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Singularity University to launch $50 million venture fund to tackle the world’s ‘grand challenges’

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Forward-looking startups will have a chance at $50 million later this year when Singularity University, an education center and accelerator based at Mountain View’s NASA Ames Research Center, launches its first venture fund.

The university will begin raising capital during the second quarter of 2014, according to managing director of new venture development Sandy Miller. The fund will focus on companies launched by SU students, alumni and faculty.

Everything SU does is tied to pursuing “exponential technologies:” tools that are developing so fast that small teams of people can now use them to accomplish tasks that once required a large company. Examples include robotics, biotech and nanotechnology. SU challenges these fields to put their work toward solving major world problems like poverty, education and security.

SU has used these principles to populate its accelerator, which is separate from the venture fund, with an interesting mix of companies; an approach it will apply to the fund as well.

“The (accelerator) companies have to use an exponential technology as part of their product solution in markets, applications that are addressing at least one or more of the grand challenges,” Miller said in an interview. “Being one or more years ahead of the market, that’s something that I see working with some of the companies in our portfolio.”

SU was started in 2008 by X Prize founder Peter Diamandis and Google director of engineering Ray Kurzweil. It has grown to encompass educational programs aimed at executives and graduate students and the accelerator. GetaroundMade in Space and Modern Meadow are among the participating startups. It also has a new program that pairs its startups with established companies like Lowe’s, Coca-Cola, Unicef and Hershey’s. Miller said said that while the accelerator currently only accepts companies associated with its alumni, it plans to begin accepting outsiders in six to nine months.

While interest in exponential technologies is growing, they can still face a harder time finding funding than an Instagram-type startup. Their final goal can be years away. But Miller emphasized that many find commercial prospects earlier than they thought. Modern Meadow, for example, which eventually plans to print edible meat, is already looking into markets for 3D printed leather.

“A lot of things are changing far faster than most of us realize and we’re living in a world that has problems and capabilities that will not be solved by the infrastructure from hundreds and thousands of years ago that we’re currently using,” CEO Rob Nail said in an interview. “There’s a critical need for us to be aware of how technology is shifting our lives and the world we live in, but also there’s a gigantic opportunity to take advantage of those technologies that are on the near cusp to deploy them to solve the big problems.”

3 Responses to “Singularity University to launch $50 million venture fund to tackle the world’s ‘grand challenges’”

  1. Brad Arnold

    The cost of clean energy is about to drop dramatically due to the emergence of this clean very very cheap and super abundant energy technology called LENR. It uses nickel and hydrogen, with a fuel density 5 orders of magnitude more than fossil fuel. There are several companies in beta testing. Look for New Jersey’s BlackLight Power to give a demo Jan 28 (as an example). This is a gold mine for the Singularity fund if they have the mind to comprehend it. The main bottleneck to our economy is cheap abundant energy…the Law of Accelerating Returns on steroids!

    “LENR has the demonstrated ability to produce excess amounts of energy, cleanly, without hazardous ionizing radiation, without producing nasty waste.” – Dennis Bushnell, Chief Scientist at NASA Langley Research Center

    “Total replacement of fossil fuels for everything but synthetic organic chemistry.” –Dr. Joseph M. Zawodny, NASA

    Dr. Michael McKubre of the Stanford Research Institute said his team was able to replicate five separate LENR reactor designs from different companies:

    Check out this third-party verification of a LENR reactor that will soon hit the market:
    “Given the deliberately conservative choices made in performing the measurement, we can reasonably state that the E-Cat HT is a non-conventional source of energy which lies between conventional chemical sources of energy and nuclear ones.” (i.e. about five orders of magnitude more energy dense than gasoline, and a COP of almost 6).

    For those who still aren’t convinced, here is a paper I wrote that contains some pretty convincing evidence:

    Brad Arnold
    3033 Monterey Av
    St Louis Park, MN 55416
    [email protected]