Volta Trucks raises €37 million to bring electric delivery trucks to the streets of London and Paris

Trucking tends to be associated with highways, but it’s not uncommon to find large delivery vehicles trundling down the tightly packed streets of the world’s most populated cities. According to EV startup Volta Trucks, that’s far from ideal: in London, large commercial vehicles cause around 26% of pedestrian fatalities and around 80% of cyclist fatalities, and account for an outsized portion of carbon emissions.

Volta’s solution is to electrify and redesign the large cargo vehicle — called Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) in Europe — for middle- and last-mile delivery in urban centers. “The traditional design of trucks and city centers really don’t work together, but you can’t just ban trucks from city centers,” a company spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Volta Trucks has raised a €37 million ($44 million) funding round to accelerate its plans, starting with a fleet of pilot vehicles in London and Paris.

The round was led by New York-based Luxor Capital Group and returning investor Byggmästare Anders J Ahlström Holding of Stockholm. New investors included U.S. electric truck and battery manufacturer Proterra and supply chain management company Agility.

The idea for the company came to Volta co-founder and Swedish serial entrepreneur Carl-Magnus Norden when Elon Musk revealed the Tesla Model 3. Norden realized that there was very little equivalent movement to electrify the world of commercial vehicles, despite the fact that they produce a large share of carbon emissions.

Four years later, Volta (not to be confused with Volta Charging, the European EV charging station company) has come up with a truck that gives the driver a 220-degree view, similar to what one might see on a city bus. The driver’s seat is also in the center of the cab. On the inside of the 16-ton truck, called Volta Zero, will sit a single unit containing an electric motor, transmission and rear axle supplied by OEM supplier Meritor. This unit, called an eAxle, leaves more space between the chassis rails for the battery.

Those batteries will have a 95- to 120-mile range and will be designed by Proterra, a supplier (and now investor) that Volta says will be able to furnish batteries into the longer term and at higher production levels. Volta is imagining that it will produce up to 5,000 trucks by the end of 2023, 14,000 to 15,000 by 2024, and 27,000 trucks by 2025.

Volta plans to also offer a “truck as a service” model, which is a leasing agreement including insurance, charging infrastructure, service repair and maintenance. While Volta also plans on selling trucks outright, the spokesperson said the company anticipates the leasing model will make up 50%, and as high as 80%, of its business.

Volta is gearing up to launch a fleet of six R&D vehicles in London and Paris at the beginning of the year. These trucks will be used for internal validation. The company plans to start about a 33-vehicle pilot program with customers in two major European cities by the middle of next year.

The plan is that this will allow Volta to start full-scale production by the end of 2022. All of the vehicles, with the exception of the six beta trucks, will be manufactured by Steyr Automotive in Austria. The two announced the manufacturing agreement last week.

Volta says it has letters of intent for 2,500 trucks. The goal is to convert these to binding deposit-led orders as Volta moves closer to series production. This round now brings its total funding to date to around €60 million ($71 million).

#automotive, #electric-trucks, #europe, #proterra, #recent-funding, #startups, #transportation, #volta-trucks

Giving EV batteries a second life for sustainability and profit

Electric cars and trucks seem to have everything going for them: They don’t produce tailpipe emissions, they’re quieter than their fossil fuel-powered counterparts and the underlying architecture allows for roomier and often sleeker designs. But the humble lithium-ion battery powering these cars and trucks leads a difficult life. Irregular charging and discharge rates, intense temperatures and many partial charge cycles cause these batteries to degrade in the first five to eight years of use, and eventually, they end up in a recycling facility.

Instead of sending batteries straight to recycling for raw material recovery — and leaving unrealized value on the table — startups and automakers are finding ways to reuse batteries as part of a small and growing market.

That’s because the average electric vehicle lithium-ion battery can retain up to 70% of their charging capacity after being removed. The business proposition for second-life batteries is therefore intuitive: before sending the battery to a recycler, automakers can potentially generate additional revenue by putting it to use in another application or selling it to a third-party.

Low consumer uptake and the relatively recent introduction of EVs to the market has kept the supply of used batteries low, but automakers are already pursuing a number of second-life projects.

