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Utah’s Kickstart raises $74 million seed fund for Mountain West startups

Kickstart Seed Fund, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, announced today that it has raised a fresh $74 million fund.

By Silicon Valley standards, a $74 million seed fund is not a powerhouse. Sequoia Capital, for example, is reportedly raising a $180 million seed fund, according to Axios. But the size of Kickstart’s latest fund — it is the firm’s fourth — is indicative of just how quickly the Utah startup scene has grown in the past decade. Kickstart, founded in 2008, started with an initial seed fund of $8 million. And its $74 million fund is nearly double the size of its last fund ($39 million).

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Since 2008, Kickstart has invested in more than 100 companies. Some of the fund’s most notable portfolio companies include photo printing service Chatbooks, which raised $11.5 million last year, and Podium, a Y Combinator graduate that helps other companies manage their online reviews.

Kickstart invests exclusively in companies located in the Mountain West region and says that it’s industry-agnostic, though as of December, 65 percent of its portfolio companies were SaaS startups, and 85 percent were located in Utah. Most of its other portfolio companies operate in the consumer products, medical devices, and health care spaces.

Kickstart managing partner Gavin Christensen said that when he started the firm in 2008, there was a severe lack of seed stage capital in the Salt Lake City and Provo areas. At the time, Kickstart’s normal check size was between $50,000 and $75,000, according to Christensen. Now, a typical seed round for a Kickstart portfolio company is between $2 million and $3 million.

“Now there’s more interest than there is room, so it’s really come a long way,” Christensen told VentureBeat in a phone interview.

Other seed stage firms in Utah include Peak Ventures, which closed a $50 million fund in March, and Peterson Ventures, which has more than 45 portfolio companies.

Kickstart’s latest fund consists mostly of institutional investors. But some notable Utah entrepreneurs have also invested, including Pluralsight’s Aaron Skonnard and Qualtrics’ Ryan Smith — CEOs of two of the four privately held unicorn companies located in Utah, according to CB Insights.

“We have some of our first international money with this fund — it was a lot of folks who don’t really have any kind of historical relationship with Utah and venture here, but they see what’s happening and want to be part of it,” Christensen said.

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Existing EV batteries could be recharged five times faster

Lithium-ion batteries have massively improved in the last half-decade, but there are still issues. The biggest, especially for EVs, is that charging takes too long to make them as useful as regular cars for highway driving. Researchers from the University of Warwick (WMG) have discovered that we may not need to be so patient, though. They developed a new type of sensor that measures internal battery temperatures and discovered that we can probably recharge them up to five times quicker without overheating problems.

Overcharging a lithium-ion battery anode can lead to lithium buildup, which can break through a battery's separator, create a short-circuit and cause catastrophic failure. That can cause the electrolyte to emit gases and literally blow up the battery, so manufacturers impose strict charging power limits to prevent it.

Those limits are based on hard-to-measure internal temperatures, however, which is where the WMG probe comes in. It's a fiber optic sensor, protected by a chemical layer that can be directly inserted into a lithium-ion cell to give highly precise thermal measurements without affecting its performance.

The team tested the sensor on standard 18650 li-ion cells, used in Tesla's Model S and X, among other EVs. They discovered that they can be charged five times faster than previously thought without damage. Such speeds would reduce battery life, but if used judiciously, the impact would be minimized, said lead researcher Dr. Tazdin Amietszajew.

Faster charging as always comes at the expense of overall battery life but many consumers would welcome the ability to charge a vehicle battery quickly when short journey times are required and then to switch to standard charge periods at other times.

There's still some work to do. While the research showed the li-ion cells can support higher temperatures, EVs and charging systems would have to have "precisely tuned profiles/limits" to prevent problems. It's also not clear how battery makers would install the sensors in the cells.

Nevertheless, it shows a lot of promise for much faster charging speeds in the near future. Even if battery capacities stayed the same, charging in 5 minutes instead of 25 could flip a lot of drivers over to the green side.

Via: Clean Technica

Source: University of Warwick