- Insider asked 12 top VCs what ad and marketing tech companies excited them the most this year.
- The 19 selected companies reflect an eclectic range of areas in the ad and marketing landscape.
- Connected TV, AI-driven insights, and e-commerce are among the most popular issues these companies tackle.
This year’s economic downturn may have caused advertisers to pull back on spending, but there’s still a lot of dealmaking happening, especially around companies that help advertisers and marketers capitalize on the huge, recent shifts in consumer behavior.
The companies that are raking in investment dollars are delivering new ways to advertise on streaming TV, help brick-and-mortar retailers sell on the metaverse, and create fresh opportunities for traditional formats like audio ads.
Insider spoke with 12 VCs, all of whom have made recent investments in adtech or marketing tech, and asked them to pick the most promising companies both in and out of their portfolios.
Check out the 19 most promising adtech startups, and what they do that makes them unique.
Adelaide: Measuring attention
Latest round: June 2022
Amount raised: $7 million
Total funding: $9.5 million
What it does: Adelaide is a measurement startup that helps brands like Coca-Cola and Colgate, as well as agencies like Havas Media Group, evaluate whether the placement of an ad will get audiences to engage with it.
Advertisers can plug Adelaide into their existing ad buying tools, such as The Trade Desk and Google’s DV360, to discover the best place to show ads across linear TV, streaming TV, websites, and video.
Why it’s on the list: Much of the ad industry is focused on other metrics like click-throughs, video-completion rates, or viewability. Jonah Goodhart, cofounder of venture studio Montauk Labs and former CEO of measurement firm Moat, said this is a problem because those metrics can be gamed by publishers and adtech vendors. “Now is the time to begin going beyond viewability and focus on areas that matter like attention,” Goodhart said.
Anzu: Blends ads into gaming environments
Latest round: March 2022
Amount raised: $20 million
Total funding: $37 million
What it does: Anzu helps advertisers serve ads programmatically in mobile, PC, and console games. These ads blend in with the video game graphics and might appear as a billboard in a car racing game, for instance.
Why it’s on the list: Gaming, streaming, and esports are all surging, and Anzu seeks to help developers bring less intrusive ads to their games. The Tel Aviv-based company has partnered with brands including Samsung and Pepsi to place their ads in games and metaverse platforms like Roblox.
Earlier this year, the six-year-old startup snagged a $20 million Series B round led by NBCUniversal and HTC, which manufactures VR headsets and mobile phones. The partnership also let NBCUniversal’s advertisers use Anzu to put ads in video games.
“Many companies have tried to crack the market for in-game ads,” said Ari Paparo, former CEO of programmatic ad buying platform Beeswax, who is not an investor in the company. “Anzu’s approach is to leverage the existing pipes built for programmatic to make it easier for advertisers and agencies to engage with this new medium.”
Base: Turning customers into brand ambassadors
Latest round: Q4 2021
Amount raised: $13 million
Total funding: $16 million
What it does: Base, formerly known as Crowdvocate, helps business-to-business companies identify which of their customers could become potential brand advocates. It integrates with CRM tech stacks like Salesforce and HubSpot to help those companies track user journeys across different platforms and reach them with marketing. Its services also span upselling, retention marketing, and reference management.
Why it’s on the list: Base applies B2C thinking to B2B marketing. Consumers often rely on customer reviews or word of mouth before making a purchase — and the same often applies in company purchase decisions, too. Base can help companies track user journeys within their products to find the customers most likely to offer testimonials, referrals, and reviews — and reward them for doing so.
“In a world where B2B buying decisions are often made before customers have even had a conversation with the organization, there is an understanding that companies need to invest in their brand and customer evidence,” said Scott Tobin, senior partner at Battery Ventures, which is not an investor in the company.
Boostr: A CRM platform for media companies
Latest round: July 2019
Amount raised: $7 million
Total funding: $12 million
What it does: Boostr provides combined CRM, order management, and revenue projection software for publishers.
Why it’s on the list: Media brands like BuzzFeed, Bustle, Insider, and Vice use Boostr to analyze and forecast their ads sales performance. Investor Chris Cunningham, founder of C2 Ventures, said that Boostr’s focus on developing a “more customizable solution” for publishers has set it apart from CRM-only platforms, like Salesforce.
Boostr is also improving legacy advertising systems like Mediaocean, which is widely used across the ad industry. In April, Boostr partnered with Mediaocean to speed up the deal making process between ad buyers and sellers.
