Tom Chi, a founding member of Google X, has raised $375 million for his firm At One Ventures’ second fund — more than doubling the performance of the firm’s inaugural fund, which closed in 2021 at $150 million.
Like its predecessor, Fund II will invest in early-stage startups with disruptive technologies that can reset the industries causing the most damage to the planet, such as buildings and construction, energy and transportation, and food and agriculture.
LPs in Fund II included GenZero, the Temasek-owned decarbonization-focused investment platform company; the World Wildlife Foundation; the MacArthur Foundation; the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS); and the New Mexico State Investment Council. The fund also received backing from existing investors One Small Planet, Toba Capital and the Valhalla Foundation.
“Climate change is an issue that we all face,” said Nick Abel, portfolio manager for sustainable investments at CalSTRS. “It’s a shared problem requiring technical and entrepreneurial-driven solutions powered by innovative technologies, declining cost curves, maturing business models and the world’s assessment of environmental risk. The complexity of climate investing requires cross-disciplinary skill sets to have a nuanced view of potentially viable climate solutions.”
At One differs from other VC players in key ways. The firm’s 11-strong investment team doesn’t just bring finance experience — they come from backgrounds in physical sciences, engineering and manufacturing, enabling them to assess hardware businesses on a deeper level. “Specifically, we look for ‘invention catalysts,’ which are technologies that not only improve upon the domain of the invention itself, but also have the potential to ripple–change entire systems of production and use. It is technology that makes us reimagine what is possible for living on a healthy planet,” Chi said. “We then get detailed and disciplined in understanding what it will take to commercialize that technology and successfully displace existing brownfield approaches.”
Additionally, about 40% of the founders backed by At One are part of groups traditionally under-represented in venture-backed companies (e.g., BIPOC, female). The firm also has a globally distributed portfolio, with 70% of companies in North America, 15% in Europe, and 15% across Africa, South America and Israel.
“It’s going to take a different kind of thinking than what got us into the climate crisis to get us out,” said At One Partner Helen Lin. “That’s why we’ve invested in founders coming from a variety of backgrounds and on a global scale, ranging from academics and scientists to investment bankers and scale-up veterans. We value diversity of thought so we can get a multi-faceted and in-depth understanding of problems in order to find tangible solutions.”
The firm is also investing with the idea that consumers might be okay paying a “green premium,” even though industrial businesses are likely more sensitive to cost. Founding Partner Laurie Menoud used the EV industry as an example. “We are shifting from a fuel economy to a materials economy,” she said in a statement. “Each electric vehicle requires over 100kg of mined metals in its battery pack. This demand puts pressure on the mining industry, bringing with it social and environmental challenges.”
This led At One to invest in Ascend Elements, an advanced materials company that recycles end-of-life lithium-ion batteries and reintegrates the recycled metals directly into EV batteries. In addition to Ascend, which has received over $1 billion in total funding to date, At One was an early backer of Colossal Biosciences, which is currently at a $1.5 billion valuation, and Monarch Tractor, which made the Forbes “Next Billion-Dollar Startup” 2023 list.
There are currently 35 companies in the firm’s portfolio, all invested in the past three years, and 11 of them are already booking sales of their products. A number of “firsts” populate the At One portfolio, providing further proof of the firm’s faith in groundbreaking innovations. These include the world’s first USDA-approved vaccine for honeybees, developed by Dalan Animal Health, and Halo Car, which was the first to offer remote-piloted electric vehicle transportation to paying customers.