BMW invests in nanotech startup

03 December 2021

BMW has been busy taking part in funding rounds these past few months and this week announced another lead investment in US-based startup actnano. The tech company makes protective nanocoating for vehicles and raised $21.75 million (€19.2 million) in a series B financing round, also winning over new investors.

Carmakers keep turning to startups as a way to collaborate on new technology and innovative solutions. Actnano’s knowledge on nanocoating stood out to investors as it claims to offer ‘unparalleled’ protection for electronics across the automotive and consumer-electronics markets. The company’s technology is based on a thin nano structure, which acts as a barrier against contaminants, such as water and salt. It is easy to use and can be sprayed on electronic components, drying within 30 seconds.

Game-changing technology

Unlike traditional coatings, actnano’s technology can be applied to connectors and antennas, as well as underneath large components and processors, thus eliminating the need for masking. The company promises significant cost advantages. Major carmakers are betting on its technology, which can be found in more than two million cars so far, including 80% of electrically-chargeable vehicles (EVs) in North America. The coating is also produced with sustainable materials and does not contain harmful fluorine or halogen compounds, which are typically part of automotive coatings – another selling point for investors like BMW.

‘The proliferation of electronics in the car, especially with the broader industry push toward autonomous driving and electrification, will necessitate greater protection of mission-critical electronic components in the vehicle,’ said Kasper Sage, managing partner at BMW i Ventures, the carmaker’s venture arm. ‘Actnano’s nanocoatings have proven to be superior in performance and bring distinct cost advantages compared to traditional alternatives, making it a game-changer to secure generations of vehicles to come.’

The Massachusetts-based company said it will use the new funds to expand its global sales and technical teams, while also aiming to ramp up production as demand for its product is growing significantly. Last year, actnano raised $12 million in its series A financing round, using the capital to expand into Germany, Korea, and Japan – strategic locations where some of the world’s largest carmakers, such as Toyota, Hyundai, and Volkswagen (VW) Group, can be found. The tech business has high ambitions and wants to standardise its technology across the automotive industry.

‘Our goal is to install nanoGUARD [technology] in every vehicle in the world, help eliminate tragic accidents, and save lives,’ said Taymur Ahmad, CEO of actnano. ‘BMW i Ventures’ commitment to sustainability and user safety makes us extremely excited to partner with them and grow within the mobility sector.’

Investment spree

BMW’s major investment in actnano’s next-generation technology is one of several the carmaker made this year via its venture capital arm. Last month, the manufacturer announced it had invested in Upstream Security’s centralised security and analytics platform for connected vehicles and smart-mobility services.

In October, the German vehicle manufacturer poured fresh capital into Michigan-based energy-storage solutions company Our Next Energy, which is working on developing longer-range and lower-cost batteries for EVs. Another key investment BMW made that month was into lithium startup Lilac Solutions.

The carmaker is eager to back promising companies developing advanced mobility and battery technologies. Companies such as actnano, which pursue cleaner approaches, are of particular interest to the OEM. The carmaker also invested in clean-tech startup Natural Fiber Welding this year, a company focused on developing technology that uses plants and natural fibres to produce fully-recyclable alternative materials to leather, textiles, and foams.