Subscribe

Roadmap: Deep Tech

How Bessemer invests in companies to advance the fields of aerospace, quantum computing, and sustainable agriculture.

By David Cowan and Tess Hatch 3.1.22 Deep Tech

While Bessemer’s funded biotech startups since 1986, we mostly avoided other kinds of scientific risks in the portfolio until about 2010. That’s when we funded Skybox: a satellite constellation startup out of Stanford that in 2015 became the first successful venture exit in what’s now commonly called the new space economy. Skybox, a constellation of cheap microsats made from cell phone parts, disrupted the traditional model for commercializing space with billion-dollar satellites designed for 30-year missions.

Skybox was space breaking.

So Skybox wasn’t just groundbreaking. It was space breaking. That successful investment emboldened Bessemer to continue betting on world-class scientists, tackling deep tech challenges. We recruited our own space experts to develop what we now call Bessemer’s deep tech team, which include Partner David Cowan, Dr. Ray Johnson, a PhD in electrical engineering and former CTO of Lockheed Martin, former deputy NASA administrator, Lori Garver, and Partner Tess Hatch, an aerospace engineer from Stanford and SpaceX.

Space commercialization

Together we’ve mapped out opportunities for space startups to commercialize and colonize trust real orbits, the moon asteroids and planets in our solar system. Since Skybox, we’ve made three other early stage space investments in the areas of materials, launch, and fleet operators.

A key driver of the new space economy is additive manufacturing, a technology that enables 3d printing of rocket engine parts that are faster to design, more complex and higher performing than conventionally machined parts.

To lead this change in rocket engine design, Bessemer funded Velo3D. The most advanced 3D metal printer in the world is now used by almost all the new rocket companies. Recently Velo3D went public via SPAC.

3D printing is enabling a new generation of smaller, cheaper rockets designed to replace the enormous, slow to build expensive spacecraft of the Apollo age as all space infrastructure shifts toward constellations of microbes. Operators need these smaller frequently launched rockets to continuously deploy and replenish their satellites, delivering each one to a specific position at a specific altitude and a precise inclination. In 2016, Bessemer surveyed the rocket startups getting started to do this. And we bet on a little company, New Zealand that had developed the first hybrid rocket engine that uses batteries instead of a rocket fuel engine to fill the combustion chamber.

We were highly impressed by Rocket Lab‘s diverse team of rising stars from various fields who had come to Auckland from around the world to join in this exciting project. Rocket Lab also developed the world’s only private launch range situated on a remote cliff of New Zealand’s north island from which rocket lab could launch every day.

Rocket Lab’s first launch made it to space and the company has since completed 20 successful missions delivering over a hundred satellites to orbit on behalf of governments, commercial customers, and university. Rocket Lab’s manifest includes missions to lunar orbit, the munition atmosphere and Mars recently Rocket Lab went public via SPAC with very strong reception on NASDAQ. With better launch options now available Bessemer bet on Spire Global, a startup based in Luxembourg, Glasgow, and Singapore designing a general purpose earth sensing micro-site constellation acute set version of.

Spire Global has since put over a hundred satellites on orbit that track ships, planes, and weather. Our little venture grew up and now operates the largest multifunction cubesat constellation in space—at least around our solar system. Spire is the first base company to build a successful subscription business with about $50 million of annual recurring revenue and growing 100%.

Spire Global also went public via SPAC and acquired Exact Earth, its largest competitor in space-based tracking of marine vessels.

Aerospace

As you can see, space is open for business. Now, before we reach Mars, we believe there is untapped potential in the stratosphere, which is why in March 2021, Bessemer invested in Boom Supersonic, adding the business to our aerospace portfolio.

Boom, supersonic designed, and early next year, will test a supersonic aircraft re-inventing supersonic passenger travel. Boom’s aircraft travels from New York city to London in 3.3 hours. With 1200 viable routes to fly, the potential demand is a hundred billion dollars of orders over the coming decade.

Boom has already sold down payments of $6 billion of pre-orders to customers like Japan Airlines and the United States. Right after our investment in June, Boom, received a $3 billion order for 15 supersonic aircraft from United Airlines. In addition to building craft for space and the stratosphere BVP companies are enabling the rise of commercial drones as part of our aerospace roadmap.

We’re betting that one day drones will ubiquitously operate in our airspace, preventing disasters and making our lives safer, easier. You can probably imagine a world where drones put out fires, deliver late night takeout and inspect our infrastructures, such as bridges, railways, and pipelines for all of this to happen.

We need an ecosystem of pilots, drone users, drone manufacturers, and regulators to adopt common standards and technologies. Our flagship investment here is Drone Deploy, the market leading drone software for enterprises. With over 5,000 customers and 500,000 job sites, Drone Deploy software makes it easy to capture, aggregate and analyze information captured by drones.

