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Electric-airplane startup Zunum runs out of cash

Dominic Gates, The Seattle Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

SEATTLE -- Zunum, the Bothell, Wash.-based startup developing a small hybrid-electric airplane, has run out of cash, and much of the operation has collapsed.

The company promised to develop a family of small jets to serve lucrative short-hop routes with on-demand air-taxi services. A graphic produced by the company showed three different electric aircraft flying over Seattle: a 10-seat plane; a 50-seat plane; and a 100-seat airliner.

The credibility of the company's Silicon Valley-style pitch for a technology shift that would transform aviation was boosted by investments from Boeing and JetBlue.

But unless new investors step forward, that fanciful dream is dead.

Because the state of Washington provided an $800,000 grant to the company in 2017, Department of Commerce officials Tuesday were able to provide a glimpse into the company's otherwise opaque finances.

To date, only $281,683 of that state grant had been disbursed to Zunum, as it achieved specific milestones and delivered on technology goals outlined in the contract. The company had spent another $1.3 million that came from two outside investors: Boeing's Horizon X venture-capital division and a venture-capital unit of New York-based airline JetBlue Airways.

 

Department of Commerce spokeswoman Penny Thomas said that Zunum had projected the total cost of the project at $36.9 million. It's unclear if the company founders or others put in any money before the Boeing and JetBlue investments.

When the state awarded the 2017 grant, Zunum was promising it would flight-test a nine-passenger hybrid-electric plane as soon as this year. Earlier this year, Zunum provided a quarterly report to the state that said the project was "off track" because of "delays in investor funding since October 2018."

According to a detailed account of Zunum's failure in Forbes last week, the company laid off nearly all of its 70-person staff in November. About 35 full-time employees were at the Bothell headquarters, an additional 20 at Zunum's electrical power facility in Elgin, Illinois, near Chicago, and about 15 in Indianapolis, developing the plane's ducted-fan propulsion system in a partnership with Purdue University.

Forbes reported that Zunum has vacated the Bothell headquarters space as well as its Indianapolis facilities, and creditors have seized its electric-motor equipment that was under development in Elgin. there are two outstanding unpaid wage complaints against Zunum with the Illinois Department of Labor.

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