Richard Branson jumps on board Sidecar $15m funding round

Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson has come on board as a new investor in Californian ride-sharing startup Sidecar's latest $15 million funding round.

San Francisco-based ride-sharing service Sidecar has announced a $15 million funding round that includes backing by new investor Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson.

The money, which adds to the $20 million that the company previously raised in A and B funding rounds, is expected help fuel a nationwide expansion of Sidecar, which introduced a "Shared Rides" service about four months ago, according to an online post by chief executive Sunil Paul.

Paul said that Sidecar's goal is to create the largest transportation marketplace in the world by building a system that makes it as affordable to share rides as it is to use public transit.

The service uses a smartphone application to match people looking for rides with nearby drivers who happen to be heading in the same locations. Passengers split costs of trips with drivers.

Around 13,000 people requested rides in the month after the service launched, according to the company, which boasted that it is matching thousands of riders and drivers weekly.

Previous Sidecar investors Avalon Ventures and Union Square Ventures took part in the latest funding round, which was joined by Virgin Group founder Branson, according to Paul.

From Branson's perspective, the company is one of a growing number of businesses utilising emerging technology to wedge its way into the transportation industry.

"The technology impact on transportation is widespread, which is why I'm so invested. Technology has turned transportation on its head," said Branson. "It's fundamentally changing the way we get around. It has changed the taxi industry and allowed them to automate.

"I like companies that are innovative, offer exciting customer experiences, and make the world better. Transportation has been ripe for disruption for decades. An entrepreneur company like Sidecar can take on the big guys with innovation and big ideas, not just big bank accounts.

"Hailo, of which I'm also an investor, is a leader in that world. We don't need to own cars; services like Sidecar can get us around town. And Sidecar is developing an everyday travel solution that sits side by side with public transit," he said.

Sidecar's latest fundraising effort comes as app-based car-hailing platform Uber has been banned from operating across Germany by the Frankfurt regional court, because it lacks the necessary legal permits.

Uber faces a fine of €250,000 if it ignores the ban. The service, available in Germany since early 2013, has already been banned in a number of German cities, including Berlin.

Uber has also faced resistance from a number of public transport players in Europe, along with legal challenges in other countries, including Brazil.

In August, the company launched its service on Queensland's Gold Coast, despite a state-issued cease-and-desist order in May.