To name only a few such projects that have popped up in recent years, Nissan is using old batteries to power small robots; French carmaker Groupe Renault, with partners, is launching stationary energy storage systems made with old EV batteries; and Audi Environmental Foundation, the daughter organization of Audi AG, worked with Indian startup Nunam to build solar nanogrids out of used e-tron battery modules.

Other OEMs, like Lucid Motors, BMW and Proterra, are incorporating reuse principles into their battery design. In fact, Lucid has built its batteries to work across its electric vehicle and energy storage products, including in second-life uses, Chief Engineer Eric Bach told TechCrunch. And BMW has used a ‘plug-and-play’ concept with the batteries in its i3 model so that they can be easily removed and inserted into second-life applications, BMW spokesperson Weiland Bruch said in an interview with TechCrunch. “We believe that battery second-life will become its own self-standing business field,” he added.

A new lease on battery life

Automakers are increasingly bullish on second-life uses, though the size of their role in this budding market is still unclear. Matthew Lumsden, CEO of UK-based Connected Energy, told TechCrunch that he has noticed a shift in the past two years where some OEMs have begun viewing batteries as an asset rather than a liability.

#audi-ag, #automotive, #ec-mobility-hardware, #electric-vehicles, #lithium-ion-batteries, #lucid-motors, #proterra, #rivian, #tesla, #transportation, #volkswagen, #vw-group

Recycling startup Redwood Materials is partnering with Proterra to supply EV battery materials sustainably

A growing number of companies have emerged over the last few years determined to reduce waste in the electric vehicle battery market. Chief among these is recycling firm Redwood Materials, which has quickly expanded since its launch in 2017 by Tesla co-founder JB Straubel to become the largest lithium-ion battery recycler in North America. Now the firm is teaming up with electric commercial vehicle manufacturer Proterra in a deal that may help boost the domestic battery supply chain.

This is the first publicly announced partnership between Redwood and an automaker.

Under the agreement, all Proterra batteries will be sent to Redwood’s facilities for recycling in Carson City, Nevada. The two companies entered the agreement in January, but have been in discussion since last summer, when Proterra reached out to learn more about Redwood’s recycling process. That led to a trip out to Redwood’s facilities in Nevada to see if the recycler could process Proterra battery packs.

“That went really well,” Proterra CTO Dustin Grace told TechCrunch. Grace worked for Straubel for around nine years at Tesla. “We were super excited to see their operation. From there, we started work on our master supply agreement.”

Proterra has sent around 26,000 pounds of battery material to Nevada for recycling since entering the partnership, though this does not represent the pace of future deliveries. Overall, Redwood receives 60 tons per day or 20,000 tons of batteries per year.

The batteries that power Proterra’s fleets are designed to last the lifespan of the vehicle, but the company offers a battery leasing program that guarantees replacement after six years – which means plenty of useful life will remain in the battery, as much as 80-90% charging capacity. To exploit the remainder of this capacity, Proterra has plans to reuse the batteries in second-life applications – such as in stationary storage systems hooked up to Proterra charging hardware – before they head to Nevada.

“First the grading of the battery will occur at Proterra by our remanufacturing engineering team. If the battery is deemed ready for second-life, it will go into one of those applications; if it’s not, it gets recycled,” Grace said.

Only once all this useful life is exhausted will the batteries be sent to Redwood, where the waste will be reprocessed into valuable raw material. And with the transit EV market poised to reach 50% of all annual sales by 2025, there will be plenty of batteries that will need reprocessing.

The news comes just weeks after Redwood announced it was teaming up with e-bike manufacturer Specialized to recycle its batteries. Redwood already has arrangements to process scrap from Panasonic’s battery cell production at the Nevada Tesla Gigafactory, and with Amazon to recycle EV batteries and other waste. Through these business-to-business partnerships Redwood aims to develop a circular battery supply chain, supplying the raw materials back to the manufacturer. The company also accepts electronics and batteries from everyday consumers, which can be mailed to Redwood via a mailing address posted on its website.  

