Thursday, May 15, 2008

VentureBeat: $3 million raised for experience-sharing site

Experience Project: The San Francisco company has raised $3 million in a first round of funding to expand its anonymous social experience site.

Experience Project has quietly drawn a big community of people who share life experiences with one another anonymously. Since it started a little more than a year ago, users have created a million distinct experiences on intimate subjects, such as "I live in a sexless marriage."

D.E. Shaw Group led the round. Other investors include Maples Investments and Baseline Ventures. Despite the tough economic environment, founder Armen Berjikly said he got to know the investors over several months, but once he decided to do it, the deal was done in a matter of weeks.

Sprout: The San Francisco- and Honolulu-based start-up behind an easy-to-use tool for creating Flash applications has been having a very good year. It launched in January at DEMO (where it snagged a "DEMO god" award), made its app builder publicly available in March, then released a bunch of new features in April. Now it has raised $5 million in a second round of venture funding.

Through Sprout, you can use a "what you see is what you get" interface reminiscent of Photoshop to build applications that the company calls "sprouts." The apps are basically widgets, but with the interactivity of a Flash Web site. The process is made especially accessible through Sprout's templates, which can be customized with just a few clicks.

The release of Sprout version 2.0 is imminent, says Chief Executive
Carnet Williams, and the new funding will be used expand the
engineering, business development, marketing and support teams. The
round was led by Polaris Venture Partners, with participation from existing investor Global Venture Capital and Lotus founder Mitch Kapor. The start-up had previously raised $3.3 million.

The San Francisco-based travel Web site, which specializes in daytime
tours, has raised $6.7 million in a third round of funding, according
to VentureWire.

Founded in 1995, the company makes money
by purchasing tours at bulk rates than selling them to individuals. It
offers 5,500 tours to more than 400 destinations.

The funding was led by Carlyle Venture Partners and Technology Venture Partners,
and it follows $10 million raised in 2005 and 2006. The new money will
be used to expand into the international and cruise markets.

Gevo: The Pasadena developer of synthetic biofuels just wrapped up a $17 million third round of funding. New investors Burrill & Co. and Malaysian Life Sciences Capital Fund joined clean-tech regulars Khosla Ventures and Virgin Green Fund. The biofuel start-up has already raised more than $30 million since the beginning of last year.

Like competitors LS9, OPX Biotechnologies and Amyris,
Gevo is trying to change the face of the biofuel industry by using
synthetic biology to engineer enzymes and microorganisms to convert
cellulosic crops and waste into advanced biofuels like isobutanol and
butanol. Butanol, the company claims, is superior to first-generation
biofuels like corn ethanol. It has higher energy content, does not
absorb water and can easily be transported through the existing gas
infrastructure. Perhaps most important, it can be directly pumped into
current vehicles.

The company is working on an alternative jet fuel for Richard Branson's Virgin Airways and is otherwise focusing on optimizing the conversion efficiencies of its proprietary microorganism strains and enzymes.

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