Of Scientists and Rebels
By Josh Wolfe and Peter Hébert
(Clockwise from top left: Kegan Schouwenburg, Founder and CEO of SOLS Systems; Todd Huffman, Founder and CEO of 3Scan; Helen Greiner, Founder and CEO of CyPhy Works; Nathan Kundtz, Co-Founder of Kymeta)
Modern technology has given us superpowers. We can see through walls; we can run using bionic-strength prosthetic legs; we can fly at the speed of sound. We can also sense, measure, design, build and manipulate things we didn’t think were possible 10 years ago and didn’t know existed 50 years ago. We have unmanned vehicles flying in the air and driving on the roads. 3D printers allow us to turn bits into atoms. Heck, we even have people living in space!
There is no question that the next generation of industrialist titans will be scientists, technologists and inventors who are doing far more than challenging the status quo — they’re challenging the laws of physics.
Throughout history scientists and technologists have chosen intellectual honesty, courage and invention over fear, ignorance and stagnation. They are the ones who overthrew conventional wisdom and risked their lives to tell us the truth: that the world was round, the Earth orbits the Sun and disease comes from germs. For sharing their discoveries, they have been jailed and exiled, executed and shamed. And yet they persist.
Scientists are the original rebels.
At Lux Capital, we invest in people who are building futuristic, cutting-edge science and technology ventures. Our entrepreneurs are the kind of people who spend their adult lives trying to disprove the basic principles of science they spent the early part of their lives learning.
The smartest engineers we see today are programming matter — stuff at the atomic level; the invisible things others literally can’t see. They are brilliant scientists and technologists who cut across a range of disciplines and often work as a team with folks from other labs. The founding team might blend genomics, biology and big data, or mechanical engineering, robotics and artificial intelligence. They are age-, gender- and racially-diverse; they are suit-and-tie-wearing Nobel laureates as well as hot-pink-haired techno punks.
The things that scare most people thrill them. They work and play with knife-wielding robots, deadly lasers and contagious bacteria. They are making real the stuff of our sci-fi imaginations: things James Bond might find in Q’s gadget lab or Spock might use in Star Trek. They are inventing something completely new, like surgical robotics or custom 3D-printed orthotics, and they are putting in the hands of consumers something they lifted from a formerly-classified government program, as with Quantum dots illuminating smartphone and TV screens. They each possess an exceedingly rare intellect, a creative imagination and an audacious futuristic vision. As such, they have largely been misunderstood their entire lives.
We are proud supporters of more than 50 such entrepreneurs. Here is a snapshot:
- CyPhy Works makes robots that fly, among other things. Its founder, Helen Greiner, formerly President and Co-founder of iRobot, has been obsessed with building her own R2-D2 ever since watching Star Wars at the age of 11. “By building robots you learn about the nature of intelligence. Some human characteristics are easy to mimic, other are really difficult. You find out what makes us special,” she says.
- Shapeways is a 3D-printing platform and marketplace that offers a new manufacturing tool set for inventors and industrial designers. Not long ago, Founder and CEO Peter Weijmarshausen was told it would be impossible to automatically analyze, price and print physical objects from a digital file. Says Peter: “Most products are made by big companies and manufacturers today. With 3D printing, design starts with you and ends with a product.”
- Evolv makes new security products using computational imaging and sensors to improve security by helping us see through walls. Co-Founder and CEO Mike Ellenbogen, who previously founded and led Reveal Imaging, has been issued multiple patents in the field of X-ray inspection and automated detection technology.
- SOLS offers consumers custom, perfect-fit 3D printed orthotics. Says Founder and CEO Kegan Schouwenburg: “Why am I an entrepreneur? So I can create the future that needs to exist. I want SOLS to define the concept and infrastructure for a new generation of real-time manufacturing where products are made with code.”
- Matterport provides 3D scanning, capturing and digitizing of physical spaces and interiors of buildings and homes. Co-founder Matt Bell says, “Computer vision is a gateway for computers to interact with the physical world. We will soon be living in a world where everyone is carrying a 3D scanner in their pocket. We want to give everyone the ability to share and experience the world around them in 3D.”
- 3Scan develops ultra-high resolution, 3D brain scans and digital organ reconstruction. CEO Todd Huffman has degrees in computational biosciences, neuroscience and bioinformatics. His team also includes experts in biology, medicine, computation, mechanical engineering, optics, physics and robotics. “Biology is being digitized across the board. I’m a big fan of technologies that digitize reality. Once we get large volumes of clean, coherent and useful data, we can really move biology and medicine forward,” he says.
The point of all of this is to say: We want more. We announced today a new $350 million venture fund aimed at supporting the scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs who are pushing the limits of reason and reality. If this sounds like you, consider this your call to arms.