The partnership is a sign that both companies are thinking large-scale and long-term. A spokesperson for Redwood said in a statement to TechCrunch that the recycler is focused on “developing the solution for a fully closed-loop recycling for EV batteries.” That means finding truly sustainable, long-term sources of materials like cobalt, lithium and copper to eventually move beyond terrestrial mining. And Straubel has been vocal in the past about his ambition to grow Redwood into one of the world’s largest battery materials companies.

As more battery grade raw materials become available in the United States, Proterra sees an opportunity to eventually expand into domestic battery cell manufacturing.

“It’s still early days but we’re trying to set ourselves up for the future state of this market at scale. That’s really the primary benefit of this partnership existing today,” Grace said. “The way we see it, domestic cell production for Proterra is a very, very important part of our roadmap here in the coming years. The idea of generating more battery-grade raw materials on North American soil directly supports the expansion of that battery manufacturing concept within the US. So I think this starting now absolutely aids our plans for domestic cell manufacturing in the near future.”

#automotive, #jb-straubel, #proterra, #recycling, #redwood-materials, #transportation

Maryland school district places largest-ever order for electric buses

This is a Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley school bus, built by Thomas Built Buses and equipped with an electric powertrain from Proterra.

Enlarge / This is a Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley school bus, built by Thomas Built Buses and equipped with an electric powertrain from Proterra. (credit: Daimler)

This week’s news about the new US Postal Service truck contract, and the USPS’s decision to order 90 percent of them with internal combustion engines, has been viewed by many as a missed opportunity. Thankfully, the news is better when it comes to electrifying another one of our public services—the school bus. On Thursday, Montgomery County—a wealthy Maryland suburb adjacent to Washington, DC—approved a contract to electrify its entire school bus fleet.

School buses are an ideal candidate for electrification, given the frequent stops and the fact that the buses usually only run a couple of times each day. With more than 1,400 buses, the Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education, which has more than 200 schools and 160,000 students, has one of the largest fleets of school buses in the country. And now it’s getting 326 new ones, the largest single order of EV buses by a school district in the country.

The buses in question are Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouleys, built by Thomas Built Buses and equipped with electric powertrains made by Proterra. The Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley uses a 226kWh battery to achieve a range of up to 135 miles (217km), with up to 81 passengers aboard. The switch to electric power should cut the district’s carbon emissions by 25,000 tons and reduce diesel particulate pollution.

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#cars, #electric-school-bus, #lausd, #montgomery-county, #proterra, #school-bus, #thomas-built

Volta Truck’s city delivery trucks will use Proterra batteries

The Volta Zero commercial delivery truck should go into production by 2022.

Enlarge / The Volta Zero commercial delivery truck should go into production by 2022. (credit: Volta Trucks)

Volta Trucks, a Swedish startup developing battery electric commercial vehicles, has found a battery supplier. On Wednesday, the company signed an agreement with Proterra, a leading US commercial EV manufacturer. The deal was the last piece of the puzzle that, now complete, will see Volta’s 16-tonne (35,000lb) Volta Zero truck move forward. In 2020, Volta Trucks signed a deal with a Michigan-based company called Meritor, which will supply the Zero’s electric motors.

“I’m delighted to welcome Proterra—a world-class innovative engineering partner—to the supply chain for the Volta Zero. When talking to our extensive group of customers, vehicle range is uppermost in their minds as it sits at the heart of the vehicle’s ability to deliver for them. It was therefore imperative that we work with an industry-leader to ensure the quality, longevity, and safe performance of the battery. Proterra’s cutting-edge but well-proven battery technology perfectly delivers all of this for us and our customers,” said Rob Fowler, CEO of Volta Trucks.

The Zero is designed for city deliveries, and Proterra’s battery pack should give the vehicle a range of 124 miles (200km), which is more than sufficient for a day’s work in stop-start, low-speed traffic.

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#cars, #electric-trucks, #proterra, #volta-trucks

With a reported deal in the wings for Joby Aviation, electric aircraft soars to $10B business

One year after nabbing $590 million from investors led by Toyota, and a few months after picking up Uber’s flying taxi businessJoby Aviation is reportedly in talks to go public in a SPAC deal that would value the electric plane manufacturer at nearly $5.7 billion.

