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Darren Liccardo (left) and Rouz Jazayeri (right), Co-Founders of Catapult Ventures, a new seed-stage fund.

Catapulting the Next Wave of AI, Automation, Robotics, and IoT Startups

Rouz Jazayeri
Feb 14, 2019 · 4 min read

In today’s technology-filled world, buzzwords like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Autonomy have made their way into our everyday lexicon. There are a record number of startups in these areas, with a record amount of capital flowing into these startups. Companies both large and small are attempting to evaluate how these new technologies can help (or potentially disrupt) their businesses.

The reality is that Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Autonomy are more than just buzzwords — they are technologies that truly have the potential to alter massive traditional industries like transportation, manufacturing, agriculture, consumer electronics, and life sciences. From self-driving cars and trucks on the roads, to autonomous drones in the air, to robots in the fields, the potential is almost limitless. It’s easy to see why investors are so eager to deploy capital into startups leveraging these trends. We, like other investors, are big believers in these trends.

While the technology trends that we are targeting are similar, our approach and blueprint are different: 1) Start with a foundational understanding of what is truly state-of-the-art at every level of the technology stack. 2) Identify the current technology gaps that exist in each industry, especially the gaps that, if filled, could lead to large market opportunities. 3) Seek out investments in both horizontal core technologies (applicable to multiple industries) as well as industry-specific vertically-integrated solutions. Both types of investments are needed in order to drive disruptive change.

So today, we are excited to announce that we’ve launched Catapult Ventures and have completed fundraising for our first $55M fund focused on seed-stage and pre-seed-stage investments in the areas of AI/ML, Automation, Robotics and IoT.

How did we get here?

We first met at an industry event about four years ago, when Rouz was working at Kleiner Perkins, doing research on technologies for self-driving cars, and Darren was leading the Autopilot team at Tesla. We stayed in touch, exchanging ideas and references to compelling startups and entrepreneurs in our networks. Later, Rouz and the KP team recruited Darren into DJI, a KP portfolio company, to build out the R&D team in Silicon Valley. As time went on, we collaborated more closely and sourced several compelling seed-stage startups for KP’s Hard-Tech practice. But when some of these very early stage companies didn’t fit the investment profile for KP’s large venture funds, we saw an opportunity.

We felt that with our complementary skill sets, experiences, networks, and domain expertise, we could offer a unique and differentiated package to entrepreneurs who were just getting ready to launch their companies. In addition to providing early capital, we could help entrepreneurs create their product strategy and technology roadmap, recruit key talent at the right time, and build the most impactful early strategic partnerships. We also wanted to partner with a few corporate investors who could further validate the strategies of our portfolio companies, provide follow-on capital, and become early customers of the companies we back. With Catapult Ventures, we are now doing all of the above.

Our approach has already resonated strongly with entrepreneurs and we have built a great portfolio aligned with our thesis which includes: Starsky Robotics (autonomous trucking), XNOR.AI (efficient AI inference at the edge), SpinLaunch (small satellite launching system), Engine ML (accelerating deep learning training), Advanced Farm (automated farming), and Elroy Air (large scale autonomous cargo drones). But this is just the beginning. We plan to build out another 15–20 companies in our portfolio for Catapult’s inaugural fund.

We are very fortunate to have a fantastic set of Limited Partners, who from the beginning, believed in our vision and strategy. This includes a strong set of corporate investors from the Automotive, Aerospace, and Semiconductor/IoT industries, as well as thoughtful and like-minded institutional and family office investors. Our Limited Partners have enabled us to build out our dream and we are forever grateful.

As we continue to grow our portfolio, we will never lose sight of our promise to entrepreneurs. We promise to be the most resourceful and most involved early investors in your company. We promise to always have your back and your best interests in mind. And we promise to utilize our network and experiences and to do everything in our power to Catapult your company into the future.

Looking forward to a great 2019!

Rouz & Darren

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