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Unraveling EV company Canoo’s ties to Alice Walton

October 17, 2022, 10:56 AM UTC

Electric vehicle company Canoo has been one to watch out of several high-cash-burn electric vehicle companies to go public over the past two years. Its futuristic electric campervans have rallied retail investors and even inspired a fan club on Reddit.

But as financial disclosures raised questions about the company’s longevity this summer, Walmart entered the equation with a lifeline: A direct investment and a 4,500-vehicle contract.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the ties between Walmart and Canoo appear to go even deeper than they seemed at the time. New court records filed last week underscore the financial ties between one of Walmart’s largest shareholders, Alice Walton—daughter of the late Walmart founder Sam Walton—and Canoo’s chief executive, Tony Aquila.

As I reported Friday evening, testimony filed in an Illinois federal court formally links Alice Walton and the Walton Family Office to AFV Partners, Aquila’s personal private equity firm. While it’s unclear whether Walton has invested in Canoo directly, it’s still a connection worth noting, as AFV Partners is a minority shareholder in the company. It’s possible that Aquila’s connection with Walton may have influenced the Walmart-Canoo contract, or Canoo’s decision to build manufacturing facilities in Arkansas and nearby Oklahoma (a Walmart spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter).

Here’s more:

In one of several depositions filed this week, a former principal at AFV Partners, Ryan Aprill, who is one of two plaintiffs in the case, asserts that he and Aquila had a phone call on Aug. 4, 2019, in which they discussed Alice Walton’s backing of AFV Partners.

“I needed to ensure that we had a minimum funding level to support that salary,” Aprill said in the deposition testimony, in reference to his minimum base salary they were allegedly discussing at the time. “[Tony Aquila] assured me we did from the Walton Family Office, Alice Walton in particular.”

Walton, who inherited tens of billions worth of Walmart shares after the passing of Sam Walton, collectively with her two brothers holds approximately 48% of voting shares at Walmart, according to Walmart disclosures. Aquila’s private equity firm owns an approximate 19% stake in Canoo, according to recent public filings.

Fortune had previously reported that Alice Walton was the original backer of Aquila’s AFV Partners and that her capital had been used for two early deals at the private equity firm. It is unclear whether Walton has specifically invested in Canoo through the PE firm, although multiple sources have told Fortune that they believed Alice Walton to be an investor (none of those sources had firsthand knowledge of that investment). Alice Walton’s name was not mentioned in the Walmart-Canoo agreement materials.

When reached by Fortune, Aprill declined to comment on the matter or the lawsuit. Spokespersons for Alice Walton’s family office and Walmart also declined to comment. AFV Partners and Canoo didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Aquila took over as executive chairman, and later CEO, of Canoo after he made an investment in the EV company through his PE firm in 2020, right around the time Canoo was going public via a SPAC merger. Earlier this year, as part of Canoo’s deal with Walmart, the companies signed a warrant agreement for Walmart to purchase more than 20% of the EV company’s shares. Canoo’s stock immediately rose on the news, though shares are now trading at around $1.30 each.

Before the Walmart deal was announced, Canoo had publicly stated at the end of 2021 that it was planning to move its headquarters to Bentonville, Walton’s home base and the location of Walmart’s headquarters. The states of Arkansas and Oklahoma have offered some $400 million in tax incentives in relation to Canoo building two new facilities in those states, including a manufacturing operation in Bentonville. Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson also had named Aquila as one of more than a dozen members of the state’s Council on Future Mobility.

You can read the full story here.

See you tomorrow,

Jessica Mathews
Twitter: @jessicakmathews
Email: jessica.mathews@fortune.com
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Jackson Fordyce curated the deals section of today’s newsletter.

VENTURE DEALS

- Vanta, a San Francisco-based compliance and software automation security company, raised $40 million in Series B extension funding. CrowdStrike and others invested in the round. 

- SURGE Therapeutics, a Cambridge, Mass.-based cancer treatment company, raised $26 million in Series A funding. Camford Capital led the round and was joined by investors including Khosla Ventures, Intuitive Ventures, Pitango HealthTech, 8VC, Alumni Ventures, and the Cancer Research Institute

- Northstar, a remote-based financial wellness benefit platform for employees, raised $24.4 million in funding. GGV Capital led the round and was joined by investors including PayPal Ventures, Thomson Reuters Ventures, Canvas Ventures, M13, Workday Ventures, Parade Ventures, Foundation Capital, Designer Fund, and RRE.

- Nucleus RadioPharma, a Rochester, Minn.-based radiopharmaceuticals development company, raised $6 million in seed funding. Eclipse and Mayo Clinic invested in the round.

- GreenPlaces, a Raleigh, N.C.-based climate platform, raised $4 million in seed funding. Felicis led the round and was joined by investors including Bull City Venture Partners and other angels.  

PRIVATE EQUITY

- Richie Auto Transport, a MAG Capital Partners portfolio company, acquired Interlink Auto Transport and Interlink Transport Logistics Illinois, a Chicago-based auto services delivery company. Financial terms were not disclosed.  

- Shift Paradigm, backed by GCP, acquired Ergo, a New York-based email marketing firm. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

- An affiliate of Veritas Capital agreed to acquire CAES Space Systems, a Colorado Springs, Colo.-based electronic solutions provider for space, defense, healthcare, and industrial applications. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

OTHER

- Kroger agreed to acquire Albertsons, a Boise, Idaho-based grocery company, for $24.6 billion. 

- DexCare acquired Womp, a Bellingham, Wash.-based e-commerce and online merchandising technology company. Financial terms were not disclosed.

IPOS 

- 2P, a Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based information and communications technology firm, plans for an initial public offering in Saudi Arabia next month. A deal would be valued at up to $1 billion, according to Bloomberg. 

- Taaleem Holdings, a Dubai-based private school operator, plans to raise as much as $250 million from an initial public offering in Dubai next month, according to Bloomberg.

FUNDS + FUNDS OF FUNDS

- Clearview Capital, a Stamford, Conn.-based investment firm, raised $850 million for a fund focused on companies in the business services, consumer, health care services, manufacturing, and specialized distribution sectors that have $4-$20 million of EBITDA.  

- AZ-VC, a Phoenix-based venture capital firm, raised $110 million for their first fund focused on Series A companies. 

PEOPLE

- Felicis, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm, hired Nancy Wang as a venture partner. Formerly, she was with AWS.

- Intersection Crypto Ventures, the San Francisco-based venture investment platform of Intersection Growth Partners, hired David Puth as co-managing partner. Formerly, he was with Centre Consortium. 

- Red Cell Partners, a Washington D.C.-based incubation firm, hired Wesley G. Bush as director and advisor. Formerly, he was with Northrop Grumman.

- Vidavo Ventures, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm, hired Gilberto Caldart as venture partner. Caldart is president of Mastercard's international business

Correction: The online version of this newsletter has been corrected to reflect that Gilberto Caldart is still with Mastercard.

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