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A must-see conversation on the state of VC, this year at Disrupt

On a surface level, the world of venture capital doesn’t look to change much year to year. But in truth, the industry is very much in flux, with many firms grappling with a lack of diversity, dealing with succession questions, and confronting a growing pipeline of aging portfolio companies — to name just a few of the issues of the day.

In fact, one of the biggest shifts in the industry — one that’s years in the making but with no end in sight — is its atomization. Once a clubby industry, the landscape today sees new players, backed up by real dollars, every day, all over the world.

Indeed, at this year’s Disrupt, we’re very excited to be sitting down with three venture investors who spent much of their careers with powerful outfits before more recently — and boldly — striking out on their own to build their own brands.

It’s with their help that we’re going to take stock of many of the trends roiling the industry right now.

Lo Toney was a VP at Cake Financial, a general manager with Zynga, and the CEO of an online coding startup before jumping into the world of venture capital, first at Comcast Ventures and later at GV where he spent several years as a partner.

If he was tempted to stay with Alphabet’s influential venture arm, he didn’t, instead turning his work at GV — which centered increasingly on finding and funding promising and diverse fund managers and startups — into the opportunity to create his own shop. Now, Plexo Capital not only counts Alphabet among its biggest financial backers, but it has amassed stakes in roughly two dozen funds and many more startups. With most of them run exclusively or in part by people of color, Toney has also become a leading light for others who recognize diversity as a competitive advantage.

Then there’s Renata Quintini, who has spent the last year quietly building a new outfit, Renegade Partners, with cofounder Roseanne Wincek. Wincek previously worked at the venture giant IVP. Quintini, similarly, has held a number of investing roles at esteemed institutions. Among them is the Stanford Management Company, where she was an investment manager focused on VC and private equity investments, and Felicis Ventures, where as a general partner she worked with a wide number of rising stars, including the satellite company Planet, the self-driving startup Cruise Automation (now owned by GM), Dollar Shave Club (which sold to Unilever), and Bonobos (snapped up by Walmart).

It wasn’t a surprise when Lux Capital poached Quintini, in fact. But even Lux, which prides itself on the kind of deep science expertise that Quintini shares, couldn’t keep her from leaving to create something all her own.

The story isn’t so dissimilar for Dayna Grayson, who studied systems engineering and worked in product design before jumping into the world of venture capital, first as a principal with the Boston-based firm Northbridge Venture Partners and afterward, as a partner with the venture giant NEA.

There, based in Washington, D.C., Grayson led a wide number of deals for the firm, including in the metal 3D printing company Desktop Metal —  a five-year-old company that, absent an unforeseen development, is soon to be a publicly traded and valued in the multiple billions of dollars.

Undoubtedly Grayson could have stayed longer. Instead, nearly eight years into her career with NEA, she left late last year to cofound the early-stage venture firm Construct Capital with Rachel Holt, one of Uber’s first employees.

There is so much to talk about with these entrepreneurial investors, from how they compete against the heavyweights, to how they think about startups in a post COVID world, to whether or not there VCs have begun to over-index on business-facing investments to their own detriment — or if, conversely that opportunity remains limitless right now. That’s saying nothing about SPACs, rolling funds, and the latest twist in direct listings.

You definitely won’t want to miss this very timely conversation about the state of VC.

Disrupt 2020 runs from September 14 through September 18 and will be 100% virtual this year. Get your front row seat to see Grayson, Quintini and Toney live with a Disrupt Digital Pro Pass or a Digital Startup Alley Exhibitor Package. We’re excited to see you there.

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Robotics startup lets machines get closer as humans keep their distance

As humans get used to working at a distance from each other, a startup in Massachusetts is providing sensors that bring industrial robots in close —  centimeters away, in fact. The same technology may support future social distancing efforts on commutes, in a pilot application to allow more subway trains to run on a single track.

Humatics, an MIT spinout backed by Lockheed Martin and Airbus, makes sensors that enable fast-moving and powerful robots to work alongside humans without accidents. If daily work and personal travel to work ever go back to normal, the company believes the same precision can improve aging and crowded infrastructure, enabling trains and buses to run closer together, even as we all may have to get used to working further apart.

This is the emerging field of microlocation robotics — devices and software that help people and machines navigate collaboratively. Humatics has been testing its technology with New York’s MTA since 2018, and today is tracking five miles of a New York subway, showing the transportation authority where six of its trains are, down to the centimeter.

UWB sensors for microlocation

Humatics’ technology in the MTA pilot uses ultrawide band (UWB) radio frequencies, which are less failure-prone than Wi-Fi, GPS and cameras.

“A good example of a harsh environment is a subway tunnel,” said David Mindell, co-founder of Humatics and professor of engineering and aerospace at MIT. “They are full of dust, the temperatures can range from subzero to 100 degrees, and there is the risk of animals or people tampering with devices. Working inside these tunnels is difficult and potentially dangerous for crews, also.”

Humatics has sold more than 10,000 UWB radio beacons, the base unit for their real-time tracking system, to manufacturers of sensor systems, the company says. They pinpoint the location of hundreds of RFID tags at a range of 500 meters, using multiple tags on an object to measure orientation.

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Where top VCs are investing in manufacturing and warehouse robotics

Robotics and automation tools are now foundational parts of warehouses and manufacturing facilities around the world. Unlike many other robotics and AI use cases, the technology has moved well beyond the theoretical into practice and is used by small suppliers and large companies like Amazon and Walmart.

There’s no doubt that automation will transform every step of the supply chain, from manufacturing to fulfillment to shipping and logistics. The only question is how long such a revolution will take.

There’s still plenty of market left to transform and lots of room for new players to redefine different verticals, even with many of the existing leaders having already staked their claim. Naturally, VCs are plenty eager to invest millions in the technology. In 2019 alone, manufacturing, machinery and automation saw roughly 800-900 venture-backed fundraising rounds, according to data from Pitchbook and Crunchbase, close to two-thirds of which were still early-stage (pre-seed to Series B) investments.

With our 2020 Robotics+AI sessions event less than two weeks away, we’ve decided to perform temperature checks across some of the hottest robotics sub-verticals to see which trends are coming down the pipe and where checks are actually being written. Just as we did with construction robotics last week, this time, we asked seven leading VCs who actively invest in manufacturing automation robotics to share what’s exciting them most and where they see opportunities in the sector:

Rohit Sharma, True Ventures

Which trends are you most excited about in manufacturing/warehouse automation robotics from an investing perspective?

Source: TechCrunch