Solar manufacturer GT Solar lands $500M in IPO

Coming in as the largest solar energy IPO since the debut of First Solar (FSLR) on the stock market, New Hampshire-based GT Solar (SOLR) priced its 30.3 million shares at $16.50 each this morning. GT Solar makes equipment that’s used to manufacture silicon wafers for use in photovoltaic solar cells, as well the cells themselves. Like Applied Materials (AMAT), the company focuses on selling its fabrication technology to others rather than making cells itself. The market has reacted far less enthusiastically to such companies than to the firms like SunPower, which make and sell their own cells and often have P/E ratios over 100. However, GT Solar still pulled in a hefty $500 million with the offering. Most of the proceeds will go to the company’s investors. In mid-afternoon trading, the stock had fallen significantly, to $14.64 at the time of writing — more than 11 percent below the starting price. The drop is reflective of the market itself, which has continued to struggle lately. All the major exchanges have also lost ground today.

CarbonFlow raises $2.9M for carbon trading software

CarbonFlow, a San Francisco, Calif.-based developer of carbon trading software, has secured $2.9 million in first round funding. It was led by Clean Pacific Ventures, with OVP Venture Partners and New Zealand-based Meridian Energy, a strategic partner, also taking part. One of the firm’s cofounders is CNET Green Tech contributor Neal Dikeman.

HaloSource raises $11.5M for water purification

Water purification technology has drawn increased attention from investors of late. HaloSource just became the most recent company to receive funding, taking a round of $11.5 million for commercialize its device in the developing world. HaloSource uses a chemical called bromine to kill microorganisms in water. The bromine is encased in polystyrene beads, which release tiny amounts as water passes over them. Cartridges containing the beads purify about 3,000 liters of water and cost $7 to $10; the initial purchase of the system is $40 to $60, according to an interview John Cook of the Seattle PI had with the company. Some 250,000 of the units have been distributed in India through a partner, Eureka Forbes. HaloSource is also working in China, Brazil and other countries. However, the company is not yet profitable. Other water purification systems that seem to be doing well are Purfresh, which recently took a financing round, and then an add-on, for its ozone technology; Miox, which electrolyzes salt to kill microorganisms with sodium and chloride; and Seven Seas, a Caribbean desalination firm that is looking to acquire other companies. The round HaloSource took included new investors Origo Sino-India and Origo Resource Partners Limited, a private equity firm that invests in China and India. Existing investors that participated included Unilever Technology Ventures, which is under the management of Physic Ventures.

Xunlight secures $4.9M for thin-film solar modules

Following up on its recent $22 million haul, the Toledo, Ohio-based Xunlight Corporation has received another $4.9 million, courtesy of Ohio’s taxpayers. The company, a spin-off from the University of Toledo, is backed by Trident Capital, Emerald Technology Ventures and NGP Energy Technology Partners and has also received R&D funding from the US DOE, Department of Commerce and Ohio Department of Development.

Big money continues flowing to solar services, with $75M Recurrent Energy funding

In another sign of the torrid growth of solar services — the industry that moves solar cells from manufacturers to their new homes on rooftops and in utility installations — Recurrent Energy has secured $75 million from a private equity firm to expand its business. Recurrent is the firm behind projects like San Francisco’s planned 5-megawatt municipal installation, which will be installed and owned by the company, with the city buying electricity at a set rate. The large financing reflects the large projects Recurrent wants to take on; the company leaves household installations to firms like Solarcity and SunRun. There’s plenty of evidence that the commercial and government markets Recurrent wants to serve are taking as strong an interest as homeowners are in solar. From Google to Wal-Mart, large corporations have shown an interest in blanketing their rooftops with solar panels. Big institutions like airports and universities have also seen the benefit in using solar to help alleviate peak daytime energy prices. That leaves plenty of room for Recurrent and its competitors to expand. One of its main competitors, SunEdison, recently took on $161 million to build up its own business, which includes building big solar farms for utilities. The backer in this funding was Hudson Clean Energy Partners, which noted that it could be “just the beginning of an even larger financing relationship.” Recurrent is based in San Francisco, Calif.

