Prime Movers Lab raises $245 million for second fund to invest in early stage science startups

After revealing its first fund just last year, a $ 100 million pool of investment capital dedicated to early stage startups focusing on sustainable food development, clean energy, health innovation and new space technologies, Prime Movers Lab is back with a second fund. Prime Movers Lab Fund II is larger, with $ 245 million committed, but it will pursue the same investment strategy, albeit with a plan to place more bets on more companies, with an expanded investment team to help manage the funds and portfolio.

“There are a lot of VCs out there,” explained founder and general partner Dakin Sloss about the concept behind the fund. “But there aren’t many VCs that are focused exclusively on breakthrough science, or deep tech. Even though there are a couple, when you look at the proportion of capital, I think it’s something like less than 10% of capital is going to these types of companies. But if you look at what’s meaningful to the life of the average person over the next 30 years, these are all the companies that are important, whether it’s coronavirus vaccines or solar energy production, or feeding the planet through aquaponics. These are the things that are really meaningful to to making a better quality of life for most people.”

Sloss told me that he sees part of the issue around why the proportion of capital dedicated to solving these significant problems is that it requires a lot of deep category knowledge to invest in correctly.

“There’s not enough technical expertise in VC firms to choose winners intelligently, rather than ending up with the next Theranos or clean tech bubble,” he said. “So that’s the first thing I wanted to solve. I have a physics background, and I was able to bring together a team of partners that have really deeply technical backgrounds.”

As referenced, Sloss himself has a degree from Stanford in Mathematics, Physics and Philosophy. He was a serial entrepreneur before starting the fund, having founded Tachyus, OpenGov and nonprofit California Common Sense. Other Partners on the team include systems engineer Dan Slomski, who previously worked on machine vision, electro-mechanical systems and developing a new multi-phase flow fluid analyzer; Amy Kruse, who holds a PhD in neuroscience and has served as an executive in defence technology and applied neuroscience companies; and Carly Anderson, a chemical engineer who has worked in biomedicine and oil & gas, and who has a PhD in chemical and biomolecular engineering. In addition to core partners with that kind of expertise, Prime Movers Lab enlists the help of venture partners and specialist advisors like former astronaut Chris Hadfield.

Having individuals with deep field expertise on the core team, in addition to supplementing that with top-notch advisors, is definitely a competitive advantage, particularly when investing in the kinds of companies that Prime Movers Lab does early on in their development. There’s a perception that companies pursuing these kinds of hard tech problems aren’t necessarily as viable as a target for traditional venture funding, specifically because of the timelines for returns. Sloss says he believes that’s a misperception based on unfortunate past experience.

“I think there are three big myths about breakthrough science or hard tech or deep tech,” he said. “That it takes longer, that it’s more capital intensive, and that it’s higher risk. And I think the reason those myths are out there is people invested in things like Theranos, and the clean tech bubble. But I think that there were fundamental mistakes made in how they underwrote risk of doing that.”

Image Credits: Momentus

To avoid making those kinds of mistakes, Sloss says that Prime Movers Lab views prospective investments from the perspective of a “spectrum of risk,” which includes risk of the science itself (does the fundamental technology involve actually work), engineering risk (given the science works, can we make it something we can sell) and finally, commercialization or scaling risk (can we then make it and sell it at scale with economics that work). Sloss says that if you use this risk matrix to assess investments, and allocated funds to address primarily the engineering risk category, concerns around timeframes to return don’t really apply.

He cites Primer Movers Lab’s Fund I portfolio, which includes space propulsion company Momentus, heading for an exit to the public markets via SPAC (the company’s Russian CEO actually just resigned in order to smooth the path for that, in fact), and notes that of the 15 companies that Fund I invested in, four are totally on a path to going public. That would put them much faster to an exit than is typical for early stage investment targets, and Sloss credits the very different approach most hard science startups take to IP development and capital.

“The inflection points in these types of companies are actually I think faster to get to market, because they’ve spent years developing the IP, staying at relatively low or attractive valuations,” he said. “Then we can kind of come in, at that inflection point, and help them get ready to commercialize and scale up exponentially, to where other investors no longer have to underwrite the difference between science and engineering risk, they can just see it’s working and producing revenue.”

Companies that fit this mold often come directly from academia, and keep the team small and focused while they’re figuring out the core scientific discovery or innovation that enables the business. A prime example of this in recent memory is Wingcopter, a German drone startup that developed and patented a technology for a tilt-wing rotor that changes the economics of electric autonomous drone flight. The startup just took its first significant startup investment after bootstrapping for four years, and the funds will indeed be used to help it accelerate engineering on a path towards high-volume production.

While Wingcopter isn’t a Prime Movers Lab portfolio company, many of its investments fit the same mold. Boom Aerospace is currently working on building and flying its subscale demonstration aircraft to pave the way for a future supersonic airliner, while Axiom Space just announced the first crew of private tourists to the International Space Station who will fly on a SpaceX Falcon 9 for $ 50 million a piece. As long as you can prove the fundamentals are sound, allocating money turning it into something marketable seems like a logical strategy.

For Prime Movers Lab’s Fund II, the plan is to invest in around 30 or so companies, roughly doubling the number of investments from Fund I. In addition to its partners with scientific expertise, the firm also includes Partners with skill sets including creative direction, industrial design, executive coaching and business acumen, and provides those services to its portfolio companies as value-add to help them supplement their technical innovations. Its Fund I portfolio includes Momentus and Axiom, as mentioned, as well as vertical farming startup Upward Farms, coronavirus vaccine startup Covaxx, and more.

