Boris Wertz is bullish on BC climate tech

Apart from blockchain and Web3, it’s the BC sub-sector he thinks matters most.

Boris Wertz was the co-founder of Victoria-based AbeBooks, a marketplace for books that Amazon acquired in 2008. In 2012, he launched Version One Ventures, a venture capital firm that invests in early-stage companies. Since Version One’s founding, Wertz has become one of the top early-stage tech investors in North America by investing in mission-driven founders trying to build category-leading businesses.

A recent example of his ability to back promising entrepreneurs, even when they sit outside his typical investing framework, is his investment in Coinbase, a crypto exchange.

Wertz invested in Coinbase in 2017 as part of the startup’s $100 million Series D funding round. “It was a much later stage for us than our typical pre-seed/seed investment,” he wrote on his firm’s blog. At the time, the funding gave the digital currency exchange a post-money valuation of $1.6 billion. In April 2021, Coinbase went public through a direct listing, opening with a market cap of over $100 billion, and closing the day at around $85 billion. It was one of the largest public listings ever in the US. For Version One, the investment ended up as a multiple fund maker

Wertz has become a bit of a crypto evangelist, so it wasn’t surprising that in his recent fireside chat with Maninder Dhaliwal, chair of TiE Angels Vancouver, that blockchain and web3 dominated the conversation. What was perhaps surprising was Wertz’s response to a question I posed. I wanted to know what the most under-the-radar company or sector in British Columbia is. 

I assumed I would get the goods on an up-and-coming DeFi or crypto startup. Instead, Wertz wanted to shine a light on BC companies tackling climate change, perhaps the province’s and world’s greatest threat. He wanted to talk about cleantech companies.

Here’s what he said.

“BC has a long tradition of climate energy startups, literally going back 30 years ago,” he said. “And that has actually spun out a lot of interesting startups as a follow up. Think about General Fusion, etc. So there's really a tremendous amount of companies in that space.

“The second thing is, I think the world is really waking up to the fact that you really need to act on the climate crisis, and just raising prices on carbon emissions will not help. To solve the climate crisis, we need to have modern technologies, and I think BC will play a tremendous role in providing these technologies on all different levels. And so I'm super excited for that space in BC.”

Case in point: Moment Energy, a startup that just raised a $3.5 million seed round led by Wertz’s firm.

Moment Energy is repurposing electric vehicle batteries for energy storage and other uses. The problem they’re solving is striking: Electric vehicle batteries are oftentimes shelved with 80% of their capacity still intact. Here’s how James Matthews described this problem in this publication: “This is a staggering amount akin to taking only two sips of a bottle of beer before throwing it in the bin.”

“You don't really want to just recycle [the battery] for the parts, but there are so many use cases you can do with the electric battery,” Wertz added during his talk.

“By giving these batteries a second life, Moment can produce a highly affordable energy product, while reducing lithium waste,” wrote Angela Tran, Wertz’s partner, on their firm’s blog. “It’s the circular economy in action.”

The Moment Energy investment is the third cleantech investment that Version One has revealed in recent weeks, following EnergyBank, deep ocean long-term energy storage, and EnPowered, a payment platform to increase the rate of cleantech adoption.

“I’m super excited about that space, and I think BC has actually not yet gotten the credit for the amount of activity that is happening in that sector,” Wertz said.

There are signs this could be changing with the release of the Foresight 50, a list of Canada’s most investable cleantech ventures. How did BC fare? 18 BC companies including Ionomr, Open Ocean Robotics and Portable Electric made the list.

If this last year is any indication, I think we’ll soon be hearing a lot more about all of these companies –– and more frequently. Our collective future depends on them.

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