Low cost, super-efficient solar cells? Newly funded, Wakonda Technologies says it's possible

In the solar cell market, there are three broad categories. Thin-film manufacturers produce cells that convert little of the sun’s energy to electricity, but are dirt cheap. Opposite thin-film, companies like Spectrolab and Emcore make highly efficient, but very expensive cells. Between are the standard solar photovoltaic makers, with average efficiencies, and average prices. The result is a pricing balance that gives each group a slice of the overall market. But what if it were possible to have the low production costs of a thin-film maker like First Solar, plus the 30 percent-plus efficiencies of a Spectrolab? Most industry pundits would say such disruptive technology is a pipe dream, but Wakonda Technologies is claiming to be able to make it happen. What makes Spectrolab’s technology so expensive is the necessity building its cells atop a single-crystal wafer, a sheet of material that is painstakingly manufactured as a flawless whole in order to precisely control its electrical properties. Wakonda, a newly-emergy Medford, Mass. startup, says it has the ability to “simulate” those wafers with a cheap metal foil, much as thin-film makers do. Think of it as a bit like replacing expensive real diamonds with cubic zirconium. Unfortunately, Wakonda isn’t giving many real specifics on its technology. Its credibility instead relies on an all-star cast of backers. The venture firms helping supply its $9.5 million financing include Advanced Technology Ventures, General Catalyst Partners and Polaris Venture Partners. Notably, Wakonda also has the financial support of Applied Ventures, the investing arm of Applied Materials, a large tech company that has some of the most advanced thin-film manufacturing technology around.

CardioKinetix raises $14.5M for catheter-based heart treatment

CardioKinetix, a Redwood City, Calif. life sciences startup working on a heart-failure treatment that could potentially help over a million patients, has raised a third round of funding, according to VentureWire. The company’s procedure uses a catheter to strengthen parts of the heart, and protect areas damaged following heart attacks. The device is designed to be an alternative to a risky surgery typically only used in high-risk patients. Previous investors Cutlass Capital, JPMorgan Partners and U.S. Venture Partners led the $14.5 million round, which is intended to move CardioKinetix toward clinical trials. A new investor, Hambrecht & Quist Capital Management, also participated.

Fast gene sequencing in two years? Investors bet $100M on Pacific BioSciences making it happen

Representing a potential medical quantum leap similar to, but even more important than the commercialization of X-ray imaging, Pacific BioSciences has taken a whopping $100 million to make it possible to affordably map out an individual’s entire genome in a matter of minutes, and for under $1,000 dollars. While several startups, including 23andMe and deCODEme, are already offering cheap genetic testing for individuals, the technology Pacific Bio is looking at is about as different from those as looking at a satellite image of a town is to walking through it. The company is working on a system to “read” each DNA letter in a person’s genetic makeup, providing an in-depth view of every factor affecting a given person’s health. The idea sounds fairly simple: Individial DNA molecules are captured in tiny holes on a chip, where they are pulled apart and rebuilt with enzymes identical to those present in the body, but with the addition of chemical markers. A type of digital camera takes a picture of the process, identifying the specific fragment being looked at. We covered the technology in more depth when it was first revealed, and have mentioned various competitors, most notably Complete Genomics and BioNanomatrix, who want to do sequencing for under $100. In practice, of course, operating at such tiny scales is difficult, and accurately sequencing thousands of genes at once seems nearly impossible. But the company says it will be ready to commercialize by 2010, a Herculean feat if it can pull it off. The new funding indicates that it is at least gaining the confidence of venture capitalists. If and when that happens, it will be time for early investors including Alloy Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Mohr Davidow Ventures — who collectively plowed more than $70 million into Pacific Bio over four previous rounds — to rake in the money. However, it will just be the beginning for a whole new field of medical technology centered around finding uses for all the new information in individuals that becomes available. Preventative medicine is the obvious use, but others, like data mining for new cures and information on diseases, are also possible. Laws regulating the use (and misuse) of such information by insurers, employers and others will also have to be formulated. A passel of new investors joined the funding, starting with co-leads Deerfield Management and Intel Capital. Also in were Morgan Stanley, Redmile Group, T. Rowe Price, and an unnamed “large financial institution.” Other previous investors Maverick Capital, AllianceBernstein, DAG Ventures and Teachers’ Private Capital also participated.

