New billionaire investors for clean tech fund led by Bill Gates

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Pic: Emmanuel Dunand, AFP
Pic: Emmanuel Dunand, AFP
(Pic: Emmanuel Dunand, AFP)

Abigail Johnson, chief executive officer of Fidelity Investments, and Shopify founder Tobias Lütke have joined as new investors in Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the clean-tech fund led by Bill Gates.

Launched in 2016, BEV is one of the largest financiers of companies working on technologies to cut emissions. The fund’s first round raised $1 billion and backed 45 startups, which work on everything from batteries to low-emissions fertilisers. Its investors featured billionaires including Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Jack Ma of Alibaba Group, and Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg LP.

Last month, BEV closed a new round of another $1 billion with an aim to invest in as many as 50 startups. Aside from Johnson and Lütke, four other new investors joined. They are John Sobrato, a real-estate billionaire; Seth Klarman, chief executive officer of hedge fund Baupost Group; Chris Stolte, founder of Tableau Software Inc.; and Ben Walton, the grandson of Walmart Inc. founder Sam Walton.

Most but not all of the investors in BEV’s first round participated in the second round. A spokesperson for BEV declined to say who dropped out.

The first clean-tech boom between 2006 and 2011 proved disappointing for Silicon Valley investors who limited their involvement to startups in renewable electricity, biofuels and electric vehicles.

Funds like BEV and Prime Coalition have expanded the technology portfolio, with investments in lithium extraction and carbon capture. As the urgency of addressing climate change has grown, these funds have also brought in a wider group of wealthy individuals and family foundations.

BEV also takes a longer view of whether the investments pay off. In an interview earlier this month, Gates told Bloomberg Green that BEV is so new that “there’s no economic signal” yet to assess whether the fund is doing well. “It’s the quality of the teams. It’s the potential of the ideas,” Gates said. “And whether these companies would have happened without us.”

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