News of a potential deal comes on the heels of another big SPAC transaction in electric planes, for Archer Aviation. If the Financial Times‘ reporting is accurate, then that would mean that the two will soon be publicly traded at a total value approaching $10 billion.

It’s a heady time for startups making vehicles powered by anything other than hydrocarbons, and the SPAC wave has hit it hard.

Electric car companies Arrival, Canoo, ChargePoint, Fisker, Lordstown Motors, Proterra and The Lion Electric Company are some of the companies that have merged with SPACs — or announced plans to — in the past year.

Now it appears that any company that has anything to do with the electrification of any mode of transportation is going to get waved onto the runway for a public listing through a special purpose acquisition company vehicle — a wildly popular route at the moment for companies that might find traditional IPO listings more challenging to carry out but would rather not stay in startup mode when it comes to fundraising.

The investment group reportedly taking Joby to the moon! out to public markets is led by the billionaire tech entrepreneurs and investors Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, and Mark Pincus, who launched the casual gaming company, Zynga.

Together the two men had formed Reinvent Technology Partners, a special purpose acquisition company, earlier in 2020. The shell company went public and raised $690 million to make a deal.

Any transaction for Joby would be a win for the company’s backers including Toyota, Baillie Gifford, Intel Capital, JetBlue Technology Ventures (the investment arm of the US-based airline), and Uber, which invested $125 million into Joby.

Joby has a prototype that has already taken 600 flights, but has yet to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. And the success of any transaction between the company and Hoffman and Pincus’ SPAC group is far from a sure thing, as the FT noted.

The deal would require an additional capital infusion into the SPAC that the two men established, and without that extra cash, all bets are off. Indeed, that is probably one reason why anyone is reading about this now.

Alternatively powered transportation vehicles of all stripes and covering all modes of travel are the rage right now among the public investment crowd. Part of that is due to rising pressure among institutional investors to find companies with an environmental, sustainability, and good governance thesis that they can invest in, and part of that is due to tailwinds coming from government regulations pushing for the decarbonization of fleets in a bid to curb global warming.

The environmental impact is one chief reason that United chief executive Scott Kirby cited when speaking about his company’s $1 billion purchase order from the electric plane company that actually announced it would be pursuing a public offering through a SPAC earlier this week.

“By working with Archer, United is showing the aviation industry that now is the time to embrace cleaner, more efficient modes of transportation,” Kirby said. “With the right technology, we can curb the impact aircraft have on the planet, but we have to identify the next generation of companies who will make this a reality early and find ways to help them get off the ground.”

It’s also an investment in a possible new business line that could eventually shuttle United passengers to and from an airport, as TechCrunch reported earlier. United projected that a trip in one of Archer’s eVTOL aircraft could reduce CO2 emissions by up to 50% per passenger traveling between Hollywood and Los Angeles International Airport.

The agreement to go public and the order from United Airlines comes less than a year after Archer Aviation came out of stealth. Archer was co-founded in 2018 by Adam Goldstein and Brett Adcock, who sold their software-as-a-service company Vettery to The Adecco Group for more than $100 million. The company’s primary backer was Marc Lore, who sold his company Jet.com to Walmart in 2016 for $3.3 billion. Lore was Walmart’s e-commerce chief until January.

For any SPAC investors or venture capitalists worried that they’re now left out of the EV plane investment bonanza, take heart! There’s still the German tech developer, Lilium. And if an investor is interested in supersonic travel, there’s always Boom.

#adam-goldstein, #airline, #baillie-gifford, #canoo, #chargepoint, #co-founder, #corporate-finance, #e-commerce, #economy, #evtol, #federal-aviation-administration, #finance, #fisker, #intel-capital, #investment, #jet-com, #jetblue-technology-ventures, #joby, #joby-aviation, #lilium, #linkedin, #lordstown-motors, #marc-lore, #mark-pincus, #private-equity, #proterra, #reid-hoffman, #reinvent-technology-partners, #software-as-a-service, #spacs, #special-purpose-acquisition-company, #tc, #the-adecco-group, #the-financial-times, #toyota, #transportation, #uber, #united-airlines, #vettery, #walmart, #zynga

Battery companies are the latest SPAC target as EVs get a huge regulatory boost

Batteries are the latest landing pad for investors.