Nanotech chip timing co. Sand 9 raises $8M

Quartz timing is old hat for wristwatches and clocks, but surprisingly enough, it’s still used in state-of-the-art computers. Sand 9 is the latest in a new generation of startups that wants to update timing for silicon chips. If they’re successful, the cost and form factor for chips could shrink, and their uses could expand — which would be a significant boon for compact mobile devices. However, Sand 9 has plenty of competition, including Multigig, which just raised $12.5 million, Discera, which took $17.5 million last year, and Silicon Clocks, which recently took on $8 million more in a tranche of funding. Sand 9′s competing technology uses components called “nanomechanical resonators” to increase device performance. The resonators create a mechanical signal that can then be converted into an electronic signal in the gigahertz range, according to a company spokesperson. The $8 million funding is the company’s first. Flybridge Capital Partners led, and was joined by General Catalyst Partners and Khosla Ventures, which provided Sand 9′s $2 million seed funding. The company is based in Boston, Mass.

MyoScience raises $10.4M for aesthetic medicine

MyoScience, a stealth-mode medical company based in Redwood City, Calif., has taken $10.4 million in a second funding for continuing clinical trials. The company has not yet disclosed exactly what use its aesthetic devices will have, although CEO Lisa Elkins hinted that aging eyes and skin might be the target to VentureWire, which first reported the funding. The funding was led by Nexus Medical Partners, with participation from Accuitive Medical Ventures, De Novo Ventures and Saratoga Ventures. The round is still open.

Tria Beauty raises $30M to remove your excess back hair

Tria Beauty (formerly known as SpectraGenics), the Pleasanton, Calif. maker of a device that uses lasers for hair removal, has raised $30 million in its fifth round of financing. Unlike similar devices, Tria’s hair removal system has been cleared for home use. While it has been sold for some time in Japan and some European countries, the device was also recently approved for the United States by the FDA. To date, laser hair removal has been an expensive procedure performed by specialists, and its time-intensive nature has caused it to mainly be used for small areas. The cost and other limitations should drop if the devices become common in homes or beauty salons, which will also provide a larger market for Tria to sell into. The $30 million funding was led by Aisling Capital and Vivo Ventures. Existing investors De Novo Ventures and Technology Partners also joined. Tria’s last round was for over $20 million.

NowPublic buys up Guy Kawasaki's Truemors (believe it or not)

When Guy Kawasaki started Truemors, a site for spreading Internet rumors, his intentions weren’t quite clear. Was it an experiment? A joke? The product of too much free time? Or perhaps not too much time — after all, it didn’t look like the site had taken much effort to create. “The plan is simple,” Kawasaki wrote at the time. “Get a site launched in a few months, see if people like it, and sell ads and sponsorships (or not).” Get it launched he did, for a whopping price tag of $12,107.09. And the site quickly garnered its first rave review, duly noted by Kawasaki: “Worst website ever discovered,” read a headline at the Inquirer. Here at VentureBeat, we paused to note that the site was smothered in spam. But somehow, over the next year, Truemors appears to have cleaned up its act. Traffic to the site looks decent, if uninspiring. And, no rumors here, the site has been acquired by well-funded citizen journalism site NowPublic. No price was given, and it seems unlikely that a great deal was paid; for that matter, no great effort was made to announce the acquisition. But on an investment of $12,000, who’s complaining? Kawasaki also gets to join the board of NowPublic, which suggests that it was at least more than chump change. Now he just has to sell Alltop, a feed aggregator he launched this year. Below is a Compete traffic graph for both NowPublic and Truemors. Note that it includes only United States visitors; many of the two sites’ contributors, and readers, are in other countries.

