Toyota’s surprise executive shakeup may disappoint investors

Toyota’s president, Akio Toyoda, surprised the automotive world this week by announcing he would resign his position and hand the reins over to Koji Sato, who currently helms the company’s Lexus and Gazoo Racing divisions.

But Toyoda isn’t going far. The 66-year-old isn’t retiring outright, but instead retiring to the boardroom, where he’ll take over the role of chair.

Insiders aren’t expecting Toyoda to be hands-off, either. One executive said that Toyoda was about to embark on a period of “cloister rule,” a period in Japan’s history where the emperor retired to a monastery without actually ceding power.

If that’s the case, then the shakeup in Toyota City might not be much of a shakeup at all.

Toyota’s surprise executive shakeup may disappoint investors by Tim De Chant originally published on TechCrunch

Fifth Wall, focused on real estate tech and managing $3.2B, looks to eat up even more of its market

Brendan Wallace’s ambition is beginning to seem almost limitless. The L.A.-based venture firm that Wallace and cofounder Brad Greiwe launched less than seven years ago already has $3.2 billion in assets under management. But that firm, Fifth Wall, which argues there are massive financial returns at the intersection of real estate and tech, isn’t worried about digesting that capital. It’s heavy-hitting investors — CBRE, Starwood, and Arbor Realty Trust among them — don’t seem concerned, either.

Never mind that just last month, Fifth Wall closed the largest-ever venture fund focused on real-estate tech startups with $866 million in capital, or that it closed a $500 million fund earlier in 2022 that aims to decarbonize the property industry. Never mind that on top of these two efforts, Fifth Wall also expanded into Europe last February with a London office and a €140 million fund. (It also a large New York office, an office in Singapore, and a presence in Madrid.) As for the fact that office buildings in particular have been shocked by a combination of layoffs, work-from-home policies and higher interest rates, Wallace says he considers it an opportunity.

More, Wallace already sees many more opportunities he wants to pursue, including in Asia, as well as around infrastructure, including the buying and building of “utility-scale solar and micro grids and wind farms” that Fifth Wall plans to both invest in and to which it will provide financing.

It’s a lot to take on, particularly for a now 80-person outfit whose biggest exits today include the home-flipping outfit OpenDoor, the property insurance company Hippo Insurance, and SmartRent, which sells smart home technology to apartment building owners and developers. None have been spared by public market shareholders; still, talking to Wallace and the picture he paints of the world, it’s easy to see why investors keep throwing money at his team.

We spoke with him earlier today in a chat that has been edited for length.

TC: How is it that your many real estate investing partners are investing so much capital with you when it’s such a challenging time for real estate, particularly office buildings?

BW: It’s the same thesis we were we were founded on, which is you have the two largest industries in the U.S., which is real estate, which is 13% of US GDP, and tech, and they’re colliding and it represents a huge explosion of economic value [as] we’ve seen in this kind of super cycle of proptech companies that has grown up. Now, this additional layer has been unearthed around climate tech. The biggest opportunity in climate tech is actually the built environment. Real estate accounts for 40% of CO2 emissions, and yet the venture climate tech venture capital ecosystem only has historically put about 6% of climate VC dollars toward tech for the real estate industry.

How do you designate which vehicle — your flagship proptech fund or your climate fund — funds a particular startup?

How we define proptech is tech that is usable by the real estate construction or hospitality industry, so it needs to be tech that’s immediately usable by them — which can be a lot of different things. It can be leasing, asset management software, fintech, mortgages, operating systems, keyless entry — but it doesn’t necessarily have the effect of decarbonizing the real estate industry. It can be a derivative benefit, but it’s not the core focus. The core focus is simply that you have this industry that has been so slow and late to adopt technology that’s now starting to do so, and as it does, it’s creating all this value. We’ve already had six portfolio companies go public and we’re a six-year-old firm.

[As just one example], do you know how many multifamily units today have a smart device inside them? One percent of all multifamily units in the United States have a single smart device — any smart device: a light switch, shade, access control. There is a massive transition going on right now, where every single thing inside a building is going to become smart. And we’re at the dawn of that right now.

I do believe, though, that the opportunity in climate tech is a multiple of that simply because the cost required to decarbonize the real estate industry is so vast. The cost to decarbonize the U.S. commercial real estate industry is estimated to be $18 trillion. That is just the U.S. commercial real estate industry. To put that in perspective, the U.S. GDP is like $22 trillion to $23 trillion, and we have to decarbonize the real estate industry over the next 20 years, so one way to think about that is that we have to roughly spend one year of U.S. GDP over the next 20 just on decarbonizing our physical assets.

Where are the major spending areas on which you’re focused?