Startups – TechCrunch

10 Danish startups to look out for in 2021 and beyond

Denmark is known for its high quality of life and consistently ranks as one of the world’s “happiest” countries. But it’s also a great place for startups! The country’s capital, Copenhagen, is home to a very active and growing startup scene. According to our annual research, Copenhagen ranks on the 11th place of Europe’s biggest…

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Lauxera Capital Partners launches €100 million fund for European healthcare startups

The French fund Lauxera Capital Partners, which was launched last year in Paris and San Francisco, announces a €100 million fund to support European healthtech startups. While the current pandemic has increased investor interest in digital technology, particularly teleworking and teleconferencing solutions, the health sector has become highly strategic for investors. Lauxera Capital Partners fund,…

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How to best grow startups at a university?

Friends and I are about to launch an app at the university. What are growth jacks/marketing techniques to get this to grow and spread like wildfire?

The product itself has a neat market fit (it’s like a tutoring app) but considering the pandemic and the remote learning environment, we’re really relying on word of mouth and the network effect to get this to grow. Would really appreciate any insights on how to get this to achieve the “cool kid item” effect (a la Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc).

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Startups – Rapid Growth and Innovation is in Our Very Nature!

Jam collaborative software launches Jam Genies to give small startups access to experts

As the world moves towards remote work, the collaborative tools market continues to expand. Jam, a platform for editing and improving your company’s website, is adding to the trend by introducing a new arm to its product today called Jam Genies.

Jam Genies is a network of highly experienced product experts that Jam users can tap for guidance and advice around their specific issue or challenge.

Cofounder Dani Grant explained to TechCrunch that many small and early-stage companies don’t have the deep pockets to hire a consultant when they run into a challenge, as many charge exorbitant rates and they often have a minimum time requirement. It can be incredibly difficult to get bite-sized advice at a reasonable cost.

That’s where Jam Genies comes in.

Genies hail from a variety of ‘verticals’, such as investors, designers, brand people, and growth hackers. The list includes:

  • Brianne Kimmel – Angel investor and founder of Worklife VC. Investor in Webflow, Hopin & 40+ software companies building the future of work.
  • Erik Torenberg – Partner at Village Global, a fund backed by Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and others. Founding team at Product Hunt.
  • Sahil Lavingia – Founder & CEO of Gumroad, first engineer at Pinterest, and angel investing $ 10 million a year via shl.vc.
  • Iheanyi Ekechukwu – Engineer turned angel investor, and scout investor for Kleiner Perkins.
  • Soleio – Facebook’s second product designer, former head of design at Dropbox, and advisor at Figma. Invests in design-focused founders at Combine.
  • Dara Oke – Product design lead at Netflix, formerly designed and built products at Microsoft, Twitter, and Intel.
  • Katie Suskin – Designed many products you know and love like Microsoft Calendar, OkCupid, Tia, and … Jam.
  • Julius Tarng – Helped scale design at Webflow and led design tooling at Facebook.
  • Abe Vizcarra – Currently leading brand at Fast, former Global Design Director at Snap Inc.
  • Tiffany Zhong – CEO, Zebra IQ. Recognized by Forbes as one of the Top 10 Gen Z Experts.
  • Nicole Obst – Former Head of Web Growth (B2C) at Dropbox and Head of Growth at Loom
  • James Sherrett – 9th employee at Slack, led the original marketing and sales of Slack.
  • Asher King Abramson – CEO at Got Users, a growth marketing platform widely used by startups around Silicon Valley.

Users on the Jam platform can choose a Genie and set an appointment through Calendly. The sessions last half an hour and cost a flat fee of $ 250, all of which goes to the Genie.

Jam raised $ 3.5 million in October, from firms like Union Square Ventures, Version One Ventures, BoxGroup, Village Global and a variety of angel investors, to fuel growth and further build out the product. Jam Genies is, in many respects, a growth initiative for the company to better acquaint early-stage startups with the platform.

The main Jam product lets groups of developers and designers work collaboratively on a website, leaving comments, discuss changes and create and assign tasks. The platform integrates with all the usual suspects, such as Jira, Trello, Github, Slack, Figma, and more.

Since its launch in October 2020, the company has signed up 4,000 customers for its private beta waitlist, with 14,000 Jam comments created on the platform. The introduction of Jam Genies could add momentum to this growth push.

Startups – TechCrunch

These investors want to back ‘ridiculously early’ female-led African startups – TechCrunch

These investors want to back ‘ridiculously early’ female-led African startups  TechCrunch
“nigeria startups when:7d” – Google News

Berlin-based Remagine secures €20 million to finance startups with impact 

Remagine, the founder-friendly finance platform for businesses ready to imagine a better future, today announces that it has secured €20 million in seed investment. The funds will be used to accelerate its product development and expand its team, to create a financial platform that supports and rewards businesses for being more impactful. The Berlin-based fintech…

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Echelon Capital to invest $1mln in Nigerian startups by Feb 2021 – Ecofin Agency: Economic information from Africa

Echelon Capital to invest $ 1mln in Nigerian startups by Feb 2021  Ecofin Agency: Economic information from Africa
“nigeria startups when:7d” – Google News

10 promising Greece-based startups to watch in 2021

The land of islands, olives and ouzo is also home to many aspiring entrepreneurs with new ideas and innovative business models. Over the last few years, the Greek startup scene has been growing stronger, attracting investments and giving birth to success stories. Without a doubt, Greece has what it takes to deserve a solid place…

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