Invenergy Future Fund has invested about $30 million in five very different startups that share a common theme: using data to make energy and industrial operations more affordable, reliable and secure.
On Wednesday, the venture capital fund announced the close of its first $150 million fund, giving it $120 million more to invest in startups in its areas of interest — a list that includes energy storage and distributed energy resources (DERs) at the edge of the power grid.
The Chicago-based firm also announced a name change to Energize Ventures — a reflection of the fact that U.S. energy developer Invenergy isn’t the firm’s only limited partner with a stake. Other LPs named in Wednesday’s release were General Electric Renewables, GE Power, Schneider Electric and Wisconsin-based utility holding company WEC Energy, as well as unnamed family offices and institutional investors.
Energize Ventures’ LPs are keenly interested in finding new investment opportunities in the startups they’re working with. After all, Invenergy or its partners have had “some level of customer engagement, from prototype or pilot test, to some kind of paying customer relationship” with each of the five startups it’s invested in to date, said Amy Francetic, the firm’s managing director.
Take SparkCognition, a startup with artificial intelligence for mining energy and industrial data that raised $56.5 million in Series B financing last year. One of the Austin, Texas-based company’s earliest pilots saw its technology applied to nearly 1,000 Invenergy wind turbines to better predict equipment failures and manage expensive repair and maintenance operations. That pilot has since expanded to run on certain types of turbines across Invenergy’s roughly 12-gigawatt nationwide wind fleet.
Industrial control and SCADA cybersecurity firm Nozomi Networks, which in January raised a $15 million Series B round led by Invenergy Future Fund, is also working with Invenergy on a pilot project for its wind turbines and energy operations control center, Francetic said.
DroneDeploy, which in July raised a $25 million Series C round for data management and analytics for commercial unmanned aerial vehicles, recently proposed a pilot project to mine data from drone flyover data of Invenergy’s solar installations.
And Invenergy’s energy trading operation had been a customer of Aquilon Energy’s automated energy trade settlement system for some time before it joined last year’s $19 million Series B round for the startup.
Energize’s fifth investment is Volta Energy, a startup that uses public videoscreen advertising revenue to cover the costs of public electric-vehicle charging stations. The venture firm led a $35 million Series C round for the San Francisco-based startup in July, and “we’re working with them really carefully on utility partnerships, on their debt raise, on infrastructure opportunities, and how you can use clean energy to help fund and fuel EV charging,” said Francetic.
General Electric is also an investor in Volta, and both GE and Schneider “have a number of partnerships with our portfolio companies,” Francetic said, though she declined to provide any more details. “We strongly believe that these companies have to have a partner to gain commercial traction and scale up their businesses.”
Energize is exploring Series B or C opportunities, typically in the $5 million to $8 million range. "We’re fairly excited about the edge of the grid,” Francetic said. This could include microgrids, behind-the-meter building energy management technologies, management of virtual power plants, and battery storage.
In virtual power plants and battery storage, the firm is less interested in hardware and more interested in the software layer that controls the assets and creates revenue-stacking opportunities.