When Phyllis Newhouse and Isabelle Friedheim listed Athena Technology Acquisition Corp on the New York Stock Exchange in March, they did so as the only all-female SPAC team in the market: Athena debuted with a management team, board of directors and independent advisors that were entirely comprised of women.
But when it came to finding Athena’s best acquisition target, the duo was less concerned with applying a gender lens than they were with identifying truly disruptive technology. They worked efficiently, finding their match in less than four months: Newhouse and her team announced this week that they will be merging with solar energy firm Heliogen in a deal that values the joint company at $2 billion.
“We had companies calling us on day one, the day that we went public with the SPAC,” Newhouse told Forbes. “It you put Heliogen against any other company that we were talking to, they’re solving a world problem. And they’re solving that problem with renewable energy.”
Heliogen was founded by Bill Gross (not the billionaire bond king) as a way to make solar and wind power more scalable and less dependent on the sun shining or wind blowing. The company is building what Gross calls “sunlight refineries”: a field of mirrors take the sun’s daylight rays and reflects them to a single point on a raised tower. Heliogen stores the heat around the clock until it needs to be transformed into electricity or hydrogen for one of its customers.
Gross says that this technology can provide “heavy industry power around the clock, and that’s a fundamental thing that’s not been solved before.” ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel company, is already a Heliogen customer (and investor), and Gross says that he’s seen demand for his product—and renewable energy in general—surge during the pandemic. He raised $100 million for the company last month, but going public through the SPAC process gives the company access to even more capital and a path to faster growth. But the business minds that Newhouse and Friedheim accumulated to bring Athena to market were also a value proposition for Gross.
“Every single member on Phyllis’ team actually has business expertise. They’re not just a bunch of people who got together to make some money,” Gross says, alluding to one of the current criticisms against the SPAC boom. “They have financial expertise, they have software expertise, they have power plant expertise, and they have cyber security expertise. And even in the middle of our transaction discussions, we saw what cyber security does to power companies when we had that big ransomware shutdown. So Phyllis has helped us be aware, smarter and put in place procedures to make us a better company.”
The transaction, which both teams expect to generate gross proceeds of up to $415 million in cash, assuming there are no redemptions by Athena’s public stockholders, is expected to close in the fourth quarter of this year. After the merger, the new company will retain Heliogen’s name, and Heliogen’s leadership team will remain in tact. Newhouse will join the company’s board.
Gross says that three new Heliogen plants are already in production, and he sees tailwinds from both the private sector—by way of companies like General Motors announcing they will have a 100% electric fleet by 2035—and public sector. “There is such a huge demand building over the coming decade,” he says. “And I want to build a leading company to supply that because there’s a void of companies who can provide energy after the sun goes down.”
Newhouse says she’s excited to use her entrepreneurial mind to help Heliogen through that growth, but she’s also hoping that Athena’s all-women mission has a ripple effect in the SPAC market long after it has officially de-SPAC’ed.
“We wanted to show that women can serve in any capacity in a SPAC, with the expertise that we bring to the table. So that’s what the all-women-led idea was, to show that we can do all facets of what is required,” she says. “And now we can go out and participate in all SPACs… we always went into this with the idea that we would branch off into many more opportunities, because we could keep creating.”