In the past week alone, two companies have announced plans to become publicly traded companies by merging with special purpose acquisition companies. European battery manufacturer FREYR said Friday it would become a publicly traded company through a special purpose acquisition vehicle with a valuation at $1.4 billion. Houston area startup Microvast announced Monday its own SPAC, at a $3 billion valuation.

A $4.4 billion combined valuation for two companies with a little over $100 million in revenue (FREYR has yet to manufacture a battery) would seem absurd were it not for the incredible demand for batteries that’s coming.

Legacy automakers like GM and Ford have committed billions of dollars to shifting their portfolios to electric models. GM said last year it will spend $27 billion over the next five years on the development of electric vehicles and automated technology. Meanwhile, a number of newer entrants are either preparing to begin production of their electric vehicles or scaling up. Rivian, for instance, will begin delivering its electric pickup truck this summer. The company has also been tapped by Amazon to build thousands of electric vans.

The U.S. government could end up driving some of that demand.  President Biden announced last week that the U.S. government would replace the entire federal fleet of cars, trucks and SUVs with electric vehicles manufactured in the U.S. That’s 645,047 vehicles. That’s going to mean a lot of new batteries need to be made to supply GM and Ford, but also U.S.-based upstarts like Fisker, Canoo, Rivian, Proterra, Lion Electric and Tesla.

Meanwhile, some of the largest cities in the world are planning their own electrification initiatives. Shanghai is hoping to have electric vehicles represent roughly half of all new vehicle purchases by 2025 and all public buses, taxis, delivery trucks, and government vehicles will be zero-emission by the same period, according to research from the Royal Bank of Canada.

The Chinese market for electric vehicles is one of the world’s largest and one where policy is significantly ahead of the rest of the world.

A potential windfall from China’s EV market is likely one reason for the significant investment into Microvast by investors including the Oshkosh Corp., a 100 year-old industrial vehicles manufacturer; the $8.67 trillion money management firm, BlackRock; Koch Strategic Platforms; and InterPrivate, a private equity fund manager. That’s because Microvast’s previous backers include CDH Investments and CITIC Securities, two of the most well-connected private equity and financial services firms in China.

So is the company’s focus on commercial and industrial vehicles. Microvast believes that the market for commercial electric vehicles could be $30 billion in the near term. Currently, commercial EV sales represent just 1.5% of the market, but that penetration is supposed to climb to 9% by 2025, according to the company.

“In 2008, we set out to power a mobility revolution by building disruptive battery technologies that would allow electric vehicles to compete with internal combustion engine vehicles,” said Microvast chief executive Yang Wu, in a statement. “Since that time we have launched three generations of battery technologies that have provided our customers with battery performance far superior to our competitors and that successfully satisfy, over many years of operation, the stringent requirements of commercial vehicle operators.”

Roughly 30,000 vehicles are using Microvast’s batteries and the investment in Microvast includes about $822 million in cash that will finance the expansion of its manufacturing capacity to hit 9 gigawatt hours by 2022. The money should help Microvast meet its contractual obligations which account for about $1.5 billion in total value, according to the company.

If Chinese investors stand to win big in the upcoming Microvast public offering, a clutch of American investors and one giant Japanese corporation are waiting expectantly for FREYR’s public offering. Northbridge Venture Partners, CRV, and Itochu Corp. are all going to see gains from FREYR’s exit — even if they’re not backers of the European company.

Those three firms, along with the International Finance Corp. are investors in 24m, the Boston-based startup licensing its technology to FREYR to make its batteries.

FREYR’s public offering will also be another win for Yet-Ming Chiang, a serial entrepreneur and professor who has a long and storied history of developing innovations in the battery and materials science industry.

The MIT professor has been working on sustainable technologies for the last two decades, first at the now-defunct battery startup A123 Systems and then with a slew of startups like the 3D printing company Desktop Metal; lithium-ion battery technology developer, 24m; the energy storage system designer, Form Energy; and Baseload Renewables, another early-stage energy storage startup.

