Su­per Fund bet­ting big on start-up

The Southland Times - - BUSINESS - TOM PULLAR-STRECKER

The Su­per Fund has in­creased its al­ready large bet on a young United States com­pany that man­u­fac­tur­ers high-tech glass for build­ings to $190 mil­lion.

The Crown-owned pen­sion fund orig­i­nally in­vested US$75m (NZ$104m) in Cal­i­for­nia’s View Inc in 2015 as part of a move to di­ver­sify be­yond tra­di­tional in­vest­ments in listed stocks and bonds.

But spokes­woman Is­abelle Brun­ton said it had since par­tic­i­pated in an­other five fund­ing rounds, in­vest­ing an­other US$62.5m in the firm.

The last US$10m in­vest­ment was made dur­ing View’s sev­enth fund­ing round that closed last month, through which View raised a to­tal of US$200m.

View Inc makes ‘‘elec­trochro­matic’’ smart glass that is de­signed to max­imise the nat­u­ral light that can be let into build­ings.

A thin coat­ing ap­plied to the sur­face of the glass dark­ens when an elec­tric cur­rent is ap­plied.

It can be con­trolled by a smart­phone app and set to au­to­mat­i­cally re­spond to glare, heat and day­light.

Ben­e­fits in­clude lower air­con­di­tion­ing bills and do­ing away with the need for of­fice blinds.

View has com­peti­tors which in­clude Penn­syl­va­nia-based SageGlass and Berke­ley-based He­liotrope Tech­nolo­gies.

He­liotrope is in the much ear­lier stages of try­ing to com­mer- cialise a type of elec­trochro­matic smart glass that it says is bet­ter at block­ing heat and which may be cheaper to pro­duce be­cause its coat­ing could be ap­plied as a liq­uid.

There also are other ac­tive smart glass tech­nolo­gies – such as SPD (sus­pended par­ti­cle de­vice) glass – as well as more ba­sic pas­sive tech­nolo­gies, some of which work in the same way as po­laroid sun­glasses.

Al­though it has ini­tially tar­geted pre­mium of­fice build­ings, View is start­ing to sup­ply glass for high-rise res­i­den­tial apart­ment com­plexes.

As a pri­vately-owned firm, its sales and losses are not pub­licly dis­closed.

The New Zealand Su­per­annu- ation Fund’s in­vest­ment in View rep­re­sents less than 1 per cent of its to­tal as­sets of $35b, but the lion’s share of its ‘‘ex­pan­sion cap­i­tal’’ in­vest­ment in riskier, earlystage firms.

The fund re­vealed in April that it had writ­ten off its other large in­vest­ment in a for­eign start-up – a $47.5m in­vest­ment in US winden­ergy com­pany Ogin which failed to raise the money it needed to com­mer­cialise its tech­nol­ogy.

Su­per Fund spokes­woman Kar­ren Bean­land said then that it also had about $100m in­vested in New Zealand ven­ture cap­i­tal funds.

Those do­mes­tic in­vest­ments had gen­er­ated an an­nu­alised net re­turn of 15 per cent, she said.

When the Su­per Fund first in­vested in View it was at a re­ported com­pany val­u­a­tion of about US$750m.

US me­dia re­ports said View had since raised money at a val­u­a­tion of about US$1b but the com­pany said the val­u­a­tion im­plied by its lat­est ’’G-Se­ries’’ fund­ing round was con­fi­den­tial.

The val­u­a­tions sug­gest the Su­per Fund would now own more than 10 per cent of View.

New Zealand Ven­ture Cap­i­tal As­so­ci­a­tion ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Colin McKin­non said the scale of the Su­per Fund’s in­vest­ment in View didn’t sound un­usual, given the size of the fund.

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