Graspr gets investment to seed the Internet with how-to content

The web, they say, is a great place to learn. And surprisingly, past all the porn, gambling and air-headed social networking, that has turned out to be true. To meet the challenge of educating the masses, there are a wealth of sites offering education and how-to content. Graspr is just one of them. For that reason, Graspr founder Theresa Phillips isn’t trying to sell her site as a destination for surfers, saying there are already too many sites trying to get unique content and build a portal. Instead, what’s needed is a site that can help producers spread their content across the Internet. “We’re focused on getting content in, packaging it up, and getting it back out,” she says. Launched last year at DEMOfall, Graspr has now raised $2.5 million in an investment led by Draper Fisher Jurvetson to help advance Phillips’ vision. Producers, who can be anyone from a hobbyist to a professional trying to market their business, make videos that the company then places around the Internet. That could mean YouTube, but it also means hundreds of thousands of smaller sites like blogs that might be willing to host content in exchange for the traffic it can bring. Working in 17 categories, but focusing on home and garden, food and drink, sports and recreation and craft and education, Graspr is reaching out to thousands of other sites, asking them to host content. “It’s the Adsense model, low-touch but with a big outreach to sites and verticals,” says Phillips. Graspr also plays the role of adviser to the producers, offering advice on how to create the content and connect to their audience, as well as letting viewers annotate videos and leave suggestions that sometimes result in improved versions. The payoff comes from advertising within the videos and on Graspr.com itself — from which both publisher and producer of the content get a cut. Phillips reports 80 percent of publishers that her company has reached out to responding and agreeing to host content. She says that the company picked up some 150 producers in the past month, and “thousands” of publishers. Over the summer, it will accelerate its efforts, as well as working on “connected learning” for education. Along with DFJ, several angel investors participated in the round. Graspr is based in Mountain View, California.

Tapulous wants to be leading application ecosystem for the iPhone

Tapulous, a new Silicon Valley startup, embodies the craze that’s going on right now around the iPhone.Tucked inside a ground-floor office on Hamilton Ave. in Palo Alto, Calif., a stone’s throw from social network comany Facebook, the company’s eight employees are feverishly building applications solely to work on the iPhone.Never mind that the Apple has sold a mere six million iPhones to date, compared to Nokia’s 400 million handsets. Tapulous’ chief executive Bart Decrem believes the iPhone’s interface –featuring a multi-touch full screen and now 3G speed — is sparking a revolution akin to what Microsoft Windows did to DOS on the PC.He’s pulled together a team of developers to build out a slew of applications designed to be social at their core, believing this will help “viral” distribution. He’s vague on the details, but says he wants applications to feature personal profiles that will allow for social networking across the applications.

Cardio drug maker Portola Pharmaceuticals takes $60M extension

San Francisco-based drug company Portola Pharmaceuticals has taken a $60 million extension to its third round of funding to see it through Phase II trials for betrixaban, a drug intended to prevent blood clots. The company is also working on an antiplatelet agent called PRT060128. If its drugs do well in trials, the company will likely head to an IPO, as we reported alongside its last $70 million fundung.

Sulfurcell takes $134M for thin-film solar cells

A German solar startup called Sulfurcell has taken a €85 million investment led by €24 million from Intel Capital, for the development of a thin-film material for solar cells. Sulfurcell works with CIS / CIGS, respectively copper-indium-sulfide and copper-indium-gallium-selenide. The latter material is used by many solar firms, but the combination of the two is less common. The company creates “monolithic” cells, typically large sheets that can be subdivided into smaller cells if necessary. In American dollars, the funding amounted to almost $134 million. Other investors included Climate Change Capital Private Equity, AIG, Demeter Partners, Zouk Ventures and BankInvest, with previous investors also participating.

