Bill Gates Backs New Venture Fund Focused on Metamaterials

Yuliya Chernova

Source: The Wall Street Journal

June 2, 2021

MetaVC raising $100 million to invest in startups developing applications for metamaterials, a buddingcorner of materials science

A new venture fund has launched to invest in startups commercializing metamaterials, abudding area of materials science that could improve the performance and reduce the size andweight of devices such as lenses and sensors.

San Francisco-based MetaVC Partners is raising $100 million for its first fund, and has alreadyreceived capital from Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft Corp. and an anchor investor in thefund, and Nathan Myhrvold, formerly chief technology officer at Microsoft who runsintellectual-property firm Intellectual Ventures.

“Metamaterials as a core technology is on the cusp of widespread industry adoption,” said MetaVC Managing Partners Chris Alliegro and Conrad Burke. Messrs. Alliegro and Burke were previously executives at Invention Science Fund, a startup incubator at Intellectual Ventures that spun out several startups commercializing advances in metamaterials. Metamaterials are engineered materials arranged in repeating structures at a nano and microscale in a way that gives them acoustic, electromagnetic, mechanical and other properties not found in nature.

New lenses, antennas, sensors and other devices that are lighter and have no moving parts are under development based on the technology, with applications in optical computing, virtual reality, automotive, energy, space and many other sectors. The technology could help replace bulky VR headsets, for example, or enable moving vehicles to have satellite communication via light, flat antennas.

MetaVC is joining a cohort of several other venture firms, such as Lux Capital, Construct Capital, Material Impact and Data Collective, that invest in science-based innovations sometimes referred to as “deep tech.” Startups backed by these firms often involve the extra expense and longer lead times required for commercializing hardware based on scientific advances. Still, they have the advantages of opening up new technology sectors and fewer competitors.

Messrs. Alliegro and Burke estimate that about $1 billion has been invested in metamaterials startups to date. Even though it’s a niche area, they believe that there will be sufficient new businesses to choose from for backing. Invention Science Fund, where MetaVC founders previously worked, had spun out metamaterials startups including venture-backed antenna maker Kymeta Corp. and threat-detection company Evolv Technologies Inc., which is going public through a special-purpose acquisition company.

“We already have our sights on a healthy pipeline of early-stage deals,” Mr. Burke said. MetaVC expects to make about a dozen investments over the next year and a half, he said. The firm has already backed two startups: optical computing company Neurophos and satellite-enabled telecommunication services provider Mangata Networks LLC. About 20% of the MetaVC fund may be invested outside of the metamaterials sector.