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Divergent Technologies Raises $160M to 3D-Print Car Parts
Divergent Technologies wants to radically change automotive manufacturing with 3D printing, smarter software and an entirely new approach to assembly. A new $160 million round of funding should help the Torrance-based startup on that mission.
Divergent unveiled the Series C round on Monday, announcing investors like businessman (and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate) Tom Steyer and former Goldman Sachs president John L. Thornton, who has joined the company’s board of directors (Thornton also currently sits on Ford Motor Co.’s board). Bloomberg reported that London-based investment firm Hedosophia also participated in the round, which values Divergent at more than $1 billion and adds to $200 million in previous funding from the likes of Horizons Ventures and Altran Technologies.
The company’s technology combines generative design and 3D printing to create custom-tailored components for auto parts manufacturers. Its software inputs the volume of the part, where it needs to connect to the rest of the vehicle and what kind of loads it needs to tolerate. The computer then calculates the optimal shape and design for the final product; designs can be optimized for weight, strength, cost and other parameters. Once a design is selected, it’s constructed, layer by layer, by one of Divergent’s printers, and then assembled autonomously.
“It’s an entirely new production system that we've created from scratch,” Divergent senior vice president Lukas Czinger told dot.LA. “If your cost target changes, or your mass target changes, or your design volume changes, or you want to quickly introduce a variant to your car. Within days, literally, we can design, print and assemble that new design.”
Czinger was tight-lipped about which specific auto manufacturers the company is working with—but said Divergent would be making announcements this summer, and that three of the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) it is working with “are within the five largest OEMs in the world.” Czinger confirmed that some of the car models that Divergent is designing for are electric vehicles.
In addition to making auto manufacturing cheaper and faster, Divergent also claims its system can reduce the industry’s carbon footprint by reducing waste and improving efficiency. Steyer—an environmentalist who made climate change a major part of his presidential campaign platform—said Divergent is “one of the companies I’m most hopeful will have an important impact on our ability to combat climate change” in a statement.
“Zero-emissions vehicles are an important part of a greener future, but if we can't reduce the environmental costs of building them in the first place, their impact will never be fully realized," Steyer said. “Divergent's technology can change that.”
Divergent said it will use the funding to scale up its manufacturing facilities, with plans for new factories in the U.S. and Europe “starting in 2024.”
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By all accounts, these are heady times for health-tech startups. In 2020, as the pandemic raged, a record $28.5 billion of venture capital poured into the U.S. biotech startup scene, according to Pitchbook data. New dollars inflated valuations for telehealth services, concierge medical practices and a slew of other startups designed to save doctors, hospitals and patients time and money.
But not everybody reaped the benefits. A survey of nearly 700 health startup leaders conducted by Rock Health in 2020 found that support for Black founders was largely inadequate. Black founders were more likely than white or Asian founders to bootstrap their companies, while most were based in the South or the Midwest—far from the funding hotbeds of the Northeast and West Coast.
These inequities formed the genesis for Jumpstart Nova, which bills itself as the first venture fund investing exclusively in Black-founded and Black-led health companies. The fund—a spinoff from Nashville-based venture capital firm Jumpstart Health Investors—announced Wednesday that it has raised $55 million from health care investors including Eli Lilly and Company, Cardinal Health and Atrium Health, oversubscribing its initial $30 million target.
Jumpstart Nova partner Kathryne Cooper
Though Jumpstart is based in Tennessee, the Nova fund will have roots in Los Angeles, as well. Jumpstart Nova partner and native Angeleno Kathryne Cooper is based in L.A., and is working alongside Jumpstart co-founder Marcus Whitney to lead deals and manage the portfolio. Cooper brings an experienced background in the worlds of health care technology and startup investing. She previously managed an FDA-backed seed fund for the West Coast Consortium for Technology & Innovation in Pediatrics, and has served as an advisor to Backstage Capital, an L.A.-based venture fund for minority-led startups, as well as the city of Los Angeles’ Women in STEM (WiSTEM) initiative.
