Apple’s efforts to develop a self-driving car have spurred the company to recruit engineering talent from a wide variety of rival tech giants and automakers. But the Silicon Valley giant’s pursuit of its own autonomous electric vehicle may have also put the nail in the coffin for an electric motorcycle start-up.
Mission Motors, a sleek motorcycle start-up that had set speed records for electric bikes, filed for bankruptcy last month. The start-up had actually ceased operations in May due to lack of funding and the loss of critical engineering talent, according to Reuters. Derek Kaufman, former CEO of Mission Motors, said Apple swooped in to lure away key engineers with electric drive expertise at a time when the start-up was attempting to raise a crucial round of funding. The loss of employees spooked at least one investor who had previously committed and prompted more employees to leave.
Tesla and Harley Davidson also ended up with some ex-employees of Mission Motors. Yet Apple grabbed the most talent by recruiting six engineers from the start-up, Reuters sources said. The Mission Motors engineers represented a team with specialized knowledge of electric drives, such as software algorithms to manage battery charging and cooling.
The poaching of talent is hardly new in Silicon Valley. Huge tech companies such as Google and Facebook have been acquiring start-ups to poach engineers and other valuable talent for years. Tech blogs have frequently described the fate of the smaller companies in those cases as being “ acquired,” the New York Times observed in 2011.
Silicon Valley’s more recent race to develop advanced electric vehicles and self-driving cars has only intensified the poaching of talent. For example, Apple and Tesla Motors frequently poach engineers from one another. Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently sniped at Apple for its poaching predilection during an interview with German newspaper Handelsblatt; he suggested Apple only hired the engineers who “don’t make it at Tesla” and were fired.
In the case of Mission Motors, Apple apparently never offered to “ acquire” the start-up wholesale for its talent. Some insiders told Reuters that the motorcycle start-up was already on its last legs when Apple poached the first engineers, an account former CEO Kaufman disagrees with.
Mission Motors may represent one of the more tragic victims of Silicon Valley’s insatiable hunger for talent, but it’s not the only casualty. Battery maker A123 filed a lawsuit against Apple for poaching critical engineering talent earlier this year. In fact, Apple’s relentless hiring of engineering talentrelated to electric vehicles and self-driving cars represented one of the first big tip-offs of the Silicon Valley giant’s bigger intentions.
Some start-up employees who end up being poached or acquired by Silicon Valley’s tech giants probably won’t complain about the potentially more lucrative employment and opportunity to work on bigger projects. But the question remains as to whether the world has lost out on some new ideas or innovations whenever each tech start-up  hollowed out by loss of employees or acquired purely for the talent on its payroll, ceases to exist.