 billion at a $28 billion valuation in February. Databricks, which has now raised a total of $3.6 billion, creates tools and products to help companies view both structured and unstructured data in a single location—what it calls a data “lakehouse”—without moving between different systems.

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8. Articulate Global, $1.5B, e-learning: Only in 2021 could you get a $1.5 billion “Series A.” That’s what New York-based training and e-learning provider Articulate Global raised in a round led by General Atlantic. The company’s software helps companies create and deliver online training for everything ranging from sales to compliance to soft business skills like team building. The round values the company—founded in 2002—at $3.75 billion. The company refers to it as a Series A funding because it marks its first outside funding round.

9. Sierra Space, $1.4B, space travel: How about another large Series A? Broomfield, Colorado-based Sierra Space closed a $1.4 billion Series A led by General Atlantic, Coatue and Moore Strategic Ventures. It was just another large round in what was a strong year for space tech. Founded this year, the company plans to use the new cash to develop its Dream Chaser Spaceplane, an orbital commercial spaceplane.

10. Lacework, $1.3B, cybersecurity: While security in general saw crazy investment this year, no area of it saw crazier rounds than cloud and container security. The space took off as more companies moved to the cloud and adopted container strategies to build out applications. The space became an arms race, with Lacework, Orca Security and Sysdig all raising multiple rounds at valuations of more than $1 billion. However, Lacework saw the biggest amount. The San Jose-based company became a unicorn when it closed a $525 million growth round in January—but it was not done yet. Just last month, it closed a $1.3 billion Series D round led by Sutter Hill Ventures, Altimeter Capital, D1 Capital Partners and Tiger Global Management. The new investment set a valuation of $8.3 billion for the 7-year-old company.

Big global deals

The top two global deals this year did not involve U.S.-based startups.

  • India-based online shopping platform Flipkart closed a $3.6 billion round at a $37.6 billion valuation in July.
  • Stockholm-based Northvolt, a lithium-ion battery manufacturing company, raised a $2.75 billion round in June.

Methodology

We tracked the largest rounds in the Crunchbase database that were raised by U.S.-based companies for the year. Although most announced rounds are represented in the database, there could be a small time lag as some rounds are reported later.

Illustration: Dom Guzman


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