Are investors willing to fund startups offering products focused on areas like sex, drugs, and alcohol that were once considered taboo? We used the CB Insights platform to look at startups working on these products and found that while the landscape is varied, investor participation remains mixed.
Some of the categories in our “vice” tech market map below, such as cannabis, are growing. More and more states have legalized medical and recreational use in recent years, and between 2014-2016 147 new cannabis startups were able to raise their first funding rounds. On the other hand, entrepreneurs say investors remain reluctant to back sex tech startups, pushing some in the field to turn toward bootstrapping rather than equity investment.
We designed our market map to focus on gambling, tobacco, cannabis (with a significant recreational, rather than medical, focus), sex tech (including condom startups, but excluding startups focused on healthcare), and nightlife-focused mobile apps.
Check out the full category descriptions and graphic below.
The market map includes only private companies that have received external funding (not companies that are self- or revenue-funded). The companies in this graphic have raised over $540M in total.
Click on the map to enlarge. This map is not meant to be exhaustive of companies in the space.
Consumer cannabis - These startups are growing and selling marijuana, edibles, and accessories with a focus on recreational use in areas where it’s legal. For example, Dixie Elixers, with $8M in funding from undisclosed investors, offers THC-infused sodas, chocolates, and other products. CannaKorp, which raised $7.5M from investors including Singularity Capital Management, is selling an at-home “Keurig for cannabis”-type machine, which vaporizes cannabis from single-use pods.
Sex tech - These startups offer sex toys, e-commerce platforms for erotic items, and more. Many of them focus on women, such as Nuelle ($23M in funding), offering a female sexual aid; Crave ($5M), which designs luxury sex toys; O’Actually ($250K), a platform for sexual content geared toward women. We also see two all-natural condom startups — Sustain, with $2.5M, and L., with $120K — and even one women-focused subscription box for erotic accessories, Unbound, with $90K.
At-home gambling - These startups offer apps and mobile games for consumer gambling, focusing on betting, lottery tickets, fantasy sports, and casino games. Playstudios, which partners with casinos and develops mobile apps for slots, blackjack, and other games with real-world prizes, leads in funding with $34M. Other business models include eSports betting website Unikrn; mobile app YouBetMe, which lets you make bets with friends; AutoLotto, which lets users play Powerball via mobile phone; and Jackpocket, a mobile app for playing the state lottery.
Casino tech - These startups produce gaming software for use inside brick-and-mortar casinos and gambling locations. Betgenius, which leads with $15M in funding, makes software that helps bookmakers and lottery operators improve performance. The other companies in the category generally produce actual games for casinos to offer. Second in funding with $12M, Gamblit Gaming makes poker and other games for casino consoles.
Alcohol tech - These startups use technology to improve consumers’ drinking experiences at home. Many are on-demand alcohol delivery services that promise to deliver alcohol within an hour or less: China-based Liquor Easy has raised $61M, for example, and Boston-based Drizly has raised $33M. We also see Bartesian and Somabar, which make automated kitchen appliances, comparable to coffee makers, for easy home cocktail preparation. Bartesian recently received a corporate minority investment from Beam Suntory.
Tobacco - These companies offer tobacco, e-cigarette, and vaping products. Pax, for example, has raised $54M to sell vaporizers and flavored tobacco.
Vice experiences - These startups provide experiences that cater to vices. Robb Vices (perhaps boasting the most direct company name on the list) sells a subscription box with luxury “vice” items such as liquors and chocolates. ManServants promises to send “chivalrous” men to perform (non-sexual) duties for women, and Bachweekend plans bachelor and bachelorette party experiences. Hooch offers a subscription membership platform for drinks and experiences at various bars.
Nightlife - These are mobile apps that promise to help users find the best clubs and nightlife events. The Stockholm-based Keyflow, for example, provides a platform for users to track nightlife events in their city. We don’t include the many apps that provide general recommendations for restaurants, tourist attractions, etc.
Track all the vice tech startups in this brief and many more on our platform
Startups working on vice tech have the potential to upend the industry. Sign up for a free trial and look for Vice Tech in the Collections tab.
