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Fontinalis Partners, the early mobility-focused VC firm, rolls out a third fund

·3-min read

Fontinalis Partners, a 12-year-old, Detroit-based venture firm that was among the earliest early-stage venture outfits to focus squarely on mobility, has collected $104 million in capital commitments for its third and newest fund.

Investors in the vehicle include Ford Motor Corp., whose executive chairman, Bill Ford, co-founded Fontinalis and continues to help manage the fund. It also collected commitments from roughly 30 other limited partners, ranging from corporate partners in the automotive and insurance industries to family offices.

The team's interpretation of mobility as pertaining to any startup that "enables efficient movement" has resulted in a wide range of bets. Fontinalis had nabbed a stake in Postmates, for example, which was acquired last year in an all-stock deal by Uber. It wrote a check to Lyft, and helped fund the self-driving startup nuTonomy, which sold to auto supplier Delphi Automotive in 2017 for $450 million.

It has also more recently funded Gatik, a startup developing an autonomous vehicle stack for B2B short-haul logistics; Robust.AI, a startup at work on an industrial-grade cognitive platform for robots; Helm.ai, a maker of driverless car AI; and FreightWaves, a data and content startup that aims to provide participants in the freight wave industry with near-time analytics.

Altogether, the firm has invested in roughly 55 companies, and it says that 20 of them have already seen exits, including the family tracking app Life360, which went public on the Australian Securities Exchange in 2019, and lidar sensor manufacturer Ouster, which became publicly traded in March in the U.S. by merging with a blank-check company.

As for the size of its newest fund -- which is roughly the same size as the firm's $100 million second fund -- there's a reason Fontinalis hasn't raised a much larger vehicle (no pun intended) unlike other investors who've been routinely doubling their fund sizes every couple of years.

As Fontinalis co-founder Chris Cheever and longtime partner Chris Stallman tell it, Fontinalis could be investing more dollars (and making more money in management fees). Instead, their team sees their job as finding the best deals within their mandate, then, after funding those companies, opening up more opportunities for the firm's limited partners to directly co-invest alongside the firm.

"We have a number of LPs in this fund that have a pretty considerable appetite for co-investment opportunities," says Stallman," so there's a lot of flexibility for us to scale up through them." Adds Cheever, of the network Fontinalis brings to deals, "Many of these parties could be key customers that startups are looking to access, but also simply be their partners."

Fontinalis now has $270 million in assets under management. Cheever and Stallman say it has already made five investments in Series A-stage or later companies out of its newest fund; it has also written separate checks to six seed-stage companies.

Among its newest bets is an additive manufacturing company that has not publicly disclosed the round yet. It also recently wrote a follow-on check into Highland Electric, a company that's focused on helping school systems adopt electric buses by helping them upgrade their infrastructure, manage their charging, train their drivers and by providing them with financing options for the buses.

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