GT Solar files for $500M IPO

GT Solar, a maker of silicon-based solar cell manufacturing equipment and production lines, has files for an initial public offering on the NASDAQ stock exchange under the symbol SOLR. The company, formerly called GT Equipment Technologies, plans to place 30.3 million shares on the market, about a quarter of its total equity, and anticipates a $15.50 to $17.50 range per share. At $16.50, that would result in gross proceeds of just under $500 million. However, the proceeds will go entirely to the company’s investors, which include RBC Capital Partners and Wells Fargo. GT Solar is based in Merrimack, New Hampshire, with sales offices worldwide.

Driverside revs up with first funding, steering toward mass market

Driverside, a consumer-focused website that aspires to be the one-stop destination for information on cars, has raised its first funding. The investment is for less than $5 million from Catamount Ventures. Along with RepairPal, another recently-launched competitor, Driverside is aiming for a big win. Realizing that there are few websites that address car ownership — as opposed to buying or selling a vehicle — both sites are making content plays. They aim to supersede the only decent source of free auto information on the web right now, namely enthusiast-driven forums. We covered both companies when they launched, but have since heard a few more details on Driverside’s model. While RepairPal is working to corner the information market for, you guessed it, repairs, Driverside hopes to quickly build a much larger site, covering every aspect of ownership. For example, founder Trevor Traina says the company can out-do time-tested Kelly Blue Book valuations on cars by collecting thousands to millions of data points on each model of vehicle. By taking advantage of the data users provide, Driverside could then send out notices when their car had depreciated past a certain point. Notices could also be sent in case of a recall. Traina has plenty of other plans for the site, including wikis, reviews, community features, and more data on the cars themselves. The team will soon “radically improve” the existing pricing details on parts and accessories, and update its repair costs, which could make it competitive with RepairPal’s more comprehensive repair data. However, all the work is going to require another round of funding, and soon. This is where it should get interesting to watch Driverside and RepairPal duke it out. Both sites, despite raising relatively large seed investments, are ready to immediately move on to larger rounds; Traina says Driverside will likely settle for between $5 and $10 million, and RepairPal will probably go for something similar.

Plimus raises $18M for e-commerce platform

Plimus, an e-commerce startup that is in the process of establishing itself in Silicon Valley, has taken an $18 million first round of funding. The company makes an e-commerce backbone that other businesses can use to sell their products or services online. Plimus also competes with affiliate program coordinators like Clickbank. Susquehanna Growth Equity provided the entire $18 million, the first venture funding Plimus has taken. The company is headquartered in San Diego, Calif., maintains R&D centers in Israel, where it was founded, and Ukraine, and has sales headquarters in San Jose, Calif.

Corefino raises $13.6M for business accounting and finance

Yet another company focused on helping businesses with their accounting — and specifically with regulatory compliance — has received its first funding, with $13.6 million going to Sunnyvale, Calif. startup Corefino. The firm joins a set of similar companies to receive funding in the past couple months: Risk manager Agiliance with $10 million, internal investigator Vantos with $10.6 million, and archiving and eDiscovery group Mimosa with $17 million.

Power control company iWatt gets $12.4M

IWatt, a Los Gatos, Calif. company that makes power control products, has taken a fifth round of funding for $12.4 million, led by an unnamed strategic investor.The products that iWatt makes include AC-DC and DC-AC power supplies, coupled inductors and other power devices, and it sells into markets including semiconductors, telecommunications, and consumer electronics. IWatt’s advertises its devices as being able to reduce power consumption and waste.

