Embedded Ventures is a next-generation VC firm that takes a commercial-first approach to invest in early-stage startups with applications. It can also serve the DoD by integrating the space industry with the terrestrial economy. The firm has made early investments in a half dozen aerospace startups, including satellite communications company Akash Systems and space data-focused Slingshot Aerospace. The firm had most recently announced its 100 million dollar fund to back companies building for both commercial and national security customers.
What initially attracted you to the space industry?
During my first week of college, USC’s Rocket Propulsion Lab presented to my Introduction to Aerospace Class. They had the self-set goal of launching a student built and designed rocket to space. I went to their first group meeting that day and set my sights on working in the space industry for my career. Prior to that, I went into aerospace engineering thinking I would work on planes.
How has Relativity Space’s recent success impacted the 3d printing industry?
The impact can be summarized in two ways. First, the industrial potential and quality of 3D printing today. Many view 3D printing just for prototyping, for tooling, or for hobby projects. Relativity’s development and first launch highlight the performance of 3D printing, both from a material perspective, and from the ability to improve iteration speed by developing a predominantly 3D printing manufacturing flow.
Second, Relativity’s success does highlight the company’s strategy to develop both the printers and the printed product under the same roof. Other rocket companies print a small percentage of their parts, and other printer companies develop large format printers. But those printers are too generalized in their capability to create high performance aerospace products, and they do not have the potential to be adopted by rocket manufacturers, so those manufacturers stagnate in their 3D printing adoption. The Relativity launch highlights the need for tighter coupling between printer development and product development cycles.
Can you share some insight about the recent success of Relativity Space’s first launch and what it means for the future of aerospace investing?
Relativity’s launch highlights the continued momentum of the commercial space industry. With the continued rise of commercial launch vehicles, launch costs continue to drop with launch capacity increasing. This results in the opportunity for a new generation of commercial space companies to develop in-space capabilities, some of which are replacing prior capabilities disrupted by the shifting economics, and some of which are developing brand new capabilities previously not economically viable.
After having successfully launched one of the largest space companies in the world, you chose to launch a VC fund, what inspired this decision?
I was Relativity’s Chief Technology Officer for the first five years of the company. Relativity’s printer technology reached maturity during the latter part of my tenure, which really defined the zero-to-one moment for the company. While the remainder of the challenges the company faced, and in some cases still faces, take incredible teams and effort to overcome, they are ones that have been solved previously within industry. No one was coming to teach us how to develop the world’s largest metal 3D printer, we had to figure that out solely on our own. Once that was completed, growth was supported by hiring people who had solved the remaining challenges in their previous lives, and I wanted to go back to zero-to-one style challenges.
How has your success with 3D printing impacted the types of companies that Embedded Ventures invests in?
I co-founded Embedded Ventures with Jenna Bryant in 2020. We invest in three sectors – space infrastructure, advanced manufacturing, and digital engineering. The advanced manufacturing portfolio stems directly from my insights developing Relativity. If you’re making the world’s most complex hardware, which space hardware often is, you should have the world’s most advanced manufacturing capabilities. We invest in 3D printing companies with strong industrial potential, which is a surprisingly small subset of the 3D printing companies out there today.
One of these companies is Chromatic 3D Materials. Their technology allows them to control chemical reactions in the printing process, instead of just melting filament. This allows them to form the world’s best soft materials in-process, which unfortunately can not be formed when a filament is melted. This puts them in a league of their own providing parts for industrial applications worldwide.
How do AI and specifically generative AI factor into the types of companies that Embedded Ventures invest in?
Similar to our thoughts on our advanced manufacturing portfolio, we believe the world’s most complex hardware should be made by the world’s most complex design tools. That is the goal of our digital engineering portfolio, software for hardware design. These companies bridge the gap between hardware designs and machine learning, in addition to the rest of the software flywheel that allows faster and faster software development every day – we want to see that in hardware design, too.
We see AI implementation across the manufacturing companies and the digital engineering companies in the portfolio. For the 3D printing companies, Relativity included, it’s a digitally-native process. Digital control, digital feedback. This allows real time data, feedback, and learnings in a way that traditional factories can never have. Those traditional factories both tend to be too expensive to retrofit into digitally connected equipment, but also given their large variety in manufacturing processes, the scale of their data is much less rich. With Relativity’s 3D printing focus, the training data set is much larger, and can be applied back to the entire factory. The data efficiency and quality of training is much higher when there is a single manufacturing process to deal with.
KittyCAD, a company in the Embedded portfolio, is one that we actually spun out of the fund – I serve as Executive Chairman there. KittyCAD builds the software infrastructure for developing modern hardware design tools. We built this company specifically to break down the silo around hardware design tools, and allow the rest of software to talk to hardware designs. The hardware design tool industry is a couple decades behind the rest of the software industry, unfortunately.
In your recent op-ed for Bloomberg Government, you spoke about the need for startups to build solutions for military and national security. Could you briefly discuss the types of startups that will become successful in this industry?
We have a strong preference for companies developing national security capabilities, but that have a commercial-first approach to their growth. There are very few companies that have solely gone after government customers and been successful, the contractual time scale and barrier to entry is so large that these companies stagnate, and lack sufficient momentum to reach meaningful contract opportunities. By starting with commercial customers and bootstrapping into government ones, there is a much higher likelihood these companies get capitalized well and succeed.
Are there plans for Embedded Ventures and Relativity Space to work together in the future?
There are multiple ongoing conversations and opportunities between Embedded’s portfolio companies and Relativity at this time.
Is there anything else that you would like to share about your investment strategies?
Embedded Ventures takes a commercial-first approach to investing in early-stage startups with national security applications. My co-founder Jenna Bryant & I are uniquely qualified to find, fund, and coach the founding teams that are pushing the frontiers of technology advancements for our country. Jenna spent a decade building teams with the most in-demand engineers in the world before transitioning into venture, and during my time at Relativity Space I focused on technical direction and engineering design as founding CTO for five years. With our current portfolio being 66% minority founded and led, we celebrate our non-traditional backgrounds and aim to remove the conventional barriers in venture.
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