Sector in-depth discussion with portfolio companies.
Tom Whitehouse, contributing editor at Global Corporate Venturing, chaired a sector spotlight session on the main stage at the GCVI Summit dubbed “Automotive, mobility, travel.” Tony Cannestra, director of corporate ventures at Denso, Meghan Sharp, managing director at BP Ventures –Americas, and Bonny Simi, president of JetBlue Technology Ventures, participated in it.
Simi, a co-head of a venturing unit and an active pilot, pointed out that Jet Blue Ventures has been “very bullish” in the aviation space, as breakthroughs in electric propulsion would bring about significant disruptions in short-haul transportation (10-1,000 miles). She also mentioned that the investment mandate of her venturing subsidiary extends beyond pure and deep tech into innovation related to travelling and the entirety of a customer’s journey.
Cannestra touched on developments in the autonomous vehicles space and noted that there is a “rush of entrepreneurship” in this space, pointing as an example Israel– a country without a native automobile industry, where thousands of startups are currently working on autonomous vehicle technologies. He also said that most of the technology for fully autonomous vehicle will likely be developed in the next three to five years.
Sharp brought in the perspective of an oil major company on the electrification of transport. BP owns numerous petrol stations around the globe and with the advent of electric vehicles, the pending questions is whether people in the near future will be charging gas or electric vehicles. Sharp noted that BP Ventures had seen its capital increased and currently receives $200m per year, allowing it to invest more broadly in areas like artificial intelligence (AI), mobility, digital and low carbon in addition to emerging enterprises developing technologies related to its core businesses.
Looking forward, each of the speakers on the panel highlighted the trends they are watching: Simi said she was interested how blockchain and AI technologies would impact JetBlue´s space. To Cannestra, the key to the adoption of emerging autotech lies in personalisation of vehicles. To Sharp, the hottest new area was electrification and fast charging, in particular.
Later on, there was a breakout session, where the conversation on automotive, travel and mobility continued and BP, JetBlue and Denso introduced startups they have committed capital to. The session was moderated by Jim Fischer, partner at law firm Drinker Biddle & Reath, which sponsored the breakout session.
Sharp introduced Arcady Sosinov, CEO of FreeWire, which had announced round backed by BP Ventures just a day before. FreeWire develops a mobile charging system for electric vehicles (EVs) in an attempt to address the massive changes such vehicles would bring about in the transportation sector. The average petrol station today has a very little energy capacity to enable charging of EVs of the future. FreeWire´s technology currently operates at 50Kw but it is scalable to make a 10-15min fast charging of an electric vehicle possible.
To an investor like BP with thousands of petrol stations around the world to be adapted, FreeWire´s mobile charging units can bring a clear advantage of not having to rely on utility companies and existing infrastructure to provide such services in the future. The round closed a day before also featured tools manufacturer Stanley Back & Decker, which had invested through its Stanley Ventures subsidiary.
Sharp also introduced to the audience Gary Tucker, CEO of Zubie, another BP Ventures portfolio business, which develops a connected car cloud-based platform for vehicle management monitoring. Previously backed by other corporates like retailer BestBuy, automotive parts producer Magna and communications technology producer Comporium, Zubie´s platform is a device-agnostic and can collect data from anything, as Tucker described it. He also said that it is used in small fleets today, where trip data, vehicle diagnostics are employed and there is also an integration with RepairPal (an independent network of repair shops) to address issues with the vehicle in real time and suggest a mechanic.
Cannestra introduced Brian Wong, CEO, Trilumina, a Denso portfolio business, which develops lasers for solid state Lidar systems and 3D sensing.
Wong described the mission of its company is “to democratise Ladar and 3d sensing”, i.e. to lower costs and make its employment more massive. In the technology it develops, multiple lasers are placed on a single chip or a few chips that enables the system to be more cost efficient. Founded in 2011, the company raised its first round in 2013 and has 41 patents granted and pending. It has received backing from Denso as well as Caterpillar.
Cannestra also introduced to the audience Abhay Jain, CEO of Active Scaler, a Denso portfolio business, which he described as in-motion intelligence. Active Scaler provides a platform, which offers car security and scalability services. The platform automates vehicle management through contextual analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence, enabling transportation providers to improve and expand service offerings by using a stream of real-time data.
Raj Singh, managing director of JetBlue Technology Ventures, introduced Shimon Elkabetz, CEO of ClimaCell, which provides weather data. Elkabetz pointed out that most industries in the emerging tech-based “new economy” will be even more sensitive to weather than before. At present, conventional weather forecasts lack in accuracy and granularity that will be needed to autonomous vehicles or aircraft. To provide more reliable and accurate data, ClimaCell employs software to analyse signal interference and collect data, sampling existing communications networks. Its data services are currently being used by major airlines in the US and has potential applications in autonomous vehicles and insurance industry.
Lastly, Zunum Aero, a JetBlue Technology Ventures investee, was presented by Birger Steen, commercial and corporate development adviser of the company. Founded in 2013, Zunum Aero develops commercial hybrid-to-electric aircraft for regional transit by employing range-optimised powertrain and propulsion technologies. Steen pointed how Zunum´s aircraft could not only reduce environmental impact but also significantly driver operating costs down, which would revolutionise regional travel.