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Elevation Ventures Is Raising $50M for a Climate-Focused Tech Fund in SoCal
Interest in electric cars is spiking as gas prices rise to their highest prices in years, but supply chain headaches and the lack of infrastructure such as charging stations are keeping the demand pent up. And, the longer-term effects on power grids will mean there will be lots to upgrade, even after the transition to cleaner technology, like electric vehicles, comes online.
Elevation Ventures, a new climate-focused venture firm in Orange County, is raising a $50 million fund to focus on technology that can provide new products and services. The fund will target seed-stage companies in SoCal, though it might also invest in a few Series A funding rounds. Check sizes will range from $500,000 to $3 million.
A VC Built By Consortium
Elevation Ventures Managing Partner Neal Rickner is an Orange County native who recently moved back to the area from Silicon Valley, where he was the COO of Makani Technologies, a company that developed airborne wind turbines. It was acquired by Google in 2013, and then eventually shut down by Alphabet, Google's parent company.
Elevation Ventures Managing Partner Neal Rickner.
Image courtesy of Neal Rickner
He also worked with what’s known as “X,” (formerly Google X), a research and development facility founded by Google, which now operates as a subsidiary of Alphabet.
”I’ve been through the ringer...up there,” he said. “I learned the best I could from the best innovators in the world."
But it wasn’t until Rickner did some serious reflection in 2020, that he decided to move back to Orange County. He had some informal conversations with members from Aliso Viejo-based Octane’s team in 2017, but it didn’t coalesce until 2020. Octane acted as the catalyst and facilitator, bringing in Sustain Socal. Elevation Ventures was formed.
Octane already has a track record in investing. In 2016, it partnered with Visionary Ventures, a VC firm that backs ophthalmology and aesthetic startups, which have a strong presence in Orange County.
The organization has both for-profit and nonprofit branches and serves SoCal’s general technology and medical technology ecosystems—connecting people, resources and capital. One of its initiatives is a four-month accelerator program called LaunchPad that gives local founders access to a slew of advisors and resources.
Sustain SoCal is a hub of climate, sustainability and environmental experts, with a presence at UC Irvine’s innovation center, The Cove. The network comprises thousands of experts; most have been involved with clean tech and/or climate tech for 20 years or more.
Elevation expects to make 15 to 20 investments from this first fund, over the next two to three years, Rickner said. Even before the first close of the first fund, expected this summer, Elevation is already writing checks through a type of investing known as a special purpose vehicle. Typically set up as an LLC or limited partnership company, SPVs make a single investment into just one company.
Rickner, Octane CEO Bill Carpou and Sustain SoCal CEO Scott Kitcher put together a mission statement for their new venture firm in the fall.
”The three of us bring together the core ingredients for a VC fund to succeed,” he said. “And, we complement each other well. We have different networks and skill sets, but we’re mission-aligned and collectively-aligned.”
The team hopes to raise around $20 million by the summer. It’s raised just over $10 million so far, Rickner said.
“The first commitments are all from SoCal and know Octane or SoCal well,” Rickner said, adding that they’re targeting high net-worth individuals and family offices.
Elevation recently also brought on longtime climate technology investor Rachel Payne and former Seeder Clean Energy co-founder Alex Shoer.
Elevation’s first investment, for which it raised more than $1 million, was in Los Angeles-based Veloce Energy. The startup runs a software platform and installation system to enhance the move to a decentralized, distributed energy grid that enables anyone to trade electricity on its networks.
Rickner said companies like Veloce can accelerate the shift to these decentralized power systems “faster and cheaper” than enormous electricity providers.
In late April, the firm made its second investment (also through an SPV) in Carbon Collective.
The Alameda-based startup enables employees to use their retirement funds to fight climate change by divesting from companies that contribute to climate change and to re-invest in companies working to combat the climate crisis.
“Venture deals move quickly,” Rickner said, in explaining why he opted to raise money quickly via SPV rather than waiting for the fund to close. “These first two deals were great opportunities. We had special access, and we didn't want to pass them up.”
