The Business of Mobility: Mobilion’s nexus between clean energy and mobility

Avi Feldman of Mobilion Ventures explores investing in smart mobility solutions like clean energy, battery innovations, and wireless charging, outlining challenges and opportunities for startups in a changing market.

The Business of Mobility is a series of articles featuring business leaders in sustainable mobility.  

Q&A with Avi Feldman (Managing Partner at Mobilion Ventures) and Ross Douglas (founder at Autonomy) . 

Mobilion Ventures, based in Israel, is an early-stage venture fund that invests in smart mobility. NEXUS Automotive International (the world-leading community of automotive distributors and OEMs) is an investor and partner in Mobilion.

Ross: What is your background? 

Avi: I started my career at Israel Innovation Authority in the 1990s, then moved on to become deputy director general in Israel’s ministry of economy, dealing with innovation and development. In 2019 I went into the private sector to start my first VC, Capital Nature, focusing on early-stage green energy solutions, or “cleantech” as we called it (it’s called climate tech today). We developed a portfolio of 15 companies, 5 of which went  public on the Israeli stock exchange. To this day, Capital Nature is responsible for around 20% of the Israeli cleantech index. 

In 2019 I started Mobilion to focus on that interesting nexus between clean energy and mobility. 

Ross: What do you mean by “nexus between clean energy and mobility?”

Avi: The great limitation for mobility is the battery, having to carry a large battery in the vehicle, and then all the infrastructure that goes into charging it. With an ICE vehicle you carry your fuel/energy around with you, whereas with electromobility energy is produced outside the vehicle (in a stationary environment) and stored inside the vehicle. We need to stretch imaginations and picture different ways of doing things with new technologies. 

Ross: Using electricity?

Avi: For now electricity is the immediate solution in the automotive sector, and hopefully in maritime and aviation at some point. So the question is how to move electrons into the vehicle in more efficient ways. 

Ross: With Europe banning ICE sales by 2035, and EV sales growing by 20% a year, we’re going to see pressure on the grid to power all these vehicles.

Avi: If you have thousands of vehicles all trying to fast charge simultaneously, it puts immense pressure on the grid. One of the solutions is to use an electro-mechanical device – a flywheel – to store the energy. When the grid is in a low-demand phase it stores up electrical energy as kinetic energy, and then the process is reversed to charge a vehicle in only minutes. We of our companies, ZOOZ Power, are leaders in this technology and already have some charging sites operating in Europe. 

Ross: Are there other more efficient ways of moving electrons into the vehicle…like wireless technology?

Avi:  A wireless solution is attractive because then you don’t need a large onboard battery; you just have a small one for backup. Mobilion invested in a company called CaPow (stands for capacitive power) who have an “in-motion power delivery system” for robotic fleets, like what they use in large warehouses. As the robot passes over the charging mat, it transfers energy, eliminating the need for downtime to recharge the battery. So, it’s a perpetual motion solution. 

Ross: The advantage here is that you don’t a need a big battery, because it only has to make to the next patch. But these are small, light devices; could this solution be scaled up for human transport? 

Avi: The system could definitely work for shuttles that follow a fixed route; it’s an exciting innovation that offers all sorts of advantages to the on-board battery model of mobility, one that would save electricity, reduce demand on infrastructure, and greatly reduce the cost of EVs.  

Ross: For now though, mobility seems to be all about the battery and I’m wondering if there aren’t innovations and improvements to be had in battery technology.

Avi: As a smaller venture fund, we are not going to compete with big battery manufacturers. However, there is potential for are all sorts of add-on innovations to improve the offering. Batteries burning out, or even exploding, is a big problem for EVs, given how hot they burn (900 degrees Celsius). One of our companies has pioneered a predictive battery monitoring system for early warning of fire risk. GM recently bought them out. So, we see plenty opportunity for startups focuses on improving the performance and reliability of batteries, for individuals or fleet managers, using 4IR tech: data, AI, IoT.

Ross: It hasn’t been a great time for startups of late. At Autonomy, we’ve seen many clients struggling to stay in business as funds whither. What does the future look like for mobility startups?

Avi: It’s cyclical. Now we’re in a downturn, as VCs become more realistic. The good news is that there is value to be had for investors. It’s heartbreaking seeing smart committed businesses closing shop; but then in these times those who survive will most likely thrive and make great returns for investors. But I’m optimistic, the wheel will turn and soon enough we’ll be back in an upcycle. We’re only at the beginning of this climate tech journey, so there is plenty opportunity. 

Ross: Finally, what’s your advice for how to succeed as startup?

Avi: Don’t just focus on your product; you need to also think about your market and who is going to buy your product. Most importantly in tough times, you need to collaborate with major players who are already in the market. You can’t do it on your own. 

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