(Bloomberg) — Thomas Healy was secretly arranging a deal to turn his Texas-based truck electrification startup into a publicly traded company when the coronavirus pandemic struck.



Thomas Healy, founder and chief executive officer of Hyliion Inc., speaks during the 2017 CERAWeek by IHS Markit conference in Houston, Texas, U.S., on Thursday, March 9, 2017.


© Photographer: F. Carter Smith/Bloomberg
Thomas Healy, founder and chief executive officer of Hyliion Inc., speaks during the 2017 CERAWeek by IHS Markit conference in Houston, Texas, U.S., on Thursday, March 9, 2017.

The crisis halted many transactions, but not the one between special-purpose acquisition vehicle Tortoise Acquisition Corp. and Hyliion Inc., which Healy founded in 2015.

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The company created from the merger — Hyliion Holdings Corp. — began trading Friday in New York after shares in Tortoise surged more than 300% ahead of a shareholder vote last month. Healy’s stake is now worth more than $1.4 billion, making him one of the world’s youngest self-made billionaires. Still, the 28-year-old knows luck was involved.

“We were fortunate on timing,” said Healy, the firm’s chief executive officer. “If we were trying to close right when the stock market was on that downswing, we might have been having different discussions.”

Hyliion advanced 3.2% to $40.75 at 10:05 a.m. after slumping 12% in its first full day of trading on Friday.

There is growing skepticism of the blank-check phenomenon as such deals have proliferated in recent weeks. SPACs are now getting scrutiny from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which wants to ensure investors are receiving appropriate disclosures about insiders’ pay structures.

Bloomberg spoke with Healy ahead of his ringing the opening bell on Monday to start trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Comments have been edited and condensed.

How did the deal come about?

In the first quarter, we kicked off our next financing round. Going public and being able to bring in more capital than we would staying private was attractive. From