Nov 08, 2021

Climate tech: 7 latest startups to join the unicorn club

Sustainability
Climate Change
Unicorns
Technology
Kate Birch
7 min
With climate tech raising a record US$32bn in 2021 so far, we chart the latest US climate tech unicorns – from electric vehicles to protein alternatives

Tech startups fighting the climate change battle have raised a record-breaking US$32bn so far in 2021, according to a recently released report by VC analysis firm Dealroom, which has been released to coincide with COP26. This has seen investment in climate tech more than quadruple since 2016.

When it comes to countries, the US is leading the climate tech space, raising the most funding for climate tech startups between 2016 and 2021. This is followed by China, Sweden and the UK.

The Bay Area in California boasts the biggest concentration of climate tech startups worldwide, according to the report, where 400+ climate tech startups have been created since the Paris Agreement in 2015.

Though the Pacific Northwest, home to tech giants like Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing, is becoming known for its nurturing of up-and-coming climate-tech powerhouses. 

The climate tech startup boom comes on the back of mounting pressure on world leaders and CEOs to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Recently, Blackrock’s CEO Larry Fink announced that he expects the next unicorns to be involved in climate tech.

“It is my belief that the next 1,000 unicorns won’t be a search engine, won’t be a media company, they’ll be businesses developing green hydrogen, green agriculture, green steel and green cement,” he said during the Middle East Green Initiative Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. 

According to HolonIQ, as of October 25, 2021, there are now 31 climate tech unicorns, with a valuation over US$1bn worldwide, and seven of these were born in North America.

We chart seven of the latest US climate tech companies to join the unicorn club.

Rivian

Rivian Automotive

Valuation US$53bn

Headquarters Plymouth, Michigan

Industry Electric Vehicles

Electric Vehicle company Rivian raised US$2.5bn in July 2021 in its latest funding round bringing its total of funds raised to US$3.1bn with investors including Amazon (which has a 20% stake in the firm), T.Rowe Price, Global Oryx Co. and Manheim Investments. The firm is set to IPO with a targeted valuation of more than US$53bn, the same as Honda. Watch this space.

What is Rivian? Dubbed the ‘Tesla of trucks’, Rivian was born in 2009 and is focused on the use of technology to create electric pickup trucks and other vehicles. Having made its vehicle debut at the LA Auto Show in 2018 with two prototypes, an SUV and a pickup truck, Rivian’s first electric pickup, the R1T was launched in September 2021. The firm is further set to roll out 100,000 electric delivery vans for Amazon. The company now has 1,000 employees.

Did you know…? Rivian was founded by RJ Scaringe (CEO), a PhD graduate of MIT’s prestigious Sloan Automotive Lab, who has had dreams of being a carmaker since childhood. Read more about him here

 

Perfect Day

Valuation US$1.5bn

Headquarters Berkeley, California

Industry Food

Dairy-free startup Perfect Day raised US$350m in a late-stage funding round in October 2021, bringing its total funding to more than US$750m. This brings the firm’s valuation to US$15bn as it prepares for an IPO within the next year, according to the Wall Street Journal. Its latest round of investors include Temasek and CPP Investments with long-term investors including Horizon Ventures and Bob Iger, exec chairman at Walt Disney.  

What is Perfect Day? Known as a ‘dairy identical’ startup, and often compared to lab-grown meat, Perfect Day creates cow’s milk proteins including whey and casein via precision fermentation technology and thereby producing 97% fewer emissions. The firm operates as a B2B supply chain innovator, selling its milk proteins to food companies rather than operating end-consumer brands directly. The company has also developed its ‘enterprise biology’ model, providing ‘technology development services’ to food firms who want to make use of Perfect Day’s animal-free dairy tech stack.

Did you know…? Perfect Day counts Hollywood actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio as an advisor.

 

Solugen

Valuation US$1.8bn

Headquarters Houston, Texas

Industry Sustainable chemicals

Solugen raised US$357m, in September 2021, in a funding round that brought its total capital raised to more than US$400m giving it a valuation of US$1.8bn. Investors include GIC, Baillie Gifford, Temasek, BlackRock.

What is Solugen? With the chemicals industry the third largest contributor to global carbon emissions, startup Solugen is making good in climate change. Rather than using historic ingredients like petroleum, natural gas and phosphates to make its products, Solugen makes plant-derived chemicals from custom enzymes and renewable feedstock. It designs and grows enzymes that can turn sugar into chemicals and in the future aims to convert carbon into useful products like building materials and formaldehyde-free resins.