Desktop Metal went public last year after it was acquired by a Special Purpose Acquisition Company, and now 24m is getting a potential boost from a big cash infusion into one of its European manufacturing partners, FREYR.

The Norwegian company, which has plans to build five modular battery manufacturing facilities around a site in its home country intends to develop up to 43 gigawatt hours of clean batteries over the next four years.

For FREYR chief executive Tom Jensen there were two main draws for the 24m technology. “It’s the production process itself,” said Jensen. “What they basically do is they mix the electrolyte with the active material, which allows them to make thicker electrodes and reduce the inactive materials in the battery. Beyond that, when you actually do that you remove the need fo a number of traditional production steps… Compared to conventional lithium battery production it reduces production from 15 steps to 5 steps.”

Those process efficiencies combined with the higher volumes of energy bearing material in the cell leads to a fundamental disruption in the battery production process.

Jensen said the company would need $2.5 billion to fully realize its plans, but that the float should get FREYR there. The company is merging with Alussa Energy Acquisition Corp. in a SPAC backed by investors including Koch Strategic Platforms, Glencore, Fidelity Management & Research Company LLC, Franklin Templeton, Sylebra Capital and Van Eck Associates.

All of these investments are necessary if the world is to meet targets for vehicle electrification on the timelines that have been established.

As the Royal Bank of Canada noted in a December report on the electric vehicle industry. “We estimate that globally, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) will represent ~3% of 2020 global demand, while plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles (PHEVs) will represent another ~1.3%,” according to RBC’s figures. “But we see robust growth off these low figures. By 2025, when growth is still primarily regulatory driven, we see ~11% BEV global penetration of new demand representing a ~40% CAGR from 2020’s levels and ~5% PHEV penetration representing a ~35% CAGR. By 2025, we see BEV penetration in Western Europe at ~20%, China at ~17.5%, and the US at 7%. Comparatively, we expect internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to grow (cyclically) at a 2% CAGR through 2025. On a pure unit basis, we see “peak ICE” in 2024.”

#3d-printing, #amazon, #automotive-industry, #biden, #blackrock, #boston, #cdh-investments, #china, #crv, #desktop-metal, #electric-vehicle, #electric-vehicles, #energy, #energy-storage, #ford, #franklin-templeton, #gm, #houston, #itochu-corp, #lithium-ion-battery, #mit, #northbridge-venture-partners, #plug-in-hybrid, #president, #proterra, #rivian, #royal-bank-of-canada, #shanghai, #sylebra-capital, #tc, #tesla, #u-s-government, #united-states

Obvious Ventures outlines the “world positive” impact of its startups and shares what’s next

Today, the early-stage, mission-focused, San Francisco-based venture firm Obvious Ventures released a very readable overview of how each of its portfolio companies is benefiting the world in its own way.

Its report shines a light on the grocery deliver service Good Eggs, for example, sharing that roughly 70% of the products sold by the company are grown or produced within 250 miles of its food hub in Oakland, Ca. That matters because fresher food is more nutritious. The electric bus company Proterra is meanwhile starting to save cities millions of dollars in diesel fuel costs while also eliminating thousands of tons of carbon dioxide.

It’s the kind of investing to which more people are gravitating, says Obvious’s cofounder and managing director James Joaquin . We talked with him last week along with one of his firm cofounders, the serial entrepreneur Ev Williams. You can find part of our conversation with Williams here; below, we talked mostly with Joaquin about how Obvious is thinking about 2021 and what the team finds most interesting these days. (Hint, hallucinogens is one new area of interest.)

TC: For founders reading this, how many companies is Obvious talking with on a weekly basis right now?

JJ: Annually, we look at or consider about 2,000 investment opportunities. It’s obviously not completely linear distribution, but in terms of incoming investment opportunities that we track, it’s a very large number. Most of those get filtered right up front as either being in a geography we don’t invest in because we’re focused on North America — we’re not focused on Europe or Asia — or maybe they’re what we would call world neutral or world negative [so] outside of our thematic areas. But then a subset of those our team will meet with, and the bottom of that funnel is that we make between 10 to 12 investments per year.

