When Porsche partnered with venture studio UP.Labs, the mission was to create six startups over three years all designed to solve the German automaker’s biggest problems and be compelling enough as a standalone business it that can attract other customers.
On Porsche’s list: software that helps manage and automate the performance of EVs. Pull Systems, the first startup borne out of the partnership, has developed a software product that the two companies say can solve it. Pull Systems, which was unveiled at SXSW 2023, also announced that it raised $5 million in a seed round led by UP.Partners.
“Cars are becoming a combination of software and a battery — and ultimately battery performance,” UP.Labs president Katelyn Foley said. “And OEMs need to really get to a place where they can understand both of those aspects in order to stay competitive, because the things that they’re really good at are actually the more commodity parts of the car.”
Pull Systems is a software-as-as-service platform that provides performance management software to EV suppliers, manufacturers and operators. The product isn’t battery management software (BMS), which is technically responsible for collecting data about the battery and communicating with the battery management system. The startup’s software is a complement, explained Henry Furman, former venture head of product at UP.Labs, now chief product officer of Pull Systems.
And it has already rolled out to Porsche Taycan vehicles that are on the road today.
The startup developed a library of machine learning models that can analyze and predict vehicle behavior such as driving and charging across the Porsche fleet. That kind of information, coupled with outside data like weather patterns and road conditions, can be used to predict and then inform the automaker or EV owners when a vehicle needs maintenance, when to deploy over-the-air software updates and even boost after-sales revenues.
The software tracks and collects data on each vehicle in the Porsche EV fleet, which can also help identify performance issues that might be solved with new firmware or determine the best second-life option for the battery as it reaches its end of life, Furman added.
Ultimately, the company wants the software to be automated using machine learning tools.
“Our real vision here, within the complexities of electrification, is that the cars are actually able to take on some of the management of their own propulsion system themselves,” Furman said. “We see a great opportunity for us to automate a lot of what is essentially the rules-based kind of conclusions for these different software updates.”
For instance, the software might identify a weather front coming into a certain area and issue a software update that helps optimize the batteries, he explained.
That’s a compelling prospect for Porsche, a company that plans to expand its EV lineup beyond the Taycan over the next several years, including the Macan in 2024, the 718 in 2025, a Cayenne and a yet-to-be-named full-size SUV.
Pull Systems plans to add several more carmakers to its service over the next year.
The Up.Labs connection
UP.Labs is not a venture firm, even though it emerged from, and operates in parallel with, UP.Partners. It’s not a corporate accelerator or incubator either, although it is building startups and working with corporations. The company, which launched during UP.Summit 2022 in Bentonville, Arkansas, is structured as a venture lab with a new kind of financial investment vehicle.
Porsche is its first corporate partner. Foley told TechCrunch that more corporate partnerships will be announced this year.
“The way our model works is we identify large friction areas that touch big value pools, and it’s the confluence of those two things that has to be in place,” Foley said. “So it’s somebody that acutely feels the problem and it touches a lot of money — and we won’t consider anything outside of those two areas.”
In the beginning, the firm dissects the corporation to find all problems. UP.Labs identified 217 over at Porsche and whittled them down to a set of problems and accompanying ideas that would solve them. An investment committee that includes UP.Labs, Porsche and UP.Partners, narrows them down to the final pair that the team will start incubating.
Under the three-year agreement with Porsche, UP.Labs will establish six companies, or two a year, with new business models focused on the automaker’s core activities such as predictive maintenance, supply chain transparency or digital retail, according to Lutz Meschke, deputy chairman and member of the Porsche AG executive board on finance and IT.