Top of the Morning
CBS was all chuckles yesterday at its annual upfronts, even though the company's future was being decided in a courtroom 200 miles to the south.
- “So, how’s your week been?“ — CBS CEO Les Moonves
- “CBS has some of the most exciting legal dramas and some great TV shows.” — Stephen Colbert
Axios' Sara Fischer was in the room, and says the big takeaway was that Madison Ave. loves Moonves and CBS execs seem confident in their future.
But the bubble could be burst as early as today, as Delaware Chancery Court is being asked to rule on a lawsuit brought by CBS to strip company control from Shari Redstone (and, thus, prevent a merger with Viacom).
- The court did grant CBS an emergency restraining order against Redstone after she tried to change company bylaws shortly before the hearing began. It's a small win from a legal perspective, but CBS execs were crowing about it during their afterparty at the Plaza hotel.
- Remember that these sorts of legal disputes are almost unheard of in dual-class stock structures, but arose here because Sumner Redstone included a "nuclear option" in the CBS charter 12 years ago. It's unclear exactly why, but the bottom line it's certainly causing major headaches for his daughter.
• Chip chat: Chinese regulators have approved Toshiba's $18 billion sale of its memory chip business to a Bain Capital-led consortium. I'm not too surprised this happened —recall last week's caution on a WSJ report that Toshiba had given up hope —although I had also figured that approval might be delayed until U.S.-China trade talks concluded.
- One big complication to the trade negotiations is that members of the White House's delegation aren't all on the same page, per Axios' Jonathan Swan.
• Hmmmm... Google last week demonstrated an AI-powered voice assistant that made haircut and restaurant reservations, without betraying that it wasn't human. But we have questions about the demos, which purported to be recordings of real phone calls with real businesses. And Google is refusing to answer. Go deeper.
• Beyond boilerplate: Boston-based venture firm Underscore.vc this week closed on $117 million for its second fund, and founder Michael Skok tells me that it made one key change to its "cloud intelligence" thesis, amending it to "trusted cloud intelligence."
• Crypto: The SEC yesterday launched its own ICO. Well, sort of. It created a website and white paper, for the purpose of helping investors avoid being scammed.
- SEC chair Jay Clayton speaking yesterday at the NVCA's annual meeting: "Come nine o’clock at night, sometimes I’m bored I surf the net, I see these initial coin offerings and, 'Hey, buy the 25% discount today because tomorrow it’s gonna be full value, get in!'—are you kidding me?"
Staples, which was taken private last year by Sycamore Partners for $6.9 billion, yesterday disclosed a 9.9% stake in workplace supplies wholesaler Esesendant (Nasdaq: ESND) and offered to buy the rest for $11.50 per share in cash ($940m enterprise value, including debt).
- Why it's the BFD: Because it's highly unusual for private equity sponsors to use their portfolio companies to put equity hooks into listed acquisition targets. Sycamore, however, has been known to use this strategy on its own.
- Complication: Essendant already had agreed to a reverse merger with S.P. Richards, the wholesale distribution unit of Genuine Parts (NYSE: GPC). Staples' offer, if accepted, would scuttle that deal. Genuine Parts already has replied by increasing its deal to a contingent $12 per share.
- Bottom line: Essendant's decision is likely to be based as much on anti-trust analysis as on dollars, with each suitor arguing that it offers the more promising path.
Venture Capital Deals
• OpenClassrooms, a Paris-based online higher ed platform, has raised around $60 million in Series B funding led by General Atlantic. www.openclassrooms.com
• Parsable, a San Francisco-based digital workflow platform for deskless industrial workers, raised $40 million in Series C funding. Future Fund led, and was joined by B37 and return backers Lightspeed Venture Partners, Airbus Ventures and Aramco Ventures. http://axios.link/VPSU
🚑 HiFiBiO Therapeutics, a Cambridge, Mass.-based antibody developer focused on cancer and inflammation, raised $37.5 million in Series B funding. Sequoia China and LYFE Capital co-led, and were joined by Legend Star Capital, Proxima Ventures and return backers VI Ventures and Nest Bio Ventures. www.hifibio.com
🚑 Beam Dental, a Columbus, Ohio-based provider of connected toothbrushes and data for dental insurers, raised $22.5 million in new funding led by Kleiner Perkins. http://axios.link/G5Lo
🚑 EIP Pharma, a Cambridge, Mass.-based developer of treatments for CNS diseases like Alzheimer's, has raised $20.5 million in Series B funding led by Access Industries. http://axios.link/omcp
• Mynd, an Oakland-based property management tech startup, raised $20 million in Series B funding. Lightspeed Venture Partners led, and was joined by return backers Canaan Partners and Jackson Square Ventures. http://axios.link/Xzbv
• Maisonette, a New York-based online baby and children’s fashion e-commerce site, raised $15 million in Series A funding. NEA led, and was joined by Pritzker Group VC, John Fisher and Thrive Capital. www.maisonette.com
