Deeptech and Cleantech: No Country for Growth Equity

“Price is what the market pays”

In business school the phrase was a reference to Eugene Fama’s “Efficient Market Theory”. But in today’s market it feels like this statement is now the valuation expert’s way of throwing their hand in the area and saying “who knows!?!”

I am not going to comment on Gamestop. Instead I am going to focus on how there is no real private market for late stage growth equity serving deeptech and cleantech businesses.

Cleantech and deeptech are generally long-horizon investments with sizable step-wise technical and commercial gains. In many ways these investments resemble pharmaceutical-related investments cycles and payouts. A number of high profile and developmentally expensive drugs don’t move to the next stage… but when a mass-market drug is FDA approved, the windfall covers the costs of the lost trials elsewhere.

There are many high-growth sustainability, electrification and broader deeptech-themed investments hitting the market at high profile valuations. As a private market investor, the valuation jumps these companies earn from the private-to-public move can be surprising.

A lot of people are pointing to public market froth as the logical explanation. The reality of SPAC transactions is that they are a big source of cash … and dilution for the target companies. But these same hi-growth private companies have been mostly starved of capital in the private markets. As a result, executives in the deeptech field are now trained to view financing risk as the primary barrier to investing in IP and subsequently hitting the big payout events.

Meanwhile, the SaaS vertical has every valuation metric meticulously analyzed around pricing. It’s the closest to a liquid market I’ve seen in the private markets: there are indices and the multiples are tracked religiously. There are still bumps when these SaaS companies go public, but the range is knowable. The reason this path to public is more streamlined for traditional SaaS companies is because there is a very healthy and robust late-stage growth equity market acting as a pre-public pool of capital.

The SPAC is effectively becoming the late-stage growth equity vehicle for the deeptech markets. As a result in some cases the future year valuations are being pulled (slightly) forward. And while it is easy to point to froth, I take the opposite view. These are clearly important and valuable companies with aligned economy, humanity and shareholder upside. I am glad that public market investors will be able to participate in the asset appreciation.

But, it’s a shame that our private growth equity markets weren’t able to help these companies grow a bit longer outside of the public eye. And so while it is helpful to have the SPACs in market, I actually believe the story here is the incredible opportunity for growth equity capital that serves the deeptech and cleantech environment.

Knowing the Energize team’s entrepreneurial approach, I expect we are going to do something about this…