Investment

Benetton family back air taxi provider

A company backed by the Benetton family of Italy has agreed to raise its investment in Volocopter, a German air taxi provider.

The deal was done by Atlantia, an Italian transport infrastructure group where the Benettons owns an influential 30% stake, which agreed to take part in a $170 million fundraising also backed by WP Investment of South Korea.

The fundraising has been completed, despite the knock to sentiment caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Data provider Crunchbase has confirmed that the invasion has led to a slowdown in the VC funding market, likely to intensify in the months ahead, particularly as far as seed capital is concerned.

Companies like Volocopter which can point to solid progress are best placed to raise funds. Another is US sports merchandiser Fanatics, which soon after raised $1.5 billion from investors including Michael Dell’s family office MSD Capital and Fidelity after completing exclusive US sports licensing deals.

After achieving a notional value of $1.7 billion, following several fundraisings, plus a $1 billion aircraft leasing deal with Aviation Capital Group, Volcopter is upbeat. Chairman Stefan Klocke said: “This private funding allows us to stay focused on our mission to bring sustainable urban air mobility to life.”

Volocopter, a developer of electric take-off and landing aircraft, founded in 2011, has global visions, but sees some of its best prospects in Asia, where economies are growing and urban streets have become increasingly congested. 

It expects to build four to six landing zones in Singapore by 2030, initially comprising tourist flights progressing to trips to Indonesia. It has put together a joint venture with Geely of China, one of its early investors, and tested out flights in South Korea. It has held tests in the US and won approvals in Europe for its air transport and cargo drones.

Alessandro Benetton

Atlantia was already an investor in Volocopter prior to its latest fundraising. It sanctioned investing more money in Volocopter following the election of Alessandro Benetton as chairman of its family office/holding group, Edizioni, which owns the family stake in Atlantia, where it retains board representation. Edizioni’s net asset value was 10.8 billion euros at the end of 2020. It generated revenues of 10.9 billion euros during that year from business interests which also include food and beverages; manufacturing by the original Benetton business; digital infrastructure; real estate, and finance through shares in Mediobanca and Generali.

A former Goldman Sachs banker, Alessandro Benetton is a prominent member of the next generation set to inherit the family business. He has expressed belief in sustainable investing, plus regret over the tragic collapse of a motorway bridge in Genoa in 2018, which cast a shadow over Atlantia and contributed to its restructuring. 

Alessandro, who is also founder of private equity firm 21 Invest, is one of four siblings of Luciano Benetton, renowned for his fabric design.

Atlantia director Elisabetta De Bernardi expressed enthusiasm for Volocopter. She said: “We will continue to promote urban air mobility, a fast-growing business that can help reduce emissions and traffic in large cities.”

US-based Honeywell has also agreed to support the latest funding round, alongside WP Investment, a Korean conglomerate co-led by Lei Wang and Tiffany Park, which put together a string of deals in real estate and health care. In 2020, WP agreed to run a Korean affiliate to Sotheby’s International Realty.

Early Volocopter investors Whysol and btov Partners, a pioneer of European VC, who each put together investment syndicates, have agreed to invest more money in Volocopter. Previous investors include BlackRock, German VC firm Avala Capital, NTT and entrepreneur Lukasz Gadowski, creator of Delivery Hero.

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