Gates, others help close Aquion's series D funding - CTTEC - Carnegie Mellon University

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Gates, others help close Aquion's series D funding

It has the connections of Kleiner Perkins, the cachet of Bill Gates and the dollars of a quickly growing Russian venture capital firm.

It’s a $35 million funding round from Aquion Energy, which is promising to start commercial manufacturing by the end of the year.

Monday, the Lawrenceville-based company marked the first close of its series D round.

It’s being led by new investors, Moscow-based Bright Capital.

Aquion CEO Scott Pearson told me he’s known Bright Capital for about two years. They were introduced by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the Silicon Valley venture capital firm that has been with Aquion from the beginning.

It has two of its partners on Aquion’s board of directors, including its chairman.

As for Bill Gates, Pearson said they met last spring under circumstances he didn’t want to disclose.

“We’ve been staying close and he took some time to learn about (Aquion) and liked it,” he said.

Another new funder for the battery maker is Chicago-based Gentry Venture Partners, which focuses on green energy investments and frequently co-invests with Kleiner Perkins.

Foundation Capital and Advanced Technology Ventures, past investors who each have a member on Aquion’s board, also are part of this funding round.

Pearson wouldn’t say how much of the $35 million the company has raised. The final close is expected in May. This will be on top of about $40 million in private funds Aquion already has raised.

Bright Capital, which also has an office in California, describes itself as a merchant venturing entity: It provides not only funding but also works to link its portfolio companies with industrial connections in Russia and other former Soviet countries.

“We expect Aquion’s products to be a key enabler for the emerging energy storage industry that many experts predict will grow exponentially in the next decade,” Mikhail Chuchkevich, managing director at Bright, said in a statement.

Pearson said Aquion isn’t specifically targeting the former Soviet block.

“It’s a market. It’s interesting to us. But we go all over,” he said. “Our technology is essentially global.”

Aquion’s promise is a sodium-ion battery. For the next two quarters, it’ll be churning out preproduction units at its Lawrenceville lab. Then, during the fourth quarter, it’ll launch commercial production at the former Sony plant in Westmoreland County, where Aquion has leased about 300,000 square feet. It has about 120 employees to date.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times