Dominique Houde is a partner and leading the UK activities of IMPROVED Corporate Finance, the corporate finance firm active in the global Technology, Energy and Mobility sectors.
Ranked third globally by Inspiratia for New Infrastructure transactions in 2021, and with a team of 20-plus staff headquartered in Amsterdam, IMPROVED works with entrepreneurs driving innovation, for their capital formation needs, be it Series B, C, D capital raise or merger and acquisition transactions, among others.
As part of its track record and expertise built in the eMobility sector and numerous landmark transactions in electric vehicle (EV) charging, IMPROVED recently published a white paper on smart charging, together with consulting and engineering firm P3, this highlights the benefits, business models, technologies and investment into this sector.
Throughout his career, Dominique has worked in Europe and the United States, and he is now based in London where he leads the firm’s UK operations.
EDs: What led you into eMobility finance and automotive tech?
Going into eMobility finance was the result of a realisation about 10 years ago while at Lotus Cars. I joined them after spending my early career in large investment banks covering the automotive sector.
Seeing the massive potential, technical simplicity and cost benefits of electric vehicles, because back then Lotus assembled the Tesla Roadster and I worked on several electric vehicle projects in Lotus Engineering, it was clear that there was no way back regarding the ability of this technical approach to move the automotive sector forward.
From then on, I decided to bring together my understanding of two worlds I knew well, automotive and finance, to achieve a key objective: Bringing capital to the automotive tech space to fuel the growth of sustainable transportation.
In the early days of the electric vehicle sector, financing innovation was the key. Together with the team at Pod Point, where I joined the board in 2012, I led what was the largest full equity crowdfunding capital by a business. This was a first for an electric vehicle charging company at the time.
We also worked on an innovative, and likely the first asset-based HPC network funding model during my time at ChargePoint in California.
EDs: How long have you worked in connection to the automotive sector?
It started early! In parallel to my time at university back in Montreal, Canada. I wrote an automotive product and business column in a few national newspapers and travelled extensively to visit facilities and interview auto industry executives.
At the time, I test drove many cars on both the road and track. In fact I test drove and assessed over 400 types of vehicles over that period. It got me close to the product and provided the driver experience.
EDs: How did you build your expertise in finance and M&A?
I spent many years of my early banking career working within the Automotive M&A Investment banking team at Merrill Lynch International in London, before joining ABN AMRO/RBS and leading their global Investment banking automotive practice.
Advising on several complex and contested M&A automotive transactions, such as the Renault/Nissan, Porsche/VW, Continental/Schaeffler and Jaguar Land Rover deals, provided a close proximity to the tactical and strategic dimensions of such transactions.
Importantly, those cross-border transactions are where I learned to deploy a full palette of capital solutions, from straight equity to debt, to a range of hybrid capital instruments.
This has proven helpful in learning and using the basics of a key requirement in the capital formation space: Precisely calibrating and matching the structure of the financial instruments used, often in innovative circumstances, with the quickly evolving risk profile of key sustainable transportation segments and tech. It is a crucial skill for a banker in the wider energy transition space.
EDs: Did you pick up any valuable lessons working in Silicon Valley and technology companies?
One thing is clear, exceptional entrepreneurs are driving innovation in a powerful way around the world, not just in Silicon Valley. Today, UK and European entrepreneurs in the space are second to none in their approach to innovation.
Having said that, the ecosystem around startups remains unique in the Bay Area, which has been key in the growth of autotech in the last 10 years, around vehicle concepts, well-funded autonomous vehicles platform and service innovations.
Every global automotive original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and Tier 1 supplier became present in some form in the valley with advanced technology units.
Personally, the opportunity to initiate Autotech Ventures in Palo Alto, the first ever independent automotive tech venture capital fund, was an unforgettable experience and an effective way of getting to know this ecosystem and its people.
EDs: Was this experience valuable when you joined IMPROVED?
The combination of the automotive background, banking, venture capital and having worked in fast-growing startups and scale-ups, provides a useful context to achieve what we strive to do. This is bringing the best expertise and results to our clients, always as part of a coordinated team with my IMPROVED colleagues.
EDs: How is IMPROVED unique among financial advisors firms in facilitating the transition to electric vehicles?
IMPROVED is empowering innovators in the Technology, Energy Transition and Mobility sectors. At IMPROVED Corporate Finance, our senior team has developed an unparalleled ongoing dialogue with the top 200-300 investors globally in the mobility and energy sector. This ranges from VCs and PEs, family offices and corporates, to the institutional funds increasingly present in the sector.
We communicate constantly on their areas of strategic interest, risk appetite, deal size focus and roadmap for the coming years.
EDs: What would be your dream EV to drive?
It would great to see a £5,000, highly customisable form factor global electric vehicle. This would span car and light truck body styles with ultra-high efficiency, using solar energy recharge solutions – à la Lightyear. It would come with cheap structural batteries, as well as offering flexible charging modes, both AC and DC, with wireless option, and able to charge from other cars’ batteries when needed (in a similar way to mobile phones).
It needs to be a vehicle with compelling economics and unprecedented ease of charging, which can operate at the grid’s edge if needed, that can scale into the millions. This is what is needed to move the needle globally to make electric vehicles a factor in a plurality of markets, not just the most advanced ones.