All is not well with the proposed acquisition of U.K. start bus platform Zeelo by Mass transit group Swvl. Back in April, we covered how a possible $100 million acquisition was on the cards, and, indeed, both companies confirmed it was, though not the price.
Swvl, an Egyptian-born startup that provides shared transportation services for intercity and intracity trips, had previously gone public (NASDAQ: SWVL) via a SPAC, and had agreed to acquire Zeelo, adding to its recent acquisitions of Viapool and Shotl, as well as the announced acquisitions of Volt Lines and door2door.
When the news of the acquisition dropped, Swvl was trading at $9 to $10 a share. Today, however, it is trading at barely $1 a share. SPot the difference…
So today Zeelo has dropped the news that the acquisition is now terminated, citing overall market conditions and the obvious slump in tech stocks.
The April 28 acquisition was expected to close on May 24, and Zeelo says all pre-completion obligations were met, but “following financial market volatility, Swvl and Zeelo mutually agreed to terminate the planned transaction.”
Equally, in an SEC filing, Swvl Holdings Corp says it agreed to terminate their previously announced transaction whereby Swvl would acquire Zeelo. Swvl previously funded a $5 million convertible promissory note to Zeelo, which the latter will now keep.
However, the move sounds like it’s a smart one for Zeelo, which claims to be seeing continued growth in its business in the U.K., South Africa and the U.S., providing private rides for commuters and students in the corporate and education space.
Zeelo has raised $19.6 million to date from investors such as ETF Partners, InMotion Ventures and angels.
In an interview with co-founder and CEO Sam Ryan, I asked if the termination of the acquisition was a disaster for Zeelo.
“No, I don’t think it’s been a disaster,” he said. “I think the market conditions have changed. We’re still in a great place, the business is growing really, really quickly. And you know, now we’re shielded from what’s going on in the public markets.”
He said both companies mutually agreed to terminate the transaction due to the collapse in tech markets: “The deal that was agreed no longer made sense right for the parties…not just in terms of the transaction, but also in terms of the growth opportunity…We wouldn’t be able to do any of that anymore.”
He added: “We’re in a great place now. We’re profitable in the U.K., we’re growing 1.5x again this year. We’re doing 150,000 rides per month via EV. This is growing very quickly, as there is a big opportunity in the U.S. market. I think being somewhat shielded from the public markets isn’t a bad thing. Obviously, any process like this involves lots of ups and downs and it’s a real roller coaster. But everyone is very, very excited about what’s next.”
Acknowledging the tech downturn, he added: “I think that the world has changed incredibly quickly in the last few months, and sentiment around public early-stage technology companies has changed dramatically. I’m not sure any of us could have foreseen what was going to happen over the last few months or just how severe it’s been.”
Simultaneously, Zeelo is coming out with the news that it has cut a deal with electric fleet and network infrastructure provider, Zenobe, to enable the former to run rides on electric vehicles, with a consequent position contribution to its net-zero goals. (Zeelo says its journeys are already 100% carbon neutral through a partnership with Climate Partner to support environmental regeneration programs in Bulgaria and Uganda.)
Zenobe says it currently services 25% of the U.K.’s bus market share, providing charging infrastructure, battery replacement, large-scale battery storage and refurbished second-life batteries. Zeelo is already running electric buses on some routes with its bus operator partners.
James Basden, co-founder of Zenobe, commented: “We believe access is the key roadblock to transitioning to electrification and that is why we have developed software, infrastructure and a financing model together with our partners like Zeelo to build sustainability right into the business model of the transport industry.”
Zeelo’s transport management software system comprises a SaaS platform, consumer apps that pick workers or students up from where they are. It was founded in 2016 by Sam Ryan, Barney Williams and Daniel Ruiz and closed its Series A in 2018. So far it’s raised over $30 million from ETF Partners, InMotion Ventures and Dynamo, among others. The co-founders previously sold their pioneering ride-sharing app JumpIn to Addison Lee in 2014.
Tesla more than tripled its Austin gigafactory workforce in 2022
Tesla’s 2,500-acre manufacturing hub in Austin, Texas tripled its workforce last year, according to the company’s annual compliance report filed with county officials. Bloomberg first reported on the news.
The report filed with Travis County’s Economic Development Program shows that Tesla increased its Austin workforce from just 3,523 contingent and permanent employees in 2021 to 12,277 by the end of 2022. Bloomberg reports that just over half of Tesla’s workers reside in the county, with the average full-time employee earning a salary of at least $47,147. Outside of Tesla’s factory, the average salary of an Austin worker is $68,060, according to data from ZipRecruiter.
TechCrunch was unable to acquire a copy of the report, so it’s not clear if those workers are all full-time. If they are, Tesla has hired a far cry more full-time employees than it is contracted to do. According to the agreement between Tesla and Travis County, the company is obligated to create 5,001 new full-time jobs over the next four years.
The contract also states that Tesla must invest about $1.1 billion in the county over the next five years. Tesla’s compliance report shows that the automaker last year invested $5.81 billion in Gigafactory Texas, which officially launched a year ago at a “Cyber Rodeo” event. In January, Tesla notified regulators that it plans to invest another $770 million into an expansion of the factory to include a battery cell testing site and cathode and drive unit manufacturing site. With that investment will come more jobs.
Tesla’s choice to move its headquarters to Texas and build a gigafactory there has helped the state lead the nation in job growth. The automaker builds its Model Y crossover there and plans to build its Cybertruck in Texas, as well. Giga Texas will also be a model for sustainable manufacturing, CEO Elon Musk has said. Last year, Tesla completed the first phase of what will become “the largest rooftop solar installation in the world,” according to the report, per Bloomberg. Tesla has begun on the second phase of installation, but already there are reports of being able to see the rooftop from space. The goal is to generate 27 megawatts of power.
