The Brief: Formula E, drone delivery in Africa, sustainable mobility, pandemic lessons for a recession, SOCAP Open voting

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Featured: Electric Vehicles

Formula E: The hum of electric race cars signals the arrival of the EV era. There was no deafening roar of engines as 22 race cars careened along the Brooklyn waterfront last weekend at the Formula E – for electric. “Electric” also sums up the mood at the race, which drew more than 20,000 fans. The electric hotrods lapped the 1.4-mile track with a high-pitched whistle that evoked the whine of airplane engines or whizzy fireworks. As fans cheered from the stands, Portuguese driver Antonio Felix da Costa edged out Mercedes’ Stoffel Vandoornewon in an hour-long race to win round 12 of the New York City E-Prix, part of the global Formula E series, the sustainable sister of the better known Formula One. 

The high-torque performance augurs the arrival of the EV era. Electric-only vehicles in the U.S. have crossed the tipping point of 5% of new car sales (based on other nations that have already hit that milestone – thank you, Norway). Accelerating the shift are new electric-powered versions of some of the country’s most iconic cars. Volkswagen is readying an electric version of its beloved VW bus, in what The New Yorker calls “the most anticipated vehicle in automotive history.” The counterculture touchstone may be eclipsed in demand by the more meat-and-potatoes F-150 Lightning, an e-version of Ford’s best selling F-series pickup truck. Ford is working through 200,000 pre-orders for the model amid supply shortages. In addition to its workhorse features, the F-150 Lightning can power a house during a blackout, provide a source of energy for power tools at remote job sites, and send energy back to the grid. GM is planning some 30 electric models aimed at the mainstream market as it shifts to all-electric offerings by 2035. Formula E teams are sponsored by automakers such as Jaguar, Porsche, Stellantis and China’s Nio, which see Formula E as a real-world testbed for EV technology. First-generation Formula E cars had to stop for a battery swap; current models can complete the race without a pitstop. Next year’s “Gen 3” model will hit speeds of 200 mph. 

Dealflow: High Fliers

Germany’s Wingcopter raises $42 million for electric delivery drones. Wingcopter’s electric drones can take off and land vertically while flying long distances even in extreme weather. The company, which provides delivery services for healthcare, logistics, groceries and food partners in Europe and Africa, aims to deploy 12,000 drones in Africa over five years. In Malawi, where the company has been active since 2019, Wingcopter is expanding its drone delivery network to transport medical goods, including emergency medicines and Covid vaccines, to remote health centers. Other companies, such as LifeBank and Zipline, also are using drones to address Africa’s medical logistics challenges. 

  • International expansion. Wingcopter’s flagship aircraft was recently approved by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, providing an opening to the U.S. market. German investors REWE Group, Salvia and XAI Technologies backed the Series A extension round, bringing Wingcopter’s total raised to $60 million. Wingcopter’s Tom Plummer says the financing enables the company to “establish our drone delivery solution with our customers around the globe to optimize supply chains.”
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Vektor Partners raises €50 million to invest in the future of mobility. More than $100 billion in investment has flowed to mobility solutions in the last two years. London-based Vektor is looking to build a portfolio of startups using artificial intelligence, software and data technologies to advance automation, electrification, safety and sustainability in the mobility sector. Vektor’s Isabel Falkenberg said the early-stage venture firm reached a first close of $60 million. The fund is looking to raise €125 million ($150 million) to write checks ranging from $1 million to $5 million in Europe, Israel and the U.S. In a recent deal, it backed Germany’s Compredict, whose virtual sensors help fleet operators and automakers manage vehicle health. 

  • Structural shifts. The fund will invest in startups “with real use cases and significant economic and environmental value,” said Vektor’s Sebastian Bihari. “We are looking at tectonic shifts in the mobility landscape, where we will see new markets being created and expect about half of the industry to be disrupted.”
  • Onward.

Dealflow overflow. Other investment news crossing our desks:

  • Bangalore-based NiYO, a neobank that provides financial services to blue-collar workers and other employees, raised $30 million from Multiples Alternate Asset Management.
  • Funds managed by BlackRock purchased Vanguard Renewables, which converts food and dairy waste to clean energy via anaerobic digestion, from Vision Ridge Partners.
  • Humanity Health scored $6 million in Series A funding led by Jumpstart Nova to support career opportunities for women and people of color in the healthcare industry.
  • India’s electric vehicle manufacturer Ola Electric will invest $500 million to build a battery research and development facility in Bangalore.

Series: Frontiers in Social Innovation

As recession looms, pandemic lessons for sustainable investing. Just as the U.S. economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, a global recession is threatening worldwide havoc. Lessons from the pandemic could enable us to face and recover faster and better from the challenges of a global recession, Sara Singer, Sevda Memet, Gordon Bloom and Suruchi Kothari argue in the latest article in ImpactAlpha’s series, “Frontiers in Social Innovation,” with the Center for Social Innovation at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. “Recovery should focus on managing through the short-term crisis and planning for long-term emergence and sustainability,” the authors say. “Investing in innovative ideas with long-term horizons offers opportunities for investors to diversify and hedge their portfolios, thus making them less rather than more risky.”

  • Systemic solutions. “A crisis makes systemic problems more evident,” the authors write. “At such times, innovators can emerge from unexpected places.” Take, for example, Boomitra, a California-based social enterprise whose mission is to mitigate climate change by removing CO2 from the atmosphere at scale and low cost. Its founder Aadith Moorthy got the idea for a carbon credit marketplace, powered by farmers, after learning about the high rates of suicide among India’s climate-vulnerable farming community. “Achieving recovery in the long-term requires betting and building towards a better economic future,” the authors say. “We must commit to continued investments in vital areas for a sustainable future, such as human and planetary health.”
  • Keep reading, “As recession looms, pandemic lessons for sustainable investing,” by Sara Singer, Sevda Memet, Gordon Bloom and Suruchi Kothari on ImpactAlpha. Catch up on earlier posts in our “Frontiers in Social Innovation” series.

Agents of Impact: Follow the Talent

Julie Wallace, former global head of sustainability at Standard Chartered, joins LeapFrog Investments as head of impact. TIAA’s former president and CEO Roger Ferguson joins the firm’s global leadership council… Quinn+Partners brings on Jason Sukhram, ex- of MaRS Discovery District, as impact services lead and engagement manager, and Chelsie Hunt, a former freelance impact investment consultant, as a senior analyst. 

In Boston, Social Finance seeks a vice president of impact investments, BNG Consulting, Inc. is looking for a director of impact operations, and Wellington Management is recruiting a principal for its Climate Innovation Fund… Capital Impact Partners is hiring a director of investments in New York. Also in New York, Tiffany & Co. is searching for a chief sustainability officer… Opportunity Finance Network seeks a credit analyst in Washington, D.C.

Voting is open (through July 22) for sessions for SOCAP22. Send us one-line descriptions and links to your SOCAP Open sessions and we’ll share in The Brief.

Thank you for your impact!

– July 21, 2022