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Early Tesla Backer, The Westly Group, Focused On Sustainable Investments

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In 2008, during the height of the financial meltdown, California venture capital firm The Westly Group took a chance by investing in a struggling electric vehicle company whose founder and CEO was nearly broke. It was a risky bet for The Westly Group, which was only a year old itself at the time. But the firm saw a chance to put its money into an investment that could potentially transform the auto industry.

It turned out to be a smart bet. That electric vehicle company, Tesla, is now the world’s biggest EV maker, and its CEO, Elon Musk, is the world’s wealthiest person. 

Photo by Bram Van Oost on Unsplash

Fourteen years later, The Westly Group is still on the lookout for startups that can transform their industries while also helping the planet – and it has a lot more financial might to do so, thanks to a recent funding round that raised $300 million.

Headquartered in Silicon Valley, Westly now operates four funds and has about $700 million in assets under management. Nine of the companies it has invested in have gone public, including Tesla and SentinelOne, a California-based cybersecurity startup whose shares debuted on the New York Stock Exchange in June 2021. Westly’s current portfolio includes 30 companies heavily geared toward smart technologies and sustainable solutions.

Photo by Lagos Techie on Unsplash

The Westly Group was founded in 2007 with the stated mission of “investing in the disruption of conservative industries like energy and mobility.” It partners with companies that focus on  digitization and sustainability of energy, mobility, buildings, industrial technology, and cybersecurity.

The firm uses a flexible investment model to help entrepreneurs raise funding rounds that fit their specific growth needs. It mainly invests in Series A, B, and C rounds, with a typical check size of $5 million to $15 million.

Westly’s latest and fourth funding round came on January 12, raising $300 million. Among the 22 companies that invested in the fund were big names such as Duke Energy, Vistra Corp., Alaska Airlines, State Farm Ventures, ABB Ltd., American Electric Power Company, Hitachi Energy, and China Light & Power.

Capital from Fund IV has already been invested in a pair of startups: Circulor, which provides supply chain traceability and ESG solutions, and CyCognito, a next-generation cybersecurity platform.

The new fund comes at a time of rising demand for sustainable products and services, pushed forward by increased government demand worldwide to reach net-zero emissions targets by 2050 or earlier.

“We believe that our experience, track record, and global network of [limited partnerships] uniquely position us to take advantage of the revolution in sustainable investing,” Westly Group Founder and Managing Partner Steve Westly said in a press release.

His own professional experience includes long stretches in both the public and private sectors. Before founding The Westly Group, he served as the Controller and Chief Fiscal Officer of the state of California. He also served as California co-chair for the Obama for America campaign and was on the Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board as a representative for the venture capital industry. His business experience includes a stint at eBay, where he served as Senior Vice President of Marketing, Business Development, M&A, and International.

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