Investing in the next materials frontier
Solvay’s venture capital arm is focusing on battery startups
Through its own venture capital fund, Solvay Ventures, the Group invests and partners with select startups globally. Areas of interest fall into four domains: better use of resources, health & wellbeing, energy transition and digital tools. Batteries are an important focus for Solvay Ventures, which recently invested in two startups working on innovative battery solutions.
Batteries are also a big subject at the Hello Tomorrow Global Summit, held on 14-15 March in Paris, to which Solvay is participating for the second time. Hello Tomorrow is organized as a startup competition, with contenders divided into categories, or “tracks”. Solvay is the sponsor for the “New Materials” track, which is of course an important theme when exploring new battery solutions.
Synergies and batteries
New battery solutions are exactly what has been developed by the abovementioned companies Solvay Ventures invested in: Nohms and Solid Power, two American startups working on next generation lithium-ion electrolytes and solid-state batteries, respectively. Solvay’s involvement helped Nohms gain a more international scope over the past two years, thanks to the Group’s global renown. As for Solid Power, with this long-term partnership and collaboration, Solvay joins an entire new ecosystem along with other big companies (BMW, Samsung, Hyundai…), in the highly hyped field of solid-state batteries that is currently attracting many investors.
“We look for segments that are closely connected to Solvay’s activities,” explains Stéphane Roussel, Solvay Ventures Managing Director, “where real synergies can be created, and batteries are just that. In addition they are a promising field for innovation right now, as can be seen at an event such as Hello Tomorrow, whose general objective is to ‘accelerate the transfer of breakthrough technologies into real world solutions’.”
More agility and intimacy in the start-up scene
Another battery-oriented startup with which Solvay is involved is California-based Imprint Energy – though in this case, in the form of an indirect investment. “They make flexible batteries for sensors, IoT devices, wearables, etc. Solvay is helping them to scale up their current chemistry and develop a new generation of rechargeable batteries. Christine Ho, the co-founder and CEO of Imprint, will be a speaker at Hello Tomorrow, invited by Stéphane Roussel to talk about “the successful path for a startup” in front of an audience of 200 startups.
And that is exactly where Solvay Ventures stands, at the crossroads between the global scope and reach of a multinational company and the innovative agility of startups. “These collaborations are accelerators of innovation and knowledge creation for Solvay and the startups,” says Stéphane. “Working with them involves more agility and intimacy than when we collaborate with big groups. At the end of the day, what we want is to conduct business together, help them scale up, and ultimately generate revenues for Solvay in the long term.”
He goes on explaining that working with Imprint Energy is a good example of collaboration on the emerging and fragmented market of IoT and connected devices, “where it’s difficult for Solvay to develop business, because we’re a volume-driven company. Collaborating with Imprint Energy enables us to reduce the strategic risk in entering this market,” he explains.
Patience required for the battery market
True to Solvay’s DNA of long-term growth and value creation, Solvay Ventures entered the field of batteries knowing full well it’s an industry that requires patience and long-term investments. “But there is still lots to do, in particular in higher risk, emerging markets such as stationary batteries,” says Stéphane.
Stationary batteries are large-scale installations that can power entire buildings and even entire cities. They are becoming increasingly necessary with the development of renewable electricity, as the power needs to be stored when production is low (when there is no wind or sun, typically).
“It’s a domain we’re actively looking at, as there are alternatives to lithium-ion technology to explore,” says Stéphane. “It’s a question of finding the right startups to work with.”