I’ll give you one very concrete example, which is literally concrete. If concrete were a country, it would be the third largest CO2 emitter on planet Earth after the U.S. and China. Fully 7.5% of global CO2 emissions come from making concrete. It’s the most used material on planet Earth after water. So you have this raw material that’s an input for all of our infrastructure — all of our cities, all the homes we inhabit, all the buildings where we do business — and that is generating 7.5% of global co2 emissions. And so the race is on right now to identify an opportunity to make carbon neutral or carbon negative cement. We actually invested in a company called Brimstone alongside Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos because they also see this opportunity that this is one of the major spend categories where that $18 trillion that’s required to decarbonize real estate is going to go. Then you can go further down [list], from glass, steel, cross laminated timber — just all of the materials that are used in making buildings.

More immediately, and this is more a question about repurposing space, but what do you think becomes of underused office space in this country over the next 18 to 24 months? It’s particularly extreme in San Francisco, I realize, given its population of tech workers who haven’t returned to the office.

I wouldn’t draw too much of a conclusion from San Francisco alone. I think San Francisco has probably been the hardest hit city. I don’t think San Francisco is the canary in the coal mine for the rest of the U.S. office industry. But with that said, I think we’re now in a moment where the pendulum has swung obviously very far in the direction of hybrid work and companies downsizing their physical footprints, but you’re already starting to see that these things are circular and cyclical and that some employees actually want to go back to the office, while CEOs are saying, ‘It’s hard to mentor and build culture and drive the kind of operational efficiencies we once had in an office in an entirely remote environment.’ So my sense is that we’re probably two to three years out from another pendulum swing back toward companies retrenching themselves in a physical office. I think we’re in an artificially low ebb in sentiment and demand for office.

Fifth Wall, focused on real estate tech and managing $3.2B, looks to eat up even more of its market by Connie Loizos originally published on TechCrunch

Energy transition investments hit $1.1 trillion — with a T — last year

Here comes the hockey stick.

After years of bumbling along, investment in the energy transition appears to be taking off. Businesses, financial institutions, governments and end users around the world sunk $1.11 trillion into low-carbon technologies, according to a new report from BloombergNEF. It was just over 30% more than 2021 and the second year in a row in which the growth rate exceeded that figure.

Perhaps more notable is the fact that for the first time ever, money put into the energy transition matched funds spent on fossil fuel investments. If you count the $274 billion spent on improving the electrical grid, then energy transition investments shot well past the fossil fuel fossils, hitting $1.38 trillion.

Over the last two decades, most low-carbon investments were targeted at renewables, including wind, solar and biofuels. They hit another record last year with $495 billion invested, up 17% from 2021. But in recent years, money has also been flowing into more diversified sectors, including energy storage, space heating, sustainable materials and electrified transport.

Last year was no exception. Investments into electrified transport — think EVs and charging networks — grew a whopping 54% in 2022 to $466 billion. Hydrogen, which is often uttered in the same breath as battery-electric vehicles, contributed $1.1 billion toward the trillion-dollar total. While that figure may seem small, it’s triple the amount the sector received in 2021. Overall, investment was balanced between supply (energy production and storage) and demand (energy users like transportation, heat and sustainable materials).

Most of the money has come from China. The country accounted for about half the total, $546 billion. The U.S. was second with $141 billion, and Germany was third with $55 billion. If the entire EU is lumped together, the bloc would have taken second place with $180 billion.

In particular, China dominates in areas like manufacturing capacity and supply chain development. Last year it spent heavily on electrified transportation and renewables like solar and wind. Given that combination, it’s possible that we’ll see Chinese solar panels flood the market once more, though this time they’ll be accompanied by cheap batteries. Inexpensive solar paired with cheap batteries is what’ll be needed to kick significant amounts of fossil energy from the grid.

If there was a dim spot, it was global equity and private investment in climate tech. Those numbers were down 29% to $119 billion. That should come as no surprise; 2021 was a crazy year for venture capital and private equity.

Energy transition investments hit $1.1 trillion — with a T — last year by Tim De Chant originally published on TechCrunch

Mark Cuban’s bidet brand buys shower startup that wooed Tim Cook

The folks behind Nebia — the techy shower-head startup backed by Apple CEO Tim Cook and a host of other big names — have sold to Mark Cuban’s Brondell, which makes bidets, air purifiers and the like.

The Nebia name and water-saving nozzles will live on following the deal, co-founders Philip Winter and Gabriel Parisi-Amon said in a call with TechCrunch. Despite my nudging, the pair declined to say what Brondell paid to scoop up the brand, which launched on Kickstarter eons ago (in 2015). If you know the terms of the deal, wouldn’t it be cool if you hit me up?

Along with Cook and a bevy of early Kickstarter supporters, Nebia raised money from former Google boss Eric Schmidt’s family office, Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia, Fitbit co-founder James Park, Y-Combinator, Stanford — need I go on?

