SoftBank’s second Vision Fund has led a $250m (£189m) funding round into German electric scooter start-up Tier, one of the largest rivals to US giants Bird Rides and Lime.
The investment marks SoftBank’s first bet on the field of electric scooter start-ups which allow customers to pay per minute to rent a scooter to travel through a city.
Berlin-headquartered Tier is expanding across Europe and earlier this year hired Uber’s UK head Fred Jones to lead its UK expansion.
Existing investors that backed Tier again in this new funding round include Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund Mubadala and Swedish fund Northzone.
Tier said on Monday that it plans to use the investment to expand around the world. The start-up is also planning to raise debt funding.
SoftBank’s investment into Tier comes as electric scooter companies have seen their valuations collapse and revenue dry up during the coronavirus pandemic. Customers paused renting the scooters to make short trips around cities as they worked from home during lockdown.
Rival scooter business Lime saw its valuation drop from $2.4bn to $510m when it raised an emergency funding round this year.
The companies are hoping that demand for emissions-free city transport and easing regulations in Europe will bolster the emerging micro-mobility industry after the coronavirus pandemic eases.
The announcement of SoftBank’s significant bet on electric scooters follows a report that the $100bn Vision Fund is considering leaving London and relocating to Abu Dhabi.
The world’s largest technology investment fund has been considering the move for weeks as it seeks to limit the taxes it pays, The Financial Times reported.
A move to Abu Dhabi would also allow Vision Fund investors to work from the same region as one of its key backers, Mubadala, which has backed the Vision Fund with $15bn in investment.
The Vision Fund has backed some of the world’s largest technology businesses including TikTok owner ByteDance, Slack and Arm. It has been headquartered in Mayfair since its launch in 2017.
However, its head Rajeev Misra is reportedly searching for a new house and schools for his children in Abu Dhabi. Akshay Naheta, a managing partner at the fund, is reported to have already moved to the area.
A move to Abu Dhabi could dramatically reduce the taxes paid by the Japanese conglomerates technology investment fund.
SoftBank currently pays a corporate tax rate of 19pc on Vision Fund profits in the UK but could cease paying taxes on profits entirely under Abu Dhabi’s regulatory regime.
Earlier this week, SoftBank announced that Mr Misra would leave the company’s board along with Marcelo Claure, its chief operating officer, and Katsunori Sago, its chief strategy officer. SoftBank is facing continued pressure from investors to improve its corporate governance.
A SoftBank spokesman declined to comment.