Vice Tech Startups
|Vice Tech Market Map|
|Castle Hill Gaming||Casino Tech||Undisclosed|
|Gamblit Gaming||Casino Tech||American Capital|
|GameCo||Casino Tech||Berylian Capital, Courtside Ventures, Javelin Venture Partners, OCP Capital, QB1 Ventures, Steel Partners Holdings|
|Lightning Gaming||Casino Tech||Cross Atlantic Capital Partners, Susquehanna Private Equity Investments|
|Open Wager||Casino Tech||Undisclosed|
|UrComped||Casino Tech||RevTech Accelerator|
|Baker||Consumer Cannabis||500 Startups, Base Ventures, Poseidon Asset Management, XG Ventures|
|Flow Kana||Consumer Cannabis||Undisclosed|
|Auntie Dolores (AD Remedies)||Consumer Cannabis||ArcView Group, MJIC|
|CannaKorp||Consumer Cannabis||Singularity Capital Management|
|Canndescent||Consumer Cannabis||Adam Cohen, Adrian Sedlin, Lee McPherson|
|Dixie Elixers||Consumer Cannabis||Undisclosed|
|Dynamic Harvest||Consumer Cannabis||Undisclosed|
|Eaze Solutions||Consumer Cannabis||500 Startups, Casa Verde Capital, DCM Ventures, Slow Ventures, Tusk Ventures, Winklevoss Capital|
|Jane West||Consumer Cannabis||Undisclosed|
|Leaf||Consumer Cannabis||Advanced Nutrients, CanopyBoulder, CJV Capital, Phyto Partners|
|Mirth Provisions||Consumer Cannabis||Undisclosed|
|Tokyo Smoke||Consumer Cannabis||Chuck Rifici, Globalive Capital|
|Tradiv||Consumer Cannabis||Anslinger Capital, CanopyBoulder, Poseidon Asset Management, TL Partners|
|AutoLotto||At-Home Gambling||500 Accelerator, 500 Startups, Aurum Partners|
|Derby Games||At-Home Gambling||Alexis Ohanian, Andlinger & Company, Bullpen Capital|
|Huuuge Games||At-Home Gambling||Korea Investment Partners, Seoul Investment Partners|
|Jackpocket||At-Home Gambling||Digital Currency Group, Kima Ventures|
|Linq3 Technologies||At-Home Gambling||Undisclosed|
|Oddsium||At-Home Gambling||ADDinvest, Jacob Key, Jonas Siljemark, Victor & Victor|
|PlayStudios||At-Home Gambling||Icon Ventures, MGM Resorts International, Pascal Ventures|
|Playsino||At-Home Gambling||TomorrowVentures, Wavemaker Partner|
|RocketFrog Interactive||At-Home Gambling||Undisclosed|
|Unikrn||At-Home Gambling||500 Startups, Advancit Capital, Binary Capital, Freelands Ventures, Indicator Ventures, Mark Cuban|
|YooLotto||At-Home Gambling||7-Ventures, Roger Chang, Tech Wildcatters|
|YouBetMe||At-Home Gambling||Abingdon Capital Management, SierraMaya360|
|Crowdit||Nightlife||First Eastern Investment Group|
|DesignMyNight||Nightlife||Michael Murphy, Steve Pankhurst|
|InList||Nightlife||Moneta Group, STAR Capital Partners|
|Drizly||Alcohol Tech||Fairhaven Capital, Polaris Partners, First Beverage Group|
|Bartesian||Alcohol Tech||Beam Suntory, HAX|
|Drync||Alcohol Tech||Cross Link Ventures, Great Oaks Venture Capital|
|Liquor Easy||Alcohol Tech||Everbright Securities, Legend Capital|
|Minibar||Alcohol Tech||Female Founders Fund, Great Oaks Venture Capital, Winklevoss Capital|
|Saucey||Alcohol Tech||Altpoint Ventures, Blumberg Capital, HashTag One, Structure Capital|
|Thirstie||Alcohol Tech||Rakesh Gupta|
|Somabar||Alcohol Tech||Duke Angel Network, Harvard Angels, Tech Coast Angels|
|Uvee (Clean Light Laboratories)||Sex Tech||Undisclosed|
|Crave Innovations||Sex Tech||Chaotic Ventures, Schox Investments|
|Feeld (formerly 3nder)||Sex Tech||Undisclosed|
|L. Condoms||Sex Tech||Y Combinator|
|Nuelle||Sex Tech||NEA, Correlation Ventures|
|Ohlala||Sex Tech||Ben Kubota, Markus Ertler, Max Finger|
|Pillow||Sex Tech||Start-Up Chile|
|Sustain||Sex Tech||Heidi Zak, John Replogle, Justin Rosenstein|
|Taqu (Touch)||Sex Tech||China Securities International, Dingfeng Asset, Shenzhen Fortune Venture Capital|
|PAX Labs||Tobacco||Fidelity Investments, Global Asset Capital, Sivia Capital, Tao Capital Partners|
|VMR Products||Tobacco||Huabao International Holdings|
|BachWeekend||Vice Experiences||Selous Venture Society|
|Hooch||Vice Experiences||Blue Scorpion Investments, Burch Creative Capital, Russell Simmons|
|Robb Vices||Vice Experiences||Undisclosed|
Want more data on startup and investment trends? Log in to CB Insights or sign up for free below.