Amid North Korean Tensions, These VC-Backed Companies Are Ready For War

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The daily tit for tat between US President Donald Trump and North Korea has been impossible to miss. And as the standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program goes critical, North Korea’s foreign minister said Monday that his country considers Trump’s Twitter taunts—”Little Rocket Man” and all that—tantamount to a declaration of war.

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As a result, the foreign minister claimed Pyongyang would take the initiative and reserve the right to attack American warplanes in international airspace. This comes after a US Air Force package of F-15 fighter jets and B-1 bombers skirted North Korean airspace over the weekend, which, in turn, came in response to Kim Jong-un calling Trump a "dotard" (via translation) in a verbal skewering Shakespeare would appreciate.

While the situation is constrained to a war of words for now, a number of VC-backed companies are ready to play their part should things spin out of control. These startups are backed by, among others, the Pentagon's own equivalent of a VC fund: The Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, which was started in 2015 with the goal of reconnecting the Defense Department with young, innovative companies in an industry dominated by large multinationals like Boeing and Lockheed. Here are three examples:

Saildrone is a provider of wind- and solar-powered autonomous sailboat drones designed to collect oceanographic data at low cost and low risk. The DoD has an interest in using the company's "saildrones" to enable persistent maritime awareness. The company is valued at $90 million based on a reported upcoming $12 million capital raise. Its prior funding round in September 2016 raised $14 million from investors including Capricorn Investment Group, Haystack and Lux Capital.

Shield AI is developing "Hivemind Nova," an artificially intelligent quadcopter drone (pictured) for use by law enforcement and first responders. The drone is designed to autonomously navigate buildings, urban environments, caves, tunnels and other areas to scout potential threats. The company was valued at $31 million in March after a $10.5 million Series A led by Andreessen Horowitz.

Sonitus makes discreet communications equipment that uses the inner ear's ability to detect sound transmitted through the jawbone. A receiver on a user's rear molar vibrates, creating a "voice in your head" while maintaining situational awareness and the ability to hear outside sounds. With more than $16 million raised to date, the company was valued at an estimated $26 million in January. Its investors include Panasonic Ventures.

Related read: North Korea's nuclear threat triggers $9.2B defense deal

Article by Anthony Mirhaydari, PitchBook

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