Apr 19, 2022 - Economy

Former Uber exec pardoned by Trump gets VC funding for new startup

Anthony Levandowski

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Anthony Levandowski, the former self-driving car engineer and Uber executive pardoned by President Trump after being convicted of stealing trade secrets from Google, has found venture capital backers for his new startup.

Driving the news: Pollen Mobile, a mobile carrier that leverages cryptocurrencies for rewards, raised an undisclosed amount of funding led by Slow Ventures, with DISH Wireless also participating.

  • Other investors include Delphi Digital, OVN Capital and Acorn Pacific Ventures.

Flashback: Levandowski worked at Google's Waymo unit, before leaving to found a startup called Otto that would quickly be purchased by Uber for $680 million.

  • In early 2017, Google accused Levandowski of stealing trade secrets, which resulted in a civil settlement between the two companies and an 18-month prison sentence for Levandowski.

Fast forward: In 2018, Levandowski founded a new self-driving trucking company called Pronto AI, which does not appear to have raised outside VC funding.

  • Pollen Mobile's mesh-style network was originally created by Pronto for its own use, which is now being spun out into an independent business (kind of like how Slack was created). It debuted in January and has rolled out infrastructure in San Francisco, New York City, and Los Angeles, according to the company.
  • Pollen Mobile is a decentralized mobile network built on the blockchain, owned and operated by its users — similar to Helium, a decentralized hotspot network that recently raised $200 million.

"There is no one in Silicon Valley with more incentive to do everything the right way than Anthony," says Slow Ventures partner. Sam Lessin.

The intrigue: Whether such applications of blockchain tech can gain widespread use and take the crypto industry into use cases beyond investments. And if Pollen will be able to keep attracting cash, despite Levandowski's history.

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