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Home News Evolv Technology Going Public in $1.7 Billion SPAC Merger

Evolv Technology Going Public in $1.7 Billion SPAC Merger

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and former Florida governor Jeb Bush are two of Evolv’s investors

Evolv Technology is combining with a special-purpose acquisition company to go public in a deal that values the crowd-safety firm at about $1.7 billion, the companies said.

Backed by investors including Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Evolv is merging with the SPAC NewHold Investment Corp. NHIC 0.70%

Based outside of Boston, Evolv uses artificial intelligence and data science to screen people for weapons and other threats. The company says its platform eliminates the need for devices like metal detectors and physical security checks. It is used at venues such as Six Flags Entertainment Corp. amusement parks, New York’s Lincoln Center and Gillette Stadium, home of the National Football League’s New England Patriots. Evolv says it has screened more than 50 million people in the past four years, second world-wide only to the Transportation Security Administration.

In 2020, Evolv also started using its technology to check people for elevated body temperatures, a feature that Chief Executive Peter George said is in high demand as businesses reopen following shutdowns designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“We were built to solve this problem of making venues safe,” Mr. George said in an interview.

Founded in 2013, Evolv joins the growing pool of technology companies going public by merging with SPACs, also known as blank-check companies. SPACs like NewHold Investment are shell companies that list on an exchange with the sole purpose of acquiring a private firm such as Evolv to take it public. The private company then gets the SPAC’s place in the stock market.

NewHold raised $150 million when it went public last summer and was one of several blank-check firms competing to take Evolv public, NewHold CEO Kevin Charlton said.

Through the merger and an associated fundraising round called a private investment in public equity, or PIPE, Evolv is expected to generate proceeds of about $470 million. PIPE investors in the deal include famous athletes such as former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning and tennis players Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf.

Mr. Charlton said the SPAC will use some of its equity to launch a public-benefit corporation designed to make Evolv’s platform affordable to venues such as schools. Evolv executives also are expected to contribute to the PBC.

In addition to Messrs. Gates and Bush, Evolv counts venture-capital firms such as General Catalyst and Lux Capital among its existing investors. None of the existing investors are selling as part of the deal.

Combining with a SPAC has become a popular way for a company to go public because SPAC mergers let startups make rosy projections—something that isn’t allowed in a traditional initial public offering—and earn blank-check company creators several times their initial investment on average. Two-hundred twenty-eight blank-check firms have raised $73 billion this year, putting the market on track to shatter last year’s record of more than $80 billion, according to data provider SPAC Research.

Shares of SPACs and companies that have merged with them have struggled lately, with investors retreating from technology stocks and government-bond yields surging. NewHold shares fell back around their IPO price of $10 last week. Still, many new blank-check companies are entering the market and unveiling deals. Thirty-nine new SPACs raised money last week.

The Evolv deal is expected to close in the second quarter, and Evolv expects to trade on the Nasdaq under the ticker “EVLV”.

Private companies are flooding to special-purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, to bypass the traditional IPO process and gain a public listing. WSJ explains why some critics say investing in these so-called blank-check companies isn’t worth the risk. Illustration: Zoë Soriano/WSJ

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