DP World, the world’s fourth largest ports operator, has participated in the latest $50 million funding round for Virgin Hyperloop One, the futuristic transportation company, which appointed Virgin Group founder Richard Branson as its new chairman.
The developments coincide with reports of the company running low on money, at a time when it is dealing with the fallout of allegations of sexual harassment levelled at one of its co-founders.
The Dubai-based firm joined Russia’s Caspian Venture Capital in the financing, which comes ahead of the transportation company’s Series C round of funding.
“This investment provides Virgin Hyperloop One with a very robust financial platform for 2018 ahead of our Series C round of fundraising,” said the company’s chief executive Rob Lloyd.
“Our focus in 2018 will be on accelerating commercial agreements for both passenger and cargo projects.”
Mr Lloyd told The National in October it would begin rolling out the technology in 2019, with an initial testing at production level in 2021.
Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority has been in active talks with the company, assessing the feasibility of a project that would deploy train-like capsules that float on air and travel at high speeds through a low-pressure tube.
DP World on Tuesday confirmed its participation in the financing round, but declined to say how much of the $50m figure it contributed.
"Supporting the work of Virgin Hyperloop One is part of our continued efforts to think ahead and plan for change and these kind of disruptive technologies have great potential," a DP World spokesperson told The National.
“We intend to be part of any new developments in global transport that revolutionise the way trade is conducted and connect global markets.”
DP World Chairman Sultan bin Sulayem sits on the board of Virgin Hyperloop
Bloomberg reported that Virgin Hyperloop One was running low on cash, despite raising $295m since its founding in 2014. The company’s other backers include Sherpa Capital, 137 Ventures, Formation 8, SNCF, GE Ventures, Zhen Fund, Fast Digital and OurCrowd.com.
The newswire also said the company had been the target of a takeover offer from Caspian Venture Capital's owner Ziyavudin Magomedov, but that the approach had been turned down by the board.
Mr Branson’s appointment as non-executive chairman comes two months after the Virgin Group announced an undisclosed investment in the company, which was renamed to include reference to the Virgin Brand.
The Virgin Group founder replaces Shervin Pishevar, who stepped down from the company’s board two weeks ago in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment. Mr Pishevar, who also stepped down from his own venture capital firm, has denied the charges.
Virgin Hyperloop One said on Monday it had completed its third phase of testing, achieving a new high speed of 387 kilometres per hour.
Mr Lloyd told The National in October that "the vision for the UAE is a network that connects nine endpoints and the airports with a Hyperloop.
“The initial work that we are doing at great detail is with the Road and Transport Authority. We continue to have discussions as to how that preliminary feasibility study could be turning into the next stage of deployment," he added.