Tel Aviv-based venture firm Maniv Mobility, backed by such automotive leaders as Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi, Hyundai and Shell, aims to invest in early stage startups that will help create a new era of greener and cheaper mobility.
With the launch of a new $100 million fund, Maniv plans to at least double its portfolio from the 24 investments made from its first $44 million fund.
Maniv’s portfolio includes Revel, an electric moped-sharing company that launched in Brooklyn and Queens in May; Bipi, a Spanish car subscription service; Phantom Auto, which enables car-buyers to test drive remotely-operated vehicles; and Autofleet, a software platform that helps ride-hailing networks. Other investments include software, sensor, camera and cybersecurity start-ups focused on the automotive industry.
“We are extremely passionate about how mobility innovation can change our world for the better,” says Olaf Sakkers, Maniv’s general partner. “We’re in a critical moment of change.”
The automotive industry certainly thinks so. It invested $120 billion in start-ups in 2017-2108, according to an April survey by McKinsey & Co. The report also said that $220 billion has been invested in more than 1,100 companies since the decade began.
“The demand for innovation in mobility will increase in coming years,” predicted a recent report from Viola Ventures, one of Israel’s leading VC firms.
Michael Granoff, Maniv’s founder and managing partner, first became interested in better mobility after witnessing the 9/11 attacks in New York. He created Securing America’s Future Energy, a non-governmental organization, a moving force behind the 2006 energy bill.
“It had the first fuel economy standards increases for the first time since the 80s, and the first electric vehicle incentives in the world,” Granoff says. “It was really that process that introduced me to the idea that the only scalable way to break the monopoly of oil in transportation was to get electric.”
Granoff’s interest in electric vehicles brought him into early contact with Elon Musk and Shai Agassi, who were each working on battery-powered cars in the U.S. and Israel. He joined Agassi’s Better Place electric car start-up but the company collapsed in 2013 after burning through $1 billion of investors’ cash.
Granoff moved to Israel in 2013, which coincided with a burst of activity in the country connecting technology with the automotive sector. This included Waze, which was acquired by Google for $1.3 billion, and Mobileye, which raised $5.3 billion in an IPO in 2014 before being acquired by Intel for $15.3 billion.
Dozens of start-ups began popping up in Tel Aviv. While General Motors was the only major auto manufacturer with an R&D facility in the country in 2015, today it’s been joined by VW, BMW, Ford, Yandex, Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi, Hyundai, Honda and Porsche.
“I began to come into contact with some of these very exciting ideas. I backed them in an informal way personally and then set up the fund doing it in a more formal way,” Granoff says.
Granoff says venture capital is “the most effective way for us to be able to help companies and to match incumbent industry players with start-ups that have technology that is changing the industry,” enabling Maniv to create a bridge between fast-moving, undisciplined tech geeks and large, slow-moving industrial giants.
Maniv’s “sweet spot” is about $2 million at an early stage, but the fund also expects to participate in follow-up rounds.
While 18 of Maniv’s investments in its first fund were in Israeli companies, Granoff expects the new fund to have a more global range. Two of its first five investments were in Revel, in the U.S., and Bipi, in Spain. Three more investments have not been announced publicly.
“We’re seeing that there is an increasing interest in digitization of transportation in entrepreneurial communities around the world. We’re seeing a surprising number of interesting deals from Europe,” he says. “We’re seeing the same amount of deal flow from Israel as we have in the last number of years but we’re now seeing global deal flow at a much higher value.”
Maniv’s investors include Carasso Motors, one of Israel’s largest car importers and leasing companies.
“We are in a changing business environment,” says Avi Kenet, Carasso’s chief commercial officer. “We want to be in touch with the trends, with innovation, with novelties — anything that can help us plan and think how we want to adjust for the change in the industry.”
Kenet says the industry is feeling changes from four directions: connectivity, autonomy, sharing and electrification. Carasso’s involvement with Maniv “gives us a very good tool, a platform to understand better what the changes are and when they are supposed to take place,” he says.
As traffic chaos threatens to paralyze ever-growing cities, Granoff is convinced that the technological revolution in mobility will help solve the growing problems of urbanization, pollution and overcrowding.
“Humanity has engineered itself out of every difficulty that it’s faced,” he says. “The creativity and imagination of these founders is inspiring and without a doubt will create the solutions to the problems of modern mobility.”