Cavai: Conversational adtech
Latest round: August 2021
Amount raised: €8 million ($7.7 million)
Total funding: €15 million ($14.5 million)
What it does: Cavai describes itself as a “conversational” ad company, which lets brands place text and voice-controlled chatbots in ads that appear on a range of media, including websites and streaming TV. Cavai doesn’t rely on targeting tech like identifiers and cookies because the ads become personalized as people interact with the chatbot.
Why it’s on the list: Alex Rahaman, partner at Idekapital, which has invested in Cavai, said while other chatbots typically focus on post-purchase customer service, the adtech firm differentiates itself by focusing on the entire salesflow, such as before someone even realizes they’re in market for a product, or when they first start researching it.
Ciaran O’Kane, general partner at First Party Capital, another investor, said Cavai’s conversational tech “is tailored for retail media and the social commerce explosion.”
Ad buying agency GroupM predicts ecommerce advertising will grow to a $100 billion global industry this year, while Insider Intelligence expects US social commerce sales to reach almost $46 billion in the US alone in 2022.
“Going into 2023, we are planning a Series B fundraising round to fuel our US expansion on the back of several Fortune 500 client wins and significant partnerships with leading adtech players such as MediaMath,” said Mats Persson, Cavai CEO.
Cortex: AI-powered creative insights
Latest round: February 2022
Amount raised: $750,000
Total funding: $3 million
What it does: Cortex uses artificial intelligence to evaluate the performance of ads that use images or videos.
Why it’s on the list: Cortex boasts a suite of machine learning tools meant to predict the success of heavily visual ad campaigns like video ads or Instagram posts before they even run. The AI-powered platform can pick out which visual elements — like use of the color pink or close-up shots of eye makeup — are best at driving audience engagement.
Sarah Fay of Glasswing Ventures, who is not an investor in Cortex, said the company piqued her interest for its pitch as a “Grammarly for creative development.”
Cortex, whose clients include brands like L’Oréal, Marriott, Toyota, and Kraft-Heinz, develops a type of solution that is in strong demand.
“There are already a lot of emerging companies that are focused on efficiency and the best use of creative visuals,” Fay said.
In February, the seven-year-old company raised nearly $750,000 through equity crowdfunding. It hopes to raise a Series A funding round in the coming months.
Emperia: Creates metaverse spaces for brands and retailers
Latest round: September 2021
Amount raised: £1.4 million ($1.5 million)
Total funding: £1.4 million ($1.5 million)
What it does: Emperia develops virtual reality and metaverse retail technologies, such as virtual storefronts and art galleries.
Why it’s on the list: Even though brick-and-mortar storefronts aren’t going away, Emperia is making its name by helping brands test out the metaverse waters.
The London- and New York-based startup sells an app called “Artemis” that lets brands design virtual spaces that also integrate e-commerce and analyze sales. Emperia has helped Dior, Burberry, and Harrods create their own metaverse storefronts.
As recently as September, Bloomingdale’s used Emperia to develop a virtual storefront for New York Fashion Week, which it debuted to commemorate the retailer’s 150th anniversary.
Emperia is currently raising its next funding round.
IRIS.TV: Collects connected TV video and ad data
Latest round: May 2021
Amount raised: $22 million
Total funding: $37 million
What it does: IRIS.TV enables publishers and marketers to analyze video content frame by frame in order to determine where within a program would be best for a brand to buy ads.
Why it’s on the list: IRIS.TV is a data platform built for video. The nine-year-old startup pulls data from connected TV and online video content and shares it with adtech companies to inform ad targeting and measurement.
“IRIS.TV is bringing contextual relevance verification and safety to video advertising,” said investor Ari Paparo.
Publishers like Crackle, USA Today Sports, Tribune Publishing, and LADbible all have IRIS.TV activated on their platforms. IRIS.TV also helps sell-side adtech companies like Magnite and buy-side adtech companies like MediaMath target video ads based on contextual data — or data about the content that people consumed online.
Kevel: Helps brands become ad sellers
Latest round: December 2021
Amount raised: $10 million
Total funding: $23.3 million
What it does: Kevel provides businesses with tools to build their own ad platforms on their websites and apps.
Why it’s on the list: Kevel says it wants to help marketers “take back the Internet” from Google, Amazon, and Facebook.
The 12-year-old startup, formerly Adzerk, works with companies like Yelp, Ticketmaster, Klarna, and Bed Bath and Beyond to build custom ad servers.
“Every company wants to build an advertising business,” said Eric Franchi of AperiamVentures, which invests in Kevel.
Kevel’s ad servers aren’t limited to websites. They can also let brands place ads in emails or on digital billboards.