TC: At some firms, everyone is a generalist. At Obvious, each partner seems to have a specific focus, like your focus in part on plant startups. Is this correct? 

JJ:  That’s one of the areas that that that I focus on, for sure. I mean, we’ve got five investing partners in the firm. Within food, I lead our work in plant-based protein and plant-forward food and consumer products companies. Thanks to work that Ev and [Twitter cofounder Biz Stone] did, we were very early investors in Beyond Meat. We’re also an early lead investor in Miyoko’s Creamery, which is a plant-based butter and cheese company that is one of our fastest-growing portfolio companies right now.

TC: How do deals get green-lit?

JJ: The inside baseball is that we tend to form two-person teams on a given deal when it reaches the due diligence stage. So there’s always a lead partner or managing director who’s championing the deal, but there’s a second person from the investment team working on it, too. Then ultimately, a CEO or a management team presents to the full investment committee before we make a decision to to issue a term sheet.

The process isn’t quite unanimous, but each managing director at the firm has the power of veto, so if someone feels really strongly that Obvious shouldn’t make that investment, they have that power to stop an investment, but that rarely occurs.

TC: Who are you seeing that’s newer to the table? More firms say they are paying attention to the themes on which you’ve been focused the start.

JJ: I would say there are a number of new firms that kind of are similar age to us that have also been investing in some of these frontiers. Firms like Lux capital have done a lot of co-investing with us in the computational biology space. Data Collective is a firm that we’ve co-invested with in some of the full stack healthcare work that we do. S2G Ventures is a great plant-based protein food firm that we’ve co-invested with,  so those are some of the new faces that we think are part of this world-positive generation of investors trying to solve big problems with startups and with cutting edge tech.

TC: Are you interested in hallucinogens? 

JJ: It’s absolutely a theme where we’ve been doing research. I should say we’re interested in it specifically for medical use, but we think that these former Schedule 1 drugs like ketamine, MDMA [commonly known as ecstasy], and psilocybin have great potential to solve the mental health crisis that not just the US but that the world is seeing ramped to be a top five human health issue. In the early trials around treatment-resistant depression, PTSD, suicidal ideation, these molecules are showing great promise.

We think there’s an opportunity to create a full-stack healthcare company similar to what we’ve done with Virta Health for [type 2] diabetes, or the work that DevotedHealth, one of our portfolio companies, is doing for seniors in the Medicare space. We think there’s going to be one or more new mental health companies built around this new kind of drug-assisted therapy that these molecules will enable.

TC: Ev, you’re an investor in a company that last month announced a small seed round called Sanity, a platform that helps users build and manage content flows on sites, which seems like a perfect fit for you. When is a deal an Ev Williams deal versus an Obvious Ventures deal?

EW: That was one of the rare deals that I did separate from the firm. I used to do a bit of angel investing before before we formed Obvious and one of the great reliefs for me has been to just send all my deal flow to James and the team. However, as James described, there’s a focus at Obvious both in deal size and area that doesn’t include everything, so Sanity is basically an enterprise product and the reason it was interesting to me is is because of the future infrastructure of how content is [distributed] is super interesting to me for Medium’s purposes. I liked what Sanity is doing. I was really impressed. It just didn’t align necessarily with the focus areas of Obvious, so that’s why I did that deal. But it’s really rare.

TC: What percentage of the firm’s deals are inbound versus outbound and maybe based on some thematic research?

JJ: We make sure we have the bandwidth to do both. We call it hunting and farming. Farming is farming the inbox, [and reviewing] all those introductions from our networks that come in. Probably 60% to 70% of our investment portfolio came from that inbound, but 30% to 40% came from hunting, which is building apoint of view around a theme that we care about,then going out and mapping out who are all the entrepreneurs who are doing work in that area, and who are the angel investors and pre-seed funds that are doing good work in that area, because those are important relationships for us as well.

TC: What’s your position on Bitcoin?

