ThinkLabs AI spins out of GE with $6.8 million CAD to simplify electrical grid management

Opus One founder aims to help modernize the grid with his latest cleantech startup.

Two years after selling his last cleantech company to General Electric (GE), Toronto-based technology entrepreneur Josh Wong has spun his next one out of GE’s energy business, GE Vernova, and secured $6.8 million CAD ($5 million USD) in seed funding to fuel its launch.

With his latest startup, ThinkLabs AI, the Opus One Solutions and Toronto Hydro alum aims to help utility firms contend with an already complex electrical grid that is becoming even more unpredictable and challenging to manage amid the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.

“To electrify, we need the grid … [and] the grid really must modernize.”

Josh Wong, ThinkLabs AI

“My job is not done,” Wong told BetaKit in an interview. “I’m very mission-oriented and feel the grid remains at the centre of the energy transition. To decarbonize, we need to electrify. To electrify, we need the grid … [and] the grid really must modernize.”

ThinkLabs is developing software to help utility control room operators and planners maintain grid reliability and reduce bottlenecks and outages at a time when utilities’ workforces are also rapidly aging and retiring. Wong, ThinkLabs’ founder and CEO, believes that the cleantech artificial intelligence (AI) startup may have found “the magic formula” for enabling autonomous electrical grid orchestration with “physics-informed AI.”

ThinkLabs’ all-equity, all-primary seed round, which closed in early April—coinciding with its spinout from GE Vernova—was co-led by Vancouver-based Active Impact Investments and California’s Powerhouse Ventures, with support from Toronto-based Amplify Capital, Colorado’s Blackhorn Ventures, Switzerland-based Mercuria Energy, and an undisclosed national United States (US) energy company. 

“The electrical grid is becoming more complex to manage as distributed energy resources (DERs) and renewables proliferate,” Powerhouse founder and CEO Emily Kirsch told BetaKit. “Aging physical infrastructure, increasing extreme weather events, and a retiring utility workforce create a more challenging operating context that threatens utilities’ ability to reliably provide electricity to their customers.”

ThinkLabs’ flagship Grid Copilot software is a digital assistant that uses AI-based digital twins to help electric utilities more autonomously orchestrate the grid. Kirsch noted that tech like this can enable utilities to proactively use DERs to both optimize grid capacity and reduce outages.

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Active Impact partner Sam Hasty told BetaKit that the climate tech-focused venture capital firm was attracted to ThinkLabs given Wong’s experience and reputation, the market tailwinds it sees playing in the startup’s favour, and its relationship with GE Vernova.

GE Vernova pre-seeded ThinkLabs and remains a strategic partner of ThinkLabs as well as a shareholder. Wong declined to disclose ThinkLabs’ valuation or the size of GE’s stake. 

ThinkLabs AI founder and CEO Josh Wong.

A power systems engineer by training, Wong has worked in various parts of the cleantech ecosystem for over 20 years. He previously spent nearly five years at Toronto Hydro, where he said he founded the smart-grid department and helped lead the first electric-vehicle charging and community battery-storage programs.

In 2012, Wong founded Toronto-based smart-grid software startup Opus One, which began as a one-person consulting business and evolved into an energy-distribution management platform to help utilities manage the complexity of the sustainable energy grid and alleviate any associated constraints or bottlenecks.

After growing it to over 100 employees serving customers across eight countries, Wong sold Opus One to GE in 2022 to take advantage of the latter’s global reach and distribution. Wong declined to disclose the financial terms of this acquisition, which Private Capital Journal estimated might have come at a price tag of $68 million USD.

Following this deal, Wong joined what is now GE Vernova and stayed focused on the future of the electrical grid. While there, he identified autonomous grid orchestration as a “major game changer,” and GE Vernova’s electrification software business incubated ThinkLabs and its efforts to explore the idea.

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Wong said he expects the next 10 years will be critical for the energy transition, and he anticipates that software and AI will play an important role in facilitating it. “We don’t have time to build [enough] transmission lines and distribution lines in the next decade, so we have to lean into better grid intelligence,” he argued.

Under the leadership of Wong, who is also the former general manager of GE Vernova’s grid orchestration team, ThinkLabs developed, tested, and validated its AI-powered software within GE Vernova.

However, Wong said they quickly realized that to take this tech to the next level, they would need to do so as an independent firm. “We need to move faster with [external] capital, and so that’s why we created [ThinkLabs] so that we can combine, again, the best of both worlds.”

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ThinkLabs is the first startup spun out of GE Vernova, which completed its own spinoff from GE and went public last month. Hasty said GE Vernova and ThinkLabs’ investors have created “a clean spin-out that put the company in a very strong position in terms of autonomy and ownership structure while still ensuring that ThinkLabs and GE’s long-term interests remained aligned.”

“[Wong’s] commitment to lasting impact has been crystal clear,” Amplify Capital managing partner Kathryn Wortsman told BetaKit. “We are proud to support his vision to fast-track the energy transition and disrupt the way large-scale grids operate.”

Wong expects that the next 10 years will be critical for the energy transition.

Most members of ThinkLabs’ 10-person team have joined Wong from GE Vernova. While Wong remains based in Toronto, ThinkLabs has incorporated in Delaware, set its headquarters in New York, and established a Canadian subsidiary. The startup has employees and investors in Canada and the US, and plans to continue growing on both sides of the border.

Kirsch described ThinkLabs’ capabilities as “a critical step towards supporting the grid during the electrification and renewables era,” and called its team “uniquely suited to execute on their vision to build the digital backbone of modern grids.”

The startup has already used some of its funding to set up its operations as an independent firm and plans to invest the balance in its product development and go-to-market efforts.

ThinkLabs’ software can help customers detect congestion and voltage violations, understand usage, and make recommendations in real-time, and the company already counts some undisclosed large North American utilities as customers, with a pipeline of other prospects through GE Vernova. 

“We have a very warm start,” Wong said.

Feature image courtesy ThinkLabs AI.

Josh Scott

Josh Scott

Josh Scott is a BetaKit reporter focused on telling in-depth Canadian tech stories and breaking news. His coverage is more complete than his moustache.

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