AI-powered drug development, VW teams up with Rivian and DEI is ‘bad’

Welcome back to another recap of Equity, TechCrunch’s flagship podcast about the business of startups. This episode is jam-packed with deals, hot topics and the latest dramaaaaaa in the tech world. If you haven’t listened yet, consider this your spoiler-filled invitation to dive in.

Three Deals of the Week

Formation Bio’s $372 million raise

First up, we’ve got Formation Bio, an AI-focused drug development startup that just raised a whopping $372 million in Series D funding, led by Andreessen Horowitz. This brings their total funding to over $600 million. Formation Bio is leveraging AI to streamline the R&D process in drug development, making it faster and cheaper. Their AI applications help in patient recruitment, predict drug toxicity and improve overall drug efficacy. With their eczema treatment in phase 3 trials, and other promising candidates in the pipeline, Formation Bio is off to the races to shake up the pharma industry.

Volkswagen and Rivian’s big deal

Next, Kirsten broke down the surprising partnership between Volkswagen Group and Rivian. Volkswagen is set to invest up to $5 billion in Rivian, starting with an initial $1 billion. This deal gives VW access to Rivian’s cutting-edge electrical architecture expertise and boosts Rivian’s financial standing as they develop their next-gen vehicles. Rivian’s shares soared following the announcement: The market is a fan, apparently! This partnership could be a game-changer for both companies, combining Rivian’s innovative tech with Volkswagen’s vast resources and market reach.

Nubank acquires Hyperplane

Lastly, Mary Ann highlighted Nubank’s acquisition of Hyperplane, an AI-for-banks startup. Hyperplane, based in San Francisco, helps banks utilize their first-party data to build personalized customer experiences by predicting user behavior. This acquisition gives Nubank, the largest digital banking platform outside of Asia, a significant technological edge. It gives the company access to more than 100 million customers, meaning Nubank can now offer even more tailored services, enhancing their customer engagement and retention.

And our two Topics of the Week

Welcome to the fediverse

Haje took us on a deep dive into the fediverse, a decentralized network of social media platforms like Mastodon, Threads and even Trump’s Truth Social. The fediverse has seen a surge in popularity, especially after Elon Musk acquired Twitter (now X). Mastodon, for example, has just about tripled its user base since Musk took over. The appeal lies in its decentralized nature, offering users more control and niche communities. Whether you’re a photographer, a journalism enthusiast or just someone fed up with traditional social media, the fediverse has something for you.

DEI and meritocracy in tech

We discussed the ongoing debate around DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) in tech in a more controversial segment. Scale AI’s founder Alexandr Wang recently sparked a debate by advocating for MEI (Merit, Excellence, Intelligence) over DEI. This has drawn support from big names like Elon Musk and Palmer Luckey but also significant criticism.

The stats are troubling: New women recruit levels in the U.S. data industry have dropped dramatically, and DEI-related job listings are down.

This episode of Equity was a rollercoaster of groundbreaking deals and heated debate — whether you’re here for the latest startup successes or the deep dives into industry challenges, we’ve got you covered.

Equity is TechCrunch’s flagship podcast, produced by Theresa Loconsolo, and posts every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. 

Subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify and all the casts. You also can follow Equity on X and Threads, at @EquityPod. For the full episode transcript, for those who prefer reading over listening, check out our full archive of episodes over at Simplecast.


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