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Katie Rae: "Get meaningful stuff done now"

A photograph of Katie Rae of Engine Ventures and Alan Neuhauser of Axios, sitting in chair on stage at an event in Boston.

Katie Rae of Engine Ventures, left, and Axios' Alan Neuhauser on stage Tuesday in Boston. Photo: Courtesy Aiyah Josiah-Faeduwor, via the MIT Energy Conference.

Election season will make fundraising harder starting in Q3, but that's no reason for startups to rush into a fresh round of funding, Engine Ventures' Katie Rae said at the MIT Energy Conference on Tuesday in Boston.

Why it matters: The firm invests in what it calls "tough tech": ambitious but potentially game-changing tech such as green steel, multi-day batteries, and fusion energy.

Highlights from the conversation include a look at surprises in different areas and advice for the second half of 2024.

The answers have been slightly edited for clarity and length.

What's changed since last year?

  • "Companies that were invested in on this 10-year timeframe are coming to market. We are seeing the physicality of what is happening. Not just three companies — it's five, it's 10."

What's moving more slowly than you would have expected?

  • "Anything in tough tech. You have multiple capital gaps that have to get solved. The first one is, 'How do you get out of the lab?' That's cute compared to a first-of-a-kind factory that costs between $50 million and $3 billion."
  • "Jumping those capital gaps requires creativity, long-term thinking, government and corporate partnership. I see the beginnings of that happening."

Which states or regulatory regions are moving with speed, relatively speaking, to compete in this space?

  • "Texas, Oklahoma, almost anywhere in the South."
  • "It's no mistake that Form Energy opened in West Virginia. Their state rolled out the red carpet — they got a factory built very quickly, they got all the permits they needed. At the city and state level, everybody was coordinated."

Do you see Rivian pausing construction on their planned $5 billion factory in Georgia having a disproportionate impact on red states that have so far been relatively open to clean energy investment?

  • "A factory being built means thousands of jobs and all the ripple effects of business development. I don't think, just because that happened in Georgia, it's going to cool somewhere else."

We're in an election year. What are you telling your startups to prepare for whatever may happen?

  • "I always try to take a step back: focus on your core business."
  • "Do I think it will be slightly more difficult in Q3 to raise capital? Yes. We're going to have a lot of distractions. But it's steady as you go, stay the course, get meaningful stuff done."
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