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Expert Voices: United's VC on the new reality

illustration of Andrew Chang of United Airlines Ventures surrounded by circles and graphics of an airplane

Photo illustration: Tiffany Herring/Axios; Photo: Courtesy of United Airlines

The market has shifted for climate tech investing to the extent that United Airlines Ventures is now reevaluating previously overpriced but quality startups it passed on, Andrew Chang, managing director of United Airlines Ventures, tells Axios.

Why it matters: The prominent airline sees considerable deal flow for sustainable aviation fuel tech and has already made 8 investments from its over $200 million fund.

  • On Wednesday, Chang met with the 21 other LPs in United's year-old Sustainable Flight Fund for the first time in Houston. Investors include Google, JP Morgan Chase, and Hawaiian Airlines.

Go deeper: Read the full story on United's SAF play.

This interview was lightly edited for clarity.

What in your view has been the biggest news in climate tech investing this year?

  • "This year we've seen better market dynamics for investors. I think the new reality has set in. Interest rates aren't effectively zero. People are looking for substance now.
  • We are now reevaluating a number of opportunities that we passed on before. Because while the management team was good, or the technology was good, asking for valuations that started with a B, just didn't make sense.
  • Now, both the entrepreneurs, the innovators, the companies, and capital providers are more aligned on what's reasonable."

By contrast, what do you think is going undernoticed?

  • "We started on this journey recognizing that there is a big gap between early stage startup companies, who are raising $10 to $50 million dollars, and traditional private equity, infrastructure funds, what have you, with billions of dollars.
  • No one's willing to bridge from the startup company to, writing a $200 million check.
  • We were created to help narrow that gap."

One tip for climate-tech investors or founders:

  • "Make sure you define, evaluate, assess and mitigate risk the right way. Don't misconstrue it as having more or less risk appetite.
  • Think about what are you willing to be accountable for? What are you willing to take ownership of? What's within your control? And how do you advocate and bring other parties together for a common goal?"

Three fun things:

💼 First job: "An analyst in investment banking."

👑 Proudest investment: "A good assessment is where have we put additional money in. The first one that comes to mind is Dimensional Energy.

  • It's still early days. So far, it's been a great success for us."

🤦🏻‍♂️ Facepalm investment or investment you wish you made:

  • "Air Company. That one stands out. We like them. We just weren't permitted to make that investment.
  • We have liquor licenses, because we're an airline, and unfortunately, the regulatory regime is such that you can't be a producer of alcohol, but also sell alcohol in a retail environment."
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