By Elan Head

An award-winning journalist, Elan is also a commercial helicopter pilot and an FAA Gold Seal flight instructor with helicopter and instrument ratings. Follow her on Twitter @elanhead

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UP.Partners looks beyond air taxis with new venture fund

UP.Partners, known for its exclusive UP.Summits for eVTOL industry leaders, has closed a $230 million early stage venture capital fund dedicated to enabling technologies for sustainable mobility.

UP.Partners directors
UP.Partners managing directors include, from left, Adam Grosser, Cyrus Sigari, and Ben Marcus. The team also includes principal Ally Warson and venture partners Brian McClendon, Eric Hirshberg, Uma Subramanian, and others. UP.Partners Photo

UP.Partners was co-founded by aviation and technology entrepreneurs Ben Marcus and Cyrus Sigari, who also co-founded the business aircraft seller jetAVIVA in 2006, and AirMap, a provider of airspace management software systems for drones, in 2014. They are joined by investor Adam Grosser, who most recently led Silver Lake Kraftwerk, the impact strategy of Silver Lake Partners. 

Contributors to their inaugural fund include Alaska Air Group’s new venture capital arm, Alaska Star Ventures; ARK Invest founder and CEO Cathie Wood, who invested in the fund personally, rather than through her company; and Woven Capital, the investment arm of Toyota subsidiary Woven Planet Group. 

Other contributors include the privately held industrial company Standard Industries, leading ship management company OSM Maritime, and global real estate developer Hillwood, whose chairman, Ross Perot, Jr., is a co-host of the annual UP.Summits. 

UP.Partners has already invested in 11 companies, including drone makers Skydio and Zipline and eVTOL developer Beta Technologies. But don’t expect to see UP.Partners pursuing many other air taxi makers. While Beta is a company that the UP team is “extremely fond of,” Marcus told eVTOL.com, it’s also “an exception rather than a rule for what we’re doing as a fund.” 

“We think that urban air mobility in developed markets has vast potential to improve the way we live in cities and around cities,” he explained. “But we also see that there are tremendous other applications for advanced aerial mobility that could potentially have a greater impact sooner.” 

These include the transportation of goods in remote and rural areas, much as Zipline is doing with deliveries of medical supplies in Rwanda and Ghana. Compared to the air taxi applications that have captured much of investors’ attention over the past year, “not only are those types of applications more sensible to regulators in the short term, but they also have the potential to deliver great value,” Marcus suggested. 

One thing that UP.Partners found appealing about Beta, he noted, is its pursuit of near-term logistics opportunities, as through its deal with UPS for up to 150 eVTOL aircraft. That’s in contrast to many other electric air taxi developers, who are focused primarily on the emerging urban air mobility market. 

“We see a nearer-term commercial reality for logistics over passengers,” Marcus said. “Not only are there fewer safety concerns, but also an easier path to establishing the necessary ground infrastructure to support logistics customers.” 

UP.Partners is also focused on technologies that enable the broader ecosystem for electric vehicles, whether in the air, on the ground, or in the water. An example of one of its investments in this respect is LineVision, which develops advanced sensors and analytics for monitoring power lines. 

As electric vehicles become more common, Marcus observed, “utilities either will build more transmission infrastructure, or make their existing transmission infrastructure more efficient, which is far more cost-effective. That’s what LineVision enables utilities to do, is to get more electricity through the transmission infrastructure safely.” 

Beyond electrification, UP.Partners sees autonomy, connectivity, cybersecurity, and additive manufacturing as among the key enabling technologies for multiple forms of transport, not just aviation. 

“Our passion is and always has been and always will be aviation, that’s what we like to do, but the mission that drives that passion is really about helping people and goods move about the world in more efficient ways,” Marcus said. 

The benefits that UP.Partners can offer early-stage companies extend well beyond funding. The annual UP.Summits — hosted in alternating years by Perot in Dallas, Texas, and Steuart and Tom Walton in Bentonville, Arkansas — have resulted not only in direct investments of more than $450 million, but also in new leadership alliances and supplier relationships that have accelerated growth and progress for the companies involved. 

According to Marcus, “we believe that by bringing this community together, we have the opportunity to forge those kinds of relationships that ultimately reduce risk, reduce the randomness that is typical of early-stage companies, and help accelerate this future forward at a faster clip than what would otherwise happen.” 

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