Charity fundraising platform Omaze, which offers celebrity meet-and-greets and other fundraising experiences, landed its most high profile client this year: billionaire Richard Branson. Now it's hoping to take off.
Omaze announced on Thursday it raised $85 million in a Series C funding round led by Louis Bacon's Moore Strategic Venture along with high-profile investors, including singer Bono, actress Kerry Washington, football star Tom Brady and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.
The company promises nonprofits that it can raise far more money than traditional galas or other fundraising events with their star-studded online campaigns — which have included celebrities such as Michelle Obama and Oprah — and prizes like a custom tiny home or a Lamborghini blessed and signed by Pope Francis.
Omaze organizes the campaigns and handles the marketing, content and outreach. The Culver City-based company works with the Charities Aid Foundation America and says it has raised about $150 million for over 400 charities. Omaze estimates on its website that its cut averages about 12% to 20% percent of all donations, regardless of the campaign.
"By offering everyone the opportunity to win a $5M house or go to space, we can fund the causes creating opportunities for the underserved," said CEO and co-founder Matt Pohlson in announcing the raise. "This funding empowers us to expand our prizing and donor base internationally."
Earlier this year, Branson launched a sweepstake on its platform to win a seat on the Virgin Galactic VSS Unity, the same spacecraft that carried him into space in July. The winner has yet to be announced.
Launched in 2012, the company began offering travel and one-of-a-kind cars in 2019 and has boasted 100% percent growth since. It competes against companies like GoFundMe, which also offers fundraisers but mostly appeals to individuals trying to raise funds for friends and family. Another fundraising platform, Arizona-based RallyUp, works with charities to build out their events online.Other investors include FirstMark Capital — which led a $30 million round in August 2020 — along with Wndrco, Telstra Ventures, Causeway Media Partners, Mockingbird Ventures, BDMI and Pegasus Ventures.
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"To all you kids down there, I was once a child with a dream, looking up to the stars," Branson said before unbuckling. "Now, I'm an adult in a spaceship with lots of other wonderful adults, looking down to a beautiful, beautiful Earth. For the next generation of dreamers, if we can do this, just imagine what you can do."
Can Jeff Bezos top that? We'll soon find out. Amazon's founder is set to go even higher as a passenger July 20 on the first crewed flight for his space venture Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket.
On Tuesday, the Federal Aviation Administration issued its formal approval for New Shepard's launch, which will carry Bezos and three crewmates.
On this special episode of the GeekWire Podcast: the dawn of a new era in space tourism, what to watch when the Amazon founder blasts off next week, and what's next for commercial space exploration.
Joining us is longtime space journalist Alan Boyle, GeekWire contributing editor, who has covered Bezos' space ambitions for years.
Listen above, subscribe to GeekWire in any podcast app, and continue reading for edited highlights from Alan's commentary.
What this launch means for Bezos and Blue Origin: I think that there's a little bit of redemption here, because Blue Origin and Jeff Bezos have been working on this and other projects for a long time. And it's a little bit elusive to see the payoff from all that.
He's working on an orbital class rocket called New Glenn, which has been delayed. Blue Origin competed in a couple of high profile competitions for government contracts from NASA or the US Space Force, and they lost out on those.
So New Shepard is really going to be a signal success, and probably the highest success that Blue Origin has encountered in its more than 20 years of existence. If it works as Jeff Bezos hopes it will … then it is a sign that Blue Origin has actually achieved something having to do with human space flight, high-profile space flight. And if they can turn this into more successes, then Jeff Bezos' vision has a much better chance of coming to fruition.
The personal risk to Bezos: There is a risk of death. That's always the case when you have something that's as explosive as a rocket ship that you're dealing with. It was risky for Richard Branson also, even though that rocket plane has been tested. There are three people who lost their lives in the ground test, and one test pilot died in the course of testing SpaceShipTwo. So it is risky.
Blue Origin's New Shepard spacecraft has an escape system if something goes wrong. During the ascent of the rocket, there is a solid rocket motor that is supposed to light up, and push the passengers to safety, in case an emergency occurs. But it's still rocket science, and there are things that can go wrong. Especially with this flight, I think there's a lot more attention to it, because this is the first one to fly with people on it.
What this month means for space tourism: I think it's a turning point. For a long time, I had talked about the two-year rule in private commercial space flight, that the era when regular folks fly in space always seems to be two years away. But now it's less than two weeks away, perhaps. So I think that's a big deal. It's a big deal for the business of space flight.
Strangely enough, I am feeling like this is just becoming a business, and for people who are well-versed in science fiction and all that, and love Star Wars and Star Trek, maybe it loses a little bit of an appeal, because now, it's just a business, and the filthy lucre is entering into the picture.
I'm of two minds about that. I'm kind of sad that it's no longer science fiction, strangely enough. But I guess the day that we all had been thinking was coming some day down the road is really approaching its dates on the calendar.
This article originally appeared on GeekWire
Forty-five minutes in traffic won't get you very far in Los Angeles. But Virgin Hyperloop estimates it will be able to get you from Los Angeles to San Francisco in that time.
The Richard Branson-owned company unveiled its hyperloop concept video Wednesday, just two months after the company's first tested its design with passengers. Traveling several hundred miles per hour in a pressurized tube is no longer a vision of the far-distant future — Virgin Hyperloop engineers want to make it a reality in less than 10 years.
These renderings put it yet another step ahead of The Boring Company, led by Elon Musk, who published his "alpha paper" plans for hyperloop travel in 2013.
Virgin Hyperloop plans to achieve safety certification by 2025 and begin commercial operations in 2030.
"Daily high-speed transport is currently not feasible for most people, but we want to change that notion," said Virgin Hyperloop chief executive Jay Walder in a statement. "Imagine being able to commute between cities that are currently hours apart in minutes – and the endless possibilities that open up."
Virgin Hyperloop Passenger Experience
The almost three-minute video opens with a rendering of the station, a bustling transit center filled with natural light and complemented with indoor and outdoor greenery, a nod at the more efficient and eco-friendly transportation form hyperloop could be. A Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) study last year found that a hyperloop connection between Columbus, Chicago and Pittsburgh could reduce carbon dioxide emission by 2.4 million tons. It suggested making fares closer to the cost of driving than to a pricier plane ticket.
Walder said an affordable ticket would be key to making the concept a success. Virgin Hyperloop estimates its system would be able to transport thousands of passengers per hour by convoying them, as pods are able to ride directly behind each other in the hyperloop, magnetically suspended from touching each other and controlled by the company's machine intelligence software.
The Los Angeles-based company worked with several partners to design disparate aspects of the transportation experience. The video's white-walled portal to enter the pod were designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and the pods themselves were designed by Teague.
SeeThree worked on the video and animations and Man Made Music provided the score and sonic identity — the additional sound assets in the film that audiences will associate with the hyperloop.