JJ: We definitely did our research and we tried to answer the question: are there world-positive applications for blockchain writ large and then specifically for Bitcoin as a blockchain cryptocurrency? We haven’t found any that we’ve made an investment in yet, but we’re open to the idea we continue to research that space.

TC: You recently added Tina Hoang-To to the team; she joined you from the late-stage and crossove fund Technology Crossover Ventures. Will Obvious be making more growth-stage investments?

JJ: We’re known for our early stage work, but from day one, we crafted a barbell strategy where we said, because we’re thematic, because we want to find the best plant protein companies, find the best electric transportation companies, we knew that some of those companies that we would be hunting might already be at the growth stage. So we architected our funds to be 75% early stage and 25% emerging growth roughly. Now, with the addition of Tina, we’re basically increasing our horsepower [on that front]. We’ve got someone better and smarter than us who knows [growth stage companies] really well.

TC: Would we see Obvious maybe form a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, around a growth-stage company?

JJ: Ev, I know you’ve gotten incoming about SPACs. Our take at Obvious is that we do not have any plans to create an Obvious Ventures SPAC. We tend to stick to our knitting. I will say that a number of our companies that are that are at the growth stage, [meaning in the] $50 million to $100 million dollars [range] of annual revenue where they’re thinking about public markets, they’re being approached by a number of SPAC [sponsors] as interesting targets. So we’re seeing that, and it’s really up to our founders, not us [if they move forward with these]. But we certainly have a voice on the board and we’re considering in some cases, our portfolio companies going public via a SPAC

EW: I haven’t haven’t looked into [SPACs] seriously yet. I think liquidity can be a good thing, and hopefully many of these SPACs will work out, but I’m kind of in a wait-and see-mode like a lot of people.

#beyond-meat, #ev-williams, #james-joaquin, #miyoko-creamery, #obvious-ventures, #proterra, #sanity, #tc

Proterra, which makes big honkin battery systems and electric buses, raises $200 million

Proterra, the battery system technology developer for heavy-duty electric vehicles, said it has raised $200 million in a new round of funding.

The new cash comes from Cowen Sustainable Investment Advisors, which led the round, along with money from Soros Fund Management, Generation Investment Management and Broadscale Group.

Cowen took the bulk of the round with $150 million while Soros, Generation and Broadscale forked over another $50 million.

This new capital infusion follows a year’s worth of speculation about a potential public offering for the big honkin battery systems developer. TechCrunch last reported in August 2019 that Proterra had hit a $1 billion valuation according to investors and would be seeking a potential IPO at the time.

The company said the new money would go to support the company’s ongoing research and development efforst into battery and electric drivetrain technologies and business development to increase the company’s footprint in additional commercial vehicle segments.

Proterra’s also looking at charging and energy management technology development to lower fleet management costs associated with operating electric fleets.

To date, Proterra has raised equity and debt totaling at least roughly $1 billion from investors including G2VP, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Constellation Ventures, Mitsui & Co. as well as BMW i Ventures, Edison Energy, the Federal Transportation Administration, General Motors’s venture arm and Tao Capital Partners .

Proterra, mainly makes buses for local, state and federal agencies that can travel 350 miles on a single charge. The Burlingame, Calif. company, which has a number of former Tesla employees in leadership positions, including the company’s former chief executive Ryan Popple, has also diversified its business to provide its power trains to other heavy- and medium-duty commercial electric vehicle manufacturers.

The company is now working with OEMs like Thomas Built Bus, Van Hool, FCCC, BusTech and Optimal-EV to bring 100% battery-electric vehicles powered by its technology to market, the company said in a statement.

“As demand grows for battery-electric vehicles and 100% zero-emission fleets, we are excited to collaborate with CSI as well as our other investors to accelerate the transition to clean, quiet transportation for all and deliver even more Proterra Powered vehicles around the world,” said Jack Allen, Proterra’s current chairman and chief executive.

BofA Securities acted as sole placement agent on this transaction.

#california, #electric-vehicle, #general-motors, #generation-investment-management, #kleiner-perkins-caufield-byers, #mitsui-co, #proterra, #soros-fund-management, #tao-capital-partners, #tc, #tesla, #transport