The company has the number one flight app, which allows drone pilots to easily mark the area they want captured. The software autonomously navigates the drones path above the area of interest. And once collected the data is aggregated into a 3D rendering. Lastly, the rendering feeds into the cloud so that the customer can analyze the image and perform over 80 various types of measurements and calculations.

Unfortunately, commercial drone use today is limited by the FAA, which prohibits drone operators from flying beyond the visual line of sight of the pilot. There is growing pent up demand for a safe way to inspect long oil pipelines, deliver consumer packages, monitor agriculture, or use drones in many other ways to unlock this opportunity and keep the skies safe from drone related accidents.

Bessemer invested in Iris Automation, a visual AI startup. Iris now sells the only onboard detect and avoid system for drones that detects and classifies other flying. Determining whether an evasive maneuver needs to be made to avoid amid air cleaner.

Quantum computing

As we map out the frontiers of innovation, quantum computing, or QC looms, large as possibly the most important scientific invention of the 21st century. By exploiting the counter-intuitive properties of quantum mechanics, quantum computers replaced classical bits, which represent one or zero with cubits that represent both one and zero at the same time in a fragile state known as superposition.

QC is the most important scientific invention of the 21st century.

So with 32-qubit quantum computer processes all to, to the 32 possible combinations of one and zero at the same time. QC upends what we thought to be fundamental principles of computer science, promising to execute entirely new classes of algorithms beyond the practical capabilities of conventional computers. In the coming decades, quantum computers will solve currently intractable problems in logistics, chemistry, drug development, material science, climate modeling, cryptography, human cognition, and more.

The goal of the QC race is to build computers that solve commercially valuable problems beyond the capabilities of conventional computers, an achievement called quantum advantage. To help us identify the winning startups, we convened a panel of BVP Quantum Fellows. These 18 PhDs run advanced research in the pharma, chemical, and materials companies who operate supercomputers today, but know they will need quantum computing to compete.

With their input, we led the $79 million Series C round in Rigetti, widely regarded as the leader in the QC race, among private companies, based on the depth of their team and the number of cubits they’re able to entangle. Today. Rigetti serves customers primarily through AWS, quantum cloud and through the US government.

Rigetti, IBM, and Google all use well understood superconductors to create the quantum state of superposition. So we expect these three companies to reach commercial quantum advantage before anyone else. If we’re right, Amazon and Microsoft will need Rigetti computers to sustain competitive cloud offerings in the market.

This year, we also led the $100 million Series B in Xanadu, a QC company that creates superpositions using photons. Unlike superconductors, light can be manipulated at room temperature and promises to one day scale to a million cubits. Xanadau has already demonstrated the ability to stitch together quantum processors demonstrating the inherent scalability of their approach.

These two investments positioned Bessemer as the leading venture firm in quantum computing

Sustainable agriculture

Our Deep Tech roadmap has also pointed us to massive opportunities in agriculture. Where AI, robotics, and biotech can enable sustainable and healthy alternatives for our diets rather than try to sell technology to farmers and old-fashioned and fragmented industry with no resources for buying tech, BVP companies compete directly in the food supply chains to disrupt enormous commodity markets.

This year, we followed the success of brands like Beyond and Impossible by funding startups who developed sustainable plant-based alternatives for meat, dairy, eggs, and even coffee. Black Sheep Foods is the leading plant-based lamb company. By a careful study of the scientific literature, as well as trial and error culinary testing, the team figured out five key compounds and fatty chain based acid technology that can recreate the gamey taste of lamb.They launched in Souvla, a popular San Francisco fast casual restaurant last month.

Atomo Coffee, which produces beanless or a molecular coffee, provides a sustainable alternative to the world’s roughly 2.5 trillion cups of coffee consumed each year. They do so by reverse engineering, coffee’s aroma, flavor, color, and caffeine content, and mouth feel with upcycled and sustainable ingredients, such as date seeds, chicory root, and grape skin.

They built a vertically integrated pilot facility that produces a thousand cups a day for less than 50 cents a cup. Additionally, they formulated and produced their own milk and chocolate compounds using pumpkin seeds. Rooted in the same cross malay reaction is the coffee for a canned latte and mocha beverage.

They will sell four canned cold brews, a light roast, a dark roast, and the latte and mocha

With aerospace leading the way, our deep tech practice is not only driving big gains for the fund, but we’re pushing the boundaries of science to solve major problems for humanity. If you’re building a deep tech startup, reach out directly to David Cowan (dc@bvp.com) and Tess Hatch (tess@bvp.com) via email.

More from Atlas