Nebia stood out when it launched with pricey nozzles that blasted users with a fine, hurricanic mist, while conserving up to 70% of the water a typical shower head sprays out in the process, the startup claimed. This proved polarizing; Nebia’s exuberant storm won over yours truly, but divided a newsroom with its unconventional take on a beloved ritual. Over the years, Nebia dialed things down to win over more customers, whittling its projected water savings to around 50% in the process.

During its time as an independent company, Nebia estimated its customers conserved more “500 million gallons of water,” as well as the “equivalent of over 27 million kWh (27 GWh) of energy.” The firm said the energy savings were “roughly equivalent to the annual energy consumption of 2,700 American homes.” Winter told TechCrunch that Nebia’s products, including those it made with Moen, have reached more than 100,000 homes.

“I’m working right now on future products [at Brondell],” said Parisi-Amon — “ones that are directly related to what we’ve made before, and ones that are like completely different, but can still apply the materials that we’ve worked on and the analysis that we’ve worked on.”

Winter and the rest of Nebia’s 15-person team also joined Brondell, the co-founders said.

Both executives emphasized that they’re still committed to helping folks conserve water — a critical task as climate change drives droughts

“That is why we started and that is why I, at the time, left Apple,” said Parisi-Amon. “I wanted to use my mechanical engineering degree to make a product that literally anyone could swap in for what they had, and was better for the environment,” added Parisi-Amon. “And that work is not done.”

Winter said as much as our call wound down earlier this week. “As the population grows, and we use more water per capita, and we have more frequent episodes of drought and more acute droughts, the equation is not a very positive one,” said Winter. “We have to figure out ways to use water more effectively.”

Mark Cuban’s bidet brand buys shower startup that wooed Tim Cook by Harri Weber originally published on TechCrunch

Renaissance Fusion raises $16.4 million to build nuclear fusion technology in Europe

Meet Renaissance Fusion, a Grenoble-based startup that has been working on nuclear fusion for the past couple of years. The company recently raised $16.4 million (€15 million) in funding in a seed round led by Lowercarbon Capital.

Several European investors also participated in the round, such as HCVC, Positron Ventures and Norssken.

“We are proud to support Francesco Volpe and his team in the emergence and industrialization in France and in Europe of a disruptive solution in energy production and distribution technologies. Grenoble is a highly strategic location that allows them to benefit from a favorable environment for the development of nuclear energy, a strong ecosystem such as the CEA, and an unrivaled pool of talent,” Alexis Houssou, Founder and Managing Partner at HCVC, said in a statement.

Unlike most nuclear fusion experiments that are based on tokamaks, Renaissance Fusion is working on a stellarator reactor. The company is well aware that there is a long and windy road ahead as it expects to be able to ship a small nuclear fusion reactor with a 1 GW capacity in the 2030s. It wouldn’t operate power plants directly. Instead, the company would sell its reactors to plant constructors and operators.

“We have a technology that is pretty unique,” Renaissance Fusion founder Francesco Volpe told me. Instead of designing complicated three-dimensional coils to generate a magnetic field, Renaissance Fusion greatly simplifies this process by drawing tracks on a cylinder.

After some calculation based on the magnetic field that you want to generate, the team can determine the shape of the coils that you need. The cylinder rotates around an axis while a device moves left and right to engrave tracks with a laser on the surface of the cylinder.

Image Credits: Renaissance Fusion

Cylinder blocks are then combined together to form a reactor. This modularity should help when it comes to shipment and logistics. As for the neutrons emitted by the nuclear reaction inside the cylinder, Renaissance Fusion wants to use liquid Lithium to create thick walls that separate plasma from the outside world.

“We inject a layer of liquid metal. It flows around the inside of the cylinder and then it’s extracted at the bottom. It’s thick enough to absorb the majority of the neutrons,” Volpe said.

This liquid metal is also used to extract heat from the stellarator, which can be used to create steam, which can be used to propel turbines, which can be used generate electricity.

Image Credits: Renaissance Fusion /

According to the startup’s founder, Renaissance Fusion is quite innovative with its use of liquid metal. “We are the only one in commercial fusion where the liquid lithium faces the plasma,” Volpe said.

Right now, the company can create liquid Lithium-based walls that are 1-centimeter thick. It will require a lot of iterations before it can be used in nuclear fusion as Renaissance Fusion estimates that it would require a thickness of 30 to 40 centimeters.

The company is already thinking about commercial applications that could be released before the 2030s. For instance, Volpe believes that Renaissane Fusion’s coil patterning technology could be used for MRI and energy storage. “Whenever you need a strong magnetic field, a large volume and high precision,” he said.

With today’s funding round, Renaissance Fusion plans to triple the size of its team to 60 people by the end of 2023. In many ways, this is still the early days of Renaissance Fusion. So let’s see how it pans out in the coming years.

Renaissance Fusion raises $16.4 million to build nuclear fusion technology in Europe by Romain Dillet originally published on TechCrunch