Last December, Kevel raised a $10 million Series B round led by Fulcrum Equity Partners. The company then acquired e-commerce data management firm Velocidi in June, to improve its value proposition to retailers.
Magellan AI: Brings data analytics to podcast advertising
Latest round: June 2019
Total funding: $2.6 million
What it does: Magellan AI’s software helps advertisers and publishers plan media campaigns in podcasts.
Why it’s on the list: Podcast ad spend will surpass $2 billion in 2023, according to Insider Intelligence. Magellan AI is primed to capitalize, as its technology helps advertisers scale their campaigns and helps podcast publishers fill their open ad slots.
The startup pulls data from over 40,000 shows to find ad inventory and counts brands like BetterHelp, Helix Sleep, and Athletic Greens among its clients.
In September, Magellan AI rolled out a tool to help podcast advertisers verify that ads are being played and to measure ad performance.
C2 Ventures’ Cunningham, an investor, likened Magellan AI to the Nielsen or Comscore of podcasts.
Odeeo: Audio ads for apps
Latest round: June 2022
Amount raised: $9 million
Total funding: $10 million
What it does: Odeeo, which is pronounced similarly to “audio,” allows app publishers to introduce audio ads to their games without interrupting the gameplay.
Why it’s on the list: Heracles Capital General Partner Eric Seufert said he was excited to invest in Odeeo because app developers — and especially developers of so-called hypercasual games — are finding it increasingly difficult to make money from their ads.
Besides Apple’s recent privacy changes, app developers will later this month have to deal with new restrictions on Android that will restrict interruptive ad placements in games.
“The hypercasual space is just completely dead, it’s going to die,” said Seufert. He believes audio ads could help recover some of the lost ad revenue caused by the recent changes.
Scibids: AI ad optimization
Latest round: February 2022
Amount raised: $2.2 million
Total funding: $6 million
What it does: Scibids analyzes all the data generated by a brand’s digital advertising stack — from their demand-side platforms to ad servers — to create customizable algorithms to help marketers improve the efficiency of their campaigns.
Why it’s on the list: Experts said companies that offer AI to improve marketing has become a big trend in recent years, as marketers look to root out inefficiencies in their programmatic advertising, helping their budgets go further. Meanwhile, as the industry prepares for the death of third-party cookies on Chrome, marketers are moving away from precisely tracking individual users and instead using AI technologies to finetune their targeting.
Scope3: Combats adtech’s carbon footprint
Latest round: March 2021
Amount raised: $20 million
Total funding: $20 million
What it does: Scope3 measures brands’ and ad agencies’ carbon emissions and connects them to carbon-neutral media alternatives.
Why it’s on the list: Tech companies are being scrutinized for their wasting energy consumption, and the digital advertising industry is no exception. As many brands seek to be more conscientious of their environmental impact, Scope3 maps digital supply chains and measures carbon emissions generated by digital ad campaigns.
Scope3 is the latest project of Brian O’Kelley, who cofounded and served as CEO of adtech company AppNexus, prior to its $1.6 billion sale to AT&T in 2018.
“There’s an increasing demand for carbon neutral advertising products, and Scope3 is an innovator that’s carved out a position for itself,” said Ari Paparo, who is not an investor in the company.
The startup, which launched earlier this year, struck a deal with eBay in August to help the ecommerce site reduce carbon emissions for a digital ad campaign focused on second-hand sneaker sales that will run through December 2022. It plans to extend its coverage to connected TV, audio, and digital out-of-home ads within the next six months.
Sincera: Crawls the internet for programmatic ad data
Latest round: December 2021/January 2022
Amount raised: $1 million
Total funding: $1 million
Why it’s on the list: New York-based Sincera hopes to reveal the behind-the-scenes transactions that make up the programmatic advertising ecosystem. “They’re establishing a dataset of effectively everything that happens in programmatic,” said Ari Paparo, an investor in the company.
Because of the impending death of the third-party cookie, many different adtech companies have developed cookie replacements to preserve ad targeting and measurement. Sincera got a lot of traction recently because it reveals what type of technology a publisher is using to identify its readers, and it can determine how often these so-called identifiers are used in programmatic ad auctions.
Teikametrics: Helping sellers and brands optimize their marketplace marketing
Latest round: July 2021
Amount raised: $40 million
Total funding: $65 million
What it does: Teikametrics helps brands manage their advertisements and product listings on retail sites like Amazon and Walmart.
