Helium provides a unique use case for crypto tokens as a decentralized wireless network powered by token incentives—and the platform has surged in size over the last year. Now the founders and core contributors behind the network have raised significant new funding to keep building, albeit under a new name.
Today, Helium Inc. announced a $200 million Series D funding round performed at a pre-money valuation of $1 billion, bringing the firm’s updated valuation to $1.2 billion. The round was co-led by Tiger Global and Andreessen Horowitz’s a16z crypto fund.
The firm also announced it now will be known as Nova Labs, part of an effort to help alleviate confusion between the Helium decentralized network/project, the blockchain behind it, the Helium token (HNT), and the core team that started it all.
“[Helium] is actually the people’s network,” Nova Labs COO Frank Mong told Decrypt. “We really wanted to change our name to create a clear distinction that we don’t own the network. We are the creators and founders, but we open-sourced it, and it’s important to recognize that the people are the ones that are tirelessly growing and maintaining the network.”
Along with the name change, Nova Labs has granted the Helium trademark to the Decentralized Wireless Alliance, which will be renamed The Helium Foundation. The Decentralized Wireless Alliance is the community-selected governing body behind Helium’s network, and it oversees things like network improvement proposals.
Helium was co-founded in 2013 by Shawn Fanning (of Napster fame) and Amir Haleem, and its initial wireless network was built for Internet of Things (IoT) devices like sensors and trackers. Users can share their home internet service via a Helium miner/node, which spreads out the signal across miles and rewards users with HNT tokens for supporting the network.
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That network has grown rapidly, from just 14,000 active nodes at the start of 2021 to more than half a million by the end of the year. As of today, the Helium network now has more than 680,000 nodes up and running.
Last year, Helium announced the launch of a 5G network designed for devices like smartphones, laptops, and tablets, in partnership with FreedomFi. Mong told Decrypt that Nova Labs and the Helium community will continue looking forward as further wireless standards emerge, and will theoretically work on future distributed networks in kind.
“5G is what we’ve all talked about for the last five or six years. I’m pretty sure there’s a 6G or 7G, or 10G, just around the corner,” he said. “We really need to be ready for all of that.”
The Series D round also featured participation from Seven Seven Six, the VC firm from Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, as well as Deutsche Telekom, GV (formerly Google Ventures), Liberty Global, NGP Capital, and Goodyear Ventures—the VC arm of the major tire manufacturer.
Andreessen Horowitz also led Nova Labs’ $111 million funding round last August, which was executed as a token sale. By contrast, this Series D round was entirely focused on equity, with no tokens involved, Mong said.
The $200 million will be used in large part to expand the Nova Labs team from a current group of about 60 people, Mong added. They’re particularly on the hunt for engineers to help scale the Helium network’s infrastructure to meet user demand.
“We’re all extremely elated, but tired,” he said. “We need help. Just thinking long-term, this is clearly a marathon and not a sprint. While we’ve had sprint-like traction, I really want the entire team and ecosystem to run like a marathon. This is, to me, a multi-decade effort.”
Goodyear Ventures is an unexpected name on the list, and Mong said it’s because the firm is interested in how Helium’s technology can power sensors that are located within the tires rather than within the wheels or the car itself.
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Deutsche Telekom is another standout in this round, as a traditional telecom giant that’s now invested in Helium’s vision of a decentralized, token-powered network. But it’s not the major mobile business in the mix: NGP Capital is backed solely by Nokia, while Liberty Global is the firm behind Vodafone and Virgin Media O2.
That echoes FreedomFi’s own recent $9.5 million Series A funding round, which included mobile heavyweights Qualcomm and Samsung. All told, Mong sees it as a positive sign for what the Helium community is building together in a decentralized manner.
“Those are great signals that, while we are on a journey to be highly disruptive on how wireless infrastructure is created,” he said, “it’s good to see that there’s at least some incumbents in that space that are either looking at us with curiosity, or with some promise.”