Did you know…? The two founders, a PhD candidate researching a drug for pancreatic cancer (Gaurab Chakrabarti, CEO) and a graduate student in chemical engineering at MIT (Sean Hunt, CTO) met over a game of Poker with medical students in Dallas.

 

Apeel Sciences

Valuation US$2bn

Headquarters Santa Barbara, California

Industry Sustainable food

Food system innovation company Apeel Sciences raised US$250m in funding in August 2021, giving it a valuation of US$2bn with investors including Temasek, GIC, Viking Global, Disruptive, Tao Capital, K3 Ventures, among others.

What is Apeel Sciences? Providing a solution to the global problem of food waste and the pressures on the global food supply chain brought on by the pandemic, Apeel has developed a plant-based layer for the surface of fruits and vegetables, that’s tasteless, odourless and keeps moisture in while letting oxygen out, which helps to make produce last twice as long. Launched in 2019, Apeel is now in eight countries worldwide, operating 30 supply networks and distributing produce to 40 retail partners.

Did you know…? Among its investors are high-tech Silicon Valley sisters Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of 23andMe, and Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, as well as media exec and billionaire philanthropist Oprah Winfrey and singer Katy Perry.

 

Redwood Materials

Valuation US$3.7bn

Headquarters Carson City, Nevada

Industry Battery recycling

Redwood Materials raised US$700m in funding in July 2021, giving it a valuation of US$3.7bn with investors including T. Rowe Price Associates, Goldman Sachs AM, Baillie Gifford, CPP, Fidelity, Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund and Bill Gate’s Breakthrough Energy Ventures, among others. Redwood’s total raised is nearly US$800m.

What is Redwood Materials? Launched in 2017, with the aim to create a circular supply chain, Redwood Materials develops processes to produce battery materials from recycled batteries. The firm recycles scrap from battery cell production and consumer electronics, processes these discarded goods, extracting materials like cobalt, nickel and lithium, and supplies those back to its customers, which include everyone from Panasonic and Envision AESC. The startup has also partnered with Amazon to recycle EV and other lithium-ion batteries. Redwood plans to use its investment to expand its existing operations throughout the US and into Europe.

Did you know…? One of the co-founders of Redwood, CTO, JB Straubel, is the former Tesla co-founder.

 

Pivot Bio

Valuation US$2bn

Headquarters Berkeley, California

Industry Agriculture

Sustainable fertiliser startup Pivot Bio raised US$430m in funding in July 2021, tripling its valuation to almost US$2bn with investors including DCVC and Temasek. This brings the total equity raised to more than US$600m.

What is Pivot Bio? Born out of an ambition, in 2010, to replace synthetic nitrogen fertiliser with a more sustainable and safer tool for farmers, the agritech startup creates disruptive products focused on relacing the US$60bn of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser sold each year just to sustain corn, wheat and rice. It utilises the power of deep-tech solutions to create equitable outcomes for all those involved in agriculture. Now on its fourth commercial release in three years, Pivot Bio is the only company worldwide to have shipped a synthetic nitrogen fertiliser replacement at scale.  

Did you know…? The company tripled its revenue in 2021, providing farmers a breakthrough product now used on more than 1 million acres of farmland.

Nature’s Fynd

Valuation US$1bn

Headquarters Chicago, Illinois

Industry Alternative proteins

Fermented protein startup Nature’s Fynd raised US$350m in funding in July 2021, more than tripling the funding it has raised to date, giving it unicorn status at a valuation of US$1bn. Investors include SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2, Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Al Gore’s Generation Investment Management, Blackstone Strategic Partners and Hillhouse Investment. This brings the total equity raised to more than US$600m.

What is Nature’s Fynd? Founded in 2012, Nature’s Fynd (previously Sustainable Bioproducts) develops microbe-based proteins for meat substitutes and dairy substitutes. The protein, which is suitable for meat and dairy analogues and that recently received approval from the FDA to use in food products, is produced by a fungus first identified in geothermal springs in Yellowstone National Park. The firm is set to bring its branded Fy-based foods to consumers in the US in 2022 and then expand to new locations with a focus on Asia where there is growing demand for sustainable protein. Currently employing 150+ people, it hopes to have 350 by the end of 2023.

Did you know…? The startup was born out of an expedition by research scientists to Yellowstone, which has some of the most extreme conditions on the planet, to see what kind of life could survive in harsh circumstances. And they discovered a fungus, 60% protein, that had survived in an acidic spring. 

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