Why it’s on the list: Sam Thompson, founding partner of Progress Ventures, an investor in Teikametrics, said he has been impressed by Teikametric’s “really sharp CEO” Alasdair McLean-Foreman, and that the startup “is more capital-efficient” than other similar platforms in the market.
Retail media is on the verge of becoming a $100 billion market, and Teikametrics works both with retail media sellers and with brands like Dickies, Rockport, and Timberland. Teikametrics says its technology optimizes more than $8 billion in gross merchandise value across thousands of sellers and brands.
TvScientific: Determines how streaming TV ads performed
Latest round: April 2022
Amount raised: $20 million
Total funding: $23 million
What it does: TvScientific uses automation to target streaming TV ads and measures whether they led to purchases.
Why it’s on the list: Connected TV performance advertising platform TvScientific made a splash since its launch in 2020. The Los Angeles-based startup works with performance marketers, who buy ads based on their effectiveness.
TvScientific reeled in NBCUniversal as an investor during a $20 million Series A round in April. Together, the companies plan to launch Peacock Ad Manager, Peacock TV’s self-serve programmatic ad buying portal.
Eric Franchi of AperiamVentures, an investor since the company’s seed round, said that he believes tvScientific’s tools have made the world of connected TV more accessible for performance marketers.
“Media companies and publishers love them,” Franchi said. “They’re able to target and measure so effectively that brands who are traditionally very focused on Facebook, Instagram, Google — they’re buying TV ads now and seeing incredible ROI.”
VidMob: Bringing “creative intelligence” to video
Latest round: August 2022
Amount raised: $110 million
Total funding: $210 million
What it does: Vidmob offers a technology and a marketplace that helps advertisers convert their TV and web ads into hundreds of different video ad formats. It also offers tools to help advertisers understand how specific creative decisions — such as how far away an actor is from the camera, or whether an ad for a lotion should feature the box or a person applying it to their skin — will influence an ad’s performance on TikTok versus Instagram Stories, for example.
Why it’s on the list: VidMob was recommended by four of the VCs polled for this year’s list. In the past year the company has almost tripled its headcount to 350 people and is on track to double its annual gross bookings and revenue.
“Creativity has been that holy grail and was the domain of creative agencies and not as easy to understand and optimize,” said Rahaman of Idekapital, which is not an investor in the company.
VidMob, he added, has improved the workflow between creative agencies, media, and publishers. It also has good integrations with so-called walled gardens like Facebook or TikTok that show how ad creative is performing and where that performance can be improved.
Voyantis: Predicting the lifetime value of customers
Latest round: July 2022
Amount raised: $19 million
Total funding: $19 million
What it does: Voyantis’ technology draws from thousands of data points to predict the lifetime value of a customer. It aims to help companies focus their marketing on the right types of customers to reduce their customer acquisition and retention costs.
Why it’s on the list: The two-year-old company says it’s already generating “seven figures” in annual revenue from customers including Notion, Ipsy, and Miro.
Eric Seufert, founder of Heracles Capital, which hasn’t invested in Voyantis, said the company “plays into the post-ATT world.” ATT refers to Apple’s App Tracking Transparency privacy change that gives users a choice about whether they want to be tracked across other apps and websites. With a majority of consumers opting out of tracking, it’s become harder for app developers to target specific cohorts of potential customers and determine whether their ad campaigns are working.
Ido Wiesenberg, Voyantis CEO, said the company plans to accelerate its growth by building additional products using its prediction engine. “We see a huge opportunity with the shift from growth at any cost to profitability,” he added.
Wearisma: Influencer marketing insights
Latest round: August 2018
Amount raised: £500,000 ($563,000)
Total funding: £1.5 million ($1.7 million)
What it does: Wearisma offers an influencer marketing analytics platform
Why it’s on the list: Marketer spending on influencer campaigns will surpass $4 billion this year, according to Insider Intelligence, and Wearisma, an early mover into the space that launched in 2015, is primed to capitalize. The company has already secured a portfolio of big brands in the EMEA and APAC region. Its client base is particularly skewed toward companies in the luxury fashion and beauty space, including Hermes, Gucci, Unilever and Clarins.
“We have nearly doubled our growth in the last year and have had the privilege to work with some of the top brands in the world across 30 countries in EMEA, APAC and the Americas,” said Wearisma CEO Jenny Tsai.
Rupa Popat, founder and managing director of Araya Ventures, which is not an investor in the company, said Wearisma’s six years of data across 15,000 brands and more than 70 countries differentiates the company from its competitor set. That data “makes them the only credible independent global source of data in the market who can apply the ‘Moneyball’ approach to influencer marketing,” Popat said.