Musk has also promised to turn the site into an “ecological paradise,” complete with a boardwalk and a hiking/biking trail that will open to the public. There haven’t been many updates on that front, and locals have been concerned that the site is actually more of an environmental nightmare that has led to noise and water pollution. The site, located at the intersection of State Highway 130 and Harold Green Road, east of Austin, is along the Colorado River and could create a climate catastrophe if the river overflows.
The site of Tesla’s gigafactory has also historically been the home of low-income households and has a large population of Spanish-speaking residents. It’s not clear if the jobs at the factory reflect the demographic population of the community in which it resides.
Launch startup Stoke Space rolls out software tool for complex hardware development
Stoke Space, a company that’s developing a fully reusable rocket, has unveiled a new tool to let hardware companies track the design, testing and integration of parts. The new tool, Fusion, is targeting an unsexy but essential aspect of the hardware workflow.
It’s a solution born out of “ubiquitous pain in the industry,” Stoke CEO Andy Lapsa said in a recent interview. The current parts tracking status quo is marked by cumbersome, balkanized solutions built on piles of paperwork and spreadsheets. Many of the existing tools are not optimized “for boots on the ground,” but for finance or procurement teams, or even the C-suite, Lapsa explained.
In contrast, Fusion is designed to optimize simple inventory transactions and parts organization, and it will continue to track parts through their lifespan: as they are built into larger assemblies and go through testing. In an extreme example, such as hardware failures, Fusion will help teams connect anomalous data to the exact serial numbers of the parts involved.
“If you think about aerospace in general, there’s a need and a desire to be able to understand the part pedigree of every single part number and serial number that’s in an assembly,” Lapsa said. “So not only do you understand the configuration, you understand the history of all of those parts dating back to forever.”
While Lapsa clarified that Fusion is the result of an organic in-house need for better parts management – designing a fully reusable rocket is complicated, after all – turning it into a sell-able product was a decision that the Stoke team made early on. It’s a notable example of a rocket startup generating pathways for revenue while their vehicle is still under development.
Fusion offers particular relevance to startups. Many existing tools are designed for production runs – not the fast-moving research and development environment that many hardware startups find themselves, Lapsa added. In these environments, speed and accuracy are paramount.
Brent Bradbury, Stoke’s head of software, echoed these comments.
“The parts are changing, the people are changing, the processes are changing,” he said. “This lets us capture all that as it happens without a whole lot of extra work.”
Amid a boom in AI accelerators, a UC Berkeley-focused outfit, House Fund, swings open its doors
Companies at the forefront of AI would naturally like to stay at the forefront, so it’s no surprise they want to stay close to smaller startups that are putting some of their newest advancements to work.
Last month, for example, Neo, a startup accelerator founded by Silicon Valley investor Ali Partovi, announced that OpenAI and Microsoft have offered to provide free software and advice to companies in a new track focused on artificial intelligence.
Now, another Bay Area outfit — House Fund, which invests in startups with ties to UC Berkeley — says it is launching an AI accelerator and that, similarly, OpenAI, Microsoft, Databricks, and Google’s Gradient Ventures are offering participating startups free and early access to tech from their companies, along with mentorship from top AI founders and executives at these companies.
We talked with House Fund founder Jeremy Fiance over the weekend to get a bit more color about the program, which will replace a broader-based accelerator program House Fund has run and whose alums include an additive manufacturing software company, Dyndrite, and the managed app development platform Chowbotics, whose most recent round in January brought the company’s total funding to more than $60 million.
For founders interested in learning more, the new AI accelerator program runs for two months, kicking off in early July and ending in early September. Six or so companies will be accepted, with the early application deadline coming up next week on April 13th. (The final application deadline is on June 1.) As for the time commitment involved across those two months, every startup could have a different experience, says Fiance. “We’re there when you need us, and we’re good at staying out of the way.”
There will be the requisite kickoff retreat to spark the program and founders to get to know one another. Candidates who are accepted will also have access to some of UC Berkeley’s renowned AI professors, including Michael Jordan, Ion Stoica, and Trevor Darrell. And they can opt into dinners and events in collaboration with these various constituents.
As for some of the financial dynamics, every startup that goes through the program will receive a $1 million investment on a $10 million post-money SAFE note. Importantly, too, as with the House Fund’s venture dollars, its AI accelerator is seeking startups that have at least one Berkeley-affiliated founder on the co-founding team. That includes alumni, faculty, PhDs, postdocs, staff, students, dropouts, and other affiliates.
There is no demo day. Instead, says Fiance, founders will receive “directed, personal introductions” to the VCs who best fit with their startups.
Given the buzz over AI, the new program could supercharge House Fund, the venture organization, which is already growing fast. Fiance launched it in 2016 with just $6 million and it now manages $300 million in assets, including on behalf of Berkeley Endowment Management Company and the University of California.
At the same time, the competition out there is fierce and growing more so by the day.
Though OpenAI has offered to partner with House Fund, for example, the San Francisco-based company announced its own accelerator back in November. Called Converge, the cohort was to be made up of 10 or so founders who received $1 million each and admission to five weeks of office hours, workshops and other events that ended and that received their funding from the OpenAI Startup Fund.
Y Combinator, the biggest accelerator in the world, is also oozing with AI startups right now, all of them part of a winter class that will be talking directly with investors this week via demo days that are taking place tomorrow, April 5th, and on Thursday.
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