Fun in the sun? Better Energy gets funding for solar chargers

The spread of solar isn’t limited to rooftops. Solar cells have been creeping into other applications lately, including solar backpacks, a cell phone, and rechargeable lights for the developing world. Now a Berkeley, Calif. company called Better Energy Systems has gotten its first funding for a clever handheld charger. Better Energy makes the Solio, a “hybrid” charger that incorporates a battery within its design to store power and charge other devices more quickly. When sunshine isn’t available, the Solio can charge itself from a wall socket. Alternately, off-grid users can use solar energy alone; according to the company, an hour of sunshine is good for about 20 minutes of talk time on a cellphone, or 50 minutes of listening to an MP3 player. The Solio is a tough-looking folding brick that, for most models, goes for about $100. That’s significantly more expensive than chargers from competitors like Devotec and Solar Style, but the design and durability are likely strong selling points for outdoor enthusiasts, along with clever features like a suction cup to affix the charger to windows. Like D.light Design, Better Energy has been featured on national television, which suggests a growing awareness of solar-powered devices, and with any luck, an extra boost to the market for solar cells. But however many Solios are sold, they isn’t likely to add a great deal to the bottom lines of the average cell makers, who is primarily interested in large home and commercial installations. However, devices like the Solio could provide a new outlet for high-efficiency silicon cells, which are mostly used now for concentrating solar, provided their price can be brought in line with consumer devices. Along with other gadgets that have made it to stores, and future applications like Toyota’s solar-cell Prius, there’s a growing set of creative applications for solar cells. Better Energy’s funding was for $5 million, provided by TBL Capital. The company was founded in London, United Kingdom, and still maintains offices there.

InSync Software raises $3M for RFID software

InSync Software, a startup that makes an application platform for use with RFID, GPD and sensor technologies, has raised $3 million in additional financing for its technology from previous investors Intel Capital, Rustic Canyon Partners and Girish Gaitonde Living Trust. The San Jose, Calif. company is raising the money as part of a slightly larger round, according to VentureBeat sources. Insync did not respond to a request for comment. Its previous round, raised in 2006, was for $7.5 million. Insync’s platform helps companies track inventory and assets for a variety of purposes. Most recently, it secured Bayer Materials as a client.

Innovalight takes $5M for solar manufacturing equipment

Innovalight, a San Francisco-based company that makes flexible thin-film solar modules, has taken $5 million in equipment lease financing from ATEL Ventures. The most common substance for thin-film cells is CIGS, but Innovalight uses a printed silicon-ink process. The deposition technique uses less silicon, and allows for the greater flexibility of Innovalight’s modules. Last year, Innovalight took $28 million in financing and announced plans to build a manufacturing facility, which is slated to open this year.

SynapticMash raises $3M for school tools

SynapticMash, a Seatte-based startup that offers software tools to the primary school market, has raised a first round of $3 million, according to John Cook. The company’s services tie in with existing record-keeping software to provide online access to student information for parents, educators and the students themselves. Although it is less than a year old, SynapticMash is already selling its products to state schools, and is in talks with the University of Chicago. The funding was provided by Raycliff Capital and Vantage Partners, two venture firms based in New York.

Miasole perhaps not so unhealthy after all — may get $200M investment

Miasole, the thin-film solar cell maker that is the third member of a triumvirate of heavily-funded CIGS startups including Heliovolt and Nanosolar, has been pretty quiet since losing its CEO and laying off 40 workers late last year. In the interim, there has been plenty of speculation that it was faltering, and might even close its doors.Not even close, according to a report this morning. Instead, Miasole is about to close a round of between $200 and $220 million, a source has told VentureWire — and, even better, the company will have a sky-high valuation of $1.2 billion. If true, the investment would be the largest single venture funding any solar company has received to date, although the reported valuation would be lower than Nanosolar’s.This raises some questions about what’s going on inside Miasole. Why would investors pour money into a company that, as recently as April, lost a high-profile contract to a rival? Miasole was supposed to be in full production mode by early last year, but slipped on the dates. It was also reportedly planning an IPO, but no more mention of that was made after early 2007.