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Post-Pandemic Venture Capital: Winners and Losers

Bloomberg has interviewed the Managing Director of Autotech Ventures, a Silicon Valley venture capital company focused on future mobility, to find out how the VC investment landscape has changed for mobility as a result of the Corona pandemic. Autotech has scored some pretty big hits in the past, including early investments in Lyft, DeepScale (acquired by Tesla in October), and Xnor.ai (acquired by Apple in January). Now the company has US$150 million to spend in a new funding round and is eyeing opportunities created by the pandemic.[1]

According to the MD, Alexei Andreev, the funding landscape will be bleak for public transportation connected mobility solutions and ride-sharing for some time yet. He suggests that even if Covid-19 is all over, the negative pressure on public transport and ride-sharing will be driven by residual fears that will have a long tail. His pessimism extends to autonomous driving development as well, as he notes that many major car manufacturers are struggling to survive now and will almost certainly need to cut back expensive spending on autonomous vehicle research.  

On the upside, everything related to last-mile delivery and smart warehousing looks much more promising to Andreev – as online grocery shopping is experiencing an unprecedented boom. Apart from groceries and warehousing for e-commerce, Andreev is also optimistic about last-mile delivery robots that deliver pizzas and beverages, such as the ones offered by Starship Technologies.

 

Personal comments

There is no doubt that the pandemic is rapidly accelerating the adoption of online grocery shopping. Online supermarket services in both the US and EU are reporting growth in the number of orders anywhere from 50% to over 25 times higher compared with the same period in 2019 [2, 3]. What is hard to predict is whether this will be an enduring trend or not - and the outcome of this could be the difference between investing in the future, or investing in a bubble that will burst. Either way, it may be worth noting that growth in online grocery shopping will not automatically lead to meaningful innovations in last-mile mobility. Many of the current services, such as Instacart in the US, basically substitute the usual customer with a gig-economy worker – who drives the same route the customer would have done. Vertically integrated online grocery stores that operate their own logistics networks, such as Amazon Fresh, arguably stand a better chance at making grocery deliveries more efficient from a mobility perspective compared to customers making the trip to the supermarket themselves. 

Many people working in the shared mobility area are also grappling with the question about how long the negative effects of Covid-19 on ride-hailing, public transport, and other shared mobility vehicles will endure for. While Andreev makes a case for ‘institutional memory’ and ‘residual fears’ of the virus having a long, negative tail effect on those services, I can also see contradictory examples of behavior that suggests otherwise. Two such examples are of lock-down restrictions being recently lifted in Australia that allowed for the reopening of shopping centers and beaches – which were then rapidly filled with visitors [4]. China has also seen a rapid rebound in shared e-bike use following the easing of restrictions there too. [5] While I would not want to bet US$150 million on a quick return to business-as-usual following the pandemic, I would not write off shared mobility yet either.

 

Written by Bobby Chen, RISE.

 

Sources

1. 2020-05-08. VCs Are Gearing Up For a Post-Pandemic Auto Industry.

2. 2020-04-13. What Does Online Grocery Shopping Look Like in Western Europe During COVID-19?

3. 2020-05-13. Coronavirus is making grocery delivery services like Instacart really popular and they might be here to stay.

4. 2020-05-10. Crowded malls spark virus alarm as shoppers storm reopened stores.

5. 2020-04-23. E-bike sharing given a post-corona boost in China.