X, the experimental lab of Google’s parent company Alphabet, is looking beyond Silicon Valley for its next big idea, forming a collaboration with New Lab, a start-up incubator in Brooklyn.
The heavily-lossmaking X, which describes itself as a “moonshots factory”, is most famous for creating Waymo, the self-driving car project that is now a standalone Alphabet business. Its other bets include beaming the internet from hot air balloons, creating fuel from seawater and storing electricity in molten salt.
Alphabet’s “other bets”, which include X, racked up a $4.8bn operating loss in 2019, prompting executives to promise a “sharper focus” in the future.
Now it has approached New Lab, founded in 2016 and home to 152 companies working on projects including vertical farming, space robotics and other “frontier technologies”.
On Monday, New Lab companies will be able to take part in the first “X Demo Day”, an opportunity to pitch X on their ideas in the hope of receiving investment. The event is likely to be repeated every quarter.
A spokesperson from X confirmed the relationship, but emphasised that it has not yet invested in New Lab or any of the companies located at the hub.
New Lab declined to comment on the collaboration, but last month told its members to put forward pitches for the “possibility of investment or being acquired as a ‘Moonshot’ for Google X.”
X’s grandiose description of a “moonshot” is a project aiming to “improve the lives of millions, even billions, of people.” At New Lab, investors have already pledged more than $700m in venture capital for some wildly ambitious projects.
Launcher, founded in 2017, plans to send 3D-printed, breadloaf-sized satellites into orbit. HoneyBee Robotics designs mechanical tools for space exploration and was last year awarded a contract from Nasa to send two payloads to the moon for drilling. AirLev is focused on rapid, air levitation based transport systems.
“We need more funding for moonshot companies,” said Deborah Navarro, co-founder of AirLev. “Google X’s involvement is key. This isn’t something a VC would typically fund. The majority of VCs have a certain amount of time to make a return on their investment but a lot of these technologies won’t have a return — or they will, but it might take 10 years or more.”
John Levy, co-chief executive of Seeqc, a semiconductor design group focused on quantum computing, said it would be “extraordinary” to be able to pitch to X.
In contrast to Silicon Valley, New Lab has focused on diversity, said Lynn Fischer, its chief marketing officer. “There are members from 30 different countries. And 30 per cent of the founding teams of all member companies are female,” she said. “That just lends itself to more openness, collaboration and networking.”
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