Rickner declined to disclose the amount of either investment.
Next Industrial Revolution
It wasn’t an easy decision to leave Silicon Valley.
“Part of the allure for me was [the opportunity to] work on something I’ve been passionate about for a long time,” Rickner said.
He credits the pandemic and lockdowns that followed with inspiring him, like many others, to reflect on what was important.
“A lot of people woke up and decided we had to take better care of our environment, that climate change was happening,” he added. ”When you take time, you realize there are more floods and fires and extreme events, and it became personal to a lot of folks."
Elevation will have plenty of opportunities to invest close to home, Rickner noted. Orange County is home to some of the biggest names in electric vehicles, including electric pickup truck maker Rivian Automotive, which is headquartered in Irvine.
But it will also have local competition. Laguna Beach-based Keiki Capital launched in 2017 to invest in climate tech startups at the pre-seed and seed level.
Rickner sees the time we’re living in as a transition into the next industrial revolution—and he sees opportunities.
“90% of the world economy, as measured by country GDP, has committed to net zero,” he said, referring to several nations’ pledges to move to power sources that are carbon neutral.
More than half of the world’s corporate and financial institutions, as measured by revenue and assets under management, have committed to a net-zero approach, he added.
“The previous industrial revolutions produced many billionaires,” Rickner said. “And this one will do the same.”
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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.”
David Shultz is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara, California. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside and Nautilus, among other publications.
Fintech startup Superjoi, which lets fans fund creators’ content projects, has raised $2.5 million in pre-seed funding.
Superjoi raised the funding from fintech-focused investors including Ascension Ventures, QED Investors, Systema VC, Tomahawk and Modern Venture Partners. The round also included participation from senior leadership at e-commerce platform Shopify, fintech firm Revolut and Los Angeles-based live-in accelerator Launch House.
Based in West Hollywood, Superjoi’s platform allows creators to run Kickstarter-like campaigns to raise capital for projects, while giving fans the chance to suggest ideas for new content. Creators can also reward fans who chip in by giving them event tickets, merchandise or a personal video call. Later this year, Superjoi plans to help fans reap financial rewards, too—such as a share of advertising revenues generated from projects that they backed.
A screenshot from Superjoi's platform.
Major online platforms like Facebook and YouTube have increasingly monetized the relationship between creators and fans, targeting users with ads and sharing some of the revenues with creators. But Superjoi’s founders contend that fans have been completely cut out of the equation despite driving creators’ successes. In September, the startup began building a platform that would give fans a share of the financial upside, co-founder and CEO Chris Knight told dot.LA.
“Superjoi, as we position it, is liquidity with love,” Knight said. “The reason why we call it that is, for somebody who's creative, there's no better funding source for their creativity than the people who love them—and that’s their fans.”
Knight learned a lot about what he calls “superfans” after helping to build Fantom, a fan-focused smartwatch launched with England’s Manchester City Football Club. The Premier League team consults its fans on decisions relating to its stadium and sponsorships, he noted. “I see huge opportunities in the future for creators to actually have a deeper engagement with their audience and actually mobilize their audience to a new level,” Knight said.
From left: Superjoi co-founders Chris Knight, Piotr Wolanski and Soren Creutzburg Courtesy of Superjoi
Fans will initially fund projects on Superjoi by buying “supercoins,” an in-platform currency that is worth $1 each. While supercoins are not technically crypto tokens at this stage, the startup envisions letting fans invest in creators, earn a financial return and receive ownership in their content based on tokenization. Superjoi collects a 10% cut of a creator’s fundraising goal.
The platform plans to launch in mid-May with about 25 U.S.-based creators with larger audiences, and will onboard more creators on a waitlisted basis, Knight said. A full public launch is expected later this summer.
Superjoi, which has 14 employees, plans to use the new funds on growing its team, acquiring creators and marketing the platform.
Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.