The future of batteries needs more than venture capital

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Today I look at where funding for Verkor’s gigafactory is coming from. I also have some thoughts on developer portals, 3D-printed prefabs and quick delivery. — Anna

The future of batteries

French battery maker Verkor secured more than €2 billion (around $2.1 billion) to build its Dunkirk gigafactory, which is set to be operational by 2025, with an initial production capacity of 16 GWh/year.

There’s a lot to be discussed about gigafactories, the future of batteries and the green transition. For instance, that demand isn’t due to just EVs. Or how recycling might look. But what struck me the most about Verkor’s announcement is where its funding is coming from.

Sure, there’s €850 million in Series C funding, which the company describes as the “largest equity raise” to date for a French startup. But there’s also €600 million in loans from the EU’s European Investment Bank (EIB), and €650 million in subsidies from various French institutions and programs (subject to final approval by the European Commission).

That governments are willing to invest big into gigafactories isn’t new, as the ability to produce enough batteries is increasingly seen as a matter of national (or regional) sovereignty.

In Verkor’s case, what’s more telling is how capital-intensive tech companies aren’t relying solely on venture capital: Venture debt is also very much an option, even relatively early on at the Series C stage. That’s the topic of a panel I’m going to moderate at TechCrunch Disrupt next week on the Builders Stage, so thanks, Verkor, for serving me up an example on a plate!

The future of DevEx

Internal developer portals are a great way for engineering leaders to make resources available to all developers within their organization. After spending quite a bit of time recently understanding what they’re all about, I am fairly bullish about the category. So are VCs, it seems: Israeli startup Port just raised $18 million in Series A funding, only 10 months after announcing a $7 million seed round.

Port offers a hosted alternative to Backstage, the open source platform for creating developer portals that came out of Spotify. Both have the potential to increase developer productivity, and AI could soon make them more powerful. But the first step is for them to become more mainstream — and a few more millions in funding can’t hurt.

The future of construction

Another trendy category that just got more funding is prefab construction tech. Mighty Buildings, a startup focused on building 3D-printed prefab homes, raised $52 million at a valuation said to be ranging between $300 million and $350 million.

Despite the failure of SoftBank-backed Katerra, there are favorable tailwinds for construction tech startups. In the U.S., in particular, Freddie Mac estimates that filling the housing gap would require 3.8 million new units. There are many causes that make building these a huge challenge, but a shortage of workers is one of the reasons why tech might help.

“The pandemic aggravated the housing shortage in the U.S. and other countries, as projects needed to be paused and construction workers permanently left the industry,” Mighty Buildings CEO Scott Gebicke told my colleague Kyle Wiggers.

Besides requiring less labor, prefabs have other advantages, such as higher affordability and lower environmental impact. All of that is good news for Mighty Buildings and its many competitors in the 3D-printed construction sector.

The future of quick delivery

Quick grocery delivery companies have it better when they are focusing on emerging markets. But as my colleague Becca Szkutak noted, “labor costs play a big role in that equation.” In other words, lower pay for workers means that fast delivery of random daily items is not as prohibitively expensive as in Europe or the U.S.

Does that mean that in the long run, the quick grocery delivery model is doomed everywhere? If it’s because wages go up all around the world, I wouldn’t deplore it.

However, maybe it could survive with a twist. Instacart’s Priority Delivery, for instance, seems interesting: The feature, introduced in 2021, makes speedy delivery one option among several others. And it undoubtedly sounds easier to build an IPO-ready company with a more balanced business model than around quick delivery only.

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