• Arevo, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based provider of software-controlled additive manufacturing technology, raised $12.5 million in Series B funding. Asahi Glass led, and was joined by Sumitomo, Leslie Ventures and Khosla Ventures. www.arevoinc.com
• Jirnexu, a Malaysian provider of financial comparison services, raised $11 million in Series B funding from SIG Asia Investments and return backer SBI Group. http://axios.link/i9n3
• Tracking First, a Provo, Utah-based enterprise data governance platform, raised $4 million. Silverton Partners led, and was joined by Kickstart Seed Fund. www.trackingfirst.com
Private Equity Deals
🚑 CVC Capital Partners has suspended buyout talks with Italian pharma company Recordati (Milan: RECI) due to pricing (€8b) and regulatory concerns, according to Reuters. http://axios.link/I8WU
• Maroon Group, an Avon, Ohio-based portfolio company of CI Capital Partners, has acquired J. Tech Sales, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based distributor of specialty chemicals and ingredients. www.maroongroupllc.com
• Sofina SA, a Belgian investment firm, has acquired a minority stake in alternative investment advisor Cambridge Associates. www.cambridgeassociates.com
• Warren Equity Partners has acquired Superior Industrial Maintenance, a Concord, N.C.-based provider of corrosion protection services for the infrastructure sector. www.gosuperior.net
🚑 Abpro, a Woburn, Mass.-based developer of antibodies for cancer and vascular eye disease, has withdrawn a $69 million IPO registration. The company has raised nearly $30 million in VC funding from firms like Orion Investments (18.1% pre-IPO stake) and Apex Partners (7.1%). http://axios.link/fT0c
• Belle International is considering a Hong Kong IPO for its sportswear distribution unit, per Bloomberg. The China-based women’s shoe retailer was taken private for $6.8 billion last year by Hillhouse Capital and CDH Investments. http://axios.link/lRhE
• Pluralsight, a Farmington, Utah-based professional learning platform, raised $311 million in its IPO. The company priced 20.7 million shares at $15 (above upwardly-revised range), for a full-diluted market value just north of $2 billion. It reports a $97 million net loss on $168 million in revenue for 2017, and will trade on the Nasdaq (PS). Morgan Stanley was lead underwriter. Pluralsight had raised over $230 million in VC funding from firms like Insight Venture Partners, Iconiq Capital and Felicis Ventures.
• VectoIQ Acquisition, a SPAC focused on the “smart transportation” market, raised $200 million in its IPO. http://axios.link/AxYt
• Google has acquired Cask Data, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based big data analytics startup that had raised around $40 million from firms like Insight Venture Partners, Ericsson Ventures, Battery Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures and Ignition Partners. http://axios.link/zBp2
• Landcadia Holdings (Nasdaq: LCA), a blank check acquisition company led by Tilman Fertitta, has agreed to buy Louisiana-based food ordering and delivery app Waitr for $308 million. Waitr backers included NFL quarterback Drew Brees. http://axios.link/Eko7
• Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ASX: ANZ) will sell its 55% stake in a Cambodian joint venture to J Trust (Tokyo: 8508). http://axios.link/BLVm
• Bartlett & Co., a Kansas City-based grain exporter, plans to merger with Midville, Utah-based logistics provider Savage Cos. http://axios.link/VHiZ
• Kroger (NYSE: KR) is increasing its equity stake in online grocer Ocado, as part of a broader strategic agreement. http://axios.link/Zj3e
🚑 Terveystalo (Helsinki: TTALO) has agreed to buy the Finnish operations of Swedenish healthcare services company Attendo (ST: ATTE) for €233 million. http://axios.link/Ces8
• WeWork's education arm has acquired MissionU, a one-year vocational bootcamp. http://axios.link/arrW
⛽ Williams Cos. (NYSE: WMB), a pipeline operator, will buy all remaining shares of its master limited partnership William Partners LP (NYSE: WPZ) for $10.5 billion. http://axios.link/yeKG
• Next 10 Ventures has raised $50 million for a debut VC fund focused on digital content. It’s led by Benjamin Grubbs (ex-head of creator partnerships at YouTube) and Paul Condolora (former co-head of the Harry Potter franchise for Warner Bros). http://axios.link/gU8O
• Renaissance of Ann Arbor, Mich. Has raised $81 million for its third VC fund-of-funds. www.renvcf.com
• Silicon Valley Bank has raised $392 million for a new direct VC fund, per an SEC filing.
• Paul Levine, president and COO at the time of its IPO, tells Axios that he is joining Sapphire Ventures as a partner focused on investing in growth-stage consumer companies. http://axios.link/IBh5
• Torsten Köpke has joined Silverfern Group as a Frankfurt-based managing director. He previously head investment consulting for Aon Consulting Germany. www.silfern.com
• Hemant Mohapatra has left Andreessen Horowitz to join Lightspeed India Partners. http://axios.link/vpv5
• Kenneth Muller has stepped down as co-chair of Morrison & Foerster’s private equity practice, in order to join Kirkland & Ellis. http://axios.link/rZ0a
• Sarah Smith has joined Bain Capital Ventures as a partner. She most recently was with Graph Ventures. www.baincapitalventures.com