July 7, 2020 / 2:29 AM / a month ago

UPDATE 1-SoftBank-backed startups among those approved for US paycheck loan program

(Adds background on CloudMinds in paragraphs 5 and 6, including presence on U.S. trade blacklist)

By Jane Lanhee Lee

OAKLAND, Calif., July 6 (Reuters) - Four technology startups backed by SoftBank Group Corp's $100 billion Vision Fund were among the small companies approved for a U.S. pandemic aid program, according to data released by the Treasury Department on Monday.

Car-sharing startup Getaround Inc., which raised $300 million in a round led by SoftBank in 2018, was listed as approved for a $5-10 million loan. The Treasury Department provided only ranges for loan amounts, and did not identify by name those recipients seeking loans of less than $150,000.

In-car monitoring technology firm Nauto Inc. was approved for $2-5 million. It raised around $150 million in July 2017 in a round led by SoftBank.

Energy technology firm Energy Vault, headquartered in Switzerland, was approved for a loan of $150,000 to $300,000. Energy Vault raised $110 million in August 2019 from SoftBank.

CloudMinds Technology Inc., a cloud-based systems for robots with the bulk of its workforce and revenue in China, was listed for a loan of $1-2 million. It raised $186 million in May 2019 in a round that included SoftBank, although SoftBank does not have a seat on the company board.

The Chinese company was added to a U.S. trade blacklist this year and has slashed its workforce globally, including in the U.S., Reuters previously reported. It's not clear whether companies on the blacklist are also eligible for the stimulus aid.

The funding data for the companies came mainly from data firm PitchBook.

A person close to SoftBank Vision Fund said the fund had recommended that its portfolio companies with strong cash positions or the ability to raise private capital not take government loans. The Vision Fund has investments in 91 companies.

Getaround said its business was "drastically impacted" by the virus lockdowns and the loan "helped reduce the otherwise severe impact on the health of our organization." None of the other companies responded to requests for comment.

The Paycheck Protection Program, well over $500 billion in size, was meant to shore up employment by providing low-interest loans to companies who have 500 or fewer employees and would certify that they needed the cash to cover basic needs such as salaries and rent.

When the program was announced, venture investors were split on whether the startups they backed should apply. (Reporting By Jane Lanhee Lee with additional reporting by Sam Nussey in Tokyo; Editing by Greg Mitchell and Sonya Hepinstall)

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