A Super Evolution is Coming

Dror Berman
Jun 5, 2018 · 6 min read

Announcing Innovation Endeavors III, a $333-million fund for technologists accelerating a super evolution of industry

By: Eric Schmidt and Dror Berman

We live in a mega-evolutionary era in which a significant event — in this case, the increasing pace of technology development — causes radical, multi-generational change. The result: A super evolution.

Driven by technologists, scientists, and engineers, the process of super evolution will fundamentally, irrevocably transform industries as wide-ranging as agriculture, logistics and healthcare, as well as computing, finance and transportation.

At Innovation Endeavors, we can’t imagine anything more challenging or rewarding than partnering with the inventors and entrepreneurs who are accelerating this unprecedented evolutionary cycle. Today we are announcing Innovation Endeavors III, a $333 million fund to invest in visionary founders, transformational technology and emergent ecosystems for this new world.

This is the third fund from Innovation Endeavors, which we co-founded eight years ago. Eric was the sole investor in our first two funds; with this new fund, we welcomed additional partners to invest for the first time. We have realized a number of successful outcomes, including Blue River Technology and Slice. Our current investments include: CommonSense Robotics; Datorama; Freenome; Planet; Plenty; SoFi; Uber and Zymergen.

We are also announcing today that we’re bringing on a new partner, Harpinder (Harpi) Singh. Our leadership team also includes: Scott Brady, Dror Berman, Daniel Goldstein and Rick Scanlon. Eric Schmidt continues as a co-founder, non-managing member, and anchor investor for Fund III.

Harpi is a long-time, trusted friend and valued colleague. He’s worked with us since 2010, when he joined the firm as a part-time venture partner, providing insight on investments, advising founders and acting as a director on multiple boards. Harpi brings our partnership a deep technology background and significant operating experience: He co-founded two successful, high-growth, deep-tech startups: Slice Technologies and FiberTower. Harpi has a data-first mindset and thrives on tackling technical challenges — important skills as we continue to pursue the Super Evolution of industry.

The Super Evolution

A proliferation of data, ubiquitous computing and advanced engineering are making it possible to learn from and improve the physical and biological worlds at a significantly faster pace than ever before. A bit more detail on how it works:

Data. Physical-world sensors by the billions are giving us high-resolution data that was previously unavailable — by 2025 we will have 75 billion connected devices in the world; sequencers unlock the genomics, metabolomics and proteomics of all living species.

Ubiquitous computing. Tiny edge computers can continuously ingest endless amounts of data, compare them to billions of other data points, and then deliver insights and predictions take action in real time. Complex computations are more distributed and efficient.

Advanced engineering. Robots enable significantly higher-throughput experimentation; precision engineering tools such as CRISPR allow us to engineer diverse genomes to perform desired functions. Together these tools allow us to translate these insights back into the physical and biological world. This enables a paradigm shift in scientific research, unlocking knowledge that would have been unattainable in previous hypothesis-driven research techniques.

These emerging technologies make it possible to run more experiments faster, better and cheaper. This makes it possible to come up with new insights and make radical improvements at scale. As a result, development cycles that once took years can now be completed in days — literally collapsing time. (See infographic at the end of this post for more detail.)

Three Innovation Endeavors companies advancing the Super Evolution of their industries. From top down: Planet, Zymergen and Plenty.

Agents of Change

Entrepreneurs who employ these emerging technologies to bring their visions to life are true agents of change. Here are the stories of just a few:

Planet/Will Marshall

Will Marshall and his co-founders, all former NASA employees, saw an opportunity to drive mega-evolutionary change in the “space economy” by imaging all of Earth’s landmass daily. Planet, which has raised over $183 million, operates the largest fleet of commercial Earth-imaging satellites in orbit and collects 7 terabytes of imagery every day. Planet designs and builds new satellites in a matter of weeks — faster than any organization in history — by using low-cost, off-the-shelf electronics and a rapid design iteration that they call “Agile Aerospace.” The result of this innovation is a growing list of customers using Planet’s earth imagery and analytics to make decisions in government, mapping, humanitarian and agricultural sectors.

Zymergen/Joshua Hoffman

Led by CEO Joshua Hoffman, Zymergen is integrating machine learning, state-of-the-art robotics, and biology to bring about the super evolution of materials. Zymergen has raised $174 million to design, engineer, and optimize single-celled organisms that make molecules for new and advanced materials — for things as wide-ranging as flexible electronic screens, plastics, or adhesives based on the same molecule barnacles use to adhere underwater. The company engineers biology with a data-driven approach that replaces hypotheses with machine learning algorithms, and manual lab work with automated workflows. The company has amassed more than two terabases of proprietary physical and digital DNA data — the largest catalog of genetic diversity in the world.

Plenty/Matt Barnard

Matt Barnard grew up on a farm in Wisconsin and later designed and engineered telecom networks. He started Plenty, which has raised $226 million, to make clean, flavorful, and nutritious produce accessible and affordable for everyone. Plenty’s indoor, vertical farms deploy hundreds of sensors to measure details such as light and water consumption; computers powered with machine-learning run hundreds experiments to determine the most efficient way to grow. Plenty is accelerating the super evolution of the $3-trillion-dollar agriculture industry.

Effecting Lasting Change

Our perspective as a firm is rooted in three tenets required to effect significant, lasting change:

Seek moonshot thinking. Change tends to be revolutionary, not evolutionary. Incrementalism leads to irrelevance. Place big bets on the future.

Be passionately curious. Curiosity is the precursor to creativity and invention.

Try new things. Celebrate failures. Explore, experiment and learn. Even if you fail, you’ll probably learn something important.

Emergent Ecosystems

In an effort to drive 100X improvement while learning as much and as quickly as possible, we began four years ago to intentionally build and foster ecosystems around problems we want to solve. In order to fast-track industry-wide change, we foster intentional, goal-oriented relationships between technical specialists, entrepreneurs, investors and large companies.

Team8 — We helped build Team8 in Israel to establish a stronghold against next-gen cyber. Team8 seeds and starts companies that are shoring up security for organizations in the face of increasingly sophisticated cyber attackers. Led by Brigadier General Nadav Zafrir, former commander of Unit 8200, the elite cyber security and intelligence unit of the Israeli Defense Force, Team8 and its companies have so far raised $100 million. Partners and investors include Accenture, AT&T, Cisco, Microsoft, Mitsui, Nokia, Qualcomm. Team8 has launched five companies to help organizations manage risk, remediate crises and defend against emerging threats.

Farm2050 — By 2050 we will have 10 billion people in the world, requiring a 70% increase in food production. We founded Farm2050 to bring together researchers, farmers, manufacturers and distributors to support startups aiming to solve this global challenge and improve the efficiency and nutrition of food. Our partners include AGCO, DuPont, Taylor Farms, Trimble, and Wilbur-Ellis. We analyzed more than 700 companies, which led to investments in four agriculture-related companies, including Plenty and Blue River Technology.

Deep Life — Coming soon….

What lies ahead: An incredible period of transformation for humanity, particularly in industries that have been slow to learn and change. We now have both the will and the means to fundamentally rethink all the systems on which we rely. This dynamic is turning industries upside down and allowing startups to advance faster than incumbents. Learning will continue to accelerate, resulting in extremely agile companies. Companies will either embrace this super evolution or get left behind.

If you are accelerating the super evolution of a large industry, we hope you will reach out. Find us on Twitter here; or email us here.

Innovation Endeavors

Investing in visionary founders, transformational…