“[Black people] have been overlooked traditionally for investments from the venture space, and I believe that talent is equally distributed and anyone can build within health care,” Cooper told dot.LA. “So I think it was a unique market opportunity to create a fund that invests exclusively in Black founders.”
According to Jumpstart, of the nearly 785,000 companies in the U.S. health care sector today, only around 35,000—or less than 5%—are Black-owned. The venture fund is hoping to eliminate certain processes baked into the venture capital world that it believes make it harder for minority founders to access funding. For instance, instead of relying on in-person meetings that require founders to fly out to L.A. or Nashville, it is soliciting founders from all over the U.S.—an attempt to rectify some of the geographical inequities that leave many Black founders at a disadvantage.
“I think protocols like that are helpful because some of these methodologies have chronically underserved certain types of founders,” Cooper said. “And we don't make the same mistake, even though we're investing in Black founders.”
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Keerthi Vedantam is a bioscience reporter at dot.LA. She cut her teeth covering everything from cloud computing to 5G in San Francisco and Seattle. Before she covered tech, Keerthi reported on tribal lands and congressional policy in Washington, D.C. Connect with her on Twitter, Clubhouse (@keerthivedantam) or Signal at 408-470-0776.
Tel Aviv-based Electreon specializes in wireless induction charging, similar to the technology that allows you to charge your cell phone on a wireless mat or dock without plugging it in. By embedding a system of coiled wires into the pavement, Electreon plans to turn the road itself into a charging station for vehicles—one that can be used even while cars are moving.
Founded in 2013, the company has already proven its technology can work via pilot programs in Sweden, Germany and Italy—as well as its homeland of Israel, where it’s a publicly traded company on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. But on Tuesday, Electreon announced a partnership with Michigan public authorities, as well as private stakeholders like Ford Motor Company, to install a one-mile-long stretch of electrified road in Detroit—the first time such a system would be used in public roads in the U.S. The system is expected to be operational by next year.
Electreon, which opened its U.S. headquarters in Los Angeles last month, is initially targeting fleet vehicles like taxis, buses and drayage trucks for its technology, but plans to eventually expand into the consumer EV market as well. Electric road systems would be especially attractive to fleet vehicles for a number of reasons, the most obvious being that they stop frequently. Time spent idling, especially in predictable locations, means it’s easier to know where to install electrified roads and make them cost-effective.
Stefan Tongur, Electreon’s L.A.-based vice president of business development, says the company’s induction charging technology will probably charge slower than the traditional plug-in station model. But if the pavement under every bus station was electrified, he told dot.LA, a small amount of charge would be added to the vehicle at every stop—meaning the bus would need to take fewer, if any, breaks to recharge its battery.
Image courtesy of Electreon
It’s easy to imagine similar use cases at ports, rail yards or airport taxi lanes, all of which could spell significant savings for companies that lose time and money when their electric fleet vehicles are plugged in and recharging. Many of these areas also fall under the purview of the private sector, which would make uptake and implementation easier, according to Tongur. He said Electreon is already eyeing a move into such spaces.
Electreon aims to have its wireless charging technology installed on public roads around the U.S. within “a couple of years,” Tongur added. While Detroit will host the pilot program, Los Angeles and New York will be the next targets.
“L.A. is obvious, right? It’s the Mecca of EVs,” he said. “You have air quality issues here; you have the port of L.A. and Long Beach; you have so much traffic. Moving to electrification is, I would say, a must.”
The goal of installing wireless charging for moving vehicles is “very courageous,” said Mehrdad Kazerani, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. Kazerani noted that researchers at the university had developed a similar concept for the sprawling Trans-Canada Highway. “Of course, we did not pursue this idea, but it seems Electreon has made good progress along this line,” he said.
Kazerani added that wireless charging technology may also allow the EVs of the future to use considerably smaller batteries, which would make the cars lighter, more energy-efficient and less expensive. Smaller batteries would also mean less mining for battery materials and less waste when a battery reaches the end of its life.
“This is kind of an invitation to the U.S. market: to policymakers, state agencies, fleet owners and original equipment manufacturers,” Tongur said. “This is an opportunity to do things together—join us on this path and journey.”